The other night a few friends and I had a rare ladies’ might out.  After a great Italian dinner, we had to choose between the two family restaurants open in Ishinomaki after 9 pm – Coco’s won!!

We were sitting around drinking coffee  and shared about different statistics that we have heard recently about Ishinomaki, the city where God has called our families to live.  It is SO depressing!  Here are a few:

**Miyagi prefecture rated 46th out of 47th in educational school testing.  But Sendai (the largest city in Miyagi prefecture) rated above average.  Ishinomaki, the second largest city in this prefecture, rated below average — thus the main cause for the very low rating.  And according to the results, the other side of Ishinomaki had higher scores, and they are quick to throw the blame at Watanoha, the very area where we are living.  The test scores are among the lowest in the nation on “our” side of Ishinomaki.

**Ishinomaki has the highest number of students not attending school – anywhere from elementary/junior high/high school students who should be attending school but are not going.  Maybe drop-outs or just non-attenders.  This was true even before the tsunami, but even moreso since the tsunami (I think I heard 2000 non-attenders before the tsunami;  3000 now after).

**We all commented that there seems to be an extremely high rate of divorce as well as single parents (who may have never been married).  One of our friends here in his forties recently attended his local high school reunion. Forty out of forty-three original members were in attendance.  Thirty-eighth out of the forty were all divorced, at least once.  In his high school class – that’s a 95% divorce rate! That is crazy!! But seems to be about the norm.

Depressing!!  My three friends and I sort of  laughed together a bit nervously…. Why would we move our families into all of this?

I recently came across some notes I wrote two years ago as we were preparing to move up that I called, “My theology for moving to Ishinomaki.”  Here are a few paragraphs:

When we moved to Sanda (Hyogo prefecture) , I read a book called, Invading Secular Space. There were two main ideas that stayed with me.  One was that if we want to have a good chance at seeing God invade a city, it would be best to team up with others who want to see the same thing happen…. The second thing that the book talks about is the need to be involved in the “social Gospel” as well… That it is not just proclamation, but finding and meeting the needs of those in our midst.  And it has puzzled me a lot about where we live[d] – it is so hard to find these kinds of needs.  We have been thankful for how God has used different needs among those in our community in which we could share of God’s power and love — a broken engagement; a heart attack; various illnesses; hurting marriages- these have all given us opportunities to allow Jesus to shine forth. But I think both of our hearts have hungered to be able to present the Gospel in a more holistic way — meeting physical needs as well spiritual and emotional.  

Last December (2010) I read a devotional (its packed away in our christmas things!) that included meditations from Thomas Merton and Brennan Manning.  They talked about the shepherds, living in the country side;  those who didn’t necessarily fit into mainstream society.  It was to these lower-class guys on the fringe to whom the Gospel came;  this is where the Gospel caught on.  What caught my attention and my heart was that the Gospel often “catches on” best when it is delivered to those on the fringes.  As I read that, and again in January, I journaled about what this might look like for us in the midst of our ministry in Sanda… how do we find those on the edges?

A month or so later, I was preparing for the class I was to teach on Evangelism.  I read a book on the history of Christianity in Japan (Furuya), who theorizes that for Christianity to really spread beyond the one percent in Japan, that two things have to happen:  1) families, not just individuals, need to be saved and be influential in spreading the Gospel;  and 2) we need to take the Gospel to the masses/commoners, not just the intellectuals.  His book looks at the history- and how much of the emphasis of missionary work has been to intellectuals.  But the Gospel spreads best when it is brought to the commoners/masses.  (Agnes Liu – moved to Hong Kong among factory workers to spread the Gospel).  I began to ask God who the outskirts/masses people are for us… I remember stopping the car at a side street and just crying out to God, asking him some important questions:  What would it take more us to do more ministry in the margins?  Would our family be able to move into a lower class neighborhood if God called us?  How would we ever get such a call?  It felt really important…

During a day of vision in early March (2011), reflecting on these things, as well as what if perhaps God could be calling our family to move since no home had opened up, no church movement or change had happened, no special vision emerging.

3/11 – the tsunami happening.  I remember most vividly at the retreat two days later as we were taking communion that I could not stop the sobs that wretched through my body.  I physically hurt for the Japanese people God has placed on our hearts.  I could only sob on their behalf for mercy at this incomprehensible disaster.  I didn’t know what these sobs meant but it felt very deep and very real. … 


So God in His sweet sovereignty had prepared my heart with longings for precisely this type of ministry…  and has placed us in a city where we can love on the fishermen and their families;  single/working moms who now come and make jewelry for a living;  kids from broken homes who aren’t really making it in school.  And we really believe that God has a great plan to transform this city!  Jesus’ own model was to “move into the neighborhood” (John 14:10).  We pray for His transformation to come as we are authentic witnesses of His grace.   And I am so thankful that He has called a team of families and singles to work together, spread out in different schools, kindergartens, communities, groups.  And most importantly that true transformation is up to Him and His power and the movement of His spirit.  It is a joy to be a recipient, participant, and messenger of His grace to a place in such dire need of hope and change.  I can’t wait to see the statistics in ten years….


6 thoughts on “Statistics

  1. Dear Sue,

    I have wondered from time to time if I should tell you about the project that I am involved in. I am one of the writers and the project is called “The Joy Starts Here.” Dr. Jim Wilder is a Fuller trained psychologist who has spent years looking for God’s cure for the scourge of evil in the world. He may have been there when you were. I will forward an email I got where he wrote out his dream so Dr. Dallas Willard could share the dream with others. Dr. Willard is part of Shepherd’s House, the ministry Jim is with.

    They are finally into the stage of bringing this to the world. They field tested the approach in SE Asia and …oh shoot, I can’t remember the other country but I can tell you that it works. The first book is out titled The Joy Starts Here…the transformation zone. It is based on cutting edge brain science and the gospel and it is self-propagating. Well, I will just forward the email about the dream because Jim can say it better than I.

    It sounds to me like this is the resource you need for doing what you want to do. The main ingredient is joy. The approach is to minister to whole families and communities. They are in the process of redoing their website. The main website is so information dense that it overwhelms the mind. Thankfully they created one just for the joy project so that is what I have here.

    Blessings, Carol Brown

  2. Dear Sue,

    I went to forward the email I told you about and found that I do not have your personal email, just the “comment” email. Not sure if that will work or not and I can’t figure a way to attach it. You gave me your email once before but I fear my computer eats things periodically. : (

    I would love to release joy in Ishinomaki and have it spread like wild fire!

    Blessings, Carol Brown

  3. Amen!!  I pray similar breakthroughs and outpouring of God’s power to transform lives at Callaghan Towers (and me, personally) here in Oak Ridge, TN!  Pray that God will have me connect and partner with people of like vision.Let us hold on to the vision the Lord has given us.    Praying for your family–   Winnie

  4. Sue,

    Thank you for your timely message!

    Today I interview at one of the poorest schools in one of the most economically disadvantaged communities in the Chicago suburbs,

    Your stories reminded me of my, can I say our, calling!


    On Sun, Nov 10, 2013 at 9:13 AM, The Takameter

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