Friday, December 26, 2008

We've had a flu, flu Christmas....

Merry Christmas from The De La Cour's in Tokorozawa, Japan

We are grateful to be together, but some things we wish we weren't sharing!

On Monday, December 22, four of us headed out to do Christmas shopping. While in the store, I began feeling very strongly that something was not right inside of me... Cutting my part of the shopping trip short, I headed home, and by 2 p.m. was in the middle of a full scale intestinal flu. Feeling like it would probably just be a 24 hour bug, I did my best to find moments of comfort and rest--and hoped I'd be up for the rest of the Christmas shopping in a day or two. hasn't worked that way. I've been out of commission since then--having moments of feeling good, but other times of not so good. One son came down with it on Christmas Eve--we kept one another company while the family went to Christmas Eve service, but then he seemed to be over it.

Christmas Day I made a great effort to rally. We had a simple but very delicious meal and I ate small amounts. We also had a friend over--Megumi I hope you stay healthy!

Our original plan was to take off today for an overnight at a cabin in Karuizawa--but this morning I still felt lousy, and the second son has the flu now. Stan is feeling run down and so we had to put that trip on hold.

One side benefit of all of this...our sons have been particularily kind and appreciative! We often find that illness breaks down the need to be tough, and allows a particular bonding that we don't usually see at other times. We're enjoying that for as long as it lasts.

Christmas Eve Service and Caroling in our neighborhood

One of the high points of our year is the Christmas Eve Candlelight service and the Caroling that takes place in the neighborhood afterward. This year was no exception -- except that I (Faith) missed it because of a stomach flu!

It used to be that there were more non-church people than church people at the service and we often felt bad about that--because it is such a great time to make relational connections with those who attend. The past few years, though, church families have made this a part of their Christmas Eve practices, and we have enjoyed their participation.

We also had a lot of Japanese from the area, and friends of friends come for this once a year service.

In a modified lessons and carols service, the congregation listened to scriptures and sang the Christmas songs. One of our ladies brought an Irish harp to play as part of the music!

One of our young men brought his girlfriend--her first time to church--to this service. It must have been quite an experience for her! Because after the service, people got dressed up to go out and go caroling from house to house.

Mrs. S, our church member who is on the neighborhood committee, had marked a map of the houses of people who have had some contact with us, either through that group, or as a part of a English Bible Class that started a few months ago.

There were enough houses marked that they split it into two routes.

At a couple of places they had people come out and sing along. One little girl (in the Santa dress)wanted to join for a few more houses.

At one home, the older man came out and started singing the songs with them, with tears running down his cheeks. When asked about how he knew them, he said that he had attended a Lutheran preschool (he is in his 70's). Bonnie quickly invited him to join the English Bible Class when it starts up in January, and he indicated he was interested.

Mrs. Sh, another one of our church ladies who lives in the neighborhood, was having so much fun that she decided the people in her route should stop at 10 more houses of friends of hers along the way!

Finally they all converged back at the church for Christmas cookies and hot drinks.

I believe there are several reasons why this has become important--

  • As expatriates, a practice like this bonds us together as we develop "new" family traditions apart from our family and country of origin. For some it has caused them to change what they do as a family to be part of the extended church family on Christmas Eve.
  • This is a natural opportunity for us to bless our Japanese neighbors. There aren't that many ways we can connect with so many people in a cheerful way--and Christmas allows us to bring joy and light to them--and they are willing to receive it.
  • God is honored as we celebrate the birth of His Son, the Savior.

We are focusing on this one neighborhood. God has placed people from our church in places of importance. God has placed a burden on the hearts of our people for their neighbors. They are thinking strategically about what can be done to meet the needs of these people. Starting with the offering of our worship space for committee meetings, and an English Bible Class--next maybe a cooking class, and other opportunities as they become apparent. We know God has embedded us here to bring glory to Him. Thanks for praying with us!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Neighborhood Christmas Party with the Singapore Team

For the past week we have had a mission team from Singapore here distributing Christmas DVD's and booklets in our neighborhood, at the two train stations that are nearby, and living in home stays with people from our church and community. They have also gone to several places in Tokyo to distribute the Christmas DVD's that are prepared by Japan Campus Crusade for Christ.

Their work in our neighborhood culminated in a Christmas party at ICCS last night.

They did all the preparation, cooking, crafts and decorations. It was a very fun night. They chose the theme of "birthdays" since Christmas is the celebration of Jesus' birthday, and gave us an introduction to how birthdays are celebrated in Singapore.

The team was introduced to us.

We began by singing some Christmas carols in English and Japanese.

Stan estimated that we had 25 people from our neighborhood area there besides church families. Many of them are either from English classes taught by people from the church, or part of the Neighborhood community governing body. Mrs. S--a key member of our church and of the community group--brought her husband. He has not often been willing to come, so we were very excited about that. We also had a jet-lagging college student (bottom right corner)!

One of those who came was Mr. S (next to Stan-ta Claus)--a man we've had contact with off and on over the past eight years. He saw Stan on Tuesday when he was handing out DVD's at the train station with the team--and invited him to dinner that evening. He is much more interested in English than in things of God, but we continue to trust that God will break through that wall of resistance.

In addition to our Japanese neighbors, we had six people come from the Brazilian congregation to join us. How I wish I hadn't forgotten my Portuguese from childhood! Its hard to know what language to speak with them--English or Japanese--because they are often not too strong in either.

One of the games the Singapore team had us play was to guess which team member was in the childhood birthday party pictures. There were prizes that were handed out for that one. People did pretty well.

We did a karaoke version of Happy Birthday--in English, Japanese, Mandarin and Malay! (Please don't ask us to sing the last two for you when you see us next..)

Our Bible School student, Ken N. gave a great gospel message in Japanese.

Stan provided a few wrap up words, and invited the guests to come to Sunday services and to the Christmas Eve service.

Afterwards many people stayed around. Ken and some of the Singapore team had a chance to talk as one of the many conversations. Ken doesn't speak much English--so I'm not quite sure how this conversation went--though a few of the team did speak some Japanese.

We trust God will continue to nurture the relationships within our church neighborhood as we continue on with the holiday season and into the new year.

Sunday is our monthly covered dish Sunday after church, and Wednesday night is the Christmas Candlelight Service, followed by caroling in the neighborhood and wrapped up with cookies and hot chocolate or cider back at the church.

By the way, Christmas isn't a holiday here... people will be coming from work to the Christmas Eve service, and will be heading to work the next morning. The stores that have been decorated since late October will have no visible evidence of Christmas by noon on the 25th.

They're Back!!!

On Wednesday evening, Stan drove to Narita airport to meet our daughters, who flew in from California for Christmas break. They are here until January 9.

On Thursday evening they attended the "ritual" alumni basketball game--neither of them watch the game, but its the time every Christmas break to see classmates who are back as well.

We're enjoying hearing about this young lady's first term at Vanguard. She has a lot to tell us about her major in theatre, et al. She has done well, and we are grateful for God's grace in her life these past five months.

We have already had the girls join us at the ICCS Neighborhood party--while she looks perky here, she was fighting jet-lag BIG TIME by the end of the evening.

Its good to have them back.

Monday, December 15, 2008

For my birthday, they held a gospel choir concert!

Having December birthdays are always a challenge. Usually there is too much happening this month to be able to sit and savor the birthday. However, there's nothing I can do about the timing and so I'm grateful for whatever opportunities come up.

On Friday, the 12th, my three men took me out for dinner. It was good to enjoy steak and time with the guys--and the two younger ones managed to cool their jets (our hit and run eaters don't sit very well) long enough to make it feel special.

On Saturday, the 13th--my actual birthday--one boy headed off to a wrestling tournament, and Stan and I went to the Gospel Choir concert about 45 minutes away from here. We had practiced our two songs at the workshop a couple of weeks before (and entries below) and we went to join in with the other choirs in singing those songs all together.

We had a great time--though Ann and I missed the cue to get up for our first song and so we slipped in on one of the choruses of "Thank You Lord for all you've done for me" -- in my heart I was singing "thank you Lord that I got in here on time!"

I sat through the rest of the concert, seeing several hundred Japanese up singing songs about Christ. Many don't know Him, but they love to sing about it. This is one tool God is using to bring these people into contact with believers and getting the word in their hearts and minds. It was very encouraging.

Later, they called for those whose birthday was that day to come get a present--wasn't that nice? It was the Hallelujah Gospel Family Choir CD (that's the name of this joint gospel choir).

Here is the group from ICCS following the concert. We had a good time together at the concert, and traveled back to our area as a "pack" making the commute much more enjoyable! [Kjersti--without planning, Ann and I both ended up wearing the scarves you gave us at your farewell!]

I would probably have enjoyed singing the Messiah more than the gospel songs--but there is power and truth in them both. And it was a great way to celebrate a December birthday!

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Yesterday, Stan and I worked on getting our "illumination" out on the balcony of our apartment. This year we spent some time planning it together, and when we drove past it last night we were so excited!

Can you tell which apartment is ours?

We have seen one other apartment in our whole area with lights on the balcony, and I saw lights in the windows of another. Without a doubt, we'll be known as the ones with the Christmas "illumination" lights.

I expect to hear people from church make comments about them over the next few weeks. As long as we turn them off at a reasonable time of night to be "eco-conscious" they should be well received.

This past week we've worked at decorating the inside of the apartment as well. In a way I feel like I'm late this year with Christmas decorations going up around here right after Halloween, but growing up we never decorated before December 16 (my brother's birthday--mine is three days earlier). So, I've got a head start.

I decided to post some inside shots--its been a while since I've put photos from the apartment on the blog...

This is from the doorway of the smallest bedroom, looking out at our combination Living-Dining Room.

You are looking from the doorway of our Japanese style tatami room (which used to be our bedroom, and now serves as our "guest room" where the boys frequently choose to sleep) toward the lights on the balcony (which are also reflected in the window of the apartment across the street).

The birthday sign--did I mention my birthday is December 13? The sign actually went up in late November for our sons' birthday--and will stay up a couple more days before we take it down.

Moving just a little to the right, you see our "dining room" where we have our table against the wall between the small bedroom door and the kitchen. We pull the table away from the wall for meals.

Now...picture six adult-sized people in this room for the next three and a half weeks. Our girls arrive on the 17th.

If you pray, pray that we have a great time together, enjoying one another and that there will be a spirit of great cooperation.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

God bless the carrots...

One of the most typical first mistakes missionaries make when they are learning Japanese and practicing prayer in Japanese has to do with two words that sound very similar to our western ears, ninjin (carrot) and ningen (humans, mankind). There are very few missionaries who can honestly say they never mixed those up--and many dear Japanese have sat through prayers asking God to bless the carrots, and sermons about how God came to save the carrots...

This came to mind the other day as I was shopping for a Christmas exchange gift. Looking at some tree ornaments at one of the boutique shops in the Parco department store, I came across this cute bird house ornament, with a snowman whose huge nose is a carrot.

The ornament in itself is cute... but then I was taken by the words... "I bring you tidings of great Joy." Not sure, but if God can bless the carrots, I suppose the the snowman with the carrot nose can bring us tidings of great joy...

Turning it over, I noticed that it was made in Ch.ina--In my heart I wonder if the factory where these were made is one of those where the workers are imprisoned Ch.inese believers. It made me pray for our brothers and sisters in that country who are facing much opposition...

"I bring you tidings of great joy." I guess its up to us to fill in the blanks as to what those tidings are.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ken's words of encouragement

Ken N. (on the left) is back from Bible School near Osaka for Christmas vacation. He was asked if he would be willing to take the message for Stan this week, and he was ready! Ken still doesn't speak much English, so we asked Tim T. to translate into English for him, which he readily agreed to do.

Ken's passage was from John 1:1-5, talking about Christ as the Word. He shared personally about how before he was a Christian he was without hope.

Ken was very despondent,lonely, without friends, very dark in spirit, but one day passed a church's sign board and read Matthew 7:7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." He said it was like an invitation--he went out and bought a Bible and began to read. [A few months later he ended up at our church and over the next couple of weeks Stan and Mappe (our former assistant) were with him as he prayed to receive Christ as Lord.]

Ken shared how when he read the Bible, it was as if it was interacting with him. He had read lots of books, but it was never like this! As he shared his story, Tim, who had not heard it before, got choked up. Tim's response to the message was as moving as the message!

Ken has asked us to pray that he be able to find some part-time work during this break. He needs the funds to pay for his Bible School. Ken is a gifted evangelist and people have seen him at work--we have had a number of missionaries approach us asking what our plans are for him.

We pray that God will continue to develop Ken and guide him to do and be all that God has for him.

Singing at the Gospel Choir Workshop

Stan got back from the States on Wednesday evening, and Thursday evening he was taking part in the Gospel Choir Workshop with Ray Sidney, a Gospel artist that has come to Japan twice a year offering workshops as part of a ministry outreach. I also joined in--my first time to any of the rehearsals.

We had 38 people from around our area come to the workshop--some are in church gospel choirs, but others were friends of friends or saw the brochure and decided to come. The tenor section was a bit sparse, but they did their best to hold their own.

We had a couple of altos who are "veteran" gospel choir singers--the two women closest to us knew how to belt it!

After two hours of singing, we all gathered together for the group photo (I'm the photographer). It was a good time, fun time, and an opportunity to see how this kind of ministry draws people into churches and relationships. On top of that, one of the two songs we learned had us singing the refrain "thank you" over and over again. Its still running through my mind! That is good.

Pictures from a very special visit

Stan was able to spend two weeks with his mother, brother and family on Cape Cod from November 18-December 2. It was a precious time of seeing his Mom, who hadn't been doing well physically prior to his visit. It was also a good time to be with family.

Stan's brother has been the pastor at this Baptist Church in Pocasset, Massachusetts for more than 20 years. Stan took this photo on a picture-perfect day!

A few years ago, they moved Stan's Mom from her house in Rhode Island to an assisted living facility just a few miles away from Ed's place. The staff have been very kind to Mom, and we have all been grateful for the choice.

This is a great photo of Mom and Ed taken a couple of days after Stan's arrival.

News of Stan's coming perked Mom up quite a bit. When she heard he was on his way, she started eating and drinking according to instructions, and that helped sharpen her up. They had some great times together for most of the time Stan was there.

One day Stan, Ed and Mom went down to Rhode Island so she could get her hair done at her "old" hairstylist. Afterward, they stopped by at Terry and Virginia Morgan's place. Terry is the pastor of the Woodlawn Baptist Church in Pawtucket, RI where Mom has attended for most of her adult life. (I had a chance to watch him work as he ministered to Stan and Ed's Dad in his final days of life--what a gifted pastor!)

Thanksgiving brought all of Ed's kids home.

This granddaughter actually got a part time job working at the assisted living home where Mom lives...and loves it! As a result, everyone calls Stan's Mom "Grandma."

The day before Stan headed back, a long time friend of the family stopped by. The three of them enjoyed their visit together, and his visit with Mom.

She had apparently "adopted" John when he was in college, concerned he was too thin! She eagerly anticipated his visit, as well.

Stan had the opportunity to talk about lots of things with his Mom. He saw her in good times, and also during a few spells reminiscent of how she was before he arrived. He and Ed were able to talk about a number of "future" what if's and enjoy being together.

Stan's Mom turns 90 in February. We have been hoping Stan could get back for that, but hadn't anticipated this trip. We will have to see how finances look as we get closer. She would very much like to see our children--and Stan told her we plan on coming in the summer. She said she would keep on eating and drinking as she is supposed to with that goal in mind. Our hope is that this gives her hope.

Stan got a full scale Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. The Japan-based family isn't quite as enthusiastic about the traditional dinner, so he was very blessed! And then, there was one more New England treat...

Our niece won a couple of lobsters at a raffle among the workers at the assisted living facility. The family ordered a couple more and had a great dinner...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Which Holy Night are we talking about?

I saw this sign at the cake shop in our train station this morning.
The subtitle says "Light a candle on this holy night."

The rest of the sign didn't enlighten me however...

Which holy night are we talking about?