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2013 Sack Newsletter

 October 29, 2013

Dear Sponsoring Congregations:

We are only days away from All Saints Day and of course we just celebrated Reformation Sunday. We give thanks to God for sending us Martin Luther and inspiring him to work for the Gospel with all his heart and soul. His influence is still very much with us today. Even in Japan Reformation Sunday presents us with an opportunity to see our true condition as sinners and yet we have the promise of eternal life through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

Below please read the experience that Carol recently had. We have attached a picture of Mr. Furuya ( in the wheel chair ) as well.

May each of you be able to rejoice in this season of both fall and reformation. We always give thanks for your partnership.

In Christ, Jim and Carol Sack

A homeless man made his abode in a small truck equipped
in the back with charcoal-stone grill that roasts the savory Japanese sweet potatoes. One sees such trucks at park entrances and other places, and the aroma of these potatoes is like an invisible ribbon that draws passersby, inviting them to purchase a steaming potato wrapped in paper bag. This is one of the rare foods that are not considered impolite to eat while walking. At night you can hear the identifiable sing-song speaker of the truck, announcing: “Potato~~ stone-roasted sweet potato!” This is one of the nostalgic sound imprints for anyone who has lived in Japan for a while.

Just such a potato man happened to come in contact with a young man, well-dressed but for some reason at that time penniless and famished. The potato man, in a reversal of customary fortune, offered the hungry young man a potato, free of charge. The young man gratefully received the potato but could not part without giving something to the potato man in return; thus he offered the potato man a book.

The potato man was a kind of wise soul, actually well read. He took this book and began reading it. He realized it was “a strange book.” Perhaps his natural curiosity led him to continue reading it by the roadside.

An older woman came by, strolling with a friend. The woman saw the potato man reading this book and said, bluntly, “If you are reading this book, you should be going to church.” The book was the Bible, and the potato man took up her invitation and began attending the woman’s church.

From this point there is a gap in my knowledge of the story. I met the potato man last January. His name is Furuya san. After his introduction to the church, he eventually, not without struggle, received Baptism and became a church member. I met him many years after this, six months before his death at the age of 63.

The woman who invited him to church was the mother of one of my pastoral harp students. The mother passed away four years ago, and now Furuya san was dying with her identical form of cancer. My student called in a panic, as Furuya san, angry at his pastor, depressed, feeling abandoned, and estranged many years from his former wife and daughter, was now leaning upon her for all the support he needed at this end of his very complicated life. My student was scared by his level of need, and yet knew that to run away would be a betrayal of her mother’s good will and of her own deepest Self, informed by God’s Holy Spirit.

Our entire class gradually came to know Furuya san, having several opportunities to share pastoral harp with him and with others in his hospice ward, at his request. It was expected that he would live one month or so, but we had the privilege of knowing him for six. In that time, the ideas we were reading about Spiritual Care for the dying came to us in a living form. We saw a man transformed. We saw a complaining man become a man full of gratitude. We saw a man angry at his pastor become a sheep returned. We saw a man afraid of death become a man ready and waiting~~ except for one matter.

In the very last week of life, Furuya san became desperate to re-connect with his daughter whom he had not seen in 40 years. Finally he accepted the terrifying the risk of rejection and wrote a letter, delivered to her unknown destination by a knowing relative~~ saying~~ I love you! I have always loved you! May God’s love be with you!

By the time the daughter received the letter she rushed to her father’s bedside , in time to see her father face-to-face, just a few hours after he made his transition to the Lord’s Presence. The daughter washed her love upon her father’s urn, embracing it in the funeral. My student commented, “At last Furuya san was held in his daughter’s loving arms.” He bequeathed his Bible and spiritual journal to this daughter.

We offered pastoral music to him, he offered us a “living textbook” in which the theoretical words were made manifest in Furuya san’s life and death.

Again we can say, “The dying are our teachers.”

Praise be to God.


April 18, 2013

Dear Partners in Christ:

In our recent Newsletter I mentioned that in the near future I would like to share with you about some of our recent seminary graduates in more detail. Today we are sending information about Rev. Kosuke Miyakawa. He graduated from the seminary and was ordained in March of 2013. He is currently 32 years old.

Kosuke was raised in a “half-Christian home.” His father was a Christian and his mother was not, but she always had a deep interest in spiritual and religious matters. He grew up in a family of four that included a younger brother. As a young child his parents entered him into a Christian kindergarten. As he got older he enjoyed being in church so he continued to attend Sunday School. At the age of 23 he wanted to declare his own faith in Christ and was baptized. At that point in his life he considered himself to be a weak person and yet he wanted to have a sense of security that he found in relating to Christ.

Once he graduated from high school, he found himself only taking time to enjoy himself, playing and goofing off. However after about five years of this kind of lifestyle he began to question what the meaning of life really was. He then remembered the power of Christ he had earlier experienced as a young child. Once he thought about his relationship to Jesus he experienced a great sense of relief about himself and his future. Kosuke then entered college and was in the theology department. While studying as an undergraduate he start to think about becoming a pastor.

In his four year at college he made a decision to do just that and entered seminary. Kosuke married his wife Makiko one day before his ordination. Talk about a big weekend! He had known Mariko way back from kindergarten and they had grown up together as children in the same church. Starting on April 1 of 2013 he was assigned by the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church to be pastor of a three-point parish in Kyushu, the southern most island of Japan. It is easy to see how God has had a hand on Kosuke's shoulder all through his life. We pray that he and Mariko can bring the Gospel to many people in Kyushu.

Please see the pictures of Rev. Kosuke Miyakawa below.

Peace to you all,

Jim and Carol Sack


March 6, 2013

Dear Sponsoring Congregations:

A newsletter from the Sacks is long overdue and we apologize for the delay. The beginning of each year is extremely busy with numerous entrance exams and thesis defenses for both undergraduates and graduate students, as well as graduations and ordinations. On Sunday we had an ordination service for four graduates from the Japan Lutheran Theological Seminary and we would like to share a little about that event.

In America where you have so many seminary students graduating, you are having numerous ordinations. However here in Japan the Lutheran Church is very small and having 4 new pastors in the church is a very exciting event. Nationally we have 120 churches with 95 pastors and a total membership of around 22,000 people. The graduates ranged from age 24 to 59. The national church is comprised of 5 districts. The ordination of all 4 pastors took place at the same time at Tokyo Lutheran Church, the biggest church in Tokyo that acts as the location of all major meetings and events. It was a very festive event with a few hundred people in attendance. It was so uplifting to have that many voices singing with vigor the hymns for the service. An average sized congregation is only about 20-30 members, so having such a large “choir” was really inspiring to all who were in attendance.

After the ordination we had a communion service where the newly ordained pastors were involved in distributing the elements. Family members as well as members from the both the churches where the pastors are being sent and those churches that helped in their training (internship) are able to receive communion from “their new pastor.” After the service all gathered in the fellowship hall where family members of the newly ordained were introduced and light snacks were served.

Many years ago in the States pastors often got married right after graduation and before starting their ministries. Two of the four pastors are getting married right away, so it kind of feels similar to the situation back in the States a number of decades ago. In fact Rev. Miyakawa got married the day before his ordination. Of course his wife was introduced and received a roaring reception by those in attendance. We think it would be interesting for you to meet some of these pastors and learn how they became Christian and decided to become pastors. In the near future we would like to interview some of these new pastors and tell you their stories. We think you will find the stories meaningful and inspiring. Please look forward to that.

Please pray for the new pastors: Rev. Ito, Rev. Okamura, Rev. Nagayoshi and Rev. Miyakawa, and their families and the churches they are being sent to serve.

On a personal note, our daughter Emily will transfer to International Christian University as of September, which is just next door to us. It will be great to have her in Tokyo for her last two years of college.

For those interested please go to :
http://www.jelc.or.jp/e/index.htm This is the English website for the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Grace and peace to you,

Jim and Carol Sack, Tokyo