Vacations are an exciting time. A vacation to Disney with four kids between the ages of 2 and 11 is off the chart exciting. I’ve been so wrapped up in planning our trip to Disney my wife has started referring to me as Disney Dad as if I’m some super hero with mask and cape ready to leap Disney characters in a single bound. But last night after watching with my children the cleverly designed promotional DVD from Disney explaining all there is to do and see, I began to wonder about our family’s preparation for a trip to another kingdom.
There are spiritual analogies that can be drawn between our family’s trip to Disney in a few short weeks and the trip every Christian will take when our earthly existence comes to a close. Here are some questions to consider.
- Which characters are you most excited to see? Each of my kids wants to see a different Disney character. Their signature books are all prepared for Mickey and a host of princesses. There will be some really cool characters in heaven that I look forward to having my photo taken with. People like King David, Joshua, Jonah, Simon Peter, Stephen, and Timothy. But the old song says it well – “I long to see my Savior first of all.”
- What attraction will you go to first? We do first what we most desire. Can you guess where the crowd will be in heaven? Talk about a long wait time.
- What will you pack to take with you? I’m not taking my golf clubs to either place, somehow with everything else going on golf just doesn’t seem so important.
- Do others know you are going? Can they sense your excitement? It’s easy to find a way to tell others about my upcoming trip to Disney. My kids will tell complete strangers that they are going to Disney without a second thought. Why do we hesitate to bring up heaven?
- How much time do you spend researching the promotional material to make sure everything goes just right? The Bible provides explicit instructions on how to prepare for your trip and the glory of living for that kingdom. Read the reviews of guys like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul. They will provide you the assurance you long for.
- Have you made your dining reservations? If you think dining at Disney is cool, check out what the scriptures say about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
- What amenities will your accommodations come with? “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard …”
- When will you be leaving? Are you ready to go? I’ve been ready to go to Disney for four weeks. In fact, I find it hard to stay focused on the task at hand. The time of departure is drawing near, you have to get ready.
This planning stage of my vacation has challenged me to consider the trip I (and hopefully the rest of my family) will be one day taking in eternity. Let the preparations begin in earnest; let the excitement be known to all, my Savior will greet me at His throne. OH GLORIOUS DAY!
This is our last full day in Aschaffenburg before heading home. We have had a wonderful time working with the people here and seeing some of the sights in Germany. The children’s area is cleaned up and ready for the new year starting next Sunday morning. The plumbing is still holding good and all the light and sound wiring is done. It has been a real pleasure working with Linda and Glenn and the entire Baptisten team on the project.
We are happy to report that Renae Thompson has been moved into a new appartment closer to the church and part of our team was able to help with that as well.
What an awesome time we had in worship this morning as Keith’s son in law led in the music and Keith preached. They were very kind and provided us with a translator again for the service. Debbie Gandy graciously invited the team over after church for lunch and a chance to visit.
Above are a few of the pictures of the finished project as well as our sightseeing trip to Mainz and the Gutenburg Bible Museum, the Alps and Neuschwanstein Castle, and the Dachau Concentration Camp memorial. There have been many pictures taken and many stories waiting to be told so please plan on joining us in the near future for a full missions team report at Grace Baptist.
Today saw a lot accomplished. The team is getting close to finishing the painting and construction. We were able to finish the plumbing, finish the wiring for light and sound that we needed to do and get close to finishing the barns that will hold the flat screens. Ariel did an awesome job on painting swans and scenery around the castle and Sarah was busy all day painting clouds on the ceiling and walls. They looked perfect. Abby was busy touching up spots on the stage, helping paint the archway from one room to the next and the doors for the barn. Heather got the barn frames painted as well as the roofs. Mike fixed a sink, worked with Glenn on wiring for lighting and ran the table saw for a while. Jason and Brian finished the plumbing and put most of the building components together. The doors and a few other items should complete the buildings.
Tomorrow is our last scheduled working day. We need to finish painting, install doors on the buildings, finish installing some of the paneling on the buildings and clean up. We are also trying to get a chance to help another of our missionaries (Renae Thompson) who is moving tomorrow. Please pray that we can get all this accomplished.
Today was also filled with many blessings. Abby shared a wonderful devotion to start the morning. Keith shared how exciting it was to see the great teamwork and wonderful spirit of the group. Keith’s son in law bought us lunch today. He and another gentleman mentioned how amazed they were that we would take our personal vacation time and money to travel to Germany and spend a week working to help another church. The fruits of this labor are reaching more than just the children that will get to use the new rooms.
Today saw a lot of progress as we worked on the Children’s area of the church. The castle is now up, the stage is being painted, the walls are done, new lighting and sound systems are going in, and the buildings (soon to look like barns) for the flat screens in the game areas are almost complete.
We listened and took notes as they talked about the focus and intentional atmosphere we were helping to create to match the Bible lessons they will be teaching. Many ideas are spreading among team members about our kids zone.
The girls were able to go with Linda to the mall for a bit and really enjoyed their time. Mike and Jason were able to hang out with a few of the church members this evening as well.
Everyone is doing well and enjoying the teamwork and fellowship.
Pictures below are some of the ladies working on the amazing art work that is going on the walls. Note the detail in the castle that is mounted on the wall in one of the rooms.
After finishing spaghetti made by some of our team we headed over to spend the evening with the Gandy’s. We enjoyed wonderful apple strudel and ice cream and a time of fellowship and asking questions about ministry in Germany. The Gandy’s son in law and daughter joined us for the evening.
Below are some of the pictures of the Residence and Fortress we visited Sunday afternoon. You will also see a picture of Keith trying to explain to us the menu of german food. The rest of the pictures are the beginning work going on this morning.
We had a great morning worshiping with our brothers and sisters in Christ this morning. Mike was able to share with the church about our blessing being in Germany and how our Grace church body blessed us financially to get here. We shared the Lord’s Table this morning and watch as the leadership of the church spent the next hour or so after the services counseling couples and individuals.
The team arrived safely in Germany this morning. The flight was delayed a half hour leaving Atlanta and we had a full plane. 275 people wanting their luggage at the same time can put the schedule behind a bit. Matt and Kathy Harrison picked us up at the airport and brought us to the church where the guest house is. After a wonderful brunch with the Gandy’s, Renae Thompson, the Harrisons and Glenn (who will be leading our construction work) we were off to see the town. Glenn took us out to see Aschaffenburg. It is a beautiful city. We were able to test out one of the ice cream shops in town. We think we may have to try out a few more ice cream stores as well as a soft pretzel or two this week.
We are still running on almost no sleep from when we met at the church Friday morning at 9:00 am. It is hard to fold yourself into a small enough size to fit in the coach seats and still be able to sleep. We have dinner with staff and some church members this evening then a relaxing evening before services in the morning.
Tomorrows plans include worshiping our Lord in the morning and a tour of the Wurzburg Residence in the afternoon.
The Germany mission team finished our final meetings. Mike did a great job giving us a little history on Martin Luther and the Reformation. Next stop for the team is the St. Louis airport then on to Germany. Excitement builds as we wait out the final hours before boarding the plane to head east. A lot of wonderful things are ahead of us as we encourage our missionaries, see their ministry, and enjoy the beautiful country that was the birthplace of the Reformaton. Please pray for the team as we travel.
Tuesday morning we had a good breakfast. Amy Smith always made the best food for us while we’ve been here. Sweet bread, yogurt, cereal, smoothies, among other things. She really spoiled us with western food most of the time and we love her for it. A lot of the native foods here are mysterious and intriguing.
The Smith family has been such a blessing. We’ve gone through several phases of culture shock while we were here and they helped us more than anyone else. Jim came to Japan just several years ago so I think he still remembers what it was like and how he had to adjust and struggle to understand the people. There are so many intricacies to the way of living and thinking here that are completely backwards to us Americans. Many abstract thoughts have a deep impact on the way people live here. Concepts like fate, honor, shame, sin, purity, life, death, no logic of non-contradiction, no directness, work ethic, history, sacredness, relationships, conformity, marriage, family, patience, and perseverance all are lived out and thought of differently in the minds of the Japanese compared to us Westerners. These abstract concepts affect big decisions from where you work and who you marry to everyday details like how you choose words to construct phrases, who you can talk to, how you purchase things, how you clean, and how you eat. The Smiths have helped us greatly in understanding the Japanese way. When I first came I told him that by the time I leave today I expect him to have changed me to think like a Japanese Christian. I want to think like the Japanese so I can minister to the people better. He appreciated our enthusiasm and he was up to the challenge. While I think he has done a good job in helping us adjust, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully think like a Japanese Christian. I think we’ve just touched the surface of the differences between Japanese and Western thinking. The challenge in other cultures is to become all things to all men as to not cause unnecessary cultural offenses yet still deliver the truth of God’s word accurately.
After breakfast we finished packing and left for the airport in Narita. Jim drove the whole way not really knowing where he was going. The GPS helps guide us in the general direction of where we are going and we always end up in the right place no matter how many wrong turns we make. We stopped off for lunch at a hamburg and steak restaurant. We had good food and fellowship and had our last meal in Japan.
Our flight from Japan to San Francisco was interesting to say the least. I couldn’t sleep during the flight even though I was going twenty something hours of no sleep. I stood up to walk around for a bit but I started losing consciousness and went head first into a seat. The flight attendant ended up putting me on an oxygen tank. God provided yet again and kept me healthy through the rest of our flights back. Every little part of this trip has been an adventure. Our full day lasted 38 hours.
During this trip we have been in awe of the ways God has been with us and provided for us. He has opened doors for us in ways that were beyond our imagination. We didn’t expect to go on this trip this year. We didn’t expect to see so much of Japan. We didn’t expect to meet and talk with so many missionaries. We didn’t expect the bond that we made with the people at Wakaba mission. We did not expect the silent persecution of Christians in this country. Through his providential plan we have seen things that were vital for our understanding and lay a foundation for future work with the Japanese people.
Saying goodbye is always difficult. I think it’s probably even more difficult to the missionary when you’ve made an American friend in Japan. Japanese people that speak English fluently here are few. The culture doesn’t hug and most conversations are very surface level. American Christians aren’t close-by and nobody really understands your way of thinking. Life of a missionary seems full of loneliness and sorrow. It’s painful to leave your friends yet we still had to say goodbye for now.
We left Jim Smith at the airport waving and watching until the escalator took him out of sight. However, we left under the pretense that we will seem him again in Japan in two years, Lord willing.
Thanks for reading our blog!
It’s Monday and today is our last full day in Japan. Our big event for today was to visit the language school in Tokyo at which Jim studied two years of Japanese. The school is an hour train ride one way with connections and walking.
So we boarded our train and made our way into Tokyo. We got off at the station in Shinjuku and had to walk. A lot of the walking was air conditioned and underneath the city. We walked for what seemed like 20 minutes underground. We made our way above ground and Jim decided to take us to a book store since we still had a lot of time before our appointment with the language school. The book store was seven stories tall! We took the stairs up to the sixth floor to the language study section. Jim showed us what Japanese curriculum the language school uses and we got to see a lot of Japanese books that we can’t read.
The shock of not being able to read books and signs or understand anything anyone is saying has really taught me that learning Japanese is important. Some people seem to think that English is all you need here since it is taught in secondary schools. It’s obvious that those people haven’t lived among the Japanese for any extended amount of time. English study here is equivalent to Spanish study in the USA. People may know broken Japan-English for a few years during their studies but loose the language since it’s never used here. I’ve also heard from several people that English doesn’t reach the heart of the Japanese people. The flow and structure of thought and logic is just so drastically different between the Japanese and English languages. Japanese think in pictures and symbols, while we English speakers think abstractly. If we come here as career missionaries we need to learn Japanese and teach from Japanese Bibles. I’ve heard it said from missionaries here that the first 30 years of Japanese study are the hardest.
The language school tour went well. One of the staff members took an hour out of his busy day to show us around the school. We got to see classes currently in session and tour the building. The school is expensive but it is challenging. People come from all over the world with many different native languages to go to this school. The classes are taught entirely in Japanese and there is no English used in class. The class sizes are somewhat small. I think this is an environment that would be good for Jenelle and I to learn in. The school teaches up to a Jr. High Japanese proficiency. If you need to learn Japanese at deeper levels than that you need to go to a Japanese University. Most of the BBFI missionaries don’t go beyond a Jr. High level of the language in formal study.
After the language school tour we took the train back home and had our last dinner with Jim and Amy Smith. We’ve really grown attached to them during our trip here. Amy cooked a very good Japanese meal and we appreciated the fellowship with their family. Later in the evening we had good discussion about the possibility of us coming back to Japan to study Japanese and intern at Wakaba Church under Jim’s leadership. Please pray for us regarding this opportunity.
Tomorrow we come back to the USA!