Saturday, May 31, 2008

Snapshots of the second to the last week of High School!

This has been a full week for our High School Senior.

On Monday morning at a school honors assembly, she was recognized as a member of the National Honor Society.

On Wednesday she presented her senior year Capstone Project on Child Soldiers in Uganda. Preparing for it had been quite stressful, so we rallied our prayer team to pray focused prayers for her. She worked with a faculty coach following a practice presentation, and was well prepared by the time of the Wednesday presentation.

Three faculty members were her adjudicating panel. Before the presentation, they gathered around her and prayed for her.

The topic is a horrific one, and she was able to share several stories and a video clip to illustrate the problem of a 21 year civil war in Northern Uganda, where both rebel and government forces have kidnapped and forced children to become fighters (and many girls are forced to be sex slaves) often with initial requirements to kill family members or neighbors.

When it was over, she was obviously relieved. This has been a year-long project where she has learned to do research, write annotated bibliographies, work on philosophy of life and philosophy of evil papers, interview and report on the interview, prepare a project to raise awareness, and compile all of this into a portfolio. This presentation was the culmination.

And then Friday evening was the final Choral concert of the year.

The first song was performed by those students who auditioned into the Kanto Plain (greater Tokyo area) Honor Choir concert.

Then the Chamber Singers sang several numbers.

Following this, the National Choral Awards were announced. These go to one male and one female member of the Choir.

Except that this year, for the first time in the director's 24+ year history at the school, there was a tie for the female award.

At the end of the concert, all the seniors in choir and hand bells gathered for a photo.

Worshiping with the Brazilians

Stan has had Saturday evening meetings for the Global Day of Prayer for several months now, but last week was open so we decided to attend the Brazilian church that uses our worship hall. While Stan often was at the church while their worship team practiced, he was always gone by the time they started their service.

We got there a little late, so we slipped into the back corner and listened to several testimonies. The service is run in Portuguese, and while it was my first language (my parents were missionaries in Brazil) I have forgotten it all (having left Brazil before I turned 5). We strained hard to understand, and then one of the worship team slipped in behind us and asked us if we understood Japanese. She then translated the testimonies for us. One young woman was talking about how she had been working at this Japanese company, and thought she was the only Christian--but it had come out in conversation that a Japanese woman in her group was also a believer. That had been so encouraging to her.

Pastor Gilberto leads this flock and several others around Tokyo. In addition to pastoring and shepherding other Brazilian church leaders, he works at Japanese wedding chapels--giving the Christian wedding service (into which he works the gospel message). He had done 13 weddings last Saturday before coming to the service. He had another 11 or 12 coming up on Sunday.

He actually translated the sermon for us into English because his wife was preaching that evening. We didn't expect that, but it was helpful.

This is a very young congregation with lots of children and others on the way. There are a number of young adults. Many of these are Japanese Brazilians--whose parents or grandparents emigrated to Brazil in the early 20th Century. They have been able to come to Japan to work under special visas.

Many of these people have come to Christ since arriving in Japan. One man made his public profession of faith that night.

The worship team led songs in Portuguese and Japanese. They also ministered to people during the prayer time at the end of the service.

At the end, they also had their coffee time--enjoying the fellowship of their church family. It was fun to see the same things happening with a different ethnic mix. When I get to our church on Sunday mornings, I see no trace of them having used the kitchen, etc. It was interesting to see how they managed that!

We hope we can visit again--they've invited Stan to come and preach sometime, and we want Pastor Gilberto to come share with our fellowship. Meanwhile, we rejoice that this be a sacred space for this congregation.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The tiring push to the end...of high school

Our high school senior has been working on a year-long capstone project and she had to turn in the final writing portfolio last Friday. There were a few late nights involved in the final push, but she got it all turned in by 1 p.m. -- which was good, because we needed to get to the U. S. Embassy between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in order to apply for her new passport.

We had a nice trip to downtown Tokyo, were able to get right in and right out of the Consulate office, stopped at Starbucks to "celebrate" and then headed back home. Somewhere along the train ride, this dear daughter "gave out."

We ended up seated across from one another, and once she sat down, she folded up and soundly fell asleep.

This weekend she is working on the oral presentation--she just filled up a drink container with Mountain Dew--at 10:30 pm. It looks like another late night to me! She'll present her topic--Child Soldiers in Uganda--on Wednesday at noon

Graduation is June 6th...two weeks from today.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Global Day of Prayer -- A report from Tokyo

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, and the celebration of the Global Day of Prayer (GDOP). We had a wonderful morning service, then gathered at a hall in Higashi Kurume, Tokyo for our GDOP worship and prayer time.

We began the evening with the blowing of the shofar--the rams horn--by a Japanese Messianic Rabbi with a congregation in Tokyo.

After a couple of worship songs, we began a time of prayer and praise for various peoples groups who are represented in our community.

The first prayer was for the Spanish speaking community, not merely in Japan, but throughout the world.

A brother from Zimbabwe sang "God is so Good" and asked us to join along. (The kids from the Christian School know this one because he is their math/science teacher!). Then he prayed for his country.

The gathering was mixed--missionary, foreigner, Japanese, believers and seekers. The man in the black checked shirt in the background is one of those seekers-in-process. Yesterday was a great day for him to get a bigger glimpse of God's love for him and for the world around him.

A couple of young ladies from Hawaii did a Hula dance to a worship song. It was beautifully expressive.

The Messianic Group led us in a couple of songs with a dance troupe for the second song.

A pastor from Indonesia and some of his Indonesian congregation sang and he led in prayer for that nation.

We also had people pray from China and the Philippines. There was a group of Brazilians and Brazilian Japanese who filled the back two or three rows of the meeting room. We had a very meaningful prayer from a North American brother who had a stroke two years ago. He was a prayer warrior before the stroke, and he still loves to pray. It was so precious to the community that has watched and prayed for him through his ongoing rehabilitation.

As we came to a close, we had a group prayer for the world. Stan and a Japanese pastor took turns reading the prayers and we responded as a congregation. Then we broke into small groups and prayed for one another or for the burdens we had for different people groups.

We were blessed by God's graciousness in bringing the lay committee together, in people coming out after a full Sunday which included Mother's Day to take part in the World's biggest prayer meeting. Already people are talking about next year, and inviting their friends to come.

Here's a video sampler of some of the events at the Tokyo GDOP. (these are taken from my Nikon Cool Pix camera--we have video on an actual video camera that hasn't been uploaded yet.)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Global Day of Prayer--Coming Sunday, May 11

Please follow this link for information on the Global Day of Prayer around Tokyo, and other parts of Japan.

If you need additional information, you may email Stan at

As you anticipate joining in this world-wide prayer meeting, please pray for this group--they are facilitating GDOP activities in the Tokyo and Osaka areas.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"Higher Grounds"

The year we were on home assignment, the interim pastor's wife and a friend started the coffee hour after service. They called it "Higher Grounds." Since our congregation doesn't assemble much outside of Sunday, it has turned into the high point for some folks who enjoy the fellowship with one another.

I have been the primary person setting up and taking down. I have a few people who help out. Often my time after service is looking out from this place in the kitchen. We have a counter between the kitchen and the worship hall, and we place coffee and hot water for tea along with cookies, rice crackers and chocolates. Often if someone has traveled to another part of Japan or out of the country, they will bring back food gifts to share on Sunday morning.

Sunday I took my camera with me into the kitchen, to capture the feel of the "crowd." Y, on the right, was one of our first pianists at ICCS. She moved away for about 10 years but recently returned to our area. She is directing our Black Gospel Choir outreach. In the background we have a couple of friends from Norway, Singapore, Japan and North America.

Mrs. S, pouring coffee from the old West Bend percolator we bought years ago, is our walking fashion statement. She also has a great sense of humor and has been serving behind the scenes by cleaning the toilets on Sundays. She loves learning idiomatic expressions. Behind her in orange is B, our sister from Uganda who has lived in Japan a long time and teaches English at a prep High School. To the right behind Mrs. S is H, who is learning more and more about our faith. We enjoy watchingGod's grace at work in his life.

And then there's our brother, D, originally from Nigeria. He always has a word of thanks to God and then a testimony of God's work in his life during the week. He is growing so much in his understanding of the Scriptures. My week would be empty without his "Sister Faith..." followed by comments either about the coffee or about something that was said in the service. One of our little ladies is peeking over the ledge, and a brother and sister from England and Japan fill out the rest of this photo.

While I may spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen, it isn't a matter of hiding from people. It is a safe place for people to come who want to share some hurts and heartaches, who need a little more quiet place for affirmation, prayer, counsel. There ARE days when it feels like someone slapped up a sign somewhere saying "The Doctor is In." Then there are days when a friend will "kick me out."

This is what it looks from the other side of the window. Clusters of people are talking--some are purely social, but many times there is ministry that takes place in these circles. It is this kind of interaction that not only affirms the "Community" in our church's name, but gives our people a sense of family, of belonging. And this is something they miss when they leave us.

Finally, I had to get a close up of Stan talking with H, his wife A, and another friend. H had gone to the US with his elderly mother. We had prayed for them prior to leaving. The trip went well, his mother actually gained weight, and seemed to perk up cognitavely as a result of the trip. H came back saying to us "thank you for your prayers!"

Another look around--I see GREEN!

A few weeks ago I wrote about the cherry trees in our neighborhood. Today they look so different!

This is the cherry tree across from our apartment. Its huge branches provide lots of shade, and the trunk looks like a great climbing tree (though its frowned upon by the park caretakers).

My previous post had this shot, taken from a little further away--the left side is all cherry, the right are the large Matsu (pine). One of the joys of our apartment location is that there is a block square park across the street from us. Years ago I used to bring two little girls to play in this park...

And another look at trees...

One of the first things we noticed about trees and Japan was how much pruning would take place. It was painful to see trees that, to our uneducated eyes, looked absolutely butchered! But within two more seasons they would be full and beautiful again! As I drove past the Self-Defence Force Medical School and Hospital this week, I saw these recently pruned Keyaki (my dictionary translates that as a zelkova tree! Lots of help that was...) standing tall and "naked-looking."

To give you an idea of what they look like when they are "fully clothed" this street is called Keyaki Dori (Keyaki street). They grow tall and have these high arching tops.

As I walked along the street this afternoon, I looked closely for signs of previous pruning. Sometimes it was hard to find the ends, but there they were--healed and covered with new, smaller branches lifting to the sky and full of leaves.

I don't know if I've ever seen one of these that's not been pruned. I imagine that it would be more vulnerable to toppling over when we have the typhoon winds that come through from time to time. But it brings to mind the words of Jesus in John 15:1,2

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A one month reprieve

NOTE: We are in the 10 Days of Prayer leading up to the Global Day of Prayer on May 11 (Pentecost Sunday).

This past month we have had a reprieve from a tax on gasoline. The "provisional" gas tax that lasted 10 years expired on March 31. Prices dropped around 25 to 30 yen a liter (around $1/gallon). Drivers all over Japan were rejoicing.

However, municipalities and the federal government were all of a sudden in a panic because this meant the loss of significant money. Over the past month, the parliament has been working to reinstate this temporary tax.

We tend to do most of our driving in the summer. During the school year we can go nearly a month without filling up. So our van's tank was full before they dropped the tax...and Stan just filled it up last week. He came back from filling the tank in our van, having saved nearly $30 on that one tank! It was nice while it lasted...

Because its over. The lower house of the parliament reinstated the tax, and stations have raised the prices to a level above where it was in March. We'll now be paying around $6/gallon again.

Speaking of cars, etc. Do you notice anything unique about our parking lot?