International Ministries

Christmas Greetings

December 25, 2011 Journal
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Dear Friends,
A hearty Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.  Let’s do as the slogan on a uniform T-shirt of a major coffee company advertized with bright letters “Let’s Merry”

This Season  I had the opportunity to give a message to three groups of people.  I studied the story of the wise men and shared it from different angles with the three groups.  The first group was made up of about 50 women who are mothers of elementary students.  I started out with the example of my fear of driving in Japan until I got a navigational system for my car, called a “Navi.”…and told of a few experiences with “her.”  This led to my question of what “Navi” the wise men used.  I ended by asking them what their “Navi” is in life.  The second group was a group of five year olds.  Since they had no idea what a desert was…that was the first challenge.  I had them experience what it might be like to follow a star.  So we turned out the lights while a teacher shot a beam at the ceiling that I slowly followed as it moved across the stage.  As it disappeared, I told them to imagine that it is morning and time to sleep, because we can’t see stars during the day, can we?  The star, although very interesting to us was not the important part in the story.  It was what the star led the wise men to, the baby Jesus.  The third group was the totally worn-out elementary school teachers at the Kanto Gakuin elementary school near-by.  They’ve heard the story of the wise men so many times, I remarked, but how many of them left the baby in the manger until next year.  Jesus got out of the manger, grew up, had a ministry, died and was raised from the grave, and now is here with us…yet we act as if he has nothing to do with our daily problems and our disappointments.  Later, the Vice principal told me that the message had cut him to the core!

Christmas Joy  I was elated when I saw that Christmas-day would be on a Sunday.  Since the 25th is not a holiday in Japan, it is very difficult to celebrate in a “Let’s Merry” way when everyone is at work and there’s no one to invite to spend part of the day with.  But on Sunday, those who normally work, or whose spouse allows them without complaint to attend Sunday services, can have a great time of celebration together.  I thought it was just me who felt that way until I talked to a Korean member of my church today.  She said that seven years ago when she moved to Japan as a student and found out that Christmas day was not a holiday, she cried for two days, and again on Christmas day, when everyone just went to work or studied as usual.  Yes, I remember those days too when I first came to Japan, and up to the era of email and skype, I used to weep every Christmas when I listened to the personalized greetings that International Ministries sent to each missionary via cassette tape.  

We enjoyed the children’s story, a sermon on the wise men (!), a choir of people from Myanmar and a shared potluck.

When I reached home I took my pet parakeet to the sitter’s house because I’m leaving for a few days.  This is the younger brother of a good friend of mine.  To my great surprise, he suddenly began opening his heart.  We talked for about an hour about how to have hope and joy in life as we live in an uncertain would.  I thought that this was a fitting end for the day.

Nobuko Inazuma Enters Her Heavenly Home  But then I got the sad, yet happy news that my beloved friend Mrs. Nobuko Inazuma had just passed away.  She was the first and founding member of the Shichigahama Preaching Place.  I don’t know if she picked Christmas day to make her entry into heaven to meet her Lord on the day when we celebrate his birth here on earth or not, but this was the image that her daughters have with mixed emotions.  It has been a long struggle of nursing her, and then they lost the family home in the tsunami.  Please pray for her daughters and son.

With much love and joy,
Roberta (Stephens)