Thursday, May 28, 2009

8th Grade Graduation

Last night our sons graduated from 8th Grade.

Here is the Christian Academy in Japan Class of 2013 after they had received their certificates in a ceremony that highlighted each of them in some special way. (J.n is on the top row near the center in a white shirt. is in the front row, center in a black short sleeved shirt.)

The evening started at the school around 5 p.m. when they all gathered for photos together. Here are our guys as bookends of this group of young men.

Prior to the graduation ceremony there was a banquet for the graduates and their parents. We shared our table with's friend and his family.

Not having many opportunities to see these young men so dressed up, we gave them advanced notice that we would be taking family photos. Their request was that we do it at home, not at school. It was misting a bit as we stood outside our building, but we've come up with a few great shots...most of which are not here. But these are our graduates.

J.n -- who works overtime at looking cool

We are very grateful for God's provision of this school and dedicated teachers who have worked with them over the years. It will be different for these guys to go into a large public high school next year--but we pray that they will find good friends, good Christian fellowship and good academic support.


Interesting side note--we've discovered that the boys are fairly embarrassed about how old we are. They've had peers ask if we're their grandparents. This is measured by such things as white hair. So across the table, told me he was surprised at how old another friend's mother was as he saw her with salt and pepper hair. I then mentioned that most of the mothers would have white hair if they didn't color which the friend seated next to him piped up, "yeah, my mom has lots of it!" Good thing his dark-haired mom was involved in a conversation with someone else!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings in May

Last fall, Stan bought a 12-pound turkey at the Iruma Costco in anticipation of our Thanksgiving dinner together. He ended up flying to the States to see his Mom that week, so it stayed in the freezer. Stan had a great big Thanksgiving Dinner with his brother's family and friends back there. I had a quiet small thanksgiving dinner with two hit-and-run eaters here.

The turkey has been in the bottom drawer of our freezer since then, waiting for just the right moment...and this Sunday was that moment! We invited single friends from ICCS to come for a Thanksgiving Dinner in May--and provided a traditional dinner with all the trimmings (potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie). We weren't quite sure how many would come--the short list was 4 or 5, the long list was around 8. Sunday was a full day -- as they usually are--with service, fellowship hour, followed by the Black Gospel Choir rehearsal, and then the group wandered over to our apartment. They arrived just in time to see the final bout of this month's sumo tournament.

Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner takes an extra measure of planning here. This 12-pound bird JUST FIT in my oven. But obviously, I can't be baking anything else at the same time! I also have two stovetop burners, so that limits me as well. But with some forethought, I was able to have precooked some of the side dishes so that when we took the bird out we could put them in and warm them up. The mashed potatoes were done a little earlier and put into the crock pot to be kept warm... The microwave was used for another side dish. Little things like this made it possible to get it all out for our group of 6, plus the 4 of us.

Stan is actually our turkey roaster. He loves making the stuffing and cooking the bird--so when he got it out of the oven he showed it off to some of our friends. This is the extent of our kitchen. I try not to think too much about friends' kitchens with island spaces and gobs of cabinets when we have to take numbers to get through to the other side... And I try to be thankful, because I know this is bigger than other friends' kitchens.

Realizing that we think this was a small bird, we almost laughed (but didn't!) when these ladies commented on how big it was. The important thing was that it was big enough to feed us all. After a full day, filling their plates with turkey and all the rest left the group feeling kind of sleepy--but that led to some funny conversations and we all laughed a lot. It felt good to hang out with this part of our family.

We're going to miss this group. Four of them are quite involved in the ministry at ICCS, and the others are newer, finding their place. We encouraged them all to try out their gifts and see what God has for them to do in service to Him and the body of believers at ICCS. We look forward to hearing how God blesses them through their obedience to Him.

Thank you, God, for the opportunity to share in the lives of these dear people! And thanks to those of you who pray for our ministry, and those who give financially to support our ministry!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thanks to the N1H1 Flu, A change of plans...

No, we haven't come down with the flu, and there are only a couple of reported cases in the Tokyo area (in comparison with the Osaka-Kobe region with over 150 cases) but the policies thus far have been to close ALL school for a week in an entire city or region of one case shows up among students.

Our sons' school year was scheduled to be finished on June 5, but the administration opted to end classes a week and a half early. This means that tomorrow is our boys last day of 8th grade and they will finish the day presenting a capstone "autobiographical" project. Their promotion ceremony will be held this Thursday evening. A class picnic will still be scheduled for Saturday. The Seniors at the school will present their capstone projects on Wednesday of this week, wrap up a few assignments and be officially completed later in this week. All other students are done at noon on Tuesday. Graduation from High School is still set for June 5 in the evening, but students are not supposed to be on campus unless they have an assignment due.

Why, you ask? (or maybe you didn't...) Because this is an international school where students come from around the world, and once the school year is finished--once the seniors graduate--they scatter to places all around the world. Even more than in a local public school, healthy closure is extremely important. There are "rituals" that they take the students through deliberately to be sure they begin the process of facing the changes that are ahead. They will never all be together again--they will never be able to recapture the community they are graduating from. The administration is committed to enabling our children to go through the closure process, so much so that after much prayer and discussion they opted to close the school year in an orderly fashion rather than have a Health Ministry directive close them abruptly.

I'm sure it was a difficult decision. I support their efforts. It does, however, cramp some of our plans to sort and pack while the boys were in their last week of school...

Our guys don't often head outdoors to play, but prefer the electronic games at home. So I'm visualizing walking over these long lanky guys for the next couple of weeks while trying to get things done. Yes, we have a list of things they can do--but our relationship with them is a bit strained right now, won't be an easy time. UNLESS, God does some pretty amazing things in all four of us --which I do believe He can do. So, if you pray for us, use this as a guide for the next three weeks. Our movers come June 17 to pack and take all our belongings to storage for a year.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Beethoven for breakfast

I just found this on a friend's blog... The text is primarily refering to breakfast terms but the music should be familiar to those who know their Beethoven 5th Symphony. Hope you enjoy it, whether or not you understand the words. It feels ... very Japanese.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

An ICCS Family Photo with 5/24 updates

We gathered the ICCS Family together after our service today for a group photo. Its been 4 years since the last one. Even as I look at this photo, I can come up with a list of at least 10 others who were gone today!

Updated: May 24--Here are folks who weren't in the
photo last week (except for two who didn't
follow directions..can you find them?)

There are still folks who didn't make it in!

Today we heard from a dear Japanese sister who we helped sponsor in Central Asia, we commissioned another from our church to serve in a one-year assignment in another Asian country, and Ken preached. For Stan and me this was an incredibly exciting day to hear each one share how God is working in their lives. The stories of God's work in one of these areas were awesome. Their testimony inspired others in the congregation.

May God's work be multiplied many times over and in many countries throughout the world by our dear ICCS family!

This weekend's news story--hopeless in Japan

I found this story online today. Just recently the figures were released for the numbers of suicides in Japan. Last year was the 11th year in a row that more than 30,000 people killed themselves. With the change in the economic situation, there are more and more young people finding this as a way out.

Young out of work, out of hope
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Out of work, with dim prospects of finding a job and facing the hardship of poverty. This scenario, which has grown more common since autumn due to the economic downturn, has seen the number of young adults committing suicide rise. But while suicide is more commonly associated with those in their 40s and 50s, increasing numbers of younger people are taking their own lives, a National Police Agency survey has found.

The agency analyzed causes and other facts surrounding 32,249 suicide cases that occurred last year.

With the number of people seeking suicide counselling increasing nationwide, calls have been made for improved measures for those who seek help, including tailoring consultations to a person's age and financial situation.

A 36-year-old man from Hyogo Prefecture, who formerly worked as temporary employee, was spotted in mid-February wandering through snow in the Aokigahara Jukai forest, a vast area at the foot of Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture.

The man had worked at a call center in Tokyo, where he had responded to customer complaints and inquiries about merchandise. In September, however, his contract was terminated when, fatigued by handling an incessant flow of complaints every day, he told his temporary staffing company he was unwell.

Though he returned to his parents' home in Kobe and found a job at a computer manufacturer, his "contract for dispatch work" was discontinued within a month, leaving him out of work again.

Since then, he has been unemployed.

Losing hope in his future, the man bought sleeping pills and headed for the dense Aokigahara forest at the base of Mt. Fuji--a well-known suicide spot. After three days in the forest, and preparing for death, a patrolling police officer found him and put him under protective custody.

The police officer introduced him to the Tokyo-based support organization Taiyo no Kai (Association of the Sun).

"There's no need to kill yourself," said a staffer on the phone. "We'll do as much as we can do for you." Encouraged by the words and help he received, the man now lives in a municipal house in Fuji-Yoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, receiving welfare benefits while seeking a way to live independently.

"I thought there was no other way but to die, but I didn't really want to die," the man said. "I believe many people's lives can be saved if they receive the kind of support I was given."

According to Fujiyoshida Police Station which has jurisdiction over the forest, the station last year took into protective custody 161 people who wanted to kill themselves, 35 more than the previous year.

The national federation of victims of credit card and consumer loan companies, with which Taiyo no Kai is associated, said it has received more than 3,300 counseling requests since September.

"The number of people suffering mental exhaustion due to unemployment and other factors is increasing," the organization's office chief, Yoshio Honda, 68, said. "I want to assure them that there are many ways to live."

The Akita-based nonprofit organization Kumo no Ito (Spider's Thread), which works to prevent business managers from committing suicide, assisted 133 people in the one-year period to April, three times more than the average for the same 12-month period in past years. Though its staffers did their best to help, two later killed themselves.

Yasuyuki Shimizu, leader of NPO Life Link, a suicide-prevention center, said many young adults are struggling financially and have little hope of finding work due to the recession and a shift toward short-term employment, but added that established suicide countermeasures are mainly targeted at middle-age people.

"Suicide levels reflect the economic environment. There's a possibility, therefore, that we'll see more suicides this year than last year," Shimizu said. "It's necessary to draft measures that are more in line with the current situation after analyzing the results of this survey in depth."

(Original online story May. 15, 2009)

You may have seen this a couple of months ago about the so-called "Suicide Forest" near Mount Fuji...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sending another out to teach the Gospel

Last week we were able to commission another one of our ICCS people to the ministry of sharing the Gospel. Mrs. Mita has been a part of our church off and on for a number of years. She actually was quite involved with early discipleship of our current intern, Ken, in 2004 when she was our intern as part of a three-year course of study at Prairie Bible College in Canada.

In the past three years she has lived on the other side of Japan, teaching Bible at a historically Christian high school. Because of the denominational connections of the school, however, she wasn't allowed to lead Bible studies and teach in other settings without either attending their Bible School for three years -- or they said that she could get a certificate from her international church which they would honor. The headmaster of the school really desires to see Christ brought back into the center of the school--and wants to have Mita-san take a big role in that process.

We have seen her in ministry, and know that God has gifted her with pastoral and teaching gifts.

She is a pretty special lady, who has embraced some interesting ministry the time she went to Phoenix, AZ on a program with Food for the Hungry and lived on the streets in 110 degree weather for 4-5 days as a homeless person to experience what their life was like. As I recall, this little Japanese lady was paired up with a big black guy in the program.

She raised her two sons as a single mother--abandoned by her husband. One of them financed her Bible College years. God has touched her heart through the processing of all that hurt, and with the commissioning from ICCS she will also have the credentials to go to Hawaii to minister to a group of older Japanese ladies who are divorced from their American husbands.

When we see God moving in Mita-san's life, in Ken's life, and in two weeks with another one of our Japanese members who will be going to serve in another part of Asia--and we have been able to be a part of equipping and enabling them to obey--it brings us so much joy! Our objective has been to follow the instructions of the Lord as given through Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2--

..the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men [and women!] who will also be qualified to teach others.

Amen, and Amen!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Wedding and a Reunion

Today we went to a wedding that brought together several of our worlds. Hidemasa was a 19 year old college student when he was first introduced to the International Community Chapel of Saitama (ICCS) by a Canadian Christian friend. He had attended a historically Christian high school, and had played organ and piano at the chapels, and translated for English speaking teachers, but he didn't know Jesus personally.

He made a decision to follow Christ a few months later, and we watched him grow--even through his family's opposition to his new faith. A few years after his profession of faith, Hidemasa, who is an incredible pianist, was invited to join the Dickens Carolers for their Christmas season of concerts. This was a multinational group that dressed up in Dickens-era clothing (which we use for our Christmas caroling around the neighborhood now) and performed at various evangelistic outreaches around the Tokyo area. When Hidemasa came back from that tour, he was strengthened in his faith, and decided that even though his parents were opposed, he would be baptized.

He met Mika during that season. Mika was working with our mission, then called LIFE Ministries, in a music-focused ministry we had at the time. They began working together--Mika would write lyrics, Hidemasa would write the score. Eventually they formed a "group" they named Wings, and started doing church concerts, live houses and going on tours. All the while, Hidemasa continued college, went on to get a PhD in ... [my memory isn't good here--engineering? physics?--the guy is brilliant]. He then moved to Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture as a professor at a major research university.

After years of working together they announced a few months ago that they were engaged to be married, and today--May 5--we had the privilege of witnessing the wedding.

Mika has been very involved in a variety of ministries in the Tokyo area and around Japan. She is a vocalist, a worship leader, an interpreter, and a published photographer.

Hidemasa does a lot of lectures around the world on subjects related to his area of study. His ease in English is a great advantage for these International forums.

With Mika's history with our mission, we ended up having a "reunion" of a lot of our former and current Japanese (and a few North American staff). It was fun to see people who worked with our organization for many years.

I had to chuckle when I saw Yousuke (grey suit/pink tie) a friend of Hidemasa who managed to get into the mission picture. I think he figured he was in the ICCS photo!

We had a few of our ICCS family at the wedding, as well. Several who have moved out of the area and no longer attend with us. So it was a great reunion celebration.

Congratulations Hidemasa and Mika! And thanks for the great reunion party!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

I would hate to be the one who...

...enters Japan as the first carrier of swine flu.

Being an island nation, the borders are fairly controlled, and now when a plane arrives from any flu-identified-nation a team of masked and robed medical personnel come on the plane at the gate and take each person's temperature using a thermographic camera--as well as have everyone fill out what appears to be a two-page questionnaire. This is adding about one hour onto those long overseas flights.

There have already been a couple of false alarms--both people ended up testing positive for other seasonal flu, not this N1H1 version. A good 40% of the news stories in the nightly news are about this flu epidemic, and the preparations that are being made in anticipation of the eventual outbreak of it here. I even heard a story about the timing of elections that need to be called by the prime minister sometime in the next few months, based on the potential epidemic that might cut down on gatherings of large groups.

Meanwhile, we have been given many illustrations of ways to prevent getting the flu. These are the standard ones--hand washing, wearing a face mask in public, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, staying home if you are sick, and gargle regularly.
  • I've seen some amazing examples of how to properly wash your hands--it should be at least a 30 second project--maybe longer. I have changed the way I do it now! (Don't forget the backs of your hands, between your fingers, your wrists and your thumbs!)
  • Face masks are frequently worn here--in the winter I hate to go on a train without one on as I listen to people cough around me. We have a wide selection to choose from (mine is light pink).
  • I'm glad people are being told to cover their mouths when they cough--that is one frequently lacking courtesy!
  • The instructions to gargle are routine in Japanese hygiene...and gargling is frequently practiced. When we lived in our previous house, the neighbor man would loudly gargle at 7:20 a.m. on the dot every morning. Whenever we get a cold, our doctor sends home this amazing stuff to use as a gargle.
I have to admit that it is easy to develop a condescending attitude at some of the precautions. So I was a bit rebuked when I read this yesterday in "Cross Cultural Servanthood--Serving the World in Christlike Humility" by Duane Elmer.
My basic assumption in this chapter is that people usually don't act randomly or stupidly. Those from other cultures may think it random or stupid, but from the local people's perspective, they're thinking or acting out of a larger framework that makes sense to them. People's behavior generally fits within a cultural pattern that works for them and give them meaning and control in their lives. Too often we assume others are foolish or illogical simply because their reasoning is not self-evident to us.

When I see the concern about the onset of swine flu in Japan on the faces of some of my Japanese friends and coworkers, my attitude needs to be one of caution, awareness and sensitivity.