Sunday, November 30, 2008

Birthday Cash -- Real and Virtual

At the end of a very busy Sunday, the boys and I finally had a chance to celebrate their birthday. As I wrote in the previous entry, it was "clean the church day" and in the middle of that, one boy slipped away with a friend to go to a movie. His brother went home...and didn't want to go out to eat. I decided to go to lunch with Megumi, a friend I hadn't talked with for almost two months.

We all converged on the apartment around 4:30 p.m., and I told the guys I wasn't going to cook. I had offered to take them to "yaki niku" or Korean BBQ for their birthday, but they didn't want to "go out." Instead, their choice of food was Kentucky Fried Chicken....(it tastes better here than in the US). I made them ride with me to go get it!

We had our chicken, lit and blew out candles on our birthday brownies, then I got out the gifts--all cards. These guys are in it for the cash...cold cash. And they weren't disappointed--both US dollars and Japanese yen. And...

a promise that we would buy virtual coins on their computer game...

They often accuse us of not liking what they like. And its true. I don't want them running around our neighborhood with guns. Just not cool here in Japan. So, when they started asking for us to give them some real money on the trading game they both have been playing for six months, we began to think that might actually be a reasonable gift. In the past we've bought elaborate Lego sets for much more than what I spent last night--and now those have melted into the large tub of red, green, blue, gray and black blocks. Giving them virtual coins gave them as much (maybe more) joy, and I won't be stepping on or vacuuming them up!

I made one disparaging remark about the day not going as I had hoped, and they responded like I was crazy. It was fine with them. Whew!

Cleaning the Church Sunday

This morning after service, we had the first "everybody clean the church" day in our 18+year history. In many ways this is a very typical Japanese effort--neighborhoods have monthly clean-up days, schools and offices also. Our mission has a semi-annual big cleaning morning where we all take a cleaning task, and we reward ourselves with lunch out together at the end.

Since Stan is still in the U.S., I had a bit more responsibility in this--and I opted that coffee time could come first! People enjoyed the conversation, but then moved to their various areas of activity.

Lightbulbs needed to be replaced. It was quite interesting to watch the "committee" of men who devoted themselves to this! The hall floor was cleared, chair covers taken off to be washed (I have half of them in my entry way tonight!), window sills and frames were wiped, and windows washed.

Several folks concentrated on the "sound corner" where years of music books, OHP worship songs (when was the last time we used those?) and other miscellaneous "stuff" had been stashed. While there is still a lot left there, at least its organized now!

We had a couple of people working on the front entrance hall. All the things on the right are usually on the left--floors were cleaned, the umbrella stands washed, etc.

On the second floor we had people wiping shelves and straightening the books (I managed to rescue a few that ended up in a garbage bag!). They were wiping walls and doors, frames around the dividers, and we had a group of older kids and moms of young kids going through the toy boxes.

We even had a group trying to match videos and cases...

I don't have photos of the brave crew that took on the toilet rooms. They cleaned from the ceiling fans to the floors. Betty, Janet and Fumi--you are the greatest!

We also had a crew cleaning the street outside our building as well as down the block on either side for a ways. We have several bags of that kind of garbage. There are still a few places that need attention--and some places where we needed to have Stan's input. (I even made one phone call to him in the middle of this to ask about light bulbs...)

We were done by 2 p.m., just in time for the Black Gospel Choir practice. It seemed like this was a great way to get the job done, and no one carried the brunt of the work. I was blessed by the spirit of the group. Way to go, ICCS!

Friday, November 28, 2008

A different kind of Thanksgiving

Since Stan is celebrating this holiday in America with his Mom and brother's family, the three of us left in Japan had our own little gathering.

I consulted with the boys about the menu--none of us felt we needed turkey--besides, that's Stan's great joy. So we kept our modest-sized bird in the freezer, and I made a Chicken Divan, per request. We also had an apple pie for dessert (the last of which was consumed for breakfast this morning before I got out to the kitchen).

When our girls saw this photo, the first thing they noticed was the bowl of rice on the table--the most desired of all carbs in our four offspring! We also had an apple/cranberry spritzer which saved me the job of having to mix cranberry juice and ginger ale together. Most of all, I was surprised that there was still cranberry sauce left on the table at the end of the meal.

We wrote lists of things we are thankful for in a new notebook I purchased to record holiday memories. I was glad we could do this. I guess I struggle, as a third culture person, with the memories of this holiday that put the emphasis on gluttony instead of thankfulness.

Of course its a little sad that it was just three of us--but I personally was very thankful that the boys were sensitive to making it a special time for me. Even letting me get a picture!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An early thanksgiving in Kyushu

On Monday, the 24th, I got up early in the morning, said goodbye to our boys, and headed to Kyushu to visit with our Asian Access missionaries. Erik and Rhonda along with their two children, as well as Robert are in the final stretch of this term. They will return to the US in March. My visit was intended to talk through some logistic with them about the end of the term, time in the US and plans they have for future ministry. We did all of that--but we got to do it along with Thanksgiving Dinner!

Stan is still in the States, and he is our turkey chef (primarily because he loves it SOOO much!). So we won't be having turkey today.

Rhonda made the turkey --it just barely fit in her oven. It turned out great and we all enjoyed it very much! She was excited because she usually has celebrated thanksgiving at other people's homes, so this year she got to keep leftovers, and stew up the carcass for soup.

The time around the table was lots of fun as we a variety of fairly traditional food. For a couple of weeks before, the facebook dialogue was going between missionaries in Tokyo and Kyushu about finding cranberry sauce--and finally people were able to find it. (One person estimated that a can of cranberry sauce was going for about $5!)

After dinner we cleared away the table, ate some great pumpkin pie, and talked about these people's future interest in returning to Japan with Asian Access. It was a great discussion with good questions, and lots of hopes. All of them have a desire to come back to Japan for a longer period of ministry.

Robert had to leave in the late afternoon, so the rest of us went for a walk. They decided to show me an egg vending machine...

In a rural corner, here was the vending machine. We found out that one side has about 14 small eggs, the other 12 larger eggs.

After putting in 200 yen ($2) you could release one door.

and pull out the bag of eggs!

We had them for breakfast the next morning--they were so good!
After breakfast, the kids went to their schools, and Erik, Rhonda and I went to greet the Japanese pastor with whom they are working.

We went to visit a local museum/castle in their area, but since the previous day had been a Japanese holiday, it was closed. we still managed to get photos in front of it. From the museum we went to a coffee shop, talked some more about this couples hopes and dreams, as well as their desires for the people they are working with.

In all three of these adults and the two children, I see a great love for the people they've been involved with the past three to four years. Rhonda teared up at the thought of leaving these friends in whom they've invested their lives. They've reached many--Rhonda and Erik have had quite a ministry to families, Robert has worked with a large number of young people. They all have gifts that God can and will use in the years to come. Some of the concerns for returning have to do with raising additional financial support. At a time when the American economy is not very healthy, they need to increase their support level significantly.

I am thankful that I was able to make this trip--even while Stan is in the States. The Lord provided places for the boys to stay, and the travel schedule worked well for us.

I am thankful for the people God has put in Asian Access!

Stan writes from Cape Cod about his visit with his Mom

After being awake for over 27 hours at the end of my flight from Japan to the US, my nephew Robert drove me to see my mother's residence just over the Bourne Bridge. I really did not know what to expect. About five days earlier, Mom's health care givers said that it might be a good idea for me to return to the US and see her...before it was too late.

Mom had been taken to the local hospital for some serious pains in her back and was feeling rather bad overall. The main source of the pain was determined and with some medicine, it was cleared up rather fast. There were a few other things 'wrong' with her but she was sent home with instructions to lay low, eat well and get rest. Instead, Mom started to go down hill pretty fast. She lost a great deal of weight and had no desire to eat. She seemed increasingly confused and disoriented. Some of the things she said sounded like she was getting ready to leave us. That’s when they told me I should come.

So the evening of November 18th, here I was walking down the hall to see her. The staff at the door told me she was really excited to see me and that it was a timely visit. “What does that mean?” I thought. I looked down the hall and there she was! My little Mother. She looked better than I did!

And that was how this trip is going for us. Mom is getting stronger each day, eating as much as she can, sleeping rather well at times, and she has the sense of humor I remembered. She also told me not to worry. “God is with me” she says.

I have a new name now: I am the Advil Kid. She heard I was coming back to see her so she got better. I don't mind telling you, the pressure is high but the reality of my being here has been great medicine for her as well as for my Brother Ed and his family. They have been taking the full load of concern and presence but right now, I can share that joy.

I’ve had a number of meals with Mom. She has introduced me to just about ever senior citizen in the place. Some, more than once but they tend not to remember…

The Lord has done a good work in her. I am so thankful for His Faithfulness and concern for Mom and us. And you, thank you for praying for my mother (Ann) and me. It is so good to see her. To talk with her. To walk with her and drive her to a nice eatery she knows about. Your prayers have been heard.

She is not out of the woods yet. She does have some medical issues to deal with but she is OK now. Thank you so much for your prayers and THANK YOU Lord, for your Hand of Mercy. I head back to Tokyo on Dec 2. It will be a fine visit. And that, my friends, is my report from Cape Cod.


Friday, November 21, 2008

The new Christmas color...PINK?

My first Christmas in Japan was 24 years ago. At that time, we had to scrounge around to find anything that "looked" Christmas-like. The only thing that was "traditional" was Christmas cake that was brought home on Christmas eve, and Kentucky Fried Chicken dinners--which were assumed to be what Americans always eat on Christmas Eve. Over the year we have seen more and more Christmas trees, decorations, and non-religious related Christmas events.

The past five years or more, "illumination" has become a popular past time--North Americans know it as "putting lights on your house". In our old neighborhood, we were known for our lights on the trees in front--and now Stan puts lights on our balcony at the apartment every year. But there is a house across from us that really does it up.

One thing that is consistently missing in all the Christmas decorations, is any link to traditional Christmas. The Christmas lights will be wrapped around wire Winnie the Pooh's and a variety of animals. There aren't even that many reindeer and not too many Santa's. We noticed an inflatable "snow-man-family" at a commercial supply store the other day.

Even the "sacred" colors of red, gold and green are missing in most displays this year!

When I walked by the Parco Department Store display this week, I decided to snap the photo to share with you "what's become of Christmas decorations" this year. The feature color is PINK...

The theme is "XMAS Party Parco."

I haven't walked by the covered arcade at night, but I'm sure these reindeer with pink bulbs in their antlers must be lovely illumination pieces. They are matched by another pair of reindeer across the way with blue bulbs in their antlers.

The angels they've used to decorate from years gone by are up again, but the stars now have pink lights inside of them. The tree at the far end second floor walkway is much smaller than the one they had last year. (They used to have a tree with a little "door" that kids could go inside.)

No, visually, it doesn't look like Christmas to me...unless I'm looking at the Starbucks cups.


They are playing sacred music in the stores. This is the time of year where I get to worship while doing grocery shopping as songs proclaiming the birth of the Savior of the world are piped through the audio system. Sometimes its like a pin prick--I'll hear a phrase of a song that pulls my full focus into what is being sung and I'm transported in my spirit to a place of praise and thankfulness.

And then the totally anticlimax of music randomly chosen will bring the worship to a close with a silly reindeer song.

The challenge of this season, is keeping the focus on the birth of the Christ-child. The birth of the One who is the Savior of this world.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Mother's Brag Book"

I once saw a small photo album with the title of "Mother's Brag Book.

This is my virtual brag we got of our girls in the last week.

A, on the right, just finished performing in Pride and Prejudice. One reviewer said she "has little to do as the bookish middle sister, yet one of her lines evokes the biggest laugh of the show."

Ahh, she's a De La Cour, all right!

This shot was taken with a mobile phone camera at movie set where B was working as a background actress. Now, wouldn't you buy bubble gum, or want her in your coke commerical?

Actually, if you pray, please pray that she CAN book a commercial! She could use the money!

In all fairness, I am adding this photo that was taken at our church monthly covered dish lunch yesterday. All birthday people come up front to have everyone sing "Happy Birthday" to them. These guys turn 14 the end of this month.

I'm sure they were happy to be there--but they were just a little reluctant to let it show...

Stan travels to the US

The suitcases were put away and the calendar was filling up through the rest of the year. Yet the news coming from the States made us decide that Stan should return soon to spend some quality time with Stan's mom.

Stan has been planning on going back for his mother's 90th birthday in February. She has, however, lost a significant amount of weight in the past few weeks, and is showing signs that have caused the visiting nurse and brother Ed's family some concern.

Ed, Mom and Stan in 2007

Stan flies to the US on Tuesday, November 18. He's scheduled to return to us on December 3. Pray for both of us as this is an emotional season--it was ten years ago this month that his father passed away--two days after my mother.

Meanwhile...I have an over-night trip to Kyushu to visit missionaries on November 24 and 25. We are working on arrangements for the boys to stay with friends that night.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Soccer Season ends -- and what a game

When I got back from Thailand, I found out that J-n had been moved to the A-Team for Middle school soccer. He practiced with them the past two weeks, and went with them to the Tournament today. They won three games (starting at 9 a.m. this morning) in their pool, which sent them to the finals at 1:30 this afternoon. And what a game it was! 1-1 at the end of regular time, two extra periods and then the penalty shoot-out.

Sadly, they lost at this point. We are so incredibly proud of them--they played tremendously. And the team they held to 1-1 beat them 14-1 in the first game of the season. Of course, they were very disappointed. We are hoping that dinner at Sizzlers in Shinjuku restores their spirits, because they have nothing to be ashamed of.

This is our last middle school soccer game...

Next season is wrestling with J-ph...he starts practice on Monday.

Photos from the Member Care meeting

The Member Care meetings I attended in Thailand were a part of the World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission Tri-Annual gathering. The opening night we had a presentation by a group of Thai Christians that included some traditional music and dance.

The large group focused on the topics of Missions and Suffering/Persecution, Missions and Contextualism, and Missions and Spirituality. We in the member care group devoted sessions to how these topics impacted member care, as well. These are all important to what we do overseas, and so it was insightful to hear from our brothers and sisters around the world.

A personal highlight for me was to meet with Dr. Laura Gardner, one of the leaders in the field of missionary care. Many of her articles have served as training materials for me, and while I've attended some of her training programs, this was the first time I was able to actually speak personally with her. She has been very influential in my personal development, and I felt privileged to connect with her.

We also had Dr. Marjorie Foyle with us, and we celebrated her 87th birthday. Dr. Foyle is a psychiatrist who has done much for the field of missionary care. She wrote the book Overcoming Missionary Stress in the 80's and reissued it more recently as Honourably Wounded. She served as a missionary doctor for many years in India and Nepal, then went back to the UK to study Psychiatry. She spent 12 more years in India at a Psychiatric center, retiring in 1981. In 1982 she opened a psychiatric department in a clinic for missionaries and continued to work there as well as traveling to collect material regarding missionary mental health and working conditions until she retired again recently. Her work has been a frequent reference for many people who work in the area of missionary care. I was honored to meet her.

We also had some others who are pioneers in developing missionary mental health centers--on the left is Karen Carr, one of the founders of the Mobile Member Care Team in West Africa. Their model is one I'd like to study more as we consider what resources we need in Japan. On the right the coordinatorof the Global Member Care Network, who has set up two centers that serve people in restricted access countries.

From left to right--the Doi's from Japan, Margaret who serves in Kenya (and has written a book on Trauma), Carlos who serves Emerging Missions in Central and South America, Dr. Foyle, and Marcia from Brazil.

We have Marion from the UK (written a book on Missionary Re-entry), Helen and Kirsten who work in Australia, and Siny from Switzerland who is involved in membercare by radio which was originally developed to be sent short-wave to missionaries serving in restricted access areas, but is now available on the Internet.

On the other side of the table (not pictured) were people from South Africa, India, Malaysia, Korea, Germany (working in Afghanistan), Singapore, Pakistan and North America. Some of these people are involved in extremely sensitive areas, and have experienced things that I can hardly imagine coming from Japan/US.

I've come back with a list of resources, a group of people to contact when I need specialized information, some models to study further and a better sense of "identity" in this field of Member/Missionary Care. I've also come back with a little more understanding of what it is like for non-North Americans to serve as missionaries. In many instances, materials that have been developed for our mission community cannot simply be translated and used because the contexts are totally different.

One evening at dinner I was sitting with a mission leader from the Ivory Coast (many African countries are now missionary-sending nations), and I asked him what one of the greatest needs was for his missionaries. He said "poverty." I didn't quite know how to respond! I know that the difference between "low support" for our missionaries, and "poverty" for his are tremendous. A leader from India said that one of the member care issues they have to deal with is planning for the support and care for the missionary's parents.

I'm feeling stretched mentally--and that's good. If you pray, pray that I can organize some of these pieces in my mind! Thanks!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A few reflections from Thailand

For the past week I have been in Thailand for the World Evangelical Association Mission Commission meetings. That's a mouthful describing a tri-annual group of people who get together to discuss issues in missions arond the Globe. My purpose in coming was to link up with the people who do Missionary Care under the title of the Global Member Care Network. Since this encompasses my (Faith's) work in Japan, I have enjoyed networking with people in similar positions from South Africa, Europe, South America, other parts of Asia, and even a couple of Americans... There is also a couple from Japan here with whom I've been brainstorming about the role God may have for them in initiating a Network of Japanese Missionary Sending agencies to focus on their missionary care. It is quite exciting. The schedule has been full...and I am tired.

I've been outside the hotel twice in this time! We're in Pattaya, a beach community known for its prostitution. Someone tried to assure me that it was a safe town because the Russian mob runs the prostitution business here. It is in this setting that some of the ministries to women brought out of prostitution have been presented as examples of Business as Mission.

This afternoon I'll be heading up to Bangkok to spend a few hours with friends who are missionaries here. I catch a 6 a.m. flight back to Tokyo in the morning...having to check in at 3 a.m. Maybe I can sleep later...