TESTIMONY CONCERT CALIFORNIA/BRAZIL TOUR NEWSLETTER
“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13
I hope you’re doing well!
The words of this psalm were spoken over me by my pastor exactly ten years ago during the darkest and most broken time of my life. In 2009, all my hopes of having a happy family, of being a model example what a joyful Christian should look like, of sharing some inspiring “Kingdom Class Musician” testimony seemed to mock me as I tried to make sense of what my life as a Christian divorced single parent had become.
Every day of this 2019 tour, I thought of what Jesus has done with my shattered life. In the past 5 years it has been my deepest honour and privilege to tell people the world over that there is Someone who sees them and knows them, who cares about them and loves them, and by accepting His resurrection power as the core of their lives, they could withstand anything thrown at them.
The “Testimony of Hope” missions trip began with three well-received California concerts: in San Mateo (organized by Adrian Majilesi at Western Hills with New Community Mission Church/Lighthouse with Pastors Karl Ortis, Brian Shepard, Joe Halteh, Jeff Gee and Tae Kim), San Ramon (at the East Bay Trinity Chinese Church with Pastor Darren and Ruth Fung), and Santa Cruz (at the Mt. Hermon Conference Center for the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society/JEMS). It was wonderful to join these pastors to encourage and pray for those whom the Lord had touched through the music and messages.
The 3 week tour of Brazil was organized by JEMS’ South American Missions Director, Pastor John Katagi (Manaus, Castanhal, Presidente Prudente and São Paulo) and Pastor Ricardo Barbosa (Brasilia), a dear friend whom I met when he and his family lived in Vancouver during his studies at Regent College. The journey to South America was a major test of patience and faith due to an arduous 48 hour delay in Miami but I finally boarded the plane to the Amazon!
Pastor Sergio Yuaça and his wife, Katia, of Holiness Igreja Evangélica Manaus, warmly welcomed me at the airport at 12:30 a.m. I had already missed two days of my trip, but they were insistent that I go on a private boat tour on the Amazon River. Here I saw (and touched!) animals I had only previously known behind fences and glass windows in a zoo, and the famous “Meeting of the Waters” where the warm, dark Rio Negro and the cooler Rio Solimões flow side by side without mixing for 6 km! The next morning began with a television interview for “The Voice of God’s Assembly” with Pastor Israel before meeting the whole team of volunteers who were preparing the concert venue at the Nippaku, Associação Nipo-Brasileira da Amazônia Ocidental. That evening, a hall full of guests heard about a Saviour who validated their worth for eternity through His work on the Cross!
The next day began with the headache of dealing with another flight cancellation and purchase of a new ticket to Belém. The silver lining, though, was getting to spend more time with the Yuaças and their sons, Alex and Eric, eating an unbelievably delicious fish called “tambaqui” and the absolute best pineapple in the world! If I had to get stuck somewhere, Manaus is a good place to be!
Pastor Claudinei Mauricio da Silva and his wife, Silvana of Holiness Igreja Evangélica Castanhal met me at the Belém airport with Antonio Pinheiro, my translator who spoke excellent English and provided a fun, fact-filled commentary through whole 1.5 hour journey to Castanhal! At the concert, many people arrived at the church in somewhat overcast and humid weather but when I began the turbulent Chopin Scherzo Op. 20, a loud, torrential rainstorm suddenly erupted and lasted nearly the entire first half of the concert! By the time of the intermission, the rain had stopped and everyone went out for a breath of fresh air and found that God had given their vehicles a free car wash 😊.
The next day while sightseeing and window shopping with Pastor Claudinei’s family, I had my first experience of the dangerous side of Brazil. After browsing through the stores, we stopped for a snack and Pastor Claudinei’s cell phone was stolen within minutes! While driving on the highways to Castanhal and Presidente Venceslau, state prisons were routinely pointed out to me where violent inmate riots had garnered headlines over the past year. Poverty and crime levels have reached such levels that in São Paulo, I had my first ride in a bullet-proof car and was informed that SP had the highest fleet of bullet-proof vehicles outside of Israel!
Yet in my next stop at the nation’s capital, Brasilia, things seemed very quiet, clean, organized and civil. Ricardo’s brother, Eduardo, and sister-in-law, Delis Ortiz, kindly hosted me in their beautiful home while Ricardo and his wife Cristina tended to some family matters. It was wonderful to spend time together reminiscing on God’s work in our lives over the past 25 years and meeting the next generation of Barbosas 😊 Due to Ricardo’s popularity in Brazil as a mentoring pastor and author, the concerts at the Igreja Presbiteriana do Brasil, Brasila and Igreja Presbiteriana Nacional were well attended and well received.
All too soon, I was on the plane to Presidente Prudente where I met Pastor Haroldo Teruya, his wife, Carla, and daughters Karina and Hannah. It was so fun to attend their church dinners and fellowship with friends at the evening street market where we saw avocados the size of mini bowling balls and ate delicious “pastéis” (deep fried empanadas). I was able to share my personal testimony at two Sunday services in Holiness Igreja Evangélica Presidente Prudente and Presidente Venceslau before giving the “Testimony of Hope” concert at the Igreja Presbiteriana do Brasil PP to a very appreciative audience.
My last stop was São Paulo, the largest city in the Southern and Western Hemispheres. I was astounded at the organization of the two participating churches, Holiness Igreja Evangélica Liberdade (with Pastor Tetuma and Eunice Fujisaka) and Holiness Igreja Evangélica Bosque (with Pastor Luiz and Pastora Noemi Hashimoto and Pastor Shinobu and Cristina Hino). They had a team of about 15 volunteers who planned almost every minute of my visit which included sightseeing to the famous Mercado Municipal, practicing at a local piano store, several meals, shopping, and a meeting with a group of professional musicians who also had a desire to use their God-given talents for spreading the Gospel! I stayed with Dr. César and Carla Nomura and their children who all spoiled me with much kindness and laughter. One of this tour’s highlights was the opportunity to perform at the Syrian Lebanese Hospital. In addition to Bach, Beethoven and Lowe, I played a couple of well-known Brazilian favourites before finishing with Amazing Grace. What an honour to bring Jesus into this workplace through the international language of music!
It was very interesting that after each concert, many attendees would come forward to take a picture and exchange a “quick” hug with me. Sometimes, however, I felt moved to hold them for a few seconds longer than they expected. Suddenly tears would begin to flow and I would hear stories of hurts and pains that even many of their friends did not know about. Maybe it was because they could identify with my life story and dared to hope that Jesus would connect with them, too. One woman came to me, weeping and asking for prayer through an interpreter. A few moments later, a young lady came and shared that she had become a Christian last year but her mother was strongly against it and they fought constantly over Christianity. She invited her mother to the concert and turns out, the mother was the guest who was crying on my shoulder moments earlier!
Another young woman lost her husband to cancer a few months prior, but with two young sons, she didn’t have much time for herself to grieve. She came to me after a concert and was able to cry out some of her pain from her husband’s unexpected departure. Another attendee who recently lost her mother found solace in the Lord’s presence through the music as well. Children came up for photos and received prayers for blessings while teens often came forward to ask for prayer as they prepared for college exams. Some requested prayers for forgiving past relationships and others sought prayer for health issues.
The following is an excerpt from a report by Pastora Noemi Yuaça Hashimoto of Holiness Bosque:
“Thank you very much, because you have been an instrument of many blessings to all of us! We are amazed to see that God has extrapolated our yearnings in prayer! The team that worked, made with such dedication, love, and seeing what the Lord did, they were so happy! I think it was very rich all this experience of serving together, as a team, supporting each other … opportunity to grow in serving!
Many members of the family accepted the invitation, they are people who have not usually come to church, and all were so grateful, feeling gifted that they could hear you play and especially hear their testimony of life! I found it interesting that one lady said that “what she played the most, besides the ability to play the piano, were her words!” I believe the Lord used [you] to touch the hearts and surely the word was sown with the work of the Holy Spirit! …
I was very happy too because among the non-Christian family members who came and liked, were family members of our leaders, a lot of gratitude, and the privilege of being able to approach them with love, to thank for the lives of their children, family members who have been a blessing among us, it was precious too!
By the grace and goodness of God, by his life as an instrument so worked by this love, we receive buckets and buckets, a bath of blessings and love! Praise the Lord !! Glory to God for your life !!”
From Pastor Haroldo, Holiness Presidente Prudente:
- a) Generated partnership between the various denominations of Presidente Prudente
- b) We had participants from various denominations, and also from people who do not participate in any denomination.
- c) People who watched and appreciate classical music were amazed at the high level of performance.
- d) Julie Lowe is a sociable, very friendly and captivating person.
- e) The theme of witnessing and sharing was relevant, very good. She used the history of music very well, as well as its author, interspersing with her own testimony of life, ending with a testimony of a well-known and Christian composer. Which people greatly admired.
Suggestions for improvement
- a) Because classical music is not well known to the Brazilian people, another alternative is to use hymns that have a story in a context and in its composition. For example: Amazing Grace of John Newton.
- b) Brazilian composers, in our case, are better known to the Brazilian public, for example Tico Tico at Fubá de Zequinha de Abreu.
It was exciting to read these comments as they truly showed how all the churches really understood the vision of the testimony concert ministry: to give smaller churches and missionaries an event to which they could open their doors to those who might not go to church for a Sunday sermon but would be willing to attend a piano recital and there, hear the Gospel as clearly as I can make it. At the same time, the occasion gives people of all denominations an opportunity to work together for something important, evangelistic and unique.
Pastor Haroldo’s suggestions also echoed a growing prayer in my heart for the future of this testimony concert ministry. It is my dream that individuals and teams from every continent would go out to share what God has done through their lives and bring His life-transforming hope, power and love to their countries and beyond.
A special mention must be given to the excellent translators for without them, no one would be able to understand me or the context of the messages: Thais Ferreira, Antonio Augustofisk Pinheiro, Marcia Bialto, Henrique Yoshimura, Karina Mie Teruya, Marcos de Oliveira, Vinicius Santana Diogenes, Doris Suzuki Esmerio, Silvano Makoto Kubo, Márcio Inoue, and César Nomura. It is not easy to convey the meaning of a multi-layered script of musical terms and Christian concepts in a fluid and sincere manner and all the translators did an outstanding job! Many would stay with me through the long line up of guests wanting prayers or short conversations, sometimes up to an hour after the concert ended! I would also like to say a special “thank you” to Pastor Darren Fung for translating the “Testimony of Hope” into Chinese, Adriane Majilesi who translated it into Korean and Susana Tanaami Lin who translated this program into Portuguese.
Next up, God-willing, is Testimony Concert III set for Europe in 2020. Please keep me in prayer as I spiritually, musically, mentally and physically prepare for the most challenging program yet.
This is the longest newsletter I have ever written but this missions trip was also the longest I’ve ever undertaken. As John 21:25 says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
I thank you for reading this and hope that you will be as encouraged as I was at what the Lord has done through Hope2Offer, your prayers and support! Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in the US and Brazil, that their ongoing work to witness would move those they meet to consider Christ’s role in their lives.
Muito obrigada: many thanks and may the Lord bless each of you as only He can.
In His Love,
TESTIMONY CONCERT MINISTRY SUMMER 2019 NEWSLETTER (PRE-CALIFORNIA/BRAZIL CONCERT TOUR)
Hello Everyone,I trust you are all doing well 😊 !It has been a busy spring with testimony concert events in Vancouver, and it’s not about to let up: I leave this Thursday for two concerts and a week long Christian conference in California before embarking on my first trip to South America! Please read more about it in the attached “JEMS Journal” put out by the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society.For this missions trip, I will be bringing the first concert program, “Testimony of Hope,” which has been translated from English into Chinese, German, Japanese and now Korean and Portuguese! Please join me in prayer for the San Mateo concert at the New Community Mission Church Lighthouse on Friday June 28th, the return engagement at the East Bay Trinity Chinese Church in San Ramon on Saturday June 29th, and the concerts being arranged in Brazil from July 10th to 25th ( http://julielowe.com/concert-schedule/).Please pray that the Lord would help me play my best, and that the messages would be clear enough to move people to seriously consider Jesus’ role in their lives.With great joy, I can confirm that I will be returning to Europe in the fall of 2020 with a third testimony concert program! More on that in my Christmas newsletter, but do let me know if you are in the area and interested in having me come to share in your community 😊.On a personal note, my youngest son, Mattias, will also be (what he calls) a “musicianary” this summer, going as a worship leader with Tenth Church’s youth group to Cambodia. While immensely proud of his willingness to share Christ’s heart through music, we will be on opposite hemispheres of the planet for almost 2 months ☹. We would be most encouraged by your support and prayers for our safety, effectiveness, health and stamina as we travel, and for my older son, Curtis, and mom who will be guarding the fort here in Vancouver 😊.Please let me know how I can pray for you as well. May God bless and protect you and your families this summer as only He can, and I certainly hope we can connect again soon!Together in Christ,Julie
TESTIMONY CONCERT NEWSLETTER 2018
Merry Christmas greetings from Vancouver! As we reflect upon the past year, it is my hope that you will see our Lord’s fingerprints clearly as He walked with us through 2018.
What a wonderful year of making new and meeting old friends who have truly caught the vision of the growing testimony concert ministry!
The 2018 recital season began with a house concert in Kirkland, WA in February. This was the second concert hosted by the Kimuras and I had the joy of learning that one of the attendees (who was also at their 2016 event) was baptized this spring!
The last week of June brought about a series of concerts in California. The first took place at the San Ramon Presbyterian Church for the East Bay Trinity Chinese Church. Its pastor, Darren Fung, and I had met when I played for his previous congregation in Saratoga a couple of years ago. It was great to see him and his wife, Ruth, again and to hear how God has been inspiring others through his ministry!
Then I had the blessing of giving an afternoon concert at the Santa Clara Valley Japanese Christian Church, who has financially and prayerfully supported this ministry so generously since my first concert there in 2016. It was wonderful to meet up with Pastor Lester Yamashita and the SCVJCC brothers and sisters as we partnered to reach those in the San Jose area.
Later that evening, I played a house concert in Hillsborough. What was very interesting about this event was that it was hosted by my cousin (who is not yet a believer but a very accomplished pianist) and her Christian neighbour. They each invited friends from their circles of influence, and after the concert, several church goers said, “I didn’t know that a classical music concert could be so moving,” while non-Christian music lovers commented, “The way the music and composers’ lives were intertwined with the Christian message was very unique!” It’s awesome how God uses the testimony concerts to reach people at their comfort and interest level, opening their hearts to receive His life-transforming messages.
The next day I led two single mothers from Vancouver to their first Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS)‘s Mount Hermon Conference in Santa Cruz. With help from the generous Pacific Northwest Mt. Hermon Fund, they were able to experience the warm fellowship of this wonderful conference first hand. While there, I also had the opportunity to perform the last concert of the week 🙂
The latter part of July was spent in France to give a testimony concert hosted by Pastor Paco Delp of the Trinity International Church of Paris. It was held at their outreach venue, the Genesis Center, a small 13th Century monastery building strategically located in the heart of Paris. Europe was in the middle of a heat wave, with temperatures soaring to 37 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). However God mercifully lowered the furnace to 27 degrees just for the one day of this wimpy Canadian’s concert before spiking it back up to the mid-30’s! It was a joy to encourage many English speaking members and guests, including a woman going through breast cancer and young missionaries of Youth With A Mission.
A few days later, I had the privilege to play and share at the home of a treasured friend from my student days in Vienna. Though not believers, they allowed me to speak about Christ with them, and even took my son and me to a local church.
In August, I had the blessing of playing a concert at the wonderful JEMS Warm Beach, WA Conference and in October, I led a seminar about the testimony concert ministry at Missions Fest Seattle. I spoke on how Jesus uses our trials so that we can present Him authentically to others who have experienced similar challenges. We are the proof that true hope can only be found in Christ alone.
This busy year finished with testimony concerts in the San Diego area in November. Arranged by Pastor Steve Ito whom I met at the Mt. Hermon conference, audiences at the University of California San Diego’s Graduate Christian Fellowship, West Covina Christian Church and Stone Gate Bible Fellowship came to hear how life with God is better than living without Him
For 2019, the testimony concert ministry is expanding to include partnering with other organizations to help reach their evangelistic goals. To that end, fundraising concerts are currently being planned with Kontakt Kanada (sending missionaries to Europe) in January, and Ratanak International (protecting the vulnerable from human trafficking in Cambodia) in the late spring. A series of fundraisers for various mental health organizations are also in the works and this time with a Christian cellist! No, not my son, but someone equally surprising… Stay tuned by checking www.julielowe. com or www.facebook. com/julielowepiano
In addition to the testimony concerts, the Tenth Church Single and Parenting ministry which I co-founded and co-lead has also been doing very well. We are so grateful to our prayer team as God has answered so many petitions on our behalf.
I would especially like to deeply thank each of you for your loving and encouraging support for Christ’s work through me. Our Father has answered every one of your prayers with His characteristic abundance and unmistakable grace. Please let me know how I can pray for you, or if I can serve and help you in your outreach goals!
May our Lord’s undeniable love, unfathomable peace, unending joy and undying hope resound in your hearts always.
Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of His glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
With Christmas joy,
CHRISTMAS 2017 UPDATE
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AUGUST 2017 UPDATE
How are you all doing? Some friends, especially those from California, have shared how hot this summer has been for them. Hopefully the cooler weather will come for you soon 😊!
As it’s been a while since my last newsletter, please forgive this one’s length, but God has done so much through the testimony concert ministry for which He deserves all the glory and honour!
This year began with an invitation to play a house concert at a Bible study, which then led to a wonderful “Testimony of Hope” concert at the Richmond Fujian Evangelical Church.
At the end of January, Markus Pfeil of Neues Leben Germany came over for Vancouver’s Missions Fest and together we shared at the English and German services at the Martin Luther Church.
In February, I partnered with John Cuddeford and the International Student Ministries Canada for their fundraising event. I first met John when planning for a testimony concert for ISMC at the University of BC last year.
Although giving evangelistic events is the main heartbeat of the testimony concert ministry, the ongoing counseling of single parents, cancer patients and those dealing with depression continues to be just as important. Heading Tenth Church’s single parents’ support group included leading a group of its members and their children to a spring break retreat put on by the Barnabas Family Ministries. It was a precious time of healing for many families in the beautiful surroundings of Keats Island. As God would have it, I was permitted to give an impromptu testimony concert there as well.
The latter half of spring included a performance at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s “Out for Lunch” concert series and celebrating Mattias’ high school graduation!
This July, while my sons were in Germany for a missions trip with Neues Leben, I visited Montreal for the first time. My français was usually met with a puzzled look and returned with “And what did you wish to say?” in English, but the Lord still provided several opportunities to share about His work through the testimony concert ministry!
Later that week I had the blessing to share the “Journeys” testimony concert at the Scarborough Chinese Alliance Church. God used this event to touch many in the audience, including an attendee whose sister who had just been diagnosed with cancer the night before. I was able to visit her and her family and God used our time to encourage and remind each other of the assurance His Resurrection brings. While in Toronto, I visited a dear friend, also a single mother, and heard amazing stories of how the Lord is working in her life, too. He is so good!
Now my longest testimony concert tour lies ahead, where I’ll be away for almost a month. In addition to a return trip to Germany, I will be sharing in Corfu and Albania for the first time this October. Markus Pfeil has graciously organized the Germany concerts again, while the Corfu/Albania concerts are being organized by Rev. Julian Wilson of Corfu’s Holy Trinity Church. Please pray with me that God would be working even now in the hearts and lives of those whom He will bring to the events.
Please pray also that God would help me learn my German script fluently, that His message of hope would come through clearly without any distraction from my poor accent. The “Journeys” program is a bit more evangelical (as opposed to personal) than the “Testimony of Hope” program, but if I’m to believe the feedback, the Lord will still use it encourage non-believers to consider what Christ could do in their lives upon hearing what He has done in mine. I must prepare both programs for this tour, as I will be doing the “Testimony of Hope” for Holy Trinity Church’s “Women’s Day of Healing.” Therefore, in bringing over 2-1/2 hours of music and script on this missions’ trip, please pray that God would secure the pieces into my fingers and that I’d share the messages genuinely from my heart.
Thank you very, very much for your sharing in this ministry! I hope that you are as encouraged as I am at how Jesus has used your prayerful and financial support to touch so many. Please do write to let me know how I can pray for you as well or if I can partner with you to give a free outreach concert at your church! In the meantime and till my next newsletter, may God continue to bless you in every way possible for Him alone.
Together in Christ,
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MAY 2016 UPDATE
I hope you are all doing well! Just an update on how the Lord is leading the testimony concert ministry as we head into the summer season.
It was a busy spring including a testimony concert at Pastor Bernard Lee’s Jesus Endtimes Ministries Church and a recital at the Vancouver Art Gallery for their Out For Lunch concert series. Pastor Bernard has been a dear family friend for many years and it was indeed a blessing to share with his congregation. Though the Art Gallery concert was not publicly evangelical, our Lord never wastes an opportunity to touch people through this ministry. There I had shared briefly how I had to cancel last year’s concert at the last minute due to my impending breast cancer surgery and why I since have included some Brahms and Debussy (who both died of cancer) on my programs this year. As the audience was leaving, one lady came to me and said, “I just wanted to let you know that I am not from Vancouver and was not planning to come to this concert. I am in town for chemo and radiation as I also have breast cancer. Your concert was so special and encouraging for me. Thank you.” Thank YOU, Jesus!
This weekend I will be giving two concerts at Seattle’s Japanese Baptist Church. The May 21st event is an appreciation concert for the present (and would be) supporters of Gordon and Lee Ann Hwang, American missionaries based in Yokohama who were very involved with the Tohoku tour of 2014. Then on May 22nd, I will give a bilingual testimony concert, with Takao Suzuki as the translator. Takao’s wife, Ritsko, was the initiator for the Japan tour. Both concerts begin at 2 pm and the flyer for the second concert is attached here.
Then June 2nd I will be sharing about the testimony concert ministry at St. John Anglican’s “Women @ 10.” I have been attending their bible studies since last September and have learned so much about 2 Corinthians and the second half of John’s Gospel, thanks to their outstanding leaders, Bronwyn Short, Anna Kwan, Linette Hindley and Jan Hobbis.
On June 17th evening at Tenth Church’s Kitsilano location at St. Mark’s Church, I will be giving the first performance of the Testimony Concert II program which I’ve entitled, “Journeys.” The music will include Brahms, Debussy, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and of course, Bach, with fresh, new messages. Please pray for me as I finalize this script which I hope will encourage audiences to think about their own journeys and Who best to guide them through the ups and down of life.
On June 18th at 6:30 pm, I will be sharing at Dr. Tom Blackaby’s church, Brookswood Baptist Church. I am especially honoured to have this opportunity as Pastor Tom’s father, Dr. Henry Blackaby, wrote “Experiencing God,” a book which was very influential in my walk with Christ. His accompanying devotional, “Experiencing God: Day by Day,” continues to be my daily inspirational guide.
It has become my policy that every outreach testimony concert be made free of charge, with no mentioning of donation, free-will offering, love gift or anything of such nature, so that Christians could confidently invite their non-believing friends and family, knowing they will not be embarrassed by pleas for money. Some concerts will also have free childcare. Therefore, please join me in prayer that God would speak personally to each audience member at the concerts, and that the hosting organizations would be His hands and feet, welcoming newcomers as they walk through their doors. Pray that hearts would be touched, lives would be transformed and futures would be secured in Jesus for eternity through these evangelical events.
Lastly, as we head into the summer vacation, I will be the morning prayer session pianist at the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society’s Mt. Hermon Conference from June 26th – July 2nd. I will be giving a bilingual testimony concert on Wednesday June 30th and sharing about the testimony concert ministry the following Thursday evening, including excerpts from the newest “Journeys” script. I am also very excited that, thanks to the Pacific Northwest Mt. Hermon Scholarship fund, JEMS and Mt. Hermon organizations, a friend plus two Vancouver single mothers and their daughters will be joining me in California this year! May they be as blessed in their time there as I was at my first Mt. Hermon Conference and every time since.
Thank you very much for your encouraging support in so many ways. I hope to see you and your friends at the concerts if your schedules permit. Please let me know how I can pray for you as well.
May the Lord bless you for your partnership in this ministry and grant you His peace, joy, grace and love always.
Together in Christ,
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DECEMBER 2015 UPDATE
I hope you are all doing well in this blessed holiday season! How was your year? Roller coaster eventful or blessedly calm?
As I reflect upon the past 12 months, this has been an extraordinary one for my family and me, to say the least. Right before Christmas 2014, my mother went into emergency for what was later diagnosed as severe bursitis. Then February brought me my first (and, please God, “only”) emergency root canal! In March I went on my first testimony concert missions tour in Germany, a beloved country to which I owe much of my musical training. Then in April, it was confirmed that I had invasive breast cancer and with the mastectomy in June, the rest of the summer was spent recuperating.
Yet the difficult times only served to provide opportunities for the blessings to shine, encourage and inspire ever more. Countless faithful prayer warriors all over the world lifted me up before the Cross. In July, the pathology report said that the surgery was successful, that I was cancer free, and would not even be needing chemotherapy or radiation. So many people helped my sons, mother and me during this time when I could barely even walk. We received wonderful meals, flowers, gifts and visits which encouraged us immensely, as did the numerous emails, texts and phone calls. Treasured friends from Bellevue looked after Mattias so that he could attend the JEMS Mt. Hermon Christian camp and the Suzuki family even drove up to see me on my surgery day and then returned to bring Mattias back to Vancouver when I had just gotten out of the hospital. Curtis and Mattias stepped up to the plate in learning how to care for others with physical limitations with my mother and me being their guinea pigs . I was very glad to begin physiotherapy in September, which helped my healing immensely. It was vital in the preparation for playing and sharing at the Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church’s 120th Anniversary later that month, and then the Eve’s Daughters fundraiser for single mothers in the Portland area in October. God is so good!
Thank you very, very much for your prayers and support for me, my family and the testimony concert ministry. God has used your faithfulness and generosity to bless so many, not just in the places I’ve visited, but also virtually, that through the julielowe.com website, more people are coming to know that they are worth the Blood of our Saviour, and through Him, they, too, can have the transforming power of the Resurrection in their lives. Videos of the Germany and Japan messages, plus full concerts of the Hope2Offer fundraiser, Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian anniversary and Eve’s Daughters benefit events are all now online.
If you are in Vancouver at noon on Jan. 31st for the Missions Fest conference (http://www.missionsfestvancouver.ca/), I will be sharing a mini version of a testimony concert with abbreviated performances of piano masterworks and messages which were given on tour. In mid-February I will bring the testimony concerts to Santa Clara Valley Japanese Christian Church (near San Jose) and Gardena Valley Baptist Church (near Los Angeles). In May I’ll be in the Seattle area doing a fundraiser for Gordon and Lee Ann Hwang, missionaries to Japan and God-willing, I will do my first testimony concert missions trip to Brazil in the fall. For exact days and times, feel free to email me or check on my website or Facebook page.
Please do drop me a line to let me know how I can pray for you. If I may ask, please pray for my spiritual and physical health, the financial means and musical stamina as I prepare the music and messages for the testimony concerts. Please pray that the events would give Christ followers an opportunity to bring their non-Christian friends to hear of the Lord’s love for them in a fresh and hopefully pleasing way that would lend itself to further exploration on a life with Jesus. It is my hope that through this ministry, people would come face to face with the One who knows them best and loves them most.
From my family to yours: merry, merry Christmas and may your 2016 be memorable and bright!
Together in Christ,
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OCTOBER 2015 UPDATE
I trust that you are all doing well!
Today is Canada’s Thanksgiving Day, similar to the American holiday, but I guess because we are farther north where the weather turns colder earlier, we have our harvest in October rather than November.
As I reflect upon this past year, I am in grateful awe of what God has done in my life. Even Facebook remembered that exactly a year ago today, I gave my first testimony concert in Japan at Rev. Shigemi Ono’s Soshin Baptist Church in Yokohama. Since then, people in Canada, Germany and the US have heard of how their worth is determined by the priceless Blood of Christ who redeemed them and when He is in their center core, they are unshakeable.
Of course, besides the concerts, the next biggest news was the diagnosis of my breast cancer situation, right after returning from the Germany tour. While physically it has not been a lot of fun going through tests, biopsies, ultrasounds, surgery and physiotherapy, thanks to your prayers, I must admit that spiritually I was at complete and total peace. For those in Christ, we are either here on earth or There in Heaven but no matter what, God is with us at all times. There is simply nothing which can compare with that security. Absolutely nothing.
I am still doing physiotherapy to get more movement from my right arm and abdominal muscles, but praise God, I am well enough to begin playing again, albeit with a modified program of pieces which match what body strength I have at this time. In September I played at the Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church’s 120th Anniversary celebration and this Thursday I leave for Portland to play a benefit fundraiser for a Christian single mother’s organization called “Eve’s Daughters” on Saturday Oct. 17th. No one is more surprised than I that the Lord would heal me enough, less than 4 months after my mastectomy, to share His hope with those who feel hope has passed them by. This truly is a God-thing. Please pray with me that everyone involved in this Saturday’s event would be blessed by His Presence through the messages and music.
I am so grateful that God has provided a tech genius who was able to put the video clips of the Germany and Japan concert tours onto my website so that after 1- 1/2 years, I can finally show you what the Lord has done with all your support in English, German and Japanese. Huge thanks to Cathy Kosinski for lending me her husband, Steffen, for his expert and tireless help, even up to midnight! On the site are also copies of previous newsletters and concert feedback so please feel free to look around and let me know your thoughts and suggestions for improvement.
Upcoming testimony concert plans for 2016 include sharing at Gardena Valley Baptist Church on Feb. 13th, and a fundraiser for Gordon and Lee Ann Hwang (missionaries in Japan who were “instrumental” [pun intended] in organizing the Japan tour with Mari Endo) around May 21st. Currently a missions trip to Brazil in the fall and Germany in 2017 are being organized, the latter being tied in with the celebration of 500 years since the Reformation. As I prepare for them, please pray that the Lord would provide enough musical and spiritual creativity, physical stamina, funding, and concert opportunities to make as many people understand just how deeply He loves them and wants the best for them, that life with Him is far better than life without Him.
In closing, especially on this Thanksgiving Day weekend, know that I am thanking our Father for each and every one of you, for all your encouragement, prayers and support which have touched so many hearts worldwide through this unique ministry. May the Lord bless you in ways only He can, that you would know without a doubt that His heart beats for you.
Together in Christ,
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GERMANY NEWSLETTER, APRIL 2015
I hope you’re doing well! Having had some time to reflect upon the last missions trip to Germany, my heart is filled with much awe and gratefulness to God and to you for all your support for His work through my life and music.
After a setback during the preparations for the Japan testimony tour, the Lord led me to go to the Vancouver Missions Fest Conference in January 2014, to see how to better equip myself spiritually, emotionally, financially and professionally for this testimony concert ministry. Walking among the 230+ booths, I was inspired by the life stories of missionaries bringing the Gospel to the remotest corners of the world, challenged by the local organizations to help out in my hometown communities, and excited by the infinite number of ways our creative God uses to reach so many people groups. I met Gary Janzen, Executive Director of the International Christian Mission Services (http://www.icmsgo.com/), who explained that ICMS exists to help missionaries with the numerous logistics incurred to fulfill their Great Commission calling of going into the world to make disciples of all nations. He said that, among other things, ICMS would be able to provide prayerful and accounting assistance with issuing tax receipts for Americans willing to support Canadians in the ministry. As my sending organization, Hope2Offer (http://www.hope2offer.ca/), was already looking after the receipting of Canadian donations, this was exactly the answer to a prayer request I had been bringing before the Lord as it would help solve one of my major financial obstacles.
Then, walking a little further, I came across the booth for Neues Leben or “New Life” (https://www.neues-leben.de/). I am always appreciative of the opportunity to speak in German, even more so when the people are very patient and willing to overlook my many grammatical errors! Their evangelist, Markus Pfeil, listened with interest while I explained to him of my desire to share what Christ has done in my life through the medium of classical piano concerts. He mused that something like that could possibly work in Germany also. I wasn’t sure if he was just being polite, but just the fact that he did not scoff at the idea gave me courage to email him my resume that evening. He replied immediately saying that he and the Neues Leben Director, Wilfried Schulte, would review my proposal and I had learned of the positive outcome within that week.
It is impossible for me to describe how encouraging it was that the Lord was confirming His work within me after all I had gone through in the past few years. He had not given up on me, even when I had given up on myself, of ever being used to fulfill a prophecy which I believe He gave almost three decades earlier of being a “Kingdom Class musician.” It was decided that the concert tour for Germany would take place in the spring of 2015, building upon the experiences I would learn through the October 2014 testimony tour in Japan, and would consist of 12 concerts in 15 days, plus the opportunity to share with the students of Neues Leben’s Rhineland Theological Seminary (Theologischen Seminar Rheinland or TSR) of what it means to be a musician for Christ.
When booking our trip, it was cheaper to travel to Düsseldorf than Frankfurt, even though we had to get off the plane in Frankfurt and take a train to Düsseldorf. Due to a mix-up, our heavy luggage did not follow us and the next day, Lufthansa brought them to the dorm of the TSR where we were staying instead. We arrived on Thursday March 5th, and I spent most of the next few days polishing my testimony in German with Markus as best as I could. It might be said that my piano playing went down proportionally to my fluency of the text improving, so after the first very busy week, I was glad to have a couple of days to just practice my music and German, so that they balanced out.
Mattias and I did get to spend a few sightseeing hours in nearby Bonn and Cologne, meeting up with dear friends from my student days, but most mornings and afternoons were spent practicing, in meetings or counseling people, especially once my German returned.
Many of the concerts were about an hour’s drive from TSR, usually beginning at 7:30 or 8 pm. The tour schedule is attached to this email. In order to do proper sound checks, get dressed and have time to pray with the organizers, we’d leave in the afternoon and get home around midnight. The first concert was in Bornheim, where they were also holding an exhibition on the making and publication of Bibles. It was very well received and I was thrilled that the people really seemed to understand what I was trying to say!
As with nearly every concert, there was a beautiful reception put on by the hosting organizer’s hospitality team which provided many opportunities to share more in depth with the audience members individually and on two occasions, with local newspaper reporters. This was one blessing I wished I could have enjoyed in Japan. Because I had done my post-grad studies in Cologne and Vienna, I could understand and speak enough German to interact with the people on my own, whereas in Japan, I was completely reliant upon the concert organizers to be translators. Perhaps because they felt that we might not meet again, many of the concert attendees shared of their personal hurts and desires for spiritual healing which moved me very deeply as Europeans are usually quite private. In letting down their guard to hear what God may be saying through me, they also encouraged me personally.
Here are just a few of the situations our Lord was working on:
– someone who had just been diagnosed with a growing cancerous tumor
– a pastor whose congregation ousted him when his wife left him
– someone who divorced over 15 years ago but still was seeking how to move forward in the healing grace of Christ
– a handicapped man who sincerely wanted to know Jesus personally, having listened to many worship cd’s and online sermons, and yet couldn’t seem to connect with a church (I believe one of the pastors in attendance of that concert has solved that problem!)
– someone in her 70’s who went through two divorces, but has discovered the true love she longs for can only be found in Christ; she continues to work on forgiving others and herself
– a teenager whose mother couldn’t seem to appreciate her for the precious daughter she was
– a homeless-sheltered woman who just wanted someone to talk with, to assure her that she isn’t forgotten and that she still matters in this world
– a parent who was having a very hard time forgiving the daughter-in-law who left her family for another man
– someone who was badly hurt by the leader in a former church wants to forgive out of obedience, yet struggles deeply with the sincerity of the heart
– a musician who has battled depression for much of her life, and now also wants to encourage others through testimony concerts, but is having a tough time finding devoted classical musicians who are also believers
– a woman invited by her former boss came to a concert because she felt she couldn’t refuse, and there God began to clarify some things she had been thinking about
– the wife of Neues Leben’s rector invited 2 non-Christian friends to a concert. Afterward, they stayed up till 11:30 to discuss the power of the Cross, its meaning and God’s purpose for their lives
I felt so encouraged and privileged to hear about these situations as this is exactly the purpose of the outreach concerts: to give Christians a chance to invite their non-believing friends to hear the Gospel of Christ’s hope in a non-threatening way, by someone who wasn’t a professional “evangelist,” and to give them lead ins for discussions to follow up when the event is over. They also give the hosting churches opportunities to share Christ’s presence and love with others who might not otherwise step into their buildings. In many cases, the organizers were thrilled that people they did not know had come to a concert because they had seen a poster of the event. One church even delayed the concert in order to put out more chairs. This pastor excitedly shared that he counted only about 20 of his own congregation in the 100+ person audience!
There were many incidences of God’s protection and foreknowledge in the planning of this missions’ trip. Markus had kindly lent me a car to drive to Amsterdam for a couple of days with Mattias. Everything was working fine till about a half hour’s drive from our way home, when the car suddenly began to make a strange sound. I tanked up at the gas station, thinking it was maybe low on gas, but it didn’t go away. We made it in time for my 2.5 hour lecture at the seminary and I mentioned the odd sound to Markus, who said he’d bring it to the shop later that day. I spoke with the students, played that evening’s concert, and on our way home, heard that the car had completely died at the repair shop! Can you imagine what would have happened if that had occurred earlier in the day while we were 4 hours away in the Netherlands?!
I also began to have problems with my contact lenses, which prevented me from seeing my script clearly, while other concerns, including jet-lag, left me feeling uncharacteristically tired at odd hours of the day. After sending out an email to some prayer warriors, these issues mostly cleared up in time for when the concert in Derschlag was filmed for a Christian television program. God-willing, when that gets put together, I will be able to put that on my personal website or Facebook so you could see and share how the Lord answered your prayers.
The students of Neues Leben were very friendly and enjoyable to be with and it was good for Mattias to see young students, not much older than he, wanting to make a difference for Christ in this world. Many spoke English and he had the chance to attend a couple of youth group sessions at the local church as well. However, it was tiring attending concert after concert where everything was in German, so we decided he would fly out to Leipzig for a few of the busiest days to stay with our good friends, Prof. Philip and Uschi Clart and their daughters, Laura and Sarah, who had lived in the US for many years. He flew on a Germanwings flight from Cologne to Leipzig and we picked him up when we were in that area. He got to go to Sarah’s school, attending a PE gym session and acing an English class.
In the meantime, the testimony tour continued eastward. Markus had arranged for every concert to have at least 2 assistants who drove, prayed and helped in counseling as needed. Carina, Constanze, Katrin and Meline gave up their family or work time to join us over the 12 cities, and their sacrifices were invaluable towards the tour’s success. For the last stretch, Katrin joined us which was vital as there was a lot of driving, most of it once the events ended around 11 pm. After the Burgkundstadt concert, we experienced a total breakdown of our car on a small road in the pitch of night. Thankfully Markus had a special auto membership which gave him a rental car on the spot, but we had to wait an hour for the car to be towed and the hotel was still a 2 hours’ drive away. We arrived at the beautiful Villa Markersdorf at 3 in the morning, thankful for a good night’s sleep, as there was a delicious breakfast meeting at 10 before driving 1.5 hours to a huge lunch in Leipzig prepared by Uschi. That evening’s concert was in Wittenberg, the city where the Protestant leader, Martin Luther, had nailed the 95 Theses onto the Schlosskirche doors in 1517 which started the Reformation. It was yet another 1.5 hour’s drive, so by the time that event finished at 10:30 p.m. and Katrin and Markus drove the two hours to Dresden, we were all completely exhausted.
Only the next day did Markus reveal that he hadn’t been feeling well, which was not surprising, given the packed March schedule he had, which not only included the testimony concerts, but of course his own evangelistic work with Neues Leben and preaching/teaching schedule. He had arranged a city tour of Dresden with his good friend, Frank, but he couldn’t join us for long. He returned to the hotel with stomach pains and a high fever. That evening’s concert was in Goerlitz, a 1.5 hour’s drive away eastward on the Polish-German border and Katrin had already made irreversible plans to return to Frankfurt. I said I could take a train to Goerlitz unless Frank could find someone at the last minute who would be willing to sit through the concert and drive the 3 hours there and back. We all prayed and within a couple of hours, Frank found a worship team member of his church who could drive me. “Topsi” was an emergency auto mechanic who was once a test driver for Audi, and as he knew the Goerlitz area well, he was definitely the Lord’s best choice for me! The concert was a benefit fundraiser for the city’s Bach Choir who opened the evening with “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” from J.S. Bach’s St. Matthias Passion. It was a satisfying concert, despite all the day’s chaos, and an important demonstration that it is only Jesus who is in control of all things and He gives us the strength to do His will when we trust Him implicitly.
Praise God, Markus was able to rest and felt well enough the next day to drive the entire 6 hours back to Neues Leben in time for me to get ready for the last concert in Rheinbach. For this event, they had rented a brand new Steinway concert grand, so I had absolutely no excuses for a poor performance, other than the fact that I was starting to catch a cold. The hosts, like all the others, were so accommodating and generous, and in our prayer time, God just brought the whole two and a half weeks together in focus:
All the joy and privilege of sharing His heart with so many in this country of such deep Christian roots simply blew me away. I remain indescribably grateful for Markus for believing in me and preparing this tour so flawlessly; he was a testimony in and of himself. I was so thankful for all those at Neues Leben, the hosting organizations and every concert’s hospitality team, who had worked countless behind the scenes hours for translating, organizing, praying, videotaping or preparing the amazing receptions which I truly appreciated as I don’t often eat before a concert!
And of course, none of this would have come to fruition if not for the vast number of prayer warriors all around the world who had lifted up the tour to the Lord, and for the amazing generosity of His saints who financially supported this mission’s trip to make it possible. Romans 8:28 never seemed so true:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose
On our way home, Markus casually mentioned that Lufthansa was on strike, and all international flights out of Germany were canceled. Had we flown into Frankfurt as we had originally tried to plan, we would not be able to fly home that weekend! Instead, we were booked to take a flight from Düsseldorf to London on its unaffected subsidiary company, Germanwings, and then Air Canada from Heathrow back to Vancouver. Although my cold had worsened and I had developed an eye infection, it was a much better and shorter trip home than our flight over to Europe.
Two days later, the happy lighthearted memories of our mission trip were suddenly replaced by the stark reality of the testimony tour’s importance when a Germanwings co-pilot deliberately crashed a plane of 150 passengers on a flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf. Perhaps some of those who attended the concerts were remembering the part of the message when I said, “Things happen to us which we did not expect and therefore could not prepare for.” I hoped they would also recall how Blackaby wrote, “If you are facing challenges that seem overwhelming, don’t be discouraged. God has already foreseen them and prepared for them… Turn to the Scriptures and allow them to reorient you to God… and He will safely guide you through your difficult moments.”
We have no control over what will happen in our future. We have no idea when we’re in the middle of our trials what Jesus is going to do with them. We only know that He is good, that He is Almighty, that He is for us and that this life is not the end. The testimony concert tours exist to attest to this truth in every way possible wherever God so leads.
For those of you who are able to make it, I will be giving a missions report of both the October 2014 Japan and March 2015 Germany Testimony Concert Tours on Sunday May 24th at 1:00 p.m. in the Lounge at Tenth Church (11 W. 10th Ave, Vancouver, B.C.; http://www.tenth.ca/).
Thank you very, very much for your prayerful and financial partnership with me in this ministry. There are talks of returning to Germany in 2017 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. God-willing, I hope to see many of you at this year’s JEMS Mt. Hermon conference in June. No matter what, I will definitely keep you posted on where the next tour will be, perhaps even in your hometown!
May the Lord bless each of you as deeply He has blessed me through you.
Truly Soli Deo Gloria: to God alone be the glory.
Together in Christ,
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JAPAN NEWSLETTER, OCTOBER 2014
Thank you all so very much for all your prayers and financial support of the testimony tour of Japan! It was simply amazing how God orchestrated all this within a year.
The idea for this trip actually began a year ago when Ritsko Suzuki of Bellevue, WA told a friend of hers, Shirley Tamura, about me and my desire to share Christ through my life testimony and profession as a pianist. Shirley and her husband, Koichi, live in Yokohama and are good friends with Gordon and Lee Ann Hwang, missionaries in Japan who are from the Seattle area as well. Lee Ann works at the Soshin Girls School where her friend, Mari Endo, teaches English. After sharing about my vision, Mari kindly offered to help coordinate some concerts with her connection to churches in Tohoku, the area most devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
And so the tour begins on Thurs. Oct. 9th, 2014 in Yokohama where the Tamuras graciously allowed me and Miho (a former homestay of mine from Bellevue) to stay with them and their family. Shirley fed us bountifully (often including a science lesson as she’s a nutritionist!) and showed us all around the city. The next evening, Miho and I met up with David and Clarissa Kelso (missionary friends from Vancouver) and Roberta Peabody (an American missionary whom I met at JEMS’ Mt. Hermon camp in 2010) who all serve the Lord in Japan. Everyone was able to give me much counsel which was very helpful during the tour.
On Saturday, I moved to Mari’s, where she had prepared an amazing dinner! Her pastor, Rev. Ono of Soshin Baptist Church, and Gordon and Lee Ann were also happy recipients of her terrific culinary skills . Over dinner we were able to discuss the last minute details for the tour. Gordon had generously agreed to do double duty as the tour driver and media/photographer for the southern Tohoku concerts and I learned more about Pastor Ikuko Williams, a Japanese native who now lives in Leeds but was visiting her homeland and would be joining us for the missions trip.
On Sunday Oct. 12th, I performed the first testimony concert at Soshin Baptist which, at 400+ members, has one of Japan’s largest congregations. Here I met people who knew firsthand of the tsunami victims or the difficulties of the survivors. Although I had insisted that no mention of money or free will offering was to be made, the members of Soshin Church themselves wanted to give towards their brothers and sisters in the Tohoku churches and they gathered $1600 in donations from the concert. This was then divided between the 4 churches on the tour as a gift from Soshin Baptist to: Matsushima Christ Church, Yamashirocho Church in Ishinomaki, Nishikiori Baptist Church in Nishikiori and Taira Baptist Church in Iwaki, Fukushima. The Soshin Ladies Group of 6 women plus Mari had worked tirelessly for many months for the success of the 5 concerts in Yokohama and Tohoku, and the Lord blessed their efforts immensely.
Immediately following the delicious tea prepared by the Soshin Church’s wonderful hospitality team, I trained south to Shizuoka where I stayed with Chigusa and Akihide Horie. Their daughter, Yasuko, had married an American, Jesse Kline, and they have an adorable son, 10 month old “Senta.” Through my Bible study leader (Mary Lum)’s contacts, I was able to connect with Jesse. He spoke with his mother-in-law who is a piano teacher about the outreach concerts. Chigusa is also a Christian who then organized 2 full recitals in her home, complete with printed programs, chair set up for 3 rooms, snacks and a translator (Jesse did one concert but was at work for the other). Two other churches participated and again I met more people who shared of connections with 2011 survivors/victims. One lady returned back to the Hories after the other guests had left to ask for prayer for her little 5 month old granddaughter who already needed surgery for a liver transplant. Chigusa just radiates with the love and generosity of our Lord, and though Akihide is not yet a believer, he also was incredibly kind, sensitive and respectful, always listening to what I had to share with his sincere and open heart. The Lord provided other opportunities to encourage the whole family which I tried to do, sharing from my past difficulties as well.
Actually a huge God-sighting occurred in Shizuoka: on Wed. Oct. 8th, the day I left for Japan, I checked the news and saw an astronaut’s report from a space station that an “absolute monster of a perfect storm, Typhoon Vongfong,” was on a direct path to Japan, set to reach exactly that coming weekend when the concert tour was to begin! I immediately sent out an email to the prayer supporters asking for God’s intervention through their petitions to have mercy upon Japan, if only just to encourage the organizers who had worked so hard on this project for a year. They had just survived a severe typhoon the previous weekend and were bracing for this even more ominous storm, but on the day it “arrived,” it graciously started after the first Shizuoka concert ended and the guests had gone home, gathered a little strength during our dinner, and apparently blew stronger in the night, but I was still getting over jet-lag, and slept soundly through it. The next morning, I awoke to glorious sunshine and absolutely no evidence whatsoever of a typhoon! It had completely petered out before reaching any of the areas where I was to perform, praise God, and this lion of a typhoon became as gentle as a lamb, not affecting the concert’s audience attendance at all!
When it was time to leave, the Hories kindly enlisted Megumi, a young lady who was fluent in English, to help me get my train ticket to my next stop in Northern Iwate. I left Shizuoka on Wed. at 8:37 a.m., got to Morioka (with a train change in Tokyo) at 12:32, too late to catch the bus to Iwaizumi so I had to wait a couple of hours to catch the next bus. It was nearly impossible to sleep on the twisty 2 hour bus ride to my destination. Already travel sick, I met Pastor Dawn Birkner at 4:45, who then drove more winding roads for almost another hour to Tanohata where, after throwing up, I finally felt much better and got ready to set up for the 7 pm concert! There were 4 adults and a well behaved young boy (all non-Christians) in the cold community hall, but the Lord was there, as well as a terrific concert grand Yamaha piano! For each outreach event, Dawn brings out an entire carload of free books, pamphlets, videos, snacks, beverage makers and crafts, always with the uncertainty of who (if anyone) will show up, but with the anticipation and readiness of one of the prepared virgins in Matthew 25. The next day, another missionary, Dorothy Fong of Malaysia, joined us and we went to Noda, giving out flyers for an upcoming event for Dawn and telling the people about that evening’s concert. To think that Dawn otherwise does all this on her own as the only Christian for tens of miles around was staggering to believe. I gave a concert in Noda that night for 5 adults and 3 children. One lady had been recently baptized by Dawn and came from a difficult background, but has received much hope through Christ and Dawn’s mentorship. Even though they were few, Dawn wrote me later to say that one of them happily shared photos from this concert with others in her temporary housing. This was very encouraging as, again, none are Christians yet, but through Dawn’s relationship building, we hope they will come out to future events with their friends.
On my last morning in Iwate, we drove to Omoto which was completely devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. We did a sing-along and mini-concert on an electric portable keyboard (Bach worked great as his keyboard pieces use only a 5 octave range, rather than the usual 7+) with 3 ladies and a man who dropped in for a coffee. They all lived in the surrounding temporary housing where the community building was located. We were honoured to be greeted by them afterward by their homes, something they would not usually let strangers do. Their future was insecure as to when or if they’d ever get to leave the temporary housing shelter in their lifetime. They try to encourage each other, but with personal uncertainty, this is a definitely a God-sized assignment cut out for Dawn and whoever may feel led to help her through missions trips in this remote area of Japan. After a short drive around, it was time to take the bus back to Morioka and then a train to Sendai where Mari, Gordon and Pastor Ikuko Williams awaited.
Ikuko was a last minute addition to the team but her translating skills were invaluable to our time in this area of Tohoku. Mari had booked us to stay at a local “onsen” (hot springs) inn which was a new experience for me, but the relaxed atmosphere prepared me for the last few days of concerts. The owner had put up posters of the recital and said that she’d be attending, too. True to her word, we saw her at the Matsushima Christ Church where we were greeted by Rev. and Mrs. Kakuno and their church members who had prepared a delicious lunch before the concert. The church was full with many who expressed their gratitude at hearing the Lord’s message of hope through music and the testimony portion of the concert and for some, it was even their first time in a church. Their comments, like those of the other 3 Tohoku churches, are attached to this email. Of all the 11 concerts, I think I played best at Matsushima Christ Church, but the most spine-tingling part came at the end where the congregation joined in a sing-along of “Furasato” (“Homeland”). In the audience was a former opera singer and his booming voice encouraged everyone to sing and the Lord’s presence there was unforgettable.
Next was Ishinomaki, one of the most devastated cities of the tsunami. Completely leveled, the water came up to the end of the block where the church was located, stealing among its victims relatives and friends of many of the audience members. Rev. and Mrs. Sekikawa (with their little son, Yuto) of Yamashirocho Church graciously received us with lunch and their church’s hospitality team, like those of all the churches, prepared a wonderful reception for us and the attendees. I really felt that the testimony part of the concert was sincerely taken to heart here, that the message that God loves and values them really went home. It was hard to leave our newly made friends, but we still had a long drive to our next destination to rest for the next day.
We first saw Nishikiori Baptist Church from the other side of the river because its large cross was visible from miles around. Its pastor is a most gentle, Godly man who came to Christ about a decade ago after he and his wife lost their 18 year old son who was swimming at a Christian retreat. Rev. and Mrs. Amano lead the small church of 4-5 members and would welcome our prayers for more helpers to the Nishikiori harvest field. I was amazed at their faith that they even wanted to put out more chairs than their regular pews and I begged the Lord to fill the place with His angels, if only to encourage His saints who had gone through so much. God showed up with His heavenly hosts as there were over 30 people in attendance to listen to His word in speech and music on their beautiful baby grand piano!
Unfortunately, time was not on our side again, and we had to leave right after the concert for a 3.5 hour drive toward Taira. We stayed in Miharu, about an hour’s drive away frm Taira, when Mari remembered that a daycare/kindergarten led by a pastor friend was close by. She asked if it were possible for me to play for the kids before going to Taira and I thought it would be great fun. So the next morning I met about 100 very, very well behaved and attentive 2-5 year olds at the daycare! Rev. Sasaki was the principal who was completely loved and revered by all young and old in his school. We enjoyed a brief question and answer time with a little Bach, Mozart and even Schumann (the little ones were so respectfully quiet, even during the slow “Trauemerei”) in the presence of a few parents before having to rush off to Taira Baptist Church with its very friendly, welcoming English-fluent leader, Rev. Tanno, who met us with a surprise guest.
In my hurry to leave Nishikiori as we had a 3-4 hour drive south to Miharu before driving another hour to Taira, I had left my Bible in Rev. Amano’s study at his church. When we arrived at Taira Baptist Church, who should be waiting there for us than Rev. Amano himself with my Bible in hand, saying, “I think you will miss this!” When I expressed my gratitude and surprise (not to mention my sheepishness at admitting I hadn’t missed it till he showed it, proving I had obviously been too busy for my morning devotions that day!), saying that he could have just sent it to Canada, he humbly and graciously said, “Oh, when you played at our church yesterday, I was so nervous that I wanted to hear you again in a more relaxed state.” Can you believe it?! This man in his 60’s had gotten up and left Nishikiori at 5 a.m. to drive almost 6 hours and then, during intermission, he left to drive all the way back because of my absentmindedness! Actually, two other men from the Matsushima Church also traveled the long way to Taira to hear the testimony concert again!
It was during this last concert that I got my only real taste of spiritual warfare and what Rev. Tanno along with so many sincere Christians experience in Japan. Personally covered by all your prayers throughout the trip, I was always protected from the darkness which blankets so much of this beautiful country, but the Lord wanted to show me a little bit before I left, so that I would be aware and grateful of His grace all the more. Despite the beautiful baby grand piano and modern setting of Taira church, I just felt uncomfortable throughout the first half of the concert, as if whatever I was sharing musically or with words was powerless and just not getting through to anyone. I felt so undeserving, as if I were a fake, and had no business doing any sort of testimony concerts anywhere, let alone in Japan. It was as if the Enemy were telling me that if the people really knew me or what I had gone through, they certainly wouldn’t put any worth in my message. Praying through the concert helped, but it was only during the intermission when I happened to come across a quote from Leviticus 25:10 that I was able to really calm down and put this whole tour into perspective: “The fiftieth year is sacred…it is a year of freedom!” I’m not sure which English translation of the Bible it came from, but the closest I’ve found to it online comes from the New International Version:
Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you
This was certainly true for me in this, my 50th year, which is quickly coming to a close. There was simply absolutely nothing on my radar 5 years ago that would make me believe that I’d be writing to you all about a testimony concert tour, but here we are. It has been an incredible 365 days, definitely a year of freedom and jubilee in many, many ways which I wanted to proclaim for Japan and myself. As Rick Warren says, it’s not about me; it’s about the grace and mercy of our Almighty God. I was so deeply moved by some of the stories I had heard: foreign kids (often of missionaries) who would be bullied for simply being different than the rest of their schoolmates; of family members who were swallowed up by the tsunami; of homes which were washed away or completely destroyed, yet still had to be paid for; of guilt so deep that even when people can finally leave the temporary housing for permanent shelter, they cannot enjoy it because of the sadness of those left behind who fear they may never be able to leave; of how people from Fukushima are treated as lepers, even being denied the blessing of marriage by some others in the rest of the country who refused to let their son or daughter marry them for fear that their exposure to the radiation of the nuclear power plant would “taint” the family bloodline by possibly producing “abnormal” offspring.
And yet, in some ways it was a tour which showed great promise. I am sure that when the Lord produces a revival far greater than the tsunami, Japan will be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, Asian nation for Jesus. Their incredible depth of sensitivity, thoughtfulness and consideration for others is absolutely unparalleled. Their inbred desire for excellence would be the perfect reflection of Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” Those whom I met serve our Saviour with their whole heart, holding nothing back selfishly. I heard of people having come to Christ who would mortgage their homes to support their church. Others would choose Jesus, even if it meant alienation from their families, but they did so not only willingly but with the hope and belief that God would save their loved ones in His time, too. Everywhere we went we were treated with amazing hospitality, often at huge personal cost in this area which is still recovering from devastation: newly harvested rice, just picked apples, pears, persimmons and walnuts, delicious homemade soups and meals, and cookie treats galore to my expanding (and quickly disappearing) waistline! Most of all, those who have come to genuinely love the Lord radiate a pure joy and countenance which brilliantly reflects our Father’s heart for their countrymen.
After leaving Taira, Gordon drove us all back to Yokohama by around 10 pm, where I bid Mari and Ikuko a fond and most grateful farewell. I had also said goodbye to Gordon, but had left my winter boots in his van, so he graciously braved the rain on his motorbike the next day to bring them to me at the Tamuras before my return to Vancouver. There are simply no words to express how grateful I am to Mari, Gordon and Ikuko, this wonderful testimony team, who had given up so much of their family and work time for this tour. Gordon was just getting over a cold and yet drove over 20 hours in 5 days to get us everywhere safely and on time. Ikuko was preparing her sermons for the upcoming weekend and Mari had sandwiched the entire trip on her days off from teaching at the school. All her preparations and organization were perfectly timed with the best balance of rest and travel that each concert would be the blessing the Lord meant it to be for this devastated area.
The missions trip was over far too quickly but I sure missed my sons so I was glad to come home.
However, everything came into another perspective upon my arrival. I was told that my father’s only surviving sister, Pearl Lim, was just taken her off the respirator and at 91, the doctors felt that she should be left in peace. I got to see Auntie Pearl one last time the evening I returned home, and she passed away peacefully on Oct. 24th to join my father in heaven who died almost exactly 23 years earlier on Oct. 25th, 1991.
We never know when we will leave this earth, but we in Christ have this glorious, fortifying assurance that we will see each other again in the presence of our Lord in heaven. Therefore goodbyes are unnecessary; it’s just, “See you later!”
Thank you so much again for partnering with me for the testimony concert tour in Japan! I pray that this newsletter will share some of the joys and encouragement which the people there received because of your incredible faithfulness and generosity.
The next tour is scheduled for March 2015 in Germany. The focus there will not be so much presenting Christ as an “unknown God” this time, but more of His relevance and vitalness to our very existence to a country which prides itself on being a Christian nation which begat Luther and Bonhoeffer, yet lives with much hollowness and dissatisfaction. I hope that you will join me in partnering for Germany, a country which has given me so much in my career by its musical history and my academic studies there, that God would pour out His truth, grace, power and joy through my testimony to bless this nation for His name and honour.
Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Together in Christ,