Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Glimpses of God at Work in preparation for the Global Day of Prayer

Stan has been working with a small committee to mobilize the churches in the Tokyo area to pray together on the Day of Penticost as part of the Global Day of Prayer movement over the last two years. In 2006, we had about 60 people who gathered on the roof of the local YMCA for the Sunday afternoon prayer gathering. Last year that group had "grown" to 4 plus a reporter from one of the Japanese Christian newspapers in our sanctuary. While disappointed at the turn-out, Stan and the others have continued to be convinced that God wants the Christians in Japan to pray together.

On January 17, Etienne, a South African working with the movement, stopped in Japan on the first leg of a multi-nation trip. Having Etienne come to visit served as an exciting catalyst to introduce the movement to a number of others who share a passion to pray for God's work in Japan, Asia and through out the world.

There was an evening meeting that drew around 25 people from area churches and missions, as well as the reporter, to share about God's work through the Global Day of Prayer movement in other countries. Apparently the meeting made the front page of the "Revival Shinbun" (newspaper).

The following day, several met at the first train station on the train line that goes from Tokyo out to our city, Tokorozawa. They had a list of all the churches in the vicinity of each of the train stations on the local train stops. As they rode the local train, they spent time praying for God's work in these areas. Several stops on this train line have no church within walking distance!

Through greater publicity with Etienne's visit, other key people in the Tokyo area have come in contact with the idea of the Global Day of Prayer. Last night there were 13 people at a monthly prayer meeting this group holds -- up from an average of 6 or so. They did some brainstorming as to "who each knew" in order to get the word out.

Pray with Stan and the others as the plans gear up to get publicity, choose a more centrally located venue, and challenge the people of Tokyo to pray for God's redemption to be realized among the nations--including Japan.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Reflections on returning home to Japan

Sunday, the 20th, A and I attended church at Cornerstone Bible Church in Glendora, CA. This is one of our supporting churches, and a place our family called "home" for the 2004-2005 school year...or should I say that Stan and I called it home, the kids were somewhat reserved on whether they wanted to commit to that term for the church.

I eagerly looked forward to meeting with the Koinonia Sunday School class-which Stan and I helped to start that year. Sitting and listening to Dan facilitate discussion, and to hear what was happening in various members lives--including the couple who feel called to leave their Starbucks job and go as missionaries to Europe--was very encouraging.

A rather reluctantly decided to try the High School Sunday School class--but came back very pleased saying the students were much warmer and inviting than they had been two and a half years ago. We both enjoyed worshiping at the 11 am service and had a great lunch with friends afterward.

Then the time had come...we loaded all our purchases (remember--both of us had to refurbish clothing since we don't fit into Japanese sizes) into our suitcases, loaded those suitcases into the rental car and headed to a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. I have found that it is much less stress to stay overnight near the airport than to head cross town on the morning of a morning flight.

I had gone through one of the discount bidding services and was able to reserve a room at the Hilton LAX for $60. We felt like we were walking into luxury--and we enjoyed the plush bedding. A stayed in the room while I went and returned the rental car. When I got back we decided to go to the Carls Jr's down the street for supper--only to discover that they are remodeling and only the drive-in was open. Rather than pretending to be a car, we went on another block to the local Denny's--which was the worst meal of our entire visit in the U.S.

Back at the room we repacked so our suitcases didn't tip the scales over the maximum 50 pounds per bag, then we tossed and turned all night as we tried to sleep. Luxury or not, getting ready to head home brings lots of thoughts.

We both flew out on Monday--separate airlines that were supposed to fly 15 minutes apart, but A's flight was delayed because of brake problems, and she took off 1 and 1/2 hours later. We both arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon (we crossed the Int'l Date Line), quickly made it through customs and were able to hop on the 6:25 pm airport bus and because of light traffic, arrived at our train station at 8:15 pm--16 hours after we left the LA hotel!

Wednesday morning we woke up to this sight--

Snow in Tokyo!

A has made it to school two days now--she had to slip into rehearsals for "Much Ado About Nothing" which she learned she was cast for while in America. In addition, there are several Senior activities that are coming up this weekend. She felt the trip to America was very helpful in eliminating one college from her list, and opening her eyes to another. She met with people who care about her, and would be willing to "be there" for her when we cannot.

I am still trying to figure out what day it is! Its hard to remember what I heard at the Building Skills for Member Care Conference two weeks ago--and easy to remember how nice and warm it was in LA when we were visiting schools, friends and family. The apartment seemed particularly small when I walked in--but I am adjusting to Japan space now into my second day. I haven't driven here yet, but know I will turn on the wipers when I mean to hit the turn signal.

Stan and I need to spend some time debriefing our time apart. While I was gone he had a major gathering with a leader from South Africa for the Global Day of Prayer, a group of 30 Brazilian and Japanese Brazilians visited ICCS, and a wheelchair company donated 30 used chairs in great condition to Wheelchairs of Hope. In addition, he maintained the laundry, fed the boys and guided them through homework. I am grateful for his standing in the gap so I could go to this conference and spend significant time with A.

Its good to be back home. It was good to be back in the U.S. It is hard making the transitions.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Our flower girl's wedding

I just got back from the second Asian Access wedding in a week. Today's wedding was of my coworker in Human Resource Development for the mission -- Emi. She handles that role in the US--I handle it in Japan.

Emi joined our mission about 8 years ago. When I saw the e-mail stating that Emi H. had joined our staff, my first question was, "Is this the same Emi H. who was supposed to be our flower girl?" Indeed, nearly 25 years ago, we asked Pastor H. of Stan's Japanese church in Chicago if his six-year old daughter could be our flower girl. We thought it was all set, and then we got a message saying that she had to go to Japanese school (always held on Saturday for children who needed to hone up on Japanese language skills) so she wouldn't be able to be a part of the wedding.

It wasn't until about three years ago that Emi and we learned the reason why her mother had insisted she go to Japanese school that day. As we sat around the table in the H's home, her mom told us that Emi had always struggled in the Japanese classes, but that particular Saturday was Undokai (sports day) and this was one area where Emi excelled. Her mother wanted her to be successful in something at Japanese school!

Emi never got to be our flower girl, but today I, along with several other women who have served in mentor roles as she's prepared for marriage to Sterling, were given carnations to put into a vase on the platform--in essence, I got to be a flower "girl" for her!

We had a delightful afternoon and evening sharing in two families' joy at getting this couple married! We at Asian Access welcome Sterling to our extended family.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

U. S. Highlights with A

A and I have been visiting a few colleges in Southern California this week, and connecting with some special people as well. It is hard to believe that she will graduate from the Christian Academy in Japan in June and be over here for college shortly after that! We will have one more year in Japan this term, so we want to be sure that she is well established with surrogate family.

One of our hosts this week are Judy and Don S. who have opened their home to us as a home away from home. Don was pastor of our church in Glendora when A was born. Their home has been a warm and inviting place to our kids. When A and her sister walked into their house on Monday, it was like little two little girls walking into Grandma's house. I heard choruses of "oh I remember this" and "do they still have the Swiss Family Robinson video series?" with lots of reminiscing.

Another thing A has been able to do is enjoy things she can't get in Japan. Tonight it was Ben and Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream. This carton is all hers...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Good things happening at home

Last weekend Joseph attended his first middle school wrestling tournament. He has been reluctant to attend or participate in the tournament, being very self-conscious. But he went this time, and came home with a bronze metal!

After his first two bouts, he called Stan to let him know his status, and he seemed so excited. We are amazed that he even let Stan take this photo when he got home -- PLEASE DON'T SAY ANYTHING TO JOSEPH ABOUT THIS!!!

Joseph is at a stage in his life where he needs good things to happen. The next tournament is the 26th, and we may try to see if he'll let either/both of us attend.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Celebrating God's Provision

Today I was able to attend the wedding of an Asian Access missionary, Tim Clark, to Wakako Saito in Pasadena. It was fun to be at the ceremony and reception. I was part of the processing committee for Wakako to join the mission. I had a chance to get to know her a little better at that time. Tim and Wakako were introduced by her sister, who is also an Asian Access missionary! Wakako came to Christ after her sister's wedding--touched so much by how different the people were who attended. In the same vein, their wedding was a testimony to the power of the gospel.

The wedding provided an opportunity for alumni and current staff of Asian Access (formerly called LIFE Ministries, and even before that, Language Institute for Evangelism) to catch up with one another.

Several of our Japan ministry staff are in town for leadership meetings this coming week...conveniently scheduled right between two mission weddings. We have one more wedding next Saturday.

Its a matter of height...

Recently I have been thinking about my height, and how I often feel overlooked. At an inter-mission leaders gathering three tall men may carry a conversation across the top of my head and while I might have something to contribute to the discussion, its as if I'm not there. Its not just that people miss noticing me, but there are occasions when I feel like I am not viewed as significant or contributing to the greater good of an organization or a conversation because of my stature. I am grateful that God doesn't place lesser worth on short people!

On Friday afternoon, however, there was another sort of experience having to do with my size (and you would have experienced it, too!) On the way from our Building Skills for Member Care Conference to the Fresno airport, we made a short stop at a grove of Sequoia trees.

This is the tree named "General Grant". It is the world's 3rd largest tree in the world, by volume. Its 40 feet in diamater at ground level. The sign in front of it says it would take 20 people holding hands to make a complete circle around the base. It is estimated to be 1,700 years old.

Oh, and thats me at the base of the tree...all 5'2" of me. And I'm a bit younger than the General Grant, too...

Friday, January 11, 2008

The "Building Skills" Group

We posed for the group photo today after lunch. I am in the first standing row--dead center in a silver jacket (to match my lovely silver hair...). We have people here who work in Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Turkey, Central Asia, Mexico, Canada, Ecuador, Thailand, Brazil, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan and Japan. I am sure I've missed a few countries, too!

Today we talked about the secret questions of missionary men and women, as well as depression. Tomorrow we wrap up, head back toward Fresno, and I fly to Los Angeles.

I'm a little tired. Over all I've slept well, but the last few days have been intense, and weariness is more than just sleep or lack of it.

We've had good worship times, though, and I am seeking to rest in the Lord.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Building Skills for Member Care

We are at about the half-way point of our Building Skills for Member Care Conference being held at Hume Lake, California. This is in the Sequoia National Forest--it is absolutely beautiful here. During the summer they have 1,800 kids per week at camps! They also offer conferences and retreats and rent facilities to churches and organizations such as our group. The temps have been in the high 20s and low 30s (Fahrenheit). Walking is a little scary at night when the walkways freeze, but so far we haven't had anyone slip.

There are about sixty of us attending the Conference--the biggest one Link Care has held. This particular conference is focused on "lay" missionary member care givers (i.e., we're not professional counselors). Some of those in attendance are field staff, like me. Others are region visiting member care or pastoral care personnel. This year I have met about six people from sending churches in the U.S. who want to be better equipped to minister to the missionaries sent by their churches.

Another treat is that there are five of us from Japan here at the conference. Tim Johnson and Larry Spalink, like me, are mission administrators. The Doi's are missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators, Japan. They have served in another Asian country as translators, but are back in the Japan office to fill personnel and member care roles. It is a blessing to us to see them working to provide a much needed ministry in the lives of Japanese missionaries.

Yesterday our topic was Missionary Kids. Today we talked about Missionary Marriages. Do I feel like we're at the end of a fire hose? Yes! But what I like about this conference is that I leave with practical tools--not just a notebook of lectures.

I've got a great Empathy Tool that Stan and I need to try out when I get home...helping us to relate stories of our childhood. I watched couples in tears today and a few people even said they understood something about their spouse they had never grasped before in debriefing the practice session.

Monday, January 07, 2008

First reflections on my trip to America

I am in the U.S. for a missionary care conference and have spent the first few days with our oldest daughter in Fresno. It has been great to be with her, see where she's been living this year, attend church with her, and do some "speed shopping."

We have been spending some time talking about our perceptions of life in America, especially as people who have lived a significant portion of our lives overseas. We find ourselves quickly going into sound and visual overload in shopping malls and grocery stores.

As great as it is for me to be able to go clothes shopping in regular-sized sections (in Japan, any woman wearing a size 12 or above probably finds their clothes in the Queen size section--and most likely it won't fit well because of differing proportions) spending a couple of hours at the mall on Saturday nearly did me in. It makes it all the more challenging because I don't have much of a shopping budget to work with so to find nice articles of clothing and then look at price tags is shocking. I did find a few great bargains that were encouraging since I'm just in time for stores to clear out their winter stock.

I also know why the clothes I have been wearing are thread-bare. Almost every time we return to the U.S. the styles and colors are the ugliest they've been in years. We seem to hit the weird year, so opt not to buy, and just keep wearing the same old clothes that are now stretched thin, stained, threadbare at the hems. Dare I say it? We look like old missionaries!

At the grocery store I stood trying to figure out which of the five kinds of cottage cheese to buy...not including those with fruit or flavor added. We bought "Satsumas" from California--reminicent of the Mikan mandarin oranges that are in season back in Japan. A taste of home. Saltines used to just be saltines. We brought home a box of whole grain saltines. Lunch after church today was at a Thai Fusion restaurant. I felt more at home there than the all-white church we attended earlier. (Its a great church--just felt different).

Another thing we were talking about was how neither of us knows what it is like to have roots in a community where people know one another for years--maybe their parents and perhaps even grandparents went to school together. That makes it harder to join into groups--they have years of ritual and tradition that we can't share. It makes it harder for them to understand us--how at the six month point, or the three and a half year point, we start emotionally detaching because all our lives have been broken up into those time periods--in the US for a year, in Japan for four.

We are not complaining. We just know that we don't "fit" and sometimes that is hard.

All this is a precursor to the Building Skills for Member Care Conference I am attending from Monday. We will be looking at Critical Issues in Missionary Care--

The topics will be:
1) Spiritual and emotional health of the individual.
What recurring stumbling-blocks are Christian workers facing? As in recent years we have all faced pressure to minimize the quantity of required formal Bible training for our missionary personnel, how has a lack of “spiritual depth and maturity” affected the front-line spiritual battles missionaries are facing? How can internet pornography be confronted, and replaced with positive input? What practical hands-on tools can be utilized to provide inner spiritual strength and commitment?

2) Spiritual and emotional health of singles and marrieds.
What effects are observed from today’s generation tending to enter marriage from backgrounds of increasing woundedness? What practical hands-on tools can be useful in marriage enrichment? How can marital commitment be strengthened, providing resistance against outside temptations? What are some practical tools for conflict resolution?

3) Spiritual and emotional health of the MK.
What is observed from the “world of the MK”? How can better “grounding” be provided to the MK facing so many transitions? What pressures cause some MKs to walk away from the faith? What are practical resources which can strengthen the positive qualities in our children and encourage life-long commitment to our Lord?

One thing I'm not looking forward to--the Conference is being held at Hume Lake Retreat Center--which has had multiple feet of snow dropped on it this past weekend. I'm sure it will be beautiful...I'm sure I will freeze!