Monday, June 25, 2012

Sharing in whatever ways we can...

Its hard to see kids grow out of special toys. Our sons have been blessed over the past 10 years with many, many lego's.  And now as young men, they seem to find playing with them too childish.  When we moved here in 2010 and unpacked their toys, they pulled out "collectors items" and favorite ones, but that left two large containers full of legos untouched (I hate to guess at the original price of all of these but I dare to say its over $1,000).  The boys suggested I throw them away or sell them at a semi-annual thrift sale.

In April, I sorted through one container in anticipation of selling them, and was almost ready to load them in the car. It didn't feel right, however, and so I closed the lid and stashed the container away hoping to find someone who would appreciate these toys that brought so many hours of creativity to our boys when they were younger.  A couple of weeks later, I was reading the blog of our coworkers in Ishinomaki, the Takamoto's, and in the last few sentences she wrote about a friend of their son who enjoyed playing legos at their house because all of his legos had been washed away in the tsunami.

Last week when we were up in Miyagi, we took the container I had sorted to our friends. We met at a food court and  the boy they had written about and his parents also happened to be there having lunch.  It was fun to see who this young man was who would soon receive these toys.  Last night at a birthday party for his mom, he was given the legos.

Sometime in the next few months, I'll go through the second container.  We'll see if more can be used with other children in this Ishinomaki neighborhood. If not, I'm sure God will show us another place.

I wish I could say this brings joy to our sons.  I trust God that someday it will.  It does remind me, though, of when my family left Brazil and I had to give my toys away (all except one doll, as I recall) because it was too expensive to ship them to the States.  I have vague memories as a 4-year-old of handing my large teddy bear to a child at an orphanage. I know I didn't fully understood at the time, but now I'm grateful, believing that it brought another child some happiness.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The ICCS Gospel Choir

Last weekend was the semi-annual concert for the Hallellujah Gospel Family (HGF)--a network of small Black Gospel choirs that meet in various churches to practice, and sometimes perform.  There are over 50 of these smaller groups in the HGF.  Twice a year they gather at a performance hall for a joint concert. 


ICCS has had a Gospel Choir for the past three years or so. There are a couple of members who couldn't make it to the joint performance, but the ones who performed last Saturday night are here.  It has been our hope that more people would join the choir--especially some who are unchurched.  When Sister Act came out a number of years ago, the Japanese developed a love for Black Gospel. Many who aren't interested in Christianity love to be a part of a Gospel choir.


Ray Sidney (pictured in back) comes to Japan several times a year to offer Gospel singing workshops.  He then sings as one of the leads when the HGF does these joint concerts. We've enjoyed getting to know Ray, and had a great time seeing him at the "House of Praise" Mother's Day concert in Anaheim when we were on  our last home assignment.

To go from a choir the size of the one above to a choir the size of the one below is awesome for the participants:

There are at least 400 choir members when the joint choirs come together. Here they are shown with a Japanese taiko drum group for a "fusion" performance number.  Not only are there a lot of choir members, but they bring their family and friends.  The auditorium was quite full this year. There was a testimony given by a young man who is in a wheelchair.  He joined a gospel choir several years ago, where through the involvement with Christians in the group, he made a profession of faith. It was good to hear him share his struggles with his disability, how he had found peace with Christ, and how he had met his wife and just the morning of the concert become a dad for the second time.

Already the ICCS folks are telling their friends when the next concert will be scheduled (December 8).  If you pray, please pray that more will join our little choir, and be a part of both praising the Lord and seeing others come to know this God we praise.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Field -- and other reflections after a few days in Miyagi

We just got back from three nights up at our cabin in Miyagi prefecture.  We go up there early in the summer to open it up so that its ready for renters.  We had apparently done an excellent job of closing it last fall, because it took us very little time to get it "livable."  That was nice, because we have five A2 missionaries in the area now, and it allowed us time to meet with four of them.  They have been in the area since March/April and it was good to hear first hand of their adjustments and ministry situations.

The first evening we were there, we took a walk around the beach area, and the empty expanse that used to be a community between the two hills where missionaries have had cabins for over 100 years.  It was surprising to see how much the city of Shichigahama (7 Beaches) has done to remove debris.  There used to be a fish-packing company on the way to the beach from our parking lot. It had been ripped apart by the tsunami 15 months ago, and just last week the cement foundation was totally removed. All that is left is a vacant lot.  The holes the tsunami gouged in the beach area have filled in with sand over time, and those on the inside of the sea wall are being filled by the city with what appear to be sandbags.

Walking along the street that used to connect the beach to the community, we were impressed at how clean the fields looked.  


It wasn't until we got back to the cabin, and Stan went to look at photos on his computer that we realized that he had taken this photo almost exactly one year ago of the same field:


Our friend Wendy, who lives in the community, told us that on weekends there will be 300+ volunteers who come to work. Imagine the pain-staking efforts involved in clearing out a field like this!  In Japan everything is sorted for proper disposal, as well. And then they sift the top few inches of soil to remove broken glass, etc.

All along this walk, where we had seen pieces of people's belongings and vehicles scattered, we instead saw the waving fields of green, beautiful but somehow so sad.  The city is breaking up the remaining foundations of houses in the area, and has plans eventually to turn this area into a park. No longer will people be permitted to build homes in this area. We were struck by how quiet it was there -- the only sound was that of the equipment brought in for demolition--and that wasn't that loud.

As we left today, we saw the "surfers" beach full of people surfing.  There was a tropical storm that passed through two days ago, that brought some great waves. Last year, it seemed wrong to go in the water--people would come and look at the sea from the beach.  But the surfers are back--and it seems so right.

Yesterday we went to visit our coworkers who have moved to Ishinomaki.  This city stretches out along the coast north of Sendai, and it sustained a lot of devastation. This is a photo of the area before the tsunami. Our friends have found a short-term rental in this area.


The red arrow marks where their short-term rental house is located--on a ridge just a couple of houses away from the high water line.


The coastal area is totally desolate. Driving through daily is a constant reminder of the pain that their new friends have lived through -- each one's story is unique and sad. The neighbor living across the street from them threw ropes down to people floating in the icy water of the tsunami to pull them in.

Our coworkers are part of a team working in another neighborhood. Asian Access has purchased land and will be building a home in the community.  Their children are attending Japanese school, and through the friendships with families they are meeting, opportunities are opening for helping these families get their homes cleaned up.

We left this neighborhood and drove about 10 minutes to the area where Stan and the Cornerstone Team  worked last summer. As we passed various places, Stan would talk about what they did where...  One such place was this "field"where a number of teams had removed layers of oil, debris, etc.


There are now vegetables growing.  This photo was taken by a friend a few weeks ago--and when we drove by it yesterday they were even bigger.

Our friends, Dean and Linda, are looking for a house to rent in this area. They have been commuting from Sendai around 4 or 5 days a week, building relationships and serving the community through many teams.  It will be nice for them to actually move into the neighborhood.  Please pray that the right place opens up for their housing--and another place would become available for a community center.

In both areas we visited, we have heard that even now, 15 months after the disaster, people are struggling to made decisions.  Some cannot yet emotionally return to their homes, even though their homes can be cleaned and refurbished.  Some are struggling with recurring dreams. There are stories of people seeing ghosts of those who died. Marriages have fallen apart. And yet, there are people who are finding hope in Jesus, and others who know that when they leave the gathering of believers they are changed--even if they haven't made  a profession of faith yet.

Back in Shichigahama--the town where our cabin is located-- there is a small "preaching point" but it is basically unchurched.  Another of our coworkers is working with a nearby Pastor who has a vision for house churches around the area, and one of his target communities is "our town."  This town has been the location of a missionary vacation community for over 100 years and they've probably experienced the worst and the best of missionary interaction with nationals.  Many of the older folk attended summer VBS programs that were held there. We pray that a church (or many churches!) will be planted and grow in Shichigahama out of the aftermath of this disaster.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Retreat time with an International Church in France

On June 1 we took the Eurostar train from London, under the English Channel, to Paris. We were met by our friend, Jean-Christophe Bieselaar, who is the Pastor of the Eglise Protestante Evang. de La defense, an International Church in the Paris area.  When Jean-Christophe heard that we were going to be in the UK in May, he invited Stan to speak at his church's retreat the following weekend.




Stan had three sessions -- and Jean Christophe translated into French 
(the base language for this International Church).


The Church members are primarily from Europe and Africa, 
though there was one Asian and a Middle Eastern couple.


They had a gifted worship team and we sang many of the same songs we've sung at our church in Japan and churches in the States--only they were in French, obviously!  Since I've not studied French, it took me a little while to catch some of the pronunciation, but I was getting the hang of it by the time we'd go through a chorus the second or third time.

It was really delightful to spend these days with these people.  We are grateful for Jean-Christophe's invitation and the church's warm welcome.  Like our church, they are experiencing a lot of change.  Like our church, they have many multi-cultural couples.  So even though we speak a different language as our language of ministry, we had much in common.  

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The retreat was held in the town of Houlgate, on the Normandy coast. During free time, Stan and I walked along the coast and into the neighborhood around the retreat center.



This is the view from our room. Isn't it lovely?


What fascinated me most about this area were the mansions, many of which came from the late 1800s. This one looked to me like it would come from a Tim Burton film. It was right next to the retreat center.


Apparently, many of these were holiday villas. They were beautiful, but as we walked around we observed many that required significant expense for ongoing upkeep.


One last view: This is a tower on a hotel in Houlgate that was built in the late 1880s.


Saturday, June 09, 2012

Oh the places we've been ...

While our primary objective for going to England was to celebrate the wedding our our oldest daughter, we didn't want to miss out on taking in some of the sights.  I've got a select few of the many photos we took in England and France below. There are many, many photos of buildings and monuments in our folders, but honestly, I can't remember what they all are, and unless I get out a map and trace our route, I'm afraid I would terribly mislabel them.

England


Stonehenge was on our way to Plymouth. We chose not to pay the  $12  per person entrance fee for a recorded guide around the circle (if it was two of us, maybe, but multiply it by 8 and we decided to pass. Besides, we were on our way to a wedding!



We visited the site where the Mayflower set sail from -- in Plymouth, England.  Stan is somewhat distantly, distantly, related to one of those who left from here.


This one is for my brother, who lives in the great country of Texas...
You can see the reflection of our London tour bus in the window.

Through the London "Eye" you can see Big Ben across the Thames.

Big Ben and the Parliament Building.

We visited inside Westminster Abbey our second day in London. It was quite impressive.  

We visited the Tower of London on our third day.  No photos allowed, but we saw the crown jewels.  Walked through the various towers and wall walkways, saw lots of armor, and looked at etched messages in the wall from condemned famous people.

One of these people is not like the others... Stan asked permission to have his picture taken with them.
They responded with a "thank you for asking."

France

Of course we had to stop in front of the Eiffel Tower. No, we didn't climb it.  

This is the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel through which you can see the Arc de Triomphe
at the other end of the Ave. des Champs Elysees (thank you Google maps for the spelling!)

We approached Notre Dame from the other direction, and were surprised to see it--because this is the view we remember seeing photos from.  We also toured inside.  No, we didn't do the Tower tour--missed the hunchback.

While we were looking an American came up and offered to take our photo if we would take one for her group.  I hope theirs turned out as well as this one did of us.  


Stan spoke in Normandy, and the afternoon the retreat ended, our guide took us to a couple of battle sites in Normandy. We ended here.


It wasn't lost on me that many of the young men who died here at Omaha Beach were about the age of these two young men.  We were there at low tide and saw how exposed the soldiers would have been.

It was very moving to be here.


Japan

After seeing all these great buildings and monuments, I couldn't help but notice the Tokyo Sky Tree as we rode back from the airport. This opened to the public the day we left Japan -- to an equally overcast day.  The Sky Tree is 2,100 feet tall. (The Eiffel Tower is 1,063 feet tall).