Friday, February 27, 2009

More bad economic news with thoughts on missionary support

I don't usually refer to economic news in writing our blog, but the changes that are happening here in Japan with each new report are significant and impact us in a variety of ways. Today's BBC story talks about the plunge in Japan's industrial output the past four months.

The other day I was shopping in a local department store and was shocked to see how low prices had been cut on winter clothing...and there was still a lot of merchandise left on the racks. We're also noticing that while the price of certain foods appear to remain the same, in fact, the item either has reduced in size or number of pieces.

The value of the yen climbed when the banking crisis hit because people felt that the Japanese currency was safer than the dollar. This meant that in real terms, the dollar support we received those past months bought 75% of the yen it had bought at the beginning of 2008. We are paid a fixed amount of yen, so our dollar support figures covered 25% less than at the beginning of 2008. This has negatively affected our ministry account as well as that of nearly every missionary I talk with here in Japan. Some of our friends are preparing to return because they don't have the funds to remain.

In the past week with these new economic reports, the yen is losing value again. That doesn't necessarily mean that the dollar is strong...


And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

I was listening to a "webinar" [web seminar] on Raising Missionary Support recently. The presenter said that often times we begin to make theological decisions based on what people in the world say... He asked whether we believe that God can provide all our needs in a tight economy, or if it is only true when things are going well.

We are missionaries in a faith mission where we are funded by the support of many faithful followers of Jesus Christ who joyfully share in the work of the Great Commission through giving.

Stan has primarily been in faith ministries since 1972 (Stan saw friends at his mother's birthday party who have been supporting him-and us-beginning in the late 60's for a college mission activity). My parents were missionaries when I was born, and spent many years as faith missionaries. When we look back on the (dare I say it) MANY years of faith missions support, we can attest that God has met all our needs.

So we look ahead, in these bad economic times, with expectation that out of His glorious riches in Christ Jesus, through His people, He will continue to meet our needs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A few more photos from Stan's February trip

Stan was able to go back to Massachusetts for his mother's 90th birthday party earlier this month. It was a very good thing to do, but also a challenging time. There were lucid moments and other difficult moments with her--but she was in great form for her 90th birthday. Two days later she was admitted to a hospital for evaluation, and the results came back that she is at a fairly advanced stage of Alzheimer's. She has now moved to an Alzheimer's center on Cape Cod. We don't know how long it will be as the illness progresses, but it was precious for Stan to be able to spend this significant milestone with his mom and brother, Ed.

After a week in Massachusetts, Stan flew to California for what he hoped would be some fun in the sun with our daughters...but it rained most of the time he was there!

It was good to see our daughter who is trying to get settled in Hollywood. She's got quite a network of friends, and is "camping out" at an apartment while looking for a place of her own. She's been able to get work here but its hard to make ends meet.

The sisters had gotten together the night before Stan arrived, and met him for breakfast on Monday the 16th. They don't see each other much now that they are on opposite sides of LA, so this was a treat for them, too.

Stan ended his trip with dinner with our new mission president's family. We got to meet Joe and Silk Handley on their trip to Japan in October, but the whole family is coming to Japan next week for our Spring Retreat. It will be the children's first visit.

It was good to get Stan home on Friday the 20th. One piece of luggage, which didn't make it on his plane, showed up Sunday morning. Its good to have him back!

Worshipping together

Sunday was the last of three weeks where we had joint services with the people from Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Stan and I have particularly enjoyed seeing some long-time friends who worship at the other church...and some of them who migrated from our fellowship to theirs mentioned how they had enjoyed being back with us.

One particular benefit of worshipping together is that we have a full hall! Of course the front row seats are empty (I think my "Brooks" family is the only one in the world that sits in the front at church!)

Usually Vineyard has around 25 who gather together on a Sunday morning. We noticed that they were always at church about 5 to 10 minutes early.

We typically have around 60 people in our worship--and many of them seem to straggle in 10 to 30 minutes after the service has started.

We hope to do this again sometime soon. This coming Sunday they will be back in their remodeled facility, and we will be back to our ICCS family. But we worship together in Spirit!

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These days...

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3: 8 & 9

The news isn't good, folks. As I watch the Japanese news every evening, I see stories about another company cutting hours, cutting staff. Homelessness is growing. The spill-over effects of large companies cutting production is taking out the small machine shops that make components. The social services are bracing for increased suicides. The only industry that seems to be hiring is in the field of "elder care."

I just saw this news story on BBC -- Japan exports drop 45 % to New Low.

Not only is the economy a train-wreck, the politics are looking pretty hopeless, too.

But this week at the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA) Mission Leaders meetings, I was reminded by a Japanese pastor that though these are rapidly changing times, we have an unchanging message. The hopelessness that is becoming pervasive is providing a great opportunity to boldly proclaim the hope we have in Jesus Christ. God is not bound by an economic downturn!

Another Japanese pastor gave us a church history lesson. The year after the great depression hit Japan, there was an outbreak of revival in this country. This year, 2009, is the 150th anniversary of foreign Protestant missions in Japan. This leader of an association of evangelical Japanese churches said he is looking forward to this coming year being another revival year.

Amen, Come Lord Jesus!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Together again!

Stan flew back to Japan from a 12 day trip to the States to celebrate his Mom's 90th birthday. Its good to have him home.

One suitcase didn't make it on his flight. When he got to the luggage carousel there was a placard with his name on it... Apparently they found it in LAX after his flight left. (Even though he checked in three hours early!)

A flight that landed at Narita three and a half hours before his encountered strong turbulence, and 40+ people were injured. There were no problems with his flight.

We have a lot to talk about -- but the challenge will be to find the time to talk! We will attend a musical performance at CAJ on Saturday afternoon (and we don't have any performers in the production--a first in many years!) Stan preaches on Sunday. I am in meetings all day Monday and Tuesday.

But we're together again. That is good!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Four and one half months until Home Assignment -- time for things to fall apart!

We will be returning to the US for a one-year home assignment the end of June. Before then, we will be packing our belongings for storage, and ending the lease on this apartment. UNTIL THEN, we are hopeful that we don't encounter what is more typical than not for missionaries at this stage of their term...major appliances falling apart...

We've already had to improvise with a few "smaller" printer, for example.

The nubs that have held the tray on have broken, one by one. I had tried taping it up, supporting it with various items, but when the last nub broke, I no longer had any way of catching the paper after it was printed. This printer has actually lasted for four years--we bought it on our last home assignment. I am grateful for its faithfulness, even as I dislike how much ink it drinks. But I don't want to replace it before we leave. Gratefully, my improvised upside down letter tray from the 100 yen store is working just fine!

And then there's the case of the wooden kitchen storage cabinet that I really thought was going in the trash when we moved five years ago--but ended up coming along with us to the apartment--temporarily until we could replace it...which we haven't. We bought it 22 years ago. It was roughly the quality of a cabinet from Ikea. The joints are loosening. This has especially been a problem on the bottom cabinet door, and Stan has glued it numerous times--but it still lets go.

Yesterday I decided to go with the universal repair tool--duct tape. Every time I opened the door, I would get half of it falling off... This IS going to be trashed in June. No question...but until then I think it will do its duty.

Now, will the refrigerator (thirteen years old but should be okay), washer (4 year old cheap import, not the greatest quality, and showing signs of stress in places), dryer (I think we're safe), oven (old, door held on by an outside magnet), microwave (another cheap import), and dishwasher (just had a repair made there) hang in there? I hope so.

Will we hold together until Home Assignment? Please pray that we do!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A special birthday -- 90 years!

Stan has been on the East Coast this past week. Through the kindnesses of a friend, he was able to go back to celebrate his Mom's 90th birthday with her. (You may remember he was there over Thanksgiving because of health issues she was facing.)

In the two months between trips, she has had some additional setbacks, and after a stay in the hospital was moved to a nursing home for some rehabilitation. It was sweet but bittersweet for Stan to see her again.

Stan's brother, Ed, had sent invitations out via e-mail for a birthday gathering at the nursing home. Around 25 people came, some from her home church in Rhode Island, to celebrate with her. She was very moved.

She has a small apartment at a Senior Residence, not far from Ed's home, and the directors came over to her party. Stan said that she is loved by many. The hope still remains that she will be able to return to her apartment soon.

One of her friends from the Senior Residence brought roses for her.

Rob got her up on her feet, and she gave him a big hug. It is nice to have a few grandchildren nearby! They take turns checking in on her. Ed's wife, Marian is in the back peeking through.

Finally, Stan and his Mom had a birthday dance together. She has always had a sense of humor, and it kicked in here. As our second and comedic daughter wrote on Facebook in comment to this photo -- "I know where I get it from."

A couple of days after the party, she was moved to another facility that specializes in assessments for Senior issues. We have often wondered if there are actually doctors like "House" ... and we are hoping that this team comes up with answers to why she is experiencing confusing changes so rapidly. The hope and prayer is that if they can come up with the reasons, and stabilize, that she could go back to her apartment.

A heaviness in the air

This morning as I greeted people coming into ICCS, I was struck at how weary some of them looked. It wasn't just tiredness that was etched on their faces, but almost a hollow, empty, weariness.

We are in our second Sunday of joint services with the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Their worship hall is being remodeled, so rather than have them use our hall in the afternoon, we suggested meeting jointly. Their pastor spoke this morning, and their worship team led the service. Last week Stan spoke and our worship team led. Next week I think there will be a joint worship team--and Stan will speak again.

After Pastor Araki finished his sermon, I went to the front to give announcements and to lead us in a time of prayer. Once again I looked across the faces of the congregation and was stunned at how wasted everyone looked!

The Lord led me to read from Isaiah 40:28-31 before my prayer:
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

After the service I talked and prayed with one lady who is dealing with family issues. I know another is in a challenging cross cultural marriage. One woman's husband is going overseas for three weeks. She is sleep-deprived, doing free-lance work in the middle of the night once her kids go to bed.

We have been feeling some of this weariness ourselves, as we are presently in two countries--Stan's been in the US for his mom's 90th birthday, and she is not doing all that well. It has been a hard visit for him emotionally, and we have increased appreciation for his brother and family who care for his mom continuously. He flies to the west coast to visit our daughters Sunday evening.

If you pray, please pray that we will find our strength renewed as we hope in the Lord during these days. And pray for our congregation, that they will also exchange their weariness for the strength of the Lord.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"What meaning?"

Can you tell from the English what this is?

How about this for a sweatshirt slogan?

Is this how your dentist advertises?

The top picture is a posting for people to apply for part time work at the Pachinko Parlor (amusement center).

The slogan on the sweatshirt is unexplainable, but at least its not obscene. At New Years we saw a middle-aged woman wearing jeans that should have been censored--explicitly vile sexual words. I unknowingly stepped in front of one of my girls trying to get a photo and the opportunity was lost--It was so bad that I wouldn't have been able to publish it here!

The dentist advertisement is at a train station. Whether the photo is of the dentist and his baby, or just a stock photo, it gives a warm feeling of a compassionate dentist.

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Pruning -- on a giant scale

A few days ago as I was walking toward the train station, I noticed these giant cranes over the large tree in square outside the station. As I got closer I realized that men were up there to prune the tree. I wrote months ago about the massive pruning that goes on with trees here--and this was one more example.

When I came back about 4 hours later, they had thinned it out quite well, but I had a feeling they weren't done. I was right.

This afternoon I made a point of looking for the tree. This is what is left. Major pruning, isn't it! It almost looks like it should be embarassed! The interesting thing is that by next summer, it will again begin to look full, and in two years it will be very full.

Jesus said "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." John 15:1,2
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my newest phrase: uchi maki

I finally found out what term to use when I go to the beauty shop to have them cut my hair so it will curl under. I know, I've been here 24 years... I've tried explaining it various ways. Today, I thought I would try another--and while my phrase wasn't right, (I used the word "to turn" rather than "to roll") it was close enough for the beautician to give me the right phrase!

You see, my language study didn't include the really useful stuff--like what you say when you go to the beautician. We were joking the other day that our first lines were "where is the ashtray?" and other often used phrases. It took weeks before they gave us the information I needed to understand what the clerk was saying at the grocery store. And I never really was introduced to the "feeling" words. How to express my heart in Japanese? I don't really have the vocabulary.

When A left for the States, she left her electronic english/japanese dictionary. I've been having fun looking words up with it. The other night, on my way back from a Costco run, I was listening to J-Wave, a Japanese pop FM station. They were interviewing an artist, and the title of her song contained a word I had heard many times before, but I realized I didn't know the meaning. At the next red light, I texted the word to myself on my cell phone (it would be too easy to forget otherwise) and looked it up when I got home. Afureru -- to overflow. Sunday, I realized why I had heard the word--it was in one of the worship songs we sang at ICCS!

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Another undefeated wrestling season

The long lanky kid on the top of this pin is our son, J-h. He has completed his second season of wrestling having pinned all his opponents. In the one tournament I attended, he pinned two within the first minute... The guy on the bottom left is Stan, who has video taped several of his tournaments.

He's strong, fast, and tall. The high school coach has been eyeing him--and hopes he keeps on wrestling while we're in America next year, so he comes back to join the CAJ high school team.

At some schools he was given gold medals, at others certificates. We are glad he's had a good season.

We also feel a bit bad because one of his opponents was another boy from our church--his first season, and he only made a few points. He had a great attitude in losing. We weren't always happy with our son's attitude in winning, but expect that will improve with time. He has had great coaching and we appreciate all their efforts at training and encouraging all the boys.
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