The Unseen Face of Japan: Crucial Reading For Students of Japanese Culture

Banner for Unseen Face

“Japanese tastes in cars, technology and leisure profoundly affect how we think and what we buy. But who are the Japanese? To the outsider Japan has made the switch to a Western lifestyle – to Western materialism – in the space of a few generations. But in fact Japan remains profoundly alien, a culture where ritual holds sway.” (Brotherhood Books)

Paul Nethercott asked me to review The Unseen Face of Japan by David C. Lewis. Since my husband and I are hoping to be long-term missionaries in Japan, I was interested in reading this book for my own education. I was not disappointed! If you are living/working in Japan or are a Christian who cares for the Japanese, this book is a must for you.

The Unseen Face is a Christian anthropologist’s analysis of Japanese culture, religion, and worldview as well as a brief history of how Christianity has had an impact on the nation. Lewis’ findings are based on surveys, observations, and interviews. He goes beyond conventional ‘anthropology’ to offer ways Christians can best communicate the gospel and use cultural elements to glorify Christ.

Lewis does a good job of documenting and describing Japanese culture. More importantly, he deciphers why Japanese do what they do. I was surprised to find out that MOST Japanese regularly partake in religious activities while feeling that the activities have no connection to religion. While most Japanese own charms and many worship at god-shelves in their home, few profess belief in the power of these rituals. Many do it because it’s expected of them by family members, because their friends do it, or because they’d rather be safe than sorry ‘just in case’ there is a malicious spirit out there.

I was pleasantly surprised that Lewis offered observations and suggestions, despite that being taboo in the anthropology world. Lewis identifies weaknesses in the current Christian mindset toward evangelizing Japan, calling on a need for greater emphasis on spiritual warfare.

Lewis documents that most Japanese companies — including the huge modern corporations we all know — routinely organize and pay for Shinto and Buddhist  rituals. I was surprised to hear about this aspect of business life in Japan. These rituals are viewed as a means to promote and ensure safety in the workplace. Usually only those in higher management participate in the rituals but sometimes every employee of the company is asked to take part. Participation is not mandatory. However — due to social pressure — it is very difficult for a Christian to opt out.

The Unseen Face describes the worldview and customs related to Japanese ways of dealing deal with death, birth, aging, cleanliness, safety, holidays, fortune, family, and shame. Lewis states that Japanese people living outside Japan continue to practice many of the same customs and worldviews of the motherland. Therefore, it is important that anyone planning on interacting with Japanese anywhere in the world needs to work at understanding Japanese culture.Unseen face fron 2

Lewis provides answers to many crucial questions through research. His book offers a treasure trove of information. If Japanese culture is a puzzle, Lewis is giving his readers vital clues to decoding it.

In a nutshell, Lewis finds the Japanese to be heavily motivated by both guilt and shame, disillusioned by the events of World War II, and desperately searching for peace of mind whether through charms, visits to a shrine, or rituals.

They are steeped in a tradition that puts them in great spiritual bondage, but they have yet to see Christianity as the power to release and protect them. Instead, it is mainly perceived as a Western, intellectual religion which has little influence over their way of life.

However, there are many things already present in Japanese culture that are valuable and can serve as stepping stones to the gospel. The Japanese as a whole feel an affinity to nature and give great respect to their elders and heritage. A Christian faith that emphasizes these values would be more appealing to Japanese. We need to show Japanese that Christ is the Savior of the world, not just of the West.

Lewis also points out that a purely logical argument for faith can often be lost on the Japanese, who are, as a whole, more feelings based. Revealing Christ through the arts can have a much greater impact on the Japanese than traditional Western approaches to the gospel.

In short, The Unseen Face of Japan creates a fantastic foundation for the Christian worker looking for how to best relate and share their faith in a Japanese context. It is detailed, well-researched, and the reader is not left without some suggestion of how to apply what Lewis has learned on each subject. I, personally, feel that much of what I have observed in Japanese culture is beginning to make sense in light of what I’ve read by Lewis. I heartily recommend this book!

Reviewed by Alecia Tallent

Alecia Tallent

Alecia Tallent












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Finding Beauty in the Rubble: A Tsunami Survivor Tells Her Story

Finding Beauty in the Rubble

(See below for Japanese version of this post)

The 2 Criminals film crew is pleased to release Finding Beauty in the Rubble! A short documentary featuring Mrs. Fukuoka, a remarkable lady who survived the huge tsunami that hit Japan in 2011.

Mrs. Fukuoka’s home and most of her neighborhood was washed away by the tsunami. Many of her neighbors died. After the disaster, Mrs. Fukuoka found meaning and hope by making jewelry from “sea glass” debris found on the beach.

IMG_0509Inspired by an ancient biblical prophesy that The Creator God would “give beauty instead of ashes” we want Finding Beauty in the Rubble to encourage and bring hope to many.

Please share this film with your friends! Feel free to download it and use it at any gathering you like.

I’m deeply grateful to the many people who were part of making this project happen. Mika Takana introduced us to Mrs. Fukuoka and helped the day of the interview. I want to thank the 2 Criminals film crew — Matthew T. Burns, Atsuko Tateishi, Todd Fong, Esther Yomoah, and Nancy Nethercott.

Related Links:

Japanese Version of this post below







プロデューサー ポール・ネザーコット

30 Things You Only See in Japan!


This week’s post is a link to a fun and informative post on a site called Tsunagu Japan. The post is a list (with photos) of 30 things that are pretty much unique to Japan.

Take a look! If you think of other things that are unique to life in Japan, please leave a comment.

30 unexpected things you can only see in Japan

The Tsunagu Japan site is an excellent resource with LOTS of helpful information on Japan.




3 Misconceptions About Japan

Modern Japan Photo by Andrew Benton

It takes many years of concerted effort to learn the language and culture of Japan. Even for dedicated learners, Japan can feel like a room with smoke and mirrors… Confusing, and hard to navigate. For newcomers, it is very easy to jump to the wrong conclusions.

Here are some misconceptions I’ve heard from visitors to Japan:

1. “Japanese aren’t emotional.”

The culture values being in control of one’s emotions so Japanese express emotion sparingly or in ways that are hard for foreigners understand. Japanese use subtle body language, nuanced words, tone of voice, and other subtle clues that communicate feelings. This does not mean that “Japanese aren’t emotional.” It does mean that foreigners are often clueless as to what is really going on.

“Saving face” is a value inherent in the culture of Japan and plays a part in why Japanese don’t show emotion – to save face for themselves or the person to whom they are talking. Children are taught from a young age to not show their emotions. Not that they don’t have emotions, but to not show them.

2. “Japanese aren’t interested in spiritual things.”

It IS true that very few Japanese are interested in organized religion. However, the vast majority of Japanese are extremely interested in spirituality. Evidence of this interest abounds in pop culture (manga, movies, TV, novels) which is saturated with spiritual themes. One example is the animated movie Spirited Away. Another clear sign of interest in the spiritual side of life are the millions of Japanese who visit shrines and temples at new years. The Unseen Face of Japan is a very valuable resource for gaining understanding about the intense interest Japanese have in spiritual things (see link below).

Modern Japan Photo by Andrew Benton

Modern Japan (Photo by Andrew Benton)

3. “Japan is a Westernized post-modern nation.”

Influenced by the West? Yes! However, it is a huge mistake to look at stuff like cars and buildings and jump to the conclusion that Japan’s people and culture are thoroughly Westernized.

It is true that Japan has an amazing infrastructure and advanced knowledge of science and technology. It is not true that Japan’s culture is the same as or similar to cultures in the Western world. Nor is Japan “post-modern.” How could a culture that has never been “modern” be post-modern? I think the best way to describe Japan is “pre-modern” with a veneer that looks Western and “modern.”

The church in Japan is an example of how the outward trappings of the church culture looks Western — the clothing, music, and architecture. But, the leadership style and the way people in the church think and act is not Western. In most ways, the church has typical Japanese culture patterns.

What misconceptions about Japan have you observed?

Related links:

The Unseen Face of Japan (Book by David C. Lewis)

Is Japan Post-Modern? 

Mr. Shiraishi’s Story of Pain & Hope

Mr. and Mrs. Shiraishi

(See below for Japanese version)

Mr. Shiraishi and his wife Hideko are delightful people, warm and friendly. They attend Kurume Bible Fellowship (KBF), which is also our home church in Tokyo. Mr. Shiraishi’s story of hope:

At the beginning of October I was taken to the hospital due to an acute pain in my back. During my two month long stay in the hospital, I received many visits and prayers, and words of encouragement from many of you (at my church). I was very grateful for all your support, and to be part of Kurume Bible Fellowship.

It was a dreadful disease, some kind of bacteria got into my spinal cord, which could have damaged the bones and the spine. I had  very severe pain that was unimaginable for many days. I almost screamed “God, why do I have to experience such dreadful pain!” But when I started to feel down, a word from the Bible helped me, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…… Blessed are those who mourn.”

When I remembered these words in the Bible, I started to see reasons for my challenging experience. If we as human beings can not avoid painful things, there must be a reason behind them, and God must be trying to teach me something important.

Mr. & Mrs. Shiraishi volunteering with Operation SAFE

Mr. & Mrs. Shiraishi volunteering with Operation SAFE

I realized that God has given me this trial of pain and sickness to make me strong. If we train our muscles, they become strong. In the same way, we can become strong through our hardships. I started to think that if the hardship was given by God, I could surely overcome, because it says that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. As I believed this truth, even though I was in the midst of physical pain, I was able to bear it.

It was 2007 when I became a Christian. Barry Potter (who is now in US) and Gary Bauman took hours and hours to teach me the truth in the Bible. At first I could not believe them because they did not sound rational. I was strongly against Christianity, and told them “ I will never believe it”.

However, my rational thinking never reached an answer to the question “Does God exist or not?” I think it is impossible for us mortal men to understand the eternal God.

I realized it is not about arguing, but it is about faith. It took me a long time before I came to faith, but I finally took a chance to trust in Him. As a result, I found an amazing peace inside myself. I was in a stressful society, I was nearly worn out, but I had a peaceful mind. I understood it was a result of being saved, and the living water flowing from my heart.

As Paul repeats in Romans, I realised that faith is very simple because “Grace is given through faith in Christ Jesus. It is by grace not by work.”

I was selfish, but now I am beginning to love my neighbors. It surprises me, but maybe it is the power of faith in God.

When I had this illness it was not easy, but very hard for me to be in the hospital. But at the same time I experienced a strange sense of peace and hope in God that relieved the severe pain. I knew that God never abandoned me. Now I am making a great recovery.

If any of you who are facing challenges, I would like you to remember that God is ready to help you, so you can put your complete trust in him. He is full of grace to help you grow in him. I testify this is true through my own experience.

Suffering is not just something we should try to get rid of, but it can be seen as a gift from God because through these experiences, God makes us grow.

I am thankful for my illness, and now I have almost overcome this challenge. I give thanks to God who guided me through this journey, and I say “Amen.”

Related Link:

Kurume Bible Fellowship Home Page

Mr. and Mrs. Shiraishi

Mr. and Mrs. Shiraishi















Departures: A “Must See” Film Reviewed by Alecia Tallent

As a means of gaining insight into Japanese culture, I highly recommend Departures. For anyone who cares about Japan this is a “must see” film. (Paul Nethercott)

Alecia Tallent

Alecia Tallent

Recently, I (Alecia Tallent) had the privilege of watching Yojiro Takita’s movie, Departures. Winner of the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, as well as Best Film, Actor, Director, Sound, Screenplay, and Cinematography at the 2009 Japanese Academy Awards.

This simple yet powerful film follows the life of cellist Daigo Kobayashi who is newly married and recently unemployed. Returning to his hometown to try to find a new life for himself and his wife, he accidentally gets a job preparing the dead for funerals. While this may sound like a comedy (and some parts of it are), Departures is a very touching and thought provoking film. I found myself needing tissue often!

Departures is not a movie I would have normally picked… I tend to enjoy action or fantasy films much more than narrative. However, I found myself pleasantly surprised by its ability to transcend cultures, especially in regards to death. Part of Daigo’s job entails restoring dignity to the deceased: washing the body, adding makeup to the face, and dressing them in a nice robe. Ultimately, he is preserving the memory of the deceased in a way that is gentle, beautiful, symbolic, and respectful. I appreciated the concept of beautifying and respecting the memory of the dead, especially for the sake of the mourning family.departures (1)

The movie has much to say about relationships. The movie’s ‘B’ plot centers around the fact that Daigo’s father walked out on his mother when he was only 6 years old. His brokenness and anger at his father is what drives him, leading ultimately to the film’s climax, which I won’t spoil except to say it was both satisfying and tear inducing.



The film explores how Daigo’s job taking care of the dead affects his relationships: old friends steer clear of him, his wife begs him to quit, and the deep connection he makes with the coffin-shop assistant and the owner of the business. These relationships reflect struggles that most people can relate to: how do you stick up for what you think is right when it brings your loved ones pain, how do you forgive someone who has deeply hurt you, how do you accept and grow to understand the people around you, despite their occupation? Though set in Japanese culture, these questions are universal.

I was impressed with the film’s music, use of symbolism, and cinematography. The symbolism of the main characters unceremoniously feasting on fried chicken after just handling a corpse made me uncomfortable but it was perfect.

Departures 02

There is very little dialogue in the film, but I did not miss it. The symbols tell the story so beautifully that you can almost feel what’s going on instinctively without necessarily hearing words of explanation. In fact, the last scene of the movie is done almost entirely without dialogue, yet I felt it was the most emotionally powerful part of the entire film.

I find Departures very important for those interested in Japan if only because it has a wonderful depiction of Japanese culture and thought, and it very poignantly reminds any of us concerned with Japan’s spirituality that death is a reality all must face but not all are prepared for.

However, I would not limit this film to being of use only to those who enjoy Japan. I believe everyone would benefit from watching Departures. I was surprised by its cultural transcendence and the amount of reflection it generated as I contemplated death. I  found myself grieving for the ones I had lost but had never really had the time to personally “let go” of in a healthy way.


The movie touches on the sore spots of humanity, death and broken relationships in a way that helps the viewer face both without making them feel hopeless. My favorite line was spoken by the man working at the crematorium as he prepared to cremate one of his good friends that had passed away, “I believe death is a gateway.”

008dps_ryoko_hirosue_015Finally, I appreciated the moral message of the film: that a healthy respect of death should urge us to treasure life, particularly the lives of our friends and family. I was led to contemplate how much of the Western culture views death almost flippantly. We kill people in movies and video games with ease and our questions about the unborn and the elderly have more to do with generalized social dynamics than with the idea that each life is precious and that death is a tragedy to be mourned and treated with care and dignity.
Departures gently but strongly reminds the viewer that life is temporary, and we should take our relationships more seriously, being quick to forgive, accept, and cherish each other for we may not have another chance. I heartily recommend this film to everyone. Don’t shrink away from it simply because of its subject matter or depth: let its beauty, honesty, and reflective nature seep into you and help you weigh what is truly important in both life and death.

Alecia Tallent works for TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) at our office in Carol Stream, IL.


Thanks very much Alecia for reviewing Departures for JapanCAN!

Departures is the only film I’ve seen 3 times in a theater. This remarkable film really touched me. One reason is that, in the end, the main character forgives his father. I have never seen this level of reconciliation and re-connection happen in any other Japanese film. Because of the redemptive nature of the story, I believe the writer knows the Bible well and is most likely a follower of Jesus.

For those of you who know care about what Roger Ebert had to say about Departures, “I showed Yojiro Takita’s film at Ebertfest 2010, and it had as great an impact as any film in the festival’s history. At the end the audience rose as one person. Many standing ovations are perfunctory. This one was long, loud and passionate.” (Roger Ebert)

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Finding Beauty in the Rubble: Please Join our Crowd-sourcing Campaign

Red earring set

Please go HERE to join our crowd-sourcing campaign and be a part of making the short hope-filled documentary, “Finding Beauty in the Rubble.”

Act soon, the campaign will end on March 21, 2015.


A segment from the film (unfinished):

“Finding Beauty in the Rubble” is a short documentary film about Mrs. Fukuoka, a humble housewife whose home was washed away by the tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011. Mrs. Fukuoka barely escaped the rushing waters that took away her home and killed many of her neighbors.

Shot on location in northern Japan, our documentary will show how Mrs. Fukuoka has found hope and meaning by making beautiful jewelry out of debris from the tsunami.

If you back the film, you will receive “rewards” such as original jewelry made by Mrs. Fukuoka. Using “sea glass” polished by the same waters that destroyed her home and her entire neighborhood, Mrs. Fukuoka makes beautiful jewelry. Broken things become beautiful. What a great metaphor for life!

I love seeing my wife wear the gorgeous earring/necklace set that Mrs. Fukuoka made and gave to her. Seeing it brings back good memories of spending time with Mrs. Fukuoka in her home and on the beach nearby where she finds the sea glass.

Please go to the Campaign Page and back our project. And please use the “share” button to let your friends know.

We really need your help!

Related Links:

Fukuoka collage

Christians Making an Impact in Japan’s Disaster Zone: Report from Janet Kunnecke

Steve & Janet Kunnecke

Four years after Japan was hit hard by a massive earthquake, it is amazing how Christians continue to respond to the needs of survivors. One of our good friends, veteran SEND missionary Janet Kunnecke, recently presented a workshop on communication for a group living in Ishinomaki, a city that was devastated by the tsunami. Here is Janet’s report,

I was invited to do a workshop on communication — focusing on listening well — at a house church on the coast near Sendai. I was pleased that a fellow SEND missionary had asked me, as I’d hoped that my workshop materials could be of use in the disaster region. Little did I expect that I would be so encouraged by the warm, lively, joyful group of 11 people I met there!

Hearing stories of how the tsunami impacted each person, I was amazed to hear that most of them had come to follow Jesus after the disaster. Through the loving service of Christians they met doing relief work, they saw something they wanted. For most, these were the first Christians they’d ever known.

Though most of the participants had lived in temporary housing before their homes were repaired, and still struggle with many difficulties, they now regularly visit others who are still there, serving them by listening to their stories, doing crafts or cooking events, learning hula dancing together, or giving hand massages.

I was so happy to be able to help them be better listeners. To help them learn early in their Christian experience to prevent mis-communication which often lead to more serious conflict.Kunnecke Workshop

The group engaged with the communication material and the learning exercises so much it was hard to interrupt to debrief what they had learned! But they obviously were grasping the implications of their discoveries and talked about their own experiences. One woman who’d recently quit her job was glad that even though we’d been trying to schedule the training for months, it didn’t happen until she was free to be there. It turned out I’d met her before, as she used to work for a delivery service that included our cabin in its area! What a treat to see her joy as she told me she’ll be getting baptized in a few weeks.

There was another cool connection, too.  One woman was from Fukushima, and had evacuated with her church to a camp in Tokyo for a year. She was there when Grace Church (one of our supporting churches in the USA) sent a team to do a kids English program!

Pray for this amazing group, for continued growth and maturity, for unity among them, and good relationships as they serve.

Thanks very much Janet for your report! If you have recent experience serving in the Tohoku region, please comment on how you have seen God at four years after the disaster.

Related Links:

Steve & Janet Kunnecke

Steve & Janet Kunnecke



Finding Beauty in the Rubble of Japan’s Mega-Disaster: Documentary Marks 4th Anniversary


“A crown of beauty for ashes.”  Isaiah 61

“Finding Beauty in the Rubble” is a documentary film about Mrs. Fukuoka, a humble housewife whose home was washed away by the tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011. Shot on location in northern Japan, our documentary will show how Mrs. Fukuoka has found hope and meaning by making beautiful jewelry out of debris from the tsunami.

There are several reasons we are making this film:

  • We want to encourage and bless Mrs. Fukuoka help her by selling the gorgeous jewelry that she makes. In other words, making the film “Finding Beauty in the Rubble” is a way to reach out to Mrs. Fukuoka with the love of God.
  • The people of Japan are largely unreached with the Gospel. Like the parables of Jesus, we want Mrs. Fukuoka’s story to winsomely point Japanese in the direction of Jesus. We want to remind people around the world to Pray for Japan!
  • Thousands of survivors of Japan’s mega disaster are still living in temporary housing units and dealing with ongoing fear regarding radiation from the stricken power plant. Through this inspiring story of restoration we want to bring hope to the many other survivors.

Go to the KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN page to order unique “Sea Glass” jewelry made by Mrs. Fukuoka and be part of making the documentary “Finding beauty in the Rubble!”

We really need your help! Please consider supporting the Kickstarter campaign. Please let your friends and family know about the campaign. We cannot meet our goal without you!

Mrs. Fukuoka, and her dog Kai

As part of her emotional healing process after the disaster, Mrs. Fukuoka would take walks on the beach with her dog Kai-kun, where she saw many artifacts from the tsunami, former pieces of people’s lives washed up on the beach. One item caught her attention: pieces of glass, broken by the destructive power of the tsunami. Polished by the sea and the sand, the broken pieces had become beautiful gem-like “Sea Glass.”

“Sea Glass” Found on the Beach (Photo by Todd Fong)

Mrs. Fukuoka began turning the found pieces of polished Sea Glass into jewelry that she gave to volunteers as thank-you gifts. We heard about Mrs. Fukuoka from Mika Takana (on the right in the photo below), a close friend who we’ve known for over 20 years. A musician, Mika has performed dozens of concerts for survivors of the disaster.

Mrs. Fukuoka, Kai, and Mika Takana (Photo by Todd Fong)

In November 2014, we traveled to Tohoku (the region of Japan hit hard by the disaster) to capture footage for “Finding Beauty in the Rubble.” Mrs. Fukuoka invited the five of us into her recently rebuilt home (see picture below) for coffee and snacks, and at the end of the day served us dinner. Her warmth and generosity captured our hearts.

Nancy Nethercott & Mrs. Fukuoka (Photo by Todd Fong)

It was sobering to see that the tsunami had washed away her entire neighborhood, killing many of her neighbors. We captured her story of survival and recovery, in her own beautiful words, along with footage of the area around her home.

The Tsunami Washed Away the Entire Neighborhood (Photo by Todd Fong)

Please go now to our KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN and support Mrs. Fukuoka and this film project!

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The “First Lady” of Japan Visits Church in Tokyo

Mrs. Abe

Todd Fong, my friend and colleague on the 2 Criminals film project, posted on his blog that Akie Abe, the wife of Japan’s current Prime Minister, visited Biblical Church of Tokyo. Mrs. Abe was at the church to connect with volunteers at Wheelchairs of Hope (WOH), an NPO that uses space in the church building.

Founded by World Venture missionary Mary Esther Penner, “Wheelchairs of Hope refurbishes used wheelchairs in Japan and distributes them throughout Asia, providing mobility, new life and hope.”

I asked Mary Esther how Mrs. Abe heard about WOH and why she visited the building. Mary Esther wrote,

It seems when God answers prayer, it’s often in a way we cannot take any credit for, so God gets all the credit, 100% of it. We think we’re asking for funding and seeking business people traveling throughout Asia to transport wheelchairs, and God sends Mrs. Abe. That’s God.

In 2010 WOH was recognized by FESCO (Foundation for Encouragement of Social Contribution) 社会貢献者表彰 and apparently Mrs. Abe now chairs that organization. That may be the reason (why she came visited us).

In 2013 Mr. Tani and I represented WOH at the annual ILBS (International Ladies Benevolence Society) awards ceremony. Mrs. Abe was distributing the awards, so maybe that is part of the equation.

A couple years back it was clear the (WOH) project was growing past what I could handle and Mr. Tani (before retirement he was the HR manager for a major Japanese company and president of two of their subsidiaries in Thailand) took over as director. I accepted a meishi (business card) that said “Founder and Honorary Chairman” just so it was clear I wasn’t ousted for embezzlement or whatever else.

Mary Esther & Mark Penner

Mary Esther & Mark Penner

I now function as cheerleader and volunteer for wheelchair cleaning days. I don’t attend board meetings, and am not involved in decision making or leadership… Mrs. Abe’s visit was announced after I already had a trip scheduled (conference in Manila) so I wasn’t even there.

If you see photos, there are only Japanese in the pictures. On a personal level of course I was disappointed not to be able to meet her but as a missionary, I am delighted the project has transitioned entirely to a Japanese director and a Japanese board.

What was most exciting to me is that when Mrs. Abe came, she saw people from all walks of life participating; people who society considers successful and people who society pities or shuns. I hope she saw it is not just overseas that we want everyone to be part of a community of Hope, but here in Japan too. As a Japanese NPO we are not to be “religious” but she saw that — as always — we begin work with prayer offered to God in Jesus’ name. It is only because of Jesus that we do what we do.

Wheelchairs of Hope grows out of Mary Esther’s passion to help those who deal with the challenges of caring for a handicapped loved one, as she does. Mary Esther is a remarkable woman. She is impacting the culture of Japan.

Todd Fong’s blog post, with excellent photos by him:

A Very Special Visitor

NOTE: Pastored by Seiji Oyama and Kathy Clutz Oyama, Biblical Church of Tokyo owns a large multi-story building that was a factory before the church purchased it. The church has a vision to meet the needs of those who live in the densely populated community around them. According to Pastor Kathy, large numbers of community people enter the church daily to use the church building. At a later date, I will do a blog post on the effective ways this church is engaging with those living nearby.

Related Links:

Tokyo Biblical Church Home Page (Japanese only) 

Tokyo Biblical Church Wikipedia Page

Wheel Chairs of Hope Home Page



Kenji Goto: Journalist, Jesus Follower, Humanitarian


On Sunday, Feb 1st Kenji Goto — a Japanese journalist known  for his courage and integrity — was brutally killed in Syria by ISIS.

ISIS killed Kenji Goto for reasons only they could explain. However, it appears that ISIS was upset by financial aid that Japan had recently given to groups who oppose ISIS. Apparently, Goto became a pawn that ISIS used to intimidate the government of Japan.

So, who was Goto? What was he really like? What does his death mean?

Goto was a respected journalist and a good man who cared about people. And — according to people who knew him — Goto was also a faithful follower of Jesus. I asked a freind in Tokyo if this was widely known and she wrote, “The TV news mentioned that he was a Christian, so I assume many people now know about his faith.” Both mainstream and Christian news outlets have intensely covered what happened to Goto.

“Friends Remember Japanese Journalist Kenji Goto” (Link to touching video on youtube about Kenji Goto)

Before he was taken captive by ISIS, I had never heard of Goto. He reported for mainstream news outlets so he was not widely known in Christian circles in Japan. While his work was for mainstream news, the reporting he did from war zones was not typical. Goto was widely known for his compassion and for reporting on children and others who were vulnerable.

A Yahoo news report stated, “Whether in tsunami-stricken northeastern Japan or conflict-ridden Sierra Leone, the stories of the vulnerable, the children and the poor drove the work of journalist Kenji Goto.”

Goto was also actively involved in the lives of youth in Japan. Tamagawa Seigakuin (a Christian school for girls in Tokyo) invited Goto to speak to their students every year. I asked Bernie Barton, who works at Tamagawa Seigakuin, to reflect on Goto’s life,

He always visited our school during our May Orientation Camp week. He came and spoke to our third-year junior high students (9th graders) on the theme of Human Rights and World Peace. Goto-san had come every year since 2005, even adjusting his schedule to be sure that he could be here for this time with the students. It was his passion to help people know about the effects that conflicts, wars, poverty, greed and prejudice have on people, especially on those who are weak, or in a position of weakness. He did this through his reporting and through his books and through speaking at schools.

His books were written for an upper elementary school level, so you can see his desire to help young people know of the plight that people face in many regions of the world–an Afghan girl who can’t go to school, a child laborer in the Sierra Leone diamond mines, the devastating effect of AIDS on a village in Estonia, and the struggle of a family that experienced genocide in Rwanda.

On the day after the news of his capture was released in Japan, we held a special time of prayer in both our junior and senior high chapels. All of the girls 9th grade and over knew him, as well as many of our teachers. It is quite a shock when the reality of war and the threat of death come to one you know personally. From that day on we all prayed for him, for his family, for Yukawa-san and for others held captive.

In each of the chapels that first morning one of the teachers who had worked with him when he came for his lecture to our 9th graders spoke about him at the opening of the chapel. One of the teachers reminded the students that Goto-San had closed his lecture with them by saying, “I am sure that you all want world peace. If you do want world peace, I ask that you take a moment and look at those around you. World peace starts with you caring for those around you.”

That is the kind of man Kenji Goto was. That is why he went back to try to help Haruna Yukawa. That is why he ultimately gave his life to try to help bring peace to our world. I assume you do know that Goto-san was a Christian, a member of a church in the neighborhood of the school here. We can truly say that his life was lived out for the purposes of God.

Another personal reflection on Goto’s life is from his wife, Rinko, who wrote,

While feeling a great personal loss, I remain extremely proud of my husband who reported the plight of people in conflict areas like Iraq, Somalia and Syria. It was his passion to highlight the effects on ordinary people, especially through the eyes of children, and to inform the rest of us of the tragedies of war.  (A personal statement from Kenji Goto’s wife, Rinko)

While Goto’s death was tragic I do not believe that it was meaningless. Kenji Goto was a man of courage who lived out his convictions. In the end he died because he put himself in harms way to help out a friend. We need more followers of Jesus like Kenji Goto. He will be remembered as a man of faith and integrity who made a positive difference in this world. I would like to have known him.

Related links:

Reaching Japanese For Christ Conference, 2015


The Reaching Japanese for Christ (RJC) international conference is taking place February, 12-14, 2015 in California.

Founded by retired Converge missionary Don Wright, RJC is currently led by Dennis Peters who was a missionary to Japan for many years with the Assembles of God. RJC is important to many of us who care about Japan. I’ve been to several of their conferences and have found all of them of value for networking and learning about effective ways to reach Japanese with the Gospel.

In particular, RJC is courageously addressing the challenge of contextualizing the Gospel for Japan. Last year, the main speaker at the annual RJC conference was Daniel Kikawa, producer of the documentary, God’s Fingerprints in Japan. Inviting Daniel to speak at RJC gave him a platform and a new level of credibility within the evangelical missionary community in Japan.

After last year’s conference, we had several valuable discussions related to the contextualization of the Gospel for Japan. The discussions took place on the RJC Facebook page — there were dozens of comments from around the world. These Facebook conversations put me in touch with a number of like-minded people, one of whom is Dr. Samuel Lee (see below for a link to the interview he did with JapanCAN on contextualizaition).

Late last year Don Wright reached out to JapanCAN about the idea of doing a workshop in Tokyo to promote original, contextualized music for Japan. We are in the early stages of planning a workshop! That is about all I can say about it at this time but I’m really excited about the potentialities.

Regarding the highly recommended International RJC Conference:

When: February 12-14, 2015
Location: Wintersburg Presbyterian Church, 2000 N. Fairview St. Santa Ana, CA

Recently posted on Facebook, “We have just posted the RJC Conference, Feb 12-14, schedule and a list of the exciting seminars and speakers. Please help spread the word. And the early-bird registration discount ends soon! For detailed information on the conference go here: International RJC Conference — 2015

Related Links:




2015 Goals for CAN Blog

goals (1)

One of my goals for 2014 was to post weekly on the CAN blog. I am pleased to report — with the exception of 1 week — I was able to meet that goal. I could not have done it without the faithful help of my wife Nancy who checks grammar, spelling, and gives feedback on content.

Is the approximately one day a week I spend on this blog a wise investment of my time and energy? Is it worth all the effort? I believe it is. This blog has put me in touch with a number of people, I have been able to be part of starting a few important conversations, in particular on the Reaching Japanese for Christ Network and Contextual Ministry in Japan Facebook pages, and — perhaps most importantly — writing this blog forces me to think more clearly about issues that are important to reaching Japan with the Gospel.

Goals for 2015:

— Continue posting weekly.

— Make contextualization of the Gospel a theme of this blog. I believe that contextualization of the Gospel is key to the long term health of the Church in Japan. However, contextualization of the Gospel in Japan is an extremely complex and challenging issue. There is no easy way to go about it. No one has a clear “road map” showing the way forward. I can’t think of an issue that generates more fear, criticism, and misunderstanding between believers.

I do have hope and I want to do whatever small things I can do to bring about positive change in relation to this issue.  I want to generate conversations, connect people who care about this issue with each other, and create visual stories (films) that show how the Gospel does connect in so many ways with Japan’s history and culture.

— Improve the quality of the posts on JapanCAN. I will do this by inviting competent and interesting people to do guest posts, and by asking several key people to give advice on ideas for content.

— At least once per/month write about a resource that has practical benefit for those of us who care about the Gospel and Japan. The “resources” highlighted on this blog will include books, films, videos, websites, and more.

Here are a few specific posts to look forward to on JapanCAN in 2015:

  • The Unseen Face of Japan, book review by Alicia Tallent
  • Japan’s Longest Day, book review by Paul Nethercott
  • Redemption in Ancient and Modern Japan, Part II
  • Finding Beauty in the Rubble (of Japan’s epic disaster) a video
  • Redemption, a video
  • Departures, film review by Alecia Tallent
  • An interview with Roald Lidal, publisher of NEXT (Bible Manga).
  • An interview with Joyce Inouye, Specialist in Learning Disabilities, missionary to Japan.
  • “Why Are We Failing to Contextualize the Gospel for Japan?” by Paul Nethercott
  • Katsuhiko Shiraishi’s Story by Mr. Katsuhiko
  • Unbroken, film review
  • Princess Mononoke, film review
  • “Jesus never left home without a story, So Why Not Follow His Example?”
  • Reviews of books on contextualization recommended by Dr. Samuel Lee
  • God’s Grand Plan of Redemption or “Where would you drop a virus?” by Keith McCune

If you have ideas for posts, I would love to hear from you… Please use the contact form on the blog or Facebook to get in touch with me.

And, thanks for reading this blog! If you find it helpful, please let me know and share it with your friends.

Warmly,  Paul Nethercott




JapanCAN, Myanmar, & Worship Renewal

David Suum, Nancy Nethercott, Niiang Suum

Ten years ago we were delighted when David Suum brought a group to Tokyo from Myanmar to attend a CAN Worship Seminar. We enjoyed David and we’ve kept in touch.

Last year my wife Nancy reconnected with David in Florida where she attended an alumni course at the Institute for Worship Studies (IWS). It turns out that David and his wife Niaang had become students at IWS. Not long after meeting in Florida David invited Nancy to teach a session on the Renewal of Worship Through Scripture Reading at his school in Rangoon, the capitol of Myanmar. Below is Nancy’s final report from her trip:

We finished off the week of teaching with the students leaning into their Scripture presentation assignments in preparation for the weekend activities. Sunday was a FULL day with me preaching (“We Have Come to Worship” – Matthew 2:1-12) in two churches in the morning and then speaking (“Offering of Worship” – Romans 12:1 and other passages) at the Graduation Banquet in the afternoon. Monday afternoon I also spoke (“The Lord is My Strength” – Psalm 118:14 and other passages) at GMI’s 10th Graduation ceremony and also had the privilege of moving the graduate’s cap tassels from the right to the left after they received their certificates.

For each of those events different students presented 2 readings = 6 unique presentations, 4 in Burmese and 2 in English. They did a great job and it was so exciting to see them enjoy and grow in another area of church ministry.IMG_0030

GMI (Grace Music Institute), under the fine leadership of my friends, David and Niiang Suum, is doing an amazing job of training up the future church leaders of Myanmar. These 67 students have now all returned to their home churches, equipped for various ministries and having grown in the Word and in community.

David and his wife Niiang are now in Jacksonville, FL to finish their studies at IWS (The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies) where I received my doctorate in worship studies in 2006. David is in the doctoral program, Niiang in the master’s program – both will graduate in June, 2015, Lord willing. Please pray for them as they do graduate level work in their third language.image7

This was my first trip in my role as Associate Director of the IWS GROW Center. The GROW (Global Renewal of Worship) Center was established last year by IWS leadership to recruit more international students and to support our international students (25% of the student body) and alumni in the indigenous ministries in which they are involved.

Most likely I will return to Myanmar next October to teach and speak at a large Worship Conference David desires to produce. I am SO thankful I could make this trip and encourage the Suums and take part in training their students.

The theme verse for GMI is Psalm 118:14 “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” It was my desire to go with 2 Corinthians 12:9b as MY theme verse, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” As I embraced my weakness, Christ’s strength empowered and sustained me.image3

Though I am glad to be home with my family, I miss the students and the classroom time with them. I have many new Facebook “friends” from Myanmar and know I will keep in touch with them.

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Cheerfully, Nancy
Nancy Nethercott, D.W.S.
TEAM Missionary in Japan since 1987
Worship Coordinator at Kurume Bible Fellowship, Tokyo
Associate Director, IWS GROW Center

Related Links:

10th Graduating Class, Grace Music Institute, Myanma

10th Graduating Class, Grace Music Institute, Myanma

Pray for the Future of Japan


“Every few hundred years in Western society there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself… We are currently living through such a transformation.” Peter Drucker

As we transition into a new year, we tend to think about the future. Drucker believes that Western society is changing drastically… Is Japanese society also experiencing “a sharp transformation?” It seems that it is… Here are three “engines” driving change in Japan:

Digital technology is changing, in fundamental ways, the way Japanese live their daily lives. While no one knows where the digital revolution is leading us, it will continue to drive rapid change in Japan and around the world.

Japan’s epic disaster in March of 2011 was a huge catalyst for change. Particularly in relation to the Gospel. Due to they way thousands of Christian volunteers responded, the general perception of Christians became far more positive. The presence and spirit of Christian volunteers was noticed and much appreciated by survivors. Remarkably, almost 4 years later, many Christian volunteers continue to reach out to those affected by the disaster.

In the next five years, hundreds of young adults who gained extensive leadership experience through disaster relief work are going to affect change in the church and in society. These young emerging leaders are engaged with their communities. They are more effective than many current church leaders at showing the love of God in practical and effective ways. They are more open to cooperating with other believers. And, they are more open to change. The quality of these young leader will have a positive impact on the church on on society as a whole.

A third factor driving change in Japan is Japan’s very low birthrate. The aging and decreasing population of Japan will bring profound changes. In response, the government may open up and allow large numbers of foreign workers into Japan. On the other hand, the relatively small but powerful ultra-nationalist groups could gain control. If they do, Japan will possibly become closed and very hostile to the Christian faith and stridently anti to anything foreign.

No one knows what will happen. Based on history, the likely scenario is that ultra-nationalists will prevail. If they do, the days of open mission work in Japan will almost certainly come to an end. Legalized persecution of Christians will return, and it could be very harsh. No longer would we missionaries routinely receive religious visas to work in Japan. We need to prepare for this possibility.

No matter what happens, for the church to thrive, we need a contextualized Gospel for Japan that is not perceived to as “foreign” to Japan. Is that possible? Yes! If it has happened in other cultures, why not Japan?

The changes occurring in Japanese society present opportunities as well as challenges. Many are saying that there is greater openness to the Gospel in Japan today than there has been in generations. It is an exciting time to live in Japan.


Related Links:

When Crises Strikes, How Do you Respond?


Terrorists Attack Paris

Thousands Killed in Africa

Earthquake, Tsunami, and Radiation Disaster Strikes Japan

War in the Middle East

There seems to be no end of headlines telling us of suffering and death while our “small” personal crises almost never make the news.

As a young child I experienced crises when my family moved to a small town called Killam (I am not making that name up). It felt like the town was trying to kill us. However, it wasn’t the town, circumstances made it a tough year:

— I had a hard time adjusting to the new school system and my teacher was mean.

— My dear mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

— One night my 16 year old sister’s “friends” dropped her off in front of the parsonage (my dad was a Baptist pastor) stone drunk. My parents sent her away to live with my Aunt and Uncle.

— On a cold winter day our coal furnace blew up. This little event filled the entire house with black coal dust.

Tough things happen. All the time. And, we want to know why.

I saw an article on the topic of why a successful person like Robin Williams would commit suicide. Trying to figure “why” terrible and difficult things happen is a complete waste of time. Seldom do we come to understand the “why” of anything.

The question to ask is, “how can I be part of seeing something good come out of this tragedy?” or “How can I find meaning in this crises?”

Japan’s epic disaster in 2011 was a huge challenge. Why did it happen? I don’t know, no one does.

What I do know is that it was an opportunity for the church in Japan, the church around the world, to respond with love. Through joining with others in doing disaster relief work I found great meaning in the mess.

There is always a silver lining to be found.

Right now, as my family faces a crises, I am looking for the silver lining. I have hope. Sometimes all we can do is “hang on” as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death until we find what we are looking for — hope.

A Gift for JapanCAN


To Give Online: CLICK HERE, and follow the instructions. 

Thanks very much for being part of the JapanCAN “blog community.”

My wife Nancy and I have served in Japan for over 27 years as career missionaries with TEAM. I (Paul) write the posts for JapanCAN and Nancy edits them. Our vision is to provide valuable resources and information for those around the world who care about Japan and want to see the Gospel thrive here.

One of our passions is contextualization of the Gospel for Japan, which is a frequent topic of this blog. Nancy does worship renewal workshops for local churches in Japan, leads and plans worship services at our home church in Tokyo (KBF), and develops leaders. I work with others to make films like Serving Through Tradition to show that the Gospel IS part of Japan’s culture.

A number of churches and many individuals are part of our support team. These supporters have made it possible for us to be here for the long term. To learn the language, study the culture, to build the trust it takes to establish credibility in Japan. This background makes it possible for us to publish this blog.

Please consider sending a donation to our mission for JapanCAN to partner with us in impacting Japan for Christ, for the long term.

Less than a day remains in this calendar year but there is still time to give a tax-deductible gift that will help us finish the year STRONG. We really need your support. Your participation at any level is vital.

To Give Online: CLICK HERE to go to TEAM’s secure website, and follow the instructions. 


Send a check to: TEAM P.O. Box 969, Wheaton, IL 60187-0969 (In the memo line put: “For JapanCAN”)

May the LORD richly bless you throughout 2015.

Warmly,  Paul Nethercott

Naomi, Nancy, & Paul Nethercott

Naomi, Nancy, & Paul Nethercott

Beauty from Ashes, Hope from Despair

A Sea Glass Necklace Made by Mrs. Fukuoka (Photo by Todd Fong)
“Beauty from Ashes, Hope from Despair” is the title of a recent blog post written by Todd Fong. Todd was part of the film crew that traveled six hours north of Tokyo to capture footage for “Finding Beauty in the Rubble” — a short film we plan to release next year. “Finding Beauty in the Rubble” will tell the story of Mrs. Fukuoka and how she found hope and healing after the huge tsunami in 2011 wiped out her neighborhood. We will show her picking up “Sea Glass” from the beach near her home, glass which she uses to make gorgeous jewelry.

In his blog post Beauty from Ashes, Hope from Despair Todd wrote,

Indeed, there is no better word to describe this woman (Mrs. Fukuoka) than “blessing”. Instead of choosing hopelessness, bitterness or despair, she chooses to infuse beauty and love into the lives of others. As we sat around her table listening to her and her husband talk about their lives and family, it was obvious that they, like Kai-kun, were meant to live, meant to bring hope to the people around them.

We all felt the same way. What a privelege to get to know this remarkable lady. I can’t wait to share the film with the world. To read Todd’s post click on the link below:
 Beauty from Ashes, Hope from Despair by Todd Fong
"Finding Beaty in the Rubble" Crew (Paul Nethercott, Mika Takana, Matthew T. Burns, Nancy Nethercott, Mrs. Fukuoka

The Crew: Paul Nethercott, Mika Takana, Matthew T. Burns, Nancy Nethercott, Mrs. Fukuoka (Photo by Todd Fong)

Related Links:

  • 2 Criminals Film Project (The short film we are making about Mrs. Fukuoka is a stand-alone project but it is connected with the 2 Criminals film project. A feature-length film, 2 Criminals is about two members of the yakuza — Japan’s powerful organized crime syndicate — who get out of the gang and become disaster relief volunteers. One of our tag lines for the film is “A Story of Finding Beauty in the Rubble.” We are delighted to have sold over 400 of Mrs. Fukuoka’s necklaces to support her and raise funds for the film project. Please pray fro Mrs. Fukuoka and her family.
  • “Fongs for Japan” Website

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!”

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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.

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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)

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