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Micah VanDover sat at the top of his game. Having achieved all of his financial goals by the age of 26, he drove a Hummer, owned several homes, and was shimmying his way down a highly successful path in real estate. But every night when his head hit the pillow, intense anxiety seized his heart.
Between church and the passing pleasures of sin, the words of a pastor echoed through Micah’s heart: “You know, no matter how much success you have, no matter what you do with your life, you will never ever be fulfilled. You will always have that anxiety as you go to bed, until you have a relationship with God. Jesus is the only way to be forgiven of your sins”. Having said this, the pastor simply walked away.
Months later, as Micah prayed through the future of his business ventures, God spoke to him. in the midst of seeking direction, God spoke to his heart. “Son, I cannot direct you in your ways until you acknowledge Me in all of them.” He opened his Bible and came to Proverbs 3:5-6, amazed that God had spoken the truth of this very Scripture to his heart prior to him ever reading it. For the first time, Micah saw past his self-focused life and saw Jesus. Tears ensued.
“I can remember ringing for the flight attendant, asking for a blanket and draping it over my head and crying and praying for a couple hours. I think the guy next me thought I was crazy.”
Alycia VanDover had only been to church a few times in elementary school. “I remember I was in fifth grade and some girls were talking about church at recess. I knew I wanted to go and I asked my friend if I could go with her.”
That same day her friend’s mom took her to get a Bible and encouraged her to start in the book of Mark, saying it would introduce her to a man named Jesus. Alycia was ready, opening her new Bible as soon as she got home. She instantly fell in love with the Scriptures as she eagerly read through Mark, the Gospels, and discovered the poetry of the Psalms. She loved going to church. The following summer, she went to a Christian camp called Forrest Home, where she prayed to receive Christ. For Alycia, praying that prayer solidified the relationship she had already begun with Jesus.
Married in 2010, Micah and Alycia moved 5,000 miles across the Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands. Micah had been invited to be a partner in an investment firm there, right in the middle of paradise. God had given them the dream life: their home was a condo directly across the street from Micah’s favorite surf spot. Micah rode his bike to work. They shared the Gospel with their coworkers and people were coming to know Christ. The Bible studies they led drew over 50 people in Oahu between the two of them and both Micah and Alycia served faithfully at a thriving church.
Alycia remembers, “We thought, ‘This is our life…God has blessed us. We are serving Him, everything is totally good…’ and right at the height of thinking everything was as good as it was going to get and that we were going to be here forever, God began to stir our hearts to leave.”
In March of 2011 when a devastating tsunami struck Japan, it was big news around the world – especially in Hawaii.
“There were a lot of Japanese people in Oahu, specifically Waikiki where we lived, so we just started praying a lot for the people there and their family members in Japan,” Alycia recalls.
In the midst of their praying, a burden began to fill their hearts; it was a burden for the nation of Japan. As they continued to reach out to those hurting around them, God began to open their eyes to the reality of the real tragedy: thousands of people weren’t just dying a physical death because of a tsunami; they were dying a spiritual death, eternally separated from God. As this realization hit them both, Micah and Alycia wrestled with God for months, unsure of whether or not to stay or go and when – often at opposite times. They began to pray for unity, knowing that if God wanted them to go they had to be in one accord.
Months, weeks, days later, as they each were praying on their own, Micah and Alycia heard identical instruction from the LORD: “Go on Friday.” Marveling that God had heard their prayers for unity, they took action. That Monday morning, they did as God said and booked their plane tickets to Japan for Friday. It was not until later that they found out that booking their tickets that day made them $800 cheaper than on any other day – for three months out. God was at work, inviting others in their circles on the island to join in their efforts as well. A coworker, enthused about their adventure, paid for the plane tickets in support of their going. Another woman at their church, having overheard a conversation, connected them to a pastor in the same part of Japan they were headed to. This pastor would turn out to be a godsend. Micah spoke to him for less than two minutes on the phone, stating that they would be in touch when he and Alycia landed in Japan. Without knowing the airline, arrival time, gate, or even what the VanDovers looked like, the pastor met them at the airport and walked right to them.
“We were amazed when this pastor made eye contact with us and came up to us and asked us our names. It turns out he came to the airport that night because the Holy Spirit had told him to come pick us up while he was in prayer,” says Micah. “It was 9:40 at night!”
Months later, Micah & Alycia made the move, leaving their dream life in Hawaii and all that was
“Everything in Japan was the opposite of what was familiar. Nothing came easy to us. Even just functioning day-to-day came with a new set of challenges – driving on the opposite side of the road or just trying to mail a letter took so much energy as we began to adjust to our new life,” says Micah.
Sharing about Jesus was much different as well.
Alycia explains, “In America if you say to someone, ‘Jesus loves you’, even if they are atheist, they know exactly what you mean. In Japan, the very concept of a singular God is foreign to them. Most people there have never heard of the name Jesus, and being a very private culture, they do not speak about love in public. If you walked up to someone in Japan and told them Jesus loved them, you run a high risk of totally offending them and losing respect in their eyes."
“Ministering in Japan is different than any other country I’ve ever been to,” Micah says. "They’re not looking for anything; they have everything they think they need.” Alycia adds, “Japan is also very group-minded, whereas in America, we champion the individual. It is very culturally challenging for any of them to individually take a stand for Jesus.”
Many Japanese, when they do become Christians, are ostracized from their families or are dealt significant persecution. For a businessman, it can mean losing his job or taking a sizeable pay cut. For girls, it can mean losing hope of marrying someday, since the percentage of Christian women in Japan is substantially higher than that of Christian men. Still, in a country of 127.8 billion, these factors combined makes up less than a mere 1% of Japanese who claim to have a saving faith in Jesus Christ. The nation is categorized as an unreached people group.
Micah acknowledges the nature of the task at hand. “Something profound does happen in this kind of environment, though. When people do come to put their faith in Jesus, they truly count the cost and they are in for life. They’re willing to put everything on the line to follow Jesus.”
Micah and Alycia continue to remain faithful. Their weeks are filled with daily outreaches and gatherings in their own home. God has entrusted them with new believers to disciple and they are winning souls - a difficult feat in Japan.
“In Japan, most home life is very private, so just the act of inviting people over and cooking for them honors them in a way that shows God’s love."
On Friday mornings, they teach chapel at a Christian Japanese K-12th school where locals often send their children to learn English. “When we first started serving at this school, none of the children were Christian. Now many have come to faith and been baptized. God has shown up in such a powerful way!”
Friday nights, Micah and Alycia hit the streets with evangelism and outreach, sharing the love of Christ in raucous parts of town. On Saturday nights, they host a service at their local church.
“We invite the people we have met on outreaches throughout the week to attend. We set up the area like a coffeehouse and serve dinner…people have been responding to our invitations and are showing up. After hanging out for a bit, we give them a Bible study.” When situations became difficult for their translator and quit, Alycia stepped in and stepped up.
Helping me learn the language and communicate it,” she smiles. “Each week I would get Micah’s notes in advance, translate it to the best of my ability through many hours of study and occasionally I would ask a local for help.”
Inspired by Alycia’s efforts, four new Japanese volunteered to translate. They now have a rotating team of translators who serve faithfully every week.
Micah & Alycia continue to see the fruit of God’s work in their lives each week. More and more of their Japanese friends are bringing their friends and stepping out in faith to share Christ with their communities. “They are breaking through some major cultural barriers,” says Micah. “People are sharing their faith, and that is huge!”
In the last few weeks alone, they have seen the miraculous. “We’ve had a famous Japanese race care driver spend time with us. He was a drifter, and a few weeks ago he came to the LORD. It was one of the most sincere prayers to Jesus I have ever heard in my life,” Micah recalls. “We also prayed for a woman with glaucoma and God healed her on the spot, the doctors had no explanation for it other than it was a medical miracle. In a culture where it is custom to simply bow without touching at all as a greeting, this woman now gives Alycia a big bear hug every time she sees her!”
They witnessed another miracle while having lunch at a restaurant. “Micah said grace and prayed for the lady sitting next to us. It turned out she could speak some English. She became a Christian ten months before, but really didn’t know too much about her new faith. For three hours in the middle of this restaurant, we had a bible study with her. At the end of our time we bought her lunch. She couldn’t believe someone would buy her lunch for her, she didn’t know what to do or what to say. No one had ever shown her that sort of kindness before. Just buying this woman’s lunch was showing her the love of Jesus, even if it was in a small way.”
One by one, God is changing lives and using Micah and Alycia to make an eternal impact in Japan. They both have hearts to see the lost come to know Christ, and recently God has been giving them vision to empower the locals and invite them into their evangelism efforts. “We hope to give an evangelism equipping seminar to every church throughout the island, starting in the southern region and hopefully reaching the entire nation of Japan.”
With their first baby on the way and an expanding ministry, Micah and Alycia are asking for prayer. They first ask for a healthy pregnancy, delivery and healthy child, and also for a continued boldness every day.
“We know we need people praying for us. I can remember going a whole month where every day I woke up so discouraged. Alycia preached some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard to this audience of one. I have to believe that God used the prayers of the saints to lift the heaviness during that time. There is a real darkness in Japan and an oppression you can feel.”
The VanDovers are praying for wisdom, too.
“We want that kind of wisdom that enables us to just walk up to a person and have God use us to provide a circumcision of the heart through our words, where suddenly you’re in there and able to tell them about Jesus. Sometimes all it takes is just one phrase – one question – that cuts through all the nervous laughter and cultural walls to get at what’s really going on.”
Pray for meaningful conversations with people in their everyday interactions, for perseverance to go deeper in a culture where people hold each other at arm’s length, and for God’s favor in all their endeavors to bring His name and glory to those who have yet to know it.
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