Japan: Service & Sharing

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Hello again from the Japan mission team, this time from back home in Atlanta! Thank you to everyone who took time to pray for our team - we are grateful to have returned home safely, all still in good health.  

Service in Sendai

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Kyu and Esther are Korean missionaries permanently residing in Sendai (a coastal city that was affected during the 2011 earthquake / tsunami) who Keishi and Andrea met and served with last year while on mission. Excitingly, on November 19th, Kyu and Esther are leading the first worship service in a community church plant that they have developed in the city. They are kicking off with a music concert on the 18th.

What better way to promote this new property for the Lord than decorate with inviting lights for the season?

That's where our JFBC team came in - we brought and helped decorate their church with Christmas lights. Additionally, we were able to spend time with some of their lay leaders, listening to their personal testimonies and emotional accounts of the 2011 natural disaster, as well as pray over the new facility.  

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Our hope is for this new church plant to not only serve the area with the cheerful Christmas lights as a joyous reminder of the holiday season, but more importantly, serve as the ultimate light that only Jesus Christ can provide by spreading the good news.

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Sharing in Tokyo

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Our annual Japan mission trip has partnered with a homeless ministry sidewalk chapel since 2009. The ministry was actually led by Mark and Wendy, IMB missionaries mentioned in our last blog post, for many years. 

The weekly Saturday gathering began with worship, then continued with sharing of the gospel, small group meetings, then concluded with a distribution of food. 

 

One of our trip members, Lee C., had the opportunity to share his powerful testimony with the help of Keishi's translation. The response from the attendees was very emotional and moving... we pray that those who heard were able to relate and see how Jesus is the answer!

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Keishi shared the gospel through the "Chemical Cross" presentation. 

We did not walk away from the week with a set number of people who decided to accept Christ as their Savior, but we can rest knowing that:

 

God’s timing is rarely our own, but it is always worth waiting for.
— James Banks, Our Daily Bread
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Sevierville, TN: Wears Valley Ranch, Day 3

The morning began with another wonderful breakfast prepared by our kitchen crew.  We heard testimonies from two young ranch students and also from two JFBC participants.   Our trip leader also did a devotional on the success of sharing the Gospel with a student in Albania and also a local friend.  The critical message he shared is that we should never delay or procrastinate in sharing the Good News as we never know when we may run out of time.

After cleaning the cabins, we returned for the 10:30 am service at Covenant Community Church.  The message was delivered by Brian McDonnell, COO of Wears Valley Ranch and Associate Pastor of Covenant Community Church.   The message featured Ephesians 6:10-23 - Wearing the Armor of God.  

Afterwards we shared a good old fashioned potluck lunch in the dining hall with the congregation and listened to Travis and Laura Sawyer, two missionaries serving in Kenya. They gave a presentation on their children's school and children's home.

Also during the weekend many of us toured the new chapel.  We were so pleased to see the progress that has been made and looking forward to its completion in Spring of 2018.  (See pictures below)

We look forward to returning next year to serve again at Wears Valley Ranch!

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Sevierville, TN: Wears Valley Ranch, Day 2

Twenty Six volunteers from JFBC made the trip despite some obstacles and some nerve-wracking moments at the last minute for the trip leader’s family. These kinds of hindrances seem to be fairly common for many mission trips! Everyone made it nonetheless for what proved to be a beautiful Saturday that was perfect for us to help the ranch with many jobs! It was rainy last night so the terrific weather was an answered prayer!

The day began with a very hearty breakfast from the kitchen volunteers, who not only treated us to fabulous food but also added seasonal decorations for the buffet tables! Two of the ranch children shared their testimonies with us as also did one of our JFBC team. We had heard from both of the ranch children in prior years and it was both a blessing and an encouragement to see how they have continued to grow in the faith since we last heard from them! And since the JFBC team comes from a variety of different Bible study classes and different worship hours, learning about the faith story of our team is equally a treat!

We were joined at lunch by more of the ranch residents, both staff and students. Being able to renew their fellowship from year to year is one of the joys of this particular JFBC trip! Our kitchen volunteers outdid themselves for lunch with a ham and turkey spread that would be suitable for Thanksgiving!

After lunch the pressure was on to see which person would achieve the coveted Mennonite award! If you are not familiar with this particular recognition event see Rick Beasley! Not until Sunday morning will we find out!

The jobs included replacing sections of split rail fence, indoor painting, installing shelves and wall hooks for storing the equipment for the ropes course,  installing landscape timbers, and clean-up of brush. We are here to serve and encourage the staff and students and we pray that these efforts help to make some of the rough places smooth. There was one twisted knee among the JFBC team; pray that it does not develop complications.

The kitchen team treated us and many of the ranch staff and students to an evening cookout with burgers and hot dogs, followed by a rousing game of ‘battle ball’ (dodge ball) and a bonfire. Of course it would not be a real bonfire without toasted marshmallows and s’mores! Both the meal and the fun provided more chances to visit and share with the staff and students.

As we head into Sunday morning, pray for opportunities to be both an encouragement to the residents and a positive example and witness for the children! We also look forward to a time of worship and fellowship with the church that meets here on the ranch.

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Sevierville, TN: 30th Trip Arrival Night - Welcome Back!

Our JFBC team is excited to arrive Friday tonight at the beautiful Wears Valley Ranch in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. This is our 30th trip from our church and we are so happy to be back once again.  The weather upon arrival is partly sunny with a few scattered showers.  The weather forecast is expected to remain mostly sunny and pleasant throughout the weekend.  

We have the following PRAYER REQUESTS:  Please pray for the driving safety of all  our JFBC team members.  Also we ask for a restful night sleep as we begin our day promptly at 7:00 am in the Dining Hall.  We will begin with testimonies from the Wears Valley Students and JFBC participants.  We will break into our assigned groups and immediately begin working on our many team projects.  We ask for safety as well during on our group projects throughout the day.  We also pray for good weather for much of our oudoor work.  We also pray that all team members remain flexible and patient as work projects can change throughout the day.  But most importantly we are excited to fellowship with the Wears Valley students and staff and find out what God has in store for us this wonderful weekend here at the Ranch.  

Psalm 37:5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him; and He will act.

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Japan: Meeting the Survivors

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Konnichiwa from Kamaishi, Japan! 

Thank you for visiting our mission trip’s blog page! Our tight-knit team of five (for introductions, see further below) has arrived safely in Japan & had a successful first few days on the mission field.

For those of you who may not be aware, Japanese Christians make up less than 1% of the 127 million population. That is equal to about 1 in every 200 people

Our key purpose is to share the gospel to a nation that is desperately in need of knowing Jesus. 

Keishi K. has been leading an annual mission trip to Japan since 2009, but the main focus of service pivoted following the 9.1 magnitude earthquake / tsunami that occurred in northern Japan on March 11, 2011. Kamaishi was among the cluster of coastal cities heavily impacted. 

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Around 22,000 citizens were killed, and thousands more are still listed as missing. Over 300 billion US dollars worth of damage was done. This was truly a tragic natural disaster to say the least. 

To visualize and better understand the extent of what took place on this day, please watch this video coverage; but be warned - it is hard to watch. 

Horror. Shock. Destruction. Heartbreak. Why, Lord? 

Though we may not ever fully understand His mysterious reasoning behind this catastrophic disaster, we have been given clear instruction as Christ followers on what to do in such situations.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.
— Galatians 6:2 (NIV)

During a conversation with a Peruvian missionary residing in the Kamaishi area, we were encouraged to hear that prior to the 2011 earthquake & tsunami, Christianity evidently was basically non-existent in the area. It was not until groups like our team came as volunteers and loved on the survivors in small, tangible ways that Jesus was slowly introduced. 

Keishi and his wife Andrea have been able to see improvements and growth through the years they have been coming to serve. The property being used for outreach is owned by the government. By law, religious activities are prohibited in these locations. Therefore, it was deemed inappropriate for us to come and share about Christianity. 

However, due to the faithful work of missionaries on the ground, relationships have been fostered with the local government. Slowly but surely, as we return each year, we are now able to share more boldly about our beliefs. Praise God! 

As the video above mentions, the majority of the remaining population in Kamaishi and the surrounding towns consists of elderly people. Some still live in temporary housing units roughly about half the size of an average American garage. Some lost their spouses, children, and other relatives and friends in the natural disaster. Some recall stories of survival - running and holding on for dear life. 

A servant-hearted couple (Mark & Wendy, we love you!) felt a calling to move to Kamaishi after serving many years in Tokyo. Thanks to them, our team was able to help facilitate gatherings and fellowship with Japanese survivors whom they continue to develop friendships. Their hope is to one day plant several house churches. 

Take a look at some of our activities: 

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Each member of our team shared their testimony and profession of faith during at least one gathering. 

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Participants chose the Japanese Kanji Character for Peace, Hope, Love, or Joy & created a craft. 

 

 

Keishi shared “You Are Special” by Max Lucado in Japanese - a non-threatening, soft evangelism tool!

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Of course we did not miss worshiping and dancing for our Creator! 

Though our time in Kamaishi is quickly coming to a close, up next we are connecting with another missionary couple in Sendai - another coastal city that was affected in 2011. Afterwards, we are headed to Tokyo to work with a homeless ministry. 

Additional updates are to come… so please revisit our blog! Please also continue to pray that the Lord will soften the hearts of the Japanese people we come in contact with & that He will create divine appointments along the way! 

Thanks for reading and following our journey! 

Keishi is a native to Japan but moved to America for work in 2001. He is currently also a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). He accepted Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior and was baptized / became a member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in 2001. 

Andrea K. is originally from Florida but was in Japan teaching English when she met Keishi. After they got married, Andrea moved to Japan for 10 years where they had two children: Chris and Mari. You may know Andrea from her passion for dance, as she has served in JFBC's pre-school ministry through "Teeny Tykes & Tunes" and at "Night of Hope" each month with the prayer ministry.

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Mari recently graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Digital Broadcast Journalism and Theatre. She is currently pursuing her dreams of acting and dancing for film and television, especially with the recent boom in Atlanta. She sees the entertainment industry as a mission field. However, she still makes use of the writing skills - for example, writing this blog post... :) 

This mission trip is Lee C.’s first time in Japan (and first time trying sushi). He recently celebrated his 15 year wedding anniversary and has two children. God impressed upon his heart a strong desire to share the good news with not only the people of Japan, but especially his lifelong friend and his family who lives in Osaka, Japan. 

Blair joined Keishi and Andrea on their mission trip to Japan in October 2011, right after the earthquake and tsunami hit. During this first trip to Japan, God placed a burden on Blair's heart to share God’s grace in the nation. God opened up many doors, and he has now been living in Tokyo since 2014. He uses his career to minister within his sphere of influence in the workplace.

Albania: God is Moving Among the University Students

We arrived safely on Saturday.  Since then we have been very busy.  On Sunday morning we attended Cornerstone Church at the Cru student center in Tirana, where worshipped with many staff friends, students and acquaintances from previous visits.  It was good catching up with them as well as meeting new fellow believers.

We were pleasantly surprised on Sunday afternoon to have a great turnout for our July English Camp “reunion”.  Out of our 35 students we had 22 come by to see us!  We had fun renewing our friendships and catching up, while also having some very serious spiritual conversations continuing from discussions in the summer.  Several of these students will be involved with the Cru Campus ministry as the staff engages them with Bible studies and activities. 

English Camp Reunion - Majlinda, Kevin, Gazmela, Ina, Izzja

English Camp Reunion - Majlinda, Kevin, Gazmela, Ina, Izzja

Sunday evening we split our team to Vlora and Elbasan.  Rick Johnstone, Jim and Pam Pearson, Preston Cho and Priscilla Sibley traveled Vlora while the rest of the team headed to Elbasan to work with the campus ministry teams in those cities.  Both of our groups arrived safely and settled in for the week with their Cru teams. 

Elbasan team's home for the week: Hotel Guri -- located inside the 15th century castle walls

Elbasan team's home for the week: Hotel Guri -- located inside the 15th century castle walls

Albania is located in the ancient Roman province of Illyricum. There is lots of history here.  The Apostle Paul preached here on his third missionary journey -- probably in 56 A.D. "I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum." (Romans 15:19b)

Ancient Roman low relief sculpture on display in the Elbasan castle

Ancient Roman low relief sculpture on display in the Elbasan castle

On Monday and Tuesday, our teams have been handing out a student calendar to Freshmen students which contains a gospel presentation along with information about fun events that the Cru teams are hosting. The students can fill in a short quiz to be entered into a drawing for prizes. In doing so, they provide their contact information to Cru, who will follow up with them throughout the school year.

During this time we also have had many opportunities to have “coffees” with students where we have gotten to know them and share the Good News of Jesus. Most students come from a Muslim background, and have never heard the gospel before. Several students have already made professions of faith during these encounters, amazing us with the way God can move in students’ hearts.

Karen and Judy sharing coffee and the gospel with the students

Karen and Judy sharing coffee and the gospel with the students

Coffee Conversation about Christ

Coffee Conversation about Christ

During the evenings, after the student activities are finished, we have enjoyed some wonderful dinners together with the Christian Albanian university students who have traveled from a different city to serve as missionaries alongside us.

Team Dinner in Elbasan

Team Dinner in Elbasan