Hand in Hand Blog Digest

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.

Church in Japan

Posted on September 24, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Laura Fentress is an ELCA missionary in Japan teaching English as a second language. Here is an excerpt from a recent entry in her blog, “30 months in Japan,” in which she discusses her work and the church in Japan.

Laura Fentress

Laura Fentress

Despite over 450 years of contact with Christianity, Japan is less than 1 percent Christian. For whatever reason, Christianity hasn’t really stuck. … The modern Japanese church is small but determined, though — and quite close-knit. (When your numbers are so few, you can’t really afford major schisms.)

I work for the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, one of the two major Lutheran denominations here. The Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church has 22,000 baptized members spread across 238 churches around the country. The typical church is quite small, and its members skew toward the older end of the age spectrum, a result of the Japanese church’s small revival immediately following World War II. …

There are five [Lutheran] churches in Kumamoto City, and four are currently served by J-3s. I am assigned to Kuwamizu Lutheran Church, founded in 1932. It’s a small church, but very active. Kuwamizu is also connected to The Colony of Love and Mercy, the first welfare organization in Kumamoto. Founded in 1919 by American Lutheran missionary Maud Powlas, it has several homes for orphaned and abused babies and children, developmentally disabled adults, and the elderly, as well as a kindergarten.

Most of my work is based in the church itself. I attend morning worship every Sunday and once a month hold an English Bible study after the service. I also help out with Sunday school in the mornings, where the teachers sometimes have the kids practice their English with me. (The most common questions are “How old are you?”; “How tall are you?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?” I find all three very amusing, and always answer honestly, except the third one. “It’s a secret,” I always tell them.)

Japanese Lutheran church services are pretty much the same as “old-school Lutheran services in America,” [I’m told.] We follow the same order of worship every Sunday with the same “Gloria,” “Kyrie,” “Agnus Dei” and “Nunc Dimittis” refrains. Oh, and we always sing a few verses of Psalm 51 as the plate gets passed. I’ve also yet to encounter a Lutheran church without a pipe organ here. We sing hymns out of a churchwide hymnal made up of old-school European and American hymns (translated into Japanese) mixed with some Japanese compositions. (Praise bands and worship teams haven’t really caught on in Japanese Lutheranism, though the pastor of Tokyo Lutheran himself heads up a rock band.) …

One other important church event in town I’m involved with: the International English Service, every Sunday at 6 p.m. at Kumamoto Lutheran Church. … We minister to the Christian (and sometimes non-Christian) English-speaking population of Kumamoto. I occasionally lead the service (though we usually leave the sermons to a local missionary pastor), but Katie and I also run a children’s program before the service twice a month. It’s a good way to get to know some of the missionary and English-speaking kids in town. They’re a lot of fun. (And surprisingly good at Twister.)

It truly is a joy to serve the Japanese church, though much of the time I feel like I’m receiving much more than I’m giving. (The hospitality of church members here continues to floor me.) Please pray for this small but dedicated group of brothers and sisters in Christ as they live out the gospel in an increasingly secular society.

また 会う 日 まで (Until we meet again)

Posted on March 26, 2013 by Hand In Hand

For the past five years Christine Eige has been an ELCA missionary teaching English as a second language in Japan. That journey is now ending, and she will return to life in the U.S. In this entry from her blog, “Musings of a Dawn Treader,” she reflects on the difficulty of that change. To support a missionary in Japan, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries in the global church, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Christine Eige

Christine Eige

In less than a week I will be leaving Japan, and it’s hard to explain how truly difficult this is for me. In total, I’ve lived in Japan for five years. I’ve lived in Kumamoto for four years, longer than I’ve lived in any other one place since graduating from college. I’ve met so many amazing people in Japan, and they have become like family to me. I might be an American, but Kumamoto and Japan are truly my home.

When I moved here, I made a very dangerous prayer.  I told God, “I know that I will be here for a short time, but I pray that when I leave, I will be sad to go and other people will be sad to see me leave.” God definitely answered that prayer. At times it feels like my heart is being ripped apart: part of my heart staying with the people I care about in Japan and part going back to America with me. As hard as this is for me, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This painful separation means that I truly shared my heart with others and them with me.

I know that my transition back to the U.S. will be challenging and difficult at times. Sometimes I’ll cry because I miss my friends and Japan so much. Other times I’ll get so frustrated with American culture and manners that I’ll probably scream. Of course, I’ll have lots of stories to share about my experiences here too. I apologize in advance to my family and friends in the U.S. for having to watch this emotional roller coaster and for my occasional outbursts, but please be patient with me through this process.

As one chapter of my life comes to an end and another begins, I’m holding on to one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from my time in Japan — to persevere through the challenging times. One of my favorite Japanese words is 頑張る (がんばる, pronounced “ganbaru”).  It means to persevere. Often I hear people using a form of this word to say, “I’ll do my best” or “I’ll persevere.”  My students, co-workers and I often say this when we face challenges or difficult situations.  People also use it to say, “Good luck!”  “Fight!”  “You can do it!”  We use it to encourage one another to keep trying, to show our support, or let someone know that we believe in them. After the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, all of Japan united in telling the survivors, “がんばって!”  I’m not entirely sure where the road ahead will take me; in fact, I have lots of questions about my future.  But, I do know that God will be with me every step of the way.  頑張ります!  (I’ll do my best and persevere!)

Say yes!

Posted on February 5, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Erik and Tauna Roth are ELCA missionaries in Tokyo where Erik serves the Tokyo Lutheran Church. They both also teach English and lead Bible studies. You can follow them at their blog, Journey in Japan. To support the Roths, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

Tauna and Erik Roth

Tauna and Erik Roth

I went to the Lawson 100 (convenience store) to pick up some milk and orange juice. As I was waiting for the clerk to finish bagging my items, he asked me a question in Japanese that I didn’t understand. Trusting the clerk, I just said はい (Hai=Yes). Next thing I knew, he was putting two long straws into my bag.

I say yes a lot here in Japan. Would you like to go to a party? Yes! Will you help shovel snow? Yes! Do you want some of this weird looking food? Um …Yes? Each time I say yes, I have little clue what is on the other side. I say yes mostly out of curiosity. If I didn’t say yes, I would miss out on endless experiences. “Yes” opens doors. “Yes” leads to adventure. “Yes” sometimes leads to crazy exhausting days. But if I had said “no,” I wouldn’t know how delicious Japanese food tastes, have gotten to see a Japanese home, learn how great of a hostess a friend can be, or have two giant straws in my kitchen drawer.

The journey to Japan started with a single “yes” to God. Yes, we will serve. As missionaries (that’s you, too!) we are all invited into God’s mission. We are all given the opportunity to say “yes” to Christ’s love and go out and serve each other.

I have a big favor to ask …

Posted on January 8, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Christine Eige is an ELCA missionary teaching English in Japan. To support Christine, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Christine Eige

Christine Eige

2012 had some big challenges for me, but it was also a year that marked a spiritual growth spurt in my life.  I learned the importance of putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) every day, especially as I worked to teach others about Jesus Christ. The more I stepped out in my faith, the more the enemy tried to stop me. Also, I remembered how difficult circumstances in life are often beyond our control or ability to change them; what is in our control, though, is how we face those circumstances. We can become bitter, resentful and refuse to change when life seems unfair, or we can ask others for support, make a commitment to do our best, and turn to God for the strength to keep moving forward. Adversity and growth seem to go hand in hand for me, and that was definitely true in 2012.

2013 is going to be full of many major life changes for me. I want to make the most out of the time remaining for me in Japan since I’m moving back to the U.S. at the end of March. I’m trying to spend as much time as possible with friends, co-workers and students. I know I have many farewell speeches in Japanese and difficult goodbyes ahead of me. The transition back to America will be full of mixed feelings, moments of reverse culture shock, and challenges. It’s a bumpy road that I’ve traveled before and will again soon. In the midst of all of that, I will also tackle finding a new job, moving and starting over again in a new community.  I don’t really like changes, but they’re an unavoidable part of life and probably a common theme for me this year.

I know that I can’t face 2013 alone; I need strength and support from God, family, and friends. I am excited to see God’s plans for my life unfold this year. I’m glad that even though I have so many questions about my future, I can trust God to be with me every step of the way. Now, I have a big favor to ask: Please keep me in your prayers this year as I journey into the unknown and face transitions around every corner. May God bless you and your family in 2013 too!

Led by the Spirit

Posted on November 27, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Erik and Tauna Roth are new ELCA missionaries in Japan. Erik is the pastor at Tokyo Lutheran Church. In this entry from their blog, he talks about his first Sunday in the pulpit at the congregation. To support the Roths, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

 

Tokyo Lutheran Church

Tokyo Lutheran Church

Last Sunday I preached for the first time at Tokyo Lutheran Church!  I thought I would be nervous, but I felt comfortable preaching because I could feel the presence of the Spirit. I also played Martin Luther in a skit during the Japanese service. The skit was about Martin Luther arguing with the pope about the sale of indulgences. It was fun, and even though I couldn’t understand what the narrator said, everybody laughed and had a good time. A new and original skit is performed every year during a special “children’s blessing” worship service. Last year was David and Goliath.

On Sunday there are four services: children’s service, English service, Japanese service and an evening Japanese service. There is also a coffee/tea time following both services. My main impression so far is that the congregation is very excited and eager to be a part of God’s mission. I am looking forward to getting to know people better.

This week I am focused on getting an English Bible study going. The Bible study is open for people of all English abilities and we are going to be looking at the Christmas story/stories. I am not really sure what to expect, but I’ve been told English Bible studies have been very popular in recent years.

Tauna and I are also looking forward to attending an overnight Bible Camp with the Hongo Student Center this weekend in Chiba. We looked at pictures of the conference center where the camp is going to be and it looks amazing. Look for some great ocean view pictures on our next blog entry! After the camp, we are going to have a busy week getting ready for a Thanksgiving pot-luck at Tokyo Lutheran Church.

God’s love,
Erik

Missionary?

Posted on August 11, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Morgan Dixon is one of 15 new ELCA missionaries preparing to begin their service around the world. Morgan will be teaching English in Japan. To support Morgan, or another of the over 200 missionaries of the ELCA, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Morgan Dixon

Morgan Dixon

I spent a recent week between Chicago and Kenosha, Wis., receiving an introduction to ELCA Global Mission work and orientation for the J3 program. It was while being bombarded with new information that the gravity of my commitment hit me. Until now I rejoiced in the fact that I avoided becoming an unemployed statistic after graduating from college. (Recession is still on, right?) But becoming a missionary is by no means a profitable decision. And although financial concerns were not top priority in my decision to go into service, as a recent grad I cannot fully shake the anxieties of impending loan payments and someday entering the job market. So, making a decision that certainly would not alleviate those fears for the next three years is intimidating. Fortunately, after a weekend of re-evaluating my values and motivations my financial worries faded and were supplanted by a suddenly more pressing concern:

I’m a terrible Christian!

That’s perhaps an exaggeration. But I haven’t been to church regularly in years, I don’t know how to “witness” and it’s been a minute since I’ve read my Bible. Not that I believe those things have very much bearing on my faith, but I felt the title missionary demanded from me some amount of exemplary Christian behavior and practice, both of which I knew I didn’t have when I made the decision to enter mission. Furthermore, until last week I sufficed with telling people I was just teaching English for the ELCA. I left out the part about being a missionary, not for shame, but out of uncertainty myself with what the title called for. Being surrounded by other missionaries this past week, however, finally forced me to somewhat come to terms with the title. I appreciated that the ELCA dispelled a lot of the imperialistic connotations I once associated with missionary work, and a large part of me hoped that by the end of the week I’d be more confident in my role as one.

False.

As it turns out, I’m still very uncertain, nervous and filled with questions to ask myself. But I’m a lot more optimistic. I have a lot of thinking to do before I set off for Japan and even more once I begin serving there. For now, I’ll play it by ear.

Oh, I’ll be sure to explain more about my motivations for serving with the ELCA and why I chose Japan specifically, in future posts.

Spoons at the communion table

Posted on August 4, 2012 by Hand In Hand

ELCA missionaries Patrick and Jacqueline Bencke serve at Kyushu Lutheran College, a college of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kumamoto, Japan. Jacqueline tells of two interesting traditions at the church they attend and provides a video of young people singing a sacred song. To support the Benckes, or another of the ELCA’s 225 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Top: Spoons are used to receive communion at Murozono Church. Bottom: A new member signs the congregation’s quilt.

Top: Spoons are used to receive communion at Murozono Church. Bottom: A new member signs the congregation’s quilt.

Communion traditions

Many people, including fellow Japanese Lutherans, are surprised by the tradition of using a spoon to take the wine for communion at Murozono Church in Kumamoto. This is a tradition that began many years ago and continues today, although I have yet to find a person who knows how or why this custom began. At communion time, instead of intinction or drinking directly from the cup, those taking wine will take a spoon from the silver platter, take a spoonful of wine and then put the used spoon on the ceramic platter.

Traditions for new members

Another tradition at Murozono Church is that new members of the congregation, either by baptism or by switching their official membership, will write their names on a quilt designed for noting the church members’ names. This tradition was started about 25 years ago and continues today. There are only a few spots left on the quilt to sign, so plans are in place to create an “addition” to the existing quilt.

Music video

Finding sacred music with lyrics written by Japanese people, in Japanese, is a large part of my (Jacqueline) work with college students. The Christian music industry in Japan is still embryonic in contrast to the robust nature of the Christian music industry in other countries. However, accessibility to fun, uplifting sacred music, such as the following song called “Mayu,” which means “eyebrow” in Japanese, is slowly becoming more available. The basic tenet of the song is “Don’t let your eyebrow become furrowed (i.e. don’t worry). Jesus is always beside you, abiding in you.” A few of the girls from the chapel choir performed this at a recent chapel service. Watch the video here.

 

What does faith mean to you?

Posted on June 9, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Christine Eige is an ELCA teaching missionary in Japan. She teaches English as a second language in Tokyo. To support Christine, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 230 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

 

Faith (Shinkou)

Faith (Shinkou)

What does faith mean to you?  How would you explain faith?

Recently I wanted to get a glimpse of what faith means to Christians in Japan, so I started by looking at the word itself. Faith in Japanese is shinkou. The first kanji means to believe, and the second kanji means to respect or to look up to someone. In other words, faith is rooted in belief and respect for someone or something. Some people put their faith in money, but when the stock market crashes, they quickly discover how dangerous that can be. Some people put their faith in family or a spouse, but even humans with the best intentions can let us down or disappoint us. There is only one who doesn’t change or disappoint us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

When I started thinking about the kanji for faith, I asked a few teachers in my office for help. (I wanted to make sure that I understood the meaning before I tried to explain it to someone else.) One helpful teacher was Matsumura Sensei because he is a Japanese Christian who teaches English, and he’s an all-around nice guy. He told me about being a part of the school religion club when he was a student. Reverend Fujii told him a powerful acronym to remember the meaning of faith, and decades later, Matsumura Sensei still remembers it.

FAITH

Forsake

All,

I

Take

Him.

So, where do you put your faith?  What are you doing and saying today that people will remember decades from now?

 

Hello from Tokyo!

Posted on May 19, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Eric and Christie Hanson are ELCA missionaries in Tokyo. They are serving with the Tokyo Lutheran Church and the Hongo Student Center. To support the Hansons, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Tokyo Lutheran Church

Tokyo Lutheran Church

Since returning from home assignment in September, we have been working to solidify the new outreach ministries that we helped to start at Tokyo Lutheran about two years ago. As many of you know, Christie and I will be ending our service in Japan and returning to the U.S. at the end of September, and so our goal is to have the workings of our ministry hammered out in such a way that the new pastor can smoothly and easily step into the position that we will vacate when he comes this fall. For the first time in many years, Tokyo Lutheran now provides intentional ministries of social outreach (specifically, outreach to the homeless) and evangelism in both English and Japanese, and for that reason we have seen a “boom” of new baptisms and membership growth in these past two years. Our church has been blessed with the fresh energy and gifts that our newly baptized members have brought into our community, and we are riding the Spirit that they bring to continue making Tokyo Lutheran a place where people of many nations and languages can find a spiritual home for worship, prayer, spiritual growth and social outreach.

Recently, Pastor Sekino (Tokyo Lutheran’s head pastor) had a chance to speak with a couple of women who used to live near the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, but who were forced to leave their homes as a result of the high levels of radiation that continue to plague the area. They said that they have been coming to Tokyo Lutheran since relocating to Tokyo and have been so thankful that they could find a church in Tokyo that could help them get through the painful experience of their sudden evacuation.  We thank God that we can provide this kind of ministry to people in need, especially after the disasters that Japan has suffered this past year, and we ask you to keep praying for us so that we can continue being living examples of the love that God has for his children, especially those who are in search for relief from sin and pain.

As always, I hope this letter finds all of you doing great work in your own respective mission fields!  By all means, invite your congregations to contact Christie or me anytime with questions or curiosities that you have regarding our work here in Tokyo.  God bless you all and once again, thank you so much for your support!

Eric and Christie Hanson

 

Are you getting your daily dose of manna?

Posted on May 8, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Christine Eige is an ELCA teaching missionary in Japan. To support Christine, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 230 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

 

The cast of “Little Red Riding Hood.”

The cast of “Little Red Riding Hood.”

April flew by in a whirl of activity, and I hardly know where the time went.  Since we have year-round school in Japan, April marked the start of a new school year.  This year my school has 347 junior high students and 1052 senior high students.  I teach kindergarten, junior high and high school classes each week, and the variety of levels definitely keeps me busy. I am still working on remembering my students’ names and the names of all the new teachers, but I know that will take time.

Once again this year, my school participated in the Missoula Children’s Theatre program, so that gave me a great opportunity to get to know some of my students outside of a classroom setting. This year’s production was a musical version of “Little Red Riding Hood.” I am proud of everyone’s hard work, but more importantly, the students had fun. I loved cheering on my students and celebrating their personal victories.

In the midst of all this busyness, God reminded me of how important it is to stay focused on him. It is so easy to get swept up in to-do-lists and all the details of life.  I admit that when I get really busy, I often fall into the trap of not taking quiet time alone with God. I try to rationalize this decision by telling myself that God will understand and that there is just too much to do during a day. What I fail to realize is that when I take the time to focus on God and soak up his truths from Scripture, suddenly I have more strength and energy to accomplish that mountain of tasks I face. I have more patience with myself and others when things don’t go as planned.  When unexpected crises arise, God’s words are already in my heart and ready to comfort me.

God constantly provides for us and sustains us through the ups and downs in life, but just like the Israelites, we need to receive our manna from heaven each day.  Instead of living off of the encouragement, hope, strength and sustenance that God gave us yesterday, Sunday or last week, we can receive a fresh helping of God’s goodness each and every day. Lamentations 3:22-23 reminds us that “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is (God’s) faithfulness.”  So, what does God want to teach you today? Will you take the time to listen?