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….