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what the Kingdom of God looks like in the flesh

What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)? Part 2: It is Eternal

Bgrandma

my grandmother, my mother, me (little guy on right), and my siblings.

 

Part 2 of 7 in an ongoing series to attempt to answer the question “What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)?”:     

#2. (of 7) It is Eternal

The Kingdom of God is eternal.  And that eternity has already begun.  Because God’s Kingdom is eternal, and so conceivably also outside of our conception of time, it can be simultaneously now and not yet.  we know the Kingdom of God is not FULLY here yet (just the news from the past weekend would demonstrate that) but we also know that it is breaking through now in our midst.  

If we’re only focused on how it is not here yet fully then we may miss signs of how it actually is already being revealed here now.  

That’s some nice philosophizing Dave, but how do you know the Kingdom of God is actually eternal?  How do you know with certainty it will last, especially in the face of such evil we see these days?  

Well, I don’t know with 100% certainty (what do we actually?), but I think it’s reasonable for me to believe the Kingdom of God is eternal and cannot be destroyed…from my background and story as a Japanese-American living in the 21st century.  

If you know a little about the Japanese, you know they can be pretty intense, to put it mildly.

Over 400 years ago when organized Christianity first arrived on the shores of Japan, it was received with some curiosity.  But that didn’t last for long.  Under the Shogunate system (military dictatorship) of Japan, some of the most brutal repression and persecution of christians ever recorded in history took place.  One of the most feared forms of punishment for not renouncing faith in Jesus was to be crucified upside down into a pit of sewage and be cut behind the ears so that one would die slowly. The persecution was so intense that in about 30 years it ceased to exist publicly.  

Yet the Kingdom of God persisted in the form of hidden Christians (“kakure” Christians). the Shogunate government however did not.  It was replaced by a government with an emperor in the Meiji era which was then replaced by the Taisho era with a new emperor. As the country opened up from its isolationist policies, a new wave of Christian missionaries re-entered Japan.  

Japan, under the guise of the emperor, began to imitate the colonizing west and started amassing power beyond a national scale.  One country they occupied in the early 20th century was Korea, systematically attempting to wipe out their language, their culture, and their dignity by even forcing their women to become “comfort women” (aka sex slaves) for the Japanese troops.  Some Japanese Christians refused to submit to the radical nationalism that was sweeping Japan.  They were persecuted and imprisoned as a result.   

Yet, the Kingdom of God persisted in the form of a strong Korean church born out of oppression, which is now, arguably, one of the countries that sends the most missionaries abroad per capita.  The Kingdom of God persisted in the form of Japanese believers that became a “confessing church to resist nationalism like the Japanese Holiness Movement of Churches, which happens to be the church that my father, me, and my siblings came to faith in.  The Kingdom of God persisted over hate in the form of my marriage of reconciliation to an awesome Korean-American believer.  The Empire of Japan, however, did not last.  Since 1947 Japan has renounced the right to initiate any acts of war.  

On the other hand, in the U.S. after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the empire of Japan an executive order was issued in 1942 by the acting American president that ordered the internment of anyone with Japanese ancestry living in the states, to live in camps of row houses in the deserted wastelands of the west.  The majority of these Japanese were American citizens, some even fighting for the U.S. that had interned their families.   There was no due process, no innocent till proven guilty.  In fact, no person of Japanese ancestry living in the U.S. was ever convicted of treason.  Homes, properties, businesses, churches, communities had to be abandoned with no rights of return.  Even after being fully segregated and released 4 years later with the end of the war, Japanese-American Christians had to suffer the indignity of not being allowed to have their churches back but told to go to white churches, these same churches that stood by and watched their own siblings in Christ be bused away.  

Yet the Kingdom of God persisted, as I grew up in a Japanese-American church.  I went to church alongside those who had been interned.  The Kingdom of God persisted in these Japanese-Americans who had been unjustly imprisoned.  They did not lose faith.  They loved me and taught me to keep on loving Jesus and to forgive those who had wronged them. They set me on a path to a better way.  The internment camps did not last.  The American government eventually apologized and made some reparation.  I pray such injustices never again happen in the United States to ANYONE and am so proud of my Japanese-American people who continue to fight for the rights of the immigrants on the margins.        

After the war, in Japan, my grandmother was invited to an event by a local neighbor.  My grandmother became a Christian.  My grandfather was furious.  He found her bible and tore it up.  

Yet, the kingdom of God of persisted in my grandmother.  She did not lose her faith but passed it on to her daughter, my mother.   My mother, was struck by her mother’s unwavering convictions and faithfulness in the face of persecution by my grandfather.  So when my mother was invited to a Christian event in college, in the midst of protests in the 60’s, she accepted Christ.  She came to the U.S. and met my father in church.  They  passed on the secret of the Kingdom to me.  Who knows how much I am sustained to this very moment by the faithful prayers of my mother?  I hope to pass on the Kingdom of God to my two sons, who now represent the 4th generation of faith in my family, even in the midst of uncertain times and circumstances.   My grandfather’s persecution did not last.  

The Kingdom of God, however, has lasted.  It has stood the test of humanity’s savage empires, repressions, violence, crucifixions, occupations, colonizations, sexual assaults, attempted genocides, imprisonments, prejudices, internments, and persecutions…and it will continue to.     

The Kingdom of God is indestructible.  

If you are of the Kingdom of God, you will persist.  

What Does the Kingdom of God Look Like (in Real Life)? Part 1: It’s a Treasure Worth Giving Up All For

in my last post i shared with you my findings of what the Kingdom of God looks like according to the bible.  i realize that that post title was misleading in that some, including myself, want to know what the Kingdom of God looks like…unfolding in the 21st century, in the here and now…in real life.  my friend A.R. reminded me that those stories would be helpful examples.  with that in mind, i hope to take the 7 aspects of the Kingdom of God i (re)discovered and “flesh them out” with what i have witnessed myself of the Kingdom of God breaking through in our midst.  halfway into drafting the first “story” it dawned on me that this task may be more than 1 post could handle so i plan to publish a total of 7 posts over the course of the next couple months for each principle and its corresponding true story from my experience that illustrates the principle.  

here goes the 1st: so what does the Kingdom of God look like…in real life?  

#1. (of 7) the Kingdom of God is a treasure worth giving up ALL else for

for me discovering the value of the treasure of the Kingdom was a process.  i received the King into my life around 7th grade.  the deeper understanding of the Kingdom and its worth, especially the giving up stuff, came after that.  there have been different things and relationships i’ve had to lay down in order to “seek first the Kingdom” and, i suspect, i will continue to this side of heaven.  

but the most significant thing that comes to mind that God led me to give up, in my journey thus far, was the security of my job.  i was 8 years into my career as a public high school teacher when my wife and i sensed God calling us to move into the inner city for the work of His Kingdom.  it was not a decision we came to easily, but it was confirmed by multiple convictions and events.  we had no idea what this ministry would really look like and what exactly God was calling me into but, one thing was clear, i would have to leave my job and the security my salary represented.  i had to take a step of faith into the unknown because Jesus, my King, was calling me to move out of what was familiar to me.  i put in my resignation at locke high school in the spring of 2011.  i joined an unpaid internship to learn about living amongst the poor that fall.  we found out that my wife was pregnant.  i was unemployed for months and could only find a job as a substitute teacher.  it was a humiliating step down for me who used to be a full time teacher.  

then in the beginning of 2012 i sensed God was calling me to be a pastor of outcasts full-time.  but to be a pastor in the neighborhood i now lived in meant that i would need to fundraise my salary (which at most would only be half of what i was paid as a teacher), not only because our church could barely pay the rent but because anything raised by our church we believe should go to a local leader that is raised up, not a “relocator” like me.  then my father-in-law saw my fundraising letter.   he was furious.  he could not believe what i was doing and what i was about to put his daughter and his grandchild through.  he yelled “are you a beggar?”, “you are a fool to think people would support you in this work!”  needless to say, the Kingdom of God did not feel like a treasure to me at that point.    

so, i prayed, “God, if this is the work you want me to do, please provide the $2000 of monthly support our family needs within the next 6 months.  please vindicate me.”

and He did.  and then some.  

you see, it was not just the money he provided to meet that initial goal  (which God provided within 6 months!) through generous supporters who believed in this work of expanding the Kingdom of God; he was giving me and my family so much more than we had imagined.  what we give up for the Kingdom, we get Kingdom treasure in return.  i had left my locke II community of teachers, one of the most amazing staffs I have EVER had the privilege to work with.  we had left our church community at wlah, who commissioned us with such grace, love, and support (they are still our biggest supporters).  we have now gained spiritual family i never would have gained, if we had clung to our familiar comfort.  spiritual family members that come from different backgrounds, social classes, and races than my family.  spiritual family that prays for us so faithfully and with so much more faith and desperation (with tears) than we have.  spiritual family that God speaks to with things for us that we never even told them.  

you see, we may have thought we were moving into a neighborhood to help those in need but God was moving us into the neighborhood for our growth, for our healing, for our wholeness.  we think we are making a sacrifice to serve others but God uses that process and those in need to turn around and bless us with what no money can buy.  it may not come in the timing or manner that we may expect but, in God’s Kingdom, the blessings go ALL around and are shared with ALL.  

you see, Jesus was telling the truth that what we give up for the Kingdom is not worth comparing to what we gain in the Kingdom.  it is something that rewards “many times more” in this life as well as the life to come…indeed with his Kingdom, we’re still witnessing the treasure unfold.   

nothing that we could ever own nor any intimate human relationship we could ever have surpasses the Kingdom of God in worth.  

Every Tribe and Tongue…

This past month each of our discipleship school students stepped out of fear and into taking risks with and for the Lord to love others.  

There was so much that our Lord showed us on our week long mission trip last week but, for me, there is one lesson that sticks out: EVERY person in Jesus has something to contribute in reaching out to others.  

Our first outreach in Santiago, Dominican Republic was at Leon Jimenez Park.  The outreach small group that I was made in was made up of me, Obadiah* (son of the lead pastor at New Life Church in Lincoln Heights), Anita* from Hope Church (in East LA), Enrique’s (son of the lead pastor at Hope Church) 6 year old son Isais*, and Jonas* a Haitian brother in the Lord from Iglesia Comunidad Multicultural (the host church that led us during our week stay in the DR).

At the park, we came across this young couple that seemed to be having a date.  The woman was a Venezuelan and the man was Dominican and French.  We asked about the young woman about the crisis happening in Venezuela and could tell she was sad with her family still there. Jonas preached and prayed for her to find the hope of God to be lifted up as well as to lift up her town and country.  I got a sense from God for the man that God wanted to fill him up with God’s oil so his light would not go out.  Up to this point the man didn’t really seem that interested but he perked up as Josiah translated some of the words of the image I got into Spanish and asked “How do I get this oil?”  Anitia jumped in to share her story of how she learned that she needed her own personal relationship with Jesus instead of just going to church with her mom.  Isais shared that in prayer he saw a tree made out of the number 3.  The man shared that his favorite number was 3.  This young couple was touched to know that God saw them and knew them.  

But for this moment of the Kingdom of God to break through, it took everyone to contribute: a Japanese-American man, a half-Caucasian half-Chinese teenage boy, a Salvadorian woman, and a half-Caucasian half-Mexican 6-year-old, and a young Haitian man living in the DR to all work together in Jesus.

It was a beautiful glimpse of heaven, where every tongue and tribe will be lifting up Jesus together.  So you see, EVERY person in Jesus has something to contribute.  

We don’t need to wait till we get there…may we practice that good of eternity today.  

 

unity-hands1

*names changed for privacy 

Our sister church that hosted us in the Dominican Republic is doing such amazing work in their community.  One of which is their building of community center (we got to pray at the site of the foundation that is already being built) which will provide a place for a school for the many Haitian children who are not allowed in public schools in the DR!  Please consider investing in the Kingdom of God in this way!  

I pray that we all follow Jesus into putting ourselves out there this day with His love.

From Chola to Christ

i realize a lot of my posts on this blog have been theological in nature, especially as of late.  I do see the great need for more holistic theology but i also realize there is a need for more concrete examples of what that theology looks like played out in the lives of real people around me.  in my study of the Kingdom of God, i see that in scripture there is not only a proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom of God but a demonstration of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  the world is hungry not for more people who “talk the talk” but for more of those who “walk the walk.”  

one thing i have learned by living amongst the urban poor in LA is the power of stories to draw people into an experience of a truth. it is something that those of us who are “educated” or from a middle or upper class background can come to underestimate when we are too much in our own heads, experiences, and theories.  with this in mind, moving forward and as i am able, i hope to share more stories of God working in and through the “least of these.”  or, if you will, for these truths of God’s kingdom to “take on flesh” (adapted some from the monthly updates i send to my supporters.  feel free to email me at david dot kitani at servantpartners dot org if you’d like to receive these monthly updates).  with that said, i’d like to share with you a story of a sister in Jesus from “the hood” that i’ve gotten the pleasure to get to know more through the discipleship school that i help run at our church.  she inspires and challenges me in fresh way.  

ls

 

irene* was basically raised by the streets of los angeles. she was a hardcore “chola” gangster that has been notorious in our neighborhood.  she has been in and out of prison and has had multiple near death experiences.  she swears like a sailor, she’s straight up, and she is known to instill fear in people (and strangely enough she’s found my wife to be a kindred spirit ;).  but God’s hand is on her life.  she’s been wanting to join our discipleship school for a while.  we had our reservations but it was clear God was directing her this way.  

and it’s been amazing.  

she’s talked about Jesus to friends and family a lot before but now she is starting to submit her life to Jesus’ Lordship.  people are noticing.  in the middle of a family birthday party her hardened adult niece, struggling with leukemia, challenged irene to pray her.  irene reluctantly did.  then irene “got touched” (her word for crying when she feels the presence of God, because she rarely allows herself tenderness) and her niece was moved.  so moved that she dragged irene to pray for her mom too.

irene was baptized this past april along with her daughter who has been moved by the change she sees in mom.  irene, me, the rest of the d-school, and some of our children are going to head to the dominican republic to our sister church there (the same one we went to last year) to see and participate in His Kingdom come across the sea in a couple weeks from 6/16-6/23/17.  we need to raise $31,000 as a team of 21 people.  

once irene heard the challenge for us to fundraise for the mission trip (and in her case not just for her but for two of her own children she is bringing along), this former gang member stepped out with incredible faith.  she randomly asks folks that she comes across to “sponsor” her mission trip…she’s gotten donations from her husband’s supervisor, the pest control man in her building, and even a random person from georgia that she emailed through craigslist (please, i didn’t tell students to do this)!  last week she asked her insurance agent to support the mission trip and he broke down and asked for prayer for his twin brother (who was standing right next to him) who is going through health issues.  she prayed for them right there in the office.

this past tuesday we went out in the neighborhood to offer to pray for folks at a local park.  she challenged me with her boldness to offer to pray for people and even reminded me to “go for it” when i was hesitant in approaching some.  through our time praying for people together a women felt the “warmth” of God as irene prayed for her breathing issues and another woman was completely healed of knee pain from her chemotherapy (from pain level 8 to 0!).  this woman was so shocked and full of joy as she was moving her leg back and forth.  irene found herself hugging these strangers, something she would never have done before!

irene’s faith, and folks such as these in our working class community, puts me to shame.  irene not only knows the King but is now submitting herself to His Kingdom…and its awe-inspiring!  

 

if you want to join in on this work God is doing in and through the urban poor donate here toward their mission trip and don’t miss out on the Kingdom breaking through right in our midst!

 

*name changed to protect privacy

How Two Girls of Another Culture Became Like Daughters to Me

i got to know naomi* and her sister, mary*, since they came to our youth group years ago as middle schoolers.  naomi had a feistiness that covered up her deep insecurities.  mary was soft-spoken and terribly shy.  over the years of youth group meetings, retreats, outings, supporting their dance performances, car conversations driving to youth meetings and back home, they made their way into my heart and the hearts of all the youth leaders.  the faithfulness and courage that they’ve shown, each in their unique ways, have been such bright spots for us.  it has been a privilege to witness the deep love that Jesus has for them.  it has been amazing to see them come out of their shells to embrace Jesus and courageously shine His light to their friends.  because of them, our church youth group has more than doubled in size from when they first started coming to our church.  

they are now in their senior year of high school.  naomi is class president at her school and mary is one of the few teens my wife and I trust to be alone with our children.  needless to say I am so proud of them.  

they have become like daughters to me.  

they are undocumented immigrants.

naomi and mary were born in juarez, mexico, a place notorious for the disappearance and murder of women.  their father left them at a young age, other tragedies befell their siblings, and their mother sought work and a better life in the u.s. bringing them over with her.  but life in america was not easy.  naomi recounts

“I would watch my mom struggle and get angry. In her moods she would say ‘Estudia para no ser como yo.’ Which translates into ‘Study, so you won’t end up like me.’ That’s when I decided that her work would not be in vain, I would not embarrass her nor diminish her efforts.”

both naomi and mary have worked hard in school and have applied (and been accepted) to universities.  It breaks my heart to see the heightened fear they must now live in with the news of recent policies and practices of the immigration and customs enforcement, intensified under the current administration.   i can’t imagine how their mother is feeling right now.  

nevertheless, i know that, in Jesus, fear is not the end of the story.  

Jesus’ love drives out fear.  yes, we should do our part to educate ourselves and others on the issues.  yes, we should equip ourselves and our undocumented immigrant neighbors with resources to protect them.  but if i am to love them as my neighbors, as my daughters, as myself…it also means that i must walk with them in the love of Jesus, even if the path is now longer and scarier then we would prefer.  we do not fear for He is with us.

*names have been changed to protect identities

heaven breaking though to earth…

DR view

two weeks ago a team of 25 others and i, from the inner city of LA’s eastside, went down to the dominican republic for about 9 days for a mission trip. we went in hopes of being used of God to bless others and see him at work in another country…and in turn, as it always turns out, we were blessed by the people we met there.

it was indeed an amazing time. the locals led us and we learned from them as we did various outreaches in neighborhoods in santiago.  we dug some trenches, listened to life stories, prayed for people, participated in healings & exorcisms, and shared Jesus. we met some brothers and sisters of our heart, even though not of our blood, and made eternal friends in Jesus.

one experience in particular comes to the forefront of my mind, especially relevant in light of the tragedies and tensions of our nation in this past week. at the mission house where we were staying there is a little haitian man who only speaks creole, named luis, that takes care of the house (to give you some background, the domincan republic is not a wealthy country as it is but it shares a border with haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. even with centuries of conflict between the two countries, many haitians have come to the DR seeking work to send money back to their families.  needless to say, there is much discrimination and oppression against this darker skinned marginalized people group).  luis only knew some words in spanish but would greet us every day with smiles as he closed the doors behind us and cleaned up after us.

our last night we had an amazing time of receiving words of blessing and prayer from the DR team.  as we were taking pictures with each other and saying our good-byes, luis hugged me…for a long time.  but it didn’t feel awkward.  then he moved into placing his hands on my chest and back and began praying for me in simple spanish….a language that is not native to either of us as i am a japanese-american man.  he was the last person to pray from me in the DR.  i who went to DR as the missionary, the pastor and literally the servant of the house we were staying at was praying for me.  yet, in his simple prayers the Spirit of God was moving so powerfully.  i felt in that moment that all else faded away, God was reminding me of the good that he is doing, and i felt like i was in the very loving arms of God as i was in the arms of this small haitian man that society thinks is worth nothing and no one would suspect would be a mighty vessel of God’s presence.

if i didn’t open up because this person was different than me, i would have completely missed what God had for me.  any difference between us whether it was what language we spoke, what race we were, or what social class either of us were did not separate us but rather highlighted the power of God that could bring us together in understanding and peace at that moment.  i sensed God telling me not to miss this moment as it is a piece of heaven happening right here on earth. only the Kingdom of God can break through ALL barriers of separation.  

Father, may Your Kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.  

to my dear 24-year-old david (from 36-year-old david),

i know you’re in the midst of the hardest year of your life thus far.  it’s your first year of teaching…in the hood of south los angeles.  you probably don’t have much time to spare, so let’s just get right down to it.  

none of your friends or family, well meaning as they are, understand what you’re experiencing right now.  i do. because i’m you 12 years later.  your world is being turned upside down.  you’ve come from a quiet asian american middle class life.  and let’s be honest, nothing has really prepared you for this.  you are experiencing the brokenness of what poverty does to young hearts and minds on a daily basis; poverty that you didn’t even acknowledge existed right in your backyard.  you can’t escape it because it’s your job to face it and try to teach in the midst of it every day.  you are being smacked in the face with the reality that public education in the u.s. is neither equal nor fair…and most of society has turned it’s back on this corner of l.a. because it’s easier to ignore than to deal with.  you’ve never seen this sort of institutionalized dysfunction.  you’ve never experienced so much hate thrown at you.  you’ve never had to work to the point of exhaustion…not just physically but emotionally.

press in.

don’t escape.  i know it’s hard.  i know it’s hell.  but don’t give up.  these very years will be what builds in you a character of perseverance.  these very youth will be the ones that break your heart in the best kind of way to get you to really consider what matters to the heart of God.  but most of all these very experiences will be what opens your eyes to the fact that you desperately need God every day.    

press in.

yes, some of these students will ignore you, some of them will curse at you, some of them will even push you. consider that it’s not so much that they hate you personally but that they will project upon you all the pain and confusion they have experienced at the hands of adults that were supposed to care for them.  if you are going to follow your role model, Jesus, remember He loved those that didn’t love Him back well…and remember that is you, that is us.  

press in.

yes, i know you’re lonely and REALLY wish you had a girlfriend.  but think about it, is that really going to solve your problems?  if anything you’re either gonna escape HARD into this girl or you’re gonna treat her like crap because you’ve got nothing left to give or both.  no woman, no matter how awesome, is going to be in the classroom with you and give you what you need to stand in love and power in the midst of this.  only an infinite God can do that.  yes, a girlfriend’s nice (and yes she will come to you and you’ll marry her and she’ll be pretty rad) but now is not the time…there’s some inner growth in your relationship with Jesus that needs to happen before that or else you’re gonna wreck two people in the process.  and Lord knows we don’t need any more brokenness.

press in.

the work you’re doing now will prepare you for the work i’m doing now (aka the work you will be doing in the future).  this work you’re in now is going to lay the groundwork for and open doors that you’ve never even considered of God’s vision for justice; it will help you see the Word of God in a whole new light…even if i tried to explain it to you now i don’t think you’d understand or appreciate it without what you’re going to experience in the next couple of years.  with that said, i think there are a couple of things you could understand at this time.  

1) david, if you’re serious about disciple-making and leadership development you can’t do it remotely.  at least not effectively. Jesus spent TIME with his disciples and you can’t expect to walk with those you are leading if you don’t even live in the same neighborhood with them.  and that’s how leaders are developed…not just through teaching…it’s through living.  

2) lastly, you need a mentor if you’re going to mentor.  not just a mentor that reflects your experience.  have some humility to recognize you don’t know it all and you can’t do it by yourself.  you need a mentor who has experience loving and walking amongst the least of these, because that’s where you will find Jesus (Matthew 25:40).  sadly, there aren’t that many asian american men that are doing this work, so it’s not like you have a lot of choice…you’re gonna have to be mentored cross-race.  it’ll be awkward at first but don’t let your pride get in the way of your growth to learn from someone different than you.          

press in.  because Jesus did for you.