This was our first trip taking Hezekiah (7 months old), and our two new missionary partners (Hawi and Preston Winowiski). All three were vital to the trip, providing joy, creativity, resilience, passion, and friendship. When we landed in Japan we were 100% funded at over $10,000 which covered airfare to Japan, food, and rail transportation. God provided for all of our needs including health and safety, so that we could focus on pouring into ministries.
We were able to connect with Machida church for the first time in three years at budonokodomo (literally grape children). Hawi and Preston shared their testimonies with the church, and we got to do a bible study and worship with about 8 children. We practiced English and got to strengthen Machida church, praying with the small congregation. Please Pray for God to provide Kano sensei with an understudy to take over Machida church ministry when she retires.
I was blessed with the opportunity to teach about the future of robotic surgery at Kishio Sensei's "Cancer Philosophy Cafe" in Niiza Church. A few new people attended for the first time, and I discussed how Jesus uses innovations in technology to multiply healing accross the world. We also reconnected with Deura Sensei, and english teacher and key member of town. Pray for Niiza church to continue to grow.
Once thing that made ministry so special this year was how much we were able to pour into Tamagawa church. Hawi and Preston both stayed with host families, we attended two Sunday services, a prayer meeting, and a farewell lunch. God is continuing to move in the congregation as they step out in bold faith. So much joy. We also connected with a Pastor Alvin from the Philippines who was in Japan to consider doing ministry full time in partnership with Tamagawa church. Pray for God's leading as he considers starting an English ministry in Japan if his family moves to Tokyo.
Our work in Tokyo concluded with TamaYuriShiki kids camp. We had over 20 kids the three day camp. We preached four times on Jesus's ministry, the Cross, the resurrection, and spiritual gifting. Multiple children believed in the Creator God for the first time, and even decided to follow Christ. There was a mother in attendance who was really beginning to experience God's love. We shared our testimonies with her, and I taught her how to play "Jesus Paid It All" on guitar. After the camp she reached out to me, explaining that she translated the words of the song, looked up John 3:16, and gave her life to Christ. She has been attending Tamagawa Church since. Fukui Sensei has a vision of this camp growing out to 100+ students in the future by partnering with other English school camps. Keep this camp in your prayers concerning 2018.
Our ministry in Shingu was incredible. So so so many challenges: typhoon, Tomoko and Kai getting sick, almost burning the church down....But God did incredible things in this small rural fishing village church. Hawi and Preston really carried out so much of our ministry in Shingu, and having them on the team enabled us to run English cafe for adults, kids English club, private English lessons, and care for a sick baby all at the same time. Additionally we had great turn outs to our cooking ministries, and Koki's father even stopped by church to meet us. Koki is a close friend from college. Koki later visited Shingu church after we left.
All these ministries worked up to our three day kids camp, where over 15 kids attend to learn about English and how to seek God. Masa and Tomoko are so dynamic concerning there vision for Shingu church. They toiled relentlessly, and have so much trust in God's ability to break into Shingu (which is a spiritual stronghold of shinto idolatry). We spent a lot of time teach half of the kids how to sing and dance to three christian English songs, and the other half learned an English drama of the prodigal son.
Our work in Shingu climaxed on Sunday morning when over 30 people attended church (the small congregation, the kid's camp kids, and their parents). For many of them this was their first time experiencing Christian worship, prayer, a sermon, communion, and even the baptism of Katie and Jonathon (Masa and Tomoko's children). Seeing parents filming their children speaking and singing about Christ was amazing. To see fathers in church was amazing and new. Multiple children accepted Jesus, and even one parent. It really felt like a true turning point for this church. Every year God moves strategically in Shingu, and it was humbling to witness. Leaving Shingu was very emotional as you'll see in the pictures below. God is doing a work in so many hearts there. Continue to pray for the members of this church to grow in their faith and to discover new ways to minister to their small community.
Osaka and the Journey home
In Osaka we were blessed with the opportunity to connect with our dear friend Koki from college. He went sightseeing with us in Dontonbori and he got to meet Hezekiah for the first time. Koki is originally from Shingu, so all the connections are really profound. Pray for Koki to find a time to attend a church in Japan around the Osaka/Kyoto area.
From here our Journey became rather complicated which required full dependence on Christ. We arrived at Osaka airport three hours early, we discovered that there was a problem with our domestic flight leg reservation. Essentially Kai did not have a ticket for the connecting flight, even though he had an international one. Because our reservation spanned multiple airlines there was no way to add Kai, and as the minutes ticked prayed harder and harder. We ended up missing the flight and being told to call multiple agencies.
Instead we prayed...hard. The story of Gideon came to mind. Gideon was heading into battle with about 22000 troops. If Gideon won this way, the glory would go to man not God, so God continues to have him reduce his numbers until they only had 300 men. By staying obedient, God made a way that was higher than anything man could accomplish by his own strength. "The greater the fight, the greater Your Glory".
The Spirit prompted me to go upstairs to Osaka's international airline to the Japan Airlines reservation desk. I was fairly emotional, drifting between fear of being "stuck in Japan forever" and faith that God would grant victory. Instead of calling a call center, God provided an amazing customer service representative who was willing to work with me on my reservation for over 4.5 hours. She called multiple agencies and did everything she possibly could to get us all home.
It was a holiday season in Japan so everything was booked solid, but through God's provision she was able to get all five of us a next day flight from Osaka to Tokyo to Chicago. The ticket change fees and hotel charges added an additional $2500 to our trip. It was a hard hit, moving from "fully funded" to $2500 debt. The team kept praying, and processing our circumstances, but God's miracles were unexpected on so many fronts.
First off, I had a revelation when listening to worship music. There is a powerful song called "Hold It All" by Cody Carnes.
I call Your name
When I'm in over my head
When I'm in over my head
I seek Your face
When I cannot see the end
When I cannot see the end
You hold it all
The darker the night
The brighter the morning
You're in control
The graver the fight
The greater Your glory
God was doing a wonderful "humbling" work in my heart concerning his sovereignty and plan over my life. Transportation is something "I" plan and have "control" over. This was a situation truly outside of my control, well over my head, in which there was no way out, no edit undo. The only option was to march forward with 300 men, to pray and have faith in his goodness and strength. God knew how much our Japan trip would cost before we even got on a plan, and he was committed to paying for it ($10,000 before we left, and the $2500 after we returned). He is faithful.
And wow, our return trip on the new flight was amazing. I must have listened to "Hold It All" about 30 times. Because of limited seating we were upgraded out of economy class and had plenty of leg room. Additionally for the international flight all five of us got to sit together in one row right before the bulk head. We had about 4 feet to leg room and set up a "play pit" for Hezekiah to sleep and play in. It was the most blessed flight of our lives. The relief of victory, and seeing God's miracles, indescribable.
Additionally the missed flight provided an opportunity for Felicia's family to host a Japanese Missionary Tadashi Fukui, connecting them direction with our work in Japan. Which leads us to our the last leg of our missions work.
Tadashi Fukui - Journeys in America
Tadashi is the 21 year old son of Fukui Sensei (pastor of Tamagawa church). Last year he became a christian at TamaYuriShiki camp where we preached. He was baptized and helped lead many pieces of the TamaYuriShiki camp this year. He decided that he wanted to grow in his faith by understanding the American church, learning new skills that he could then leverage in the Japanese church. He came to America for 8 weeks directly after our trip in Japan.
For the first four weeks he stayed with us in Cincinnati, and attended Peoples church, a thriving multicultural multigenerational church in the heart of the city. He participated in young professional bible study, youth group, a worship night, a worship leading conference, and international small group, two christian concerts (Shane and Shane, and Crowder), and even got to attend a Japanese Church in Kentucky.
On top of this we also brought him to "the Ark Museum" which discuss biblical creationism - a topic he was very interested. He also experienced a baseball game, and Chipotle...his favorite food. He had it at least 10 times in four weeks.
Then he connected with a few churches in Wisconsin and Chicato, where he experienced bible time, hiking rib mountain, traditional and contemporary churches, Mullins Cheese Factory, a cross country meet, Pinnacle Ministries meetings, a church picnic, and baptism.
Tadashi experienced so much in such a short/long period of time, but I can definitely see God's hand in his life. Pray for him to stay rooted in his faith, and for God to lead him to start new ministries that yield a great harvest. He's still learning how to minister in Japan due to so many cultural constraints. Pray for God to bless and lead him.
Where things stand today
Felicia, Hezekiah, and I are in a season of rest. We are building new routines to grow in our faith and press into our local community. Additionally we are trying to be debt free from this trip as soon as possible as we are saving up to buy the home we're renting in April. God has already been so faithful with giving post Japan trip, and even a new christian friend in Japan donated $200 towards our trip after she learned what happened. We only need an additional $1365 for this trip to be zeroed out. We encourage you to pray, and if you're led to give or pray click the "support us" tab. This trip has been covered in prayer and generosity, and we are so grateful for every drop of support. You are apart of the miracles in this post, thank you for being so vital in our missions work in Japan.
In the event we raise more than the deficit it will give us a head start on our 2018 trip fundraising. =D
God will provide. He is good. He is faithful. If you have any questions or want to know how to follow Christ, please reach out.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Joe isosaki and the Team (Felicia, Hawi, Preston, and of course Kai)