22 May, 2017

What are you doing this summer?

"What are you doing this summer?" is the question that usually dominates this time of year, but I've not heard it much. Maybe because the dominant questions have revolved around our eldest son's plans after graduation.

We're not leaving the country, but we do have some summer plans.

On the way to explaining, I bring my new "toy". The prefecture of Japan puzzle. Here it is complete.

This next one shows the prefectures that we have at least driven through, perhaps stopped briefly in on our way through. You'll see that we've been through almost every prefecture east of, and including, the orange area (roughly called the Kansai region). A lot of the yellow and orange was "added" last year in our sixteen-day camping trip.

The next map is of places that at least one of us has spent at least one night. Most of them we've been all together, though.

Here's a closer view. There's one that's not shown: we've actually spent three separate nights on a ferry between Sendai and Hokkaido in the ocean off the "green" area.

So, we've got more work to do to cover all Japan. I don't think it is a formalised goal of ours, but certainly our camping endeavours have been a strategy to see more of this beautiful land. 

This summer, in July, we're going to Niigata (most northerly yellow) for a couple of nights with friends who live on the Japan sea coast, then three nights camping further north in one of those "dark green" prefectures that are currently missing from our map. Then we will spend a week or so in a cabin owned by OMF near the beach on the Pacific Ocean. David and I would happily do another long camping tour, but it's been vetoed by one of our boys. So this is our compromise. It seems we'll have to wait until he leaves home in order to do another big camping trip.

I'm looking forward to seeing another small part of this island nation, and, of course, getting away for a while. Seven weeks till holidays!

21 May, 2017

56th birthday of our church

Today, 56 years ago, our Japanese church met for the first time with nine people. This morning one person who was there 56 years ago, the subsequent pastor of the church, addressed us briefly. I believe he was working at CAJ at the time the church began. Together with some students from the school, he started a small church in a home. As he said this morning, it's exciting to see where things have gone since then. Now the church has its own building, with plans to extend, and about 200 people attending each Sunday over three morning services.

In a land where there are less than 8,000 churches, less than 1% of the population are evangelical Christians, and the average size of a church is under 40 people, this church is larger than usual. Though our pastor is in the majority as being over 50 (70% of Japanese pastors are in this age category).*

This morning our pastor pulled out a ladder at the end of the service and hopped up on it to take a photo of the congregation.

We pray that many of the small churches that are being planted right now in Japan might be able to take such a photo 56 years from now, of the hundreds attending and praise God for what he's done in their midst in those years.

*The source of my statistics in this paragraph is from an infographic that I posted last year here.

19 May, 2017

Today was a gift

Today I had an adventure, a good adventure. Earlier this week I anticipated that I'd have time to go for a ride today and the weather forecast looked good too (sunny and 23C, as opposed to the cloudy cooler days we've had recently). But I wasn't sure what exactly I wanted to do with this ride. Would it just be a ride to the park and back? Or more? I was hankering after some coffee-shop time, especially a "date" with Jesus. I nearly ignored that impulse when I struggled to make a decision over where and when and what.

In the end, after haggling with myself for about half an hour after I'd planned to leave, I just left. Not really sure what I was going to do, except go to the park. I had my camera, half of a lunch with me and my phone.

It was a gorgeous day. I made it to the park in about half an hour. It's been six and a half weeks since I'd had enough time to go there and what a difference that time's made. Last time the Sakura (cherry blossoms) weren't quite fully out and there were lots of people sitting under them. Many other trees weren't fully dressed for spring either.

Today it was so green and leafy. New-spring green in a way I didn't understand before I came to this land where the seasons are much more marked than Australia.

A gentleman asleep on the bench.
There were many in the park again, but this time large groups of kindergarten students and their mums. I counted about half a dozen groups that were a hundred strong at least.

There were lots of people strolling, or just sitting. I saw a painter, heard a trumpeter and saw many just happy to be out on such a pleasant day.

One of the massive groups of kindergarten kids in the park today.

What is this?

I spent some time riding around and shooting some photos. While I ate my banana and muesli bar I got a message from a friend who was at the store I'd thoughts about visiting on my way home to get a better "hanger" for my obi (see here). She offered to get it for me (actually it was her who told me about this in the first place). I said, "Yes please" and that freed me up from taking a detour on the way home.

So, I decided to ride another three k's south to a city centre with a Starbucks. 

It was a surprisingly quick ride, but I quickly found myself in that inner-city dilemma of "where do you park your bike?" I rode a long block west till I found a legal spot and then, on my walk back to the place where Starbucks allegedly is (I still haven't laid eyes on it), I discovered a different cafe I've never heard of before: Pier's Cafe. Prices looked reasonable and it appeared to have some nice nooks to sit in, so I took the plunge.

Then I pulled out my phone to read the Bible. Again, no plan, but the verse I spied on Biblegateway.com's home page was from Hebrews 6. I clicked on it and got James 3, no idea why, but I went back to Hebrews 6.

I was blown away when I read this:
Hebrews 6:10-12 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (NIV)
It spoke right to me:
  • My job is to help God's people (I'm in support work). 
  • It's been tempting sometimes recently to give up. Thoughts like, Isn't this just busy work, is it really important that you do this? have been popping up occasionally.
  • The verses encourage us to continue to "the very end" whenever that might be, and not to give up.
  • Finally, we're instructed to not be lazy, but imitate those who have already inherited what we've been promised (i.e. heaven). Which of course brings to mind the two missionaries we lost last month.
Then I found myself wiping tears away. I read it again in several different versions and the tears kept coming. It's been a teary few months, more so than usual.

There is a portion at the end of the chapter which is also encouraging, though it also includes confusing bits and pieces.
 Hebrews 6:18-20 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. 
Now I don't claim to understand all of that (and Bible commentators have different opinions too), but a couple of things also jumped out:
  • "Fleeing to take hold of the hope" reminds me of the tower in Proverbs 18:10 "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe" (NIV). This verse has been a special image in my spiritual walk since 1994, the year after my short-term trip to Indonesia, and probably one of the lowest times of my life.
  • We have a safe and secure anchor for our soul. That too is a strong and encouraging image. No matter what assails us in this life, if we have Jesus as our Lord, then we are secure.
Yep, just as the verse says, I was greatly encouraged! I dwelt on these verses for a while. It wasn't longer than half an hour. We're not talking a super-hero retreat here. But it was exactly what I needed.

As I was on my phone (not the best method for contemplating scripture, I know) I was also getting periodic alerts for other things going on—like a message from a friend organising to get together for coffee next week for mutual encouragement. Then I saw that my long-term friend who was my Matron of Honour commented on something on Facebook. In March I'd dashed into a coffee shop for a late-morning boost to finish my errands for the morning and "run into" this same friend online. We spontaneously chatted online that day too. Such joy! She's a homeschooling mother-of-six, so it's not easy for us to connect. So, today, I tried again: I messaged her, "Do you have time for a chat?"

I held my breath for a couple of minutes. Then my phone started buzzing. We chatted for half an hour using FB video call. It was wonderful, just like having her there across the table from me.

Oh, my heart is full. I didn't know how it was going to turn out, but it turned out that God had some wonderful surprises for me. Thank you Lord!

These last weeks haven't been easy. Not just grief, but extra busy too. It was such a wonderful gift to take time away from my responsibilities and spend time in nature as well as in the Word, with the bonus of unexpected time with a friend too.

18 May, 2017

A taste of what I do

One of my big jobs is as managing editor of a quarterly magazine by and for misssionaries in Japan.

We are gradually building up our website with content that appeared in the magazine and just a few that haven't. I'm excited by the possibilities, it's just been hard to build up that side of the magazine when I know little about website design and am fully engaged in putting the print magazine together. We've been hoping for some time to gather a team that could work on building up the website, but it's been very slow in coming to fruition.

The theme of the issue that came out last month was Minority Groups and we got some interesting articles. Here are some that we've gotten up online for you to check out:

Bridge building among Latinos in Japan. Did you know there has been a lot of movement between south America and Japan? Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan and a migration agreement was signed between the two countries way back in 1907!

Welcoming people with disabilities. This was written by a former OMF missionary in Japan (who now is a salaryman) who is in a wheelchair himself. It's specifically about Japan, but many of the principles he mentions are applicable across borders.

Learning to love like Jesus This article is by a foreign Christian woman who now has a close Japanese friend who is a lesbian. It shines a light on this segment of the population in Japan.

Sports ministry is by a current OMF missionary. It's exactly about what the title says: reaching out to people using sport, not just big organised events with famous people (one of the first things I think of when I hear this topic), but he gives a few very doable ideas for individuals, groups, and churches. This one was a stretch to include in a "minorities" themed magazine as apparently 70% of Japanese are involved in sport in one form or another!

Children of the outcasts. Did you know there was a class of people in Japan who were outcasts? "In the Edo period (1603-1868), society was divided into four casts: samurai, farmers, craftsmen, and merchants. Below these were the outcastes—confined to ghettos and given 'unclean' work, jobs involving dead animals or people" (from the article). Discrimination against such people has not completely disappeared, though it is largely a hidden problem.

Delivering the love of Jesus is by a mother and son about reaching out to Japanese people who are profoundly disabled, the son himself has autism and communicates mostly by writing.

Ministry to the homeless another sector of society that most people outside of Japan don't know about. Like most countries, there are people living on the streets here, especially in inner city areas and close to large train stations and parks. This shares three testimonies of homeless men becoming Christians and was written by the father of one of our eldest son's classmates.

One of the most exciting parts of my job is as Acquisitions Editor (no I don't have that title in such a small magazine, but it is one of my roles). I love getting new articles, having ideas and finding people to write about them, networking, working with authors to form their ideas and experiences into a beautiful piece of writing, and finally seeing those articles get into print. I love to write too, but in this job I get to help other people write things I never could. Of course I could, but not from the first-person perspective that they can. What a privilege!

I'm about to start another round of this in the next couple of weeks for the Autumn issue (with the Summer issue just inching into the design phase). It's a lot of juggling, but I love the variety that this job offers.

17 May, 2017

Share your world #2

This is a new blogging challenge I started doing last week called "Share your world," from Cee Neuner. She posts a few questions each week, and all participants need do is answer them. It’s a cool way to get to know one another. The idea is to answer the questions without overthinking them and just have fun. Feel free to join in by copying the questions and then write your answers in a new post linking back to Cee’s original post.

How many languages do you speak?
One and a bit.

What are you reading, watching, listening to, eating?
Reading: I've just finished something of an Australian classic: A Town Like Alice. I really enjoyed this historical fiction set during and after WW2.
Watching: West Wing. Yes. Our second time through and we still love it.
Listening to: right now I've got classical music on shuffle on my computer (I've been editing and can't do that with words being sung at me).
Eating: Not that long ago I had my Wednesday comfort food for lunch. Tinned condensed tomato soup with two-minute noodles and cheese. To balance out the not-so-healthy nature of that I had an apple and a small tub of yoghurt.

What was the last photo you took with your phone?
The top of the calendars I helped publish last year. One of the projects I'm working on is whether to continue to do this each year for our field, or whether to make a change. The printer we had been using has said they can't continue to do this for us, so I was communicating with a local printer yesterday and he asked for a photo of what we'd produced last year.

What is your favourite time of day?

After dinner and a shower—settling down into my relaxing chair before bedtime.

Optional bonus question: 

What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?
I'm grateful for a quiet weekend last week. I actually got to the end of Sunday and felt refreshed. And I'm looking forward to my parents coming next Tuesday.

This weekly prompt comes from Cee's Photography blog. 

16 May, 2017

It's a season of grief

We're heading into the annual season of transition here. It's what I wrote about last August (The colander of expat life). 

As an example. These are the OMF missionaries who came to the women's
retreat in March. Two of them have or are retiring this year (which
means they're returning to Canada and Germany). Two are going
on home assignment (Australia and US) and one is a short termer who
won't be here long. One is new to Japan this year, another I've only
known just over a year. That's a lot of movement for just a dozen women.
We live in an expat environment. Missions have a high turnover. Roughly 15-20% of our OMF Japan missionaries are on home assignment at any one time. On top of that, it is well-known in missionary circles that Japan has a higher than average attrition rate for missionaries, so many missionaries we once claimed as colleagues or friends are no longer here and aren't coming back. 

And even more, our family lives almost within spitting distance of the school that four out of the five of us go to every day. International schools have high turnovers. I think our school has a 25% turnover of students every year (lower for teachers). That means 25% of the students who are there now weren't there a year ago. And 25% who are there now won't be there next year. That adds up.

In this kind of environment you make friends and you lose them, often. I listened to a talk on resiliency yesterday and one of the key ways the speaker advocated building up our resiliency was by investing in relationships. I do. But every time I lose one of these friends my resiliency takes a hit. I have to admit that it is getting harder to get up again and invest in someone new.

School finishes in under a month. After that people will leave temporarily, or permanently. Goodbyes will be said, or not said. I'm not sure which is easier.

This article grabbed my attention yesterday, it's called "Embrace the Life You Have". It's especially written about life's disappointments, when life doesn't work out as you'd hoped or planned.

I'm not sure what kind of life I'd dreamed of, but I certainly didn't dream of having so many friends who no longer live in the same country as me. As an aside: I certainly didn't dream of parenting teenagers would be so difficult either!

The article encourages us to "weep deeply over the life you hoped would be". Feel the loss. Then to wash your face and move on to embrace the life God has given.

I'm trying. I'm trying to feel the grief, but also to wash my face and embrace what God's given me. But it isn't easy.

15 May, 2017

A foray into interior decorating

My impulsive foray into interior decorating has resulted in this in our entry: 

Total cost? 350 yen or AU$4.25 from CAJ's Thrift Shop. The coat hanger we already owned.

The final photo is from just outside the front door, so you can see what someone walking in might see. This high ceiling in the entry is such an unusual feature for a Japanese house, people often comment on it. I love it that this obi (the ornamental belt that is worn with a kimono) just fits so beautifully here. It doesn't look forced at all.

We've never lived in our own home and so I haven't done much in decorating around the house besides putting up some photos, pictures, and calendars. It's just not something I find easy to visualise, yet I appreciate other people's beautiful touches in their houses/apartments. Of course living with a bunch of boys doesn't encouraged decorating, either. They don't just don't appear to notice...