Tickets are Purchased!

Dear friends,

We sent out an email less than a month ago asking people to pray for our final 17% of support to come in during September so that we could leave in October.    Well, God has been answering those prayers and we are now up over 97%. This morning we purchased plane tickets to return to Japan on October 12th! We are so excited and so thankful for the ways that our needs have been met.  Is it ok to admit that when I asked for your prayers, I wasn’t sure how realistic I was being? The whole task of support raising, especially for such an expensive mission field like Japan, is simply beyond my capacity to accomplish. But God is good, and He has confirmed to us once again that He wants us in Japan, and he will provide the means.   A couple quick updates…

  • Kylie (19) – We have been able to see her several times since dropping her off at JMU, which is nice because soon we will be on the other side of the world and unable to visit. We got to celebrate her 19th birthday with her a couple days ago. She is doing great and loving her college life.
  • Josiah (17) – We made the decision to send Josiah back to Japan early by himself. He leaves Tuesday, September 18th. When we got his tickets, we had no idea that the rest of us would be following less than a month later! He will be staying along with some of his classmates at our team leader’s house and be able to focus on his senior year (and starting to apply for college) as we make the final preparations to return.
  • Housing – We were able to extend our lease until the end of September, which gives us less time bouncing around before we return. Anyone in the Harrisonburg area that can help us move out on 9/29 would be greatly appreciated! (call/text 540-810-9962 or email me back if you can help) We will get all our stuff consolidated into 17 crates, boxes and suitcases for checking, as well as 5 carry-on bags (our sixth carry-on will be our dog, Burton Guster Mirabella – he is not going to be happy to get back in that doggie-bag!) The rest of our furniture will be returned to where it was borrowed from, or placed back into a missionary storage trailer.
  • Karen (age undisclosed) – I’m going to be honest, Karen is stressed about getting everything done between now and when we leave. There are always more people to see and to say goodbye to. I think we have finished all the doctor and dentist appointments. Packing, cleaning, changing addresses, keeping the kids busy with their home-schooling…there is a ton to do, and less time than we thought we might have. But that is a good thing! For anyone we don’t see before we leave – we love you, we’re sorry, we will see you in four years! (Or come visit us in Japan!)
  • Finances – If you would like to make a pledge or a one-time gift to help put us over the top, please follow this link GIVING. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has given so generously to get us to this point, especially over the last two months. If you have made a pledge, but have not yet started giving, we’d really appreciate if you could begin now.

We will keep everyone updated as our departure approaches. Keep praying for us as we wrap up our time in the US and set our faces back toward Japan.

With thanks in Christ,

Tom

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Exciting New Announcement

Dear friends,

It has been a long time since we have sent an update, in part because we have been anticipating the chance to make a big announcement. That time has come! We are thrilled to announce that we have been called to serve as leader of a new church planting team in center city Chiba.

The new church will be named Kizuna, the Japanese word for “Bonds.” This name represents a big part of the vision for the church, to be an inter-cultural community where the Gospel is lived out amidst deep bonds of fellowship. I have often said that in Japan, especially in the Tokyo area, people are constantly surrounded by others (38 million others!), yet it is one of the loneliest places in the world.

Karen and I love Japan. One of the beauties of the culture is the deep desire for relational harmony. People feel a great sense of duty to those around them – to their families, to their companies, to their neighbors…it is part of what makes Japan such a clean, safe and polite place, but the flip side of that is the crushing weight of expectation that people feel they must live up to. It is part of what leads to overworkdepressionhikikomori, and suicide. This new church will seek to be a community that embodies the “one another” calling of the church (love one another, welcome one another, comfort one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens…), but is rooted in the comfort found in the Gospel: that our value does not come through the approval of others.

We are very excited about this new direction for our ministry and want to try to answer questions you might have about it…

Where is Chiba?
Chiba is part of the Tokyo Metropolitan area, the largest metro in the world. Chiba city sits in the northeastern corner of Tokyo Bay, across from Tokyo proper, which is in the northwestern corner. The city of Chiba itself is the 15th largest in Japan with just under 1 million people in population, making it about the size of San Jose, California (and larger than Austin, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Charlotte, Memphis, Boston, or Washington, DC).

Weren’t you already in Chiba?
We have been living in Chiharadai, in Chiba Prefecture (a prefecture is somewhere in size between an American state and a county), very close to the edge of Chiba city. In fact, CCSI (our kid’s school) and Oyumino Church (our partnering church), which were only a 10-minute bike ride from our house, are actually inside the city limits. Chiba city is made up of six wards and Oyumino Church is in one of the outer ones. This new church will be in Chuo-Ku, or Central ward, near the heart of the downtown.

Will you have to move?
Yes. During our first term we lived in a team-owned house close to our church and school. When we return to Japan we will seek a new house or apartment within the Chuo ward. We are not yet sure of the timetable on that, whether we will move straight into a new place, or return temporarily to our former house. Despite the change, our kids will continue to attend the same school, they will just take the train instead of being able to walk or bike. We do anticipate that our housing costs will increase due to living closer in to the city center.

What are your timelines?
First, we are still hoping to return to Japan in September. We are currently at 73% of our pledged support needs, so this may delay our return. We need to be at 100% funding in order to return. Please join with us in praying for our support to come in. We are still talking with many churches and individuals about joining our financial support team. I must confess, raising support is the thing I like least about being a missionary. It is often frustrating and discouraging, especially because Japan is such an expensive mission field. But if the resourced churches of the US do not send missionaries to Japan, there will never be an opportunity for the church in Japan to grow and be established, so we press on.

Second, when we return, our first goal will be to finish our language training. During our first three years in Japan, Karen and I did part time language classes, while being very actively involved in ministry. We learned quite a bit, but we still have a long way to go to achieve an acceptable level of communication ability. We can navigate daily life, but cannot yet preach or lead Bible studies, participate in group meetings, or have deep heart level conversations in Japanese. We will need to work hard to protect our study time and will not be allowed to re-engage in our ministry work until we finish. We are eager to learn, but feeling trepidation as well. Japanese is a hard language, but we desperately want to be effective in our ministry.

Third, when we have completed language school, we will help to launch the new church, hopefully by early in 2021. We anticipate this being the focus of our ministry for the next 10-15 years, at least.

How were you led to this new direction?
Our goal has always been to help plant churches in Japan, so it is not completely new, but it is definitely a change. By way of background, this new team was actually formed during our first term in Japan. Initially the church planting team was gathered and led by Rev. John and Rose Evans, Australian missionaries partnering with MTW in Japan. Unfortunately, due to health issues in the family, they ended up having to return home from Japan. In November John contacted us on behalf of the Kizuna team to ask if we would consider joining the team to fill his role as church planter and team leader.

Our initial thought was, “thanks, but no thanks.” We knew that the team was already formed and wanting to move forward with the plant, while our schedule called for nearly a year (at minimum) of time in the US, plus up to two years of language school. In addition we felt like the team was already far down the line with planning and preparation, and we didn’t want to just come in at the end. Finally, we were very happy with our work at Oyumino Church Alive International and had no desire to seek an immediate change.

We did agree to pray about it, and as time went on our hearts began to open to the idea. It sped up our timeline, but it would move us toward our long-term goal of church planting. The big issues were timing and fit with the new team. We entered into a “courtship” process with the other missionaries committed to working with the new church (including Matt and Carly Chase, who many of you know). Those conversations reassured us that the team was willing to wait for us, and that our visions were very similar. The final stumbling block has been our reluctance to leave Alive International and the people with whom we have worked closely. Over the last six months we have struggled with this and mourned the potential ending of our time there, but in the end we felt that we could best help serve God’s kingdom in Japan by joining this new church planting team.

Prayer Requests

  • Support raising – pray for good favor with all those we talk to. We have had a lot of great response and are making progress toward raising our new, higher budget, but we still have a long way to go. Pray that we wouldn’t grow discouraged.
  • Timing to return to Japan – Of course, we want to get back as quickly as possible, but we also are dealing with other factors. If we have to delay our return, that will mess up our kids’ schooling, especially for Josiah, who will be starting his senior year of high school and wants to be able to do that in Japan. We also are renting a house and our lease ends September 15th. If we can’t return as scheduled, we don’t know where we will live.
  • Kylie’s transition – Karen and I went with Kylie to orientation at James Madison University (our alma mater) this past week. I feel like it was only yesterday that we were graduating and now we are sending our first child there. We are incredibly thankful for the scholarship that Kylie received to go to JMU and for the wonderful community we will be leaving her with here in Harrisonburg (plus extended family a short drive away). All parents have to go through this moment of “launching” their kids into the world. Ours is a little harder, knowing that we will be returning to the other side of the Pacific with the rest of our family, but we are proud of her and feel confident that she will do great. (ok, getting a little emotional here…)
  • Alive International – please pray for this dear congregation that we had the pleasure of working with. Pray especially that the Lord would provide a new English-speaking pastor to partner with my wonderful friend Pastor Dedachi to help minister to these people that we love so much. (getting more emotional, I just need to end this letter…)

Thank you for your interest in our ministry and for your prayers. If you would like more information about joining our financial support team, please email me, give me a call or text (540-810-9962), or check out our giving page on our website www.themirabellas.wordpress.com/giving/

With gratitude in Christ,
Tom (for all the Mirabellas)

TCK art and a blessing of HMA…

HMA (home ministry assignment) has been hard on our kids. This picture really expresses well the struggle of being a TCK (third culture kid). There is beauty in both worlds that we are part of. Two worlds that we call home but both of which aren’t fully home to us anymore. No matter which world we are in we are always longing for and missing a piece of the other world. The feelings are especially strong as we prepare to drop Kylie off at college in August and then hopefully return to Japan in September. Would you pray for us as we prepare for that? Would you also pray for the remaining 30% of monthly pledges to be raised by September??

I had the opportunity to spend a weekend with these dear college friends. I’m always struck (when we get together) by the fact that the 8 of us all have brothers and no sisters. God has been gracious to provide these sisters in Christ to connect with since our JMU InterVarsity days. This is a blessing of HMA.

Reaching the World by Welcoming Students

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This is a recent article about international student ministry from our denomination’s magazine, By Faith. The article states that with over one million international students learning on campuses in the United States, “(w)e can reach the world, not only by ‘going,’ but also by ‘welcoming.'”.

This is really true. And as missionaries we get to see the other side of this partnership: Students who have lived overseas, and then return to their home countries – in our case, to Japan. One of the ministry focuses of the congregation we worked with, Alive International, is to minister to “returnees”- Japanese who have lived overseas, either as exchange students, or for work. It makes sense that a young person is far more likely to be exposed to the church and Christianity while attending college in America, than they ever would be while living in the unreached nation of Japan (estimated at 0.4% evangelical Christian).

Did you know that Toyota has manufacturing plants in Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama and West Virginia? Or that Honda has plants in Ohio, Alabama, Indiana, Georgia, North and South Carolina?

Do you have Japanese living for a season in your community? The article goes on to say, “God commands all to ‘practice hospitality’ (Romans 12:13). The New Testament word is philoxenia, grace that transforms strangers into friends. Hospitality means we love strangers and welcome them as Christ welcomed us. Biblical hospitality may be the church’s most countercultural practice.”

One Japanese Christian in our church lived in the US for a number of years while her husband taught at a University. She met many Christians and got involved in a Bible study. Although she didn’t become a Christian while in the US, she began to believe in a creator God. Later when she returned to Japan she got involved with our church and became a Christian. But she points to her time in the States as the starting point for her conversion.

You can support the work of missions by reaching out to foreigners right where you live. And when they are ready to return to their home countries, help put them in touch with the missionaries serving there so that we can connect them with local churches.

The Nail that Sticks Up…

Nail that sticks upThere is a saying in Japan: 出る釘は打たれる deru kugi wa utareru – it is generally translated as “The nail that sticks up, will be hammered down.” If you are a carpenter building a house, this makes sense – nails that stick out are dangerous, causing injury or damage to various things that can get snagged. We expect a carpenter to pound in that protruding nail. But this saying is referring to people. It means that people who stand out – because of their behavior, their looks, their academic performance (not only falling behind, but even being too far ahead) – need to be made to conform.

One of the most extreme examples I have heard of recently has to do with hair. Many schools have a rule that students are forbidden to dye their hair. Now, in the history of strict school rules, this doesn’t seem that bad. It may prevent some kids from expressing themselves as they would like, but it is not unheard of. Many schools, in America as well,  find extreme hair cuts and dye jobs to be a distraction to their mission of education.

But here is where it gets strange. Japanese people generally have black hair. So how is the “no hair-dyeing” rule applied to people that don’t fit the norm – foreigners, children of  multi-racial parents, or the rare Japanese person with lighter brown hair? Those students are required to dye their hair black.

In order to enforce a “no hair-dyeing” rule, some children are forced to dye their hair.

There is currently a court case in Osaka Prefecture brought by a Japanese high school student over the mental anguish she has suffered from being forced to dye her naturally brown hair black (Link to BBC Article). She claims that teachers told her, “If you don’t dye your hair black, then don’t bother coming to school.” She says her situation has caused her to be ridiculed by other students and the frequent dyeing has caused damage to her hair and the development of a rash on her scalp.

Some schools avoid this requirement by maintaining a “light-colored-hair registry” (Link to Asahi Shimbun article). Students who have non-black hair are given a form to fill out attesting to its natural color. Parents must provide their seal on this form, and are sometimes required to provide pictures of their child as an infant for proof. Students with curly hair are also required to submit proof that it is naturally occurring.

One would think that parents would give a lot of pushback against these rules, but schools actually consider them to be a benefit. With the shrinking population, competition for students at the various private and public schools has grown. Strict discipline is an important selling point.

We often tell people that the best thing that helped our family’s transition to Japan was CCSI – Covenant Community School International. CCSI is a dual-track (Japanese and English) Christian school that was started by our team initially to provide schooling for missionary children. Over the years it has grown to around 60 kids, not only from missionary families, but Japanese and international children as well. We are truly thankful to be able to send our kids to a school that is focused on the worship of Christ, not on an idol of conformity.

As missionaries, we take the “long view.” Japan has been some of the rockiest soil for the spread of the Gospel. But I truly believe that the work we do with our school – helping to raise up a generation of Christ-centered kids in Japan (most of whom are fluently bilingual) will bear great fruit in the decades to come.

Global Missions Conference 2017

img_1503Tom, Kylie and I went to Dallas, Tx this past weekend for the PCA Global Missions Conference (GMC). It was a sweet time of reconnecting with friends we hadn’t seen in a while (people from Japan and also fellow missionaries that we had gone though training with before we left for the field).  It was also a really good time of meeting new people and talking about the ministry opportunities in Japan and the need for workers.  There were over 2000 people in attendance….2000 people…a mix of missionaries, ministry leaders in the states who have a heart for promoting missions in their churches, men and women who are interested in missions and exploring the possibility of moving overseas to minister.  What a blessing to be a part of this gathering!  Please join us in praying for the fruit of this conference, especially for the Lord to raise up new workers for the field!

 

Interns

One of the joys of serving in Japan has been working with and mentoring interns. Our interns are usually young men and women who are taking time off from school or jobs to serve in their first cross-cutural mission experience. Some come for two months over the summer, others come for up to 11 months.

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Our summer interns help with the end of the school year at CCSI (which runs into early July), then help with programs over the summer, like our annual English Camp/VBS

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The interns who come for 3-11 months usually come during the school year and serve as teachers at CCSI.

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During their time in Japan, Karen and I have the opportunity to spend time with and mentor the interns.

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We frequently have them in our home for hospitality, fellowship and Bible studies.

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I even got to marry a couple of them when we returned to the States! (though technically speaking, interns are NOT ALLOWED TO DATE during their internships)

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I can’t guarantee interns will meet their future spouses, but I still highly recommend this program for young people (we actually have had retired couples serve as interns as well) who are considering a future in missions, or who just want the chance to serve Christ, to grow in their faith, and to gain a new perspective beyond the shores of America.

If you want more information, this is a link to MTW’s Japan internship page.