Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Rather Overwhleming Day

This past Wednesday was a day of major speedbumps and obstacles, but also of God's crazy provision and love shining through like whoa.

It all started on Tuesday night. Men's time was absolutely amazing- the bonding that happened was something I hadn't really ever seen before, and Christ's love was so apparent. The time that was scheduled to go from 7-9 didn't end til 1130! If you know me, you know that 4 conscious hours of no eating is just not fun for me, so as soon as men's time ended, my roommates (Jeremy and Sammy) and I decided to go to McDonald's to try this thing called the Shaka Shaka Chicken... I'll probably explain some other time haha. But I'd gotten a message that Heather needed to talk to me so I did that first- she was sitting on the front porch and apparently Jess was worried that her cold that had lasted for more than a week was more than a cold but that it was an infection spreading from her spine and that she needed to see a doctor stat. So Heather and I talked for a little bit, trying to figure out what on earth we could do- we were SO unprepared for a situation like this! We called Scott and he told us calling Cam (the guy from JCCC in charge of taking care of us, basically) would be the best idea. But it was nearly midnight so we decided to wait til morning. Then I grabbed the roomies and went off to Mickey D's. After a fun, chill time there, we strolled back to the apartments, and saw Heather still sitting in front of the building but this time with a Japanese girl. We were confused so we went and asked what was up and here's apparently what happened:

Heather was sitting there, crying and feeling overwhelmed and also having her heart broken for the Japanese people, when a Japanese girl named Miki screeched to a halt on her bike in front of the building and said to Heather in broken English "what is wrong with you? You are cute and you are crying. It is not okay," and proceeded to get off her bike and sit next to her to comfort her! Turns out SHE'S A CHRISTIAN! AND her mother is an English teacher, so she called her mom at like 1230 am and had her translate their conversation! She even got Heather to sing "Amazing Grace" with her!

What a blessing!

So anyway the day I called Cam at 8, 9, and 10 in the morning, but couldn't get a hold of him until the third try because he was in a meeting. But when I finally got through to him, he was so helpful and as soon as the meeting was over, he headed over to an English-speaking doctor he was somewhat acquainted with to see if he could see Jess that day. Well, the doctor was going to be doing admin work that whole afternoon, but he decided to open up a slot at 3:30 for her! I immediately looked up directions so I could send Jess to Cam's so that he could show her to the doctor's office. Apparently, she got semi-lost at the second transfer, and people there kept on giving her differing wrong directions, but somehow she ended up on the right train and got to Cam's on time to get to the doctor! There, apparently the doctor was shocked at how she lasted so long with the pain that she was going through with the seriousness of the infection. He examined her, prescribed antibiotics and painkillers for her, and did a minor pseudo surgical procedure to drain the fluid that had accumulated- all for less than 10,000 yen (approx US$100)!! side: healthcare back home is sooo much more expensive than here! Her two follow up visits of further draining of fluids and such have cost her ~US$11 each! Now she's feeling infinitely better and praising God for it!

When the day was over and the campus teams arrived back in Koenji, Heather came into my apartment with an interesting look on her face. It looked like a smile, but with something behind it. So when she said, "Wanna hear something awesome??" I thought "Is she setting me up for bad news after this?" Turns out four years of friendship has gotten us to know each other pretty dang well- I was right! haha. But the "something awesome" was something so awesome I don't think anything could really trump it. She sat down and with an excited expression told me "Joe led someone to Christ today!!" I didn't even know how to react, I was so excited! You come on these trips and you know that God can do amazing things, and you come to hopefully see people come to Christ, but I know Japan- I know how hard it is to break through spiritually with people. And I guess that got my faith a little weak- I'd forgotten for a second that we were actually here to hopefully see people come to know our God! WOW. What great news! We could totally sense all of heaven rejoicing about it too.

Then came the bad news- JCCC (and with them, our Project's Team 2) had basically been kicked off of one of the campuses. They did some research on CCC, and because we are a staffed student organization, and staff trains students on ministry and evangelism, it is by their definition a cult, and therefore we are no longer allowed on their campus. They even got the names of students at that university who are involved with Student Impact and blacklisted them and threatened them with not being able to graduate if they didn't refrain from evangelistic/outreach activity! The saddest part is that it's a university that was founded on Christianity and even still calls itself a "Christian" university. Oh the hypocrisy of it all...

It really is a bummer that we got asked to leave. There are members of Team 2 who were pretty seriously crushed about it, because they had developed some great contacts and connections at that campus. So please pray that they would be encouraged and that God would show them how He is going to use this for their good and the good of the mission.

Update(6/14): Already though, blessings have come of it. First, four of team 2's members had been asked since the beginning of Project to leave their team about 5 times throughout the summer to go to ICU High School to minister to high schoolers. They would get to share their testimonies in a classrooms during "C-Week" (Christianity Week) because one of the teachers, who is a Christian, opened up his class to have them do that. Well, now that team 2 wouldn't get to go to ICU anymore, the entire team would get to go to the HS! It's been great, because on the testimony days in C-Week, the 4 team 2ers got to share their testimonies with like 120 freshmen and sophomores, and then the other 4 got to join them in leading discussion groups with the students. It's been a fantastic opportunity, since there were way too many students for just 4 of our members to handle.

Then that night, after family night (during which we went to see the Star Trek movie [so good!] in Shinjuku) we were standing at Nakano station, waiting to change trains onto the Chuo Local that would take us back to Koenji, and it was PACKED. The trains coming in were packed AND the entire platform was full of people so it was gonna be one of those typical Tokyo no-such-thing-as-personal-space experiences. Well, turns out, one of our students is extremely claustrophobic and was starting to freak out- legitimately having a panic attack and heavily hyperventilating! The train got there so I told everyone to just get on the train and I stayed with him. After prayer and sitting down, he calmed down a lot but still wasn't okay with getting on a packed train so we ended up taking a taxi back, and had a nice chat with the super friendly driver... but wow. Talk about attack- we knew the guy was claustrophobic, but we didn't know how bad it would get, and even he said he'd never freaked out like that before.

So anyway, with the whole last minute figuring out a doctor's appointment for Jess thing, the getting kicked off of ICU and having to figure out where the team would go for the rest of the week thing, and the panic attack thing, it was kind of an overwhelming day. To add to it, we had the awesome blessings of a sweet men's time, Miki encouraging Heather and Joe leading a guy to Christ! So putting it all together, I basically crashed. Heather pulled me aside after everyone went to their rooms and asked me how I was doing and after a few seconds of silence, all I could say was "Not good." I was tired, worn out, emotionally drained, and weak. I knew God liked it when I was in a weak place so that He could show me His strength, and it'd been a great couple of weeks of learning to be more and more flexible because I really don't have anything under my control (even when I try to). But it was just getting to me a bit too much. Do you ever have those times when you're just like, "God, I know You're doing a great work in me, and that's awesome and exciting and all... But can You slow down a little bit? This hurts..." I do. And that was one of those times. I don't blame God- I know He knows what He's doing. I just let myself lose sight of that. Thankfully talking to Heather was very therapeutic and God used it to comfort me, but I have to say it was a low point for me.

A lot's happening here. Your prayers and encouragement are working so much. God is doing amazing things and even when the enemy tries to get in there and mess things up, God wins. Woot. Keep the prayers coming!

And sorry about the length of this post :)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Gen and Project's Day of FUUUUUN! (but with heaviness too...)

Our first Saturday (our weekly free day) was spent with most of us going out to Tokyo station to see the Imperial Palace and then to Asakusa to see a famous plaza with a few huge Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

The Imperial Palace was easy to find, but it turns out it's only open like, never, and we could only really walk around the perimeter of the grounds, which were surrounded by a moat, which is pretty cool.

But it's a gorgeous area with huuuuge open spaces of grass and trees, so it provided for some awesome photo opportunities.

AND right across the street is a small plaza of fountains where we got some great shots!
Haha... I kinda crack myself up in this one...

It's like a 10-member band's photoshoot.

My personal favorite... ...where you can see remnants of my figure skating days. Check out that arch!

Then over to Asakusa.

At the beginning, it was great- the temples/shrines are pretty impressive (although the main Buddhist temple was boarded up on the outside for renovations- probably in preparation for the IOC. Tokyo is a finalist bid city for the 2016 Olympics- the host of which will be decided this October). I put pictures up of Asakusa from my year as a Project participant on my 07 Project blog ( so you can see what it looks like there.

Then things got a little more serious...
We went inside the main temple (still open, inspite of exterior cleanup) and were impressed by the ornate decorations for about 1.5 seconds. Then we saw the people and our hearts were just shattered. In my two years since the last time I went to Asakusa, I'd forgotten just how much i hated that place. Hordes of Japanese people were flowing through the temple, throwing money into the wells and praying- PASSIONATELY- to the altars and golden decorations, which I'm guessing represent their many gods? See, I grew up in Tokyo, but my parents protected me from this kind of thing, being in a Christian home. So it was hitting me all over again just how lost these people are. Throughout most of the city, all you see is a very efficient, "put-together" culture of extremely friendly, seemingly happy people. And then you scratch just an inch under the surface, and you see a hopeless people, seeking promise and salvation in all the wrong places. They come to the temple to pray to gods they have no idea about, they put blessing smoke on their bodies not really knowing what it'll do, they drink blessing water, just hoping that it'll bring them good fortune and satisfaction. Seeing this just broke my heart... I turned around and saw a few of our team members just JET out of there, overcome with emotion.

Like I said, I was reminded of how much I hated that place, but at the same time, it was a wonderful reminder of how much the Japanese people need hope. And it was great to realize all over again how amazing the hope that we have in Christ is! We want it for these people so badly.

I'm reminded of the words of a worship song that's fast climbing my favorites list:
"You are God of this city
You are King of these people
You are Lord of this nation
You are

You're the Light in this darkness
You're the Hope to the hopeless
You're the Peace to the restless
You are

There is no one like our God
There is no one like our God

Greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City"

He is LORD. So in being Lord of creation, Lord of the earth, Lord of the New Jerusalem which is to come, He is Lord of all and is most certainly Lord of Tokyo. The enemy was trying hard to discourage us by trying to show us just how much of a stronghold he has here in Japan. But God is bigger and He made sure that all we got was a broken heart for the people of Tokyo. God was answering the prayer in another one of my favorite worship songs:
"Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me

Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom's cause

As I walk from earth into Eternity"

It really was a great day. Lots of fun moments, cool sightseeing, and great revelation from God. I love that He wins. I love that He has already won. And I love that we get to share in that victory.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Blessed to be a blessing...

On Thursday of our first week in country, we got the special privilege of attending and being specially welcomed at Student Impact (Japan Campus Crusade for Christ's college ministry)'s weekly meeting. It's a rather small group- probably around 30 people show up on a weekly basis (including staff). But it's nice and intimate, and it's great seeing Japanese Christians coming together from many different campuses to worship God.

Quite a few of these students are the only/one of two known Christians on their campus. And the staff are often people who came to know Christ in college, and have stood alone in their faith as lone rangers in their communities. So it was AWESOME seeing all these people come together for encouragement and edification.

So at the beginning they introduced each one of us, and they cheered so enthusiastically for each one of us. They seem to be really encouraged that we are here- that college students from the States would give up 6 weeks of their summer to come to Tokyo and help these students and staff reach the Tokyo campuses for Christ.

We also got the awesome opportunity to have two of our students share their testimony of how they were led to come to Japan.

We chose Kylan from Cal and Kimi from USC to share their stories. Kylan spoke first, in Japanese, about how the Lord led him away from his original major to studying Japanese at college, and how that led to him studying abroad in Tokyo at Hitotsubashi University for a year. During that time, he really developed a heart for the country and has been wanting to come back in a ministry capacity. So this was a perfect opportunity for him. Now he's leading a campus team and is such a blessing to our team. Kimi then spoke about how, even though she's half Japanese, she didn't have much knowledge about the culture that her mother's patriarchs came from. But when she found out that less than 1% of the Japanese population even claims to be Christian, her heart broke for "her" people and she looked into coming to Japan on a mission trip. So last year she got to come on the 2-week Tokyo City Focus Summer Project, which got her heart beating so hard for this city, that she promised right then and there that she would be back. Here she is. :)

It was also an exciting opportunity for me, as I got to do some translating. The talk was going to be given entirely in Japanese, so I sat in a corner with all the English speakers (read our team... maybe like 2 more STInters) and translated into English as the JCCC staff guy gave his talk on Christ-like love. It was a convicting, encouraging talk, and we absolutely loved being there.

As a little bonus, Matt got to invite a non-Christian guy he met at Gaidai to come to Student Impact, and while there, Kylan got to share the Gospel extensively with him! He seemed really interested and we're praying that the relationship can continue so that he can learn more and more about our God.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

One Week Down...

I really can't believe it. We're already more than a week into Project. That's 20%. Ack!

Things seem to be going great though. The members of different teams and people in different apartments seem to be gelling well. Speaking of, let me explain real quick how campus teams are working:

The 15 students on our Project are split into two teams. Team 1, led by Kylan and Jess, goes to Hitotsubashi- a predominantly male campus where, ironically, there is more of a Christian female presence and practically no Christian male presence- on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and Gakugei- another university fairly close-by where there is an established ministry of the "Joyful Cafe" English lunch- on Monday and Friday. Kylan and Jess are joined by Kimiyo, Andrew, Jeremy, Joe, and Josh.

Team 2, led by Matt and Emily, goes to International Christian University (ICU- seriously, they call it ICU). Don't be fooled by the name- even though there is a chapel service (non-mandatory) and an occasional worship event, the vaaaaaaaast majority of students and staff have no Christian affiliation. They're at ICU on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Monday and Wednesday, they are at Gaidai (Tokyo University for Foreign Language Studies)- a more sensitive campus where they have to be pretty careful about how much attention they are drawing to themselves. Amy, Traci, Jack, Kyle, Sammy and Tim are also on this team.

Both teams have had some cool things happen in their first week on campus. On Team 1, Jeremy from Montana State, who played Lacrosse for his school, met the Lacrosse team at Hitotsubashi and even got to play with them for a while! What a great "in"! Team 2 got to meet a guy at Gaidai who is not a Christian but Matt got to invite him to Student Impact (JapanCCC's Campus Ministry- our "Cru") on Thursday night, where he got to watch people worship, hear a great talk on Christ's love, and have the Gospel shared with him by Kylan.

Besides these, there have been a lot of little stories about great conversations and fun friendships developing with Japanese students. It's really exciting. It's been fun being on the Director side of things, where though it's a bit of a bummer that I don't necessarily get to experience these stories too much myself, I get to work with Heather to help make this happen for our team, and encourage them as they experience hardcore, full-time ministry for the first time (for many of them).

OH! I wanted to ask you all to pray for a few people:
- JCCC Staff. They are full-time missionaries in a country where next to no one is Christian, so I'm sure it gets insanely lonely. But they are so on fire! I don't know how they do it, especially with practically no support base. They are wonderful people who have a passion for serving the Lord, and they encourage me. Please pray that they would be encouraged by our time here, and that those who are not at full support would reach their goal soon.
- Scott and Jen Thomson. Scott is the STINT (Short Term INTernational- CCC interns/staff who go overseas for a year or two) team leader. He has been the liaison for me/Heather with the JCCC staff and has been enormously helpful. He and Jen have really reached out to me and Heather to encourage us, and it's been such a blessing! Please pray blessings on them, that they would wrap up the year well (they go back to the US in July), and that they would find great fruit when they move on to be Campus Directors at UConn this next year.

K, I think that's it. Sorry there are no pictures on this post. I'll put some up later this week- yesterday was a really fun tourist day when we got to see some cool places and take fun pictures, so I'll be sure to share those with y'all! :)

God is good.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Meet the Team!

Here's the awesome team we've been blessed with :)

Jeremy Barnekow

Jeremy's from Indiana and just graduated from Montana State with a degree in Chemical Engineering... Smart. Quietly awesome guy who loves to laugh more than one might initially expect. :) He's also one of my roommates. Co-leading prayer team, and is on campus team 1 (I'll explain in a different post)

Heather Brainerd

My Associate Project Director! :) Heather just graduated from USC as a History major with an honors in Multimedia Scholarship. She's one of my bestest friends, and one thing (out of many) we share is that we went on Tokyo Summer Project 07 together as student participants. She'll be interning with me at USC in the fall!

Kimi Brown

Kimi's about to be a Senior studying Theater at USC. She's half Japanese and really started to connect with her roots last year when she came on the 2 week Project. She's helping lead outreach team and is on campus team 1.

Sammy Cunningham

Sammy's gonna be a junior at USC. He was born in Bangkok but has grown up in Pasadena. Another smartie, he's studying mathematics. He's co-leading family team and is on campus team 2. He's also my other roommate.

Tim Daugherty

Tim's entering his sophomore year at Merced College doing general education. He's a very outgoing guy who's just so excited to be here. He's one of our two team journalers and is on campus team 2.

Joe Gudobba

Joe's gonna be a Junior at Central Michigan University (he's one of three chippewas on our team!) with an undecided major. He's a goofball who brings great joy and laughter to the team. Joe's co-leading the prayer team and is on campus team 1.

Andrew Guirguis

Andrew's gonna be a Junior at USC, studying Biomedical Engineering. Born in Egypt, high school in St. Louis. He's one of my AGO brothers who's just been growing in the Lord like crazy since getting to USC. Andrew's helping lead the family team and is on campus team 1.

Josh Jimenez

Josh just finished his freshman year at USC studying Engineering. He's been in the Bible study that Matt (you'll meet him in a sec) and I led all year. He's quiet but hilarious when he opens his mouth. It's fun having him! Josh is co-leading the outreach team and is on campus team 1.

Jess Jury

Jess is another Chippewa. She's gonna be a super-senior and is studying world religions. She's just the sweetest girl and brings a lot of encouragement to the team. She's co-leading campus team 1.

Traci Lawrimore

Traci's gonna be a sophomore at the University of South Carolina- the OTHER USC. She's just got the greatest southern drawl and is a really caring girl who loves to tell stories! She's co-leading the family team and is on campus team 2.

Emily Niemond

Emily's gonna be a sophomore at Eternity Bible College. She's visited the JCCC team before and is loving being back here with them. She brings a great, proactive attitude. She's helping with worship and is co-leading campus team 2.

Kyle Pash

Kyle's gonna be a junior and is our third representative from CMU. He loves theology but loves people more. He's got a great speaking voice. He's helping lead worship and is on the outreach team and campus team 2.

Matt Pfaff

Matt's one of my good friends from USC. He's gonna be a senior in mechanical engineering. Loves being with people and loves to play games. He's got a great head of red. He's co-leading campus team 2.

Kylan Schroeder

Kylan just graduated as a Japanese major from Cal. He's studied here for a year and speaks the language well. He's got a great understanding of a culture and is a huge asset to the team. He's co-leading campus team 1.

and I'm Gen :) But you should know that. Just in case you're a reader referred to my blog by someone else on the Project, I'm the Project Director. I graduated from USC in 08 as a Health Promotion and Disease Prevention major and I've been interning with Campus Crusade for the last year.

Thank you for your prayers- please keep 'em comin!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Made it!

We're here!
Praise God! - SERIOUSLY -

We show up to briefing and we're just under 20K short. We tell our team, everyone makes phone calls during every "free time" that we get. Two and a half days later, we're all on the plane. BAM.

We show up to briefing and Jack has forgotten his passport back home and so his mom overnights it to a staff person's parents' house, just 2 minutes from Vanguard where we're briefing. It's delivered to the wrong house by a brand-new mailman whose contact info the post office doesn't have yet so we can't find it. The staff girl goes around to neighbors and asks around- no passport. Friday morning rolls around, we're getting on a shuttle to LAX at 8, but at 645 she calls me with the good news. The story went something like this:
"My mom was going to go buy milk late last night but my dad stopped her and said 'we have enough for our morning coffee- I'll buy some more in the morning.' So he goes to buy milk at like 630, comes home and finds a woman picking snails off his plants. Turns out she's a neighbor who lives way down the street- they know each other a little bit, so they talk. She was there to pick snails off his plants to feed her turtle. Then suddenly she remembers and tells him that she has the package. She'd stuck in in the mailbox so that the mailman would take it back to the post office and resend. But it was early enough so she ran back, grabbed the package and brought it to my dad."
Thank God for hungry turtles! 1 hour before the shuttle, Jack got his passport.

The travel was long but the flight (on ANA- the airline my family flew to immigrate to America) was very pleasant and though we were nervous about immigration taking forever because of swine flu, we flew through it. We didn't have a way of contacting our Japanese staff person who was gonna meet us at our train station by the apartments, so we just told them we'd be there at 8, hoping that somehow we'd get from the airport to that station by somewhere near 8pm. We just buy a ticket for the first train available after we got through customs, which took us to Shinjuku where we got on a train that took us to Nakano where we got on a train that took us to Koenji. We step out of the station- 8:04pm! They were there with smiling faces just barely waiting for us.

Anyway, GOD IS GOOD. We're here, we're excited (though a little tired). I'll be updating as often as I can but keep us in your prayers!

I'll introduce the team in my next post.