Bearing Fruit

Yesterday I took my bike out. 10 am I was on the road with a basket full of fruit and a pocket of encouragement cards. I was on my way to Usuiso, a hour long journey or so. I wasn’t really sure, as I’d never ridden that direction before. The fruit was for handing out, giving away, and randomly blessing those I passed. Why not? Ha. My friend here at the GMC helped me write cards in Japanese that read, “I hope you have a good day. You are loved.” So there I went peddling down the road with an assortment of fruit and an ample supply of anticipation.

I road for 4 miles before I gave my first mango away. To be honest the I was praying in desperation that little mango would find a home asap. I’d ridden over quite a bump that catapulted my styrofoam wrapped fruit out of the basket, over my head and several feet behind me. The Japanese wrap most of their fruit in a soft individual cushion, but probably not to protect them from violent bike accidents

After the mango was delivered to my first unsuspecting middle aged woman I peddled on with assurance. She had smiled, surprised and grateful. To my knowledge the mango was still in edible condition after it’s rough fall. Thank you styrofoam. As mile 5 was approaching the land smoothed out and I found myself in wide open country. Beautiful countryside stretched out before me and I prayed for my next recipient, asking God for guidance.

She was outside the 7/11, maybe 65, 70 years old. A smiley woman, already, she was greeting a neighbor who happened to stroll by. I was attracted to her gracious demeanor and wanted to bless her. So out came the oranges. I was eager to get rid of them because they were so heavy. She thanked me loudly, smiled so big, and bowed so frequently. The card helped. She read and received the gift so beautifully and took them boldly, put them in her basket and rode away. “That’s right!” I thought, “you take those oranges, you be proud of them”, ha! She had no shame in receiving.

I was getting close my destination now. The ocean was visible and I knew Usuiso was just 2 or 3 miles down the road. I wanted to save the apples for the local official, and the bananas for whoever I came across on my way back. I had just begun to pick up speed and get back in the groove of riding when I saw an elderly woman approaching, her back level with the ground and her head hung low, perpetually looking at her toes. She walked ever so slowly with a wheely-seat-contraption that helped her shuffle along.

I stopped and made my apologies for interfering with her day. I went to my bag and started to pull out the bananas, but then felt a check in my spirit. Apples cost more and are more of a treat here than bananas, but this woman must be 90 years old. Maybe she doesn’t have teeth for chomping these massive apples. I pulled them out anyway. When you’re surprising strangers with a Holy Spirit led fruit attack you might as well obey the nudging of your gut. It’s not like banana’s would make the situation more normal for either of us. Out came the little card with the memo, “you are loved”, and I didn’t bother handing her the apples, just places them in her walker. Her reaction was more than I was ready for.

If she was already walking at a 90 degree angle then she bowed down in half, folded like futon. In a shakey voice she said slowly and repeatedly, “arigato gosiamasu”. You would have thought I’d given her back something she’d lost, something precious, something she never thought she’d see again. I knew in that moment it wasn’t about the apples, it was about being remembered, being called out and being seen. I favored her. I chose her, and she knew it.

I hated to leave her, but I also knew there would not be power in whatever broken words I might try to speak. I prayed that the Lord would follow up my apple delivery with a vision, with a dream and an explanation. He does that, you know. He’s quite able to convey his love, so I entrusted her to Him and went on my way.

With my IPOD blaring, “joyful, joyrful” I made my way to the shore, winding through construction and road blocks, shouting out “konichiwa” as I went, brainstorming ways to deliver doughnuts to the workers next time. As I made my way around the bend for my final stretch the lyrics played in my ear, “Death where is your sting? Shame, where is your victory? He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s alive!”. I thought about all those who’d died in this valley, over 150 who drowned or were taken out by debris. I thanked the Lord for his victory, that death is never the end of the story. He is writing a new story for Japan called everlasting life.

And there is was, just an hour and a half after I started out, 3 new friends later and only a bunch of bananas left in my basket, the Pacific Ocean. I rode in reverence through the flattened land, honoring the grief-stricken place and praying for restoration. As I came around the corner I spotted a man, crouched down and busy working on something.

He was painting the concrete barriers, flowers and colorful trees, all sorts of designs and things. I stopped to find out if he was friendly, reminding myself that if he was painting daffodils he can’t be that intimidating. To my surprise he spoke decent English. He told me the story of losing his job up north and coming to Iwaki to be help however he could. “This is my way of volunteering”, he said, and motioned towards the mural that stretch across the seaside. I stayed with him for some time while he helped me paint a sakura tree and we did our best to get to know each other.

“Please bring your friends”, he said. I could hear the sting of loneliness in his voice and I knew that in this situation my presence was the gift. None the less I left him with my final fruit offering, the bunch of banana’s and continued on my way. “All of them!” he said, surprised. I laughed. I took my time exploring the nooks and crannies of the devastated city before heading home. I was quieted as I explored the ruined city decorated in brilliant color. This man took his job seriously.

I came across 4 types of people on my journey. The first, a woman who the world passed by. She stood on the side of the highway, outside her derelict storefront, waiting for customers, always being passed. Very few stopping to shop, maybe no one coming just to see her, just to bless her. She needed to be stopped for. The Lord stopped for her and gave her a sweet blessing, a sign that he prioritizes her when no one else does.

The second woman I stopped for was radiant, a hardworking woman, probably mother and wife, grandmother, maybe. Living just a mile or so from the ocean, she’s a survivor, though she doesn’t get the constant support and encouragement from volunteers as those who live in temporary housing. She’s continued to hope, continued to believe in goodness when all was lost. If the first woman needed to be seen, this one needed to be affirmed. “Thank you for loving, thank you for hoping”, I could hear the Lord say as I handed her the oranges.

And then there was the old lady, the one who’s experienced more than any of the others, seen more, hurt more, loved more and loss more. She needed to be remembered, she needed to be honored. When I gave to the other I felt that they responded in humility. When I gave to this one, though, I felt her dignity being restored. “I know what you’ve been through. I know your suffering. I remember you”, said the Lord, when the apples made their way to her walker. Although I only had fruit to give her, it was as though it were the body of Christ himself. I didn’t have bread to signify his death for her, but the apples said it all. “You are not forgotten. You are valuable”, the same message of his body broken on the cross was wrapped up in the sweetness of a simply gift.

Lastly was Watanabe-san, a man on a mission to restore beauty and joy. He’s painted the town and decorated it’s broken walls with promise for a future. Where he didn’t paint, he pulled together volunteers, people from around the world who’ve agreed with his vision and with the Lord’s heart and said, “yes, Usuiso, you will never again be put to shame. You will be the praise of this nation.” Watanabe knew he was seen. He knew he was doing good, knew that his little part was important, but he needed company. He needed presence. All the others received a gift and the rest fell into the Lord’s hands. This man, though, needed friendship. “I am with you”, said the Lord to this former fisherman. I know that after you commit to a project, the strain of everyday labor can take its toll. The vision looses it’s flashy appearance. I’m sure there are times when Watanabe-san gets tired of painting flowers on torn up cement. He needs a team, people who can take up the work when he gets tired. The bananas were a nice compliment to his lunch and a warm way of showing gratitude, but I could tell the 30 minutes we spent together was really the gift the Lord had me deliver that day.

The ride home was easier. My bike was lighter and my heart full. I was glad for the opportunity to meet a couple locals and pave a familiar path to the shore, where I hope to return to often. Thank you, Lord, for giving me a bike. Thank you for giving me fruit. Thank you for sending me to Iwaki and for putting people around me who will receive the little I have to give. I pray, Lord, that you would teach these cozy rural towns to receive from you, just as easily as they received from me, that they would bear eternal fruit.

 

Make New Friends and Keep the Old

It’s been a week since I moved to Iwaki.

It’s difficult to describe this past week. Do I share about the road trip through Fukushima with the Swiss film team? Or should I tell about the Korean team who flew to Iwaki for the day, just to pray over Usuiso then turn around and go home. There’s the Japanese girl from New Zealand who’s experiencing the grief of her own people for the first time. She decided to quite that path she was on to go to bible college. Her heart is to impart truth through the scripture to her own nation. I could go on about the concert in the temporary housing and my deep concern for efforts to continue. Consistent and persistent love changes lives.

Then there’s the Global Mission Center. The beautiful core team of staff and missionaries are together most hours of most days, eating, singing, playing, praying and cleaning together. Under all of the activity is a beautiful array of dreams, of personal vision and talent, of loss and sacrifice…each has a story of how they came here and even more powerful, why they stayed.

Forgive me. I don’t know how to write about this past week. Maybe the 3-5 earthquakes  a day have rattled my brain. Oddly enough, things feel quite normal.  Coffee in the morning. Prayer to follow. Emails and networking. Exploring and worshiping. Planning and playing.  Hamburger for dinner. Pudding  for dessert. IHOP webstream on in the evening, then a sweet time in 1 John 2 with my  roommate.

As I walked home from a rainy stroll along the river earlier today I listened to Pete Grieg share from our Euro Gathering last year.  “Maybe God’s calling you to relocate to a place you don’t expect.” I laughed out loud. Iwaki, Japan. I never expected this.

It’s a beautiful message he shared. I recommend it. After Pete shares from Acts 15 about the power of prayer and mission, he goes on to tell about 24-7’s story with Japan. It’s good to have that story ringing in my ears as I walk through puddles on the side streets of a coastal city in Fukushima. It’s good to know that I’m part of the vine, connected to a larger network of brothers and sisters. It’s good to remember that I’m here with a new family representing an old family, making new friends and keeping the old.

It’s good.

http://www.24-7prayer.com/shop/browse/?cid=64

Click and download. You may have to create a login. It’s worth it.

The Emerging Worship Movement in Japan

At the end of March I was helping at a 3-day youth camp deep in the mountains of Gifu-ken. About 20 young people gathered in a small village surrounded by the beauty of creation to enjoy time with God and time together. “Worship” was the headline of the whole camp.

Though 3-day meetings in my eyes are a relatively short time frame, I was surprised by how God had touched many of the young Japanese deep in their heart, which became particularly clear during the feedback session right at the end of the camp. I was almost moved to tears when hearing the testimonies of what God had done. I was amazed at how many of the young generation here felt that God called them to worship. Even some of which I had least expected.

One of the younger and shyer girls suddenly shared how God, when she was still a small child, had given her the dream to play piano for Him and that now, after years of having already given up on this secret dream of her heart, she felt how God renewed her vision and encouraged her to go after it again. Another girl, for instance, said a little sadly that she unfortunately cannot play an instrument, but then went on to tell that she loves to sing and happily pictured herself being a background singer on a worship team some day.

Hearing the young generation share what God had put in their hearts was my personal highlight. While listening I felt the Holy Spirit knocking on my heart as if saying, “I have not been idle, but working secretly in places hidden from the natural eye. See what I have been doing, Benny, and how I am bringing things in place for that which I am about to do.”

We want to see night and day prayer arise in Japan so that God will break in, areas are transformed, people delivered and wrong things made right (Luke 18:7). But we also want to see night and day worship arise from this nation, simply because He so deserves to be adored without ceasing, because He is worth it, and because worship is heaven’s supreme way to encounter the lovesick heart of God and grow in the knowledge of God.

This is one of the things that Jesus had in mind when He taught us to pray that heaven would come down to earth (Matthew 6:10; Revelation 4:8-11). Moreover, He who has prophesied will also let it come to pass, that “from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name” (Malachi 1:11). The setting in place of singers and musicians has been a crucial aspect in most of Israel’s biblical revivals (1 Chronicles 16:4; 2 Chronicles 8:14; 20:21; 23:18; 29:25-27; 35:15; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:24,45) and so it will be for Japan.

Yes, we want to see His glory cover the soil of Japan as the water covers the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). But what is even more stunning is that Jesus Himself is so much more about it than any of us could ever be. In His lovesick jealousy for the Japanese people He is setting up everything for that to happen. The increasing importance of music among the Japanese youth and the growing number of young people feeling a calling to worship are just the beginnings of what God is going to do in and for Japan. In His faithfulness and His relentless pursuit of the land of the rising sun, He assures us that it is going to happen, and that it’s just a matter of time.

God, please send laborers into the harvest. Raise up singers and musicians all across Japan who would burn with a passion for Your name and carry a vision for unceasing worship and prayer.

 

– Benjamin Schäfer, Missionary in Nagoya

Check out his blog!

http://yearningheartsjourney.blogspot.com/

Meet Benny~
Lover of Jesus, worshipper, guitar player & singer, blog theologian, melancholic idealist & daydreamer, 24 years old, former PIHOPer, originally German, now missionary to Japan.

A Different Spirit

From Numbers 14:1-24

Again they disobeyed. They fought against the Lord and against one another. Caleb had returned to camp after scouting out the land to give the best news possible. The neighboring nation had no protection and could be easily overcome. Even better, the soil was good for crops and there were abundant resources. Instead of rejoicing, though, the people rebelled. They were stubborn and continued to fear rather than go forward.

The word “rebel” is such strong language, especially when looking at the Israelite’s actions. They didn’t build an idol. They didn’t sacrifice their babies to false gods like they’d done in the past, or parade their sin openly in drunkenness and sexual perversion. No, they simply didn’t believe that the good things God said were going to take place would actually happen. If you look at Numbers 14:3 the people cry out, “why would the Lord bring us into the land to die by the sword?!” Strange. God never said that was his plan. His intentions up to that point were to bring them into abundance, into the good land, into security, victory and peace. In unbelief the people clung to their own reality, their own fear, rather than believe in the goodness of God. They rebelled through pessimism and refused to go.

What a wicked thing. Here God has been faithfully protecting, serving, loving, humbly giving of himself to Israel and they not only refuse his gift, they claim it will cause their destruction. In the heat of the moment and as intercession for his tribes, Moses shouts to God, “Now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression’…Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”

And the Father responds, “All the earth shall be filled with my glory, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness…none of those who despise me will see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring him the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.”

Caleb believed that what God said he would do, he could actually do. He had a different spirit, one of trust rather than skepticism.

Prayers for Japan to Receive a Different Spirit:

Lord, we know the world operates in fear and self-preservation. You, though, draw us into the fire, into places, relationships, situations and decisions that require risk. You invite us into the promised land on your word that you will defeat our enemies. 

1. For Myself

I repent, Lord, for the ways I’ve hated your gifts to me and decisions for my future. There have been times you’ve led me somewhere unsafe and I felt set up, times that I didn’t understand what you were doing and I felt neglected. I repent for ever thinking you had my death in mind, my destruction and defeat. I know that you don’t take delight in the death of any one of your children. You are a Father of grace, the giver of life. Reign in me, spirit of trust, so that I may move in obedience into the promised land, knowing that you have my best in mind.

Fill me with a different spirit, fill me with your spirit of love. 

2. For the Church

As your children we thank you for your discipline, for your steadfast love and your patients toward us. You love us so well, Father. How absurd that we would be pulled and attracted by lesser things, realities less beautiful than your truth. So often we are stiff-necked and go our own way by resisting your love. Have mercy on your believing family in Japan, Lord. Continue to protect and guide your kids that they would know you and represent you well, happily taking refuge in your righteousness. 

Fill us with a different spirit, fill us with your spirit of trust. 

2. For Japan

Lord, would you raise up Caleb’s in Japan, men and women, children who are filled with a different spirit, not fear, or selfishness, not materialism or personal gain, but a spirit of trust and submission. Holy God, you’ve set apart your Body as a family who loves what is good and hates that which is evil. In the light of your resurrection would you release your spirit in Japan. Run through us, in us, to every corner of this nation, that we would see your promises land, that your prayer would be answered. Your will be done. Heaven be established in Japan. 

Fill Japan with your Holy Spirit, fill Japan with your love.

3. Spiritual Fathers

Father, I thank you for the men and women who have loved Japan, the ones who have given their lives to bring the Kingdom. For hundreds of years you have been moving in hearts to establish an atmosphere of love and generosity in Japan. We bless the families who have dedicated themselves to you as shepherds over your flock in Japan. Would you give them grace to be able to pray like Moses and remind you of your promises. 

Fill them with a different spirit, fill them with your spirit of hope.