From Buddhist Priest to Believer in Yeshua
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” John14:6 (NASB)
I grew up near Horyuji Temple in Nara Prefecture whose buildings have had a huge influence on religious architecture and whose pagoda is the oldest wooden building in the world. This historic environment influenced me. I would walk around the ancient tombs and remains from the Asuka era and visit old temples with my classmates.
After high school I entered a Buddhist university in Osaka. When the entrance ceremony began with Buddhist sutras I thought I was at a funeral service. What kind of university had I entered! However, as all of us incoming students recited sutras I began to think that Buddhism is good. And over the course of 4 years of study this feeling got stronger.
My university degree got me a job at a major travel agency. I liked my job and was praised for my good sales results. Unfortunately, my lifestyle was a mess. Almost every night I went out drinking with colleagues. Then, I made the tragic mistake of driving after a night of drinking and caused a major accident. I knew I needed to reform myself and decided to change my job and immerse myself in Buddhism. In 2000 I entered the Buddhist priesthood and received a Buddhist name. I thought I could achieve salvation through this.
I was taught that while the world has many religions and many gods all of them are incarnated in Buddha and while there is only one pinnacle that is the truth there are many ways to get to it. I thought that the exclusionism of monotheistic religions is wrong and that Japanese-style Buddhism should take the lead and promote religious reconciliation and world peace. This motivated me to participate in a Religions for Peace conference, take part in a medical team for AIDS treatment in Kenya and visit Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Ethiopia. Then, just when I thought all was going smoothly my company went under and I was out of a job. I was desperate and this led me to become what I am today, an independent business consultant.
My new career engaged me with various people and in February 2007 I found myself being pestered by a Christian business associate to attend a church service until I finally gave in and went with him. The pastor’s message was that the only way to salvation is by believing in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He explained that almost all Japanese think that there is only one truth but more than one way to achieve it. He declared that this is absolutely wrong.
For me this was unacceptable! I wanted to shout out, “No! What a terrible message! You can’t say that!” After the service several people asked me what I thought about the message. I couldn’t help but argue with them. This brought out an elder of the church and we engaged in a full-fledged verbal battle that ended in a stalemate with me insisting insisted that:
- There is only one truth but there are many ways to get there.
- A religion is like a dialect and the one and only god (Buddha) appears differently to correspond with different countries, different cultures, and different ethnicities.
- Japan was established as a nation based on the laws and ordinance system during the 6th and 7th centuries when Prince Shotoku lived. Since then, Japanese people have been valuing Wa (harmony) and accordingly respect multiple religions, such as Shinto and Buddhist deities.
I was frustrated that those Christians didn’t understand that we are seeking the same truth. But, to get them to understand I needed to know what is in their Bible. For this purpose, I read the 8 volume Nihonjin ni Okuru Seisho Monogatari (The Bible Story Written for Japanese) by Pastor Kenichi Nakagawa of Harvest Time Ministries. I had previously read a number of books related to Christianity by Shusaku Endo, Ayako Sono, and Ayako Miura. However, I needed more than piecemeal knowledge to argue successfully with those Christians. Pastor Nakagawa’s books presented the Bible story like a history textbook. After reading his books I concluded that 1) Jesus Christ had been an actual person, 2) Jesus’ crucifixion was historically true, and 3) I needed to meet Pastor Nakagawa.
In April 2007 I met Pastor Nakagawa for the first time and from September I started going to Harvest Time Ministries’ weekly service in Tokyo in order to find the legitimacy of Buddhism in the Bible. At the same time, I decided to review what Buddha actually taught and what the original fundamental principle of Buddhism really was. It bothered me that Buddhism taught two opposite things: justification by faith and justification by one’s own effort.
The Buddha’s last words to his disciples were, “Everything is fleeting. Complete your training diligently.” The Buddha wanted his disciples to always pursue the truth, without falling into something like idol-worship. As my understanding grew, I began to think that Buddhism is not really a religion but a philosophy. However, his disciples did not follow their master’s faith but let his ashes be divided and shared with numerous followers. These ashes are said to now be in more than 80,000 temples around the world.
I assume that when Buddhism first came to Japan in AD 538 from China via the Korean Peninsula, it had already been influenced by Christianity, Hinduism and some other religions. However, no matter how much I tried to correlate the roots of Japanese Buddhism with the Christianity of ancient times, it didn’t lead me to have a personal relationship with God in terms of salvation. This was because I did not yet understand the true significance of the crucifixion.
There came a point where I stopped seeking for salvation in Buddhism. In contrast, I was continually studying the Bible from a logical and scientific point of view. Then, one experience was life-changing. In April 2008, I attended a Harvest Time Ministries seminar where Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum taught on “God’s Program for the Salvation of Mankind – Dispensationalism and the Eight Covenants of the Bible.” He introduced how to study the Bible from the Jewish perspective. This was a breakthrough that enabled me to comprehend the essence of the Bible. When I then read the entire Bible from this perspective I was completely convinced that it was God’s revelation and historical record in the salvation of mankind. I was like a dry sponge soaking up water as I felt myself changing and being changed from within. I was amazed at the feeling that God’s salvation program was for Futoru Nagayama, too.
The first time I visited a church I stubbornly rejected the message of John 14:6 where Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Today, when I hear that message I shout “Amen!”
It is impossible to see the true Father in a philosophical way. That approach results in people going the wrong direction and creating an idol. The Father of the Trinity, whom we believe in, was not made by us, but is the Father who made mankind and even Buddha. For much of my life I was going in the wrong direction. “Father, I have now come back to be with you. I am sorry for having gone astray.” I recall these words of my testimony on the day I was baptized as if it were yesterday. To God be the glory.
Translator: Daniel Eichhorst has lived in Japan for 35 years. He is currently teaching English at Tohoku University in Sendai. In 2015 he and his wife were baptized by Pastor Nakagawa and they are active in Harvest Time Ministries. They traveled to Israel with Pastor Nakagawa on the Harvest Time Ministries Holy Land Tour in 2016.
Futoru Nagayama is a business consultant and chaplain in Harvest Time Ministries. His consulting focuses on communication training and management know-how and methods. As a chaplain he is active with the Bible forum movement in Harvest Time Ministries and has expertise in teaching about death and dying. With his passion for studying the Bible from the Jewish perspective he has participated in leading 16 groups of Japanese to tour Israel.
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Nazareth church reaching out to community during Christmas season
As Christmas approaches Jesus is the King Church in Nazareth is boldly reminding the city that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”
“We put it in the center of Nazareth where there is a TV screen and on this screen it says, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ (in Arabic and English) for one month,” Saleem Shalash, pastor of Jesus the King Church in Nazareth, told KNI.
Not only locals, but tourists from around the country and abroad will get the message since Nazareth is one of the Holy Land meccas during the Christmas season. Once the hometown of Yeshua, today the Galilean city is Israel’s largest Arab city.
So far the screen is getting positive responses especially from local Christians which include Catholics and Orthodox, Shalash said.
“It’s good to be reminded that Jesus is the reason for the season,” he said. “That it’s not Santa Claus or a tree or the food. People are interested to hear more.”
The church holds biannual outreaches in its community — to both Arabs and Jews —and is in full swing now with new projects during this holiday season.
The outreaches include distributing 1,000 packages of Christmas chocolates to local children with a magnet that reminds “Jesus is the Reason.” The church will also distribute some 140 food packages to families in need, both through home visits and at the church. The list of recipients is made in conjunction with the municipal welfare office.
Shalash said the through the outreach, “we are trying to show Jesus in our actions.”
“Through these people, we can reach their families, their children and they become interested in what we are doing and they have a lot of questions all the time,” Shalash said.
One woman who is Jewish insisted that the Messiah hasn’t yet come.
“Yes he has and it as mentioned in Isaiah 53… talking about Jesus himself no one else,” Shalash explained to her using several scriptures from the Old Testament. “She was so interested and after more than one visit she accepted Jesus as her savior.”
“The Bible teaches us to be a light for the Jews, to make them jealous,” Shalash said. “We need to be light in these days and it is not easy to be light.”
The church also prints and gives out calendars for the new year providing daily reminders of God’s love and scriptures on every page.
Despite a 75 percent Muslim population, Nazareth is famous for its Christmas celebrations. The city is festively decorated for the holidays, hosts a bustling Christmas market and organizes a parade on Christmas Eve. There is a midnight mass at the Church of the Annunciation on Dec. 25.
Congregants of Jesus is the King Church will hand out the Christmas chocolate while marching in the parade wearing t-shirts with the church name.
Christians comprise about 1 percent of Israel’s population. Most are Greek Orthodox and Catholic, but among them are a growing number of believers who are vocal about their faith and extremely evangelistic.
“We want to do as much as we can for outreach,” Shalash said. “It is time to work, so we are ready.”
The Kehila News Staff is a team of Israeli believers in Yeshua.
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Christmas in Israel
The biggest Christmas tree in the entire Middle East at the moment is apparently in Israel! Ambassador Dani Dayan is proud of the fact that Israel allows such freedom to its Christian population, and has published this to the world.1 You may take it for granted that Christmas day is a holiday from work and school, or that you are free to put up trees and decorations, but celebrating Christmas is not so easy in some countries. Even in Israel, it can cause a bit of friction.
Christmas day is a regular working day for most of the population. Israel is a Jewish state, but 20% of our citizens are not Jewish – mostly Muslim and Christian Arabs – and they need to be considered too. However, some city municipalities embrace the diversity more than others.
The Mayors who stole Christmas!
A Christmas tree displayed a shopping mall in Ashdod caused great controversy recently. The deputy mayor was outraged and insisted that the “disgrace must be removed”.2 There can be great opposition from more religious Jewish people to any hint of Christmas, which they equate with idol worship. Additionally, the Muslim mayor of Nazareth declared Christmas was cancelled last year. His ban did not last long, however, and he soon recanted from his harsh decision.
Today, there are lights and Christmas celebrations a-plenty in Nazareth, Jerusalem, Haifa, Shfaram, and other cities around Israel. It may be controversial, but it is definitely not cancelled this year!
Even some Messianic Jews struggle with the extra-biblical aspects of the holiday (Why do Some Messianic Jews Object to Christmas?). However, as the Jewish and Arab communities are coming together in unity more and more, we are learning how to honor both traditions – with all the sensitivities – in the way that we mark the birth of the Messiah.
Undeterred and unabashed by such concerns that arise each year, Christchurch in Jerusalem makes the most of Jewish Israeli curiosity about Christmas. They hold special events at the church by the Jaffa Gate and throw “a big birthday party for Jesus”, opening their gates and inviting the entire city to come and celebrate.3 They decorate their compound with a huge tree and offer traditional food, along with music, special services, and explanations about the profound meaning behind the celebrations. And they take care to do so in such a way that makes sense to the many Jewish visitors who come each year.
What’s worse: Exclusion or inclusion of everything?
The northern city of Haifa, in contrast to Ashdod, is proudly displaying the symbols of the three faiths together: the Hanukkah menorah, a Christmas tree, and the Muslim crescent and star all right next to each other. It’s hard to decide what is worse – utter rejection of all things connected to the birth of Jesus, or fuzzy acceptance of anything and everything.
Most Israelis will tell you, “Each has their own path”. The verse in Habakkuk that says, “The righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4) has been twisted to mean, “Each according to their own belief”. This leads to a fairly workable coexistence, which is good, but the truth of the matter is, there is only one way to the Father, and it is through Yeshua, the Messiah.
It is good that to some degree at least, Israel accepts other faiths and traditions – there is tolerance and freedom – but as believers, we don’t accept the idea that all faiths are basically the same.
Jewish and Arab believers in Haifa, unfazed by the uncomfortable juxtaposition, make the most of the golden opportunity to share with the thousands of Israelis who come to see the joint festival of faiths called the “Holiday of Holidays”.
Both Arab and Jewish believers from many different congregations will go out to share the Gospel together in the weekends leading up to Christmas. There are book tables with literature in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English, free face-painting and portraits, worship songs and carols, and even a life-sized nativity scene! Their message? God loves you, unconditionally! And Yeshua the Messiah has made a way for you to know Him personally, so that you can experience His love.
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people.
And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. (Zechariah 2:10-11)
This article originally appeared on One for Israel and is reposted with permission.
ONE FOR ISRAEL strives to be the leading organization in sharing the Gospel of Yeshua the Messiah with Israeli Jews and Arabs in the Hebrew language. Our staff is comprised of both Jewish and Arab Israelis, with the shared belief that true peace in the Middle East can only come into existence under Yeshua.
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Israeli artists explore hope, light, transition in upcoming Jerusalem exhibit
The Jerusalem House of Quality will host an art exhibition featuring the work of 10 artists, nine of whom are Messianic believers, and are all immigrants who – after transitioning from their lives in other cultures – have integrated into Israeli society and the creative life here.
Appropriately themed, In Transition, במעבר, (BaMa’avar) the exhibit will span two weeks — two distinct shows each featuring the work of five of the 10 exhibitors — beginning Dec. 23.
“Transition is a constant factor in our lives and communities,” explains an exhibit promotional piece. “In Hebrew there are various words expressing ideas to do with the process of changing from one state to another, to move on from something old or difficult, for the better or the worse. Or, as in the Hebrew word ma’avar, to cross over or to pass through.”
The first week of the exhibit will feature the diverse talents and interpretive works of Rolf Danielson, Marc de Klijn, Henny van Hartingsveldt, Diana Shimon and Brigitta Yavari-Ilan. Artists Mike Bayliss, Baruch Maayan, Itamar Siani, Martha Stern and Dima Tretyakov will be featured in the second exhibit beginning Dec. 30.
“I, Rolf and others share a burden to bring artists together for promoting their work, networking and mutual support,” Bayliss told Kehila News Israel. “Most of us work on our own, some are still wrestling, in light of the times in which we live, with how we justify spending our days splashing paint on bits of canvas and playing around with lumps of clay. Recently, some of us have been meeting together in homes for fellowship and sharing new work.”
Danielson, a painter originally from Malmö, Sweden who studied at the Avni Institute of Art and Design, had a solo show at The Jerusalem House of Quality about a year ago, Bayliss said.
The upcoming exhibit was originally booked at the same venue for one show, but the participants soon realized it would be best to spread the exhibit over two shows which would give all the artists involved the opportunity to show more work.
Some interesting works that will be on exhibit in the first show are from married artists de Klijn and van Hartingsveldt. A sculptress, van Hartingsveldt will present three sculptures and an installation dealing with her experiences of aliyah, while husband de Klijn, who has been working on the theme of the Shoah (Holocaust) for 10 years, is also showing other work related to the history of the Jewish people.
“After working for a long time as a potter I started to make more expressive ceramic works, sometimes in combination with other materials,” van Hartingsveldt said. “In 1989 I stopped definitively producing utility goods and concentrated completely on sculptures.
“My inspiration arises from the Bible and from emotionally moving events. Before we made aliyah I was working on the Shoah for some years, just like my husband, but now subjects such as ‘Tikvah’ (Hope), ‘Ruins into Light’ and ‘Lightbearers’ have become more important. In this country we need hope and light.”
“In this country we need hope and light.”
In the second show, animator will present a seven-minute animation entitled God Is Kidding.
“The film illustrates an eternal philosophical question rooted in our subconscious and talks about God and faith through the imagination of children,” according to Treyakov. “As the film bases itself on interviews with children from the different sectors of Israeli society, we get a wide array of world views represented through the different images of God. Animation makes the subject more approachable for all ages and helps us find the added value of the film through the magical world of children’s imagination.”
Attendees will have the opportunity to meet and become familiar with all the artists at the shows. Artists displaying in the first exhibit will be available individually Sunday, Dec. 23 at 8 p.m. and those featured in the second exhibit on Sunday, Dec. 30 at 8 p.m.
In Transition, במעבר will take place at the Jerusalem House of Quality, 12 Hebron Road (Phone: +972.2.671.7430)
Exhibit I: Dec. 23-30
Artists: Rolf Danielson, Marc de Klijn, Henny van Hartingsveldt, Diana Shimon and Brigitta Yavari- Ilan
Exhibit Times: Sunday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Saturday: Noon – 9 p.m.
Meet the Artists: Sunday, Dec. 23 at 8 p.m.
Exhibit II: Dec. 30-Jan. 6
Artists: Mike Bayliss, Baruch Maayan, Itamar Siani, Martha Stern and Dima Tretyakov
Exhibit Times: Sunday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Saturday: Noon – 9 p.m.
Cliff Keller lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his wife, Marcia after making Aliyah in the spring of 2011 from the United States. His most recent novel is a work of historical biblical fiction entitled The Lion or The Lamb: Samson Ruth and Salvation. Cliff also blogs at Standing by the Gate and has a writing website, goodStories.
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Experience Israel – Back to the Roots
For a long time now, the Norwegian Church Ministry to Israel (NCMI; the organization which established the Caspari Center) had been wanting to pioneer a Bible school in Israel. At the same time, a desire had also been growing in the hearts of some young Norwegians working with the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) branch in Rogaland, Norway. And so a new partnership came into being. The “Experience Israel – Back to the Roots” bible school for young adults was pioneered, with the YWAM team contributing their experience teaching young people, and the Caspari Center/NCMI staff providing their theological expertise.
The goals of the bible school are to provide the students with sound biblical teaching, first-hand experience of Israel and an understanding of Israel’s role in God’s plan. They also aim to instill in these young people a passion to give the gospel back to the people from whom it first arrived. Erlend and Sofie, the Norwegian couple who led the two month-long school, believe “Experience Israel” provides students with an experience that is impossible to obtain only through reading the bible or watching the news. “The students get to live in the land where it all happened… where it is still happening… and it will change their perspective!” Erlend enthused. What a joy it was to host and join these eight participants from Norway, Estonia, and the US; all called here by God in different ways, all here for different reasons.
Some participants had always wanted to come and saw this opportunity as a gift. Andreas, a father from Norway with a heart for evangelism and the Jewish people, used his paternity leave to participate in the course. Ingebjørg, a young woman from Norway, said, “It felt like an invitation from Jesus, my friend, to come and explore where he grew up and lived his life.” Another participant, Andra from the United States, was asked whether she was interested in joining the course. Andra initially thought, “No that isn’t really something for me, I don’t have a heart for the people of Israel.” But then God spoke to her, saying, “That’s exactly why I want you to go. I want to give you a heart for my people.” She decided to go, right then and there, out of obedience to God.
On a daily basis, we had two to three lectures a day on varied topics such as Messianic Judaism, Church history, the Messiah in the Tanach, Biblical covenants, and the Jewish feasts. We also had one to two excursions per week visiting many archaeological and historical sites. Though we all participated in the same activities every day, God spoke to us all in different ways.
Andra was blessed in her obedience and has learned so much about the Jewish roots of her Christian faith during her time here. She reflected, “I’ve learned about why the Jews and Israel play such an important role in God’s plan.” Another young Norwegian, Karen, was surprised to realize how much she was putting Jesus into her own culture even though she knew he was Jewish. She enjoyed learning about the culture that surrounds the bible; it revealed formerly hidden things to her and allowed her to go deeper into her faith. Andreas was interested to learn about the Messianic movement and how it came to be. He also said, “It was great to visit different biblical sites to see that there is archaeological evidence for everything in the bible, it really strengthened my faith. This is the real stuff!” Each student left Jerusalem equipped with knowledge that could take a lifetime to process through. And God has called each one to use that knowledge in a different way.
Andra, who originally wasn’t going to come, is now excited to take the message and life lessons she has learned here back to her friends and family. Andreas has been given new perspectives to take into conversations with people in his home church. He feels equipped to tell people that Two Covenant and Replacement Theology is not the way for the church, and that Israel is still God’s chosen people.
Ingebjørg realized we’re all supported by the same root and that God called Israel to be a light to the nations, which includes us. She believes everyone who knows that truth has their part to play until Jesus comes back. She has decided whether she comes back here or lives her life anywhere else in the world her prayer will always be to live connected to Him and the promises that are yet to come true.
What a wonderful privilege, as young people, to learn about the Jewish roots of our faith and to grow a heart for God’s chosen people, Israel. The course broadened our perspectives and deepened and enriched our faith in Yeshua. I’d say this pilot project was a great success and that everyone involved is excited to continue the partnership.
This article originally appeared on Caspari Center, December 3, 2018, and reposted with permission.