Chiba Summer Mission – Children’s Home

In 2012, our team visited the local children’s home to play with the kids for a short while and hand out candy we brought from the States. It was the same every year for us; a short visit to let the kids know we were thinking of them, then we were gone for another year. But that year, our team decided we needed to get more involved at the home. So we began to pray for the following year and how we might have a greater impact on the lives of the children.

God answered our prayer in an amazing way when the son of the Japanese pastor of our church got a job at the Children’s home. With his help, we were able to plan five afternoons of programs for the kids consisting of games, crafts and water play. Instead of a 30 minute visit, we spent several hours each afternoon there, building relationships with some of the kids. We brought along a local Christian family with a passion to minister to children in this environment so that they could continue the relationships after we had gone. Though there were some difficulties with some of the kids, God allowed this family to have a positive impact on other kids living at the home.

One such child was A., a girl who had stopped attending middle school and spent most of her time alone in her room, listening to music. Through the relationship, A. began to get involved with this family and started getting help with her school work. Earlier this year, A. passed her high school entrance exam and when we met her this year, the joy in her was obvious. While last year she was a bit withdrawn and shy, this year she was bubbly and full of laughter. A. had also been memorizing Bible verses through AWANA and was reminded of a time in her childhood when she went to church for a short time. We pray for A. to continue to learn more about Jesus and having a growing hope for a positive future after leaving the home when she graduates.

This year, we repeated the five days of craft and games ministry program. We were greeted in the parking lot by a few of the girls we met last year who were anticipating our visit. Soon, nearly 20 kids had come to make rainbow loom bracelets with us, some from the previous year and some new. By the end of the week, 30-40 kids had participated in at least one day of our program, many of them coming to several days.

This year we met H., a girl we had seen last year but had little interaction with because she wasn’t interested in participating in our activities. This year, she came to our craft making activity on the first day and unlike the previous year, her scowl was replaced with a beautiful smile. By the third day, she went to the home of our friends with A. and another girl to participate in a Hip Hop dance class and make and eat gyoza. She was so excited about the gyoza because she told our friends that living at the home, she had never eaten homemade gyoza before. It was a heartbreaking reminder of the kind of life some of these children are living.

Building relationships with the children and reinforcing their self-worth is good ministry, but we realize that such ministry has its limitations. We can minister in a limited way to the kids at the home (we cannot overtly share the gospel there), but that is only a temporary ministry to these children. The reality for many of these children is that when they turn 18, they have to leave the home. The government provides a small stipend but it is barely enough for a month’s food and rent. As a result, many of the children find themselves homeless or forced to take illicit jobs to survive. Though there aren’t any statistics, you can imagine the suicide rate in this demographic would likely be disproportionately high. The staff of the home is aware this is a huge problem but it is a national issue, and not one they can easily change. However, a group of people at this particular home have come together to work on the problem.

The group is called Hajime no Ippo (First Steps) and consists of several of the staff members of the home, including the current administrator, who will be retiring next year, and his successor. This small group of people are passionate about changing the system so that children leaving the home have a greater chance to make it on their own. Through a series of miracles, our Christian friends were invited to participate in the group, and in turn, introduced us and our team leader to the group. The members we met were overjoyed to know that there were other people who shared their heart for the children in the Japanese orphanage system and invited us to participate in future events promoting greater visibility into the extent of the problems.

Our prayer is to find ways to help this group in concrete ways: finding resources to help them become a recognized NPO (a difficult process in Japan), helping them promote and educate the Japanese Christian population about the extent of the problems in the Japanese orphanage system, and of course, serving and loving the children and providing, in a small way, a source of constant love and support to them.

For the protection of the children, we can’t post any photos of the children on the Internet (the image used in this article only shows the faces of our team members). I wish we could though, because if you could look into the eyes of any one of these children, your heart would break for their situation, just as God’s heart is breaking for them. The Bible reminds us dozens of times about the Lord’s compassion for the fatherless and how we ought to have the same. Would you join us in praying for the Lord to provide hope and a future for each of these children?



Father To The Fatherless: Responding To Japan’s Orphaned

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families…

Psalm 68:5-6a

Some of our most precious memories serving in Japan come from the time we spent at a “Gakuen” in Chiba, where we have spent 3 summers serving. I put the word “Gakuen” in quotes because it doesn’t quite translate literally to English. In English, gakuen translates to “campus”, as in a school campus. But the “Gakuen” I refer to is not a school at all, but a home for some very special children.

The “Gakuen” I refer to is best described as a government operated home for children who have been separated from their parents, willfully or unwillfully. In America, it’s easy to understand the “unwillful” reference, which generally applies to parents who are deemed unfit for parenthood as a result of addictions, abuse, neglect, etc. However, in Japan, parents can voluntarily turn their children over to government care for a variety of reasons including financial hardship or just finding parenting a particular child too difficult. (Note: I am the first to admit I do not know the full details of how children can be turned over to government care either in Japan or in the US, so feel free to correct me if I make a mistake).

At this particular “Gakuen”, 200-300 children from toddlers to teenagers live together in a group of “houses”. Each house has 40-50 children separated into two groups, each cared for by a single volunteer who lives onsite and acts as a parental figure. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize this situation is less than ideal for children. Despite the fact that nearly every adult we have met working at such a facility cares deeply and passionately about children, there is no way one adult caring for 20-25 emotionally fragile children will be able to do an adequate job with all of them. The environment is ripe for bullying and other abuses among the children.

Last summer, we spent a every afternoon for a week at the Gakuen. We brought games, sports equipment and crafts to do with the children. On the first day, very few showed up, except for those rounded up by the house leaders and made to come out and meet us. But each day, more and more children would come to see us out of curiosity and end up staying and playing with our team members. On our final day, dozens of kids waved and ran after our van as we pulled out of their parking lot. There were tears, for sure, but mostly in our own eyes as we remembered what a wonderful week we had getting to know these children just a little while.

The last thing we wanted to do was to make friends with children and then disappear for a year without a trace. Fortunately, one family who attend a local church committed to returning to the Gakuen every week to visit and play with the kids. They had kids of their own, so building friendships with some of the kids was natural and easy. Some of the older kids even rode their bikes to the family’s house to play with kids or get help with their schoolwork.

Did our visit make a huge difference? Yes it did, but not so much in the lives of the children we met, but in our own lives. Since that time, the plight of these children have weighed on our hearts. As I have done research on the Child Welfare system of Japan, the things I have found have been disturbing. The way the system is set up, the government facilities become more like a prison to the children staying there rather than a home.

I must stress that I am in no way criticizing the staff who work at such facilities. As I mentioned, the staff we have met are all people who have hearts of compassion toward the children they serve. And though I am necessarily critical of the system that is doing more harm to these children than good, I am also not simply saying the system has to be changed. Waiting for the system to change can take years, even decades, and meanwhile, the damage to children and society continues.

What has to change is the heart of the Japanese church toward these children. If the church viewed the children with the same eyes as our Heavenly Father, who considers them His own children, we would be more involved in filling the gaps where the government system is lacking. America is not lacking for programs reaching out to children who are at-risk. Programs like Big Brothers / Big Sisters, that give children an adult mentor and friend. Even something as simple as visiting a facility to spend time with the kids, teach them a craft, help with schoolwork, play a game would make a huge difference in the lives of these children, many of which go days or weeks without quality interaction with an adult.

Getting involved in the lives of these children is costly. It costs time. It can costs money. The emotional cost is the largest, as you bear the weight of these children’s worlds on your shoulders. But when we look at the Bible and see how many times God reminds us to serve justice and mercy to orphans (hint: around 40 times), it isn’t hard to understand how important an issue this should be to us as Christians.

We will discuss this issue in more depth in future postings including why the majority of children living in such a system cannot be adopted, the challenges of reforming they Child Welfare system and specific things the Japanese church can do for “the least of these” living in the Child Welfare system.

Note: If you’re wondering why there are no photos in this post, for safety and security reasons, pictures of the children living in the home we visited are not allowed to be posted on the Internet. Personally, I would love for you to see pictures of these kids, for the simple reason that they look just like any other children in Japan who need the love of Jesus in their lives.

On George Muller and Faith That Changed the World

This week, I finished a biography on George Müller, the Christian evangelist who went from being a gambler, liar and thief to a man of faith who provided care and education for over 10,000 orphans over nearly 60 years in Bristol, UK during the 19th century.

The life of George Müller is remarkable on many accounts, but none so much as the way he exercised his faith in God. Though he was entrusted with the care of hundreds, sometimes over a thousand orphans at any given time, he never once asked anyone except God to provide financially for them. When there was need, even to the point of having no food to put on the table, Müller and his wife Mary would simply retire to their room and pray, and God would answer, in many cases immediately.

Many famous stories have been documented about Müller’s faith in prayer. At one point, with over five hundred orphans to feed breakfast and not a scrap of food to be found, Müller gathered the orphans around the empty dining hall tables and they prayed together for God to provide them with a meal. Within minutes, a knock came at the door. It was a local baker who said in the middle of the night, he felt an overwhelming urge to get up and bake bread to take to the orphanage the next morning. While the children were eating the freshly baked bread, another knock came at the door. The milk delivery driver said his vehicle had broken a wheel right outside the orphanage. In order to fix it, he would need to unload all of the milk and he didn’t want it to go to waste, so if the orphanage could use it, they could have it for free.

Müller kept detailed records, not only accounting for every penny of his finances (which he would only use as the donor specified it should be used) but also for every prayer request he made of God and the date and way it was answered. Müller not only saw how faithfully God answered prayer, but he recorded everything so that it could be used as an encouragement to others about how God could be faithful to them! Because amazingly enough, serving the orphans was not George Müller’s primary calling; his calling was teaching others that God was absolutely faithful.

It was estimated that over 1.5 million pounds passed through the hands of Müller as he served the orphans. He never kept a penny for himself, and died with 160 pounds in his estate, most of which was the value of his furniture. Nevertheless, he was able to travel the world on multiple occasions  preaching the good news of the gospel and sharing about his faithful God who provided every need for the orphans at just the right time. He never lacked for God’s work to do and was preaching over 300 times per year while running the orphanages and supporting missions work into his late 80’s.

As I reflect on serving in ministry over the past two years, I also see how faithfully God has provided for me and my family. Though I certainly never prayed like George Müller prayed, nor believed in God’s provision like he did, God has still been completely faithful, even generous in providing for us. And when I look at where my faith is today compared to where it was two years ago, it has changed. Though perhaps it isn’t so much that my faith has grown, but that my understanding about God has grown. Müller discovered and practiced a great truth about God; not only is He capable of providing for all of our needs, He loves to do it when we ask. Because as we rely on God for all of our needs, we bear witness to His power and faithfulness to those around us.

But I am even more inspired that God didn’t just provide for the little things of the Müller’s daily life. He provided in abundance for the sake of the orphans. George Müller dreamed big, prayed big, and received big from the Lord. In a sense, his whole life was a challenge to God to show how powerful He is. And God not only came through every time, but He surpassed all expectations George Müller ever had.

Ephesians 3 concludes with this reminder that God’s power  is not limited even to the capacity of what we can imagine:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

George Müller inspires us to pray big prayers and expect big answers from God. As Hudson Taylor, missionary and friend of George Müller once said: “God’s work, done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” Perhaps Taylor was thinking of his friend’s example when he said these words.