27 January, 2015

Camping getaway

Today we're preparing for going camping tomorrow and doing final starting school preparations. Tomorrow we'll pick up textbooks and two iPads from school then shoot up to the Sunshine Coast hinterland for three nights of camping (here). We'll get back on Saturday in time to vote in the state election and then school starts for us again on Monday.

I'm looking forward to cool nights (it just doesn't cool down enough in our house at night, we've been sleeping in 28-30 degrees C most nights) and no TV or other screens. The campsite has a stream running through it and we can have campfires too! Because most schools started the school year today it will also be quiet. Oh yes, looking forward to this little get away.

But I'd better get back to packing...see you when we get back.

26 January, 2015

Building Relationships This Year

Back in November we met with the pastor and an elder of our home church. It was a long discussion, but one of the results was:
Their challenge to us ... to get to know as many people as we can in the church so they feel connected to what we do before we go back next year.
It's gradually happening. We had lunch at the house of a key family from our church last week and stayed into the evening. Yesterday we hosted a BBQ, inviting two families over after church.

Our six-week long break from deputation is just about finished, along with the relaxed pace of the school holidays. So it's about to become more difficult to fit social engagements in. However, we've got a bit of work to do if we're going to invite more people around for meals. It does seem that that's a great way to fast-forward relationships. Just seeing people around after church or at other events isn't enough, more time needs to be invested.

What was really cool about yesterday was that we also could spontaneously invite the guest preacher and his wife and five boys over to join us. Their church supports us too and we'd first met them at not too long before Christmas at their church, so it was good to be able to see them again. Building relationships, it's our catch-cry for the year in Oz.

The other great thing about having people over who haven't had much contact with missionaries before is that we can have much less difficult, less forced conversations about mission. While chilling in the air con after eating yesterday we fielded casual questions about our lives. Just like any other person would have when being asked about their lives as you got to know them.

I'm really tempted to go on a rabbit trail giving advice here. If you invite a missionary or pastor to come to serve at your church on a Sunday and they've driven over an hour to get there, or you finish church at a time that means it's meal time. And especially if they have kids! Make sure that they are provided for, the best thing would be to have a church member invite them over for a meal. It's just courtesy. And you never know, in blessing them you might actually be blessed yourself!

But back to now, I need to go and bake a cake to take to an Australia Day BBQ we've been invited to at the house of friends from church this afternoon.

23 January, 2015

Lots of discussion about fashion and missionaries

I had a lot of comments on my Facebook page as a result of yesterday's post about missionaries and fashion. I thought that I'd post some of the comments (names removed for privacy) here for those of you who don't know me personally.
Here is me before Christmas in one of my very
comfortable t-shirts!

C: I think that anything that makes you feel good about yourself and confident will only enhance your inner as well as your outer beauty. Why on earth should you look dowdy or old fashioned just because you're a missionary? Modest, yes, but that's not limited to missionaries ;)  Love the earrings, have fun with them!

Me:  I think that there is an unspoken thing is that missionaries aren't supposed to be worldly, aren't supposed to spend money on themselves. Misguided really. 

MJ: Isn't it part of a bigger tension that we face in a whole lot more areas than this? On the one hand, we need to be enough like the people we're working with (homeside or fieldside) that they can relate to us, but different enough that it shows our identity and value doesn't reside in our clothes (or house, gizmos, food etc.) and challenges others so see life the same way. Hence there's no easy answer. 

Me: Yes indeed MJ.

C: I'm (as a non-missionary and a really quite slack Easter and Christmas churchgoer) interested to know where the ?judgement? comes from? Other missionaries? People in the congregation? I realise that judgment probably isn't the right word, but I can't think of another. Also, not meaning to be inflammatory or insulting - it's a genuine question. And I honestly believe that it's a compliment to God to want to look your best, most well-presented self as you spread the word.

JL: Sometimes it can be self judgement/ self assessment too.

C I hadn't thought of that. I'm finding this a fascinating discussion.

MePeople give money for us to do this, if we report back to them (which is essentially what we're doing in Australia) and we're wearing expensive clothes, say with an expensive car, people will question how we're using our money, presumably.

Me: MJ, I wonder whether the essence is conducting our lives in all aspects so that we aren't a stumbling block to others understanding our message?

MJThat's the theory. It's the putting into practice part that lacks easy answers!

MJ: C, 'Judgement' is as you say, not a great word for it - I think it implies a more conscious process than I think is really at work. It's a recognition that, if you come across as too weird, people tend to discount what you say as weird without getting as far as listening to the content. But we also need to lead a life in accordance with what we believe - that material things such as clothes are not ultimately hugely important in themselves. Sometimes they are important in being respectful to those we appear in front of (as Wendy says, especially in Japan!)

MB: Just a thought because this makes my blood boil!....the people who support missionaries/pastors/ect financially should give without any expectations on what you can or cannot do with your money, its nobody else's business what you awesome people who give up so much for the sake of the call do with your money.....in fact you should be given more and blessed far and above because you sacrifice so much!

C: MB, I've been trying to word the exact same sentiments! Personal finances are private, regardless of where they come from. I would never expect my boss (hypothetically, as I'm a stay at home mum) to voice an opinion on how I spend my pay - why should missionaries have to justify their spending?

CAnd I don't understand why feeling good about your external appearance and serving God would have to be mutually exclusive? By the way, I'm no fashionista! I shop mainly at Target, I'm a champion bargain hunter and I'm stuck in a fashion rut - however, I know how much more confident I am when I feel good about how I look.

MeMaybe I'm being too sensitive, but I think it is an issue that missionaries do think about. I have heard criticism from supporters about one missionary couple and how often they visit Australia. I don't know how often supporters think this way, though.

MB: I like the way you think C! they shouldn't have to justify their spending and anyone who thinks they should....well like I said it makes my blood boil!

KKLove reading all of these comments. I use to be involved in a church not mentioning any names and one of the missionary we use to support only wore name brand clothes. But yes. Who really cares what you wear. God knows your heart and you will be rewarded with beauty up in heaven. By the way you can get well known brand names at the op shop. 

Former missionary: One thing I found was that I didn't want to stand out as different when I came home. I'd had 4 years of that. I feel we need to be comfortable but not extravagant.

JI think it's about comfort, but that includes being comfortable with the people you're with, as well as comfortable clothes. Coco Chanel used to say to buy the best because it would never date, and fashion is notorious for being SO fleeting. Stick to what you like, don't worry about what people think. If you like it, you'll look better than if you try to push yourself into the mould of what you think people expect. (Not that I can see you doing too much of that anyway!)

 I had lunch today with one of the above friends and she confirmed for me that this is a problem for ministers too. Not just that people are judging them, but that some feel bound to make decisions about material things that will minimise the judgement.

We reflected on how sad it is that Christians can be so judgemental.

What was encouraging was her reassurance, as one of our supporters, is that she doesn't care what we do with the money that she gives us.

22 January, 2015

Should missionaries be fashionable?

It's an interesting question. Missionaries have had something of a reputation in the past of being old fashioned, or just odd. It is a challenge for someone who's been living in a different country with vastly different fashion to come back to their home country and fit in. 

That isn't so much the case for our family dwelling in the metropolis of Japan, but imagine those living in the jungles of PNG or Africa. Or the mountains of Nepal. Coming from Japan to Australia we usually end up being overdressed! Aussies are so informal.

It is less of a problem these days, I suspect, with missionaries travelling to their base of support more often than in the days when international travel was expensive and slow.

But we do live on a missionary budget, and therefore aren't free to buy a whole new wardrobe every few years. That doesn't mean we're happy to wear just anything that gets passed along to us.

The question still lingers. How much should I pay attention to my appearance? Is that unspiritual?

I'm on the conservative side anyway, and that wouldn't have been different if I hadn't been a missionary. Actually I think that now in my 40s, I'm less conservative than I was as a teenager.

When you think about it, it is a conundrum for our profession. When we're in our sending countries we are public speakers, we make public appearances. How we present ourselves is important.

I've thought a bit about this in recent months, one reason being that I'd never had my ears pierced. In our last year in Japan I began to look at how much fun other women were having with their earrings and wonder if I were too late to join in the fun. Additionally, now that I've got short hair, I'm aware that it is easy for me not to look very feminine.

Or maybe its a cumulative effect of being the only woman in my home, over the last few years I've had a growing desire to be more feminine than in the past. Shock! I've never been a girly-girl, don't like lace or pink (though that is changing). I've rarely worn skirts in the past, but that has changed in the last five years too.

Anyway, with the encouragement of a friend (whose fashion sense I trust), I had my ears pierced about six weeks before Christmas. What was interesting is that almost no one noticed. My boys thought it was fabulous, my husband bought me gorgeous earrings for Christmas. I know that two friends noticed, but didn't want to say anything in case they were mistaken. I don't know if anyone else felt the same, but didn't say anything.

But getting back to the conundrum that missionaries (and Christians in general) face, here is a verse that is worth taking notice of.

1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.
So the true beauty is in the heart, but I don't think that that precludes us from taking moderate steps towards keeping our appearances on the outside looking beautiful too, as long as that doesn't override our concern for internal beauty. 

So, while I'm not a theologian, I can look at the Bible and consider the example of the Proverbs 31 woman:

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come (NIV).
It seems to me the older I get the more I realise that moderation in most things is the best thing. What do you think about this question of fashion and missionaries?

21 January, 2015

Paper Planes and other end-of-holidays activities

I'm getting out of the habit of writing here daily. I guess once the boys finish their summer holidays things will change back again. The signs are there that we're coming to the end of the holidays.

Yesterday we spent half an hour buying school stationary (yes, that's all). Today we rode to school to purchase a high school uniform for our middle son. High school! For only six months, then it's back to middle school for him for two years!
After the movie, but before shopping we
stopped off at a Japanese restaurant.
It was wonderful to eat this yummy food.
We all found menu items that we really
wanted. It brought out the Japanese
side of my brain. Thankfully our waitress
was Japanese and understood our heartfelt
Japanese thanks.

There's also a matter of how well the boys are behaving. They're becoming restless and grumpy. It's been 6 ½ weeks since the younger two finished school, nearly 8 for our eldest. Only a week and a half left! A week from today we'll be going camping (here) for three nights, a screen-free time that will be a good way to pull bedtimes back and, hopefully, heads back into a space that will be more amenable to being told what to do at school.

We've been enjoying catching some more recent movies. Taking advantage of some really good prices ($5.50 on Tuesdays). We've rarely gone to the movies in Japan, only two or three times, because they're so expensive. A couple of weeks ago we saw Night at the Museum 3 and yesterday we watched an Australian movie: Paper Planes. Both were good, though they had quite different budgets.

I could poke some holes in the plot of Paper Planes, a few times we were shaking out heads saying, "That's not possible." Mostly related to the timeline of the plot, which was a bit shaky. It's the story of a boy from a little country school in WA who wins a chance to go to Tokyo to represent Australia at the World Paper Plane Championships.

The Australian side of the film wasn't as cringe-worthy as some Australian films out there, in fact it was done well. The Japanese part was authentic, apart from the part that showed Tokyo down-town traffic moving at an amazing pace. One scene at a doctor's surgery was impressive in the doctor's ability to speak clear understandable Japanese!

What impressed me were the deeper themes that they managed to slide into the show: grief, depression, and bullies were all there. As was two boys trying to figure out why winning was important to them. It had the common "troubled father-son relationship" theme too, but that was more to do with the grief and depression that the father was experiencing. Lots of food for thought. The plot didn't demand that the dad "snap out of" his pain, a definite point in its favour. What made me cry was the usual "person overcoming huge obstacles to achieve their seemingly unrealistic goals".

Well, it will soon be time to boot the boys outside to do some serious weeding of our front garden (see here for our holiday policy of doing jobs around the house, which has worked fairly well, though not always as well as it did on the first day).

17 January, 2015


My kitchen in Japan. Yes, I miss it!
I received a message from one of my good Japanese friends last night. She asked how life was for us in Australia, whether we felt settled here, and mentioned how she missed our language exchange time.

Among other things, I wrote the below in reply:
Yes, we're fairly well settled. But it's only 5 ½ months till we get back to Japan! Hard to believe how fast it's going.
Sometimes it's hard to be in Australia because we're reminded how easy life is for us here and how much we enjoy life in Australia. Also we're reminded of all the people and experiences we miss when we're in Japan. However, our passion for being a part of getting the gospel to Japan hasn't waned, so no doubt God will provide the motivation to get back to Japan when it is time. We'll be back in early July, Lord willing.
I often feel really torn when we're here. Torn between loving being here (friends, ease of living, climate, language, family etc.) and wanting to be there (friends, a sense of purpose, things specific to Japan like the activities at the school, our stuff, boys happier there etc.).

I imagine it is a tension I'll have to live with for the rest of my life, on one level or another.

16 January, 2015

How was camp? Awesome!

I went to the beach twice, some went three times. It's great
being at the beach now that our boys aren't so small.
I loved it! In fact I'm suffering withdrawal today! I'm particularly missing the interaction between leaders: a combination of lighthearted Aussie banter and some serious (but generally short) conversations. But here's a list of other things.

Favourite things from camp:

Can you see these cute ?whales that two of the girls made?
  • seeing my inadequacy used to enable a younger leader to step up and use her skills
  • being able to totally engage with everything (in the past I've been sidelined because my kids needed me to supervise them)
  • surprising the campers and my own kids at my athleticism (yes, I've still got some)
  • realising that parenting has equipped me in many ways for dealing with kids, even those embarking on teenage years
  • watching all my boys engage with camp at an appropriate level
  • David pulled in his science teacher skills and had the kids
    (and some leaders) make stomp rockets.
    • My eldest was a junior leader, he willingly helped whenever he was asked.
    • My middle son, initially reluctant to come to camp, got so involved we hardly saw him all week.
    • The dining area. A source of much great tucker.
    • My youngest son was about 1 ½-2 years younger than the youngest campers and he kept up with everyone. He was virtually a camper (in size too, he wasn't too much different in height to the smallest boys).
  • stimulating conversation. With leaders and often with kids too. My habit of asking questions at dinner (at home) to start conversations came into good use, particularly in sitting with girls who didn't always know how to connect with one another.
  • eating such delicious food that I didn't buy, cook, or cleaned up.
  • and, as I wrote (here) before we left, being somewhat anonymous. The kids didn't really care what my "day job" was, though if they did find out we had some interesting conversations.
Least favourite things from camp:

An extreme trampoline. So much fun, but
the harness was a little painful around the waist.
  • realise I'm old in their eyes (yes, even the eyes of the 22 year old leaders)
  • feeling zonked after only one day of camp
But really there wasn't much I didn't like. I'm just wishing it would be less than four years before we get to do another one!

08 January, 2015

We're going on a summer camp

We're volunteering at a summer camp for grades 6 to 8 from tomorrow afternoon, run by Scripture Union. We've volunteered at this camp twice before, once as cooks just after we got married and one five years ago. See here for my blog post from that experience. Looking back at that blog post, one thing that stands out is this:
The other great thing about being here [ at camp], is that it is service that is NOT about us. Deputation is full of us running around talking about Japan, our experiences and answering questions about us and Japan. 

Here it hardly matters here that we are missionaries and that we've lived most of the last decade in Japan. Yay! I love it.
So much of our lives we stand out, we're not average. In Japan we're the foreigners, at CAJ we're the Aussies, most Sundays in Australia we're the missionaries talking about uncomfortable realities. 

At our home church we might be approaching some kind of "normal". But if people stop and think they'll remember that we're only there a year. If I open my mouth at Bible study, more often than not something comes out about my experience that isn't "normal". I've been embarrassed on at least one occasion in the last couple of months by someone "in the know" identifying us to strangers that we were "missionaries to Japan". Sometimes you just want to blend in!

However, at camp it hardly matters what our "day job" is. This time I will be working with the campers, not just putting sunscreen on my own kids, so we'll see how different that is.

As for now, I'm up to my ears in baking. I'm wishing for my giant dinosaur American gas oven I have in my house in Japan. I'm baking goodies to take for snack times at camp. Thankfully it isn't a seriously hot day. But as a result it's taken me hours to write this much here, between rounds of biscuits going in and coming out of the oven.

I doubt that I'll have time to write at camp this time, but I'll try to take some photos to share with you. It's going to be a fantastic time.

PS If anyone would like to pray for us and the camp while it's in action, there is a short-term prayer list we can sign you up for.

05 January, 2015

Unsettled reflections on our Christmas-time

In reflecting on this Christmas in Australia, a time for us when most people assume that that should be the ultimate in "good experience about being home". Now without being disrespectful to our families, I want to write that it wasn't the ultimate.

We had a wonderful time with family over Christmas. We travelled to three different locations in Queensland, travelling 2,200km, and saw all our siblings, all our siblings-in-law and parents and all of our nephews and nieces (barring one) over 16 days. It was great! No doubt about it. 

But it did made me feel unsettled about our calling to Japan. It would be all too easy to say, "This whole missionary thing costs too much personally, it means we don't see our families often enough." It would be all too easy for our families to say, "We hate this missionary thing you guys are doing, it means we don't get enough of you." To their credit, they don't say that (at least to us).

But on the other hand, to say, we're ditching "this gig" in Japan because of the above reason, would be to turn our backs on the gigantic needs there, citing our personal needs are bigger. But the reality is that our personal needs aren't more important. Our families carry on without us (though I'm sure they miss us, they've gotten used to our absence). We don't collapse in despair because we can't be in Australia for family gatherings (though this isn't without a sense of loss too).

I think the other thing that made Christmas challenging was that hanging out with people who don't have the same vision or mission as you do is always going to be a dampener on your own vision. In fact Christmas and staying with family is just a continuation of the whole of the dampener of home assignment: trying to convince people that mission is important and mingling with many people who don't quite believe that. The times we spend with supporters who truly do believe this and are 100% behind us is extra special.
Ruth and Gary Weston, our Australian colleagues who've
gone before us in Japan (they were "veterans" when we were
just starting out as missionaries).

So it was a wonderful joy to unexpectedly share lunch on Saturday with colleagues from Japan. A surprise because we'd organised a social BBQ with our state mission director and he and his wife suggested that these colleagues, who've only been here for a week and a bit, might come too. It was a wonderful few hours of refilling. Refuelling with passion for the work God has given us to do. Separating ourselves from the self-indulgences of the season for a time and refocusing.

02 January, 2015

New's Year's Day is just another day

Yesterday we drove back home, after 16 days of visiting family. I asked the guys what music they'd like to listen to on our journey (having just had more than a month of Christmas music), David said, "New Year's Day" (listen to it at the below link).

I love this album, it was part of God leading me, back in 2007, to pursue writing and see where it led me (specifically the song "Seize the Day"). Here are the lyrics:
I buy a lot of diaries, fill them full of good intentions
Each and every new years eve, I make myself a list
All the things I'm gonna change, until Janurary Second
So this time I'm making one promise
Yeah, This will be my resolution, Every day is new years day
Oh, this will be my resolution, Every day is new years, day.
Well I believe it's possible, I believe in new beginnings
I believe in Christmas Day, and Easter Morning too
On the list it's doable, cuz I believe in second chances
Just the way that I, believe in you
Yeah, this will be my resolution, Every day is new years day
Oh, this could start a, revolution, every day is one more chance to start all
One more chance to change and grow-oh,one more chance to grab a hold of, grace
and never let it go
This will be my resolution, every day is new years day, oh, this could start a
revolution, every day is--this will be my resolution, every day is new years
day,whoa this could start a revolution, every day is--Every day is--this will
be my resolution, every day is new years day, Oh this could start a
revolution, every day is New,Years,Day. Hey hey--New years day.

More lyrics http://www.allthelyrics.com/lyrics/carolyn_arends/new_years_day-lyrics-907883.html#ixzz3NdlO3UXg
Yeah, I reckon the song's still a good one! 

We did have a low-key New Year's Eve celebration (with friends from uni days), but no dramatic resolutions were made by me. Every day's a new day, nothing magical about midnight on the 31st of December. Yes, I know I'm countercultural, no surprise there!