Friday, December 29, 2006

The Annual Family Photo

We have tried to take a family photo every year since we were married. Some have been professionally done, but most have been done with that wonderful feature on cameras--a timer. This year was no exception. Since our oldest daughter was in Japan for a few days at Christmas time we wanted to get that "family photo."
We ended up with a couple of photos we can use. This one I've entitled "Family Fun." It isn't good enough to go on a published card. It DOES show that next year I'll be the shortest one in the picture!

The first photo is always a challenge. Trying to get everyone placed and running to squeeze into place before the red light goes off.

A few photos later, composition is better, but one member of our family moves away from the pack. Can you tell she's been doing work in front of a camera lately?

After staring into the sun, we move to a big brick wall as the backdrop--only to be left with this glow on the tops of our heads.

We did get a good photo--and have already sent it to the printers to be made into a post card. We survived another year of photo shoots. We did it with relatively little stress this year--is it because the kids are growing up, or because I begged them to do it as a gift to me? I don't know. But I'm glad we have this record of Christmas, 2006

The After-Christmas Gathering.

The Asian Access Family in the greater Tokyo area got together on Wednesday, the 27th, for an after Christmas gathering. Three families and two individuals were unable to join us due to travel plans, and we have A2 family in other parts of the country, but it was fun to gather together at the Japan office for a time of games, and reconnecting.

For most of us, the schedules have been hectic up through Christmas, so we gave ourselves a break and ordered boxed lunches for our main meal. The main point was to be together, not to impress one another with our culinary skills!

We made up new words to the "12 Days of Christmas"--some were tongue twisters, others were more contextual to our culture here in Japan. One of the younger girls told me afterwards "Our song made much more sense." I have to agree!

The next time we'll all be together is at our mission's 40th Anniversary Gathering in Malaysia. Its getting colder here--so the tropical weather will be VERY welcome by the end of March.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Guess Who Came Knocking On Our Door?

When it gets to be 8:30 PM around here, and the door bell goes off, one of us usually opens the door to find a newspaper salesman trying to sell us a Japanese newspaper. The fact that our face is non-Japanese sometimes gives the man a difficult response. My best response is NOT to speak Japanese but to give him a flurry of English sentences in rapid fire...just to see him look at me in horror and walk away...

Well, the other night when the bell rang, I went loaded for bear. To my surprise, when I opened the door...there stood a Japanese Santa! He was a little shorter than myself. His red suit was new and his white beard was not the best I have ever seen but he was enthusiastic!

"MERRY KURISUMASU!" I responded: "MERRY KURISUMASU, SANTA!" His helper--a little big for an elf, was reaching into a while plastic bag and brought out a large gift--all well wrapped and holding a camera in the other hand. She kept looking at our name plate and smiling a nervous smile. I thought: "Do I know these people?" His eyes were the only thing that I could really see and yet he sure did not look like someone I knew. Maybe his wife was someone we met last year from another church, but no, she was not someone I knew either.

Then the lady-elf said: "Mina-can wa?" (Meaning: "Is Miss Mina here...?")

They were on the wrong floor!

That was the best wrong number I have ever had!

And they didn't leave the gift!
But I was a good boy! I was! Really...
Merry Christmas--a few days later.

God Gives Us Family

Mark 10:28-31

Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"

"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

We spent Christmas Day evening with the family who has become family for us. We have know the Woons since our two oldest daughters went to first grade on the train together. As our ministry schedules allow, we get together on special holidays.

When we first came to Japan, we downplayed the "cost" of serving as a missionary. The longer we've been here, the more we've come to realize that there is a cost. We have lost parents, missed out on watching our nieces and nephews grow up, and feel sad that our kids didn't know their grandparents well. And now we have a child living on the other side of the ocean. The cost increases and increases...

But God does meet us in those places, and we rejoice in the Japan family we have been given.

Christmas Eve Sunday for the De La Cour Family

Sunday morning we had a wonderful service at ICCS. After the service we always have coffee--and people stay around. It was enjoyable to have several "alumni" there--and for us one of those alumni was our daughter.

We have several Filipino who are in Japan for work--and have left family back in their own country. Some of the Japanese in our congregation have been mothers to them--and Christmas was no exception.

A chatted with Dan and Stefanie, who have been a part of our chapel for several years. Stan performed their wedding in 2004. They are being transferred soon.

After the service, our family went to a Yaki Niku restaurant for lunch. We sat around the table roasting our meat and exchanging stories. J-ph got going on a story that he made up featuring B , Stan and Dan (see above). It got to be quite a screen play, with J-ph integrating all kinds of factual details and items from the news, with a very interesting story line.

Sunday Evening was the Christmas Eve Service. We had 45 people attend,mostly Japanese, but discovered that we were down to 11 bilingual song books too late to make copies...we know we had more before! Nevertheless, we had an opportunity to sing carols and hear scripture read, as well as to watch a short video clip from the Jesus video. Following the candle lighting service, people got dressed up in some costumes, and a huge group of carolers went to sing at the restaurant many frequent on Sundays after church, and the grocery store near ICCS.

There are a group of ladies who make an after-caroling snack each year. Our carolers all return to hot cocoa and the various finger foods.

Once again people had a chance to spend time visiting. For many people in our congregation, we are their family. Christmas eve was a time for them to spend with their church family.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Renewing my Drivers License

Today I had to renew my Japanese drivers' license. I have always dreaded going to do this--mainly because the waiting room is so full and smoky. However, I had a surprise this afternoon when I arrived at our local police station...There was no one in the waiting room--and not only that, smoking is now only permitted outside the building! Wow have things changed in Japan during the years we've been here!

I was processed quickly--paid my fee, got my photo taken, and then was ushered downstairs where the required "30 minute training" was already underway. We sat through a video of cars, motor bikes, bicycles and pedestrians running into one another. Thanks to computer automation, no longer are any people harmed to produce these training materials.

After the video was finished, the instructor got up in front and took us through the statistics of the number of accidents in our prefecture and our city this calendar year. In an incredibly "sing-song" voice with crescendos at odd places, she powerfully impressed on us how life is important and no money can bring people back, so be careful! I was convinced--and have driven very carefully all the way home. I couldn't help wondering how a room full of Americans would respond to teaching done in this manner. There was nothing wrong with what we were being warned of--just a major cultural difference in the way we would present this information. When she finished her talk, she called each of us by name and gave us our little receipts to take back up to pick up our licenses.

This is one of my most valuable possessions. When we first came to Japan, all we needed to get a Japanese license was a translation of our US license and an eye exam. In the past 10-12 years international licenses (except from a few countries like Canada who have an agreement with Japan) have required that translation, a written exam and a driving exam. We have friends who have taken that driving exam multiple times before passing.

So, I have a new license good for five years and one month. Can you tell how old I am from this license?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Stan's Christmas Impressions

While Christmas is only a few days away, I'd like to express my two cents worth to my impressions of this time of year...

...The "Look" of Christmas started here around November 18. Business is good with all the colors...

...So many times, as we walk around the area, we can hear wonderful Christian music. Handel would be proud!
A preschool choir sings carols in the plaza of our local department store.
Amazing Grace has always been a favorite song to sell anything from diamonds, ham, cars, or even a Judy Collins CD! The "Sounds of Christmas" will end at noon on the 25th...

...Shopping here is not so hard. It still cost money!...

...Trying to get something new out of the Christmas story each year is a lot of work. This year, I will return to the facts...just the facts. Plain is good...

...there is no way to lose weight in December... . looks better and smells better the colder the temps are...

...I really miss LA weather!!!

Under His Grace

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Tea 2006 at ICCS

Yesterday we had a Christmas Tea at ICCS--with over 60 in attendance. Christmas is such a good time to share the gospel in Japan--and we are grateful for these chances to invite friends to special holiday gatherings.Our friend, Janet, brought three ladies from her neighborhood English class to the Tea. Janet and her family will be returning to the US for their home assignment this summer, and so this gave her an opportunity to begin building bridges between these ladies for future ministry outreaches.Our co-worker, Dee, taught about one of her favorite seasons--Advent--and showed various advent calendars. Dee is an animated teacher, and a number of the women who attended have been in various English Bible Classes that she has taught over the years. Dee has written a number of English Bible textbooks which are widely used in Japan.

Part of what Dee does is to help reinforce concepts with motions--she taught people about the Spirit of Christmas being hope, faith, joy, love and peace. Here she is illustrating "hope." She had everyone participate in this exercise.
A highlight for us at ICCS was having the head of the neighborhood organization and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. T, come and join us. We recently made contact with them through our church member, Mrs. S (on the left) who is part of the neighborhood organizing committee. We hope to build more and more bridges with this family and with others in the neighborhood.

And speaking of building bridges--when Mr. T first came to meet Stan and Dee, he mentioned that his wife and daughter play classical guitar. His daughter was invited to give a "mini concert" at this Tea--and she brought her friend to play the flute. We enjoyed their contribution to the atmosphere and hope that this will lead to them coming again later. The daughter told me that her husband speaks English, having lived in the US for 4 years, and is concerned about forgetting it. I suggested he could come and visit the church and practice from time to time.

As the Tea came to a close, we had a gift for everyone who attended. Our friend, Ann (or Santa Ann in this photo) does tatting as a hobby, and she made 60 small felt ornaments with a tatted snowflake on the one side and the initials "ICCS" on the other. Thank you, Ann!

Personal reflections~
God has blessed us with years of service here and I was able to see some of those connections as I scanned the group. I am excited about the ladies we are working with right now but I am also energized by what God is doing in ...
  • A woman who taught me Japanese through a community class 17 years ago.
  • A woman who came up to me and reminded me that our daughters had both gone to Kohitsuji Yochien (little lamb preschool) together. She gave great detail about memories of B. She has been studying with Dee for 5 years.
  • The grandmother of one of our daughter's classmates from elementary school through high school. She has begun attending one of Dee's Bible Classes.
  • A Malaysian friend who helped with logistics at the Tea. She just recently returned to church after years of absence--God used a "chance" 2-minute meeting on the train to reconnect with her.
  • My friend, Etsuko, who attended my neighborhood Bible Study for four years. She isn't able to join us in Alpha yet, but seems to be interested at some point in the future.
  • Yumi, who played the piano for the prelude and the carols. She was our second pianist at ICCS when we first started. She wasn't a believer then--but as we prayed for her, and with her about her infertility, she saw God do great things. She moved away shortly after her son was born, but recently moved back after 14 years.