Stories from the Global Church

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

Music for a Troubled Soul

Posted on February 28, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Carol and Jim Sack

Carol and Jim Sack

Jim and Carol Sack send greetings from Tokyo. Their ELCA ministry includes Pastoral Harp, in which Carol offers a prayerful presence through voice and harp one-on-one at a person’s bedside. She tells of a recent moving experience at a hospice where she volunteers each week:

Tanaka (not his real name) was not dying physically, but he had become completely hopeless and full of despair, so he was dying in his spirit.

Seventeen years ago he had committed a horrendous murder that had become famous in all the newspapers around Japan.  He had been released after many years in prison, but now he was struggling in his daily life and had come to the end of his rope.

We invited Tanaka san to lie down on his bed and relax. At first I played only the harp for a few minutes. His body was stiff, his hands were clenched, and his face looked tense.  Then I began to sing with the harp. For some reason, when the voice began, Tanaka san just seemed to melt — and then he started to cry and cry and cry. I continued the music for about a half hour, and he just kept weeping.

When the music ended, he said something amazing: “A long time ago, I did a terrible thing. I am so sorry, so sorry, so sorry…”   We usually do not use many spoken words at the bedside but, wearing my cross, I said only, “We all do things that we regret. But we are loved. And you are loved.”  And then we left, shaking hands, by this time all of us moved to tears.

Later I realized what I had been singing to Tanaka san at that time.  It was an “Agnus Dei,” a Gregorian chant in Latin, which means “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.”

Somehow the meaning of this Gregorian chant seemed to enter into his heart directly through the Holy Spirit. Tanaka san knew somehow that his sin had been taken away, and he responded with confession and repentance. It was a very mysterious and holy moment for me.

Grace and Forgiveness in Japan

Posted on February 24, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Saturday, February 12, 2011, Japan Calligraphy from ELCA missionary in Japan

Christine Eige, ELCA missionary in Japan, recently experimented with calligraphy.  She described the painstaking process:

As I practiced, many times I wished that I had a delete or undo button; one small mistake could mess up the whole picture, and that really started stressing me out. I would start out fine but inevitably make a mistake, get even more frustrated, and then make more mistakes. Finally, I paused long enough to examine the word in front of me: megumi (grace). Then the light bulb above my head suddenly lit up. I was trying so hard to do my calligraphy perfectly, but that’s not how grace works. Grace is God’s free gift of forgiveness that is not based on anything we do. God looks at our mistakes and says, `Of course you can have another chance; Jesus died to take away those sins and mistakes of your past.’

ELCA missionary Christine Eige

ELCA missionary Christine Eige

In December, Christine visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and wrote this poem:

ONE MOMENT CHANGES ALL

A flash of light and a booming noise—
Heat and radiation devouring all in its way.
Flesh and clothes melting into one,
parched throats gasping for air,
seeking relief, but instead, finding black rain.
Radiation running rampant through bodies,
vital organs failing one after another,
and so many beyond recovery or care.
A whole world turned upside down,
yet the suffering only just beginning.
“Papa, please help me!
Make the pain go away.
Where are you?
I need you.
Don’t leave me this way.
Where are my little sister, my mama, and friends?
What happened to my home?
When will the nightmares finally end?”
God looks down from heaven,
his heart broken in two.
Jesus opens his arms wide saying,
“Forgive them, Father,
for they know not what they do.”

Christine Eige is an ELCA missionary teaching English in Japan.

Affirming one’s baptism again and again

Posted on March 29, 2010 by Franklin Ishida

The traditional rite of confirmation is an opportunity for (usually) young people to affirm their faith into which they have been baptized. Baptism, of course, is that grace-filled visible occasion in which we receive the forgiveness of sins, unconditionally become God’s children, die with Christ and receive new life in him, and become a part of the church which is Christ’s body.

Luther had said that when confronted with challenges in life, he could respond: “But I am baptized.” The challenge for Christians is thus how to remember that it indeed is our baptism that sustains us in all aspects of life, that God is with us throughout our lives that are founded in baptism … something that goes beyond a singular confirmation rite.

In North American Lutheran circles, confirmation has become a time to “affirm” one’s baptism, with the intention that it goes beyond a particular moment. And parts of the same liturgy are often used to welcome new church members, or to point to transitions in life.

In Japan, Kazuhiro Sato, pastor at the Matsumoto and Nagano two-point parish, created something new to the Japanese Lutheran scene. He explains of the particular Affirmation of Baptism service he formulated: “The affirmation of baptism is intended to remind us of the gift of grace that comes through baptism, and to re-confirm and re-live this as individuals in the grace of baptism.” The particulars of the rite included a commendation, prayer, profession of faith, and a public affirmation of baptism. After this, each participant’s name was read together with a laying on of hands. At the end, as the pastor splashed water over participants, the words were proclaimed: “through water and the Spirit, remember of your baptism, trust in God’s promises, and walk in the Word.” This became an occasion to re-confirm life in God’s grace.

What was particularly unique was that it was not aimed at everyone all at once. Those baptized between 15 and 60 years ago, at five year intervals, were invited to participate. With this, over the course of 5 years, every member can affirm anew their baptism. Pastor Sato says that this rite can also be used at times of recovery from illness, re-entering a life of faith, transfer of membership, and many other occasions.

[Information taken from the March 2010 issue of “Lutheran,” the monthly newspaper of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church]
Y. Franklin Ishida
Director for Asia and the Pacific, ELCA Global Mission

thanks4thanks

Posted on December 3, 2009 by Hand In Hand

Operation Thanks-Giving cards are doing what we hoped they’d do: giving ELCA missionaries an affirming hug from home.  Here are two of the “thanks4thanks” notes that have reached my desk.  Thankful blessings, Sue Edison-Swift.  P.S.  I’m mailing the last of the first-round of cards tomorrow.  I’d be happy to mail another round (or more!) of cards, so send your Christmas and Valentine-themed greetings to Global Mission Support, 8765 W. Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631.

From Michael Church (Romania)
Thanks for the “Operation Thanksgiving Card” cards, which arrived today. Terri and I were surprised and touched. This was our first big holiday away from our families, so it was a little extra-tender.  Just so that you know, I have also sent thank-you letters by email to the pastors of Trinity, Vale NC, and Grace, Howell MI. I asked the pastors to print and post them, so that the people who wrote the cards would know that they arrived and that we on the other end were grateful.  There was a third card, with no signature, so here’s a “thank you” for that one!  [All of you who sent in “random acts of thanksgiving” cards without a signature, consider this thanks for you!–Sue]

From Emily Ewing (Slovakia)
hi! i received some operation thanksgiving cards, and i figured i’d pass along a note of thanks. my birthday was the saturday after thanksgiving and i was in budapest (i’m currently a young adult in global mission in slovakia) with other people from my program celebrating thanksgiving. when i got back on sunday night, i had mail waiting for me. when i opened it, it was a wonderful surprise to see the operation thanksgiving cards. i know they weren’t for my birthday, but it just brightened up my night as i read them and looked at them. i felt loved and i felt like maybe this whole big lutheran church really is smaller and more connected than i think. it was wonderful timing, so thank you more than you can imagine for the cards!!
in god’s peace, emily  www.emilyinslovakia.blogspot.com

A few of my favorite thanks #8

Posted on November 24, 2009 by Hand In Hand

"U Rock!" mixed media card from Grace Lutheran, Howell, Mich.

"U Rock!" mixed media card from Grace Lutheran, Howell, Mich.