What is a “Free School”?

Every weekday morning around 7:30, the streets are flooded with the uniformed masses of Japanese school children trudging off to school. In many ways, they are like their Western counterparts: dreaming of upcoming vacation days, worried about a pop quiz in math, laughing with their friends about some YouTube video playing on someone’s phone. It’s easy to forget that in one important way, they aren’t the same.

The Japanese education system still stresses the idea of collectivism, that the needs of the many are greater than the needs of the individual. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this idea, some of the ways this teaching manifests itself can be disturbing.

The Japanese proverb that best defines their particular brand of collectivism is this: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” In school, the end result is that nobody wants to stand out from their peers in any way, good or bad. You may be the smartest kid in your class but you’d dare not act like it by asking your teacher for more challenging work. If your peers find out about it, you’ll be put in your place.

The most common manifestation of collectivism is the bullying of the children who refuse to be, or due to mental, emotional or physical issues, cannot be, part of the collective. The bullying problem in Japan is well documented and there are many reasons for it apart from social collectivism, but the point is that the school yard can be a very cruel place for many Japanese children.

So while we witness thousands of children march off to school every day, there are likely hundreds more who can’t or won’t leave their homes. For some, the bullying has become so bad that they cannot deal with it any longer and their weary parents, having exhausted all options, simply allow them to stop attending school. For others, the school administrators themselves have requested that the family stop sending their child to their school. And there are other reasons, often related to one of these two.

Our friend and JEMS affiliate Moto Kimura is passionate about children and families in this situation. Moto is the administrator of a “free school” at a church in Ueno. Free schools are now starting to show up all over Japan, often started by churches who are compassionate toward families with children who cannot or will not attend Japanese public schools.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit Moto’s school twice already and meet the children who attend his school. None of the kids could be legitimately called “bad” kids. Some have short attention spans and need to get up in the middle of a lesson and walk around a bit before resuming their work. Some have learning disorders and need a little more help learning their subjects. And some appear completely normal but perhaps have been bullied so badly at public schools that they refuse to return.

The ability to help children who do not “fit” the Japanese public school system is an area where the government is struggling. Even in the area of treating common learning disorders, Japan lags behind other first world nations. And so it is, where the government is in need, the church can help provide an answer, this time through Free Schools.

Of course, much more can be done, if there were more professional special needs teaching resources coming from overseas to serve Free Schools and their like. Like my wife has come to serve her school as a Speech Therapist (and in many other ways), Japan can benefit from bilingual resources educated in American universities on treating these learning disabilities that are still relatively new to Japan.

As for me, I will be giving a chapel message once per month at Moto’s school and teaching some simple photography concepts to the older students. Please pray for Moto and his school and the many schools like his that churches are using to serve the people of Japan. This is just another tangible way to provide the love of Christ to families who are desperately in need.

Falling In Love

The job of the missionary is to fall in love with the place that they are in. – Tim Svoboda, YWAM

If you’ve followed our adventure for this past year, you may notice that among the ministry events we participate in, there are also many cultural events that we take part in as part of our life here in Japan. Summer festivals, tea ceremony, and even pop culture events have all been things we have been blessed to enjoy. Though these events seem unrelated to our core ministry here, they are actually a vital part of our ministry when we look at the big picture and the potential that we may be in Japan for many years.

For the sake of simplicity and because I tend to be a prolific writer once I get going, I’m just going to break this down into a few key points. Over the next few months, I’ll expound in detail on several of these so you get a better understanding of what I mean by them. Ready?

Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Among the many wonderful tidbits of wisdom from YWAM director Tim Svoboda, this is one that I use every day. Japanese culture, as viewed by a person from Western culture, is very difficult to understand. The priorities of the average Japanese person and the group vs. individual mentality are so radically different that one must pause to think in the Japanese mindset before reacting. Full immersion in Japanese culture helps make that transition to the Japanese way of thinking easier, though it is never automatic. Participating in Japanese tea ceremony, for example, teaches us the mentality of serving others in even the smallest of detail. It teaches us to appreciate beauty in seemingly ordinary things. It teaches us the virtue of humility that is held in such high regard in Japanese culture.

Be the salt. Be the light. Because Japanese culture is so relationship based, the concept of evangelism has to be adapted to fit that relational model. It is said that a Japanese person will take 3-5 years to make a commitment to Christ, but not because they don’t understand the gospel on an intellectual level. More likely, it is because they want to take the time to know you as a Christian, literally a “little Christ”, to see how Jesus makes a difference in your life.

Just like Western culture, there are many subcultures of Japanese culture which are by nature more difficult to reach with the gospel. Not necessarily because they are resistant to the gospel, but because Christians lack the desire or courage to become part of those subcultures to be the salt and light to them. Often, the groups that suffer are those with strong adherence to Japanese traditions which was seen by the traditional Protestant church as pagan. We feel that if God opens a door to build a relationship with a specific group of people, we are obliged to take that step. So we make it a point to get involved with as many different subcultures in Tokyo as we can: artisans, musicians, photographers, college students, special-needs children, and even break dancers!

Inspire others to do something. I apologize if this sounds self-serving, but one of the reasons we do these things is for you! As we interact with people from outside of Japan, we find that many people are interested in Japan and its culture but know very little about it. Part of the issue is the language barrier and part is that the Japanese people put a strong value on being separate from the rest of the world. Japan is probably one of the most homogeneous first world nations, with little desire from the government or general public for looser immigration laws. Many things are talked about being “uniquely Japanese”, even things that aren’t really unique to Japan.

As we experience Japanese culture and share these experiences with you, we hope that we are creating sources of information in English for people who are curious about Japanese culture and inspiring people to care about and pray for the people of Japan. If a few of you are inspired so much to become ministry workers here in Japan, we certainly wouldn’t complain about that either!

Falling in love. Another wonderful tidbit from Tim Svoboda, as seen at the top of this post, is that our primary job is to fall in love with the place we are in. We can’t love the people if we hate the culture. We must learn to value the good things that they value. Of course, we weigh those practices against the Word of God and we do what is right according to Scripture. But it is never wrong to develop a deeper understanding of the culture in the place where you live. The Svobodas spent 30 years in India, so Tim knows exactly what he’s talking about when he says this.

Almost every visitor to Japan leaves with a respect for some part of Japanese culture that they encountered: politeness, generosity, cleanliness, humility, aesthetic beauty. Not surprisingly, everything a person could admire about Japanese culture has roots in the character of God. An ability to connect the things Japanese people admire to scriptural references to the character of God helps break down the false idea that Christianity is a Western religion.

As you follow this blog, you will continue to see a mix of both ministry related and culture related posts about our life here in Japan. What I wanted you to see is that the two are intertwined with one another in ways that aren’t always obvious. Though I’ve only given you a brief overview of the importance of studying local culture as an overseas ministry worker, I hope to give you more in-depth essays on these topics in the future.

It’s Not All Fun and Games

We love living in Tokyo. There is no doubt in our mind that God has called us to serve here at this season of our lives. We went through one of the easiest transitions we could have hoped for when we moved here over a year ago. We found a church we could plug right into and hit the ground running with various ministries. We’ve made many wonderful new friends. We eat fantastic food and experience amazing things in one of the greatest cities in the world. And yet, it would be a lie to say things are perfect or easy here.

It’s hard for overseas ministries workers to admit our struggles. Often, we only share the gory details of ministry life among ourselves, with people who can completely relate to what we are going through because they themselves have been there (or are going through the same things). But it would be disingenuous to pretend our lives are good all the time. We go through many of the same struggles Christians have living at home: financial worries, communication breakdowns, self esteem issues, and more. But these struggles are magnified in the field, far away from our normal sources of encouragement and advice.

And spiritual warfare is very real. Whenever you make a priority of sharing the gospel with people who need to hear it, you can bet the enemy will be there to meet you head-to-head, fighting you with every ounce of his strength. And if we make the mistake of trying to take him on with our own strength, he will defeat us.

Without getting into too much detail, this past month has been a tough one for us. We’ve had shouting matches and flaring tempers. We’ve had colds and headaches. There have been days when, for no apparent reason, I feel so useless that I don’t even want to leave the house, even if the day before I was serving the Lord faithfully.

Friends, as often as I express the importance of your prayers in our lives and ministry, I doubt I could ever overstate it. Your prayers are our lifeblood. The Lord hears them and He answers. Conversely, when the prayer coverage gets a bit thin, the enemy sometimes lands a punch and it doesn’t feel good. We don’t want to put all the responsibility for prayer on you because we are also responsible for praying over ourselves and our family, but what we lack in faithfulness, you make the difference.

I tell you this now because the rest of 2015 will be busy ones for our family and our ministry. When we get busy, we often forget to pray. It’s not an excuse; it’s just something we need to get better at prioritizing. But you can help us by praying for us. Pick a day, a time, and just give our family and ministry a few words of mention to God. It makes all the difference in the world to us.

Bridging The Gap in Tokyo

Walking into The Bridge Live, it’s easy to think you’ve just stumbled upon a hidden gem of an underground jazz club. First the location: Shimokitazawa, an artsy suburb of Tokyo that is a destination for urban 20-somethings due to its lively nightlife, edgy shops and abundance of great restaurants. Half Moon Hall, the venue for The Bridge Live is itself an architectural masterpiece.

Next, the musicians. Four or five bands, mainly people from the neighborhood, come to play their music here. The music ranges from classic jazz to folk rock to Beatles covers, but one thing remains the same: the high quality of the musicians who play here. Only then do you realize you didn’t pay a cover charge to come in the door.

When Joey Zorina takes the stage, you realize why you are here. Joey, a talented guitarist himself, is pastor of The Bridge Fellowship, a weekly home church gathering. The Bridge Live is an event held 4 or 5 times a year as a way to present the gospel message to this crowd of young and artistic people. The message is given in a way that connects with what is typically going on in the lives of this demographic.

Finally, the night closes with a professional Christian band or musician who is able to share a testimony along with a few songs. At the end of the night, everyone chips in with help cleaning up and a few groups might go off together to enjoy a meal together in this lively neighborhood.

I first attended The Bridge Live to cover the testimony of Shinada-san, one of the ex-Yakuza men whom our film “2 Criminals” is based on. I have continued to attend because of the quality of the music and message I experienced there and as a way I could bless the musicians playing there with professional photographs of themselves in concert.

This demographic of young and artistic people is often considered a “fringe” demographic, largely because the values of modern Japan culture place so much value on material wealth, and artists typically aren’t the ones making lots of money. This holds true in the West as well, but committing to the life of an artist in Japan is a real commitment that could have a lasting effect on your relationships with your family and friends. But because of their “outlier” status, this group is also one which are more ready to hear and accept the gospel message. However, they may not feel comfortable attending a more traditional church, so having a place like The Bridge Fellowship to attend is a blessing for them.

The Bridge Fellowship will be going through a transition to a full-fledged church as part of the Redeemer City-to-City Movement. Please pray for this ministry as it serves this specific demographic of Japanese and if you feel inclined to learn more and perhaps support them financially, visit their website to learn more.

Sowing the Seeds

One of the questions we are often asked as ministry workers in Japan is why only 1% of Japanese identify as Christians. While this is a complex question to answer in a single blog post, let me toss you a fact and a theory to consider.

Fact: Most Japanese people have little knowledge of the Christian God or Jesus Christ. Now, if the entire country was evangelized and still only 1% of people made a decision to follow Christ, I would say our work in Japan is finished. Our job is to make the gospel known, not to “convert” or “save” people. Salvation is through Christ alone. The work of communicating the gospel, the job of ministry workers and really every Christian living in Japan, is far from over, however.

Which leads me to my theory about being stuck at the 1% threshold. Imagine yourself as a farmer with a huge field that you wanted to grow a crop of corn in. Now imagine that perhaps once a week, you went into your field and dropped a few kernels of corn, kicked a little dirt over them, and went to paint the barn or milk the cows or some other farm related thing.

If the weather was kind to you and provided you some rain, if birds didn’t pick your corn kernels out of the ground, and if weeds didn’t choke your growing corn stalks, at the harvest, you might have some corn. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, 1% of your field.

So my theory is this: Historically, Japan has not invested enough effort in planting the seeds of the harvest to see a greater harvest. And what do those kernels of corn represent? Investment in ministry to the children.

It is said that less than 50% of Japanese churches TODAY provide any sort of children’s ministry: Sunday School, youth programs, Bible camp, etc. With no children’s ministry going on at church, when children hit the age where secular events like sports or school clubs are an option for them, they simply disappear from the church, many of them forever.

I want to be clear that I am not saying this in criticism of the Japanese church. Most churches barely have the staff to support the adult congregation. But I am offering this idea as an encouragement to the churches in Japan; if you invest in children’s ministry now, you will see the harvest of believers later.

I have had countless conversations with Japanese people (and indeed Americans as well) who made decisions for Christ later in life but have clear memories of being taught about a loving Creator God and the sacrifice of Jesus very early in their lives in Sunday School or at a VBS program. Even I heard the gospel many times in elementary school before I made the decision to give my life to Christ in junior high school.

We had the privilege of serving with Tokyo Shibuya Evangelical Church this past week as they provided an English Camp, or what we would call in America a “VBS” program. A team from the Bay Area comes each year to provide leadership and materials for this event. This is the third year they have put on this camp and this year we had 67 children in attendance.

80% of the children (and their families) have little or no exposure to the gospel except through this event. Some parents might even object to a church camp teaching the gospel in Japanese but because it is bilingual, they feel it’s a good experience for their children. Many of the children are repeat attendees from the previous year or two.

One of the personal joys for me this year was walking one boy through the gospel message and hearing him explain the message to me in his own words! Later, I watched as many of the kids were absolutely engrossed in reading their personal copy of “Manga Mission”, a free resource from Next Manga.

Though the children were all offered opportunities to give their lives to Jesus, it would be difficult to confirm which of them did so in faith. Yet, this isn’t even the important thing, as God knows their hearts and true motivations. I believe the most important thing is that the seeds of the gospel were planted in 67 young and tender hearts this past week. God assures us that the word that goes from His mouth does not return without accomplishing its purpose.

If you are not yet familiar with the 4/14 Window Movement that is going on globally to promote evangelism and empowerment to children, I urge you to learn more about this important movement.

Pray with us for these children but also for the greater vision of ministry to the children to grow in the Japanese church. We are seeing many church leaders embracing this new dynamic and recognizing it as a key to evangelizing the nation.

Chasing Waterfalls in Saitama

While Tokyo is one of the busiest and most crowded metropolis in the world, travelling out of Tokyo for an hour can take you to a different world. On this day, our destination was the mountainous area outside of Hanno, a  bedroom community in Saitama about an hour by train from Ikebukuro.

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This area is the starting point for many wonderful and fairly leisurely short hikes into the mountains of the Chichibu range. However, our hike would not be a leisurely one, but rather on the path less traveled. Rather than hiking the winding path above the river, we would walk down along and through the river, occasionally requiring us to climb small and medium sized waterfalls.

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Our youth pastor, Keisuke, has been taking adults and children on this hike for several years. An avid outdoorsman, Keisuke often takes his wife and children on outdoor adventures consisting of hiking, climbing, skiing, camping and fishing. But Keisuke combines his love of nature with his compassion and love for children. That’s why he offers these trips several times per year to homeschool children and their parents as well as the children and parents who live in the neighborhood around our church. Most people, especially in urban Tokyo, won’t have the chance to take a waterfall hike which requires a skilled guide to lead.

Keisuke asked Peter and I to come along on this trip to shoot photos and video which could be used to create promotional materials for families who might be interested in future trips. Together with a boy and his mother and another girl from our church and our driver Tanaka-san, we went on the first hike of 2015.

Arriving in Hanno, we were greeted with beautiful weather. The sun was shining but there was a nice cool breeze to keep it from getting too hot. A typhoon would be passing offshore in the evening bringing rain, but for the time we would be hiking, there would only be sunshine and some light clouds. Tanaka-san waited with the van for us but said he enjoyed the wonderful breeze and sunshine while reading a book.

Keisuke had us sit through some basic training at church using the climbing wall in our basement, so after suiting up in our equipment, he gave us a short sermon on taking risks and being courageous, reminded us of the important safety information, and prayed for us. Then we were off into the forest.

Following the river, we encountered no other people, most of whom were walking well above us on the trail. We scrambled over rocks and through the water until we came to our first waterfall, a short one, maybe 3 meters high. Keisuke scrambled up, secured the rope and helped each of us make the short climb. At this point, the adrenaline was pumping and it seemed pretty easy.

As we continued up the river, the terrain became steeper and each progressive waterfall became slightly higher than the ones before it. We ended up climbing 5 waterfalls (the adults anyway; the kids were spent after the fourth). Truth be told, I only climbed the second half of the fifth waterfall. I went around to the path so I could photograph our other members climbing up.

The fifth waterfall was in two parts, a 10 meter section where the easiest part was to climb in the waterfall itself and a 12 meter section where you could climb in the water or off to the side. Peter bravely climbed both parts in the water though he admitted he was freezing cold afterward because the water was pretty chilly. I climbed the second part to the side of the waterfall, but there were few places to put my hands and feet and a lot of moss to keep me slipping.

Halfway up, I honestly wanted to give up. I couldn’t seem to find any place to hold on and move any higher. My arms and legs were growing tired and I was getting frustrated. There were places to hold onto to my right that I could see, but I couldn’t stretch far enough to reach them. Keisuke encouraged me from above. Somehow I managed to wedge my knees into the tiniest ledges and grab onto rough spots on the rock that I didn’t think would support me, slowly making my way to the right. Miraculously, I grabbed a large outcropping and pulled myself up.

I arrived at the top of the falls exhausted but victorious. As I sat there regaining my strength, the message Keisuke had given us to start the day really hit me. At that moment I was afraid, but I needed to be courageous. I wasn’t going to fall because Keisuke had the rope secured, but I still needed to use my own power to find the places to pull myself upward.

Christian life is like that as well. God won’t allow us to fall, but he will allow us to stumble. He encourages us from above, but often, He won’t do the hard work for us. He allows us to struggle to build our character and our confidence because He knows that we are able to accomplish the goals He set for us.

I went along on this trip as a helper for Keisuke’s ministry but came home blessed with a lesson that I could not have learned anywhere else but clinging to a mossy rock, climbing a waterfall.

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A Very Special Visitor

On a cold Tuesday morning in February, an unassuming Toyota Prius pulled into the parking lot outside of our church and a very special guest stepped out. Mrs. Akie Abe, the First Lady of Japan, was there to visit Wheelchairs of Hope, one of the many ministries using our church facilities.

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Mrs. Abe had come to learn about Wheelchairs of Hope because she was delivering some wheelchairs from them on an upcoming trip to Cambodia. She had learned about the ministry from another event and it had piqued her interest. So here she was, spending over an hour with the mostly volunteer staff of the ministry, listening to their passions for the work and seeing how broken wheelchairs were lovingly brought back to life by the staff.

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The low key event was covered by two of her own media people and a few of us representing Wheelchairs of Hope and the church. There was no secret service detail or entourage of helpers waiting on her. It was just her and her aide and her genuine interest in the ministry. One could hardly imagine the same casual level if Mrs. Obama or the First Lady of any other world power were out on her own in public.20150210-D60_6163

When she finished learning about the Wheelchairs of Hope ministry (and graciously taking photos and talking with many of the volunteers), she asked if she could see the church sanctuary. Our pastors were caught a little off guard as they had gone back downstairs to the lobby to see her off. But they rushed back up in the elevator and showed her into the sanctuary.

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Mrs. Abe had attended Sacred Heart Catholic school in Tokyo from middle school through university. She told our pastor that though she was not a Christian, she was interested in the Christian worldview. Fortunately, our pastor was the person who had translated “The Purpose Driven Life” into Japanese for Rick Warren, and he was able to give her a copy of the book.

It was a blessing to have Mrs. Abe visit our church. Not only is she an important and influential person, she is also a warm, caring person with a heart for the less fortunate. In some ways, she already understands God’s heart for the people of the world, that God stands for the poor, oppressed and hungry and asks us to do the same. We pray for her to receive an understanding of Christ through “The Purpose Driven Life” and to know the heart of God more and more.

UPDATE: Paul Nethercott wrote an even more detailed account with an interview from Mary Esther Penner, founder of Wheelchairs of Hope and information about our church as well. Read the article at his blog, JapanCan.

I Love To Tell The Story

When I was 20 years old, I dropped out of a university Mass Media and Film program in favor of a small time gig working as an assistant photographer for a local studio and more free days to spend at the beach in Santa Cruz. Though I never finished my degree, my love, or perhaps admiration of film making has never quite faded away. I had a small taste of producing a short film with a small group of friends in Singapore 15 years ago, but when my friend Paul Nethercott asked me to join his team to work on a full length feature film here in Japan, it was like an answer to an unspoken prayer.

Though production on the full length film, 2 Criminals, is still a ways away, we had the opportunity to practice film production on a small scale with a team of students from Huntington University in Indiana. The Huntington team, led by Professor Dawn Ford, came to Japan to shoot footage for a PBS pilot on Japanese culture. Over a two week schedule, the team shot footage about kimono, tea ceremony, wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) and ikebana (flower arranging).

My schedule allowed me to be with the team on several of the location shoots. My job was to photograph the shoot from a behind-the-scenes perspective, capturing images that could be used to promote the project and simply create a record for the production crew that they could remember their experience from. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much value my presence would provide as none of my images would ever be used in the actual final production.

As it turned out, it was an amazing experience for me. Though the scale of the production was small, it was still larger than any other production I have worked on. I got to see how the crew worked together and how much detail there is in even the simplest shots. As preparation for our 2 Criminals production, the experience was invaluable to me.

I got to become friends with the staff and students of the Huntington University crew as well. I was so impressed at how professional these students were on set, although some of them were still teenagers. They were disciplined at their work and rarely complained, even though they were working in a totally different culture and environment than what they were used to.

And best of all, I learned that photography, one of the few useful skills I brought to Japan, could be used in very positive ways. The nature of making film or video is that it is not an “instant gratification” kind of product. Producing a quality film can take weeks, even months. Photographs, on the other hand, can be produced in near real time. Posting my photographs on social media each night turned out to be a great motivator for the team and give the supporters of the project real time feedback on how the team was doing. Dawn kindly told me that she viewed my photographs at the end of each day to remind her of how much work her team had accomplished and how beautiful the finished video would eventually be.

I didn’t come to Japan to be a photographer. But in small ways, God is showing me that if I can offer my skills and experience to Him, He can use it for His glory. Next week, I’ll be accompanying my pastor and his son to Northern Thailand for a mission to help record a hill tribe’s effort to create a coffee growing business. My prayer is that the images can be used to help the tribe secure distribution partners in countries outside of Thailand.

Paul reminded me that being a good photographer isn’t just about taking pretty pictures. It’s about using those images to help tell a story. And stories speak to people’s hearts, move them to action, open their minds. Lord, let your story, the gospel story, be my story.

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

Gospel Choirs in Japan

When asked about modern Japanese music, most people think of “Jpop” a genre of music filled with the cute and kitschy, churned out by the “idol machine” making publicity companies in Japanese media marketing. It might surprise people that a very popular genre of music in Japan is Black Gospel. I won’t recant the history of how Gospel music became popular in Japan, as my friend Paul Nethercott did an excellent job in explaining this phenomenon on his blog, JapanCAN.

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to photograph a gospel concert with singers from Saddleback Church in California and Japanese gospel choir participants and directed by the incredibly talented Meg Awano who has written wonderful gospel songs in Japanese. Meg performs with the Crystal Beads gospel choir as well as holds gospel music workshops which attracts many Japanese, Christian and non-Christian alike.

There is a large network of Japanese people who are involved in Black Gospel choirs, and the majority of them are not Christians, but simply lovers of the music. However, God has used the message of the music to touch the hearts of many Japanese who had never heard the gospel before. One of the gospel singers who visited our church, Tinika Wyatt, explained to the audience that it’s not the music that attracts them, but it is God’s presence in the music. The gospel is the ultimate magnet for the desire of our hearts.

Black Gospel music represents an opportunity to thousands of Japanese with the gospel message, particularly because it breaks down the walls between the gospel message and the people meant to receive it. Many Japanese who would never enter a Christian church to hear an evangelical message will gladly come to hear a gospel concert. And the message they receive is exactly the same, the message of the love and sacrifice of Jesus for them.

One of the large Japanese networks of gospel choirs in Japan is Hallelujah Gospel Family. The choirs in this network are hosted by Christian churches, ensuring that the gospel message contained in the music can be properly explained to the participants. Please continue to pray for ministry opportunities like this where God makes the gospel available to the Japanese people in unique and powerful ways.

Promoting “2 Criminals” With Paul Nethercott

Atsuko, Shinada, and Paul at ICA.

Atsuko, Shinada, and Paul at ICA.

This past Sunday, I helped my friend Paul Nethercott photograph an event held at International Christian Assembly (ICA). The event was both promotional for the movie Paul is working on, “2 Criminals”, as well as an outreach opportunity for the church. Shinada-san, one of the two men the movie is based on, was the special speaker for the morning.

The movie is loosely based around the story of two men who were former members of the Yakuza, Japanese organized crime families. As a result of encounters with Christian relief workers in the Tohoku area following the tsunami, both men eventually became followers of Jesus Christ and left their lives as criminals. Shinada-san was a thief and a violent criminal, but while in prison he studied the Bible and found there was redemptive power in the Word of God. He came to be called to be an evangelist and asked his crime family for a release from his obligations to them, a courageous and dangerous act.

Hearing Shinada-san speak, there is no question the man has found his true calling. He is an engaging speaker with a real story of true redemption that he loves to share with others. Few people will have experienced the life Shinada once led, but all will understand that it takes a powerful Savior in Jesus to redeem a person from such a lifestyle.

Paul’s vision for the film is not to make a “Christian film”, but a mainstream film with Christian values and themes playing a prominent role. Christian films tend to get pigeonholed and rarely seen by the audience who would most benefit from them: non-Christian film-goers. Paul hopes that a mainstream release will enable thousands, perhaps millions of Japanese to be exposed to the gospel message in a direct, yet non-threatening way.

Though no actual production has begun, there is a lot of work Paul is doing to sell the idea of the film to those who have influence over whether or not the film gets made. Once the film is funded and the actors have been cast, I hope to be involved in the actual production. In the meantime, I am using my photography to help in the promotion and pre-production phase of the film.

To find out more about 2 Criminals and learn how you can help get involved with promoting or funding the film project, please visit the film’s website. If you would like Paul to speak at your church about the film, please let me know in the comments and I will connect you with Paul.