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Far From Home Blog

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.

Recounting God’s Goodness

As Emma mentioned in the recent post, we are going back to the US for a visit next week. It is a good opportunity for me to look back on the last several months and reflect on God’s goodness to us. Here are some pictures from the recent months. Enjoy!

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The Kids English Week. We had some visiting short-term teams that helped us tremendously! Some of the moms who came with their children have also started getting more involved in our community and attended events and Bible study.

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As a follow up to the Kids English Week, we started hosting “English Time” for moms and kids every other week. Some new moms have started coming, and we’re grateful for this opportunity to get to know them.

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Emma reading to the kids at the English Time.

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Ladies’ Bible study. Several non-Christian friends regularly attend this group. We are grateful to God for the work He is doing in the lives of our dear friends!

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One of the highlights of the last several months is the conversion of Miwa (center). She made a profession of faith in Jesus this summer, and it’s been so inspiring to see her desire to grow as a Christian. Every time she comes to our house, she borrows a new book to read that would help her grow spiritually. She is scheduled to be baptized this month at Grace Harbor Church, and we are very excited to see the grace of God in her life! We thank God for her.

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A view from the new civic center in Toyosu.

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A recent photo of our kids. It must have been a “girls only” joke.

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On the way to the Grace Harbor Church fall retreat.

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Group photo at the retreat. Great opportunity to deepen our relationships with one another, including several of the friends who are not yet Christians.

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Sunday afternoon picnic.

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Toyosu Missional Community Thanksgiving Dinner. We had some traditional Japanese dishes that people brought, and we enjoyed the mashing of different flavors!

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This fall we attended the Japan Church Planting Institute National Conference. Several hundred missionaries, pastors, church planters, and others gathered near Mt. Fuji to worship God together and to encourage one another in ministry. I was asked to lead the singing, and it was a privilege to serve.

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I was also asked to teach a seminar on “a worshiping church”.

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Grace Harbor Team photo taken at the conference. Grateful to God for each of them and their friendship, encouragement, and partnership in the gospel!

3 Day Countdown

We’re coming over on Monday! As a family, this will be our first time back to the US since we moved. It makes me realize how much Tokyo has become my home when something holds me back from writing the words “we’re coming home”, because it might feel like home, but it’s not my home. Although, there are definitely certain things that I am pretty sure I will never get used to. Singing ‘hallelujah’ in church, but pronouncing it ‘hareruya’ is one of them.

But for real, I am dying to see you all, listen and talk, overhear stranger’s conversations and understand them, see grass, and yes, eat Chipotle. The anticipation! I realize that this trip will be a month, but I still get the feeling that trying to take a swing at living real life with you for a few moments, every few years, is going to be difficult. I am looking forward to seeing how God has prepared the way for us, even when our schedule is filling up and my brain will be permanently aware of the time limit we have.

This is what the Lord has called us to. Not only the life in Japan, but the transitions too. There is grace in that too.

Part of me wants to fast-forward over another transition; however, I have been learning that the character of God is revealed in the waiting. I am always waiting for something to happen, or an event to take place, or a prayer to be answered. His character is on display for us in the moments we least expect. As we feel like our real lives are on hold or we wait in anticipation for something, we can look up and receive the gift of faith in the waiting. Our faith becomes strong when our eyes on fixed on God, not on the days ahead. I want to learn this truth as I am in anticipation for what is to come. Christ is with me today, and He wants my attention right now.

As we travel back to the states in 3 days time, please pray that our faith will grow in Christ as he shapes and leads us through our trip. Pray that we don’t only look up to God for peace in each moment of crazy, but that we look up because there is an irresistible dose of grace and strengthening of faith that God is ready to pour out on His children during the moments of our weakness.

Our faith to return to our new home after this trip is strong. We will miss the real life in Toyosu while in the states, but know that we are so blessed to be able to see family and friends again. It feels like it’s been too long. And Peter has almost spent half his life in Japan already. Seriously. Japan really, really is home for him.

Last Few Months…

At Grace Harbor Church, we officially started our weekly Sunday worship service on Easter. We thank God for that! But with that, our workload has dramatically increased as well, so I haven’t been able to post updates for a while…So many things have happened in the last several months, and I can’t recap everything, but here are some pics from the recent months!

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Official launching service of Grace Harbor Church on Easter. Super blessed to have our teammates and people who make up our church.

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Peter turned 3! Growing up fast…

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Family pic taken in the spring with cherry blossoms in the background. Don’t know what got into Peter…

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Our friends in Toyosu/Grace Harbor community. All the ladies have been studying the Bible with us.

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Our newest teammates, Joe & Felicity Congdon (in the middle) with their three children arrived in March!

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Marriage Seminar with Dr. Diane Powell. Our teammates, Sean & Lisa Radke, shared their testimony of God’s grace and mercy in their marriage with many of our friends from Toyosu.

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A short-term team from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Diego came and did a fantastic job reaching out to the college students at a local university. Debriefing meeting recounting expressions of God’s grace. Special guest – Michael Briggs (far right) from our home church in Fairfax, VA! Great to have you Mike!

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I was invited to a pastors’ luncheon hosted by the Gideon International Japan. Grateful to have the opportunity to meet older pastors and Christian workers in Japan.

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From our balcony. How many people are giving thanks to God for this in Tokyo? Praying for many to come to know the wonderful Creator who is revealing Himself in creation and through Jesus Christ!

Earthquake 8.5

We just felt a pretty big earthquake. Some car alarms went off, the kids woke up, and I think I heard Seita praying out loud for God’s mercy as he ran to…I’m not sure where he ran. I immediately go into emergency mode and can rattle off a list of steps to do in emergencies and I’m secretly proud of that, while the rest of everyone scrambles for…again, I’m not sure what.

But suddenly God is remembered by people who don’t remember Him. Suddenly He receives a million prayers for help by people who don’t know Him or deny Him. And we often wonder why God allows some things to happen. I know the results of an earthquake this big would be devastating in a different part of the world. Japan (we hope) is built to endure them.

When things go wrong and certain situations that were never on our agenda happen, we can feel the devastation. But God, in His mercy, gives grace. When we struggle and when we fail, God holds us up. When we remember Him no more, He gently reminds us of our need for Him. And the point of all this is to show Christ. Somewhere I have sung a song about the gospel shinning more brightly against a dark background. It’s true.

So as we wake up tomorrow morning and start having conversations about the earthquake, about life, pray that the Gospel infiltrates our speech and the peace we have in Christ is shown. Pray that as ladies share their struggles with me, as pieces of marriages get dropped in my path, as I start conversations with people trapped in a pain, as I say good morning to the perfectly dressed and self-sufficient moms, please pray.

An earthquake freshly reminds me to think with a perspective greater than my own. It makes us all desperate because it’s beyond what we can do or control ourselves. But God can use it for His glory, and He can use us to show others the Savior. It reminds me that this clean, well-mannered, and ‘safe’ place is a perfectly dark background. It just needs Christ.

Light Shining in the Darkness

Seita writes, “God blessed our family in a special way with a weeklong visit from Vince and Bonnie in Hinders in late February. Vince is the Executive Pastor of Sovereign Grace Church, where I was pastor before coming to Japan. It was so helpful to hear their observations about what God is doing in our lives as a family and in our work. Vince graciously agreed to do an update on my behalf this month. Thanks, Vince!

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So then, as we have opportunity let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)

As one of many churches that love the Sakaguchi’s, it’s been a joy for us to see all the ways God has met them in the past year as they settle in as missionaries in Tokyo. God has been faithful to provide grace after grace. One of the commitments our church made to Seita and Emma before they left for Japan was that we would extend pastoral care in several ways, including an annual visit.

During the week we spent with them, we were excited to see that their family is doing well, the gospel is going forth in Toyosu, and God is working through Seita and Emma in significant ways to accomplish His purposes. Grace Harbor is growing and now has about 80 people attending, while the average attendance at a Japanese church is 50 people. They are now meeting weekly, as of Easter Sunday.

As you can imagine, their lives are extremely full. We saw that between Seita’s leadership role at the church, Emma’s responsibilities in Children’s Ministry and the Nursery, Emma and the kids learning Japanese, school (Peter began pre-school in April), and their own time together as a family, there is little room for more to be added. And yet, the demands this spring have unexpectedly multiplied, with one leader experiencing a serious family crisis and another preparing to be away for three-months.

What began as a steady stream of responsibilities for Seita and Emma has become a deluge, and they need our prayers. Looking back, Emma’s decision to “be all there” (see her March 13 post) was God preparing her for what’s come. Here are some ways we can be praying for the Sakaguchi’s and for Grace Harbor:

  • That God’s light will penetrate the darkness. Opposition to their work is strong and they need increased faith to see God’s ability to overcome the darkness and clear their path to continue to reach the lost.
  • God’s protection on all at Grace Harbor Church
  • Additional servants to help in all areas of Grace Harbor, including administrative, teachers for Children’s Ministry and in the Nursery, hospitality, etc.
  • Continued strength, endurance, and health for the Sakaguchi family
  • Continued progress for Emma and their kids with learning Japanese
  • Healing and helping hands for the family in crisis
  • Provision during the three months that one of the families in leadership will be away

On our recent call, it was clear that Seita and Emma are being stretched, but they are standing strong in their faith. They are encouraged by what God is doing in their family and at Grace Harbor. We’re grateful that God is sustaining them, and that they let us know about their need for prayer. Thank you for joining us in prayer on their behalf.

Three Hundred Sixty Five

Three hundred sixty five days. And as I write that, I sort of second guess whether the Japanese calendar has a different number of days. That’s what moving across the world can do for you. It has been that long since we landed in Japan. And I can remember that day so clearly. The children were so peaceful. I knew that in a tangible way the Lord was giving us grace. The lollipops I gave them during customs also helped. Thanks for praying for us. I won’t forget that day easily.

Peter also turned 2 the day we moved. We just celebrated his 3rd birthday yesterday and realized he has now lived one third of his life in Japan. Ok, that’s not really a shocker, I know. He’s 3. But, the kids are getting a bit more familiar with the way we do things in Japan that how it used to be in America. John actually asked me what Goldfish were two nights ago. I made Seita immediately find a picture of that healthy snack on his phone and show it to him. Oh, and Peter has never sat on a cold toilet seat. He was potty trained here, and the toilets have heat and water spray things and emergency buttons and various degrees of flushes. I won’t go on, but I am seeing the change in what the kids are getting familiar with.

For our children, our goal this year was to get them acclimated as much as possible. That would mean eliminating any expectation that would exceed survival. Again, this is where we have experienced grace from God. John, Kaiya, and Tamia were enrolled in a Japanese public school. No English is spoken there, and I haven’t heard of any English kids there. I came to expect that they would basically not learn anything other than get used to the daily routines. And then 2 weeks ago, John comes home from school and tells me all about life in the old Japanese days. He speaks Japanese pretty well too.

For me, along with a few other decisions that I made to be proactively grounding my feet in this new life of mine, I had decided to hold back from communicating with the life I love, and friends I treasure back in the states. Of course, my fam was an exception. I have moved countries once before and experienced living in two places at once. Vicariously, of course. That didn’t help this third-culture kid find her feet quickly. Jim Eliott wrote, “Wherever you are, be all there”. I wrote it on a huge canvas hanging on our bedroom wall. And that is just it. For me, I needed to be present here. My hope was that it would serve my family, and serve the Japanese people who would be politely expecting me to pine for home. I am present here with them. Ultimately, I want to honor the call both Seita and I had from God to move to Japan and share the Gospel.

So from now on, I will be hopefully sharing my thoughts on this blog from time to time, if you can bare the grammar. I have a simple view of daily life. I have real stories and real people I want to share. And this is not to embellish my life outside of it’s current state, but rather bring you up to speed with the excitements that happen in the mundane.

Bubble Soccer, Tamia Speaking Japanese(?), Missional Community

I recently played bubble soccer for the first time with some friends. I’m the guy wearing white letting my teammate take the hit so I can kick the ball… Another bonding experience with our friends as we laughed a lot together. My team won the tournament!

Our kids’ teachers tell us that our kids are starting to speak Japanese more at school. Here’s Tamia speaking Japanese(!?), probably mimicking something that her teacher said at school. So encouraging!

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A friend’s birthday party.

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One of our missional community family dinners. Celebrating one of our friends’ birthday together. One of the things we seek to do as a community is to celebrate significant moments in each others’ lives together.

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We have a lot of kids in our group. It’s often chaotic when we get together. We feed the kids first so the adults can eat and talk together while the kids play/watch a movie together somewhere else…

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A view of Toyosu Park, a local park that many of us take our kids to. Many good conversations with our friends have taken place there.

Thanksgiving, Concerts, Christmas Party, Etc.

In the last several weeks, we had a few big events that were designed to serve and bless our community by bringing them together and connecting them with one another. It’s been hectic, but we’re grateful to God for giving us opportunities to connect with our friends through these events.

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Thanksgiving dinner. Our teammates Jon & Sarah Pfeil did a great job organizing this event!

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After the dinner. These ladies (who are regulars at Grace Harbor events/gatherings) stayed until the very end to help us clean up!

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One of our non-Christian friends asked if Grace Harbor would put together some singers to sing Christmas carols at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in her apartment complex.

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Her building has 50+ floors. A view from their sky lounge!

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One of our missional community family dinners.

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Family Gospel concert. It’s a choir made up of mostly non-Christian parents and their children in our community.

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An impromptu after-party at our place.

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Breakfast with “Mr. Bob” and “Ms. Sharon”. The Drews are missionaries on our team who provide much needed wisdom. Grateful to God for them!

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A concert at a local hospital organized by Grace Harbor. Over 100 people in attendance. I think the patients, particularly the older people, were blessed to have the opportunity to listen to quality music amid their hospitalization.

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Grace Harbor Christmas Party at Cafe Haus. Many of our local non-Christians came and enjoyed being together. Grateful to God for giving us an opportunity to bless our friends! Praying for fruit…