At so it is: Tokyo 

The missions trip in Iwate has ended, and I find myself fully exhausted yet fully alive. 

Many of this country’s strengths, I discovered, are more apparent in the locals from the towns I visited – in Morioka and Miyako, discipline is taught through the strict system of trash disposal, with six different bins in the church kitchen for different materials. There are bathroom slippers for every bathroom- one cannot step into the toilet without removing one’s shoes and donning a specific pair. Strong communal values and good habits rule the system. 

It is not this way in Tokyo, or even in Sendai. 

My brother and I stay in Shinjuku, one of the noisiest and fastest moving areas in Tokyo. I wanted to stay near Shibuya because it was all I knew of Tokyo, but wasn’t aware that the specific street my airbnb apartment is in is also the street of night activity- bars, clubs, and prostitutes. 

Today, 7am, we walked towards the station for the fish market. A young Japanese lady about my age had left a hotel fully clothed in dress and heels. She was alone. While we walked, two different men appeared out of shadowed shopfronts to speak and walk beside her. From body language, I could assume he was pimping. One even walked with her all the way to the traffic junction. 

The light changed, and she walked quickly across the long road. Mr Pimp stayed behind and regrouped with a fat man. 

Said pimp and fat man

This was my first waking experience of Tokyo. 

I tried to tell myself that we are all sleazebags and sleazebags need God. But I felt like I was dragging my heavy heart around the fish market for the entire morning. 

Lunch was no better- we visited a popular tonkatsu ramen joint. But I didn’t realise that no one liked to talk to each other. In our isolatory existence, customers prefer minimum eye contact, and ordering and payment is all done at a vending machine outside the restaurant. 

Young man who dripped stock on my brother but couldn’t make eye contact
An impatient brother waits for no man (or sister). I guess I have to settle for this as a mandatory tourist shot!

I am still discovering the city and what is its heartbeat. But there are so many lights and sounds. And people are so rich materially (in Ginza at least). 

Philosopher Roland Barthes wrote that in Japan, the package is a thought. The packaging that covers most of their items becomes part of the messaging, the same way the envelope is not just the vehicle for moving a letter, but part of the letter itself. 

I’m still staring surface level. 

God, please have mercy on a country that does not want to know You. Who will tell them? 

The only comfortable section of the anime shop- no sex, violence or illicit love behind thess covers

Iwate Church Network meeting

For revival

Lord, the time to act is now.

The missionary Catherine informs the Iwate network meeting yesterday that the katsetsus will be closing at the end of this year. It has been almost 6 years since these temporary houses have been set up to house the residents who have lost their homes in the 2011 tsunami.


Today, we will head back to the coastal area at Ofunato to help Saito-sensei with the work in one of these katsetsus. This last programme will be bittersweet; we know the community will be dispersed throughout the new residential areas built by the government next year. Some of the elderly residents will not want to leave – they have been uprooted once before, and will need to find their footing again. Have compassion on them for they are feeble in spirit and in body.

Above all, Father, I ask that the good work of the pastor in building up this community for the past five years will not be eroded by the physical relocation. We ask that Your Spirit work in the people, to open their hearts to see You in the actions and love of the faithful few who have laboured on this soil. Lord, You love the people of Iwate, and You are tender-hearted especially towards those whose hearts have been broken by death and loss.

I ask that You continue to send workers to this area, Japanese speakers who can commit to growing their own roots on this new soil, so that that can bring the powerful but intangible sense of community to the people.

Give the pastorate clear direction for a new church plant. Out of the 20 church plants in Iwate, there are only 5 left, each with one handful of members. The rest of the churches have already closed. You know the disappointment and frustration of the pastorate here. You know the competition for members – for the precious few who still have not renounced their faith. Yes, You are the God who sees. Continue to act and work, Father, for the people need You in this place where the air is thick and the people are too polite to step out in love.


Prepare and move people to revival in Your grace. Give them humble hearts to seek Your face, and to wait upon You. Startle the region of Iwate, Lord, to bring these multitudes into saving faith.

 

For us who have seen Your work – You have brought representatives from many nations. Hallelujah!

Grant us the burden for such a revival. Help us believe that it can come to the country of Japan, and to our country as well. Lead me to people who will pray regularly for its coming. 

I ask that You build a broad base of people nationwide who are expecting revival. Grant to each nationality – Germans, Hong Kong, British, Filipinos, Americans, a consuming burden for You to bring revival. Your promise is that as we seek to draw near to You, You will draw near to us. I pray that this nearness will be truly revolutionary. Make it humble us, break us, revive us, and change the direction of our disintegrating culture.
Lord, I believe that there is sufficient grace supplied in the person and work of Jesus to do far more than I have even begun to ask. My hope is in the promise of Your Word. Thank You for Your compassion for us in our sinful ways. In our arrogant lifestyle, we say to You, ‘I am rich, I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ I repent of that. I confess that as believers, we show our wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked condition.

I lay all this before You, basing every request on the merit and worthiness of the Lord Jesus alone and in His finished work.

Amen.

A Morioka Sunday

A moment to ponder.

I had time this weekend to meet and speak with a few foreigners who have relocated to this city to teach English. As an outsider myself, I imagined that the longer one stayed in this country, the more one would be welcomed into every room as though one was an insider. Even as I find myself still as far away as ever, I wonder if this privileged access into the heart of another world has ever come to pass for these foreigners who have been here for months and years. Will they always remain dismayed at being kept away from the inviolable core? Will they remain a newcomer to the Japanese, and long after these people cease being exotic, to continue to remain exotic to them?


Before coming to Japan, I often read that Japan is the wealthiest and cleanest country in the world. I read about the toilets that talk and warm your seat, and robots that are almost fully human. I read about fascinating Japanese architecture. I knew not to expect this in other prefectures apart from Tokyo, and indeed, in Miyako and in Morioka, I found a world entirely different from the polish of Tokyo pictures. My apartment has no AC, no insulation, no overhead lighting. The hot running water gushes gently, and the sink is the length of my forearm. I do not say this as complaint, merely to consider that although Japan has the highest per capita gross national product in the world, the homes of most Japanese people do not reflect this statistic.

As I faced each day’s ministry burden, I confess that, unless future grace was given for that day’s work, I would not be able to do it. The inability to understand the language when spoken to is mentally draining, and the subtle cultural differences are not as easy to overcome. We do not want to offend, and in our fear of possible offense, are constantly extra careful, extra polite. This too creates strain.

However, this allows the precious words of Jesus to ring true, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So we must pray for future grace for the day, and then trust in the promise that it will come with power. “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

It is beautiful to see the small church community come together on a Sunday to listen to Kondo-sensei’s message on Jehovah Rappa, the God who sees, from Genesis 15. He knows where we have come from and where we are going, and we can rest in His control. I sense the heaviness in the hearts of these people, but perhaps it is also part of His grace to them. He has said that blessed are those who mourn at the depth of sin, for they shall be comforted. Perhaps we in Singapore are too comfortable in our social bubbles, too far removed from the stain of grief, to remember our true state and constant struggle against sin. I’m not sure why I felt this way, but it remained. We forget so quickly our guilt.

 

 

Takamatsu park, Morioka 


“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. 

Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? 

In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

(Job 12)

Hallelujah, and amen. 

Through the seasons

Champagne and cake to celebrate the changing season.

 

I’ve always enjoyed the colour of champagne – an elegant golden yellow with amber highlights. Its aromas are radiant, flavourful and smooth. I’ve enjoyed it even more with golden friends, over Cedele slices and silverware. Lifetime friendships with lifetime lessons. These are the ladies who were there when things started shaking up in my world, 13 years ago. They brought joy and escape without realising it, so much so that I will always know that these have been angels (yes, angels!) who were brought here.

So it’s not too surprising that we enjoy sweets amidst fairy lights. Or that we could have a bath-full of spotted balloons. Because friendship is magical, and with God’s blessing, friendship is evergreen.

 

And in the freshness of morning, just before we depart-

My command is this: love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no other than this – to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

-Jesus

 

Another time for party time

Roasted marshmallows- salted egg, after-eights, and nutella flavoured sugar-softness. 

My dear friend SuM- knows how to organise a good party. And as bridesmaid, I was amazed at her generosity and the way she provides for her family, her bridal party, and all involved. 

With these girls all together, I’m grateful for the weekend of fun.