Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pictures from home

I am presently in Columbia, South Carolina for my second Member Care class of my graduate program in Missionary Care. It is a counseling skills and supervision class, which means I actually have to practice! I am being stretched, but am encouraged by the things I'm learning.

But as I was leaving Japan, I noticed that the Hosta plants outside our front gate were just about ready to bloom. The owners of our house have done a marvelous job of landscaping on a "postage stamp" size yard, along with containers, and we are the recipients of their work over the years. Since this is the first growing season we've been there, it has been fun to see the cycle of blooms. And I was disappointed that I would miss out on these.

Not to fear, though, because my dear husband has been taking photos and sending them to me over the past few days. This is a sweet gift to me!

Thanks, Stan!
Thank you, Lord, for the beauty of your creation!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Disaster tourist?

One of the reasons we've avoided going up to to Miyagi Prefecture is that we haven't wanted to be a "disaster tourist." We have friends who have been actively involved in relief efforts, those who have been developing kokoro no kea (Emotional Care) programs, some who are journalists who have been recording and communicating the stories for others, and then Japanese coworkers who have been seeking to assess and meet the needs of pastors in the disaster area. Each of those have had important roles, and we honor them for what they've done.

But we haven't had the energy to do relief work up to this point, we aren't strong enough in the language to be involved in some of the emotional care work, we certainly aren't journalistic professionals. As I've written earlier, we've been dealing with some brown-out/burn-out issues and the thought of getting up to this area before now was overwhelming.

Now, however, it was time. We needed to open our cabin. We wanted to meet up with the current Asian Access Summer Team working in Ishinomaki. And we hoped to visit a possible site for a ministry team coming from Cornerstone Bible Church in Glendora, CA. So when we left Shichigahama on Friday, we headed up to Ishinomaki, about one hour away.

We didn't do a major survey of the area, and we didn't take one photo. But we did visit a site where a friend of ours is coordinating clean-up in a neighborhood outreach in conjunction with a small church nearby. It was very helpful to see what the work area looks like, and discover how people in the community have been gradually asking for teams to work at their homes. in these few blocks, the roads have been cleared, and gutters mucked and washed out by church-related teams coming from Japan and outside.

As we drove out of the area, we passed a group of JW's -- not helping, but canvasing what is left of the neighborhood with their materials.

Two blocks away from this neighborhood stood houses and streets still in shambles, and we didn't get to the worst part! We would have done more looking around but we had two reluctant passengers, and had seen signs that the highway out of the area was going to be shut down for repairs.

Its obvious that there will be plenty of work for months to come. We're thankful for all who have already given their time and energy to participate. We look forward to the team from Cornerstone coming mid-July.

Our first trip "back to Tak"

We have not ventured out into the area hit by the triple disasters over the last three months. We've had a few personal reasons for not going, but we have had a very acute interest in the area, and we've visited "virtually" through many others' photos, videos and reports.

Since our boys are out of school now, it was time for us to go up to Shichigahama in Miyagi Prefecture, the town of our summer cabin. We took off on Wednesday of last week on a two night trip for the purpose of opening the cabin and then to assess possible places of ministry for a team coming in mid-July from one of our supporting churches.

We've passed the three month mark. The photos we saw of our town and the surrounding area that were taken a week or two after the quake and tsunami prepared us for the worst, but we were pleasantly surprised at the amount of effort that is ongoing in trying to bring things back to normal -- at least in some places.

There are places that haven't gotten very far in the process of repair--they have most of their parking lot cleared, and some blue tarps covering the now missing windows. This is a recycle shop.

Our favorite tonkatsu (pork cutlet)restaurant looks like they're busy trying to get things redone. We missed going there. All the bushes that had been surrounding the restaurant were gone.

We drove around the Jusco, a variety store, and saw cars still in the parking structure where they had been covered when the tsunami came through. Apparently some died in their cars. It was rather haunting. And stores across the way that were empty--glass windows gone, interior gutted.

When we turned into the neighborhood near our cabin, we were stunned. Its hard to visualize the topography until nothing is there between us and the sea but what is now trash, second floors of houses, roofs without houses under them, vehicles at odd angles. And between the shore and those places that are untouched (except visible damage in their roofs from the earthquakes) there are houses that go from a little water damage, to curtains flapping in the wind, as they have been for the past three months with windows broken, structural damage, high water lines. And then we got down to the place where all that is left are cement foundations.

Climbing the hill to our cabin, though, it seemed like life hadn't changed. These mostly old, wooden structures, some (like ours) balanced on rocks are still standing square. Opening the door for the first time, I saw the stand that hold the shampoo in the shower room had been tipped over, a pot that hangs on a hook in the kitchen had fallen, a cup with pens and pencils strewn across the kitchen floor.

The display items on the shelf of the wall quilt rack in the living room had fallen, but only one item was broken. Another few plastic stands had tipped over, and others had shimmied out from their usual places but were still standing. That was it. No major damage.

We did a little cleaning up and then Stan and I took a walk from the cabins toward the beach and around the neighborhood.

The gate to the cabin area is on the right--the water came through here, and was strong enough to move a heavy wooden tool shed, cement foundation and all, to the center of the parking lot. Judging by the junk still around, it was probably near the top of the fence. It was strange to be able to see not only the beach, but the other half of the cabin community from this position, because a house and a fish packing plant are missing.

From the beach we could look back through the row of trees to see the remnants of the neighborhood. City crews are working systematically to clear away debris.

Turning around 90 degrees, we could see the beach, with two shipping containers. These were on the dock at Sendai port, and had been washed out to sea with the tsunami, then back in. All along the coast there are containers. Some empty, others full. When we first saw photos of this area, the sand had been wiped out--and we discovered how deep these cement stairs actually are, but with time, sand is filling in again.

Junk continues to wash up on the beach, and there are pieces in the breakers--including what looked like the roof of a house or shed.

The sign showing where to evacuate in case of a tsunami had been propped up along a tree--we saw several signs on posts pointing to the nearest evacuation area. Usually the metal posts holding the signs were bent to the ground.

A little further on and we came to a field of stuff--what once was precious and important, but now looking like old, weathered, abandoned trash. Stan counted 8 vehicles in this field. I felt a sense of sacredness in this kind of junk.

But it has to go somewhere. In the background is the field the city is using to dispose of all the debris they've collected. It is at least two stories tall. They are sorting the garbage into types--appliances, metal, wood, etc. To the right of the photo is the "Aqua-Arena" which was a favorite water exercise, gymnasium and public bath facility. It has apparently shifted because of the earthquake and is now unusable.

We had a chance to talk with one of our friends who is a year-round resident, and she recounted the day of the quake and tsunami as best she could. Since they were without electricity and news from the outside world for several days, they thought they were the hardest hit, and didn't realize the extent of the damage outside this area. It was several weeks before they began to get an idea of what else had happened along the coast both north and south of them.

Missionaries have been going to this location for vacations since the late 1800's. Yet there is only a small church in the town. Our prayer is that as Christians come to work along side people from the community to meet the needs of the people of Shichigahama that there will be an open door to the Gospel.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bye to the Johnstons!

Our coworkers, Jeff and Nozomi and their children are returning to the States next month. They've been with our mission for a number of years, working primarily in administration in the US office, but spent the last four here in Japan.

The Asian Access staff in the Tokyo area got together last night to celebrate our time with this family. We have all enjoyed their presence here and loved seeing how God used each of them in sharing His love. While its hard to say goodbye, the great thing is that they continue on with Asian Access, so its more like "see you later."

Pentecost Sunday -- the United Day of Prayer for Japan

Over the past five or six years Stan has been a part of the planning committee for the Global Day of Prayer, always held on Pentecost Sunday. This year, the committee decided that they would narrow down the focus and scheduled it to be a United Day of Prayer for Japan.

Stan served as "MC" with Mrs. Akiyama translating. She has been very involved in the prayer movement for the past four years.

There were two pastors who shared from their experiences as a result of the triple disaster in March. Pastor Mori, pictured above, serves in a church inside the "shelter in place" zone of the power plant. His church has become a community center for those who have remained. Through his extensive connections with the Christian community around Japan, they have been recipients of much many relief supplies and support.

The second was Pastor Sato (not pictured) whose church was the closest one to the nuclear power plant. Many in his congregation evacuated together, first to Yamagata, and now are living at a Christian camp outside Tokyo. His was a growing, vibrant church, which has suffered much, but continues to grow spiritually. They've had a number of people baptized, a wedding or two, and have honored church members who died in the tsunami through memorial services. They've discovered that the church is not a building, but the people.

We broke up into small groups to pray for these pastors and the ongoing ministries of their churches. We also spent time praying for the government and leaders in this country.

The music portion of the Prayer Day was provided by a worship team of Brazilians who are part of a prayer fellowship in this country. It was an encouragement to sing "You're the God of the City" in Japanese and English.

"There is no one like our God!"

We pray that more Japanese will come to know this God who loves them so much!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The TCK* and her Englishman

Last Tuesday was a special day. Our oldest daughter, Noelle, became engaged to a delightful young man from England, Andy B. We are very grateful to God for leading these two together.

They met a year ago in Newport Beach, California where Andy had just arrived to do an internship at a church. This was the same church where my sister was ordained, and it was at the ordination that they first saw one another. He was in California for six weeks, and then returned home to his final year of theological studies at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Noelle traveled to England from California, in September and December of 2010, then moved back to Japan this March (two days before the earthquake). Andy was supposed to come to Japan in March, but because of the earthquake and aftermath needed to reschedule to this past week.

Noelle has been teaching English at a couple of private schools, but is also registered with a couple of talent agencies here. A couple of months ago she auditioned for a Meiji period (1870's) made-for-TV-docu-drama, but then heard nothing so assumed the answer was "no." The week before Andy's arrival she found out that she had been cast for the role, and the shooting days were in the middle of his visit. Production was incredibly accommodating and arranged for Andy to accompany her to the shoot and to help out with background acting while he was there. Noelle's character was an American girl breaking out of the "Foreigners' Settlement" in 1870's Yokohama, making friends with a young Japanese man and being introduced to the Japanese culture.

Toward the end of the first day the formal photographer took a series of photos of the newly engaged couple, and gave the photos to Noelle on the second day.

Our favorite photo of this couple, so far!

Being protected by crew before the official photo shoot began...

These photos seem to be a metaphor for this couple.

Noelle is a TCK*, and has come to realize how much Japan is a part of her in the months she has been back. While she has been perceived as being "the American" by those who meet her, elsewhere, she is entirely a third culture kid inside. Getting married and moving to England next year will bring up some additional cross cultural challenges. Andy's visit to Japan was very encouraging and meaningful to them both. They would appreciate your prayers as they prepare for their life together.

*“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

David C. Pollock in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken, Revised Edition (Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2009)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

With Thanksgiving

We closed on our parent's house this week. We are thankful that the house sold for a reasonable price, three months after putting it on the market in this current economy. God graciously provided local friends to help with many of the details of getting it "market-ready." We are blessed.


We have the joy of welcoming back a friend and former member of ICCS who returned home to Norway four years ago.

Today I was able to meet with Kjersti (center) and Ann. We had been in Bible Study together for several years before Kjersti left. It was encouraging to hear about how her family adjusted to Norway. Each of us had family stories to share with one another.

Being in an international church, we have many "alumni" who, like Kjersti and her family, have relocated elsewhere. Its always nice when they come back to see us.

We also have another visitor...

Our oldest daughter's special friend, Andy, arrived from England on Friday the 27th of May. More on this visit later...

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Putting Words to our Strengths

Last week many of our missionaries gathered at a seminar house in Kobe to go over the results of the StrengthsFinders assessments. This was an opportunity to explore each of our gifts and natural abilities in a group setting, so we could learn more about we individually can contribute to the ministry and leadership of Asian Access.

It was interesting to see our top five strengths summed up in single words.
  • Belief
  • Context
  • Communication
  • Developer
  • Connectedness (also known as Spirituality)
  • Connectedness
  • Input
  • Developer
  • Discipline
  • Maximizer
If you haven't worked with StrengthsFinder 2.0 these may seem a bit strange. But having gone through the definitions I was surprised at how perceptive the results were. And going around the room learning our co-workers top five helped answer questions about why they did things the way the did, and how they could better or best be used to serve God here in Japan.

In a short summary, Stan's strengths affirmed his commitment to core beliefs, a passion for history and a desire to get his message understood. Mine affirmed my mentor/teacher and encouraging role with a hunger for knowing more. Both of us are strong in "connectedness" which is another term for spirituality--where we believe that God is at work, that there are few coincidences in life and that everything has a reason. Stan as a pastor and I as a member care facilitator are both in places that use these strengths right now.

Each strength has "down sides" and we've got somethings to think about as we contemplate the materials we received. Its good to be challenged to grow and develop.