Sunday, June 22, 2008

The ICCS Gospel Choir joins the Hallelujah Gospel Family for a summer concert

The Black Gospel music genre has been well received in Japan for 8-10 years, ever since Sister Act and Sister Act 2 were released. Several ministries developed using this medium to build relationships with Japanese in their communities and now throughout Japan there are many Gospel Choirs.

A few months ago, some of our chapel members organized a "Black Gospel Choir" at ICCS. They have learned 10 songs in five weeks--faster than most, so they could participate in an area-wide Gospel Choir Festival. Most of those who have attended are from our church, though the last week they had some neighborhood people drop in for an hour of the rehearsal. When they start up again in the fall, we hope to see more non-churched people involved.

This past weekend was the Festival and our people had a chance to sing in a 200+ member choir.
Each choir is required to have a "Chaplain" and Stan is the one for our Gospel Choir. Here is Stan, in the center of the Festival choir, with Dave to his left.
While the lyrics are often simplistic, and we occasionally wonder about the theological soundness of some of them, the truth is that God has used the fellowship of the choirs, along with the actual ministry of the music, to bring people to Jesus.

One of our coworkers, writing in their family's recent newsletter about a similar concert in their area had some interesting insights.

One concert attendee is a doctor appointed by the prime minister’s cabinet to lead a commission on solving the high suicide rate here in Japan. He is very interested in why black gospel music has an impact on people suffering from mental illness. For example, Japan has a huge problem with “hikikomori”, a disease where people shut themselves in their rooms and have little to no interaction with others. Children suffering from this drop out of school and adults are unable to hold jobs. However, we have found that these people will go out into public and ride trains for hours to attend gospel concerts. This doctor wants to know why, and is working with [the director] to see how more concerts can be held throughout Japan. This is the Japanese government recognizing that there is power in black gospel music. Awesome!

Below is a video of one of the Festival songs--"The Presence of the Lord is Here." Following this video is a story about what happened at ICCS the day after the Festival.

Prior to each Gospel Choir Festival, a Gospel Choir director from California comes to lead workshops around the area.

Our church didn't host a workshop, but we were able to host the director at church this morning. He shared a bit about the Gospel Music ministry, then called our choir to the front to join him in a medley. We hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We're trying hard to have healthy "Goodbyes"

As an Adult Missionary Kid, I now see I coped with nomadic lifestyle of moving every three to four years by turning my back on the past and walking away. This included not saying goodbye in any ritualized way. In fact, I've often looked strangely at Stan when at the final departure to a house/apartment, he walks through the rooms, reflecting on memories in each, saying farewell. He probably says goodbye better than I do...

In studying missionary transitions, I was introduced to a tool that said we needed to build a RAFT in order to leave in a healthy way. In my Missionary Care Reflections blog, I've written an article about it to find out all the elements of the RAFT. The one I focus on here is "F" for "farewell."

Last night we had a final dinner with our closest missionary friends in Japan. They have become our sister and brother, aunt and uncle for our children, and their kids are an extension of our family.

We first met when these two were in 1st grade. We lived in the same area, and so Stan and Doug would take turns accompanying them on the train to the Christian Academy. (Can you tell which one spent last year in a Muslim country and which one spent it in California?)

Their second daughter graduated with our second daughter two weeks ago.

They leave on their one-year home assignment to Canada next week. They plan to come back to Japan around the time we will leave on our one-year home assignment. We were trying to figure out if there would be any overlap back here next year...probably not. So this means we're saying goodbye to our friends for two years! That is hard. We have been through many, many things together.

The biggest test was when we left or girls with them in '96 for a one-week trip to Russia to pick up our sons, and it turned out to be six weeks before one parent made it back to Japan. (Other A2 mission families took turns after a while hosting our dear daughters.) I'm not ready to rehearse the whole story again if you've not heard it...

We met for dinner last night at their apartment, with a wall of boxes on one side. Today, after our dinner together, Carol will begin pulling the apartment apart...the movers come on Monday.

While waiting for their second daughter to come home from teaching an English class, we sat on their balcony on the 21st floor overlooking a newly developing area of Tokyo and chatted. Carol told me about how she is meeting with women in the neighborhood daily over coffee as they try to get that last minute time with her...God is at work in their urban ministry.

We enjoyed a Pakistani meal, prepared by their oldest, and then took a stroll through the plazas and terraces around their apartment building on the way back to the train station.

This last term has been especially good for Doug and Stan. They seem to have had more time to develop their friendship.

We said goodbye. We hugged. We acknowledged we won't see each other for a while. Carol and I admitted that while both of us don't like talking on the phone that much, we'd have to skype one another. (And of course we'll read each other's blog!) I think we did it "right."

Then on the way home, I got a chance for a surreptitious photograph of all four of our kids... Honestly, this captures each one's personality...

I won't post our kids' names. We've discovered that someone was combing our site for information on our oldest, shortly before some credit card fraud activity... So, if you don't know us, sorry. If you do, you can figure out the girls. And you can call our boys "the twins" -- but NEVER to their face.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fathers Day at ICCS

Walk with me through Father's Day at the International Community Chapel of Saitama (ICCS).

We meet on the first and second floors of the Asian Access Japan office building in the city of Tokorozawa, Saitama prefecture.

Stan declared this Father's Day as "Hawaiian shirt day" as you can see as he checks his microphone levels (we always need to bring the sound levels down from the Brazilian service the previous night).

Our worship team, led by WK from Singapore, directed us to focus on the Lord's mercy and grace. At the piano is Yumi K., who was a pianist with us in the early years of ICCS--even before she came to faith. She moved away for about 12 years, but has come back recently and is the director of the ICCS Black Gospel Choir. Our songs are in English and Japanese--and if you can't read Japanese, they are always written in roman characters as well.

We were a bit smaller group than normal, but it was good to worship together.

Stan's sermon was on the Fatherhood of God, using the story of the Prodigal Son and folding it in with a prayer of Daniel (we've been in a series on Daniel's prayers).

Our service always ends with a time of prayer for the needs that have been shared. This week Stan assigned people to pray for things that had been specifically mentioned. He is working hard to get people used to praying out loud for one another. If you're from ICCS and reading this--get prepared!

The third Sunday of every month is our covered dish Sunday, and this Father's Day was no exception. As a matter of fact, for most of our church people, we ARE family to one another, so what better way to celebrate than with a shared meal!

The men got the room reset and the tables out.

We women got the food ready to serve. The kitchen is a bit small for the number of people that end up in there--but it makes for good conversation!

We always begin the meals with honoring anyone with a birthday in the month or a wedding anniversary in the month. This time we only had one birthday, Ichiro S. In order to help church people remember his name for the Happy Birthday song, Stan referred to another Ichiro you all get to see playing for the Seattle Mariners.

The birthday people get to go first, as do newcomers (we didn't have any yesterday). We always have an interesting variety of foods. I introduced a new item--peanut butter filled celery. That was a bit of a surprise to the non-North Americans.

Then comes the table conversations. This is where "Community" is first experienced for people when the begin attending ICCS.

Our oldest daughter, who hasn't been at one of these for several years, was captured by Sarah--who delighted in performing antics not too unlike the ones this girl performed in the early years of the church.

It was fun to have both girls with us (the boys eat-and-run and wouldn't let me take photos of them). To the left of the photo facing us is Lisbeth, who has completed the apartment ALPHA course with mothers from Sarah's preschool. At least one has come to faith, and several are interested in going through the course again. We are very excited about what is happening there!

More conversation around the tables. We have four countries represented in this photo.

We close with a photo that is more than just three men in Hawaiian shirts.

On the right of Stan is Dave, the Bible printer. On the left is H , husband of one of our American wives, Ann, who has had a major transformation take place in her life over the past four years. H began coming to church with her about 1 1/2 years ago. This was the first Sunday for him to come alone--Ann was on her way out of the country. We're glad for this growing friendship.

Happy Father's Day!

Getting away as a couple...finally!

We've had two get aways as a couple cancelled this past year because we didn't find child-care coverage for our sons. So when our oldest daughter came from the States she encouraged us to take a few days for ourselves and the four kids would take care of one another.

We decided to take those days by going up to open our cabin near Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, for a beginning of the season cleaning both inside and outside. If we have an opportunity to rent the cabin in July, its ready. If not, it will be easier to get in when we go up as a family later in the summer.

We love this 100-year old summer house. We feel ourselves relaxing, even as we walk up the path to the cabin. Even though there is always "work" to do, it is a joy.

It seemed especially dirty inside this year. We were told that there had been strong wind storms that brought in lots of sand and dirt. I swept and vacuumed it up, and as always, it looked so inviting when we left. The day after we left, there was a very strong earthquake not too far away--and my first thought was of all the dirt that would be shaken down from the ceiling on my clean floor! (The cabins rattled, but there wasn't damage. I've been there during earthquakes and I could actually hear them coming before we felt them!)

Stan cut the grass outside, and we both raked and raked and raked! The last day he took out the paint stored in the shed and touched up some places that were missed when we painted it a few years ago. Two nights in a row we burned branches that were left from the large cherry tree that had been cut down last summer. We took walks to the beach and had romantic candlelight dinners. It was a good time for both of us--and perfect weather! (We joked on the phone with our daughters that they might need to preach on Sunday because we were so tempted to stay...)

The last afternoon, with everything clean, we sat down for a final soaking up of the sun in the only little plot of land that we call "ours" (and we don't actually own the land). It was so good to be there, and to be together.

In order to save on the tolls (it normally costs us about $90 one way to get there) we left at 2:30 a. m. on Tuesday, and arrived back at home at 3:00 a.m. on Friday morning to take advantage of a discount on the tollways. We saved $30 each way--but are still recovering from having our sleep cycle challenged!

One discovery we made, quite by accident, was a post marked by the pre-world war 2 owners of the cabin. We had been surprised that there was only one other family besides ourselves that had left marks until we ran across this. At first we thought someone had been goofing around and written 1730 on the post next to initials because its a very sloppy marking. But as I thought about it, and went back to some cabin history I've collected, I realized that one of the names marked was that of the owners' son who was engaged in 1938 to a young lady he met at Tak*. And the year written was actually 1930 upon closer examination, which fits with other chronology.

*We call this missionary resort "Tak" which is short for Takayama by the Sea.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Graduation Highlights

On Thursday evening the parents of the graduating seniors held a banquet at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo. We were glad to share the time with our graduating senior and her friends.

We've particularly been blessed by the friendship of families of our daughter's friends. We first met the Snyders (left) in language school -- and became reacquainted with them when they moved into the Tokyo area at the beginning of our girls' 10th grade. The Woons (right) have been our friends for 16 years--from our older daughters' first grade year. They have been our brother and sister throughout these years.

Graduation was held on Friday, the 6th, in the gymnasium of the Christian Academy in Japan.

This daughter has been at the school since first grade. After the final push and senior projects, she was really happy to be at the point of graduation!
A significant portion of the ceremony was devoted to various awards. Here the five students who received music department awards were acknowledged.

She received her diploma from the Chairman of the Board, and a Bible from the high school principal.

Following the ceremony, the Seniors were all directed to the auditorium for a final class photograph. (third row, second from the left). While they were having these photos taken, the gym was reset for a reception.

In the atrium of the high school building, various art projects were displayed for people to peruse before the reception. Here are A's three Senior Home Economics projects...a quilt (Entitled memories of home away from home), a cross stitch, and the dress she's wearing.

We haven't had the greatest success getting family photos at CAJ graduations...

This year we had both boys with us, but not at the same time. I'm sure with a great photo editing program we could have figured out how to put us together, but we'll opt for another time.

Our oldest daughter arrived last Sunday for the summer, but we didn't have any extended family from the States come over for this graduation. We did have our "Uncle Dave" join us. Dave has been an extended part of our family for many years.

I think we left after 10:30 pm last night-- but the seniors had an all night party, starting at the hostel on the campus, and going to a beach at 3:00 a.m. for breakfast at sunrise. (Stan drove.)