Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Two views of Quiet Time

When the weather is nice, I like to sit outside for my devotions. At the apartment there is very little "private space" so going out on the balcony with all the street sounds seems quieter than sitting in the living room or propping myself up on my bed next to my computer desk (which is very distracting!).

Every morning I see a woman walking her yippy dog. I hear the sound of delivery trucks opening their back doors and unloading their wares, and the swoosh of bicycle tires as their owners ride by. I see young adult girls coming back from their evening of bar hostessing pulling their small suitcases. Rarely is there anything different in the windows of the people who live in the apartment building across the street. If I'm out there later, I hear the opening exercises at an elementary school in the area.

I don't find these sounds as distracting as those inside my apartment... They do serve as reminders, markers if you will, of the call of God on our lives to share the Gospel here in Japan.

However, for several weeks a year, this is the view from my back porch quiet time chair.

The sounds here are those of crows who nest in a tree far away, sometimes the waves as they hit the shore several hundred meters behind me, or the farmer who is up early running machinery in his nearby field. If I am a little later, I hear the cacophony of cicadas--an annual summer sound that I find soothing but others in my family find incredibly annoying. I get caught up in watching birds flit from branch to branch, seeing small frogs hop on by, or watching creepy crawly things make their way along the grass in front of my chair. I see the reminents of last nights web made by "Charlotte the spider."

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23: 1-3a


Saturday, August 25, 2007

How we spent our summer vacation

We vacation on the Pacific Coast in a small town called Shichigahama, that is 7 Beaches. Our summer community is called Takayama, or "Tak" for short. For over 100 years missionaries have been coming here for the summer, and there have been good and bad seasons in local relations. In the early days, many community people were hired to do the grounds work and served as maids. While many of them worked hard in servant positions, others remember attending VBS-type programs for the local children. These days, the Tak community has tried very hard to develop positive relations with the town folk.

With that we began our vacation at a community beach party. The town's people always barbecue delicious foods, and the Tak people bring home made desserts. As part of the entertainment, a local dance troupe performed several numbers for us. Then a Japanese "caller" got up and lead a group through several country in U.S. country dances.

The early missionaries had local caretakers raise vegetables that are not native to Japan. One was red beets and the other rhubarb. The 70+ year old man who serves as caretaker of Tak now, tells how he got 100% in his agricultural classes because of all the vegetables they grew for the missionaries--foods his counterparts had never even heard of!

While red beets and rhubarb aren't really part of our tradition, in the last few years a couple of young women have put on Borscht and Rhubarb lunches. The red beet soup is delicious, the home made wheat roles were incredible and the ice cream with rhubarb sauce (last year we had rhubarb crisp) was wonderful. We had great company at the table that Saturday. I made the rhubarb crisp later--our kids cautiously tried it, and were surprised that it was good!

There is one week during the summer when most of the owners of the cabins try to attend...because we have our annual meeting that Thursday evening. The following night we have a community potluck followed by a talent night. This time we had two entries. The first was Anna, who discovered that she shared a talent with the young son of friends of ours while they both waited for parents to finish talking over coffee.

Anna and Benjamin were able to demonstrate their giftedness in spoon balancing through a variety of events, including singing and moving. It was very delightful--and we were so proud of how Anna encouraged Benjamin. Two days later one of those in attendance brought Anna a pair of spoon earrings she had found while shopping after the talent night.

Stan wasn't going to do anything this year, but when our friend Doug actually agreed to do the "Galoshes" skit with him, he jumped at the chance.

It was a hit, and we expect them to perform it with one other father at the "senior parent's talent night" later this fall.

One of the summer residents is an artist who got a group together to make clay out of some of the rock found in the area. Stan helped out on a blistering hot day while they grated the stone, and moistened it to make the clay. They shaped their items the following two days and then they made a kiln on the grounds where they fired it over two days.

Our junior pyrotecs had a chance to practice their skills using a paper tube and a sparkler. We have a tree stump that they very much wanted to set on fire. We were actually at home when they tried this time.

Notice Joseph's hand in a cast...he broke a metatarsal bone in his right hand when he punched his brother over the rights to play a game on my computer. It was a clean break and is healing well, but it put a big crimp into his beach time.

We had a chance to catch up with our friend Hidemasa in early August. Hidemasa was a high school student when he was first brought to ICCS. He made a profession of faith and was eventually baptized.

He is now a professor of engineering at a university in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture--about 20 minutes train ride away.

Two weeks ago we started watching a spider spinning a web off our back porch every night. We called it "Charlotte" of course. Anna first spotted it one night when she couldn't sleep. She pulled up a chair and watched it through the back door of the cabin...

From leg to leg Charlotte is about 2 inches long, though in our minds it seemed to be about 5 inches! The web would go from the roof overhang to the floor of our porch. Our friend Doug walked into it two different mornings...

This is one of the special times--Sunday morning at the Takayama Chapel. I've mentioned before feeling like the "cloud of witnesses" is gathered with us--those missionaries who have found rest and refreshment for over 100 years. Various summer residents take turns leading the services.

Some practical work got done--Stan built this covering over the washing machine for me. It makes it easier to do laundry when it rains... It also protects the washing machine from the elements.

During World War II, Tak was taken over by the Japanese and the cabins were assigned to Japanese owners. The military dug caves throughout the cliffs surrounding the area. When the war was over and finally the rights to the land and houses were returned to the missionaries, many of these caves were closed in. Others were the site of many escapades among missionary kids. But in the recent years, few have been accessible. The entrance to these were cleared this year and Anna and a friend went exploring.

When the got up into the caves, they found trash all over. Obviously others have come for parties and left their stuff.

Anna brought back some "artifacts" from the cave and reconstructed some of it on our porch.

We are surmising that this is part of a cat skeleton--she left before finding the skull because they were being eaten alive by mosquitoes... Is this the beginnings of a forensic anthropologist?

While the cherry tree hanging over the roof of our cabin was beautiful, it stood at a precarious angle on a ridge and Stan and a couple of other men agreed that it needed to come down. Not only did the cherry have to come down, but there was a dead pine that was hung up in the upper branches that needed to be removed.

A missionary who spents much more time at Tak than we do, and who has a wood burning stove, offered to help bring the tree down in exchange for the wood. Sounded like a good deal to us! He and Stan worked one full day bringing down the pine, and then limb by limb brought down most of the tops of the cherry.

We had a very hot summer, and this day was a little relief, only in that it was cloudier than it had been. Still, the men were very dehydrated and decided they could not work the next day because of the toll it was on their bodies.

At the end of the day the cherry had one major limb left to be topped, and then the rest of the trunk needs to be brought down. When Stan goes up later this fall, he will contact the other man and together they will bring down the rest of this.

After such a draining day, we needed to cool down--to the core--so we headed off to the beach for a night swim. We got there around 6 pm and spent nearly two hours enjoying the water to ourselves. It truly was refreshing. Because of the heat wave, the water had been about bath water temperature, but that evening there was a cooler current and it did the job. This was one of those "making memories" evenings.

A few afternoons later we went out with our inflatable boat. The boys love going out in this with Stan. Later, John took the boat out and waited for the waves to flip him.

When the hot weather broke the last week we were at Tak, our senior pyrotec finally got around to building a big fire. One night we sat around with Doug and his family--they are our sisters and brothers that were promised in Mark 9:29-30--and enjoyed some warm fellowship.

The next evening we invited some fellow Asian Access missionaries to come and roast marshmallows with us. I don't know if their kids got to sleep that night after all the sugar, but they seemed to have lots of fun!

Finally, the time came to get ready to leave. There is one ritual we have to go through as we prepare to depart. We MUST mark the post.

This year it proved that I am now the shortest member of the family! In our 100 year old cabin there is only one other post with markings on it, made by a family that owned the cabin in the mid 70's. We now have eight years of marking--will we take this post with us whenever we finally leave Japan--or will it be a legacy for the next family?

So we're back. Summer vacation at Tak '07 is a memory...a good memory. We thank God for this place to get away, visit with friends, worship together, spend time in the "great outdoors" and do practical work with our hands. Most of all, it gives us a place that our hearts can call "home."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Those Pesky "Q"s

We have just arrived home after driving back from our vacation cabin near Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. It is a a 5 hour drive door-to-door in good traffic, that costs us around $80 in tolls one way. Our top speed is 100 km per hour--which is around 60 miles an hour.

Like all distance travelers, we like to entertain ourselves while driving by doing the Alphabet Game. This isn't as hard as one might expect in Japan, since most of the highway signs have Romanized versions along with the Japanese characters.

Many of the vehicles will also have Romanized nomenclature, and some are actual English phrases (Miyata Transport, etc.) We do fairly well at this game.

Like in the States, there are a few letters that are harder to come up with. It isn't too difficult to find "X" or "Z" here, but it is those pesky "Q"s that are very hard for us to find. Honestly, I think we know exactly where on the five hour drive the two "Q"s can be found--and today we missed it. For three hours we looked for a Q! I was hoping for a Mobil or Esso fuel transport, because they have the word Quality on the side.

Q isn't often used in Japan. There are notable exceptions, like the clothing store UniQlo, which carries a basic but trendy line of clothing. But there are no UniQlo along the tollways... so we are left victim to a couple of odd signs up around Fukushima City.

Since we read some Japanese, there are times when I think I've seen the letter we're looking for. When we were on "D", I saw a sign in Japanese that said digital and my mind said, there's the "D" when in fact it was the katagana character "de". I do the same thing with this "Q" problem. We have made it a "rule" that we actually have to see the Romanized letter...

Too bad--because the Odakyu bus above would fit the bill. The kyu is pronounced just like "Q."