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.

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.

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

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

 

Life in Japan after the earthquake

Posted on December 10, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Jim and Carol Sack are ELCA missionaries in Tokyo, Japan. To support the Sacks, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Kaya Evelyn Sack , born Oct. 21, 2011, in Tokyo.

Kaya Evelyn Sack , born Oct. 21, 2011, in Tokyo.

We are doing pretty well these days in Tokyo, though with the contrasting reports of the nuclear situation we do live with unseen and unknown anxieties. We can’t help being a bit concerned about what it means to have Jon’s wife, Miho, 10 weeks pregnant when the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster took place, and also what it means to have a wee little one come into life in this city at this time. Please see the picture of our new granddaughter, Kaya Evelyn, who was born on Oct.  21.

We hear conflicting reports about Tokyo’s safety. And we can’t fathom what it all means for tens of thousands displaced from their entire existences up north. However, on the surface things seem to be pretty much back to “business as usual.”

We do keep in mind the fact that the earthen plates under our feet have shifted in epic proportions. So the thought of the possibility of a big quake in Tokyo is never too far from our minds.

We went up to Sendai again in August, and we were surprised at how much had been cleaned up since we were there in April. There are still mountains of mangled things like cars, but at least much of the debris had been put into piles. Before, it had been scattered over miles of land. We were actually amazed at how much had been accomplished.

Needless to say, the scars in the hearts cannot be so clearly put into piles and cleaned up. Lost memories, lost communities, lost jobs, lost meaning, lost hopes and lost family members may take years or lifetimes — and indeed may never be restored. Only through loving care can the losses even hope to be transformed into new depth of purpose. We cannot lose faith that this is possible even in the seemingly worst of scenarios. That is the power of the Cross.  March 11 was one of the worst scenarios anyone could imagine.  But we choose to hold onto blessing!

May the grace of Christ accompany you each day this Advent.

Jim and Carol Sack
Tokyo, Japan

 

Teaching moments in Japan

Posted on November 22, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Christine Eige is an ELCA teaching missionary in Japan. As part of her work in Tokyo, she periodically presents chapel speeches in simple English to junior high and senior high school students as a translator delivers them in Japanese. She says most of the students are not Christian and that it is an opportunity to explain basic Christian ideas on subjects the youths can relate to. Here is one message she recently delivered. To support Christine, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Christine Eige

Christine Eige

What is your dream for the future?  What do you want to be when you grow up?

Recently, I read a story about an amazing Japanese Christian named Shimeta Niishima.  He was born in 1843, and he was the son of a samurai.  He studied hard to become a good samurai and a good scholar. When he was 16, his dream was to learn about the world. He wanted to be a scholar-warrior so he could help Japan trade with other countries and understand ideas from all over the world.

Niishima secretly read books from other countries and studied the Bible.  At that time, signs said, “Reward for the capture of Christians!  Death to the followers of Jesus.”  Niishima knew it was dangerous, but he believed in God and became a Christian.

It was also illegal at that time to leave Japan, but Niishima wanted to learn more.  He secretly got on a ship and went to America.  In America, he studied very hard.  He went to a preparatory school, college, and then seminary to become a pastor. Niishima’s new dream was to start a Christian university in Japan.

After 10 years, Niishima returned to Japan.  In 1875, he built Doshisha Academy in Kyoto. He was only 32, but he had already accomplished many things. Niishima wanted Doshisha to become a university to make Christian leaders for Japan: lawyers, professors, ministers, businessmen and statesmen.  He devoted his life to making his dream come true.

In 1890, Niishima showed his strong faith as he said his last words, “Peace, joy, heaven!”  After he died, other people carried on this work.

Today, Doshisha is a university with over 25,000 students.  It is a symbol of Niishima’s faith, hard work, and dreams. I hope that all of us can follow Niishima’s example and achieve great things in the future.

Let us pray.
Dear Lord,
Thank you for the chance to learn.  Help us to do our best and to work hard as we study.  Please guide us as we try to achieve our dreams.  In Your name we pray, amen.

Peace and prayers,
Christine Eige

‘Community’ and the church in Japan

Posted on August 27, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Dana Dutcher is an ELCA missionary stationed in Tokyo. She teaches conversational English and works with several ministries of two congregations, Koishikawa Lutheran Church and Hongo Lutheran Church. To support Dana, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Dana Dutcher compares getting to know people in Japan to cracking coconuts.

Dana Dutcher compares getting to know people in Japan to cracking coconuts.

One biggest hindrances to developing the Christian church in Japan is the sense of “community.”

Japanese people tend to be like coconuts, hard on the outside, layer upon layer of hard exterior, taking forever to crack into. And I have cracked a coconut before — trust me, it’s hard. But once you finally get through all the exterior hardness there is a soft fruit and milk on the inside where a friendship can form.

Americans on the other hand tend to be like peaches. Soft and easy to penetrate on the outside, but once you get into the core, we get harder to crack. Americans easily open up their group and accept you in, instant friends. I have met people on airplanes and heard their life stories before takeoff. But Japanese people on the other hand , it takes years to really get to know someone. They are guarded and careful with what they share. This characteristic can make it difficult when trying to integrate people into new groups, as in bringing people into the church.

Many of you reading this have been Christians your whole life. We’ve been surrounded by Christianity our whole life, so for us being a Christian is easy. I didn’t lose anything by being a Christian. My family didn’t disown me; my friends didn’t leave me. I didn’t bring shame upon my ancestors. But for a Japanese person who converts, these are some of the issues that they face. Turning your back on hundreds of years of tradition to become a Christian isn’t easy. Leaving the community of your old friends and family to join a new community of Christians is not something that happens over night here. It can take years, even decades, before someone feels their ties are strong enough to a new group to commit themselves. This is where the challenges for the church in Japan arise.

You can read more from Dana at her blog, The Land of the Rising Son.

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.

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