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.

Gifts of healing and prayer

Posted on May 5, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Jim and Carol Sack are ELCA missionaries in Japan. Jim is a professor at Japan Lutheran College and Carol is a director of Lyra Precaria, a bedside ministry of prayerful presence through harp and voice.


Healing harp music and prayer shawls.

Healing harp music and prayer shawls.

Dear friends,

On March 11, 2011, a historic 9.0 quake jolted Japan, birthing the Big Wave that crashed into the elementary and junior high schools in the picturesque fishing village of Kamaishi, Japan, not to mention homes, stores, hospitals and  work places. You know the event. However, a shock like this does not disappear from lives as quickly as it does from the headlines.

One woman had a friend in this village and wanted to help the survivors, including the 129 kids in those two schools grades one through nine.

She raised money. Of course that was welcomed. But after the first line of necessities had been restored and the money spent, the woman wisely knew that the kids needed something more than money. They needed caring, hope and encouragement.

Someone thought about Pastoral Harp (prayerful presence through harp and voice) as a possibility toward this end. Carol was approached about visiting the village on Santa Lucia Day, Dec. 13. Many Swedish Lutherans know the message of “Lucia,” the “Queen of Lights,” who dons a crown of candles in the blackest moment before dawn, bringing food to the hungry, warmth in the cold, light into the darkness.

As plans were being prepared, we remembered that we had received about 60 beautiful prayer shawls shortly after March 11 from churches and individuals throughout the U.S. for people in northern Japan. But we had only 60, and we knew that we could not give to one child if we could not give to all.

A second plea went out to our sponsoring churches and prayer shawl ministries throughout the States. By Dec. 1, we had received close to 200 shawls!

On the Day of Lucia, students and teachers gathered in the cold make-shift gymnasium-school. The woman told the story of Santa Lucia and invited the kids to let their hearts take them on whatever heart-journey they needed to take. She affirmed that tears can help to wash. The harp was played in darkness illuminated by 50 candles. Not a word was spoken. And in that time, volunteers quietly, imperceptibly, approached each child, silently wrapping a shawl around him, around her, capping the offering with a firm grip on each child’s shoulders — to speak volumes without one word.

But when the lights came on, or perhaps after the kids were back home, they could find on each shawl a note in Japanese: “This shawl was knit with prayers for God’s love and grace for you. When you feel down, when you feel the need to be supported with love, please put on this shawl. And please remember then that I have knitted this shawl with prayers especially for you. I am praying that you will receive courage from this shawl of love and prayer.”

The “touch” of God’s love and grace, literally.

Jim and Carol Sack

P.S. I am so sorry to be sending this message so late. It happened that my Swedish Lutheran pastor-father passed away the very morning I left for this event. This only added to the depth of meaning of the day. Nevertheless, for various reasons it has taken me some time to return to this report.  I pray my long silence will not betray the mountain of gratitude we feel, nor especially that of the students and teachers of the schools. God bless you all! We thank God for your partnership in the Gospel of our Lord!

A new home in Japan

Posted on April 3, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Patrick Meers is teaching English as an ELCA missionary in Japan. To support Patrick, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to

The old apartment with the “amazing” view.

The old apartment with the “amazing” view.

I have recently said goodbye to my old apartment that I had lived in for the first three months of my stay here in Kumamoto. It was a nice apartment with a central location in the city near the Kumamoto castle and mall, so I will miss it a little. I am completely moved into my permanent apartment for the next two years of service here in Japan. It is a lot bigger and has a beautiful view of a small park, a giant improvement over my last apartment that had an amazing view of a towering parking garage.

But the view is not the only amazing part of this apartment. It has a lot of space and is located with all of the other missionaries that I am here with, making it a lot more convenient to get together with other English speakers. This apartment is also fairly close to the school I will be teaching at, Luther Gakuin. I will be teaching English in the junior high and high school at Luther Gakuin. Sometime after I start teaching, April 2, I will give you more information about my classes.

In March Japan had its first anniversary of the March 11, 2011, tsunami and nuclear disaster. Half of the day I was in a nearby city, Fukuoka, and the other half I spent here in Kumamoto. While I was in Fukuoka I visited a church called Tamana Lutheran. The church had a children’s service and an adult service. During the children’s service the mothers of the children performed in a choir some songs from the movie “Sister Act” singing “I Will Follow Him” and “Oh Happy Day” in English and Japanese. The children played rock, paper, scissors after the service and I was asked to join in on the fun.

When I returned to Kumamoto I walked down the long central mall in town and stumbled upon a parade of remembrance for the victims and survivors. All of the TV programs in the morning showed  images of the earthquake and talked about the anniversary. I can still vividly remember what was happening on March 11 last year and when I was in the tsunami hit area of Japan.

One year later — a prayer of hope

Posted on March 13, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Christine Eige is an ELCA teaching missionary in Japan. To support Christine, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to


Christine Eige

Christine Eige

On March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated Japan.  The tsunami and fires consumed homes, schools, and lives. It is confirmed that 15,786 people died in this disaster, and 161 minors are still listed as missing. As we remember this tragedy and mark its one year anniversary, let us join together in prayer.

Heavenly Father,

We cry out to you on behalf of all the peopled impacted by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Even now, so many people are suffering and in pain as they grieve. Send your peace to surround those who have lost loved ones, homes and a sense of security. Let your hands still the tectonic plates and calm the earth’s movements. Take away the intense fear that survivors feel as they wonder when the next earthquake will strike and whether or not it will be a big one. Send your hope and comfort as people rebuild their communities and lives. Help the people of Japan to feel your love surrounding them during this time.

In your mighty name we pray, AMEN.

Greetings from Japan

Posted on June 4, 2011 by Hand In Hand

John Hoyle, an ELCA missionary in Japan, is an instructor of English as a foreign language at Luther Junior and Senior High School (Luther Gakuin) in Kumamoto and assists with a Lutheran congregation in Kumamoto.

John and Haruko Hoyle

John and Haruko Hoyle

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank you for your many messages of concern and support following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Unlike many hundreds of thousands of families, Haruko and I were completely untouched by the disaster. Your continuing prayers for strength for those affected, as well as your generous support through ELCA Disaster Response has been heartening.

I have new missionary duties at the Hongo Student Center. I lead eight adult classes of English conversation and five children’s classes at the Center. Students in my adult classes range from high school students to senior citizens. I have beginner, pre-intermediate, intermediate and advanced classes. The children’s classes are divided by age group: 3-, 4- and 5-year olds. Besides teaching English, I also lead a weekly beginner Bible class at the Center. The students’ questions really keep me on my toes! At Hongo Lutheran Church, I am in charge of an English Bible-study class on Sunday mornings and preside at the evening English service. It all makes for a very enjoyable and fulfilling week. I am deeply thankful that I have been able to continue my missionary service with my life partner, Haruko, by my side!

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

John Hoyle



The Wave and the Harp – the story continues

Posted on April 26, 2011 by Franklin Ishida
In an earlier entry, we heard the story of Kyoko Yokoyama’s escape from the tsunami that hit Japan on March 11. Here is her subsequent story, told in her words after a visit by teachers and colleagues in the Lyra Precaria pastoral harp ministry in which she participates.


Yokoyama Kyoko

Kyoko Yokoyama receiving the well wishes from colleagues with Lyra Precaria. Everything up to her home (see outside her window) is debris, damage, and destruction from the tsunami.

On April 8, [ELCA missionaries] Carol and James Sack, Yasuko-sensei and Ai-san made a trip to our house in Wakabayashi Ku in Sendai City. On their way here, they waited for the highway to open up just after a strong midnight aftershock. What surprised me was that it happened the highway was opened up again only as far as the interchange that is close to my home. It was as if God had opened the way so that they could come to us.

When Ai, Yasuko, Carol and Jim stepped out of the car, I felt that Jesus had come into the midst of our disorientation. I was so happy, as though a light had burst into our darkness. I could feel secure in my sadness. My heart that had been strained in tension for so long felt deeply wrapped in peace.

We walked into the house with the song “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.” Tears welled up in my eyes. And then, as I received some of relief materials donated by the Lyra Precaria group together with their written messages, I knew I was being told:  “God is with you. Be at peace.”

Things are still indeed severe, but being supported like this, I feel strength coming from everyone. I know that through such support, God is expressing God’s Love to us. Just as it says in Psalm 23, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord is with us. Our cup overflows. I felt, in my heart, that it is truly literally like that. I am so thankful that members of Lyra Precaria were so willing to copy the learning materials that I lost to the waters of the tsunami.

Up until now, I have been one to be on the giving end of things. Now, the tables are completely turned, and, finding myself only able to receive, I am learning to lean on God. I am so thankful to God for having led me into studies with Lyra Precaria. My friendship with each in the group is a precious treasure in my life. I thank and praise God. Hearing Ai’s wonderful voice and seeing her smile gave me courage. Hearing Yasuko sing, I realized, “I’ll be OK.” The cake Carol brought seeped into my heart, and Jim’s jokes were so fun: we found ourselves laughing out loud.

I thank everyone. My husband also is grateful. When we prayed, he said “Amen.” My husband did! This is God’s blessing.

I passed on some of the treats around to children in our neighborhood and they were so happy. Their hearts are wounded too. This was God’s present to them. And we also shared the relief materials brought with our neighbors. God blessed even our neighborhood.


Following this day, Kyoko Yokoyama reported on how Campus Crusade volunteers from Tokyo helped clean much of the mud from her house and those in her neighborhood.  She spoke of how God’s love is overflowing not just in her own cup, but all around the neighborhood.  One joy was to share with others the song “Light and Darkness” (See “Prayer Around the Cross” from Augsburg Fortress). “It was at that moment [when singing this together with neighbors] that I realize that in life there are moments of light and darkness; that it is about a cycle of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation; that there is always the hope light in the midst of darkness; and that there is the time when God lifts us up.”

It’s a girl!

Posted on April 19, 2011 by Hand In Hand
Aleaha Megumi Hanson

Aleaha Megumi Hanson

Eric and Christie Anspach-Hanson are ELCA missionaries in Japan. They were evacuated to another location in Japan to ensure a safe delivery of their baby when radiation leaked from the nuclear reactor damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. In Tokyo they help lead the English congregation at Tokyo Lutheran Church, teach English and Bible classes at the Hongo Student Center and work with TNG (The Next Generation), a Japanese youth ministry team. They are the proud parents of a baby girl.

Hi everyone,

Christie and I wanted to send out an email to everybody announcing the birth of our baby girl!  She was born at 10:08 on April 8 over here in Kumamoto, Japan.  Her name is Aleaha Megumi (means “grace” in Japanese) Hanson, and she`s the cutest baby in the world (we actually checked all of the other babies just to make sure).  I wish we could thank all of you in personal emails for the prayers, well-wishes and general good vibes you`ve been sending our way for the past few months, so please excuse the mass email nature of this mass email!

God bless you all!!

Eric and Christie

‘For whom do the bells toll’ – Remembering the March 11 great earthquake

Posted on April 15, 2011 by Franklin Ishida

The following is a printed sermon offered in the April issue of “The Lutheran,” monthly newspaper of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church
By The Rev. Sumiyuki Watanabe
President, JELC


“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)

Long ago, towering over a town, was the tower of the church with its large bells. It was said if there was a good gift on Christmas Eve, God would cause beautiful bell sounds to be heard there. But no one had heard such sounds in a long time.

In a distant village lived the brothers Pedro and Antonio. Their grandfather told them the story of this church’s bells and this inspired them to want to attend worship there.

Christmas Eve arrived that year. Pedro and Antonio really wanted to go to church, and secretly left to go. It was a cold and snowy day. The brothers took the little bit of money they had saved and held hands as they struggled on their way to church. As darkness fell, the two saw a woman collapsed on the whitened road. She was already cold, and the brothers struggled to wake her. Their efforts paid off as the woman regained consciousness. But Pedro, realizing they couldn’t leave the women there, told Antonio: “You go ahead to church.” He took a silver coin out of his pocket, what he had brought as an offering for church, and gave it to Antonio. He told his brother to take this and quietly leave it at the altar. The younger brother hurried off to town as Pedro watched him go off, shedding tears and saddened he couldn’t go to church with the anticipation he had had.

The Christmas Eve service was wonderful. Antonio looked around the church in awe. The pastor’s sermon came to an end, and the people lined up before the altar to bring their offerings. One rich man placed a precious jewel in the offering. Another put in lots of money. The king himself offered his own crown. Then they all bent their ears to listen. But the only sound was that of the wind; there was no sound of bells. “The bells didn’t ring this year,” they all murmured. At that moment, the sound of the bells suddenly resounded. All the people looked toward the altar. There stood Antonio, who had offered that one silver coin, looking up as he listened to the ringing bells. (From Raymond M. Alden, “Why the Chimes Rang)

This past March 11, a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan’s coast, the so-called Tohoku-Kanto Great Earthquake. We offer our heartfelt prayers for those who lost loved ones, that God’s mercy and peace may fill them. For those who survived and for those living in the disaster area, we pray for their health and that God may embrace them with comfort; and that they can return to some normalcy in their lives.

This disaster was unprecedented in magnitude. We have seen images in the media every moment along the way. As we watch, we feel helpless in the face of the power of nature, and recall the many paths we have trod in human history.

With this sudden disaster, we are left wondering what we, as humans, can do. We wince at our helplessness. But we face the words: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Behind these words is the understanding that while there is a limit to what is human, we proclaim there is no end with God.

In the story from Why the Chimes Ring, the brothers quietly offered their small offering at the altar. This happened even as the one brother couldn’t be there because he was helping that woman who had collapsed in the middle of a snow storm. God certainly looked upon each of these brothers with great pleasure. And because of this, the church bells resounded with renewed beauty.

There are those who have lost loving parents, children, siblings, relatives, friends; those who lost homes and endure the cold of the nights; those who have little hope for the future, lamenting and crying out in despair. All the more reason to remember “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” the one brings us courage and strength and hope for tomorrow. And for each survivor, for all of us who are starting to engage in relief activities, the bells of God’s salvation ring, just as they did for Pedro and Antonio. Let us walk with courage and hope with God in this difficult road ahead. Surrounding us stand the Christians of the world, and each individual Lutheran member everywhere. Their prayers are with us as we give thanks to God, and walk forward in our efforts to bring relief to all those who have survived this disaster.

‘You didn’t leave us. Thank you!’

Posted on April 5, 2011 by Hand In Hand

ELCA missionaries in Japan, the Rev. Jim and Carol Sack, reflect on their ministry after the tsunami and in the midst of the radiation crisis. Jim is a professor at Japan Lutheran College and Carol is a director of Lyra Precaria, a bedside ministry of prayerful presence through harp and voice.

Jim and Carol Sack

Jim and Carol Sack

Carol and I continue to be amazed and dismayed at the images we see of the damage following the earthquake. Please pray for those who are now living in refugee shelters that may be many miles away from their homes that no longer exist. If you can imagine that in just a 10-second span everything you owned was ripped out of your hands and disappeared, that is what the majority of these people experienced on March 11. They have nothing. All of their possessions have been removed from their grip.

At the same time we have seen a great deal of compassion and genuine love expressed by many Japanese as they take in refugees and send supplies up to those who have been so greatly influenced by this disaster. Everyone in this country has been touched by this triple disaster: earthquake, tsunami and radiation. It is gratifying to see such tenderness by people who are reaching out to their fellow Japanese who have suffered so by this event.

One thing that we were very surprised by was the number of comments from Japanese when they see us remaining in Tokyo. Recently, we attended the annual meeting of the East District of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church. We were told by a number of people how much they appreciated seeing us there. Comments like, “Seeing you remain with us gives us strength” and “You didn’t leave us, thank you!” Totally unexpected, these words gave us a sense of how important just “being there” can be at a time of stress and panic.

I was reminded of the “body of Christ” through these encounters with grateful people. To have so many people thank us for our presence (actually the presence of Christ through us) we have been encouraged to be better witnesses of Christ in Japan.

Peace to my brothers and sisters in Christ,
Jim (and Carol) Sack

To support the work of ELCA missionaries, go to To begin or renew a covenant sponsorship of a missionary, visit, email or call 800-638-3522, ext. 2657.



A ‘thank you’ for ELCA aid

Posted on March 26, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Jim and Carol Sack, ELCA missionaries in Japan, provide an update after the earthquake and tsunami:

At our recent annual meeting of the East District of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, Franklin Ishida gave a report on what the ELCA is doing in response to the recent disasters in Japan. He reported that the ELCA would donate over $240,000. That news was received by a big ovation of applause.

The JELC also will be dispatching four pastors to the Sendai area to get a feel for what is happening and what the needs are there..

At some point Carol and I may provide counseling, grief support and healing music to those in need.

The frequency and strength of the aftershocks have reduced in recent days, and for that fact we are very thankful. At the same time the condition of the nuclear reactors remains a big concern. The good news is that the radiation levels remain unchanged, but radiation levels above normal have been detected in spinach and in milk surrounding the area around the reactors. This has brought on some new anxiety for us all.

Personally, this past week has been an experience of being in kairos (an appointed time in the purpose of God ) time and not chronos ( chronological or sequential) time. Since normal life had stopped and we were continuously in kind of an emergency mode, I had no sense of days as they were all just one after another. There was no Monday or Wednesday or Saturday; only one day at a time. Since we only had a couple of emergency meetings at school, time took on a new meaning. We woke up, did what was needed for the day and then went to sleep. This is such a strange and yet wonderful experience. There has been a sense of fully being in the present and not being driven by a clock.

We continue to ask for your prayers! Please pray for us personally, but especially for those who are still suffering because of these multiple disasters. Pray that God will provide wisdom to people who make decisions that will affect all of our lives.

May you all be filled with Peace at this time,
Jim and Carol Sack

We all suffer together

Posted on March 23, 2011 by Hand In Hand

A letter from Timothy & Mari McKenzie, ELCA missionaries serving in Tokyo.

Timothy and Mari McKenzie

Timothy and Mari McKenzie

Dear Friends,

We send you greetings from the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church to whom we have been sent as ELCA missionaries, and from Japan Lutheran College and Japan Lutheran Theological Seminary where we are assigned.

The ELCA works together with the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church (JELC), which was founded out of American Lutheran missionary efforts that began in 1892. The JELC has two churches in Sendai city, in the area affected by the recent earthquake. At present the pastor, members and families of both of these churches – Sendai Lutheran Church and Tsurugaya Lutheran Church – are safe. We ask that you remember them in your prayers, however, that they would receive strength and peace, as they struggle with the uncertainty that this earthquake has brought to their area and that as churches they might be a source of hope to those around them.

One unique aspect of our Lutheran College and Seminary in Tokyo is that it is the school of not only the JELC, but also of the Japan Lutheran Church (JLC). The JLC was begun out of the missionary efforts of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod immediately after World War II.

Therefore, because of the close cooperation in mission and theological education that these two Japanese Lutheran churches share, we are also deeply concerned about the churches of the JLC that are also affected by the earthquake. For example, two JLC churches – Koreyama Lutheran Church and Fukushima Lutheran Church – are located just south of Sendai, in the middle of an area deeply affected by the earthquake. At Fukushima Lutheran Church, a wall in the sanctuary has collapsed in two places, but we give thanks that the members are safe. The members of Koreyama Church are also safe, but Koreyama is an area that has been  without telephone, water and gas (for heat and cooking). We also ask that you would remember our sisters and brothers at Fukushima and Koreyama Lutheran Churches in prayer. They are churches that support the theological education and seminary training of our college and seminary, and we are one with them through Christ’s body, the church.

We thank you for your sponsorship of our work in Japan, and for your sponsorship of the wider Global Mission of the ELCA. Your gifts help the ELCA and us to continue to participate in the life and ministries of the Lutheran church in Japan.

We know that we are all part of Christ’s body, the church, and that when one part of the body suffers we all suffer together. (1 Cor. 12:26). Please remember our sisters and brothers in Christ of both the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Japan Lutheran Church, that amidst their suffering, they might also offer healing and hope to this land so deeply affected by this tragic earthquake.

Sincerely in Christ,
Timothy & Mari McKenzie