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Merry Christmas!

“The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”  Isaiah 9:7b

     Looking back on the year 2015, there were so many blessings!  Also, behind all the blessings, there were challenges to test our faith.  Despite the challenges, we saw many things accomplished.  However, nothing was accomplished because of our effort or power.  Everything that was accomplished was done by the zeal of our Lord Almighty.
     Last year we concluded and began the year with blessings from EC14.   In 2015, we had our annual WIT Leadership Training camp, regional camps, regional ministries and returnee preparation in both Japan and in North America.
     I want to highlight that in Japan, we had GRC15 this year.  Many prayers were offered, and many, more than we had expected, attended the conference.  We listened to God’s Word, opened our hearts in fellowship, were encouraged through prayers and worship, and received  rich blessings.  We were challenged to follow God’s dream!  
     In North America, a network in the Midwest was deepened.  We were able to bring local churches together that were reaching out to families of Japanese businessmen and pastors from Toyota City to create a partnership.
     Although we had financial needs, we were able to experience our God as a true Provider.
     We are so thankful to God for your prayers, partnership and encouragement.

     We look forward to continuing to witness together in the year 2016 how the zeal of the Lord Almighty accomplishes His ministry!

Setsu Shimizu
North America Director
GRC15 Testimony
Emi Umeda
     Life sometimes surprises us with unexpected encounters, and because we have nothing to do with its orchestration, we are able to see clearly the working hands of God. My side of the story to the Global Returnees Conference 2015 (GRC15) ended up being four days of God pelting me with the unexpected, and showering me with His grace. In retrospect, it seems that the prologue to this story was already intricately woven into the story of my birth. First, I’ll let you in on a secret. I am not a “Returnee.” Having a 3rd generation “Nikkei” Catholic father and Protestant Japanese mother, I was born and raised in Kanagawa prefecture. My education was predominantly English throughout my K-12 International School years and my undergraduate study in Japan was a blend of Japanese and English. The grounds of my faith was built going to church service spoken in Japanese, but the English language always spoke directly to my heart. It was during a season where I struggled with figuring out faith in two languages that I was introduced to GRC15.

     Although I submitted the application for GRC15, at that point “JCFN” was an acronym completely foreign to me, and this was the first time the words “Returnee” and “Christian” were ever used in the same sentence. In my mind, I had signed off four days of my life on a blank contract. With the departure to Fuji proceeding after an exhaustingly long week sending my grandfather off to Heaven, there was no energy left in me as I silently curled up into an antisocial ball in the back of the bus. The only half-hearted words I could mumble was “Well, Lord? I hope for the best.” But the Lord is good and proceeded to take that faithless prayer to let it blossom into a dream beyond my wildest expectations.

     This dream began in a form of a friendship. My first to-be friend had gotten off the same vehicle and after a brief introduction it was hilarious how we instantly became aware of our similarities in personality. Despite our different upbringing, our inner-wiring and outward-actions were eerily similar. I also noticed that the girls at the reception desk reacted in certain ways that mirrored my own (which usually included a lot of arms flapping and exaggerated facial expressions). It was as if we all “reeked the same smell” (or allow me to delicately rephrase; “we carried the same scent”), and I didn’t know why. Epiphany hit me later on...this was the “3rd culture kid smell.” I felt like Elphaba the Green Witch from the musical “Wicked” when she visited the Emerald City and realized that her greenness that made her stand out back home was unnoticed when everyone else in this city was of the same hue. A warm sense of satisfaction filled my heart. I was home. This was the reason why despite being a non-Returnee, GRC15 gave me the feeling that I had finally found my niche.

     Thus began the ridiculously rich days surrounded by ridiculously crazy people. It was a time to recover and deepen the vertical relationship with God, as well as building and enriching the horizontal bond between fellow broken souls. God kept shouting out “I am with you, I am alive” through people, situations, conversations, messages and worship. My frozen faith slowly began to thaw and the melt water streamed down my eyes and nose like a broken faucet (for once, remembering to pack hand towels served me well). Through each plenary session and workshop, the Lord was eager to show me a new perspective and reveal more of Himself.

     Rev. Shinji Seki’s two messages lead me to take seriously the job of restoring my relationship with God, and Rev. Akihiro Matsumoto’s testimony of being lead to minister all over the world taught me to trust in the Lord and take a leap of faith to move out even though He has not given the exact final destination. Rev. Shigenori Oshima’s messages had me constantly rocking with laughter, but what struck me the most was when he spoke with eyes brimming of the back-breaking work of ministers and JCFN staff who lay down their lives for the Returnees. It was at that point I understood the weight borne by those in the ministry and how GRC15 was a place to encourage those who lead as well as those who are lead.

     We were divided into Small Groups (SG) according to our hotel rooms, and out of the 400 attendees my SG consisted of eight women who, other than being in our 30’s, seemed to have nothing else in common. But the Lord looks at the heart, and He knew that this collection of unique and free-spirited women would fit perfectly like pieces of a puzzle. Squeezing in double the number of futons the room was structured to accommodate, the nights and days were spent sharing hearts, laughter and tears that slowly transformed these eight once-strangers into the image of our Lord.

     God continued to amuse me by introducing me to many brothers and sisters in the queerest of situations. Things like split-second befriending a girl standing next to me while taking the group photo, in which I double-checked to see if we had not made formal introductions earlier that I had conveniently forgotten (this was our first encounter).  Or searching far and wide for the girl who made the exact same gasps/laughs to the words of Rev. Oshima during a workshop sitting behind me the day before, under the assumption that we must have something in common that is worth talking about (truth: I had to introduce myself to three separate girls who looked like her before I hit the jackpot). God’s script-writing skill is often tongue-in-cheek and full of surprises, but never are they “by chance.” Serving in the interpreting team was a memorable experience receiving a double serving of grace captured well in the last night of interpreting Rev. Seki’s message. The last 30 minutes was spent with the interpreter, team leader and myself hugging each other with tears streaming down our cheeks, basking in the presence of the Lord and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

     Over the four days, with each drop of grace, my heart slowly filled to the brim and burst with God’s love. God displayed His love for me, as well as stating “You see how much I love you? I love the people around you just as much.” Rev. Oshima told us that the road leading to GRC15 was a fruit of “someone’s persistent prayer.” For me, those prayers were of my grandparents who showered me with prayers since birth; even through my numerous seasons of depression and long bout of waywardness when I drifted away from church into pursuits of spiritualism and self-help ideology. Their prayers were answered in ways that materialized after their time on this earth, and it took me this long to realize the amazing grace bestowed on me. Taking that baton of faith from my grandparents, I look forward to the day I will be able to tell them all the stories of what happened during the race I am determined to run with full force.
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:12) 
"We are His Dream"
     Indeed, GRC15 seemed but a mid-autumn day’s dream, but God’s words that were spoken were very much a reality. Although the 400 plus attendees all awoke to “real life” after we descended the mountain, we are not to live “God’s dream” on our own. These four unexpected curve ball of days were intricately planned in advance in His hands, and were unfolded in His delight. As His children entrusted with “His dream,” let us continue to bravely live it out wherever we are placed around the globe.

GRC15 Testimony
Eri Verwey
     It's been four years since we came back from the US, having two kids as meant huge changes to our lifestyle. I was really excited about this year's GRC but traveling with two kids under three years old brought many logistical challenges and I put off preparing my heart spiritually for the conference.

     In that state, our trip started with an argument with my husband. Filled with negativity towards my husband‘s lack of preparation and enthusiasm for the trip I was giving him a piece of my mind without much thought towards the things on his plate.

     (With all my complaining It's beyond me why he has stayed married to me) In the end we arrived 3 hours later that planned. As I was sleeping our kids on the first night, I knew in my gut that if I didn't apologize for my attitude, coming to the conference would be a waste of time spiritually.

     After the kids slept I was able to apologize, but since I was somewhere I was clinging onto some self-justification for my actions.

     On the day of the 21st I was able to participate in the full morning session. The message was about Jacob. He was given this name Jacob which means heel, holder of the heel, the one grasping at the heel. After that, he received a new name; Israel which means triumphant with God/ who prevails with God. God fights for his people when they admit who they really are. This message pierced right through my heart. I needed to admit who I really was though it meant I had to admit my mistakes, sins, and dark past. So that God could fight for me.

     I had not been believing that the Lord would defend me in the areas where I was right, and I was trying to defend my mistakes and excuses with all my strength.

     It was still partway through the service, but I could not stand it any longer, and I left to face God alone in my room to make right with Him.

     As I was leaving the hall I ran into Setsu-san (JCFN Staff) with everything showing by the tears on my face, and I just said "The message was so good I can't help but go back to my room", and there I poured out my heart in repentance before God.

     I cried "I am the one grasping at the heel! I am hindering my husband's walk with You and not accepting His leadership! Please help me! I'm not going to fight for myself, Lord please fight for me". From that moment u felt great relief in my soul. I had the peace of God. After the main meeting, I was able to join a mothers prayer time and asked for prayer for the power to change.

     That evening, I experienced s small victory.

     That night, after finally getting the kids to sleep a second time, I asked Alex if I could take a 30 minute bath. But he responded that he was feeling that he was getting sick and the kids might wake up again so to just take a quick shower instead.

     If it was any other time, I would have protested and given him all the reasons I was deserving of a 30 minute bath. But in that moment the Holy Spirit sealed my lips and I was able to say "ok, I understand" without an attitude or negative tone. If you ask my husband you will know, but this was nothing short of a miracle.

     Through repentance soul deep, I was finally able to come to a place where I could join the GRC conference in the Lordship of Christ. From that point on in the GRC conference, I was able to walk according to the Lord's plan and experience His flood of grace over me. Reunion with old friends, forming new bonds, times of prayer, and messages from God. The Holy Spirit urged me to seize every chance to pray with my friends. He didn't allow me to just saying hi and bye. I could pray with them right away whether it be in the hallways, bath or in the corners of the conference room.

     What amazing grace! I am also so grateful for those I could reunite with and the new relationships I was able to make with other moms. These new relationships with these Christian moms will be something I treasure in my heart.

     Finally, I have to just share a bit about the incident I had concerning my room key.

     At the beginning of the testimony I mentioned how I was critical of my husband for various reasons, one of which was his payment mistake for the conference. He had supposedly paid the full fee, but we received an email that we had still not paid the full amount. In the end, because he didn't grasp the full amount due we didn't realize we didn't have enough funds to join the conference until a few weeks before it started. It turned out that because of some donations given towards the conference and the mercy of GRC leadership we were able to participate in the whole conference.

     However, the Lord didn't stop there, He was determined to teach me that I was to remove the plank in my eye before looking for the speck in my brother's eye. That night ask I was looking, the room key was nowhere to be found, and I was the last one with the key. Surly this would look bad and we would lose the trust of the GRC staff, not to mention I would lose my place to make any claims against my husband’s mistakes.

     Why, why does this happen on the last night, the night which covered by the donations given? If I lost the room key, we would have to pay the expensive penalty fee to the hotel, and the financial support received would be wasted. I traced my steps looking for this key without talking to the GRC or hotel staff. I think, I must have done 10 laps between our room, the main hall, and the lobby, hoping nobody would realize my mistake. After that I squeamishly walked around the GRC staff room and Megumi-san helped me find my key at the front counter. It was another dramatic moment for me.

     In the end this was not just an eye opening experience for me, but I was also able to take time to talk and pray with Megumi-san.

     Through this GRC I was able to experience how much grace and live the Lord pours out when we come to Him in full repentance. These conferences have been such a source of grace for me even now.
     Thanks to each speakers willingness to have their messages publicly posted on YouTube, I am able to continue to feed off of the words shared even after the conference.
     This also allows me to share the passion and grace record through these conferences with others around me.
     We are also grateful to the donators who allowed us to participate in the conference till the end, we couldn't have benefited like this without you.
     Finally, I want to thank GRC Chihiro Okada and other core staff members that pour their heart out to make these conferences possible. Without this conference I would not have this testimony to share with you. I am simply really grateful!!!
     Some of these words might be hard to read but I really wanted to share my gratitude for this year’s conference. There is much more to share about how great God is but this will have to do for today.
With love, Eri
(translated by Alex Verwey)

* Winter Special Fundraiser Interim Report *

Both North America office and Japan office are asking for Winter Special Fundraiser.
North America office: until the end of December
Japan office: until the end of January
We appreciate your prayer.

North America Office Interim Report
As of December 3rd: $10,435
70% of the targeting amount ($15,000) has been achieved.

Japan Office Interim Report
As of December 21st: 114,000 yen
7.6% of the targeting amount (1,500,000 yen) has been achieved.

Second Level Ministry: Mentorship Conference
January 15h - 18th, 2016
Atlanta, GA
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