Our Journey

We are Wayne and Amy Newsome, Mission to the World church planting missionaries in Nagoya, Japan. That's been our 'title' for 20 years or so...so this is not a new journey for us. But it never grows old, because God continues to surprise us with unexpected turns, beautiful vistas, interesting layovers and various happenings that keep us on the path, moving forward. Our purpose is to see His glory revealed through the church in Japan and beyond. We hope this blog is a place to ponder, report, muse and express our wonder in the Gospel in our own hearts and in the hearts of the Japanese.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Have you recovered?

Today marks the 3rd anniversary since the horrible, devastating earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.  Over the last few days my heart has felt heavy, as a flurry of news reports, articles and programs have been airing to mark this day.  The men, women and children of the Tohoku region have been portrayed as they really are:  people still struggling with loss, brokenness, hardship and pain, even now, three years out.

Last night on the news, in fact, they gave the results of a survey taken in the disaster area.  They asked residents, "Have you recovered?"  I felt quite sad at the breakdown of the responses:

1% said they felt they had recovered.
22% said they had recovered a little.
56% said they hadn't recovered very much.
21% said they hadn't recovered at all.

  1. 1.
    a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.
    "signs of recovery in the housing market"
    synonyms:recuperationconvalescence, return to health, process of getting better, rehabilitation, healingrallying More
  2. 2.
    the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.
    "a team of salvage experts to ensure the recovery of family possessions"
    synonyms:retrieval, regaining, repossession, getting back, recapture, reclamation,recouping, retaking, redemptionMore

I wonder if 'recovery' is the right word.  Perhaps recovery isn't the goal after all.  'Recovery' suggests going back to the way things once were.  For most people in Tohoku, that is impossible--things will never be the same, and much of what was lost were intangibles beyond the obvious loss of life and property, and cannot be regained.  

So it would be easy to then err on the side of pushing people to move on from the past, to look ahead to the future, and begin to build their lives, looking forward.  That is simplistic, though, as I was reminded in a particularly poignant piece I saw on T.V. 

 This is a story of a high school class in Otsuchi Town, one of the very hard hit areas of the disaster, where though the high school was on high ground and all the students were safe, many homes and businesses were not. Almost every student in the school experienced loss.  The junior class was asked to participate in the rebuilding of their town--to submit ideas to the city planners who were working on their plans for the future of Otsuchi.  

Most of the students had ideas for how to make their town better--to encourage the elderly and give them purpose; to make it a happy town, where they celebrate together; to make it a tourist destination, where outsiders can also grow to love Otsuchi.  Each of the students featured had a story--a personal connection with the disaster and were being governed in their ideas by that connection.  

One girl, though, found she couldn't move forward, she couldn't look ahead.  The thought of a new Otsuchi was too painful for her.  The plan to raise the level of the city--adding a meter of earth over the surface of the ground to raise it above sea level--felt almost like a personal affront to her.  She felt that covering up what used to be would take away so many of her memories, her childhood.  She could never stand on a spot and say, 'This is where Grandmother and I walked; this is where I stopped in to visit Grandmother on my way home from school.' The loss of her Grandmother in the disaster was too fresh; to think of losing her town as well was too much.  

She said at first, when the assignment came, all she could think was, "I just want everything to go back to the way it used to be."  
I'm sure that was more than just a statement, but a cry of the heart, one that is shared by thousands of Japanese who are still in pain, still struggling in the brokenness and loss.  It's a cry that is shared by much of humanity, when we are betrayed, hurt or wounded by both circumstances and the people in our lives.  

So how do we move forward?  How can the people of Tohoku move ahead?  How can I move forward when I am wounded, tired or weak?  

My hope lies in what God has promised.  He will complete all he has set out to do:  

"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."  Isaiah 55:10-11

This is so hopeful to me.  Where I am now is not the end--God is continuing to unfold his plans in me.  Where the people of Tohoku are right now is not the end.  God's plans for each of those people, families and towns has not been accomplished.  It is still unfolding, and he promises to complete what he has begun.  This is HOPE!  This is better than recovery!

I am so thankful for my friends who live and work in the Tohoku region, being the fragrance of Christ there.  It can't be easy--to be good listeners, to walk with people in their pains, to know when to speak and when to stay silent, to wonder if their presence there is making a difference.  Would you pray with me for them--that God would strengthen them to love well, to be renewed to press on as we begin the fourth year since 3-11-2011?  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

She looks out from her window

In our 20+ years in our home in the suburbs of Nagoya, one constant in our life has been Mrs. O.  Well, maybe constant isn't the right word.  But one blessing and treasured relationship has been this dear friend who lives across the street.  She has loved our family well over these many years.  She was one of the first visitors in the hospital when each of the kids were born.  She has celebrated their birthdays with gifts of food, money and shopping trips.  She has patiently returned balls that have flown over her fence; endured little (okay, big) bumps to her car from our basketball.  She really showed the kids the love of a surrogate grandparent or favorite aunt over the years.

As for me, I have learned so much about Japan, housewives, Japanese marriage and family, cooking, neighbor etiquette,  and life from this woman.  Every year she orders the first harvest of rice from the region of Japan known as the best rice producer in Japan (the world??).  She always would bring a big bowl of this rice over--steaming hot, and sit and watch me eat it.  In the early years, I kind of thought it was silly...I mean, rice is rice, right?  But oh no, as time passed, I began to understand the difference--that first, fresh harvest of Koshihikari from Niigata is truly one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted.

When our kids were young and attended kindergarten, some years Mrs. O would get up early on the morning of their sports day, and begin preparing our picnic lunch.  Only other mothers of kids in Japan understand the pressure surrounding the sports day lunch.  I guess it's an opportunity to show off your culinary talents to all the other mothers--I've been known to go to the grocery store and buy prepared foods in lunch boxes, bring it home, take it out and put it into my own boxes to look homemade.  :-)  (Yes, I am a victim of this ridiculous competitive pressure in Japan.  My only defense is that I sometimes get so weary of being the foreigner who stands out, I just want to blend in anyway I can--a nice, traditional sports day lunch is one small way to do this.)  But those times when Mrs. O made our lunch, it not only looked great, but tasted delicious and spared me the 5:00 a.m. start to an exhausting day of cheering for hours out in the hot sun.

We have spent countless hours talking with Mrs. O about spiritual things too.  She had a hard childhood.  Her father was a journalist in the pre-WWII years, and they lived in Taiwan--probably living a very nice life.  After the war, when Japan was defeated and disgraced, her family was sent back home on a ship, and were forced to live on the ship for sometime after arrival.  Her parents became ill due to the unsanitary conditions of the ship and post-war Japan, and died of TB (I think).  She then scrapped and survived, with her younger brother's education and success as her driving motivation.  She became a nurse, and one of her greatest sources of pride was that she was able to help send her brother to the top school in Japan, Tokyo University.  That pride and other topics were part of what we spent many hours discussing.  As a young woman, she was actually baptized in the Catholic Church, though by the time we knew her, she no longer was involved at all.  We could see in her a great desire for the freedom of being united with Christ, and yet an inability to let go of her own efforts and righteousness to receive his mercy and grace.  In many ways, she is typical of many in her generation...but that is a topic for another time.

While we were on our home assignment five years ago, we learned that Mrs. O had suffered a stroke.  This news was shocking to us--she had always been so strong, so capable, had nursed her husband during times of grave illness...how could it be!  Yet, from what we could understand, she was actually recovering well, and would hopefully be back to normal soon.

Upon our return to Japan, one of our first priorities was to see Mrs. O.  At first, we were thrilled to see that she did seem to have recovered!  She was walking normally and seemed like herself.  But very quickly we realized she wasn't the same.  Her husband explained that the stroke had damaged not the part of her brain that controls the physical functions, but the center of the brain, where personality and emotions are housed.  She was physically functioning but she literally didn't seem like the same person.  In some ways, she is softer and sweeter now.  But the Mrs. O we know--sharp, talkative, inquisitive, opinionated--is gone.  The post-stroke Mrs. O doesn't interact with us much anymore.  She often watches us from her second floor window--I see her sitting in the window gazing down as we come and go.  Sometimes I look up and wave at her; that seems to be okay on some days, and other days it's too much, and she draws back without returning the wave.

These last few years have been lonelier in our neighborhood.  Mrs. O was close to others too--she and Mrs. S spent hours everyday chatting over the fence that separates their yards.  Mrs. S misses her too.  Mr. O has become the caretaker of his wife and while it's made him a better man, I know it's been a hard road for him to walk.

I often remember when I see Mrs. O (or don't see her and miss her), that this is another reminder of the brokenness we experience in our lives that was never supposed to be.  This frailty of body, the fragility of life, the loss of relationship and resulting loneliness...none of that was part of God's original creation, and is all the continuing result of sin and the fall.  The reality of that just sometimes overwhelms me with sadness and grief.  It's especially painful when I realize that 99% of the people around me in Japan haven't yet experienced the newness of life in Christ, and the beginning of being remade and prepared for the future glory where there will be no more tears and sadness.

When I see Mrs. O standing at her window, I am moved to long for heaven.  But not to pray, "Lord, come quickly."  My prayer is, "Lord send your Spirit to Japan in a new, fresh and powerful way--quicken the hearts of millions of Japanese to receive your offer of grace and salvation and new life and eternity in glory with you."   Only after that great movement in Japan, can those of us who love the Mrs. Os in our lives pray, "Lord Jesus, please come."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Out with the Old, in with the New?

Some of the most beautiful sites in Japan are the oldest...old buildings, pieces of art, furniture...I really love old Japan.  But not all that's old is worth keeping!  The Bible surely talks about this--in fact when we come to Christ, he takes our 'old' heart of stone, and gives us a 'new' heart of flesh.  

Over the last few months, I have been teaching biblical child rearing to mothers of our Kid's Brown English students.  This is new for them!  And like all of us, there are old habits and practices that are not worth keeping.  But it's hard to let go of the familiar and comfortable.  These sessions have confirmed something for me though.  The only hope for any of us is in biblical principals.  Not American ideas, or Japanese ideas...we need God's ideas for how to love and raise our kids.  I've also realized how hard it is for me to separate my own American ideas...the old habits that I have that aren't worth keeping...from biblical principals.  So it's been a mutual learning experience.  

Next week we will wrap up the series with talking about 'discipline'.  My older kids remind me regularly that I was a much more strict disciplinarian when they were small than when their younger siblings were.  And it's true...but why?  Because I got tired and lazy and let the smaller ones off the hook easier?  Because I realized I was too harsh, and wanted to be more balanced?  Because I was too busy to notice the younger ones needed discipline?  I think it could be a combination of all those things.  

I know I've also grown in grace.  When Katelyn and Sam were young, I was really interested in their obedience--outward compliance, without much thought to their hearts.  With the younger kids, I was more aware that outward obedience without a change of heart was legalism--Pharisaical.  I don't want to raise kids who look good outside, but are rebels inside.  More than anything, I want their hearts to be soft toward God, and for this to be the wellspring of all their behavior.  

That's my desire for my own kids...it's no small thing to accomplish, much less to then teach and impart to others!  We need God's spirit.  We all need heart change that only he can give.  So I'll prepare the lesson about discipline.  But at the same time, will be praying for God to work in the hearts of all of us moms and our kids too.  Would you join me in praying for this miracle of grace?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Child Rearing for Japan

We have an amazing number of young families coming through the doors of our church every week.  Between Mom and Kids Club, Kids Club, and Kids Brown English, I estimate that we welcome over 100 people every week.  It's very lively.  Very noisy!  But a whole lot of fun.  I personally get many hugs, kisses, and "Amy-san, daisuki da yo!" (Miss Amy, I love you!) every week.  What a privilege!

More than having fun together, though, we really want to offer these families more...we want them to experience all the blessings in knowing Christ.  We teach the Bible, sing songs, and hopefully show God's love to them, but still, there is a long way to go before people understand the Gospel.  How can we get there?

It can be a long process in Japan, but just today, the leaders of the Kid's Brown decided to take some tangible steps.  Over the next six months, we will do a series on Biblical Parenting.  I (amy) will teach three times over five months, and then in June we'll have a seminar with a well-known speaker on this topic.  Our hope is to not only teach practical parenting skills, but to show how a knowledge and relationship with God is the source of good parenting.  

I know that many young moms in Japan today have a great desire to learn how to parent well.  They are confused by the many schools of thought out there.  Side by side on the shelves in bookstores everywhere, are books with completely opposite philosophies on how to raise kids.  So I am often asked questions by these moms...and to be honest, I am sometimes surprised at how basic their questions are.  I know this confusion is in part driven by a strong desire to do it right--to really do a good job with their kids.

For me, I think I would also be unsure if Wayne and I weren't trying to base our parenting on God's Word.  There may be many schools of thought, and those change as the times change, but God's Word never changes, and it's a solid foundation of truth on which to base our lives.  That's our only hope in raising our kids.  And that is also where we receive the grace and mercy needed when we blow it, which happens quite regularly.

So I am excited about this opportunity.  I've taught child rearing many times in Japan, but this time it's being initiated by women in the church who want to share the Gospel with all of these young families God has brought our way.  That's exciting!  And I believe we will see God work, for the glory of his name!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Anniversary Musings

We have some new teammates who arrived last month.  As always, with a new family, we see afresh the strange, hard and different things about living in Japanese culture.  They bump up against things that are just a normal part of life to us…but when we see them struggling, it’s not too hard to think back to when we bumped up against such things too.  In fact, since our 22nd anniversary of life in Japan is approaching, it’s made me think way back to how things were back then.  And I have to say, things have come a LONG way since 1990!  Notable things I remember:
·         We had a home computer, but it was a monster of a thing, and I think we had to know DOS to use it.  Haha!!  Did we know DOS?  NO!  Thus, computer use was a synonym for FRUSTRATION!
·         To stay in touch with our family, supporters, and friends, we HAND WROTE letters.  Yes…individually to each one.   During language school, we did that every month or two—hand written letters to over 100 people! 
·         Phoning was expensive; we called our parents once a week for 10 minutes…that’s all the verbal communication we had.  There was no skype, face time, blog, video conferencing, or any other cheap/free calling+video thing back then.  Of course we could take our film to the photo developing store, wait a week, and then pick up our pictures, choose a few good ones and send them.  In a hand-addressed envelope.  Usually with a HAND WRITTEN letter. 
·         In Japan, the mailman doesn’t pick up outgoing mail from your mailbox.  So the whole HAND WRITTEN letter process would culminate in a trip to the post office.  I still wish they would pick up—but since the mailmen ride mopeds, I can see how they just don’t have room to carry a bunch of out-going mail! 
·         We lived in a summer cabin in the Japanese Alps.  We arrived there on January 1st, and I had never in my life been so cold!  You could see the ground through the boards of the floor…every morning when we woke up there was iced formed in the bottom of the sink.  Brrrrr…just thinking of it gives me a chill.
·         Until our shipment arrived, and with it our American stacked washer and dryer, I used the Japanese washer in our summer cabin.  It was OLD.  It had a double drum.  You washed the clothes and rinsed them in one drum, then pulled them out, soaking wet, and crammed them down in the other drum to spin.  When the spin cycle ran, the whole machine vibrated so much, it would move across the floor half a foot or so! 
·         Oh, and drying our clothes?  Well, we had a nice supply of clothespins and hangers in our cabin.  There was another cabin next door that had a dryer, and we were free to use it.  So I would load up my wet laundry, put on my snow boots, coat, hat and gloves, and wade through the snow to the other house to use the dryer.  Sometimes when I’d go back to get the laundry, the pilot light would have gone out, and the clothes would still be wet.  Laundry was one of the most stressful activities of those early days.
·         Food was another issue.  I didn't know how to prepare any Japanese food.  And of course there was no allrecipes.com to refer to.  So every trip to the grocery store was a learning experience.  I spent many hours pouring over the catalog of the Foreign Buyers Club, a business that imports international foods.  And we spent many dollars ordering those must-have items like cream of chicken soup, Cheerios, baby cereal, chocolate chips, etc, etc, etc.  These days many foods are readily available, and we don’t even need them anymore; everyone in our family prefers Japanese food.
Well, this trip down memory lane could go on and on…I could mention the medical system, driving, car ownership, house hunting, and endless other experiences that are either hard or different.   Wow!  It’s no wonder our friends are finding each day an interesting experience (read:  challenge!). 
The good news for them is that you do eventually adjust to all of these differences.  And while you might continue to PREFER the American way, you can enter into the Japanese way.  On the other hand, you might wake up one day and realize you have come to truly appreciate and even prefer the Japanese way of doing things. 
I think one of the keys to adjusting is to view it all as an adventure.  Because you rarely run across anything that truly is a matter of life and death—it’s all mostly about preferences and what we are used to. 
As for me, when I remember back to the way it used to be, my first reaction is, “Wow!  That is a lot of change in the life of someone as young as me!”  And my next thought is, “Oh…maybe I am not as young as I think!”  Happy 22-year anniversary to us!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


We are approaching our 21st anniversary of arriving in Japan, and our quest to master the Japanese language is ongoing. This year we've added words to our vocabulary we never expected to need: nuclear reactor, meltdown, radiation, cesium, miliseverts, mudout, hard labor, supplies, supply runs, etc.

Another word we've heard a lot about since 3-11 is 'kizuna', which means bonds, relationship, connection.

In fact, 'kizuna' was recently selected as the word of the year in Japan. This year Japanese have become aware of the importance of 'kizuna' in a new way. For many, they've lost family members, friends, co-workers, and they deeply miss and grieve for the loved ones who are gone. Many, many have been displaced from their homes--the loss of community has left them feeling lost and disconnected, leading to depression, loneliness and isolation. Others, whose family was spared, have realized how precious those bond are, and they treasure their loved ones more than ever.

I've been thinking about the 'kizuna' or bonds that we have in Christ. It goes beyond that of location, or common experience, or even family. It's a bond that has been purchased with the life, death and resurrection of Christ. It ties us together as believers around the world, and even more, it ties us into the very family of God--with Jesus, our elder brother. Most amazing, it's a bond that is eternal. Nothing--no natural disaster or any other tragedy we can imagine--can break the bond we have as brothers and sisters in Christ...or the promise of eternity together in perfect, complete 'kizuna' with God himself.

I'm thankful for the 'kizuna' we enjoy now as a family, as a body of believers, and as fellow sojourners in this life. but it's just a small foretaste of all that is to come. This Christmas I rejoice in the "kizuna' God has made possible in Christ!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The continuing story

It's been three weeks since our team of 17 went to Ishinomaki, Miyagi and spent a week with the relief work...I wanted to write about our trip right away, but it's taken me this long to sit down and do it. There are several reasons for that--busy life demands, virus-infested computer, etc--but the biggest reason has more to do with the work than the excuses. The time I have spent with relief work over the last few months have been some of the most intense experiences I've ever had. It's not easy to put those things into words, especially when I can't even get my mind/heart around them internally. So I still am feeling those procrastinating-urges...but here is my attempt to communicate.

Our team's buzz word was 'flexibility'. We knew as we prepared that we may not be able to use any of our preparations. What did we prepare, you ask? We were expecting to be in the elementary schools of Onagawa Town...perhaps seeing 400 students over the course of the week, doing an 'immersion' English experience for them. So we planned for that: skit, games, crafts, English lessons, sports, and music. It was fun! We met around 4 times pre-trip, and put together a lot of good material--every team member contributed. We got the church involved with the craft prep--we even had the church kids help make banners for the Onagawa school kids. So we worked really hard on preparation. I kept reminding everyone that we might not get to use all of this--the plan hadn't been set, and wouldn't be until the last minute, so we needed to hold our plans and expectations loosely, trusting that God would open the right doors for our time there.

Good advice, and everyone took it, everyone except me, that is! On the trip up, I got a phone call saying that we wouldn't be meeting 400 students...but around 55; we wouldn't be in the schools everyday...but only once, for 45 minutes; we wouldn't be creating the English immersion environment with our ideas...but the school had planned the time for us and we would just implement it. WHAT?!!?!! But...but...but...

After I got over my disappointment, it was a great reminder of a basic lesson in missions: there is a great arrogance in going into a new place (whether it's a new culture, church town, or whatever) with an agenda of all we have to offer. God calls us to be servants...and a servant responds to the requests and demands of the one he serves. What a wonderful opportunity for me to repent and renew my commitment to be a servant of Christ in the Tohoku region.

The time in the school, by the way, was bathed in the grace and goodness of God--so many people were praying for us, and it was so apparent in how the event unfolded. We partnered with a team of wonderful ladies from the Midwest, and the 22 of us spent a wonderful time with the 3rd graders of Onagawa. These kids almost all live in evacuation centers, and are in an incredibly stressful environment--can you imagine waking up everyday and being surrounded by the complete devastation/rubble of your entire town? That is their reality--here are some scenes of their town:

Heartbreaking. But those kids we met showed the resilience and heart of little warriors. On the surface they looked normal--like kids you meet any day in anyplace, Japan. Just below the surface, though, you could sense a whole lot more. But they entered into the time with us with joy and enthusiasm--it was really a special hour.

Other than these few, I still haven't gotten the pictures from this event--we designated photographers--so I hope to do another post on this event alone. It was the last day of our trip, and a fitting end--we saw God work and do beyond what we imagined he could do through this time.

Back to the rest of the trip. Our mission is narrowing our focus to the city of Ishinomaki, and specifically, to the Watanoha and Koganehama area. Here is a map of the region:

We spent Saturday with our MTW partners from Tokyo doing a feeding and open market. Every week they have been setting up at an empty lot or nearby community center in Koganehama to serve this community. Many people in the area are in a category that falls between the cracks of the system. Their homes are still standing--some people are actually living on the 2nd floor--and because of that, they are not receiving the same kind of aid that others are. And yet, the vast majority of them have lost their jobs, their homes are ruined, and they too look ahead to the future with much uncertainty and fear. And so they need supplies, food and aid of all kinds. It was a privilege to meet these residents and hear their stories. They are sad stories. These are people who don't know what the future holds. I was struck with the pain of having everything stripped away--all your material possessions, your work, your livelihood, your loved ones--and being left with nothing. I've never had that experience--99% of the people I know never have either. And yet along with the pain I can't help but believe there is a privilege in this condition--to be left with nothing forces you to ask what is really important, what really matters. In the midst of the ugliness of utter brokenness, when the beauty of Christ is revealed, there is nothing left to distract, nothing to interfere with being able to gaze upon his beauty. We pray this is so for the people of Tohoku, of Miyagi Prefecture, of Ishinomaki City,and of Watanoha and Koganehama. Here are some scenes from that day:

We fed around 300 people that day--the menu was yakisoba,which is a grilled meat, vegetable and noodle dish. Once we got the hang of it--particularly the spices--people seemed to enjoy it. (Not that I would know--I spent the entire day with my head down, cutting vegetables and grilling!) These same people also waited patiently in line for the open market, where our team set up a system of receiving supplies--fresh vegetables, clothes, other items. Some of the people had been lined up when we arrived at 9:00 a.m.--for a 12:00 event. That may not seem like a big deal, but it really caught me by surprise. Japanese culture is fast paced, busy, hectic...I couldn't have imagined people waiting 3 hours for simple food and 'shopping'--another reminder that everything has changed--everything--for these precious people.

There is a lot left to tell. The most encouraging time of the trip was the work we did with Samaritan's Purse. I think I'll save that story for another day. I'll close with some pictures of our team, our campsite, and our fellowship. This group was AWESOME. I never once heard anyone complain about anything--and there was plenty of fodder for complaints! (pit toilets, hard ground for sleeping, uncertain plans, hard labor, hot temperatures, and other little frustrations along the way) Every member of the team worked hard, shared their gifts, and contributed to the fellowship and unity in Christ we experienced. I love my team! It was a privilege to go through this experience in Tohoku with them--a small taste of the beauty of the body of Christ as it works together to serve God.

Well, I guess that is all for now...ahhhh...so much unsaid. Oh well, to God be the glory--great things HE has done and is doing!