Sunday, December 30, 2007

Getting Together with Mission Family

We had an "after Christmas" party with Asian Access family in the Tokyo area on Friday, the 28th. We decided to celebrate with what is considered in Japan to be the traditional American Christmas dinner--Kentucky Fried Chicken. We also had a "White Elephant Gift" exchange and a rousing game of "Catch Phrase." We have enjoyed our gatherings this past year--the next time we'll be together is in early March when we join the rest of the Asian Access/Japan missionaries for our annual retreat in the mountains of Nagano prefecture.

A very special Christmas Eve

This year's Christmas Eve was a very special one. Christmas Eve and Day are not holidays in Japan, so we usually have a small turn out on Christmas Eve for the candlelight service. However, the current Emperor's birthday is December 23, and since it fell on a Sunday this year, they made Monday the 24th a national holiday. This opened our schedule to be able to have a larger Christmas Eve celebration.

We started with a soup and sandwich supper, with three different soups originating from three different countries. A number of church members contributed sandwiches, finger foods and sushi. We served around 50 people!

Following supper, we had a time of family talent--and Benjamin played his saxophone for us. We really appreciated this family sharing in the Christmas Eve celebration--they are from Norway, and typically have their family Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve, but they arranged their schedule to spend a good block of their evening with us.

After singing carols in English and Japanese, we had a message given by Ken N., a young man from our congregation who is attending Bible College. He gave a clear salvation message in Japanese. His mother, a brother and the brother's girlfriend all came to hear him. Ken's mother has been moved by the changes in his life, and told a couple of the women at the Christmas Eve service that she wants to begin coming to church on the Sundays she isn't working.

We followed with Candlelight and the singing of Silent night.

Once the service was over, it was time to put on bonnets and hats from the "Dickens Carolers" and go caroling in the neighborhood. In the past we have gone to local restaurants and a shop down the street, but this year we did something different.

One of our church ladies, Mrs. S (center in the photo above) had gotten involved in the neighborhood community organization. Through her urging, we were able to offer the use of our worship hall for their monthly meetings. A few members of that organizational committee were the ones who made covers for our chairs. Mrs. S., along with Dee Wirz, a fellow missionary with Asian Access, have made concerted efforts to befriend the people in the neighborhood. So this year, we went caroling at 10 homes of people on the neighborhood committee.

A few of the folks have a house decorating contest going on. This is called "illumination" in Japan. We had people out there from America, Singapore, England, Japan, Nigeria and Uganda. For many of those singing this was the first time to go caroling.

The older man and woman in the center, are one of the neighbor committee members. They both attended the Christmas Eve service, went caroling to their neighbors, and they stopped and received the carolers at their home! Mr. E is not well, and yet he did the whole walk around the neighborhood.

We had multiple generations out there singing.

We have received comments of appreciation from several of those who were on the receiving end of the caroling. One family sent cookies to share with the congregation as a thank you gift. Our hope and prayer is that this will continue to reap fruit as we seek to strengthen our ties with those who live in the area of the church.

When the carolers returned to church, there were lots and lots of cookies, hot chocolate and spiced tea waiting for them.

It was fun to see Ken talking with a man who hasn't made a decision to follow Christ yet, but who has been coming regularly with his wife for over a year. Her life has been changed so much in the past two and a half years, and he sees that.

This family had somethings to be grateful for this Christmas Eve. The husband was hospitalized a few weeks ago with a stress-related illness. He had been released just a few days earlier. We were surprised that he, too, walked the whole caroling route. He hasn't come to a personal relationship with Jesus, though his daughter and son have. (The boy with his eyes closed is the son of the couple in the previous photo.)

As the evening went on, we had more and more fun talking with one another. The time together was very special. We ARE family to one another here, and we rejoiced in being able to celebrate this evening in such a warm way.

Mari didn't quite stay awake to the end of the evening! I kind of felt like this too, but unlike other years where we were the only ones closing and cleaning--we had lots of help, which made the load light and enjoyable.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Together at Christmas

Stan, J , J, B, A & Faith
Christmas, 2007
Tokorozawa, Japan

We are grateful that we found a last minute ticket using miles for B to come to Japan for Christmas! We had a good 9-day visit with her, and now have sent her back to the U.S. Next year we'll have to try to figure out how to bring two girls back!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On Finding B ...

For the entire month of September, 2006, B joined about 600 other background actors and actresses to populate the "Banks Casino" in the filming of Oceans Thirteen. Her daily stories about what happened on the set, interacting with various actors, making friends with one of the blackjack dealers and some of the "AD's" (assistant directors) were fascinating. One of the still photographers on the set even took a few photos of her one day, and slipped them to her the next day.

When the movie came out in August here in Japan, we eagerly went to look for B. If you've seen the movie, you'll realize that it is very visually "busy". Add to that the fact we've come to accept, that background actors are never in focus, because they (obviously) are not the focus of the shot. But we all saw her as she ran up the stairs in the scene that showed the evacuation of the Casino.

B is back for Christmas, and brought with her the newly released Oceans Thirteen DVD. Last night we watched it with her, and she pointed out a few more scenes where she can be spotted.

For those of you who have asked...

at (1hr-11min-08sec) she is on the left as the stars move from the cars into the casino--she is near the door in a burgundy v-neck dress.

at (1-13-55) she is in a group of three standing right behind Clooney and the Asians as they walk into the Grand Opening--you'll see her in this gold dress.

at (1-21-26) she has her back to the camera at the blackjack table right behind the main characters working on the shuffle machine.

from (1-22-14) to (1-23-22 ) we begin with her elbow on the left screen as the FBI arrests one of the conspirators--her face can be seen at the very end of that segment.

beginning at (1-42-44) B is running left to right up the stairs evacuating the casino (this is the scene we spotted in the theater).

There is one more spot where she recognized herself in the crowd, but it is a busy scene (tables with the digital numbers of winnings floating through) and I can't find it now.

We hope you have find finding B!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Word of the Year

I was recently challenged to choose a word that describes a character trait I would want to develop in the next year. I am mulling over what that word should be for me for 2008.

In the mean time, we heard the following on the news the other day.
Every year a single kanji character is designated by the Kanji Examination Association which represents the events of that year, and this year the character is...itsuwari, which translates as falsity, lies or deceit.

It was a big year for being lied to in Japan, with many scandals in the headlines.

First, the problems with missing Social Security payments, which meant that thousands of workers wouldn't get credit for money they paid into the system decades ago.

Learning that the freshness date on the food they order may not be accurate also shook the trust of consumers in Japan -- even McDonald's got caught changing the dates on salads so leftovers could be sold the following day, and they'd been doing it for years. This coupled with false labeling on the source of meats and other products has filled the news daily over this year. I don't think a day goes by where we aren't hearing about another product that has been discovered to be falsely labeled in one way or another.

The scandal at the Ministry of Defense, in which Deputy Defense Minister Yoko Yamada demanded various perks in exchange for the awarding of lucrative contracts, resulted in a raid on the Japanese version of the Pentagon by prosecutors. About 15% of nightly news in the last month has focused on this scandal.

On December 13 there was an official ceremony at the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto in which a famous Buddhist priest wrote the character with a large calligraphy brush while hundreds looked on.

The kanji for previous years have included inochi (life) in 2006, during which so many young people committed suicide; ai (love), after the birth of Princess Masako's daughter Ai in 2005; sai (disaster), in tragedy-laden 2004; and tora (tiger), celebrating the Hanshin Tigers victory in the Japan Series in 2003.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Decorations

Sunday as I was sitting at a table across from the drink bar at the local family restaurant, my eyes noticed the jell-stick-on decorations on the mirror.

Whether because of spacing issues, or that someone actually knows the true reason for Christmas, it was delightful to see that they are wishing us Merry Christ-mas.

Another December Birthday...

Can you guess how old I turned on the 13th?

We had a little family gathering on Thursday evening to celebrate the occasion.

I'm thankful for another year of life. I'm thankful for my husband. I'm thankful for my family. I'm thankful to be serving God.

I'm also thankful that our oldest daughter is coming home in a few days!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Worked to death

Increasingly we are hearing stories of people who have been worked to death here in Japan.

Last night we got a call from one of the women in our fellowship whose husband was hospitalized yesterday for a serious illness--most likely stress induced. His company has him working in Osaka during the week and when he's back home with the family on the weekends, he's often expected to show up at the office in Tokyo. Two weekends ago he went without sleep for over 48 hours, and after a few short hours of sleep was back at another extended stretch of work.

If you pray, please pray for Taka . He doesn't know Christ yet, so we pray this will also be a time of opening his heart to the Savior who loves him.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tis the Season...

We got word a week and a half ago that my (Faith's) 95 year old grandmother had died. She was actually my step grandma--but she has been a special part of our family for around 40 years. She was a delightful woman, with a great sense of humor. She married my widowed grandfather and together they spent years fishing, picking and canning June Berries, serving in various roles at their church, and growing old together. My grandfather developed Alzheimer's, and she cared for him faithfully through all the stages. He passed away in 1995. Its been six or seven years since we saw her--she lived in Northern North Dakota, and we didn't get up there on our last home assignment.

In talking about grandma's death with my sister, we began reflecting on the timing of deaths in our extended family. Both of these grandparents died in the fall. My mother's sister died in December. Nine years ago my mother died a couple of days before Thanksgiving. Stan's dad died two days after Mom. I can't remember when my paternal grandmother actually died, but I have vivid memories of standing in a grocery store in Japan listening to Christmas music thinking of how she was slipping away back in Minnesota.

In a brief article I wrote recently on missionaries and grief I made reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:13 where we are told we are not to "grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." Instead, let us grieve like those who DO have hope! There are many Biblical examples of godly people (including the Lord Himself) who grieved.

I don't know what its like to grieve the loss of an unbelieving family member. My heritage is rich with people who followed after God. But I see many around me who have no hope that they will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thess. 4:17)

As I go into the season of Christmas, I am praying that I will have the heart of hope--because I believe in Christ, who humbled Himself to be born as a helpless baby, to grow and know what our life and challenges are, and who became obedient to God even to die as a substitute for us so that those of us who believe in Him can KNOW we will live eternally with Him.

The message of Christmas isn't

  • the baby,
  • the pretty decorations,
  • the Kentucky Fried Chicken (thought to be THE American Christmas traditional dinner here),
  • the bells,
  • the angels
  • the presents,
  • the music,
  • that fat guy in a red suit (for some, confused with Colonel Saunders because they dress him up outside the stores and for others, thought to be Jesus' brother).

No, its found in Revelation 21:3 -7, speaking of the end of time:

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself with be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then He said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this and I will be his God and he will be my son."