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Far From Home Blog

Photo Update

Many things have happened in the last 4~5 months in the life of our family, one of which was going back to America for a few months. Here are some of the highlights of our trip (we forgot to take pictures at some of the places…we still loved our time there with awesome people!) and pictures from recent weeks after we came back to Toyosu.

I had an opportunity to preach/share what God is doing in Tokyo at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Diego (a generous church that has supported our new church planting work). I got to spend time with Hunter Powell (missions pastor) and Kevin & Jane Woo (my gracious hosts and a couple thinking about moving to Tokyo soon!). Thanks guys!!

Dave & Heidi Farly and their awesome boys. Dave and I used to serve together on staff at our sending church in Fairfax, VA. Now he leads Grace Christian Fellowship in Spokane, WA, and their church has been a very generous partner since the very beginning. I was so grateful for the opportunity to see them and share God’s Word with the church.

On the way to Seattle, we made a brief stop at Leavenworth. It was…interesting…

Our friends from VA now live in Seattle. Great time with Phil & Jessica Gallo and their children. Thanks guys for hosting our crazy family!

Hello DC!!

Emma’s family welcomed us at the airport. So good to see them and spend time with them for several weeks!

Great to be back with our family, Redeeming Grace Church in Fairfax, VA. No place like it. Our church planting partner Ian led the time of singing for us.

Our friends Peter & Joy Lewis and their kids opened their beautiful home to us. Grateful for their friendship and such gracious hospitality!

Nags Head, NC with “the Barn” folks. Such great memories from the previous years, and this year was no exception! Friendship, fellowship, food, fun, what great gifts from God…

One of the biggest challenges of being away from Tokyo was to keep our kids Japanese schooling going while being on the road. I think we survived…Maybe.

Matt & Julie Rawlings were there when Jesus first revealed Himself to me. Matt leads Redeeming Grace Church in Greenville, SC, and their church has been a great partner in the gospel with us since the beginning. So good to see them and their children. Thanks Aaron & Colleen for hosting me!

All the cousins…

Saying goodbye to Mom & Dad (Granny & Grandpa). Their help/support has been an incredible blessing to us. They came to see us off at 5am!!

Back in Toyosu. Simon Murphy and Mark Tapping (taking the picture) and their wives came to Tokyo to discuss further the idea of forming a family of like-minded churches in Asia to encourage/strengthen one another. Excited to see what the Lord will do in these relationships!

Weekly “Kids Games” Good to be back and have this opportunity to bless the kids and get some exercise!

I serve on the board of the PTA at our kids’ elementary school, and this year we’re busy getting ready to celebrate our school’s 70th anniversary. Hard to see it, but the picture is made up with the students.

Bi-weekly “Community Dinner” with our friends. It’s been encouraging to see the Lord bringing these people (mostly non-Christian friends) together to develop meaningful friendship. Praying for God’s blessing on these relationships!

I finally turned 30 (shhhhh!) and had a party with our friends. Grateful to God for these people we get to be in community with.

Finally, our church plant, Toyosu Community Church, began with the core group (our family and Ian & Chi Nagata) meeting weekly on Sundays. We sing, pray, and hear God’s Word together. We hope to start a regular gathering with others in the next several months. Please pray for God’s wisdom!

Introducing Ian & Chi

Starting a new church is not something Emma and I wanted to do alone, so we prayed many times for like-minded partners to work with. God has graciously answered our prayers in bringing us Ian & Chi Nagata! Some of our friends met Ian when he came and visited our home church, Redeeming Grace Church, in June during our itinerating in America, but I wanted to introduce them to people we were not able to visit this time. I’ve asked Ian to write a little bit about their journey below:

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Hello! We are the Nagatas, partnering with the Sakaguchis in church planting here in Toyosu, Japan.

Chihiro (Chi for short) was born in Japan to a Japanese family, but grew up in New York, Australia, and her home town near Kyoto, following her dad’s work. She came to faith in middle school, attending a Christian international school, before attending college in LA. For the past five years she has been working for a British bank in Tokyo.

I (Ian) was born and raised in Los Angeles, a fourth-generation Japanese-American. Upon coming to faith at age 16, I soon became curious why there were so few Christians in Japan, and began to feel a burden for the country of my ancestry. Though it took 10 years, in 2012, I moved to Tokyo after serving on staff at my home church as a worship pastor for eight years.

Despite overlapping four years in LA, we didn’t meet until one fateful Sunday at our previous church in Tokyo. Last spring we got married.

Since then, we had been praying about partnering together with the Sakaguchis, and officially committed this past spring. Having first met Seita just months after he and his family arrived in 2014, we had been meeting periodically for fellowship, and to track where the Lord was leading us in ministry. Coming from very similar theological backgrounds, partnering seemed like a natural fit. Once we got to know Emma and the kids, that sealed the deal!

We are excited to serve together for His name, and for the people of Japan.

Grace,
Chi and Ian Nagata

Three Years

Last week marked the 3-year anniversary of our family’s move to Tokyo. I can hardly believe that much time has already passed… God has been faithful to us each step of the way, and I want to take a moment to recount some of the highlights from the last three years. We’re so grateful for every prayer that people have prayed on our behalf as well. Thank you!

We thank God regularly for our home church, Redeeming Grace Church in Fairfax, VA, for their incredible support and care for our family and their commitment to praying for the gospel advancement in Tokyo & beyond. I just watched some parts of the video from our send-off Sunday, and tears are welling up with gratefulness as I remember them and their love for Jesus and for us… They have also sent Vince & Bonnie Hinders and Mark & Lesley Mullery, RGC pastors & their wives and dear friends we love and trust, at different times to be with us – Expressions of God’s goodness and love for us!

My family hosted our family of 6 for the first few weeks while we searched for an apartment in Toyosu. It has been great to be able to see them from time to time and for them to be a part of our and our kids’ lives.

God has graciously provided a great apartment for us to live in Toyosu. We have been able to use this place to host many parties, dinners, Bible studies, meetings, etc. over the last three years. It was supposed to be a 3-year contract, but the owner offered to extend it for another 2 years!

We looked like this three year ago…

And now we look like this. Each child has now had three birthdays in Tokyo! Peter has lived in Japan longer than he lived in America… All the kids have been attending the local Japanese public school, and each of them, to varying degrees, is becoming more proficient in understanding/speaking Japanese. We are grateful to God for His grace for them to be able to adapt and learn. He has also provided a good special education class with wonderful teachers at the school for Kaiya. He is faithful!

Two years ago on Easter Sunday, Grace Harbor Church started its weekly worship service. Every week since then, we have been able to gather as God’s people to worship Him and to proclaim the gospel in a place where there was no worship. Praise God for His faithfulness! This picture was taken on Christmas Day 2016.

Emma has hosted/led a ladies Bible study for some months now. She has done a great job building friendship with these ladies and loving them by serving them in different ways and sharing the good news of Jesus with them. We’re grateful to God for the work that He is doing in their lives.

Our teammates/fellow missionaries. God has been gracious to us in connecting us with these wonderful people and their organization, Mission to the World. Even though we are not part of the organization, they have welcomed us and helped and blessed us in countless ways. Their kingdom-minded partnership has been exemplary, and we hope to continue our friendship and partnership as we move forward with the new church planting work.

God has allowed us to become good friends with many people in our community who are not yet believers of Jesus. We have laughed, eaten, cried, celebrated, played, discussed together with them. They have become dear to us, and they are the main reason we believe God is calling us to plant a new church in Toyosu.

There had been a few baptisms at Grace Harbor Church. One of the highlights for me was to see Yukari get baptized last Christmas. She has been playing the piano for us at GHC since the beginning and a dear friend to many of the people at the church. We recently sang a song she wrote in our worship service. Praise God for His saving work!

This is our neighborhood. We are grateful to God for placing us here. We believe He is calling us to start a new church here, to be a blessing to our city, to love them in word and deed, to proclaim the good news of Jesus. We thank God for calling us here.

Recent(?) Photos

Ok, some of them are not so recent, but here are some photos from the last several months!

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I attended the City to City Intensive for church planting in Singapore & Hong Kong. Some of the instructors and men who are planting churches in different cities in Asia/Pacific region.

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It was such a treat to get to see our good friends Marcus & Mel and their daughter Emmy while I was in Honk Kong for the intensive. Wishing we lived closer!

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Max & Momoka, who have been a part of our community in Toyosu, served us with an awesome meal. Grateful for their friendship.

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A short-term team from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA came to help us serve the families with kids with disabilities that we have met through Kaiya’s school. We are praying for ways we can love and bless these kids and their families.

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Annual Kids English Week. Awesome team of volunteers from the U.S. (Most of them are not Japanese!)

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Emma teaching English to moms & kids during Kids English Week.

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One of the ways we have tried to connect with men and develop friendships is through sports. Grace Harbor basketball team won 1st Place at a recent tournament (only 7 teams participated, though!).

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As the very busy summer season drew to a close, we were able to take a week to retreat to my mom’s hometown in Niigata. Very quiet, near the beach, mountains, rivers, etc. Grateful for this time to refresh ourselves.

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Kids loved our time there.

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Rainbow over Toyosu.

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Summer festival in Toyosu. So many people…over 11,000 people within 5-minute walking distance from our apartment (over 30,000 in Toyosu). We believe there are people God will reveal Himself to in a special way. Would you join us in praying for soft and responsive hearts and the Spirit’s empowering presence as we continue to share Jesus with them?

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Grace Harbor Church Retreat 2016. I was in charge of organizing the retreat, and it was a lot of work on many people’s part, but it was worth it. Much laughter, good fellowship, deepening relationships. Grateful to God for His grace!

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Japan Congress on Evangelism 2016. Close to 2,000 pastors/church planters/church workers gathered in Kobe for this conference that happens every 7 years. The Lord gave me a fresh vision for His work in Toyosu/Tokyo at this conference. Let Your kingdom come!

Rewind

As I’m sitting here eating my sandwich dinner while studying, I am suddenly craving that Mongolian beef dish from Pei Wei in Fairfax. Ah. I loved it so much. And how did I not think of going back there when we were in the states for a visit last Christmas.

I’m sitting here thinking about rewinding time.

This morning I yelled about 98% of the morning at my one child who wouldn’t stop laughing. It just wasn’t in me to be kind. My heart was dealing with anger and my words and tone were hurtful. She was laughing and I was yelling. I want to go back and do it over.

So many recent things have happened that has given me similar thoughts of wanting to push a rewind button. Some things much bigger. Two young ladies we have known recently died. An accident and a suicide. A few days ago a missionary family who was planning on working with our friends in Nagoya we all killed in a tragic car accident. All five of them.

Where is the rewind button?

But while eating a few minutes ago, I read an article on conflict. I think my soul is ready to soak up any words at this point. Any words that are true. And we need truth in days like these. It said that we need to view conflict as a door to closeness. Now I’m not thinking about conflict, but that rewind button. A door to closeness?
Yes. Being near to Christ. Our relationship with Christ, where we see more of our need and cling closer to Him. Heaven becomes sweeter as the earth continues to disappoint, taste bitter, and sin is always lingering in our hearts. My desired rewind button is an opportunity for closeness to Christ. Without it I would be becoming more self-sufficient, not seeing my need for a Savior, and probably never savoring the hope of heaven with Him.

I grieve and really just sit here in disbelief about all the recent news. I also struggle with petty things that take over my heart and my day and my joy. Big things and little. But, thanks to God, who planned for Christ to redeem us, give us hope, and close His hand around us.

Cling to Him with me? I need this today.

Video Update

Here’s a quick update on our lives in Japan. (If you’re a videographer/photographer/creative storyteller and want to come to Japan and help us tell others about what the Lord is doing in Tokyo, please let us know!!)

Photo Update

It’s been a while since we have updated this blog with some photos… This is going to be longer than usual, but here are some photos from the last several months!

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This was our Christmas picture. Merry Christmas! (Belated…)

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We had an opportunity to be back in the U.S. for the month of December, updating our church, spending time with family and friends. All the cousins were together for the first time in a while. Our kids loved their time with them!

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We have some American fast food restaurants that we don’t have in Japan and we miss… Chipotle(!), Chick-fil-A, Potbelly’s… Boys enjoying Potbelly sandwiches.

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After a long flight back and pushing all our bags through customs, we arrived home safely. It felt great to be “home” again.

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Annual gathering of JEMA (Japan Evangelical Missionary Association). Grateful for these men & women working tirelessly to preach Christ all over Japan.

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Weekly “Kids Games”. Great way to connect with families in our community and bless the children by playing sports/games with them.

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“English Time” for moms and kids. Emma teaches moms & their little ones English every other week on Wednesday morning. God continues to bless this gathering by adding new people from our community! Please pray for deepening relationships with these ladies.

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This is for fun. One morning I arrived at our worship service venue and noticed our welcome sign standing next to a schoolgirl with a machine gun! The downside of meeting right next to a movie theater…

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By God’s grace, Grace Harbor Church celebrated its first anniversary since starting our weekly worship service. Easter/Anniversary party after the service.

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Egg drop game. Oh the joy of seeing the kids faces when the egg splattered on the table…

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Easter Egg Hunt. Kaiya is happy!

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J is into skateboarding these days. Trying to go down a half-pipe. Please pray for no broken bones, please!

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Missional community practitioners gathering. We started getting together with other Christian workers around Tokyo who are seeking to foster a Christian community that is actively engaging in the mission to make disciples.

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I can’t believe it’s already been two years… Tamia graduated from her 2-year kindergarten.

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…and Peter started his this year!

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Getting ready for a new year of school. Japanese schools start their new year in April. It’s a busy season for moms who have to buy all these things and write the kids names on everything!

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A visiting short-term team from CA putting on the Kids English event during the schools’ spring break. They were fabulous!

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Last but not least. We will celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary this Saturday (though I will be in Singapore attending the City to City intensive training for church planting — Please pray for God’s protection and grace over all of us, but especially for Emma, who will have our four kids and all of their school homework to look after while I’m gone!). Grateful beyond words for all that she is and does.

Steps of Faith

When Seita and I first started talking about the possibility of moving to Japan as missionaries, I had 3 large concerns. Family, medical things, and language. I also had this idea that we were going to board a ship, wave goodbye, and say a ‘see you never’ in our hearts to everything we loved. I really was unschooled in the new ways of doing overseas missions.

I sat on the beach and chatted with a good friend a little while after Seita and I had started discussing Japan. God used her to build my faith to take small steps, not life-investing leaps. Seita was about to board a plane and head to Japan for the initial investigative trip. She asked me if I had faith for Seita to go and check things out. I said yes. God had given me faith for that. I had no doubt. I started to see that each decision, each step, would need to be dependent on God providing the faith.

As we walked through the next 20 months of making decisions, support raising, and attending cross-cultural training, God proved Himself faithful. During that time, those 3 concerns I initially had started to fade. They had become more part of the background. The more faith God gave me in what He was calling me to do, the less my concerns crowded my thoughts. In His kindness, He allowed me to see my concerns and my weaknesses, in order for Him to show me His power.

Although we did not board a ship, we did board a plane 2 years ago. Seita, myself, 4 young kids, 10 bags, some toys from the Target dollar section, and a small step of faith. We knew God would provide the faith for the next step after that. And in all honesty, the faith that He has given me has got nothing to do with me. Faith is a gift. We are simply recipients of this gracious gift. But, it’s God in whom we place our faith, in whom faith points to, and who provides our faith that is truly amazing. This amazing God keeps us dependent on Him by giving us faith in small doses.

I don’t know the perspective our kids hold of our new life in Japan. I suppose we all hear things we didn’t know our kids ever thought about until they are adults. Yikes. Part of their story will be about moving to Japan and following God’s call. I don’t know if we speak about faith enough in front of them, but I do know they are aware of our calling. I pray that they will somehow see how steps of faith have been woven into a pathway forward – even into a foreign country. I also pray that they will know God, who has and will direct the steps He gives them grace for. Baby steps are all I pray for, because only God knows that we can handle nothing more.

Our Space

There is this one spot in the middle of our home where I can see every room in the apartment. By taking one step, I’m in the kitchen, or in the other direction, the bathroom and the kids’ rooms. By reaching into the nearest closet, I can touch the Christmas tree, winter boots, and paper towels. I can control the heat, watch TV, wash the dishes, and see every family member all simultaneously by standing in that one spot.

This is our space.

It’s different from what we were used to back in the states. We now live in a high-rise apartment block in the Tokyo Bay area with 11,000 other people on our corner of the island. This section is smaller than a quarter square mile.

There are six of us. We hear each other all the time. There is no space for private conversations. We sit on each other, breathe each other’s air, photo-bomb skype conversations. We see each other’s lives. We know each other’s thoughts. Ok, not really, but we have got to know each other much better.

The space we now live in was a surprise that we anticipated, but only got to know how much of a surprise after we had moved here two years ago.

We gave up our home in the states to follow the Lord calling us to a mission in Tokyo. In our mission here, we have come to love God, and we have come to love people. Considering our context, our mission does not require space. The lack of living space was a cross-cultural shock for sure, but the shock also came when I realized that space was not necessarily needed to love God or love people.

What we think we need in order accomplish what God has purposed for us to do can be a distraction. By loving people here, hospitality is required. Open lives, open homes, honest living, mess involved, sin exposed, redemption sort. Actually, the space we have aids our purpose well. More people in our space. Less place to hide. More life to share.

God has been gracious with giving us this space. In it He has held us up. He has allowed us to grow in sharing with one another – our lives, our food, our beds. Laughter, noise, tears, dreams, elbows. We have been watched by the world here, and prayed for by the people your side. We have seen God’s provision to help us balance a life of shared chaos, while maintaining peaceful hearts. As we experience more culture that crosses our expectations, or more expectations we have that crosses God’s purpose for us, we pray that God would grow us to love Him more and love people well.

Great Expectations

A few days ago Kaiya (8) went down the half-pipe at the skateboard park on her belly. I wish I was kidding. Somehow she got up there, waited her turn, then with such excitement, slid down smile first. No other trick trumped that move of hers. I could see the other older skateboarder guys freeze with shock when they saw it. However, J (10) sat there on the side watching his sister’s performance expressionless. He didn’t doubt her ability, even though she has Down Syndrome, and he wasn’t shocked like the others. Unfortunately, believe me, he has seen better stunts.

I was watching this all happen with a friend on the far end of the skateboard park. It was one of those precious moments you want to always remember. I mean, remember to hide. But I slowly made my way over and I sat down next to J, still marveling that he wasn’t surprised like the others by what Kaiya had just done. It didn’t even faze him. He knew what Kaiya could do when others probably had a low expectation of what she could do.

During that moment I realized that I wanted to be like him. The way he watched Kaiya is the way I want to view God’s work in Japan.

There are so many explanations that try to shed light on why Christianity has not taken root here. I’ve heard that it takes years before a Japanese person accepts Christ. I’ve heard stories of discouragement. But I don’t want to have low expectations of what God can do. I did not intend to come here and wait a certain amount of years, gear up for discouragement, or be bound by statistics. No. I want to expect God to do exceedingly more than my greatest expectations.

The truth is that Christ is already present and working in the hearts of many people, including my own. I want my sight to be set on how God is working today. I pray that I do not become content with the low expectations of Christianity taking root in a country like Japan. I want to see amazing things happen, and when I do, I want to remember to not be surprised about seeing great things from a big God.