“Every time I come here, I ask the Lord to destroy this statue before I die.” One missionary once told us this when he visited Kamakura. Almost 800 years ago in Kamakura, a temple casted a giant bronze Buddha called the Daibutsu. This 44-foot statue sits in a large courtyard, with an offering table, incense case, and money box in front of it. The sounds of clinking money breaks the sounds of the wind rustling the leaves and the low murmur of people chatting around the courtyard.
Most who come to the Buddha, drop change in a box, put their hands together in front of their face, bow their head, and say a prayer. In recent visits, whether for zeal, desire, or desperation, both, we have seen men and women have taken the prayers a step further (as shown in the video).
Daily, offerings of fruit and drink are placed before the statue. People kneel before a bronze statue and pray to the gods for help. This is idolatry. For less than 10 cents, you can go around the back and enter the statue. Inside you discover a hollowed-out cavern. The Buddha is an object with no life. We too pray that someday soon, this statue will be dismantled. We pray that the hearts of the people will turn towards God and the temple will be torn down.
In the meantime, we are thankful for the temple and statue. God has used this giant bronze statue to touch and change the hearts of many people towards the people of Japan. Some of them, myself included, have come back to Japan to serve as missionaries.
Sometimes you just need delicious ice cream when you move. These are sesame (grey) and sweet potato (purple)
WeThis is on the walk to the station. We enjoy lots of green despite still living in Tokyo
We are getting to know this train map very well
Our children are adapting well to new modes of transportation
Our back balcony overlooks Tama and includes a view of Mt. Fuji
We continue adjusting to a new routine, including (almost) daily laundry
Our first night in Japan included a "The Teaching of Buddah" in the hotel room, but no Bible, a small reminder of why we came to live in Japan.
We arrived in Japan three weeks ago, welcomed by fellow missionaries. We experienced issues with immigration resulting from misinformation about which person we were supposed to see and from malfunctioning printers. Yet, God provided a smooth transition from America to Japan, and we (and our luggage) arrived safely.
The whirlwind began with shopping for essentials (bedding, towels, etc). The next day we tackled government registrations and purchasing more furniture and appliances. Getting cell phones took twelve hours due to a discrepancy in usage of middle names between America and Japan in the credit card background check. Yet, God has faithfully provided what we have needed, even if that was freeing our schedule so that we can spend a day getting cell phones.
We attended Megumi Baptist church, our new church home, for the first time in years and were welcomed with open arms. They have sacrificed time and energy to help us move to the area. We are thankful for and greatly appreciate them, but they are strangers. We still have trouble remembering their names. Yet, God created within the church a familial relationship that transcends cultures and language.
Despite living in Japan before, transitioning to a new culture and language is difficult. We praise God for His faithfulness to help us do what He has called us to do. We praise God for the strength He gives to navigate trains with two young children. We praise God that at the end of the day we can look back and see His hand guiding and protecting throughout the day.
Earlier this week, abortion came to the media forefront again as people observed National Sanctity of Human Life Day. The fight to protect babies in the womb continues in America, but what about abortion in Japan?
Over two decades ago, the New York Times wrote this article detailing some of the ways people in Japan handle the sorrow and grief caused by abortions. This situation continues today. The Times observes:
The signs of a pervasive but silent mourning over abortions are the tens of thousands of mizuko jizo, or guardians of aborted fetuses, miscarried and stillborn babies and those who died very early in life. In temples across the country, women and sometimes men come to stand before these monuments to express their grief, fears, confusions and hopes of forgiveness.
Reading about the guilt and sorrow these women (and men) carry crushes our hearts. They do what they "must do" because of social and familial pressures, yet they carry that burden heavily. They hope for forgiveness, entrusting the spirits of the babies to the temples and carved statues.
We want to share about the God who forgives. We want to share about the God who cares so much about them that He established a plan from before the beginning of time to crush His own Son. God did this that He might forgive them, pay for their guilt, and bestow on them honor that never diminishes.
The introduction of Aila into our family (see the July 2017 blog post) has caused changes to our sleeping and traveling habits, especially for Janae, but that has not stopped our progress. Since July, we have averaged over 2,700 a month of driving, shared with ten new churches, revisited eleven churches, connected with pastors at two state church conferences, attended and finished our final Baptist Mid-Missions classes, helped with one VBS, and enjoyed both a men’s and a women’s retreats. We have had many opportunities for God to stretch and grow us over the last few months.
Andrew has been working on Doctorate of Ministry for the last two years. The program emphasizes preaching, and Andrew will focus on preaching in a Japanese context. As of the moment, he has two classes left and continues working on his official dissertation proposal. Andrew also will be ordained at the beginning of November, which has taken up a considerable amount of time as well. We praise God that He saw fit to change the class Andrew intended to take so that he had the semester off from classes and could work on the dissertation proposal and ordination.
Concerning Japan, we are currently at 75% of our committed monthly support, and it appears that we should arrive in Japan sometime early 2018. The main factor holding us back is that BMM appropriately requires us to have 100% of the monthly support raised before we leave.
On a side note, and a major contributing factor to the delayed post, Andrew discovered that video blogs are not his thing; maybe he will try it again some day.
Sometimes you never know how God may change your plans and “to-do” lists. On May 30th, 3.5 weeks early, we welcomed our second child, Aila (eye-lah) Grace Gonnerman, into the world. Due to the rapid delivery, the nurses could not administer the required IV for Janae when Aila was born, but the speed also minimized the possibility of infection. The doctors ran tests and declared both Aila and Janae as healthy.
When Aila turned one day old, the pediatrician informed us that one test indicated trace amounts of an infection. They ordered further testing to determine if bacteria on Aila’s skin contaminated the test, but they admitted her into the NICU to begin antibiotics during the forty-eight hour culture test. We praise God that the second test came back clear, so Aila came home with us on June 2nd. During Aila’s stay, the NICU nurses enjoyed taking care of a healthy baby and Aila delightfully surprised them with her eating habits and growth. Over the last month and a half, AIla has grown and has begun learning about this world and has traveled like a champion through seven states.
We selected the name Aila because it means “Bringer of Light.” We chose this specific spelling, because “ai” in Japanese means “love.” We pray that Aila will bring the gospel light, unconditional love, and demonstrations of grace to the Japanese people until she embarks on her own journey to minister where God leads. For now, however, we will snuggle her, love her, and protect her from her very excited two-year-old brother.
The famous cherry blossoms, known as sakura, draw tourists to Japan, while newscasters report daily on the best places to see the flowers. The blossoms create a cultural event powerful enough to disrupt the everyday life. People enjoy picnics under the trees while indulging in public drinking which is usually taboo. Photographers swarm to capture the shades of white and pink, sharing their pride of beautiful trees and beautiful Japan. Sakura flavored teas and snacks are everywhere. Cherry blossoms permeate Japanese media and entertainment. One old cherry blossom tale weaves the story of two men and a dog.
Once upon a time, there was a man who lived with his wife and dog. The man was kind, but his neighbor was greedy. One day while the kind man was walking, his dog began to dig and unearthed a container full of gold. The kind man praised the dog and hurried home to show his wife. The greedy man, upon realizing the situation, demanded the use of the dog. The kind man consented, so the greedy man and the dog left. During the walk, the dog found another box, but the greedy man discovered garbage inside the container. Infuriated and disgusted, the man killed the dog. The kind man mournfully buried the dog’s body.
Soon after, a tree grew over the dog’s grave. The kind man remembered the dog’s love of rice, so he cut down the tree and formed a mortar for cooking rice. At lunchtime, he discovered that the mortar created gold rather than rice. The greedy man, peering through the window, saw what happened and requested the mortar. The kind man obliged, however the greedy man discovered that the mortar made neither rice nor gold, but instead created garbage. Infuriated and disgusted, the man burned the mortar. The kind man, not wanting to waste the ashes, spread some among his trees.
Soon after, the kind man and the greedy man gasped as cherry blossoms bloomed months early. The prince of the land heard the news and called for the kind man. The prince wanted his cherry blossoms to bloom early, so he requested the kind man’s help. The kind man climbed up the trees, spread the ashes, and then watched in amazement as the flowers bloomed. The prince rewarded the man with a new title, “Sir old man who makes trees blossom,” along with much gold.
Like any story, the cultural assumptions and lessons inhabit the tale. Kindness, for example, remains the great virtue, while greediness, violence, and snooping are disdained. Overall, the story teaches the lesson “You reap what you sow,” yet this leads to further questions. What is the standard for good and evil? Is there any point of “no return?” Can someone break the chain of deeds? This is where the gospel conversation takes place.
How do you protect a castle? Armies, weapons, and strategy of course. Part of that strategy involves the town’s layout. While driving around Iwatsuki, a castle town, it became apparent that only a handful of roads were straight. The remaining roads curved, looped around, split into dead ends, and kept to a cardinal direction seemingly by accident. Despite sounding like poor design, the roads actually served as a defense strategy against invading armies. The maze slowed down and frustrated the opposing army (and future foreigners).
Iwatsuki castle no longer stands in Iwatsuki, because the castles represented the samurai. The Meiji government (1868-1912) desired to Westernize Japan and to update the country. Most of the samurai rebelled and fought against the changes, though ultimately losing. Since the castles held the rebellious groups, the Meiji government destroyed virtually all of the fortresses.
Later, the government realized the historical and aesthetical value of the castles, so they restored the most famous ones. These castles became popular tourist attractions and created fun ways of learning Japanese history. Many of the castles also include signs with English translations, so that foreigners can enjoy the museums.
Inside those museums, the signs rarely emphasize one important detail. When the Meiji government took over, toppling the samurai and castles, they included freedom of religion within the constitution. The persecution of Christians ended with the Meiji government, allowing the name of Christ to spread once again.
What do you do with twelve eggplants? The reason for the gift complicated the predicament: we said, “Hello!” A woman in her garden responded to our greeting by walking towards us. After a brief conversation, she grabbed a plastic bag and filled it with eggplants. We left baffled by the generous present.
Gift giving is rooted in the foundation of Japanese culture. Yes, they celebrate customary gift giving holidays, but that is only the beginning. When we moved into our apartment, the culture expected us to give presents to our neighbors and the proprietor. When traveling, people expect you to bring back small gifts (“omiyage”) for friends and family. Often these treats consist of ingredients famous in the area of travel. The presentation of the gift also matters.
Events such as weddings add further obligations. Wedding guests traditionally give money, which typically consists of hundreds of dollars of an odd amount (10,000 yen, 30,000 yen, etc). The catch is the expectation of returning half. Traditionally, when the couple honeymoons, they bring back a souvenir for each person that costs half the amount their gift. At some modern weddings, guests choose an item from a catalog as a return gift.
This expectation of paying back for gifts permeates the whole culture. Periodically, we would bring souvenirs and baked goods to one of our neighbors, and she often returned with a gift of a greater amount. One Japanese person informed us that gift giving sometimes becomes a burden since each person feels obligated to give a gift after receiving one, even if the gift was in response to an initial gift.
Now, what does this mean for a Gift so incredible and costly that people cannot repay? When Japanese people hear that God has given them a gift, they understand the term differently than Americans. Yet they immediately understand that such a great gift requires an action in return. They may better understand Paul’s explanation that the purpose of the gift of salvation is accomplishing good works (Eph 2:8-10). The tricky part stems from doing the good works out of gratitude and love, rather than obligation.
Illiteracy is awful. We knew stepping foot into a new culture creates difficulty, but the inability to read labels in the grocery store caused frustration. Do you know how many types of spinach looking greens exist? Japanese grocery stores have at least four, because it took four tries to buy spinach. Add the frustration of illiteracy to the frustration of difficult conversation, different customs, and new manners to learn and life becomes difficult. “Culture shock” refers to the challenges of living within a different culture. Thankfully, culture shock wears off with time and exposure, but some transitions have permanent effects.
The Bible explains that God became human, specifically that God the Father sent the Son to be born as a human. The One Who created the galaxies willingly became a baby, dependant on human parents to care for Him. How embarrassing, and yet what great humility He displayed. From that point on, the essence of humanity became part of the Son. For all eternity, He will be both God and man in one person: Jesus.
Why go through such embarrassment? For the sake of God’s glory. God created this world for His glory and majesty. Humans were given a special place within the world, yet they chose to rebel against God. Rebellion deserves severe punishment, yet amongst the punishments, God made a promise to restore everything back to perfection and to destroy evil. Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. In order to bring everything back to perfection, including humanity’s relationship with God, Jesus was born as a man so that He could die an undeserved death for the crimes we commit. When Jesus came back to life and ascended to sit by the Father’s throne, it sealed the fate of this world: He will return to destroy evil and reign as King.
Christmas is the time we celebrate the beginning of God fulfilling His promise: the coming of Jesus as a human baby. We hope each of you has a joy-filled Christmas, knowing that God’s plan will come to fruition and the King of kings and Lord of lords personally advocates for each of His own. Merry Christmas!
Missions in Japan
Learn about Japanese culture, ministry, and some fascinating experiences along the way!
Andrew and Janae Gonnerman are church planters serving in Tama, Japan.