Newsletter (Equipper)
We praise the name of the Lord.

Continuously to last month, we would like to share JCFN staff and board members' testimonies shared during JCFN 25th Anniversary Conference held in Hawaii in July.

[Board & Staff Members' Testimonies at HC2016]

     During the conference, JCFN Staff members and Board members had opportunities to share testimonies and messages. For this month, please enjoy reading testimonies from Sachi Nakamura, Board Member, Setsu Shimizu, North America Staff and Machiko Saito, North America Office Staff. 

Passing through the Valley of Weeping
Sachi Nakamura
JCFN Board Member

     On March 5th, my second daughter Miho went to be with the Lord after an 11-month battle against diffuse gastric cancer. She was 21 years old.

     When she was diagnosed with cancer, it was already stage 4, having spread to her spine and several lymph nodes. She first had radiation therapy followed by chemo. The chemotherapy worked well and after 5 months her tumor marker went down dramatically. Because of that and because of severe side effects, Miho wanted to take a break from chemo.

     At that point she was still able to live normally once she was off of chemo. However, by mid November she found a new growth around a lymph node in her neck. A CT scan in early December spotted cancer in her liver. Doctors put her down for a clinical trial, a new treatment option called checkpoint inhibitor therapy, which was all the rage in clinical oncology and looked very promising. We all hoped it would produce good results. A clinical trial is like an experiment, so there are many criteria that the patient must satisfy. As she was being prepped for the treatment, Miho's condition deteriorated rapidly and she was disqualified for the trial after all.

     Miho was hospitalized at the end of December to remove fluid from her lungs and pericardial sac, which was a life-threatening condition. She was in the hospital for 5 weeks and went through seven surgical procedures. But they were all palliative and I felt like cancer was always ahead of us. By the beginning of February doctors told us that there was nothing more they could do and they recommended that we take Miho home for hospice care. We took her home on Feb.12.

     About one year before Miho's cancer was discovered, I had started practicing a type of prayer called 'contemplative prayer.' This is a kind of prayer you do without words or thoughts. You just place yourself in God's presence and savor His love. For me perhaps it was more of a prayer of surrender, giving all up to the hands of the good and merciful Lord.

     In this life and in this world things happen. Many of them don't make sense. People die in
earthquakes and a young person like my daughter dies from cancer. I don't understand why
these things happen, but when an absurd situation arises, instead of sweeping it under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist, I acknowledge my full awareness of it when praying contemplatively. I acknowledge that the situation is there and that it absolutely sucks. I don't try to understand or explain it away, but I simply hold the absurdity in my mind in the presence of the Lord. It's almost like carefully wrapping my hands around something fragile. As I come to the presence of God in a contemplative prayer. I let myself rest in the arms of the Lord who must be present even in such an absurd situation.

     In this prayer there's a lot of silence. Silence to quiet my soul from emotional disturbance,
silence to wait on God, silence to simply savor and rest in the merciful presence of God. Not
only do I stay silent, but often God also becomes silent. Not that He ignores me, but His quiet
presence teaches my soul that there are things beyond my understanding and explanations; it is an enriching silence full of grace.

     Of course when Miho was ill I prayed for her healing and I made all kinds of petitions about her symptoms. Nevertheless, what held me up was not the prayer of supplication, but rather the prayer of silence. As I held Miho on the palms of my hands and prayed, sometimes God encouraged me to ask boldly, sometimes led me to intercede for others, and sometimes He simply let me cry in His arms.

     It’s not that I gave up on healing or was resigned to accepting everything as “God's will.” It was more like anticipating an invisible and unimaginable glory of God -- I was holding my breath and waiting intently for God's glory to be revealed. Perhaps to wait on God's glory means to let Jesus shine in me, whom I can only meet through suffering and bowing down before the weight of all that He is.

     My daughter had faith but she was only 21. She did not want to die. She had a desire to work for underprivileged people with her God-given talent and unique experiences. She believed that God would heal her from cancer.

     In the end, Miho went to be with the Lord in less than one month after she came home. But the three short weeks we had with Miho were priceless. It is often said that the ending of terminal cancer is violent. Unfortunately, my daughter’s case was not an exception. In the early morning of the day she passed, she vomited a lot of blood. She must have been hallucinating, as she was screaming in agony “Help me! Please stop!” She tried to get up from the bed to escape, holding onto the bed rail, but she had gotten so weak that her legs gave way and she collapsed. Having seen her eyes wide open, drifting around in space, I had to admit that her death was drawing near. I was overwhelmed with despair. I cried out in my heart,

     “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Miho and me?”

     At that instant, though, I felt that my suffering was enveloped in the suffering of Jesus on the cross, and that, in this suffering of feeling as though the Father God had forsaken us, I was made one with my beloved Jesus. The eyes of the Father that were looking down on us, were the same eyes that looked down on Jesus as they were filled with both love and anguish and I could feel that the tears that the Father must have shed for Jesus were also being shed for us too. As I look back that time, I can remember the scene as if something sacred, as if clouds of the glory of God were filling the room.

     Miho fought a truly courageous battle. She was always positive and believed in God's healing. She rarely expressed worries and fears. I can't imagine she did not have fear, but she never whined, either because she did not want to discourage others or she was just determined to stay positive. Even when her pain was so strong that she needed narcotic pain medication every 15 minutes, she endured quietly. And her final words she delivered shortly before death was 'I love you.’ I imagine that the Enemy wanted Miho to curse God and her parents, but she didn’t give in. Surrounded by her family, she ended her life on earth with the word love. She drew her final breath in my arms. Miho was passed on to the arms of Jesus from my arms.

     However, my story doesn’t end here. Things hadn’t have settled for me just yet.

     I thought I had committed Miho's life to God. As I was praying for her, I eventually felt it wouldn’t matter if God did this or didn't do that. I truly thought I could say 'all shall be well.' I thought nobody or nothing could take away the peace I had.

     Once Miho died, however, the reality of the loss was not something I could describe with pious sounding words like “peace”. Far from it. The sorrow and pain were far more than I could have imagined. An overwhelming sense of regret and second-guessing myself made me cry everyday. Yet even when I regretted and cried, I tried to do so in the presence of the Lord, because I knew it was the safest place.

     People had told me that God taught them many things through Miho's battle with cancer, that they were seeing God's glory through this. I am both thankful and awestruck that God was moving this way through Miho's life and death. But at the same time another thought sprang up: no matter how many wonderful things God has brought out of this, they do not justify Miho's death for me. Even if God was able to use Miho’s battle with cancer to bring about many beautiful and good things, what about Miho whose life on earth was permanently lost? Even though I knew in my head that Miho was with the Lord in heaven, I couldn’t help but ask Him about her. Then, God revealed a scene to me. It was an image of my daughter and her dog having fun together in green pastures. When this image came to my mind, I knew God was assuring me that Miho was fine and I need not worry about her well-being. Furthermore, he gave me the scripture "Hidden with Christ in God" from Colossians 3:3. Yes, Miho is now hidden with Christ in God. I was deeply comforted.

     Actually, I knew from the beginning that Miho was with the Lord and she was safe in His presence. It was not that I needed an “answer” nor that this answer itself comforted me. What gave me a comfort beyond words was the fact that God Himself accompanied me on this painful roller coaster ride—Miho’s battle, death, and the sorrow and pain of the loss— all along, allowing me to wrestle with Him, and that He drew me closer through it all. What I needed was not a logical, reasonable, and convincing explanation, but that God was with me even in the midst of the worst doubt, pain and suffering. The closer you draw to the Lord, the less clarity you need to be at peace. There are still things for which I don’t have answers, but it doesn’t matter. As long as the Lord is with me, I can say “It is well with my soul”.  I give thanks to the Lord.

A Quarter of a Century
Setsu Shimizu
JCFN North America Staff

     "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

     At Urbana 90, my life was forever changed by God’s hands. It was like my new birthday for my walk with the Lord. Interestingly enough, it was where JCFN was started. Later, God called me to full-time ministry. After my first year of study at a seminary, I experienced my most difficult trials and I made the decision NOT to believe in God any longer. However, God never forsook me. He never gave up on me who already had given up on my own life. Instead, he continued to guide me to a journey of healing. Somehow I managed to graduate from seminary. This was a miracle, considering I had no faith in God. At the same time, I was asked to prayerfully consider serving as the first staff for JCFN ministry.

     For me, serving at JCFN was not just working at one of many mission organizations. It was for me to directly face my own pain and sorrow. It was a pathway God had prepared for me to heal, but at that time, that path way looked like a road I could only take if I was willing to risk my life. Now, looking back on that juncture, my full-time ministry at JCFN was a time when I recommitted myself to God once again. It was also a place where I received God’s grace and mercy unconditionally. It has been an opportunity for me to share this grace, love and peace of God with many others.

     I became full-time staff at the age of 25 and it has been 23 years since then. I am shocked to find out that half of my life is spent with JCFN! However, at the same time, my heart is simply filled with joy and gratitude, for I truly and genuinely can confess that JCFN ministry exists simply for my sake!

     This heart of gratitude goes to God, of course, but at the same time, my deepest appreciation is for my family of God. My brothers and sisters at Makiki Christian Church, which is my home church, as well as my family and friends, have seen me going through my spiritually rebellious years. You prayed for me to have my faith revived. You supported me with prayers and finances once I decided to be trained at seminary. While I was going through trials and lost faith in God, you continue to pray, love, and support me. Even when I was still in the process of recovery, you trusted God that He could use me and supported me to serve at JCFN as an OMF missionary. You believed in God when I couldn’t.  I have experienced God’s love from my church family of Makiki, and many of my other friends and family.

     As I write this, I can’t help but imagine how big God’s love for me is. I am so special because I am so loved. I am just amazed and my heart is filled only with gratitude. So, what can I do? The only thing I can do is to continue to receive God’s super rich unconditional love and to love those God sends to me.   

     No one knows what is waiting for us in the future. The world is constantly changing, and so are the situations of international students ministries. Japanese Diaspora ministry’s situation will  also change. As the world is changing, how can JCFN move forward? How is my life involved in this? There are many questions without answers. However, I want to take a step of faith even when situations are filled with uncertainties. When we give thanks to God (UP), He will provide us the next step we need to take (OUT).

     It is my hope to continue to confess that JCFN ministry exists for me. I hope to dwell in God’s mercy and give everything I am given for His ministry. Thank you for your prayers  and support. Please continue to pray for me!

God With Us
Machiko Saito
JCFN North America Office Staff

     It was strange, the way I first encountered JCFN when I was in grad school. I hadn't been very involved with JCFN before, and I had no idea what kind of organization it was. Then, all of a sudden, I heard about working part-time at JCFN. I had just been thinking of giving God a year of my OPT time, so I quickly accepted the offer. At the same time, I was chosen to serve by doing EC registration, and when I was invited to EC, I felt a calling from God.

     After EC, even though God had called me to JCFN, I felt conflicted and could not accept it. I was being held back by my past and felt that I was not good enough to serve God, and that if He really knew me, He would be disappointed. I was afraid to face God and tried to hide from Him. I felt as if I had returned to the person I was before I was saved.

     At that time, I heard the words, “God has no hands but ours.” I felt the unchanging love and mercy of the all-powerful, all-knowing God. I had been unable to let go of the burdens of my past, and instead tried to hide my face from God. I had put limits on God's love and promises, and had not truly believed what the Bible said. Realizing this, I repented of these things. I felt God encourage me and tell me that I am a vessel to express His glory, that He loves me, and that He empowers me and will use me. I prayed that I would rely on the all-powerful, all-knowing God, who overflows with love for me just as I am, including my past, present, and future. I was finally able to accept God's calling on my life. God helped me and guided me step by step onto the path of truth, as I realized that I could not become free on my own strength. After that, God gave me healing, courage, faith, love, challenges, commandments, and many more things than I can write here.

     After I accepted my calling, I felt that what guided me to JCFN, rather than my experience or wisdom, was my prayers and God's guidance. I knew that God had given me a calling, and that He had opened the door to JCFN. After receiving direction from God, I had the fixed idea, with passion and conviction, that I was definitely supposed to work with JCFN. However, God taught me the importance of trusting in the light on the path ahead of me rather than trusting in my own set plans or fulfilling my own conditions. God also gave me the faith to trust in Him as the all-powerful, all-knowing God. God showed me anew each day how to rely on Him and renewed my calling to JCFN, and this continues to this day.

     It is not the case that, since I have dedicated my life to God, every day is filled with joy and my life is all rosy. I don't have a blueprint to dictate every day of my life. There are many days when I wonder, what am I doing? I want to quit. What should I do? However, when I feel that way, I can look back and see that, as the Bible says, God is holding me, and He is with me. Right now, I am praying for my future guidance together with my husband, who is in seminary. I have no idea what the future will bring, but I will continue to trust in God, who is shining light on the path ahead of me, and walk with Him.

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