We Have Come to Worship Him: Advent Message by Nancy Nethercott


Two members of KBF — my home church in Tokyo — died recently. Pastor Gaius Berg remarked, “for 12 years we had no funerals, this year we have had three.”

On December 7, 2014 my wife Nancy spoke at KBF. The death of church members and the hope of Christmas are woven into her message. I trust that Nancy’s Advent message “We Have Come to Worship Him” is an encouragement to many.

Scripture Passage: Matthew 2:1-12

A few weeks ago, Gaius Berg (Pastor at KBF) called our attention to some road signs. Today, I want us to begin by thinking about this sign.

Few of us would knowingly choose to travel a rough road. Certainly, Eri and Hideo Makishima did not choose the rough road of cancer. Nor did our brother, Masamichi Imai choose the rough road of paralysis and cancer. Maybe you find yourself on a rough road, not by choice, and bumping along, seemingly without hope.

You are not alone!  rough road

Eri and Masamichi… did not travel the rough road alone…their family, friends, and church family all walked alongside them praying, loving, cheering and supporting them in numerous ways.

Most importantly, Jesus Christ, who DID choose to walk the rough road with us here on earth, walked beside Eri and Masamichi…and is walking beside you and me now. Eri desired to get well, to live longer here on earth. But her hope wasn’t in health, it was in Jesus. There is HOPE – HOPE in Jesus Christ and His love demonstrated on the rough cross.

We want to look at the passage of Scripture from Matthew and learn from these WISE Men, who chose to travel a rough road just to worship Jesus, and see how this story applies to our lives of worship today.

Wise Men

Sadao Watanabe Print, Photo from CIVA

Just 12 verses contain all that we know about these travelers, creating more questions than answers. There is much Matthew doesn’t tell us, but what we ARE told is that the WISE Men “came to WORSHIP the King.”

Let’s look at WHAT MATTHEW DOES TELL US or can be discerned from what he wrote…

The WISE Men are a striking example of faith as they had confidence in Whom they sought. They had never seen Him prior to their journey, but they believed that the one they sought was the promised Messiah and journeyed in that confidence. They had no miracles other than the “special star” to boost their confidence, and probably not much teaching to persuade them, only their faith and belief in the prophecy and its fulfillment. All too often we or those with whom we are sharing the Gospel want “proof” or answers before we will step out on faith. The WISE Men are an amazing example of both faith and humility as they “fell down and worshiped” a young child of whom they knew very little and whom they had never met.

The WISE Men are also an example of Joy. Matthew tells us that, “When they saw the star come to rest over the place where Jesus was, they were overjoyed.” Other translations say that they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”matthew2-10-1024x678

John Piper highlights that, “This is a quadruple way of saying they rejoiced. It would have been much to say they rejoiced. More to say they rejoiced with joy. More to say they rejoiced with great joy. And even more to say they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And what was all this joy about? – they were on their way to the Messiah. They were almost there. I cannot avoid the impression then that true worship is not just ascribing authority and dignity to Christ; it is doing this joyfully. It is doing it because you have come to see something about Christ that is so desirable that being near him to ascribe authority and dignity to him personally is overwhelmingly compelling.” (John Piper)

The WISE Men must have been exhausted from their long, hard journey on rough roads, probably discouraged after their encounter with Herod, and possibly nervous about meeting this new King Whom they had been anticipating for so long. And, yet, they were overjoyed to know that their journey was over and they would finally meet the Messiah to worship at His feet.

How do we enter into our times of worship? Among other passages, Psalm 100 encourages us to “enter His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts and enter His courts with praise.”  I know that when I have the most Joy about spending time with Jesus is when I have been intentional about thanking Him for the good as well as the difficult things in my life. When I am grumbling about things or feeling ungrateful, there is an obvious lack of joy. Focusing on Jesus, not on ourselves, not on the rough road, praising Him with a thankful heart, having a sense of expectancy about what God will do in us…these are the things that will transform our worship experience and enable us to “rejoice exceedingly with great joy.”

The WISE Men followed the unique path set out for them to “come to worship Him.”  If you remember the Manger Scene, the WISE Men differ from the Shepherds in various ways, including their path to worship Jesus. (Yes, I know the WISE Men weren’t actually there at the time of Jesus’ birth, but they always seem to get in the Manger scenes!) The Shepherds heard the angel’s announcement and hurried to the manger to see for themselves what had been Japanese doll mangerproclaimed. The birth of a King was not even on their radar and they were taken by surprise at the news. In contrast, the WISE Men had been studying and preparing for years. They were waiting for the news to come that the King was born. Their hearts were prepared and yet it took them a long time to actually get there, most likely traveling on rough roads.

As I think back on our 27 years as missionaries in Japan, we personally don’t have any experience of someone hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ and immediately “coming to worship Him,” like the Shepherds did.

In contrast, more like the WISE Men, it has been years of the Holy Spirit preparing the hearts of people to be ready to “see the star” so to speak, and then begin the long journey towards Jesus, finally falling at his feet and worshiping Him as King.

Just as each person’s journey to Jesus is unique, what happens in our hearts as we worship is unique. God speaks to us and works in our hearts in various ways. Again, we see a similarity and a difference with the Shepherds and the WISE men. Luke 2 tells us about the Shepherds:

After the Angels appeared and told them about the Savior who was born…”they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:16-18)

The shepherds were moved and motivated to boldly “spread the word.” They had been changed from quiet, peaceful shepherds tending their flocks by night, into bold witnesses for Jesus. In essence, they went home “by a different route.” In the case of the WISE men, after worshiping Jesus, they did NOT spread the word, but quietly went home by a different route…they had heard the Holy Spirit and changed direction because of Herod’s evil plans.

Japanese artist, Watanabe Sadao playfully depicted the WISE Men returning to their country in a boat to symbolize their returning by a different route from which they had come.H3873-L62094414

Our worship should do the same thing in us…as we hear God’s voice, through His Word, songs, messages, the whispering of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and wise counselors, we should be changed and go home “by a different route.” Sometimes our route is different from what we had anticipated because of other people’s issues, like Herod’s insecurities about another King usurping his throne. There are times to persevere and not let other’s issues deter us from a certain path, but at other times we need to listen to wisdom (from God and others) that might tell us to go “by a different route.”

I remember a message a couple of years ago that Pastor Martha Berg shared about getting rid of the “clutter” in our lives so that we could focus on God and what He wanted for our lives. It was a time when I was trying to do well at 4 different major responsibilities, but my family and the jobs were suffering. Through Martha’s message and the prompting of the Holy Spirit (and my husband’s urging), I realized that day that I needed to take a “different route.” I prayerfully chose not to renew my term of ministry with two of the jobs. I had a huge sense of relief and peace at journeying by this “different route” as I knew it was where God was leading me.

As the WISE men waited for the sign of the King’s birth, we can assume that they were also preparing. It would not have been easy to come up with the costly gifts that they brought for Jesus unless they had been saving their money, thinking ahead (and listening to the Spirit’s direction) and preparing those gifts. They brought offerings uniquely intended for Jesus:

Gold – a gift “fit for a king”, it was symbolic of Christ’s royalty and divinity – God in the flesh or “Emmanuel”, God with us as we sang this morning.

Frankincense was used to worship at a temple where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God. It was also a symbol of holiness and righteousness.The gift of frankincense to the Christ child was symbolic of His willingness to become a sacrifice, wholly giving Himself up, analogous to a burnt offering.

Myrrh is an aromatic spice and its oil was used for embalming the dead. Myrrh symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction. The baby Jesus would grow to suffer greatly as a man and would pay the ultimate price when He gave His life on the cross for all who would believe in Him. The prophecy in Daniel 9:27 told of the Messiah being “cut off” or killed which may have prompted the WISE Men to bring Myrrh as a gift.

“The Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing.”  (Daniel 9:27)

The WISE Men are a model to us for offering our best, our whole selves to God in worship. Psalm 116:17 reiterates the idea of thankfulness being a vital part of our worship:

“I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:17)

The WISE Men were a splendid example of spiritual diligence and hope.

The WISE Men had open hearts and open minds. They knew the prophecies. They are known as “Magi” or “WISE Men”. They probably came from the orient where the Jews had spent seventy years in the Babylonian captivity. During this period, the Babylonians and Persians probably learned of the promise of the “Messiah” from Daniel the prophet who had lived amongst them. In Daniel 9:25, Daniel prophesied about both the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the coming of the “Anointed One.” That would explain why the WISE Men went to Jerusalem looking for “The King of The Jews”.

The WISE Men had heard stories about the promised Messiah, but, for them it wasn’t just a story passed down, it was truth waiting to be fulfilled. The Jewish priests and teachers of the law that Herod inquired of would have also heard or read the prophecies about the Messiah, but they weren’t interested or expecting anything to actually happen.  With the WISE Men there was awareness and anticipation. They were keenly aware of the prophecies and had most likely studied and calculated the stars and constellations. But their awareness didn’t stop with knowledge, they were anticipating the fulfillment of those prophecies. Anticipation involves waiting with expectancy.  Expectancy is thinking or hoping that something, especially something pleasant, will happen. This type of anticipation is really the underlying meaning and heart of this Advent season.

When I was growing up, my personal plan for my life was to get through college, get married and have lots of kids. I did want to be a missionary, but the other things fit into that goal as well. Graduated from college – check. Got married to Paul – check. Went to graduate school to prepare for missions – check. But after a few years of marriage the rest of “my” plan came slowly to a halt as it became more and more clear that we would have difficulty getting pregnant.

My time of anticipation of having children –  “waiting with expectancy”  – was full of tears, doctor visits, tears, prayers, pills, injections, surgeries, tears, bargaining with God, temperature charts, depression,  dashed hopes, and more tears. It was not a very pretty 10 years of my life. There came a point when my time of waiting was devoid of expectancy – I had lost hope because my hope was in the wrong thing. My hope was in the the outcome that I wanted…a child.

At about the 10 year point of our marriage, when we had decided to stop trying medical intervention, I felt a great loss as my hopes were finally dashed and there was no longer a sense of anticipation…nothing to wait for. We spent some time grieving and then went back to the US for a short Home Assignment.

While visiting one of our supporting churches, we joined them for an all-church retreat. At the last meeting, the speaker was speaking from II Corinthians 12 where the Apostle Paul is talking about his “thorn in the flesh”. The speaker acknowledged that each of us has a  “thorn in the flesh” that we have probably asked God (at least 3 times!) to take away. He gave us a moment to think about what that might be for us. I’ll give you a moment to do the same…what is the painful or distracting thing in your life that you wish God would remove?  I knew what mine was! The speaker then said that Jesus’ answer to Paul is the same as to us…”My Grace is sufficient for you.”  Or Jesus could have said it like this, “This is my Grace to you”, or “This is my gift to you”, “This is the best thing I could have ever thought of to give to you.”

At that moment, the eyes of my heart were opened and I saw Jesus standing before me lovingly offering me a beautifully wrapped present. But, I had been saying to Him, “No, no, I want the one over there with all the babies jumping out of it!”  Weeping, I said to Jesus, “I am so sorry! I receive the gift you have for me as your grace.” And immediately, my heart, that had been hard and angry and bitter, melted into thankfulness and contentment.

My hope had been in having children, but God gave me hope in Him. Hope, not in what I could get from Him, or what He could do for me, but hope in Him. I could then say, “Lord, I don’t NEED a child, but if there is a child out there that you want to be in our home, we will gladly receive.”  Nothing in our circumstances changed – we did not miraculously conceive a child days later or even years later. My heart was content and I was fulfilled with the life and ministries that God had given me.

Paul & Nancy Nethercott with Baby Naomi

Paul & Nancy Nethercott with Baby Naomi

It was 9 years later (the 19 year point of our marriage) that God gave us a baby through the gift of adoption and allowed us to become parents. Naomi was the blessing on top of the Blessing. I am so thankful that God gave me contentment and hope in HIMSELF before He gave me a child. Just as my hope had been on the wrong thing – children – and finally better placed in Jesus, Himself, I pray that your HOPE is in Jesus and not in something or someone else. Jesus’ Grace IS sufficient for all of our needs; it is sufficient for your “thorn in the flesh.” We can wait with expectancy and anticipation for what He will do in our lives if our hope is in Him and not in the outcomes we desire.

I think that the WISE Men had put their HOPE in the promised King, the Messiah, not in the star that they were waiting to appear. We can discern this because once they saw the star, they took Action. They actually made the long, hard journey…which probably took them two years. The WISE Men didn’t just see the star and say, “OK, now that we’ve seen the star we know the Messiah has been born. Check that off our research list.” NO!

They acted on the sign and the promise that it would lead them to the Messiah. They were intentional about going to worship Jesus. We, too, need to be people of action. “Worship is an ACTION verb.”

Worship is something we DO, and worship calls us to action. The “signs” and promises that we find in the Bible should lead us to action as we respond to God and obey the “signs” He gives us. What are the signs that God has placed in your life? Where are those signs guiding you? Maybe down a rough road? The sign of the star is not the thing that the WISE Men had put their hope in. Their hope was in what the sign was leading them down the rough road towards…the Messiah.

May we be like the WISE Men and boldly say, “We have come to worship Him!”

Related Links:

Nancy Nethercott serves as a missionary in Tokyo with TEAM. She loves to plan worship services, cook, and spend time with friends. Nancy has a Doctorate in Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Jacksonville, FL, and is the Worship Coordinator at Kurume Bible Fellowship in Tokyo.


2 Criminals Film Poster

I (Paul Nethercott) am a career missionary in Japan with TEAM. I help people connect with each other and produce media. Currently, I am producing 2 Criminals, a feature-length film inspired by the lives of two men I met while doing disaster relief work after Japan’s epic disaster in March of 2011. 2 Criminals is about a ruthless hit man and an arrogant thief for the yakuza (Japanese Mafia) who volunteer in Japan’s radioactive disaster zone and find redemption. It is a story of finding beauty in the rubble.

Masamichi Imai: A Life Full of Burdens, Friendship, & Hope

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Mr. Imai was an extraordinary Japanese man whose faith encouraged all those who knew him. I came to know Mr. Imai because he was part of Kurume Bible Fellowship, my church in Tokyo. I trust that you are encouraged by the beautiful story of Mr. Imai told by our mutual friend, Yoshitaka Satoh.

::::: Masamichi Imai: A Life Full of Burdens, Friendship, & Hope :::::

(Scroll down for a Japanese version of the story)

At 3:15 a.m. on October 14, 2014 Masamichi Imai went to be with the Lord. Having spent the night in the hospital ward, I (Yoshitaka) was thankful to be able to be at Imai-san’s side during his last moments on earth. In my heart I said to him, “You did a good job. You lived your life well, even though it was such a hard one. May you rest in peace. I look forward to seeing you again in heaven.”

Yoshitaka (in white shirt) is next to Mr. Imai (in wheelchair)

First Meeting
I met Imai-san 20 years ago at Waseda University (a large Univ. in Tokyo). I had gone out
evangelizing with another student, Takashi Sakamoto (who is now a pastor), and he was one of the students we approached that day.

Having suffered a spinal cord injury, Imai-san was sitting in his wheelchair quietly reading a book. We shared about Jesus’ love with him using the “Four Spiritual Laws” tract, and he ended up praying with us right there on the spot to receive Jesus into his life.

After that, we began meeting with him weekly for follow-up Bible study and campus events, and he started coming with us to church in Takadanobaba. I look back fondly on the times when everyone would carry him, wheelchair and all, up the church’s narrow stairwell.  We also had some wonderful times meeting up for fun at his house.

A Life of Burdens
Of course, life in a wheelchair was never easy, and Imai-san suffered further when one of his legs needed to be amputated. Although he married after graduating from two seminaries, various issues eventually led to divorce, which he deeply regretted. Over the past few years, he seemed to be seriously grappling with the questions of what it means to forgive, and what it means to truly love another person.

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Mr. Imai (2nd from right) with friends

Then the doctors gave him only three months to live. His was a life full of burdens. In fact, it seemed as if he was made to experience just about every kind of trouble, pain, and sadness known to man.

Looking Heavenward
In August and September, Imai-san was invited by two churches to give a testimony of God’s work in his life.  Many were moved to tears and deeply encouraged by his story. No one who heard those testimonies could possibly have imagined that he was to be taken home so soon afterward. Masamichi Imai penned the following note shortly before his death at the age of 45:

“It’s become difficult even to write. To the end, I say Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! I praise the glory of Father God, who has brought good out of my life. Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer, and You who are always with me, Holy Spirit, my Comforter, I give You praise. Brothers and sisters of the church, I thank you. My life has been a special blessing from the Lord.”

Please Pray
Imai-san’s mother says she wants to believe in this Jesus of whom her son spoke so often, and my wife Ayumi had the opportunity to share the gospel with her again. Please pray that his mother can have assurance of her faith and grow in the Lord. I am helping sort through the Imai family home. Please pray also for the salvation of Imai-san’s elderly father, and Imai-san’s younger sister, who suffers from a chronic illness.

by Yoshitaka Satoh, Tokyo, Japan


This is a beautiful story of a long-term committed friendship and of a church community that responded with love and support. During Mr. Imai’s final days my heart was warmed as I saw the people of my church mobilizing to meet his needs and the needs of his family. He was not alone.

Related Links:


10月14日午前3時15分、今井くんの呼吸が静かに止まりました。前の晩からホスピス病棟に宿泊し ていたこともあって、地上の最期を共にすごせたことは感謝なことでした。「ご苦労さまでした。たいへ んな人生よくここまでがんばった。安心してゆっくり安めよ。また向こうで会おう。」と心の中で語りかけました。

★ 出会い★ 今井くんに出会ったのは今から20年前、早稲田大学でした。坂 本高志くん(現在、牧師)という学生といっしょに個人伝道に出 かけて行って声をかけたのがきっかけでした。今井くんは脊髄損 傷のため車いすに座って一人静かに本を読んでいるところでした。 「四つの法則」を使ってイエスさまの愛を分かち合い、その場で イエスさまを受け入れるお祈りをいっしょにしました。それから 毎週定期的に会うようになり、フォローアップの聖書勉強や、学 内でのイベント活動、高田馬場の教会にいっしょに集うようにな りました。車いすに乗せたまま教会の狭い階段をみんなで担いで 運んだことがなつかしい~。今井くんの家にみんなで集まって遊 んだことがほんと楽しかった~

Mr. Imai Surrounded by Friends

Mr. Imai Surrounded by Friends

★ 波乱万丈★ 車いす生活はもちろんでしたが、途中で片足の切断をしなければ ならなかった時は苦悩していました。二つの神学校を卒業してよ うやく結婚に導かれながら、さまざまな問題に出遭って結婚生活 にピリオドを打たなければならなくなった時の悲しみと悔しさ、 無念さにはただ涙するしかありませんでした。この数年は、赦す こととはなにか、愛することとはなにか、真剣に取り組んでいる 様子でした。そして受けた余命3ヶ月宣告・・・人生で味わう困 難、苦しみ、悲しみのほとんどすべてを体験させられて、彼の背 中はたくさんの荷物でいっぱいになっていました。

★ 天国で会おう★ ところが、この8月と9月、二つの教会で彼は自分の人生に働い てくださっている神さまを証しする機会に恵まれました。多くの 人々が涙をもって彼の証しを耳にし、魂を強く揺さぶられていま した。二つの教会ともまさかそのすぐあとに彼が天に召されるな んて思ってもいませんでした。今井理充(まさみち)くん(45 才)が最期に書き残したメモを記します。「書くのもしんどくなっ てきた。最期に、ハレルヤ、私は主を讃えます。私の人生を良き に導いてくださった父なる御神の栄光をほめたたえます。主イエ スキリストよ、我が贖い主よ、共なるお方よ、慰め主なる聖霊 よ、ほめたたえます。教会の兄弟姉妹よ、感謝します。私の人生 は主にあって、特別に祝福されたものであった。」 佐藤義孝・亜由美・ここ 2014年10月

★ お祈りください★ 今井くんのお母さんは、息子から何度も聞いていたイエスさまを 信じたいと思ったようです。亜由美が改めて福音を分かち合うこ とができました。お母さんの救いの確信と信仰の成長のために。 また、義孝が今井家の整理を手伝っています。ご高齢で歩行困難 なお父さん、難病と闘っている妹さんが救われるように。 早稲田の同労者でした。(右二人目) 飼い猫のロシアンちゃんと ホスピスにてお母さんと 亜由美と今井さん(右二人目)

Sadao Watanabe: Visualizer of Bible Stories from a Japanese Perspective

Sadao Watanabe, Nativity

Sadao Watanabe was a skilled Japanese artist — and a follower of Jesus — who visualized Bible stories from a Japanese perspective. Watanabe’s art is original, authentically Japanese, and laden with emotion. I feel his love for the stories and the people that he depicted.

In a nation where the vast majority of church related art is imported from the West, Watanabe’s visual depictions of Bible stories are vitally important to contextualizing the gospel in Japan.

This is the 1st Japanese style cross I’ve seen:

Jesus on the Cross

Sadao Watanabe, Jesus on the Cross

Western artists depict Bible scenes from their perspective. In “Descent from the Cross” Watanabe beautifully visualizes Jesus and the cross from a Japanese perspective.

Descent from The Cross

Sadao Watanabe, Descent from The Cross

ABOUT SADAO WATANABE: “At age 17, Watanabe (1913-1996) was baptized a Christian and he quickly combined his new faith with an interest in preserving the traditional Japanese folk art of stencil dying, or katazome.” (CIVA site)

The Boat in the Storm

Sadao Watanabe, The Boat in the Storm

“Watanabe’s fame notwithstanding, the artist’s chief desire was to create art that could be enjoyed by common people and displayed in ordinary settings.” (CIVA website)

Sadao Watanabe, Flight to Egypt

Sadao Watanabe, Flight to Egypt

“Over time, Watanabe came to be Japan’s leading artist to portray biblical scenes. While his work was well-received in his homeland, it was also highly regarded internationally as evidenced by exhibitions art at leading institutions such as the British Museum, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, and the Vatican Museum.” (CIVA website)

Madonna and Child by Sadao Watanabe

Sadao Watanabe, Madonna and Child

“To add to the complexity of Watanabe’s art, it is irrefutably Japanese with its use of the visual iconography of mingei, its woodcuts, and its distinctive materials.” (Makoto Fujimura, CIVA blog)

Sadao Watanabe, Moses Abandoned

Sadao Watanabe, Moses Abandoned

“By bringing together so many fine examples of Watanabe’s art for a North American audience, Beauty Given by Grace: The Biblical Prints of Sadao Watanabe is an opportunity to consider the generous affections that Watanabe’s art encourages in the viewer, as well as the legacy that he has left for future generations of artists. I, for one, need to let his colors bleed into my journey, to see the expansive vista offered by an artist I never met.” (Makoto Fujimura, CIVA blog)

Sadao Watanabe, The Fourth Angel Blew His Trumpet

Sadao Watanabe, The Fourth Angel Blew His Trumpet

The new book, Beauty Given by Grace is available in the CIVA Store. Learn more about this new book, and purchase it today in the CIVA Store.

Book Cover for Beauty Given by Grace

Beauty Given by Grace Book Cover

CIVA has organized a traveling exhibition of 50 prints by Sadao Watanabe. When my wife Nancy and I attended the Symposium on Worship in Grand Rapids, MI, we thoroughly enjoyed seeing it. For detailed information on the traveling exhibition go to: Sadao Watanabe Exhibit

The photos in this post are of prints in the CIVA traveling exhibition, I really appreciate Margo Rogers at CIVA giving permission to use them.

What do you think about the merits of bringing the CIVA traveling exhibition of Watanabe’s prints to Japan?

Related Links:


2 Criminals Film Poster

I (Paul Nethercott) am a career missionary in Japan with TEAM. I help people connect with each other and produce media. Currently, I am producing 2 Criminals, a feature-length film inspired by the lives of two men I met while doing disaster relief work after Japan’s epic disaster in March of 2011. 2 Criminals is about a ruthless hit man and an arrogant thief for the yakuza (Japanese Mafia) who volunteer in Japan’s radioactive disaster zone and find redemption. It is a story of finding beauty in the rubble.

Gospel Music is Impacting Japan: Alfie Silas Interview

Alphie Silas Christmas Concert in Japan

“We really want to bring Christ’s hope and His love to the people of Japan.”  (Alfie Silas)

When the Hollywood film Sister Act became a huge hit in Japan, I was surprised. When the film’s popularity resulted in Black Gospel music becoming wildly popular here in Japan, I
was shocked.

For many months I frequently saw Black Gospel on mainstream Japanese TV stations and heard it on the radio. Not satisfied with just listening to Gospel music many Japanese joined local Black Gospel choirs. Over 20 years later Black Gospel is a well established genre in Japan with a relatively small but passionate fan base.Sister Act Poster

Gospel singer Alfie Silas — renowned for her performance of “Circle of Life” for the soundtrack of the Lion King movie — has a close connection with Japan. Before Japan’s epic disaster in March of 2011 she had performed in large venues in Japan. A year after the disaster Alfie performed at Celebration of Hope with Franklin Graham. While in Japan Alfie visited a number of temporary housing sites where she met survivors of the disaster.

This December will return to Japan with her husband Mike Durio for a tour called Benefit Christmas Concert Celebration. Alfie’s tour schedule lists 3 stops in the Tokyo area and 6 in the disaster zone (see below for details).

This week I am honored to interview Alfie Silas.

Q: What is your vision for this series of concerts in Japan?
Silas: It is my desire that through the message of the true meaning of Christmas those attending will understand that they are loved by God, and that they recognize there is hope in him today, and also hope for a glorious future. It would be nice to have each seat filled at each event but more than that, each heart filled with the love of God having heard the message of the Christ of Christmas.

Q: When was the first time you came to Japan? 
Silas: The first trip was in 1993 for one month… I was asked to tour Japan singing back-up vocals for popular Japanese singer Eikichi Yazawa.

Q: In 2011 you returned to Japan under completely different circumstances.  How did it feel to visit Japan’s disaster zone?  

Silas: The Tsunami/Earthquake disaster was unreal; I was personally devastated by what I saw. It was very hard sleeping after seeing what the people had to live through. My heart went out to every single person.Alphie in Tohoku

Q: How did the people in Tohoku respond to your music? 

Silas: I believe the people enjoyed our music.  I tried to be sensitive to their new circumstances, but I also tried to help them into another place… music can be used as a great tool for healing our broken hearts.

I encountered countless gracious people expressing their gratitude for my coming to Japan in their time of need.  Words fall short at times; there were many tears, and hugs which I was told does not happen very often in Japanese culture.

I remember being in one temporary housing recreational room and as I was finishing a song a man yelled out something from the back, I asked what did he say and was told he said “Now I can go on!!!”

Another Lady told me I reminded her of her daughter who was lost to the tsunami. She cried as I tried to comfort her.DSCN0740

I also remember singing in the rain with a few ladies from another temporary housing site, how I tried to stop singing because of the rain and they would not let me, they wanted to continue being uplifted by our music.  So many memories…but most was unspoken, it was the look in their eyes that said it all…thank you…

Q: What help do you need with this tour? 
Silas: By purchasing “Christmas with Alfie Silas” tickets.  At local E-plus stations, Family Marts, Lawson’s and 7-11 stores in Japan or from  E+ ( http://goo.gl/uOAEAW )

Alfie Silas on Facebook

Also, helping us attain media coverage concerning concerts, and helping us connect with sponsors for gifts in the temporary housing areas we will visit, is important.HPIM1308 2

Q: How can we pray? 
Silas: We really appreciate your prayers.  Namely, ticket sales, safe travels, That hearts will be opened to the message of Jesus Christ and experience him personally, boldness, wisdom, God’s will and purpose be fulfilled, volunteers to help with setting up and tear down. Also, pray for more support for those in temporary housing.

ABOUT ALFIE SILAS: “Singing is my life.”

Touching hearts and impacting lives is the heartbeat of Alfie, and music is the powerful force of this expression.  Gifted with an expansive four octave vocal range, Alfie Silas hits the target with her unique, refreshing style.

As one of the top session singers. Alfie has recorded with music greats such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Barbara Streisand, Christina Aguilera, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Elton John and many others.  She has sung on the well-known soundtracks of “The Lion King”, “Pretty Woman”, “Fairly Odd Parents (theme song)”, “Brother Bear 2 Movie”, “Suddenly Susan”, Berry Gordy’s “The Last Dragon Movie”, and many more. Her voice can currently be heard on  “Hairspray”, “Glee” “Boston Legal” and “America’s Got Talent”.

Alfie Silas in Japan

Alfie’s background is filled with Hollywood movie credits. The name of Alfie Silas has been seen in many movies, CDs and DVDs. Not only she is known as a great Pop singer but also as a Gospel Singer. She is a member of Franklin Graham Crusades that travels all around the world.


  • 12\1 Nerima Cultural Center 練馬区文化センター 〒220-0044 横浜市西区紅葉ヶ丘53番地 TEL 03-3993-3311
  • 12\2 Yokohama Educational Hall 横浜市教育会館 〒220-0044 横浜市西区紅葉ヶ丘53番地 TEL 045-231-0960
  • 12\3 Tsukuba Capio つくばカピオ 〒305-0032 茨城県つくば市竹園1-10-1 TEL 029-851-2886
  • 12\4 Alios Iwaki アリオス 〒970-8026 福島県いわき市平字三崎1番地の6  TEL 0246-22-8111アルフィーサイラス
  • 12\5 Aizu Fugado會津風雅堂 〒965-0807 福島県会津若松市城東町12-1 TEL 0242-27-0900
  • 12\8 Iwaki Cultural Centerいわき市文化センター 〒970-8026 いわき市平字堂根町1-4 TEL 0246-22-5431
  • 12\9 Koriyama Cultural  Center 郡山市民文化センター 〒963-8878 福島県郡山市堤下町1番2号 TEL 024-934-2288
  • 12\10 Fukushima Culture Center 福島文化センター 〒960-8116 福島県福島市春日町5-54 TEL 024-534-9191
  • 12\11 Izumity 〒981-3133 仙台市泉区泉中央2-18-1 TEL 022-375-3101



2 Criminals Film Poster

2 Criminals Film Poster

I (JapanCAN blogger, Paul Nethercott) am producing 2 Criminals, a feature-length film inspired by the lives of two men I met while doing disaster relief work after Japan’s epic disaster in March of 2011. 2 Criminals is about a ruthless hit man and an arrogant thief for the yakuza (Japanese Mafia) who volunteer in Japan’s radioactive disaster zone and find redemption. It is a story of finding beauty in the rubble.

Celtic Advent: Creative Ways of Engaging with God

Advent Calendar“Creative Ways of Engaging with God (and with each other)” is a Sunday School class I am leading this Fall at my home church in Tokyo (Kurume Bible Fellowship). My vision for this class is to get beyond the typical lecture approach to teaching. Lectures work OK for auditory learners but leave those of us who are visual and/or kinesthetic disengaged and often bored. The typical lecture approach is NOT very effective for many of us.

Each class includes at least one activity that relates to and reinforces a biblical truth. For example, one Sunday we read the first part of Psalm 19 — “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God” passage — and then went for a walk along the gorgeous river that is nearby. The “assignment” was to take in the beauty and think about how it revealed God’s glory.

An interesting thing happened on that walk. As soon as we reached the river area an elderly Japanese woman greeted us and invited us to her nearby home. She wanted to give us her collection of old kimono (that is another story). In Japan, it is VERY unusual to be greeted by someone you don’t know, even more unusual to be taken to their home and given a lovely gift. It struck me that getting out of our chairs and out of the church building to engage with God’s creation became an opportunity to engage and connect with our community.

Susan Forshey

Susan Forshey

This morning my wife, Nancy, sent me a link to a wonderful resource for engaging with God in a creative way: Celtic Advent Calendar: 40 Days of Joy, Love and Gratitude. This Celtic Advent Calendar was created by Susan Forshey, a blogger who describes herself as a, “Tea-drinker, cafe-windowseat-sitter, theologian-stargazer, contemplative-educator, photo-taking-poet, earth-loving artist, and follower of Jesus Christ.”

On her blog Susan wrote,

“For each day, from now until Epiphany, I’ve thought of one thing I can do to practice joy and gratitude, and to give love, putting it on a calendar that draws on ancient Advent and Christmas traditions.”

I really like Susan’s creative way of engaging with God this Advent and Christmas season…  Would you like to join me and aim at doing one activity each day this Advent season to practice joy and express gratitude? If so, I’d really like to hear from you so we can make this journey together. If you want to join me, please post a comment below so we can be in touch and let each other know how God is speaking to us.

Note: On her blog Susan wrote, “Practice Grace. No need to do them all or every day. Let the Holy Spirit speak to your heart!”

Direct link to the PDF of the Calendar: Ideas for Living Joyfully: Forty Days of Celtic Advent and the Twelve Days of Christmas 2014 

If you plan to put Susan’s idea into practice, please do post a comment below!

Related Links:


3 Barriers to the Gospel Thriving in Japan

Break Down the Barriers

Many times I have been asked, “Why are there so few followers of Jesus in Japan?” I really don’t know. No one does. The question is impossible to answer.

What we can do is identify barriers to the Gospel thriving in Japan and ask ourselves, “what can I do about these barriers?”

Three barriers to the Gospel thriving in Japan:

  1. At some level, we (the followers of Jesus in Japan and around the world) question whether the Gospel CAN thrive in Japan. Individuals, churches, missions tend to give up and accept the status quo.
  2. Generally, Japanese fear that following Jesus will mean losing their cultural identity.
  3. It is normal for human beings to resist change, even when it is positive. Japanese culture puts a high value on conformity. Since following Jesus is not considered “normal” in Japan, anyone who does so often expreiences a great deal of resistance.

There is always hope. We must not accept the status quo and give up on Japan.

How can we work together to break down these barriers? What are your ideas?

From Japan to Uganda: 1.8 Million Manga Bible Storybooks

New Life League Ministries Sending 1 Million Bible Manga to Uganda

Manga style Bible storybooks published by NEXT are making a big impact in Uganda. Several years ago NEXT sent 800,000 copies of MANGA MESSIAH — the first book in the series — to Uganda. The current project is to send a total of 1 million copies of THE MESSIAH to Uganda. So far, 600,000 copies of THE MESSIAH have been sent.

What sets the NEXT Bible storybooks apart is the authentic illustrations by professional Japanese manga artists. This series of books is a remarkable and very exciting publishing achievement. The NEXT books are a wonderful example of authentic Japanese art being utilized to effectively share the gospel.MANGA MESSIAH BOOK

If you don’t know about manga, read about it on Wikipedia HERE.

Over 40 years ago, Roald Lidal, founder of NEXT and leader of NLM for many years, began thinking about publishing a manga Bible. After dealing with incredibly difficult challenges, the vision became a reality 8 years ago when NLM released MANGA MESSIAH. Since then, several volumes have been added with translations in 27 languages.

In total, over 8 million copies of the manga Bible storybook series are in print!

The NEXT books are a wonderful example of authentic Japanese art being utilized to communicate the Gospel effectively. We need to see more of this.

Below is an interview with my friend Roald Lidal.

JapanCAN: How did you get involved in providing manga Bible storybooks for children in Uganda? 

Lidal: We were involved with a project of providing easy to read Bibles for all public school teachers in Uganda, when we were asked what we were doing to reach the children. The leader of a Canadian Bible League promised to pay for 800,000 MANGA MESSIAH books if we could get them distributed in a meaningful way. This lead to several visits and a close link to Church of Uganda, who has been in charge of the distribution of 800,000 MANGA MESSIAH books through public schools in Uganda.

JapanCAN: How did the ambassador from Uganda get involved? 


Grace Akech-O, Ugandan Ambassador to Japan

Lidal: Two of our key staff in Japan attended an event held by the VIP Club. The Ugandan ambassador was at the event and gave her testimony. They had opportunity to meet her and invited her out to join a send-off ceremony. The ambassador is from northern Uganda, the same region that these booklets are going. There is significance to having someone from that same region in high standing give a blessing over the books.

JapanCAN: What is the response of Ugandans? 

Lidal: When I visited Uganda I was able to see two ministers: the Minister of Education and Sports, and the Minister of Ethics and Integrity. Both of them were Christians. We attended a Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast and met with the First Lady. Almost everyone was very excited about the Manga Messiah project.

The Minister of Ethics and Integrity said, “Wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Anti-Christian forces are targeting the schools today. Now is truly the time for something like this.”

The First Lady clapped her hands when I gave her a copy, and said, “This is certainly wonderful, timely and much needed.”

The leader of the Uganda Christian Teacher’s Association (UCTA) said, “I read this book and it is great. I also showed it to several children and they literally fought over it, as they wanted it so much.”

One teacher said, “The problem with the books is that the students have to be told to only read them in their free time. Otherwise, they will read during classes and at times when they should study other subjects.”Manga Messiah in Uganda

The person in charge of the physical distribution said, “It is such a joy to see the children carrying their treasured books. They don’t have any Bibles and most of their parents don’t have one either. Manga Messiah becomes their Bible. The children often teach their parents, so the books have a great influence, not only on the children but on their families and communities.”

The books have had a tremendous impact on families. If families are changed, communities will change and if communities are changed, the nation will in turn change as well.

Ugandan Girl: “I was given a book and took it home. I was very excited and shared it with my younger sister. Using the book I taught her how to read and how to follow Jesus. I still read it and I have learned that Jesus died for me, has forgiven me and that one day I will go to be with him forever.”

Ugandan Boy: “I learned of Jesus’ dying for us and forgiving us. He is the way. I also learned how to forgive others and how to overcome temptation. I have read the book several times and I also take it to a Bible study group where we study it.”Uganda Children Collage

JapanCAN: Why is this project so important for Uganda? 

Lidal: Simply because manga is a powerful way of proclaiming the gospel story. Ugandan children lack most of the material things that we take for granted and they will devour the books. Also, especially in the North, where the latest shipment will go, many children have experienced the horrors of war and all the atrocities that comes with that. It is therefore highly important to provide these children with the Good News in a form that they will read, understand, and gladly accept.

The expected outcome is simply to reach hundreds of thousands of children for Christ. Each manga book is usually read by at least 3 persons (in Uganda more like 5 – 6). This means that because of one container with 200,000 books literally at least 600,000 Ugandans will be given an opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ.

JapanCAN: What do you think is the reason that Bible Manga been so well received in Uganda? 

Lidal: First and foremost because of the power of the story-telling form, manga. The children as well as adults are drawn into the story of the Bible and it has had a very powerful impact on the many readers. MANGA MESSIAH became the only Bible and the only book in countless homes and this was another reason why it was read and re-read so much. Furthermore, because of the unique drawings even children with limited reading abilities were drawn into the books. The message got through and we can only praise God for the many testimonies of changed lives.

JapanCAN: How is the funding going for Uganda?  How much more do you need to reach the goal?  

Lidal: We plan to send 2 more waves of 200,000 booklets each to meet the goal of sending 1 million Uganda School Children with Manga Messiahcopies of THE MESSIAH booklet to Uganda. To cover the cost of printing we need to raise 5 million yen ($50,000 USD) per wave. We will then look to find a sponsor to cover the shipping costs. Since we just sent out 200,000, we are starting to collect donations for the next wave.

JapanCAN: How can we make a donation?

Go to the NEXT website and choose the GENERAL FUND option. In the US, the donation is tax-deductible.

Related Links:

Christmas Resources for Bringing Hope to Japan

Christmas, The Story of Hope

Christmas is an opportunity to winsomely share the Gospel with Japanese. This week’s post is a list of Christmas resources for outreach to Japanese that you can trust. If you need a gift for your neighbors, friends, or for a church event, consider one of the items on this list.

If you have questions, please post them in the comment area at the bottom of this post. I will do my best to make sure that the appropriate publisher responds.

The Caroling Collection (Songbook & Recording)CarolingBookCDGift-600w

The Caroling Collection is a compilation of thirty-two favorite Christmas songs ranging from traditional hymns to contemporary choruses. It is available both as a bilingual Japanese/English songbook and as a bilingual recording. The performances are sung either a cappella or to light accompaniment by an ensemble made up of native speakers of English and Japanese.
The songbook can be used in a wide variety of ways—caroling at train stations and in shopping districts, for worship services, in English classes, Christmas parties, family sing-a-longs, or any other situation calling for Christmas music.
Look for the songbook and CD at your favorite Christian bookstore in Japan, or order it directly from the Japan Ministry Tool Box Web site.
(Once again in 2014 the Japan Ministry Tool Box is offering a gift-wrapped songbook/CD set for ¥2500 with free shipping to any location in Japan. For a 2013 interview with the producer, read CHRISTMAS MUSIC IN JAPANESE & ENGLISH: THE CAROLING COLLECTION)
The Caroling Collection songbook – ¥864
The Caroling Collection CD – ¥1944

For digital downloads of the recording, you can purchase from either iTunes or Amazon.

Christmas The Story of HopeChristmas The Story of Hope

Description: This product is a Christmas manga that is specifically designed for Christmas outreach. It is a manga story of Jesus that focuses on his birth but continues to tell of his life, death and resurrection. The product is created for youth (junior high to college) but has been well received by a wider range of ages. This product was first created in 2013, but has been renewed for the 2014 season.

You can order Christmas The Story of Hope through our website: onehopejapan.net

The booklet itself is free of charge, but we ask those who order to cover the cost of shipping. Within Japan we will ship it COD. Please note that Christmas The Story of Hope is provided in units of 200 pieces.

Hope Navi

Hope Navi cropped

Description: This is a new product we have created for youth evangelism. This piece is a easy-to-read booklet of the key stories of the Bible starting from Genesis to the Epistles, accompanied by colorful illustrations. Hope Navi has been created based on research with youth as well as with youth leaders to effectively communicate God’s truth and identify key topics for articles to make these truths relevant to youth.

Order Hope Navi at: onehopejapan.net

Hope Navi is free of charge. However, we ask those who order to cover the cost of shipping. Within Japan we will ship it COD. Please note that the Hope Navi booklet is provided in units of 200 pieces.

Totally Mysterious Christmas (すごく不思議なクリスマス!)

Totally Mysterious Christmas

Totally Mysterious Christmas

A mobile phone/tablet app for iOS/Android/Kindle that shares the Gospel of Christ through an interactive story-app in a Japanese Game-Style format. The app was created from the animated shorts which have been broadcast on CGNTV Japan over the Christmas season for the past 3 years. Nearly 100K viewers have see the story so far, but we hope to reach 1 million before long. Totally Mysterious Christmas is available only in the Japanese language.

The app is free of charge and can be downloaded for devices, or viewed in a web browser, HERE. Homepage: Totally Mysterious Christmas

Tale of Three Trees (Sanbon no Ki) 3本の木

Full-color Christmas tract for children retelling the story of 3 trees who all got to do something important because it was for Jesus. One became the manger, another became a ship that carried Him, and the third became the cross. Christmas celebrates His birth. When we believe He died for our sins in our place we are forgiven and can go to Heaven. How about celebrating His birth? Includes space for church to put address and info about Christmas activities.

8 pages. Pack of 50. (44418) Price: 1,080 yen including tax.

Published by Every Home for Christ/ Word of Life Press Ministries Tale of Three Trees will be released October 31st, 2014. This tract will be available at Christian bookstores in Japan, from the WLPM internet store Gospelshop.com, or from EHC directly at 03-5341-6930 which will take your orders in Japanese, or in English from Don Regier at gospelhq@wlpm.or.jp or 03-5341-6917. If you get them from a Christian bookstore you can buy just the quantity you want and do not have to get packs of 50.

Let It Be: Accepting Christmas Love (Let It Be: Kurisumasu no Ai o Uketoru)Let it be

Full-color Christmas tract for adults with a clear gospel message. Written as a letter from a Japanese pastor in Milan, Italy, with photos of buildings and the painting of The Annunciation by Fra Angelico. Quotes Luke 1:28 in English. Begins by telling what Christmas is like in Italy and then introduces the painting and tells the story of the angel visiting Mary. Mary responded to the angel’s message. “Let it be to me according to your word.” Why did God send His Son? Not to start Christianity, but because God loves us. We are all sinners and separated from God. So God sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for our sins. So if we accept Jesus as savior by faith we can go to be with God. Mary accepted God’s love gift by faith. Won’t you accept that God loves you and sent Jesus to be your savior?

105cmx125cm size, 8 pp. Pack of 50 tracts. (44420) Price 1,080 yen including tax.

Published by Every Home for Christ/ Word of Life Press Ministries Let It Be: Accepting Christmas Love will be released October 31st, 2014. This tract will be available at Christian bookstores in Japan, from the WLPM internet store Gospelshop.com, or from EHC directly at 03-5341-6930 which will take your orders in Japanese, or in English from Don Regier at gospelhq@wlpm.or.jp or 03-5341-6917. If you get them from a Christian bookstore you can buy just the quantity you want and do not have to get packs of 50.

Café Holy’s Christmas (Kissa Hohri no Kurisumasu)喫茶ホーリー

A Manga-style, full-color booklet with talking animals. A lonely bunny learned the meaning of Christmas from the staff and customers at Café Holy. Even though He was God, Jesus came to draw close to us and was born in a lonely manger. The Savior Jesus came to us to laugh and cry with us. Great to introduce Christ and Christmas to children and to adults who enjoy this style of artwork.

A6 size, 20 pp. (44417) Price: 120 yen each including tax.

Published by Every Home for Christ/ Word of Life Press Ministries Café Holy’s Christmas will be released October 31st, 2014. This booklet will be available at Christian bookstores in Japan, from the WLPM internet store Gospelshop.com, or from EHC directly at 03-5341-6930 which will take your orders in Japanese, or in English from Don Regier at gospelhq@wlpm.or.jp or 03-5341-6917.

Related Links:

Tokyo’s SonRise Café Celebrates 5 Years

SonRise Café Anniversary

SonRise Cafe' logoFor 5 years SonRise Café has been a place in Tokyo — one of the world’s great cities — where people connect with each other and with God. A place of hospitality that offers good food, music, and friendship.

Below is an interview with the leader of SonRise Café, veteran TEAM Japan missionary Owen Ames.

JapanCAN: Tell us about SonRise.

Ames: SonRise Café opened its doors to the public on October 17th 2009 in Oyama, Itabashi ku. Just 5 minutes by train from Ikebukuro, it’s located next to “Happy Road” — Tokyo’s oldest covered shopping street.

We use top quality Illy Coffee, imported from Italy. We offer a full range of coffee drinks, from straight coffee, through to flavoured lattes.

We are famous for our homemade panini’s and quiche. A customer favourite is our herb chicken and cheese Panini. We also serve homemade cookies and cakes.

SonRise Café Panini

JapanCAN: What is the atmosphere like?

Ames: SonRise Café has a very international flavor. On any given day you may meet people from America, Australia, Korea or of course, Japan!

SonRise Café is a whole lot more than great food and drinks. The café employs 7 Japanese and 1 American (who oversees our English program). When you come up the stairs you are greeted by a warm, friendly atmosphere, and our attentive, caring staff.

One customer remarked “I always feel at peace here.”

Another customer said, “This is my family!” We would love you to come and feel part of the family!

SonRise Cafe' Interior

JapanCAN: What is happening to celebrate the 5th anniversary? 

Ames: There will be an open house between 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014. We will have Hula dancing and music presented by Hawaii’s own Pagaragan family. Free face painting for the children and lots more. We’d love to see you there. Please join us for our 5th anniversary celebration! To find out more, go to our ANNIVERSARY EVENT PAGE on Facebook.

JapanCAN: On a regular basis what activities take place at SonRise?

Ames: On the first Friday of the month you can enjoy live music at our Friday Night Live’s featuring top quality artists. Our most popular genre’s are gospel and jazz.

We have Migiwa performing at our Friday Night Live on Nov 7, 2014 at 7pm.



We have Sinichiro and Manna Irie performing Latin Jazz and Christmas music at our Dec 5, 2014 Friday Night live.

SonRise is also a great place to learn English from a native speaker. The lesson fee includes a cup of coffee. People don’t have to register for adult English, they can turn up any Tuesday to Saturday between 3-6pm.

For children’s English classes, please call the café at: 050-3558-5915.

We offer free English Bible classes Monday, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact the café for details.

We also sell Nozomi Project crafts and a range of books and CDs.

JapanCAN: Where are you located? 

Ames: SonRise Café is located in a busy shopping area near Oyama station which is on the Tobu-Tojo train line. We are three stops from Ikebukuro, one of Tokyo’s major hubs. For detailed instructions on how to get to SonRise click: HERE

SonRise Café Links:

Related Links:

Tokyo Godfathers: A Review by Frank Daugherity

Tokyo Godfathers Poster

This week’s post is a review of the animated film Tokyo Godfathers. Watching a mainstream film like Tokyo Godfathers is an effective way to gain insight into life in Japan. This is not a movie for children. If you can’t stand any offensive language or seeing aspects of the dark side of life, don’t watch it.

The review is by Frank Daugherity. I’ve been in touch with Frank — on Facebook — since 2011 when he volunteered with CRASH Japan.

About Frank: I was a missionary in Japan for eight years (all but the first two as a “tentmaker”). Specifically, I was a juku teacher and church planter in Japan, working with Fukuin Dendo Kyodan, helping to start two churches. My wife is third-generation Japanese-American and all three of our kids were born there.Tokyo Godfathers Logo

When we moved back to the States, I continued working for the same juku, and started four branch schools in NY and NJ. After that, I was a missions pastor for eight years. We have lived in Denver for nine years now, and are active in The Rock of Southwest, where I teach in our adult discipleship program, Rock U. The last time I was in Japan was to help in the tsunami recovery effort in Tohoku with CRASH in 2011.
I still keep up my Japanese ability (such as it is – high intermediate) by watching NHK news and other programs on the Japanese channel available on cable, and keep in touch with friends in Japan. And I love the Audio Bible in Japanese『オーディオ・バイブル・ジャパン』!
My current tentmaking gig is being a web developer — GO Network ONLINE — is one site I created.

Tokyo Godfathers: A Review by Frank Daugherity

What do the following have in common? A sermon about baby Jesus at Christmas time in Tokyo, three homeless misfits, an abandoned baby, an injured yakuza, “angelic” appearances, a suicide jumper, a hit man, a group of drag queens, a nurse and a police inspector.

Tokyo Godfathers Poster

In a word (or phrase), the common core here is “redemptive kizuna.” Kizuna (絆) is a word used with wonderful effect most memorably during the great Tohoko disaster, meaning “connections” – human bonds.

Reminiscent of a French farce or a Hollywood action comedy, this tall tale is by turns heart-warming, wildly improbable, comic, filled with pathos and poignancy, hopeful and uplifting.

In a masterpiece of contextualization of the heart of the Good News, “Jesus has created a home for those who have no home,” non-Christian co-writers Keiko Nobumoto and Satoshi Kon (the feted anime producer who died in 2003) have fashioned a madcap, nerve-wracking adventure which winsomely strains credulity but is overflowing with providence, grace, forgiveness and reconciliation.Tokyo Godfathers Screenshots

The “scandal” of the gospel, that it is truly for those who are outcast and have lost hope, is evident in this cleverly written anime in which numerous redemptive stories are worked out with fear, trembling, and more than a little awe.  A broken-down alcoholic, a transsexual former drag queen and a teen-aged runaway have become an impromptu “family,” — albeit a contentious, foul-mouthed, dysfunctional family — broken people, with excruciating histories, longing for lives they have lost. Their connections, both relational and circumstantial, form a compelling, carefully contrived (or providential) narrative.

Here is an animation which exhibits authentic redemptive themes, woven together in a believable way, a way that does not seem foreign. The screenplay is a very loose adaption of a John Ford film, “3 Godfathers,” but it borrows only the germ of an idea from the original. These masterful writers, Nobumoto and Kon, have created a story that feels as Japanese as okonomiyaki, and is every bit as varied, spicy, filling and soul-satisfying.Tokyo Godfathers Poster

That the characters and language would be scandalous in a church setting makes the genius of the contextualization all the more telling. There is grunge, irreverence, unacceptable slang, rude companions, raw pathos and seeming chaos. If anyone is directing these untidy events, it is God alone. The writers are acting as deus ex machina, wildly pulling this connection or that resolution out of their magic hat. This works well for writers, and it works even better for the Original Author, who orchestrates dramatic and traumatic events to bring about blessing out of confusion and messiness. Spoiler alert: there is a happy, deeply refreshing ending, which brings fresh application to the term “rebirth.”

The risk of contextualization can be seen here as well. The term “kizuna” can be used in a completely wholesome way, as in the video made by Tohoku disaster survivors (after 3.11 earthquake kizuna – friendship), as “human bonds.” But the word has also been used in the title of a homosexual manga and in various popular songs in ways both admirable and otherwise. Tokyo Godfathers takes this risk in the choice of characters and language, in the grittiness and wide swing of emotions. This is not a carefully reasoned, reasonable gospel sermon or tract: it is as subtle as a smack in the face, but charming and convincing if you can enter the world of Gin, Hana and Miyuki. It is a blessing, both earthy and heavenly. That it was created by “non-believers” makes it all the more remarkable. Gospel truth is available to all who may perceive it through the eyes of the heart.Tokyo Godfathers Screenshots

This is my all-time favorite anime, though I’m not as big an anime fan as many young people are… My one regret is that I haven’t sat down and watched this with any of my Japanese friends, because I didn’t know about it until after moving to Denver. I’m only in contact with one Japanese family here, and they’re not into this kind of stuff. My suspicion is that the Japanese Christians I used to work with in Japan would be more or less scandalized by the movie. But I’d sure like to have an extended discussion about it with a couple of them at least. Maybe I’ll just have to do that, by Skype.

– Frank Daugherity

Tokyo Godfathers ScreenshotA RESPONSE TO FRANK’S REVEIW by Tim Shultz

Your review is a wonderful example of the heart of contextualization. It reveals a longing, a proactive willingness to see, a passion for the gospel in Japan that takes risks and will work out the details over time, and a street level trust that God loves Japanese people.

1. Your interpretation of the movie is like using authentic, native speaker books for language learning rather than crafted pieces for language learners. Tokyo Godfathers (TG) is authentic material.

2. Authentic material helps language learners discover/create meaning as the material sits down in their mind. TG is the same way about the gospel.

3. TG is an experience, and an experience of the gospel. The ethos of the “miracle baby” being born into gut level human brokenness and then by its very presence bringing redemption, forgiveness, hope and truth into the world is very richly gospel centered.

4. It is not an allegory of scripture per se, but is “true myth” to which Tolkien ascribed.

5. It is syncretistic to those who are checking for that, and contextualized for everybody else. TG is authentic material in the true myth genre written by non-Christians.



Below is the embedded trailer for Tokyo Godfathers

JapanCAN blogger Paul Nethercott is working on 2 Criminals, a feature-length film. Based on a true story 2 Criminals is a narrative film with Japanese actors. It will be subtitled in English.

2 Criminals is about a ruthless hit man and an arrogant thief for the yakuza (Japanese Mafia) who volunteer in Japan’s radioactive disaster zone and find redemption. It is a story of finding beauty in the rubble.



Japanese Style Icon of the Archangel Michael by Daniel Mitsui

Samurai Icon, Christian by Daniel Mitsui
My friend Paul Neeley’s blog Global Christian Worship features a great variety of music, art, and articles from many countries. Neeley recently found an icon by Daniel Mitsui that depicts the Archangel Michael as a samurai warrior. Daniel Mitsui’s icon is a fascinating blend of elements from Eastern and Western iconography.
Samurai Icon, Christian

Samurai Style Christian Icon by, Daniel Mitsui

There are Christian theologians who reject/condemn icons and those who accept them. I grew up viewing them with great suspicion, which was shaped by my Protestant background (Baptist). So, why have I come to appreciate icons?
 <br />
Icons are fascinating, I like looking at them.
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Icons are beautiful, which reminds me of God and helps me engage with Him.
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Icons are historical reminders, they are like the family photos we hang in our homes. I love the way an article called Finding Common Ground between Orthodox and Protestants puts it,

Icons remind us of the “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us. Seeing the icons reminds us of heroic Christian lives and urges us on to emulate them.

Moreover, they serve the function of family pictures. Just as I have pictures of my family in my home and my parents have pictures of our forebears, so icons are pictures of our spiritual forebears. We keep them because we love and respect and owe a great debt to those who helped lead us to the faith, if only very indirectly through converting someone who converted someone else … who converted (or helped strengthen in the faith or increase the conviction of) someone who has benefited us spiritually. We are all a family, both in heaven and on earth. Family members love to have pictures of other family members because they love the other family members.

We need visual art that connects Japanese history and culture with the Gospel. Mitsui’s Archangel Michael is one way to change the perception that Christianity is foreign to Japan.

Daniel Mitsui & His Art

Daniel Mitsui & His Art

What is your reaction to Daniel Mitsui’s Samurai style St. Michael icon?
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Related Links:
               WEDDING at CANA DRAWING
               ST. RAPHAEL
               OUR LADY of PERPETUAL HELP

Daily Online Bible Reading in Japanese

Pastor Tatsuya Kogure -- 木 暮 達 也 -- & his daughter Akari

A daily reading of the Bible in Japanese, available to anyone on the Internet, anywhere in the world, at no cost.

The Audio Bible Japanese (ABJ) 『オーディオ・バイブル・ジャパン』is not widely known, it should be.

While listening to “Daily Audio Bible” (DAB) in English on his daily walks Tim Johnson — a missionary to Japan with the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) — started thinking about starting a DAB program in Japanese.

In January, 2010 Johnson and his colleague — Pastor Tatsuya Kogure from Gunma Ken — began broadcasting Audio Bible Japanese (ABJ). Each episode includes a brief intro by Pastor Kogure followed by his daughter Akari reading that day’s passage of Scripture. After Akari reads the Bible Pastor Kogure closes with a short devotional. The program rotates the readings between three translations — Shinkaiyaku (新改訳), Shin Kyoudo Yaku (新共同訳), and Living Bible (リビングバイブル).

ABJ is a short 5-minute program with a just a New Testament reading — which makes it possible for ABJ to broadcast the entire New Testament in one year.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Japanese broadcast is clear and easy to listen to. Pastor Kogure and his daughter Akari have pleasant, easy to understand voices that are good for broadcasting.

For me the background music is distracting. I would prefer to just hear the Bible being read. However, early issues with the music being too loud seem to have been resolved.

According to Johnson, “It wasn’t more than just a few days after the podcast had gone online that Pastor Kogure received an email from a Japanese woman in Texas who enthusiastically expressed gratitude for the broadcast meeting the need of her thirsty soul. Our first response was, “REALLY??…Texas??!” before we reminded ourselves that the Word of God is ALWAYS what thirsty souls need and that thirsty souls — specifically those that read, write, and understand the Japanese language — are living all around the world.”

How to access Audio Bible Japan (ABJ):

Links For Friends Who Speak Japanese:

You can help promote the ABJ APP by rating it. Better yet promote the ABJ by posting a review on the APP page.

Support the ABJ project by making a donation. Instructions on how to make a donation from within Japan are posted HERE.  

Coming Soon, A New Resource: World Venture missionary John Gibbs is creating a Bible APP that will give easy access to the entire Bible in Japanese, and make it interesting. I saw Gibbs yesterday and he said, “it will be done soon.” When Gibb’s new APP is released to the public, JapanCAN will do a post about it.

Please continue to PRAY FOR JAPAN!

Related Links:

Start With Genesis!

Start with Genesis

Before coming to Japan as a career missionary in 1987, I had the privilege of meeting John S. Schwab. After serving as an officer in the US military during WWII John had returned to Japan to serve as a career missionary with TEAM. After spending many years reaching out to Japanese with the Good News of Jesus Christ, John had recently retired.

During our brief conversation John gave me three words of advice, “Start with Genesis!”

John’s advice on how to go about reaching Japanese for Christ was brilliant. The Bible is narrative. The story begins in Genesis and ends with Revelation unfolding God’s plan of redemption. It makes perfect sense to start at the beginning of the story. It feels so natural to start teaching the Bible with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

The first 3 chapters of Genesis provide the core theology of a Biblical worldview. The brief story of creation and the fall is pivotal to understanding the entire Bible. Jesus and the cross makes no sense without knowledge of the narrative in Genesis.

Many Japanese have never read the Bible. Most have never heard about a Creator God who cares about them. For someone who knows nothing about the Bible, starting in the book of Matthew is like taking someone to see a movie that is over half over — it make no sense.

What do you think about “Start with Genesis?”


JapanCAN blogger Paul Nethercott is producing 2 Criminals, a feature-length film inspired by the lives of two men he met while doing disaster relief work after Japan’s epic disaster in 2011.



Love Japan Conference: An Interview with Michael Oh

LOVE JAPAN Logo and text
Dr. Michael Oh Speaking at Urbana

Dr. Michael Oh at Urbana

October 11-13, 2014 LOVE JAPAN will take place simultaneously in three major cities in Japan. This week’s post is an interview with LOVE JAPAN conference leader and speaker, Dr. Michael Oh.

Dr. Oh is Executive Director/CEO of the Lausanne Movement. He is also the founder and Board Chair of CBI Japan, which includes Christ Bible Seminary, church planting efforts, and various outreach ministries, including the Heart & Soul Cafe, in Nagoya, Japan.

JapanCAN: What do you want to accomplish through the Love Japan event?

Oh: Running a big event is NOT the most important ministry that will help reach Japan.  Instead Japan will be reached by faithful Japanese Christians hopefully well supported by Japanese pastors, churches, ministries, schools, and missionaries. Individual by individual, day in and day out faithfulness by God’s people sharing God’s love is our best strategy.

So why Love Japan? Or any bigger event? The only way to justify calling together so many people and investing so many hours of volunteer work is if the event can uniquely strengthen the core strategy and encourage the strategic people, Japanese Christians.

Rev. Peter Chin

Rev. Peter Chin

It’s our prayer that God will use Love Japan to strengthen the core strategy of reaching Japan through faithful individual Christians by a renewed call to the Gospel. The fear that I have is that people will say, “Oh, is that all? I know the Gospel.” We not only need the Gospel to come to Christ, we need it to walk with Him. And for those who think they don’t need the Gospel so much any more and for those who know how much they need it every day, the Gospel-centered messages of Love Japan will be a great blessing. It will also be a blessing to be able to bring non-Christian friends to hear that life-giving and life-sustaining Gospel message.

It’s also our prayer that God will use Love Japan to encourage Japanese Christians. There are believers around the world who love Japanese Christians and pray for Japanese Christians. There are, in fact, more people who pray for Japan outside of Japan than inside! Our geopolitical situation in Asia is discouraging. Tensions with South Korea and China are particularly disconcerting. One of the encouraging messages of Love Japan is that the Japanese are loved by God and also by believers in China, America and South Korea. To have the opportunity to show love and unity in the Gospel is very exciting. And perhaps God can use a show of Gospel unity among Japanese Christians and between Japanese Christians and believers from America, South Korea, and China to help bring revival to this land we love.

JapanCAN: How did you choose the speakers for Love Japan?

John Piper

John Piper

Oh: We didn’t. John Piper’s ministry, Desiring God, approached CBI (Christ Bible Institute) a few years ago to ask about our interest in having Dr. Piper come to Japan. Of course we said yes! But we also felt that it would be selfish and mottai nai (a waste) if we only had him teaching at our school, Christ Bible Seminary. We wanted to share the blessing with as many people as possible.

And then Don Carson heard about Dr. Piper’s visit to Japan and expressed interest in joining! That’s when the 3 cities, 3 days, 3 nations idea emerged.

So we invited speakers from Korea and China to join to express their love for God and for Japan in a united front. Perhaps not many in Japan would know these speakers, but they are some of the top leaders not only in Asia but in the world.

Rev. Kenichi Shinagawa

Many in Japan WOULD know Rev. Kenichi Shinagawa of the JEA. I can’t think of a better leader to speak on behalf of Japan than my friend “Ken-chan”!

JapanCAN: I know you have a special connection with Rev. Kenichi Shinagawa, please tell me about that. 

Oh: In 1993 I served as a summer missionary with Life Ministries for their Scrum Dendo program. Out of all of the churches in Japan I was placed at Setagaya Nakahara Kyookai.  Among my friends at the church three of them years later became pastors. One of them, an architect at the time, was Kenichi Shinagawa, or “ken chan.” Only God knew that 20 years later I would be called to lead The Lausanne Movement and Kenichi would be called to serve as General Secretary for the JEA!

JapanCAN: After the event in October what follow up plans to you have?

Oh: The main follow up really occurs through the individuals that attend. They are the ones who receive the blessing and then take the blessing back to their churches and ministries and families.

There is also a Gospel Centered Ministry (GCM) course that is offered during the first part of each of the three days. This is a unique opportunity to take an 8 hour course with the three main speakers. That teaching, we trust, will impact gospel ministry in Japan.

Finally there is a special follow-up through a publication. We are finalizing a project to publish John Piper’s The Supremacy of God in Preaching in Japanese. We pray that it will bless and impact the preaching of the Word of God in Japan!

Rev. Jaehoon Lee

Rev. Jaehoon Lee

JapanCAN: If someone said, “give me one reason I should attend” what would you say?

Oh: Because this opportunity will likely never happen again.

John Piper and Don Carson are both in their 60’s and have very busy ministries. It is not likely that either or certainly both would be ministering in Japan again or anytime soon.  Both have had uniquely influential ministries helping to center Christians upon the beauty, purity, and power of the Gospel. This is an event that people many years later will say, “I was there!”

JapanCAN: What can church leaders do to contextual the gospel in Japanese culture?

Oh: Let me humbly offer two pieces of advice.

First of all to remember that culture is constantly in flux. Culture is being created moment by moment and influenced by nearly every member of a society.  Japanese culture is not a pristine, unchanging, monolithic entity that needs to be “preserved.” So Japanese culture in 2015 is necessarily different from Japanese culture in 1975. And I believe that young people in Japan are key agents as influencers of Japanese culture.

Secondly every aspect of every culture reflects different degrees of God-honoring and God-disgracing.

Discovering the most beautiful elements of Japanese culture (in our day and age) to embrace as a church is an exciting privilege that many Christians and leaders forget or ignore.

Photo by Andrew Benton: https://www.facebook.com/andrew.benton.75

Japanese Culture Collage (By Andrew Benton https://www.facebook.com/andrew.benton.75)

So my hope and prayer is that we leaders and older Christians will provide the space for young Japanese Christians to discover and create an authentic, Biblical, God-honoring, previous generation-respecting, fresh, and Gospel-centered Japanese Christian life and community for their generation.

JapanCAN: How will your perspective on contextualization influence the Love Japan event?

Oh: Simply put Love Japan will focus on the core Biblical teaching and principles of the Gospel while hopefully equipping and encouraging Japanese Christians (and other Christians living in Japan) to discover for themselves what a Gospel-centered faith and ministry can look like in their nation. We’re not going to attempt to erase the cultural distinctions of our South Korean speakers or the cultural centeredness of our Chinese or American speakers.  Nor can anyone claim the ability to figure out what’s culturally best in Japan. But we can be unapologetically and without hesitation Biblically centered. And trust that the Holy Spirit can and will do what the Holy Spirit can and has done for centuries which is make the mysteries of the Living God known to sinful and culturally bound people through the Bible.

JapanCAN: Many have asked, “Is there any hope for Japan?” What is your response to that question?

Oh: If Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, then there is hope for Japan. If God’s Word is true and Christ has redeemed for Himself a family from every tribe, language, people, and nation, then there is hope for Japan.

D. A. Carson

D. A. Carson

Over the last 2000 years the church has been birthed and grown and flourished in various places at various times throughout the world. There have been places that have known even quite long seasons of gospel witness and church expansion. But there have also been particular places and particular peoples who have known no such season where the gospel has taken root and the church has flourished. Japan is one of those places and peoples. When I think about the world today, I honestly don’t know if some parts of Europe that enjoyed centuries of Christian history will ever again have a revival of the church. I certainly hope so. But I would bet my life that God will bring a day of powerful gospel impact and church revival in Japan. And I hope that I live to see that day.

JapanCAN: How can missionaries best show our love for this great nation?  What actions can we take? What about our attitude?

Oh: Jesus answers this best in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Laying down our lives for the Japanese ideally would include: long-term presence as we serve and live side-by-side with our Japanese brothers and sisters and with the lost, sacrifice (not only in leaving behind family and friends) but in giving our time and heart to the Japanese, humility before the Lord and before people as those who have so much to learn and who need so much grace for our mistakes, and boldness to model and speak the life-giving gospel to those who apart from Christ are perishing.

Love Japan Logo

JapanCAN: How can readers get in touch with conference planners? 

Oh: Please use the following information to reach out to us:

  • Email: lovejapan2014@gmail.com
  • Telephone in Japan: 052-462-8331 (Mon-Fri, 9:00-17:00)

Related Links:


JapanCAN blogger Paul Nethercott is producing 2 Criminals, a feature-length film inspired by the lives of two men he met while doing disaster relief work after Japan’s epic disaster in 2011.


Love, Listen, Learn: How to be a Cross-Cultural Servant

Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer

This Guest Post by David Sedlacek first appeared on the Worship & the Arts.

David Sedlacek

David Sedlacek

Currently David and his wife Kathy are TEAM missionaries in Czechoslovakia. When David wrote this article they were located in Japan.

Love, Listen, Learn by David Sedlacek

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1John 3:18)

Today, I’d like to share a “fable” from the book Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer.

A typhoon had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish. Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer

A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down and snatched the fish from the threatening waters. Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature.

I encountered this story a few years ago, but recently it came to mind again when I was thinking about leadership and love. I believe we are called to this nation to lead and to love others. We “lead” others to Christ, and we lead worship services, and we lead Bible studies, and we lead our lives as a testimony to the grace of Jesus Christ. God has given us a love for the Japanese people, and it is out of love that we perform our various ministries.

But did the monkey love the fish? He had great intentions, but at the end of the story the fish is dead (re-read the story one more time if you didn’t get it). Duane Elmer explains the moral of the fable like this: “The story does not tell us the degree of humility or arrogance the monkey possessed. But, then, that was not the real issue as far as the fish was concerned. The fish likely saw the arrogance of the monkey’s assumption that what was good for monkeys would also be good for fish. This arrogance, hidden from the monkey’s consciousness, far overshadowed his kindness in trying to help the fish.”

The reason I was reflecting on this story the other day, and why it came to mind again today, is that I want to be a servant to the people of this nation, to the people of my church, to my teammates, and to my TEAM-mates. I came here to love and to lead and to serve. But if I am going to love or lead or serve, I need to listen. Listening is the one thing that the monkey neglected to do.

You cannot serve someone whom you do not understand, and you do not have compassion for someone whom you do not know. So we must get to work get to know one another. We’ve got to spend time listening to the people in our church and in our community, to understand them and to love them that they might know Jesus.

Dr. Duane Elmer

Dr. Duane Elmer

Elmer, Duane H. (2006). Cross-cultural servanthood: Serving the world in christlike humility. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.

Note: Elmer’s book is an excellent guide to helping think this through in a cross-cultural setting. He outlines the pilgrimage we must take if we are to truly serve others. The journey starts with Openness (“the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe”), to Acceptance(“communicating respect for others”), Trusting, Learning (“seeking information that changes you”) Understanding, and then finally Serving (“you can’t serve someone you don’t understand”). Elmer presents each step of the journey as an essential building block to the next.

Note from Paul Nethercott:

In the 1980s my wife and I were profoundly blessed to have Dr. Duane Elmer as our mentor and adviser at Missionary Internship in Michigan. Duane believed in us, invested in us, and went out of his way to help us. I doubt we would be in mission work today if he was not part of our lives. An excellent teacher, Duane’s methods include simulations, small groups, lots of activity, discussion, and reflection. In recent years he has done a great deal of research on how the human brain functions. Retired from teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dr. Elmer continues to teach, write, travel and learn. He inspires me to live well and aim high.

Related Links:

JapanCAN director Paul Nethercott is working on a film called 2 Criminals. Inspired by actual events the story will show that no life is beyond redemption.


Don’t Become a Missionary to Meet a Need

Beauty Through Work

Become a missionary because you are called, passionate, and have something to offer.

Ten years ago I went through a dark period of depression. It was dreadful. I am so thankful that Nancy insisted we get help. Counseling helped. Both of us learned a lot. Career testing indicated that working full-time with Japan CAN (Christians in the Arts Network) would be a much better “fit” for us. We asked our mission for a full-time assignment to JapanCAN.

Not long after that big change I began making films, a desire that I’ve had since I was a kid. I have also wanted to be a missionary since childhood so “missionary filmmaker” combines two of my long-term interests.

After the change of direction Nancy got her doctorate in Worship Studies. Her thesis was on the public reading of Scripture. The workshop she did at one of our CAN Worship Seminars was part of her thesis. An aspect of her thesis project was mentoring several Japanese on the reading of Scripture in public. Since then she has led dozens of worship renewal workshops in local churches and at CPI (Church Planting Institute). Recently, she took the position of worship leader at Kurume Bible Fellowship (our church in Tokyo).

Nancy and I shifted from meeting a need — the need was for someone to help get that church established — to doing work that utilized our strengths, gifts, and abilities.

Before Japan’s epic disaster in 2011 I worked on a number of short films. When the disaster happened I had just finished a project and was able to shift to fundraising and producing media for CRASH Japan.

At this time I’m working on 2 Criminals, a feature-length film inspired by the lives of two former gangsters I met while working with CRASH.

I’m thankful I went through a dark time, it was a catalyst for change.

When our work is a good “fit” we are happier, more effective, and more able to bless those around us with beauty and goodness.

Would you want to fly in a plane piloted by a man who doesn’t like his job and isn’t very good at it?

Would you want your child in a classroom where the teacher doesn’t like to teach and doesn’t like kids?

Would you want a surgeon who doesn’t like his work to operate on your loved one? Or, would you choose someone like my father-in-law who had a dream to be a cancer doctor since he was a kid? A man who loved his work and was exceptionally good at it.

If you were a Japanese person seeking hope wouldn’t you want a person who loves to share the gospel and is also really good at it to come to your town?

Missions generally recruit people on the basis of need. That is a problem because many of the people who respond do not know their strengths, gifts and abilities. They fill a slot to meet a need. For long-term effectiveness missions need to focus on proper placement of well-prepared candidates who understand and accept their gifts and abilities.

I want to make a difference, we all do. It is a God-given desire.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago (Ephesians 2:10).

We must not give up the quest of finding the good things he has planned for us to do.

Have you made the mistake of devoting your life to meeting a need? To doing work that you don’t like? Are you just “hanging on” because you don’t know what else to do? Are you settling for a job and a secure paycheck? If so, it is never too late to make a change.

If you could do anything, any type of work, what would you choose to do?

Related Links:


JapanCAN blogger Paul Nethercott is producing 2 Criminals, a feature-length film inspired by the lives of two men he met while doing disaster relief work after Japan’s epic disaster in 2011.

Landslides in Hiroshima: An Interview with Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson, CRASH Japan

This week’s post is an interview with Jonathan Wilson, President and founder of CRASH Japan. A Tokyo based NPO, CRASH equips and prepares churches and missions to be ready to respond effectively when disaster strikes. When disasters happen, CRASH mobilizes Christian volunteers to work with churches and other local ministries.

I’ve known Jonathan for many years and have a deep appreciation for his vision and leadership. The huge disaster that hit Japan in March, 2011 gave opportunity to work directly under him fundraising and producing media for CRASH. I treasure the opportunity to have been a small part of bringing hope and healing to the great nation of Japan through CRASH Japan’s disaster relief work.

JapanCAN: Why do you do what you do?

Wilson: In 25 years of serving the Lord in Japan I have seen that this society has everything it needs except for one thing.

The thing that Japan severely lacks is hope, and it is during times of disaster that we see this lack most evidently.
As Christians of all kinds work together to serve their communities in time of need they carry with them the very hope that Japan most needs.

JapanCAN: How have you seen volunteers bring hope to survivors?

Wilson: In Tohoku, I remember spending a day working at a farm where one volunteer spent the whole day talking with the elderly grandmother while the rest of us worked to shovel away the tsunami debris.  The grandmother was in despair as the home that she had been born in was in ruins and the farm they had worked for generations had been flooded with toxic sludge.

It took many visits and many volunteers but eventually the farm was saved.  The volunteers not only made an impact restoring the land but also on the farmers, as the grandmother received the hope of Jesus into her heart.

(Read an excellent report on the restoration of the Ouchi farm in Sendai by CRASH Japan volunteer Greg Thompson:  Six Months Later: Still Standing)

JapanCAN: Hiroshima was recently hit pretty hard by landslides, what is the situation there?Landslides in Hiroshima

Wilson: Torrential rains from August 19th caused landslides in a number of communities in Hiroshima city, the most loss of life was in Asaminami and the most property damage being in Asakita.  The landslides brought mud and debris crashing through a few homes and then inundated about a hundred more, burying vehicles and flooding houses.

JapanCAN: When disaster strikes, why is it important to respond?

Wilson: When a disaster happens it can seem at first that lots of help is coming and that the world will keep responding until the need is done, but this is rarely the case.  All too quickly the attention shifts to something else and survivors are left to pick up the pieces by themselves.  This is where the church can be a huge help!

JapanCAN: How are local churches responding to the landslides in Hiroshima?

Wilson: There are a number of churches of varying denominations in the area that have members who have been affected. In these first 48 hours they have been taking care of their members and gathering together with other churches to plan how to be most effective in responding.

JapanCAN: How is this response different than previous disasters in Japan?

Wilson: I am always encouraged when I see different groups wanting to work together.  I think this is a very post-tsunami (the March, 2011 earthquake/tsunami/radiation disaster) attitude and something we want to see all over Japan before disasters happen. It is awesome when local churches see it as their responsibility to be the first ones to bring aid to their neighbors in the name of Jesus.

JapanCAN: How do you want CRASH to be involved in Hiroshima?

Wilson: Over the next few days the search and rescue phase in Hiroshima will be finished and most people will go back to their homes to face a huge amount of cleanup.  This is a wonderful opportunity for volunteers to lend a helping hand!  We will be cooperating with the local churches and Japan Food for the Hungry International that has an office in Hiroshima to coordinate multiple volunteer teams over the next months.

JapanCAN: What amount of funding do you need to effectively do this?Landslides in Hiroshima

Wilson: We are starting with an initial target of $10,000 (¥1,000,000) for this response.

JapanCAN: How will the funding be used?

Wilson: CRASH recruits volunteers and then works behind the scenes to help them work safely and effectively in such a way that the local churches are blessed and not burdened.  Our goal is to mobilize 5,000 volunteer work hours to help the churches of Hiroshima minister to their neighbors in the name of Jesus. We will use the funding to ensure that local churches get the ongoing support they need to minister to their communities.

JapanCAN: How can we give?

Wilson: Go to the CRASH Japan site and follow the instructions: GIVE TO CRASH

JapanCAN: How can we pray?

Wilson: I have written in my book “How Christian Volunteers Can Respond to Disasters” three guides for prayer during and after a disaster and then again during the recovery.  What is needed most now is to pray for the survivors, the rescuers, and for the local churches as they prepare to respond.

Related Links:

Desire for Redemption Driving up Japan’s Suicide Rate?

Source: Wall Street Journal

The tragic death of Robin Williams has millions of people around the world thinking about suicide.

Japan’s suicide rate is… among the highest in the world. There have been about 30,000 suicides in the country every year over the last decade (Wall Street Journal). 

Several Japanese friends of mine are living with the intense grief, guilt, and shame that plagues survivors of suicide. The large number of suicides in Japan is a personal and a national tragedy.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Dr. Yoshiki Sasai — a prominent Japanese scientist — ended his own life. Dr. Sasai committed suicide shortly after he made a public apology for mistakes in a paper he had published in the journal Nature. The remarkable title of the Wall Street article is, “Suicide Is Sometimes Means of Atonement in Japan.”

The Wall Street Journal goes on to say,

From medieval times to the present day, public figures embroiled in scandal have sometimes chosen to take their own lives as a means of atonement.

Could it be that a noble — but misguided — seeking of redemption by atoning for “sin” via self-sacrifice is a factor in the high number of suicides in Japan? What do you think?

What can we do to reduce the number of suicides in Japan and support survivors?

Links to Related Articles:

Paul Nethercott is working on 2 Criminals a feature-length film related to his disaster relief work with CRASH Japan after the 2011 earthquake/tsunami/radiation disaster. 2 Criminals will show the strong emphasis in Japanese culture on redemption.


Contextualization of the Gospel in Japan: An Interview with Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee

An interview with Dr. Samuel C. Lee author of the recent book The Japanese and Christianity: Why Is Christianity Not Widely Believed in Japan?

JapanCAN: What is the essence of contextualization?

Dr. Lee: Contextualization concerns presenting the Gospel within the context of its host or receiving culture. Many people think that contextualization involves culture only, but this is not the case. Terms such as inculturation or indigenization are often used synonymously with contextualization.

Contextualization refers to a broader spectrum that not only understands culture as a specific context, but also includes the social, historical, political, religious, economic, and scientific aspects of groups of people to which the Gospel is presented.Dr. Samuel Lee

To simplify, I categorize context into four areas: personal experience, culture, society, and common history. Each person has a unique personal experience.  In this sense, reaching out to someone who has experienced domestic abuse or serious illness needs a contextual approach.

Culture is very important in mission work. In this work, we search for God’s revelation within a specific culture, since the truth of God is innate to all cultures and needs only to be discovered and encouraged.

God’s revelation and human culture are inseparable.

In every culture, we can find seeds of truth—seeds that can be discovered and reintroduced in light of the Gospel.

Being socially sensitive and ministering to the needs of a particular society are crucial when considering contextualization. For instance, the need to reach out and minister to the elderly, who are often lonely and isolated in society, is a way of practicing contextualization.

Practicing Christianity to promote social and cultural change, as well as to address injustice, is also considered to be contextualization. For instance, near the end of the 19th century, Christianity stimulated feminist movements in Japan for the purposes of improving women’s conditions and rights, such as abolishing legal prostitution in Japan.

Social and labor rights were also addressed by Christians such as Toyohiko Kagawa (1888–1960).

Common history is an important context as well. For example, people who have experienced wars, natural disasters, and/or oppression share a common experience, and the art of contextualization involves how we address such common history.

CRASH Japan is a good example of such contextual ministry, since CRASH responded to the earthquake and tsunamis on March 11, 2011, as well as the recent nuclear incident, by mobilizing volunteers to provide relief to communities in affected areas.

CRASH Mobile Cafe

CRASH Mobile Cafe

For another example, Koreans (during the early 20th century) have experienced oppression—especially by the Japanese—which is their common historical context. In these and other cases, Christianity seems to function as a means of liberation and implementing justice. This made Koreans to be more open to the gospel than for instance the Japanese.

When it comes to bringing the Gospel to others, contextualization is essential; it helps us to connect to people with whom we want to share the Gospel.

Paul knew how to use context to reach others with the Gospel: To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:20–23)

What Paul addresses here is pure contextualization. He deals with ethnic and cultural groups (e.g., the Jews), mentions religious groups (e.g., those under the law), and identifies with socially fragile groups (e.g., the weak). He connects with each group in its unique context.

By contrast, without context, it is impossible to reach others.

JapanCAN: Why is contextualization of the Gospel in Japan important?

Dr. Lee: Contextualization can help us to communicate the Gospel in the Japanese context. Based on what I have shared above, I believe that many missionaries already practice contextualization without even being aware of it.

Let me give an example. In autumn in various parts of Japan, we can find Japanese persimmon trees full of fruit. In Japan, there are two types of persimmon trees—one that bears bitter fruit and another that bears sweet fruit—though both look identical. Normally, people wish to cut down the tree that bears bitter fruit. However, there is a better way: changing the tree into a sweet persimmon-bearing tree. This process can be performed by cutting a shoot from a sweet persimmon tree and grafting it onto the trunk of a bitter one. In a year’s time, the whole of the bitter tree will have changed and will produce sweet fruit.

The same thing can be said of for example Shinto or Buddhism. They cannot be cut down, for they are rooted very deeply in the Japanese soil. Yet, we can find ways to graft Christianity into them.

JapanCAN: The idea that we can “graft Christianity into Shinto and Buddhism” is going to make many people uncomfortable… please explain what you mean.

Dr. Lee: For centuries Japan has been a home to Shinto, Buddhism and also Confucianism. On the other hand, the Japanese have developed a particular way of allowing the religions of Shinto, Buddhism and Confucianism to co-exist. This is called shinbutsuju shugo a harmonious fusion of Buddhism, Shinto and Confucianism initiated by Prince Shotoku (574–622). That is why it is important for Christians to take these two religions, plus Confucianism very serious. We cannot overlook or ignore them. We cannot uproot them and replace them with Christianity. The option that remains open is grafting Christianity into Japanese culture.

I know this so-called engrafting makes many people nervous, they may think that it promotes syncretism.

I absolutely do not mean to compromise the life-changing message of Jesus Christ with anything else, but engrafting allows a Japanese to remain culturally or outwardly Japanese and at the same time be a follower of Jesus.

We may use their values and traditions outwardly and make Christianity fit inwardly. We can take Shinto or Buddhist concepts and traditions and give them a new light and meaning. Outwardly they sound and look unchanged, but inwardly they are occupied with Christianity.

I believe in your article 6 Ways to Contextualize Worship in Japan, you have given very good examples of such engrafting. For example you mentioned of Makiki Christian Church in Hawaii, it looks Japanese from the outside but its spiritual content is Christianity. We may even use ceremonies or customs and even festivals that look Buddhist or Shinto with Christian content en message. 

JapanCAN: It is easy to talk about contextualization but difficult to implement. . . . What other ideas do you have for implementing a contextualized Gospel for Japan?

Dr. Lee: Japanese culture has many beautiful aspects that can be used as contexts for presenting the Gospel. 

For example, a Christian friend of mine once told me that, one day, a friend of his who was a passionate Shinto believer came to him holding a copy of the Bible. He said excitedly to my friend, “I read the Torah. I was very surprised to learn about the religious ceremonies of ancient Israel. They show similarities with Shinto ceremonies. The feasts, the structure of the tabernacle, the temple, the Ark of the Covenant, the value of cleanliness, the impurity of the dead: all of those are similar to Shinto elements!” My friend then said to him, “Yes, that is what I have also noticed. If you have discovered it, why don’t you believe in God, of whom the Bible teaches?” This was the start of many interesting conversations between the two friends.

I personally believe that Shinto and Buddhism present contextual grounds that can be used as starting points for contextualization.

I often tell my students that, though there is only one way to the Father and that is Jesus Christ, there are many ways that may lead a person to Jesus.

So, I believe that Buddhism and Shinto can function as a bridge to Christ, just as Paul used “the unknown god” as a bridge to lead some Athenians to Christ, or at least to pique their interest in the Gospel.

In Paul’s case, Athenians asked him whether he was introducing a new god to them, to which Paul replied, People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you (Acts 17:22–23).

Hiromichi Kozaki (1856–1928) sought to build a bridge between Christianity and Confucianism. He argued that, though Confucianism does not directly relate to Christianity, it does not contradict it either, and he compared the function of Confucianism with that of Judaism. As with Judaism in Israel, Confucianism prepares the way for Christianity in Japan.

In his view, Christianity reaches beyond Confucianism by perfecting and fulfilling it. For instance, Confucian loyalty can be applied to the Christian God, after which the meaning of belief and obedience to Him becomes clear.

Another example, Kanzo Uchimura (1861–1930) referred to traditional Japanese faith and urged Japanese Christians to recognize the considerable contribution that their own tradition had made to their belief in Christianity.

Much of what seemed to the Japanese to be unprecedented in Christianity was already present in their native beliefs. Katsumi Takizawa (1904–1984) and Seiichi Yagi (I don’t know his dates) are among the many Japanese who have attempted to clarify this idea.

For instance, Yagi encouraged the development of Christianity in the Japanese context, particularly that of Japanese Buddhism, and wrote various books on the topic, including Contact Points between Buddhism and Christianity (1975) and Paul/Shinran, Jesus/Zen (1979). I am not sure whether evangelical Christians will admit the names I have mentioned here. Some may consider their ideas to be heretic and syncretic.

Thankfully, there are ministers today who use the tea ceremony as a means to evangelize the Japanese.

Makiki Christian Church, Hawaii

From another angle, it would be great to have more churches made stylized to appeal to religious frameworks of the Japanese. I am sure that they exist at present, though more would be even better.

Another way of implementing contextualization is to study Japanese society.

By identifying various societal needs and studying their causes and roots, we may develop important contextual tools for reaching out to the Japanese people. Officiating marriage ceremonies, conducting funeral services, and offering various services to the elderly may all be considered to be contextual as well. I am sure that some ministries specialize in helping people with suicidal tendencies. These are all good examples of contextualization.

JapanCAN: How can we change the perception that Christianity is foreign to Japan?

Dr. Lee: As far as I understand it, the foreignness of Christianity is not the problem. Buddhism is also foreign to Japan, yet nevertheless found its place in Japanese culture in such a way that we seldom remember its foreignness.

I think Christianity is viewed as the religion of the West’s unhealthy colonial past, which is more problematic than simply its foreignness.

We have to be conscious of this fact. By contrast, some Christian scholars believe that Christianity arrived in Japan well before Western missionaries did. They argue that, since the 5th century, the Church of the East, or the Keikyo, reached Japan via the Silk Road.

Despite compelling documentation and research, Christians with strong Western roots unfortunately do not want to entertain this theory. In this case, we can use the above examples to show the Japanese people that Christianity in Japan is not as newly Western as assumed.

JapanCAN: What is syncretism, and how do you avoid it?

Dr. Lee: Before I answer your question, let me to say that no religion—including Christianity— can stand on its own in a vacuum of space and time or function independently of all types of social and cultural traditions.

Religions are influenced by their contexts, and contexts are influenced by religions. Religions borrow from each other; they exchange concepts and emerge from one another.

I do not want to disappoint the readers, but even today’s Christianity in the West is not free of syncretism! 

Christianity originated in Israel; it has Jewish and Aramaic roots. As such, the Christianity introduced by Christ differed from that which Paul introduced to the Romans and Greeks. It differed even more when Constantine introduced Christianity into politics in the 4th century.

I often ask myself whether Constantine was converted to Christianity or whether Christianity was converted to Constantine’s culture—the Roman culture.

For instance, Christmas and the birth of Christ have origins in Mithraism, a Persian religion that existed in pre-Christian Rome. Though December 25 was originally celebrated as the birthday of Mithra, it was later synchronized with the birth of Christ. The Romans paired these and other holidays as Christianity became popular in order to reinforce it as the state religion. Today, very few people are aware of the historical details behind this Christian festival.

Japan offers an interesting example. As early missionaries improved their knowledge of the Japanese language, they realized that the word dainichi was not suitable for the Christian God. From then on, they referred to God as Deus (pronounced deusu), or hotoke, a more generic term for Buddha.

Therefore, Francis Xavier (1506–1552) changed the translation for God from dainichi to Deus. From that point on, it was preached in the streets of Yamaguchi that dainichi was not the true God and should not be prayed to. Gradually, this new rule prompted enmity between Buddhist monks and missionaries, though even Deus was borrowed from outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. Yet, missionaries accepted Deus as a valid way to address God, while dainichi was considered to be pagan, if not demonic.

Even the English word for God comes not from the Hebrew or Aramaic language, but has roots that might be Anglo-Saxon or Germanic.

So, what is syncretism?

Syncretism occurs when we compromise the most basic foundations of our faith with mainstream culture, ideologies, and/or religions.

Yet, who defines syncretism? Is it defined by denominational doctrines or Christian traditions? I believe that we can have certain standards to bind all of us together, such as Christ’s virgin birth, His death and resurrection, our salvation through Him, and the forgiveness of our sins by His death on the cross. For instance, some people take the Apostles’ Creed as the standard.

JapanCAN: How do you respond to people who see almost any move toward a contextualized Gospel in Japan as syncretistic?

Dr. Lee: We must always be careful not to compromise the most foundational aspects of the Gospel with anything else. However, as I asked earlier, who defines syncretism?

People affiliated with denominations imposing strong doctrinal traditions are very careful when someone seeks to contextualize the Gospel. I recommend that we give those who seek to contextualize Christianity in Japan a chance and that we follow them carefully but not immediately label such contextualization as heresy, unless it denies the most elementary foundations of Christian faith.

In short, though the packaging may differ, the message must be the same.


Samuel C. Lee is the president of Foundation University, a Christian University based in Amsterdam. He is author of Understanding Japan Through the Eyes of Christian Faith, Rediscovering Japan, Reintroducing Christianity and The Japanese & Christianity: Why Is Christianity Not Widely Believed in Japan? He holds M.A. Degree in Sociology of Non Western Societies/Japanese society (Leiden University) and Ph.D. in Intercultural Theology (VU University / Free University Amsterdam).

Since 1994, Samuel and his wife Sarah serve as senior pastors in Jesus Christ Foundation Churches based in Amsterdam and in eleven other cities around the world. Samuel is also part of the steering committee of the National Synod, a forum of the Protestant Churches of the Netherlands.

Related Links:


JapanCAN blogger Paul Nethercott is producing 2 Criminals, a feature-length film inspired by the lives of two men he met while doing disaster relief work after Japan’s epic disaster in 2011.


An Interview with “Culture Care” Author Makoto Fujimura

Culture Care Book
The current condition of the river of culture is not be one that “makes life worth living.”  The river is tainted with so much de-humanizing elements, that it is hard for us, not just artists but ALL people to see through the darkness.  So this book is designed for those who do not consider themselves to be artists as well as to those “endangered” species of cultural environment called artists. (Makoto Fujimura)
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“Everyone can be a gardener of culture!” (Makoto Fujimura)
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Makoto Fujimura (Mako) is an internationally-renowned artist, arts advocate, writer and speaker. He founded International Arts Movement in 1991, and the Fujimura Institute in 2011.
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Mako has been a model and a great encouragement to me and many others around the world. He has inspired me to aim at making excellent art that impacts mainstream culture. Mako recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for his Culture Care book — support this campaign and get a copy of Culture Care at a big discount.
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I asked Mako for an interview, he graciously responded to my questions.
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JapanCAN: What is culture care?Makoto Fujimura
Fujimura: Culture Care is a vision for presenting our culture with a bouquet of flowers—for reconnecting our culture with beauty. It is an invitation to join a constructive conversation with fresh categories, and a call to cultivate the soil of culture so that it can flourish. Culture care is for everyone: artists and cultural catalysts, academics and activists, church and government workers, business and civic leaders. Everyone has a role in restoring beauty to benefit ourselves and coming generations.
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JapanCAN: Why is culture care important for Japan?
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Fujimura: Culture Care is an ideal way to approach the Japanese as Japanese culture already has an imbedded connection between natural resources and cultural resources (Nihonga is a good example of this).  Culture Care is actually a way to recover authentic Japanese values, but the Japanese have lost touch with in post-war industrialization.  By doing so,  I believe beauty will lead to people being open to God being the great Artist who gave us natural resources and made us in His Image.
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JapanCAN: How does the concept of culture care relate to seeing the gospel thrive in Japan?
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Fujimura: It was through (my wife) Judy’s generous act of bringing beauty in my life that opened my heart for the gospel. I believe that the same can happen to many Japanese; gratuitous beauty is valued highly in Japanese cultural history. Beauty can open hearts to the Gospel.
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JapanCAN: In what ways could Christians actually do culture care in Japan?
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Fujimura: By valuing and accentuating the unique “gift culture” of Japan (but in reality, it has been corrupted to become a “guilt culture”). Culture Care may be to recover the true Japanese soul, a soul that has been wounded by many years of persecution (both Christians and non-Christians). Generosity, Generational thinking, and creating Genesis moments can be a way to open up the tradition as made alive today.
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JapanCAN: Are you thinking of releasing this book in Japanese?
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Fujimura: Yes, we have translated the introduction, but we need to raise funds to print that.  It may be a pdf release.
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