More pictures of Jethro by popular demand! Coming home and being held by happy grandmas and grandpas.
God has given us the gift of Jethro Naito Yardley! Beth and Jethro are healthy and doing well. He is 7lb 8oz and 19in. long! We're tired, but overcome with joy. Above are some pictures (the blood on my shirt is from cutting the cord). Below is the full explanation of this little man's name!
Jethro is named after Moses' father-in-law (Exodus 3:1), which literally means "his excellence" in Hebrew. Beth and I wanted a Biblical name for our son, but not a common one.
Moses' father-in-law was a spiritual man, being the priest of Midian, who became a worshiper of the one true God (YWH) after seeing God rescue Israel from Egypt - "Jethro said, 'Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.' And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law before God." (Exodus 18:10-12, ESV).
Jethro was also a wise man who counseled and advised Moses himself on how best to shepherd the people of Israel (Exodus 18:13-27, ESV). And if the author of the Torah and God's chosen vessel to lead His people, Moses, "listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said" it seemed good to us also to bestow such a name upon our own son, who we hope will also be a wise spiritual leader in Christ's Kingdom.
A memorial in Japan to Naito Yukiyasu
Jethro's middle name is a Japanese family name pronounced "nigh-to" after Naitō Yukiyasu, a Japanese samurai from the 16th-17th Century who was baptized as a Christian in 1564. However, he returned to Japan in 1604 under the rule of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu who outlawed Christianity. He was proud about his faith in Christ, even modifying his armor to incorporate the cross (pictured below), and was thus persecuted for his faith being exiled to Manila in 1614AD.
The two kanji (above) literally translate as ‘inner wisteria’; a name taken by two branches of the northern Fujiwara clan. One is descended from the famous warrior Hidesato (10th century), the other from Michinaga (966–1027), the statesman who took his family to its greatest heights of power, and on whom the main character of the classic novel Genji monogatari (‘The tale of Genji’) is based. The hirigana spelling would be うちふじ.
God has given us a love for the Japanese people, who desperately need to be reached with the Gospel of Christ. Beth and I wanted to reinforce God's calling (for all Christians) to His mission to reach all peoples with the message of His love on the cross.
It's hard to summarize all God did in my life and the life of those we interacted in a concise manner, let alone give a snapshot (I took over 1,000 pictures). Here is a quick photo book providing a taste of all we did in July.
We planted a lot of Gospels seeds in Ube and watered a lot of seeds in Ishinomaki. Our pray was that God would use our time and our labor, and we feel that He has honored that. Here is one testimony from a missionary in Ube that touched my heart:
Ube city held its annual festival with over 10,000 rockets. Choreographed to music in 6 bouts it was quite the performance.
However as the fireworks (or fire flowers as the Japanese call them) burst over the bay flashes over the oceans horizon occasionally catch your eye. You'd look, but it would be gone and your gaze would be once again captivated by a burst of orange and purple. Then the distant flash would occur again way off to the right. It was heat lightning firing through the clouds over the pacific ocean.
Now there is a choice. To watch the nonstop razzle dazzle of man or wait for the arcing lightning jump through the clouds. It felt weird to think that by watching the fireworks display worth thousands of dollars I was somehow missing out, but I waited patiently staring out at a black horizon missing hundreds of fireworks. I wasn't disappointed. What I saw and most of the crowd missed was two arcs of purple and orange lightning crisscross as they lit up two cumulonimbus clouds.
In a way I think following God can be a lot like this competing display. The world will never cease to strive for our attention with seemingly attractive displays of beauty and desire. However in the end the enjoyment is short lived and all that remains is a lot of smoke and ringing in your ears. Worse, it distracts us from God and what He is doing in the world, which like the heat lightning was infinitely more powerful and more beautiful. But we have to let the desires of the world pass us by sometimes in order to wait on God.
In this way Jesus' use of Isaiah strikes home in Matthew 13:14, "hearing you will hear and not understand, and seeing you will not see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull." God is moving and working in the world, but we've become so distracted with daily things that we miss it.
To drive the illustration home, one of the festival displays of fireworks was to remember all the lives lost in the tsunami. The song to which the fireworks had been timed was none other than "Amazing Grace." It was so amazing to worship God in public with music and light that I felt my eyes moisten. But for the unreached people of Japan, many of whom refused hearing the gospel that very week, they listened on in complete oblivion.
Whether in America or Japan we must not miss what God is saying and doing right before us because we've grown accustomed to the distractions of this world (no matter how attractive they may be), for God will not disappoint.
Working in a country in which Christianity is overshadowed by animistic and pantheistic religions has been challenging. Many people simply aren't interested in spiritual things and rebuff any attempts to strike up a conversation (many also have a bad taste in their mouth left by christian cults). So it is discouraging to see people turn down or show no interest in "the good news."
After a while it can produce a longing for America with its "healthy" church. That is until one reads the news back home about Christians being asked leave a public beach because the police have received calls complaining of harassment and private companies being denied business licenses because the CEO happens to have a different opinion than the city major about what is or isn't a sin.
It's enough to remind us that this world is not our home and that no country or land has been or ever will be truly Christian until Christ returns. As for the rejection, God had to remind me that it is Him and His teachings that is being spurned and spat upon, not us. The pain He feels far exceeds any frustration and discouragement we face as a result of following Him.
And the Lord is faithful. That very same night during an English class I was able to share the gospel with a woman named Miharis. After presenting the story of Adam and the Fall, Jesus was introduced as an "intercessor" (a theological term WAY over the heads of these novice English speakers). Thankfully a Japanese christian named Mauoko and I were able to work together to answer her questions about the concept of original sin and how it separates us from the God the Father (Kami-sama in Japanese, literally something like honored emperor God). To try and explain "intercessor" the bridge model suddenly fit perfect to show our separation and how the cross bridges the gap (I used a kanji interpretation app to draw it on my iTouch). As I fumbled around for simple English words and explanations, and Mauoko explained with greater clarity in Japanese, everything took on the proper perspective as understanding and amazement dawned on Miharis's face.
The gospel and it's dissemination to all people truly is the good news and can overcome all discouragements.
In Ishinomaki our team was able to join the local missionaries in suffering alongside the victims of the tsunami. Just by helping them rebuild in the name of Christ has brought many to church and created interest in the gospel.
However, evangelism in Japan is notoriously difficult. One reason is because the Japanese value relationships and things that last. Thus, long term missionaries tend to have success after building relationships over a course of many years.
Down in Ube, which was unaffected by the tsunami, compassion ministries are not as common. Instead, missonaries and churches often rely on tracts, English classes, and gospel choirs.
Our team handed out tracts over several miles of neighborhoods surrounding the church today. Like the sower and the seed we pray that some will fall on good soil. Fortunately, Japanese are more receptive than Americans to tracts since they are avid readers or will read them as an act of reciprocity. However, going door to door has been adopted by others and our team saw Mormons in neighboods his week.
English is poplar in Japan. In fact it's everywhere. You'd be hard pressed to find apparel with kanji on it. Even most. Businesses have James using roman letters since they often desire to do business with America or internationally. So Japanese are usually interested in learning English; however, they want to learn it from native speakers. Most churches tend to have access to if not actual members who speaks English fluently. Thus, churches will use English classes as a form of outreach in which the primary lessons are based on the bible. Our team will help with several English classes this week.
Lastly is the gospel choir. Yes, gospel music is popular in Japan. One missionary told me that it's not uncommon for "Amazing Grace" to be sung at baseball games (they like the tune and know it has something to do with receiving a blessing). All Christian music tends to be considered gospel from hymns to contemporary worship songs, but gospel gospel is the preferred choice. Think "Sister Act" with Whoopie Goldberg. Japanese lives offen revolve around the clubs they join, but this one has robes and a moving beat. Unfortunately, they want to sing the songs as originally written in English. But this allows Christians to explain what the lyrics mean as a form of workessing.
There are no discipleship shortcuts and the culture barriers are immense, but fruit is seen by those who live among the people and take the time to build relationships with them in order to share the love of Christ.
According to missionaries in Japan the average Christian church has 10 to 20 people in it. I found myself asking "why aren't they bigger?"
The answer: profesionals tend to be the most responsive to the gospel, but they often move every four years or so with their company. College students are even more responsive, but they move even more frequently. When these baby believers move there often is no church in their new city, or back home in the more rural parts of Japan, or they fail to find a church they feel comfortable as part of the body. Imagine the pains of "church shopping" with a fraction of the options we have in America. Thus, many of these new believers tend to fade away or try to continue by themselves. Of those who don't move, 25% typically leave on their own accord, become disgruntled, or are led astray. Thus, to maintain a church of about 20, at least 2-3 new believers must be discipled every year, 5+ if the church is to grow.
Sounds easy enough right? Back in America we have families move, people simply leave, disgruntled members, and false teaching and we still see 5 new people on any given Sunday right? But how many of those new people are actually coming from another church? Statistically most if not all of them.
How many "healthy" churches in America can boast of 25% growth from brand new believers? From first zero to baptism?
Annually how many "healthy" American churches can boast of even 5 such believers with a membership 10 times the average Japanese church?
It would appear that the problem isn't with Japan (yes, Japan does have its own unique set of hurdles making evangelism far more challenging than western cultures). The problem seems to be that the universal Church has not been as effective at actually sharing the gospel and then discipling potential followers of Christ. Whether training, motivation, or discipline (or something else) is the problem probably varies. Regardless, it would seem that the problem is simply exacerbated in Japan by the church's size and cultural barriers.
We need to be praying not only for churches in Japan to reach a tipping point of growth, but also for all churches to be effective at following the Great Commision.
Our team has completed several projects and our time in Ishinomaki to perform tsunami relief. We left Saturday morning for Hiroshima where we stayed the night. We met up with old friends of our missionary leaders for dinner after visiting the A-bomb dome (below) and museum to remember the destruction of the nuclear weapon uses in WWII. After a nights rest we were able to see Hiroshima castle (above) and Hiyaijima (temple island with he famous red tori gate) before catching the bullet train (and several other trains) to Ube City. This will begin a week of "regular" Japanese ministry. Pray for boldness and understanding as we face the mighty language barrier!
Despite being a modern and quite secular nation, Japan has quite the paradox of religious views. A mix of Buddhist and Shintoism, many Japanese still follow these religous ways for the sake of tradition. Shinto priests will offer to "bless" just about anything (for a price of course) from cars, boats, houses, and children. (Buddhists provide funerals and longer names to use in heaven for a price).
Often missionaries have complained of feelings of uneasyness or children not sleeping once they move into Japan. Oftentimes there is still a Shinto blessing in the rafters of the house (pictured) and once removed eliminates the oppression. One home we worked on had a blessing in it, so we doubled our prayers before and after we worked in it.
Almost every home we've seen has a shelf for the family altar (a mini shrine). Prayers are said for ancestors along with leaving out food and flowers for the dead. Sadly Japanese Christians have received criticism for not keeping these altars as "not loving their family" even if they provided for their relatives above and beyond the Japanese norm whole they were still living.
Shinto gates are ubiquitous in Japan, a county known for its shrines and temples. Pray for the spiritual atmosphere in Japan make the hold of Shintoism and bhuddism to weaken so that the gospel can shine through these empty traditions.
This week has been one of hard labor helping the Japanese of Ishinomaki try to pick up the pieces over a year later.
We have joined a local Christian group called Be One (affer John 17:13) who started helping even before the government arrived. Through their outreach and constant provision of Christian workers they have acheieved not only unheard of unity between the different Chrisitian denominations in Japan, but also created a sense of community amongst several Japanese neighborhoods that usually keep to themselves.
This week we've helped support that testimony by asissting three different families. A family gutting their home asked us to sort and haul rubble to the dump (an experience all in itself). A pair of widowed sisters needed help cleaning out an old damaged house and sorting their belongings for either storage or disposal (an emotional hurdle they needed someone to help them through). Today we ripped out floors and shoveled out the silt and mud washed into the crawl space at a condo.
All in all the tsunami has created rare soil for the missionaries to work in and an opportunity to show the Japanese of Ishinomaki (who know little to nothing about Christians) the love of the God we serve.
Brett & Beth record their milestones in academia and medicine as they roam far and wide with Jethro, Edessa, and Genevieve in tow.