Carter Connection May, June 2020

For us, it’s been just over two months. Like most churches around the world, we also found the necessity to change the way we meet. And while the change has been difficult, it has helped our church family to grow in ways we didn’t expect.  

How COVID-19 Affected our Nation

At the end of March, just a few weeks after our last prayer letter, Tokyo essentially shut down. And for good reason. The rampant spread of the COVID-19 in other large cities, and the fact that we were one of the most condensed cities in the world reflected the oncoming doom that many in our city felt. This also came with the realization that Japan has the highest proportion of elderly in the world, with 1/3 of the nation being over 65 years old. It didn’t look good for us.

Yet God was very gracious to us. While there was a significant infection of COVID-19, it didn’t spread nearly as much as everyone was fearing. And while there were a lot of unknowns because of the lack of testing, the deaths were proportionately few in comparison to other cities. This may have had a lot to do with the culture here, with wearing masks being very common, and physical contact like handshaking and hugging relatively nonexistent. We will see over the next few months how significant the economic effect will be for Japan, as only essential places of business have remained open, much like the U.S. That being said, we are grateful for how God protected so many of us here in Japan. It could have been a LOT worse!

How COVID-19 Expanded our Ministry

 While Tokyo shut down, our ministry took a turn that none of us expected just a few months ago. And, to be honest, I think it’s helping with one of the struggles of outreach that many of us here in Japan face in reaching people for Jesus.

There’s a saying in Japan: “The threshold of a church is very high.” The phrase points to how emotionally difficult it is for the average Japanese to walk into the doors of a church building. It makes sense if you think about it. Less than 1% of Japan are Christians. This means that while most Japanese recognize the worldwide existence of Christianity, very few are willing to pursue what it means to follow Jesus enough to be willing to step across the threshold of a church. There is a real fear of getting “sucked into a cult,” even if they are invited by their trusted Christian friend or loved one.

Preparing for FB Live Service

Preparing for FB Live Service

There was an obvious answer to this, and yet embarrassingly, I was oblivious to it. As the Tokyo shutdown began, we were looking for the best platform to stream our services over the internet. LINE, an app that is used extensively in Japan, was my preference, as we had a group for our church already set up. For a few weeks we went that route, and it worked well. But one day, Bethany suggested we use Facebook Live instead. I quickly dismissed it, saying how embarrassed I would be that anyone who wanted to could hear me preach. But as I thought about that, the Holy Spirit hit me. “All this time, you’ve been trying to get people to come to church. Why not just bring church to them? Why not just remove the threshold of the church?” There are a few occasions when I really feel foolish. This was one of them. And with that, Facebook Live for Akigawa Baptist Church has begun. Our hope is that, along with our other outreach endeavors, it will be used as a tool to help more people to hear about the good news of Jesus.

Just today, the governor of Tokyo announced that the emergency status will be lifted. This coming Sunday, we as a church family get to gather together again. I can’t wait! But also, I’m so excited to have yet another way to share the goodness of Jesus with those here in Japan!

(For a printable version of this update, click here.)




Carter Connection March 2020

Over the past month we’ve seen a wide range of responses, from careless ignorance to unfounded hysteria concerning the corona virus pandemic. It is in these times that our church family (and I’m sure your church family as well) has been reminded of how our eyes must be firmly set on our Heavenly Father, Who is in control of all things, and Who deeply loves His children. We can confidently rest in His care for us, and by faith ask Him for wisdom to guide each step of our paths.

How is the corona virus affecting us here in Japan?

Because of its proximity to China, Japan is a popular tourist destination for Chinese. This undoubtedly had a lot to do with how quickly the corona virus made its way to Japan. During the initial stages of the virus entering Japan, not much could be done, simply due to not knowing the characteristics of the virus. About two weeks ago, steps to prevent the spread of the virus started ramping up significantly. Schools have closed for a month (including the two weeks scheduled for spring break), and most sporting and social events have been cancelled to prevent large groups of people from gathering. Panic buying has occurred here in Japan too, with the main affected commodities being masks, and… you guessed it, toilet paper.

For us personally as a family, our youngest, Asher, has been home from school for this month, which has given him the chance to catch up with English studies (he’s currently attending Japanese school). The English school where I teach to develop Japanese relationships and to supplement our support has closed for the month of March. While this will make the next month or two a little difficult financially, it has given me much needed time to focus on other much needed areas of our ministry (see below for details 😊).

Our church family has been taking necessary precautions as we meet. We are advising those with weaker immune systems and the elderly to stay at home. Because we have a weekly sermon podcast in place, it has made it easier for those who are unable to attend to hear the sermons. Thankfully, we haven’t had anyone in our church family who has been infected.

New Co-Laborers!

We are incredibly excited about two missionary families who are going to be training and working with us!

The Benjamin Edwards family has been working with Japanese in military churches here in Japan for about a year, and have decided to put the full focus of their ministry on reaching Japanese with us here at Akigawa BC. This is such a needed help! Having someone to help share the ministry load has been something that I have been needing for a long time. They got settled in about two weeks ago, and have hit the ground running. Ben is starting his language school training in a few weeks (depending on the corona virus situation), and the whole family has jumped in to immerse themselves in our church family.

Joe and Sierah Pliska are from our home church in Louisville. They came to see us on a missions trip last year, and while they were here, they felt God’s calling to reach the Japanese. On returning to the U.S., they began the transition to begin their missionary journey. One of the first steps of that journey is to spend a few months here in Japan to better understand how to minister to Japanese, and how to prepare for life in Japan. They will head back to the States to begin deputation in May. If you are looking for a missionary couple to support, I HIGHLY recommend the Pliskas! They are deeply needed here!

Please pray for both new missionary families in their transition to new stages in life, as well as for Bethany and me as we also begin the new-to-us role of training missionaries to minister effectively to the Japanese. And finally, pray for grace for our church family as they also adapt to their role in patiently supporting these two families to reach their fellow countrymen.

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Carter Connection January 2020

Now that the holidays are over, we’re all settling back into the rhythm of another new year. But with this rhythm is a renewed anticipation. What is God going to choose to do with me this year to display His glory? I can’t wait to find out!

Unexpected Guests

Miho has been a faithful part of our church family for over twelve years.  She is constantly involved in helping any way she can, and there is rarely an outreach event that she isn’t part of. But while she has been growing as a Christian, she has also been bearing the burden of her unsaved family, particularly her husband. When she became a Christian, her husband had forbidden her to get baptized, threatening divorce if she ever did. But for some reason he was ok with her coming to church every week. And so while submitting to her husband’s demands, she has continued to faithfully live out the Gospel in her family life. For our church’s Candlelight Christmas, I asked Miho to operate the PowerPoint for the service. The service was well-attended with many visitors, including 7 first-time guests. But there was one guest that we didn’t know about until later that night. Miho’s husband had slipped in after the service started and stayed until the closing prayer and slipped back out! This was the first time he had ever been to ANY service! Needless to say, we were overjoyed to hear the news. What’s more, during the New Year Holiday, he had gone over our church website, and gave Miho some really helpful advice on how to make it easier to understand for non-Christians who are interested in coming to church (which we gladly implemented). This may be the first step in his coming to salvation.  Please pray for him!

There were other unexpected guests who came for the first time to the Christmas Candlelight service. In our last letter, I mentioned Nozomi (translated Hope), a high school aged young lady who had started coming to church after being healed. She brought her mom and three younger sisters to the service! It really was exciting to share the beautiful, life-changing story of the Gospel to them and the other guests who joined us this year.

Yuuto

Yuuto and his older brother Takumi are nephews of Reiko Itou, one of our church members. Reiko invited them to our church cookout three years ago, and since then they’ve been coming to many church events with their mom. After the last Thanksgiving event, Yuuto started coming to church for the weekly services as well. The Sunday after the Candlelight Christmas event, Reiko told me that she thought Yuuto was ready to become a Christian. So after Sunday lunch, the three of us went upstairs to chat about the gospel. Reiko was right. Yuuto was SO ready! It wasn’t long before we gained a new brother in Christ! Praise God! Please pray for Yuuto as he begins his walk with Jesus, and also pray for his older brother Takumi, and his mother Hiroe (pronounced Heeroeh) to join him on that journey soon.

While some come to Christ after three years of faithful Gospel witness from Christian family members, others will take more than twelve years of faithful Gospel witness. Yet our brothers and sisters in Christ are faithfully sharing, praying, and trusting God to reach their loved ones. I can say with full confidence that they are incredibly grateful that you are willing to join them in boldly approaching the throne of grace on behalf of their lost loved ones!

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Carter Connection November 2019

For most churches, whether in the States or abroad, November and December bring many opportunities to share the Gospel with those around us. Here in Japan, it’s no different, and we’re excited for the opportunities God brings us!

Upcoming Events

Here at Akigawa Baptist Church, we have a plethora of opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus and help our brothers and sisters grow in His grace. In the next eight weeks, we’ll be having a 1) Thanksgiving outreach event, we’re launching a new 2) midweek discipleship course, holding a 3) children’s Christmas event as well as a 4) Christmas outreach event, and preparing for a 5) ski camp with Tokyo area Baptist churches. Along with the weekly ministry responsibilities, these events give us a full plate for sure, but a plate for which we’re thankful to have a part. Our church family has been busy preparing for these outreach events and inviting family and friends to join these events, which have been very instrumental in sharing the Gospel with hundreds of people throughout the years.

As a side note, these events are probably very similar to the November/December schedule for your church. As you pray for us, keep your pastors in mind as well. I have no doubt that they too have an incredibly full plate during this season.

Ministry Highlight: Sharing Bread

Sharing is a deeply embedded aspect of Japanese culture. We’ll often have people stop by the house to share some fruit or vegetables that they have grown in their garden, or a small snack that they picked up on a trip. We do the same as we build relationships with those around us. Over 13 years ago, God gave us a surprising resource that has enabled us, not only to share, but to provide a resource for many churches throughout Japan to share as well in their Gospel outreach ministries.

A few years after we arrived in Japan, we were pleasantly surprised (overjoyed) to discover a Costco being built about 20 minutes away by the expressway. Not long after, the store manager, upon discovering that we had a church, asked us if we were willing to receive day old bread to distribute to people. We unwittingly assumed it would be a few loaves of bread here and there. On our first trip to pick up bread, we were shocked to discover a full car-load of bread waiting for us! That was the starting point of a ministry that has continued for the last 13 years, in which we’ve sent boxes of bread to churches all throughout Japan. Pastors use this bread to care for those in their churches who are in need, for visiting the unsaved, and for outreach. From the time God gave us this ministry, we’ve sent out over $130,000 dollars’ worth of bread. I made a quick video highlighting this ministry if you’re interested in watching it.

 

Nozomi

A high school aged young lady named Nozomi (translated Hope) is a friend of a family in our church. About a year ago, she had been dealing with some serious health issues and the family asked that we as a church pray for her. After a few months of praying, God miraculously healed her! Soon after, she started coming to church to learn more about Jesus, and has been intensely learning as much as she can about Him ever since. She isn’t saved yet, but I have a feeling it won’t be long until she trusts Jesus as her Savior. Would you pray for her? And for others like her who are consistent in their learning about Jesus, that they too would put their faith in Him? Thanks for all you do in helping us reach those around us with the Gospel!

To download a printable PDF of this post, please click here.




Sharing Bread

Sharing is a deeply embedded aspect of Japanese culture. We’ll often have someone stop by the house to share some fruit or vegetables that they grew in their garden, or a small snack that they picked up on a trip. We do the same as well as we build relationships with those around us. Over 13 years ago, God gave us a surprising resource that has enabled not only us to share, but to provide a resource for many churches throughout Japan to share as well in their Gospel outreach ministries.




Carter Connection September 2019

As we approach the end of summer, we are so thankful for how God has given us the grace we need to serve Him over the last several months. Fall brings many opportunities to serve, and more opportunities to trust in His grace!

Summer Family Camp

August is the only month children have summer vacation. Because of that, it’s the busiest month for travel in Japan. The second week of August is the peak of that travel rush, but for a different reason. It’s called “Bon week.” It’s the week everyone travels back to their home town to celebrate and worship their ancestors, who are believed to return from the dead during this week. This is probably one of the most difficult weeks for your Japanese brothers and sisters here in Japan, as the families’ expectation for them to worship their ancestors can be intense. Several Baptist churches in the greater Tokyo area use this national holiday to encourage their church families by providing an opportunity to spend time with Christians from other church families.  This year, Pastor Uchijima (who spoke at our church cookout) and I were given the opportunity to speak. It was so encouraging to see men, ladies, and young people gather together after the services to springboard off the sermons to encourage each other in their walks of life.

Fruit That Abounds: Akira and Elizabeth Fujita

Akira Fujita was already a Christian when he started coming to our church 7 years ago. A year later, he started bringing his friend Elizabeth to church, and soon after that, Elizabeth trusted Christ and was baptized. It was my great joy to marry them a few years later. Akira and Elizabeth Fujita have grown to become an integral part of our church family, as they have a hand in serving in many different areas of the church. Elizabeth plays a key role in our children’s ministry, faithfully teaming up with Bethany to teach Sunday school. Akira edits and uploads the sermons to our church podcast each week. Akira and Elizabeth are fruit that abounds to your account. As you pray and give, you continue to invest in their spiritual growth. But what you may not know is that your investment in them is also being dispersed around the world.  

The sermon podcast that Akira uploads each week was originally set up for those in our church family who weren’t able to attend a service due to work or travel. Over the years though, it has become a helpful resource not just to our church family, but many Japanese Christians throughout the world. There have been regular listeners all throughout Japan, but also in over 20 other countries including the U.S., Canada, the U.K, Australia, India, and South Korea. It makes heaven that much more exciting to discover all the ways God graciously uses each of us to reach people that we may never meet until then! (Here’s a link to the podcast if you’re interested.)

The podcast does highlight a great need for access to good Christian material in Japanese. Because of the small ratio of Christians in Japan (less than 1%), it’s very difficult to find material that is designed specifically for the Japanese. Pastoral helps that are available to Japanese pastors are very small compared to the plethora of material available to English speaking pastors. We’re in the VERY beginning stages of something that may help our co-laborers here in Japan, but more on that in another update. 😉

Thanks for faithfully praying and giving!

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Carter Connection June 2019

God’s Kingdom is amazing! It’s so fun to see how He guides and conforms each of our brothers and sisters in our church family to display His glory through us. His power and glory displayed through our feeble faith is magnificent. Thank you Father!

Judy’s Recovery

Over the last several months, many of you have been praying for the recovery of Bethany’s mom Judy, who has undergone some complicated health issues that almost took her life. In our last letter, we were encouraged to report how her health had started on the upswing, and how she was recovering enough for Bethany and the kids to return to Japan.

We continue to be amazed and thankful for her recovery. It hasn’t stopped! In fact, she has recovered to the point where she is able to resume normal life at home! She has a team of doctors who are able to care for her, and for now, is very comfortable with staying in the States without the need to come to live with us in Japan. We fully believe that her recovery has been a direct answer to prayer. We are deeply thankful for your interceding to our Father on her behalf!

Back to Back Events

This year, we held two outreach events within two weeks of each other: our Easter event, and our church cookout. Both events were well attended. For our Easter event, we saw 107 people participate and hear the Gospel through the story of the resurrection. Several young teenagers responded to the invitation for salvation. Praise God! I was also honored to meet several ladies who have trusted Christ, but because of family pressure are unable to come to church. They told me how they study the Bible each week while listening to our sermon podcast, telling me about specific sermons that meant a lot to them.

Our cookout was held a week and a half later, and we were excited to see 84 people attend this year. I always ask a Japanese pastor speak at this event to help dispel the common assumption that Christianity is a Western religion. This year, Pastor Uchijima, from Okegawa Baptist Church presented the Gospel in a powerful way, and several raised their hands indicating a desire to know more about Christ. Over the years, each of these events have become great opportunities for us to share the Gospel with those around us, as well as build relationships with them to show them more of the glory and grace of Jesus.

Keiichiro

One of the ways I seek to build relationships is by teaching English. Keiichiro has been one of my students for the past three years. During that time, we have developed a friendship that has gone beyond studying English, and we often grab lunch together after class to talk together. Although he is a devout Buddhist, he prays with me before every meal as I thank God for our food. Earlier this year, as we were having lunch, Keiichiro told me that he was going to bring his family to our events. True to his word, the whole family came to both Easter and the cookout! Please pray for these dear friends, that they too would become part of God’s glorious kingdom.

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Carter Connection April 2019

One of the joys of the Christian life is the assurance that the path God has prepared for us is designed through His sovereign will to conform us into the image of Jesus. This assurance allows us to trust Him through each twist and turn that He has prepared, knowing that He has all things under His control. Father, thank you for preparing our paths, and then walking with us on it!

God’s path for our family

In January, I shared a little about the health issues that Bethany’s mom Judy was going through, as well as the complexity of our situation in caring for her while serving in Japan. Many of you responded with words of encouragement and prayer, and several of you gave to help cover our financial needs during this time. How blessed we are! Thank you!! Through all of this, we continue to be amazed at how God directs our path. Judy’s health has stabilized well enough for Bethany and the kids to return to Japan while she stays temporarily in an assisted living center. During this time, we were able to get Judy’s visa approved for her to live with us here in Japan. This allows us to continue to serve in Japan and care for her at the same time. This is a huge answer to prayer! Bethany will return to the States at the end of May to finalize Judy’s transition to Japan, and will return with Judy at the end of June. Please pray for the transition process to go smoothly.

Last month, my parents had moved to Kobe, about a 7 hour drive from where we are to help Japanese pastors there. Last week we were saddened to hear of a pastor friend of ours on the other side of Tokyo who passed away due to cancer. To help with the loss of their pastor, my parents have decided to care for the church in their time of grief for the next few months. Please pray for Bousou Grace Baptist Church in their loss, as well as my parents in their pastoral care during this difficult time.

God’s path for Chris and Ping

Chris, an airman from nearby Yokota Air Base, visited our church on a very unique Sunday. It happened to be the Sunday that the pastorate of Akigawa Baptist Church was handed down from my dad to me, back in April of 2015. God’s plan for allowing our paths to join together these last four years could not have been more perfectly timed. He used our friendship to help both of us grow spiritually in so many ways. While in Japan, he married Ping, and it has been amazing to see God’s grace flow so abundantly in their marriage, as well as in their love for their church family. While here, they jumped in with both feet, Chris essentially becoming my right-hand man, and Ping always encouraging and serving the ladies in our church. In February, Chris received orders to return back to the States, and honestly, it was hard to see them go. I’m thankful for the time God allowed our paths to join, and look forward to seeing how God will use them in the path He’s prepared for them.

God’s path for our church family

It’s always my desire to give you a more personal glimpse into our ministry by sharing the stories of those like Chris and Ping that God brings into our lives. That said, there is always a lot going on! Several teens in our church just returned from a nation-wide Baptist youth camp with me, where I was given the opportunity to speak. Our church family is preparing for two of the bigger outreach events of the year: Easter in the end of April, and the church cookout a week and a half later. Both of these events have had attendances from seventy to over a hundred in recent years. Please pray for more Japanese to meet Jesus through these events! Thank you so much for praying for us and our brothers and sisters here in Japan!

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Carter Connection January 2019

Have you ever gone through seasons where the difficulties of life relentlessly reveal how weak you are? Those are the times that remind me to cling to the promise of Jesus when He says, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Praise Jesus for sufficient grace! Grace that is so overwhelmingly powerful that my weakness becomes the means through which the glory of God is on full display! This has been my prayer: Jesus, glorify YOUR strength in my weakness!

When we don’t know what to do

In our last letter, I asked that you pray for Bethany’s mom Judy, who has been enduring severe medical difficulties. She has continued to be in and out of the hospital over the last two months. Just yesterday, we received some great news that her health is improving, but there are other aspects of her health that still require constant care from Bethany. Bethany is continuing to care for her mom, but she may also need some medical treatment as well. Please pray for the health of both Bethany and Judy.

Because of responsibilities in Japan, it was necessary for me to leave Bethany and our children in the States, and head back to Japan at the end of November. Honestly, these last few months have been very difficult for our family, and we have been constantly relying on the powerful grace of Jesus to give us strength when we are at our weakest and feel the most helpless. Would you pray with us for wisdom and grace? There are a LOT of contingencies to our current situation: financial concerns, church responsibilities as well as other responsibilities here in Japan, how best to care for Judy long-term; these are just on the surface of things that we’re really not sure what the best path for us to take is.

Evidence of Sufficient Grace: My Parents

One of the ways God has been gracious is by making it possible for my parents to be here with me in my family’s absence. Mom has been teaching at the school in Bethany’s place, dad has been working with me on several long overdue projects at the church. Their presence here has been a clear evidence of Christ’s sufficient grace, especially to me, personally!

More Evidence of Sufficient Grace: Christmas Salvations

Just as the grace of God is sufficient for us as a family, God has been overwhelmingly gracious to our church family here in Japan. Throughout the year, we have been showing the love of Jesus through different acts of loving our neighbors. In December our church went to nearby train stations to hand out hot chocolate and invitations to our Christmas Service to people heading home from work. We also invited many family members and friends to come to the service. And wow, was there a great response! For both our children’s Christmas service, and our candlelight service, we had a combined total of 24 visitors to our Christmas service, with 14 of them being first-time visitors. One of the ladies who received hot chocolate brought her family to the service.

Ai san, whom I mentioned in our last letter (which you can read here) also attended! I shared the gospel through the Christmas story, and it was amazing to see hands raised all over the room of people who had a desire to trust Christ! Reiko, a faithful sister in our church has been in continual contact with Ai san, and again witnessed to her over the next week. This Thursday, she told me that Ai san is now a sister in Christ! I reached out to Ai san today and she gave clear evidence of her faith in Christ. Praise the Lord! Ai san (her name means “love” in Japanese) is one of several who trusted Christ during the Christmas season.

How thankful I am that even in our weakness, God continues to add brothers and sisters to our family through the power of the glorious Gospel! Thank you for praying for us! Please keep praying!

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Carter Connection November 2018

TIME. Its firm hold on me is unrelenting. It incessantly drags me along, regardless of my awareness of it, regardless of my willingness to be carried along by it. One day, I will be free from its chains. But while I longingly cast my eyes toward that freedom, I must consistently remind myself of the high value each moment provides, and the high cost of each moment wasted. I’ve been made aware of this reality often in my ministry, especially over the past few months. Lord, help me to redeem my time well.

When Loved Ones Draw Near

Because of the high cost associated with coming to Japan, it’s not often that we get visitors. So when they do come, it’s an honor for us. This is especially true when they are from our home church! Our pastor, his daughter, and two friends came to be with us for about a week, simply to spend time with us and encourage us in our ministry. Wow! If you have missionaries out of your church, I BEG you! Make the investment to send your pastor to see them every few years to encourage them. It is SO worth it! It will allow your pastor to pray more specifically for them, and it will so refresh the hearts of your missionaries!

When Loved Ones Are Apart

Around the time our pastor was with us, we received news that Bethany’s mother Judy had been taken to the hospital. Her condition grew worse each day, and the decision was made to send Bethany back to care for her, as she is the only child. Judy’s condition continued to grow worse, and a week later, Bethany called to let me know that her mom might not make it, and to come to the States as soon as possible. When we arrived a few days later, Judy was in and out of ICU. MANY people prayed for her, and God has graciously and miraculously answered our prayers. While she isn’t “out of the woods” yet, she is out of the hospital and recovering at home. Both of her kidneys are still not functioning and she is requiring dialysis three times a week, as well as constant care from Bethany. Please continue to pray for both Judy for healing, and for Bethany as she cares for her.

When Loved Ones Gather Together

For about a year, our church in Japan has been growing in their Biblical understanding of what it means to be an active, essential part of the body of Christ; that each member has been designed and prepared by God to be a critical, integral part of the body. Part of the evidence of their growth in this was revealed one Sunday afternoon during lunch. The church family was talking about how they could grow in loving others. (I stayed out of this conversation as much as I could to see where it would go.) The result of this conversation was “Friend Day,” a day where they would fully focus on bringing their friends to church. I was so encouraged! So many of our church jumped in to take part in preparing for it. Friend Day was held on October 28, and we had five friends attend the service.

One of the friends, a lady named Ai, was brought by Reiko, a faithful member of our church. On their way home, after hearing the Gospel, Ai san told Reiko that she was SO glad she came because she finally really understood what it meant to be a Christian! Pray for Ai san as we continue to follow up with her.

The need to care for Judy has also been, in God’s providence, a chance for our church family to grow in their roles as active members. In our absence, two of the men are preaching, and many have volunteered to cover our responsibilities. Please pray for them as we have our Thanksgiving service coming up. While my mom is there now to care for the school, and dad will be arriving in Akigawa this week, my desire is that our church family will stay active in serving and growing.

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