Thursday, August 30, 2012

A lunch outing with friends

On Monday of this week, a group of us headed from Tokorozawa into Tokyo (an hour train commute) to meet up for lunch at a "famous" fish restaurant.  In fact, we met one hour before it opened and sat in line outside so we could get right in at opening time -- 11:30.  There was already one person in line when we arrived, and it stretched to the corner by the time they opened the doors.

The organizer of this gathering is one of our church members, Gail, who moved from our area to an apartment on the far side of Tokyo so she and her husband could be near work.  Gail has been wanting us to see her place, and organized two days this month where people from church met for lunch at this restaurant and then dessert at her apartment.

This gave us time to meet with people in a casual atmosphere, and catch up with one another.  Gail is second from the left in this photo.  In addition, she invited another friend (to the right of me) to join us. We first met at a Bible study I started for foreign wives of Japanese around 20 years ago. This friend lives in another part of Tokyo after returning from an extended time in the States.  I was very happy to see her and encouraged by God's work in her life.

The other side of the table with the rest of our group that day.

When our food came, it filled the table. There were plates of friend white fish, fried shrimp, grilled eel, and the specialty of the house--a mixed sashimi (raw fish and sea food).

The fellowship was great--but the restaurant had us sitting at low tables...which wasn't so comfortable for our non-Japanese legs.  Some restaurants have  a cut-out space under the table where feet can "dangle down" but this had none...its a little hard to enjoy eating when pain is shooting up from the knees, and feeling is eventually severed in your feet..

I don't want you to miss out on this dish... For some it was wonderful.

For me--well, this is about as close as I got to it.  Honestly, I'm not a seafood lover. The fried white fish was the best choice for me of "grown up food" on the menu.

We left the restaurant and headed to Gail's apartment. Sitting around her kitchen table we talked about all kinds of things, but most of all we talked about God working in our lives through challenging times.  I was very thankful for the conversations.  And then we all headed back to local stations and back to our lives.

We also left with a great deal of admiration that Gail spends at least 1 1/2 hours one-way each Sunday morning to come to church. There are closer churches, of course, but ICCS is where she has spiritual family. She's been part of our fellowship for many, many years.

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24, 25

Friday, August 17, 2012

A picture of Resilience

This is the Cosmo gas station in Shichigahama in late March, 2011, just a short distance from our summer cabin.This gives you an idea of how high the water was as it came through...

Photo by Christina Sawka
 The underground tanks weren't damaged, and within a few weeks, the older couple that owns this station had a new pump delivered and opened for business.

Today, this is all that is standing in this area.  All the debris you see in the photo has been cleared and the fields are empty.

On Thursday we stopped to get our var filled and washed at the station before heading back to Tokyo. It cost a few yen more per liter, but it just seemed right to honor the resilience of this couple to get back to business.  The area around them is part of a "no build" zone now. The city has done a lot of clearing, but does not plan on allowing homes to be built.

I turned 180 degrees from the station and took this photo--this is what the rest of the area looks like presently. Vast areas of emptiness.


On Thursday, August 2, I spoke to a group of missionary women about "Resilience--the strength to fulfill God's call." I have had a long-time interest in resiliency, and was privileged to attend a Mental Health and Missions Conference in 2009 where that was the key topic.

I include a few excerpts from my talk here:

It was the beginning of our second term that I began to notice that many of our fellow language school students were no longer in the country.  Since then we have said “goodbye” to many of our fellow missionaries—family issues, frustrations with language, private sins, public sins, restlessness caused by lack of visible results, and issues with sending organizations were some of the reasons for leaving sooner than they intended. God used this observation along with other processes in my life to direct me into the ministry of missionary care.

Resilience—what is it?
My hope is to encourage people to run the course, fulfilling the call God has given them to ministry. To that end, I want to talk about Resilience, which has been defined by Dr. Karen Carr of the Mobile Member Care Team in East Africa, as having the strength to fulfill the call God has given us, even when we know it will be painful and difficult—staying fixed on the higher purpose, motivated by love, supported by friends while realizing that they can let us down, carried by the one who called us. (Karen Carr, MHM 11/2009)

Why do we need Resilience?
Missionaries experience more trauma than the general population.  I referred to a study reported in the Evangelical Missions Quarterly from July, 2010 "Trauma and Traumatic Stress in Cross-cultural Missions: How to Promote Resilience" that included statistics on the types of trauma that missionaries experienced in Africa and Europe. The ones we encounter in Japan tend to look similar to those of Europeans.  These days we see the effects of ongoing stress of working in a post-disaster situation.

How do we develop Resilience?
This is a topic far too big for a one-hour session, but utilizing some materials Dr. Carr had presented based on Hebrews 12:1-4, I provided the following abbreviated outline:
Supportive Relationships ~ Engage in Community (Heb.12:1 surrounded by cloud of witnesses.) We need a loving sense of community—among peers and leaders. Interestingly, this is also a key factor in missionary longevity in Japan listed in Sue Takamoto's PhD research.
A sense of purpose, goal, call ~ Know we are called or sent (Heb 12:1 – the race God has set before us.) Know that we are called to do what we are doing. Even if it’s unpleasant, I’m exactly where God wants me to be and doing what I’m supposed to be doing. 
Spiritual Maturity ~ Address the issues that hinder resilience (Heb 12:1 – throw off everything that hinders and sin that entangles us.) Know the Source of our Strength (Heb 12: 2 – keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.) Have a working Theology of Suffering (Heb 12:2 – endured the cross) I recommend the article Towards a Biblical Theology of Suffering
Develop a Personal Plan of  Resiliency ~ When we fall or fail, get back up (Heb 12:4 – Consider…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.) As you consider the questions on your community, your sense of purpose, and your spiritual maturity, deliberately develop a personal plan to strengthen your resilience.  And consider what God has already done in your life at times when you’ve needed the strength to press on -- the things He used to build you up in the past can be part of your "emergency kit" for dealing with the next challenge that comes along. 

I left the ladies with the following set of questions to take home and think through.  Please feel free to use them to examine your resilience, and to begin making plans to strengthen your resilience.

How to develop my Resilience
Supportive Relationships
How supportive are my relationships?  Do I have a community where I find encouragement and I can encourage others? If not, what can I do to develop this?
A sense of purpose, goal, call
Am I convinced that God has called me here? Do I have a sense of purpose? Do I believe that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing? If not, what am I doing to review how God brought me here, or what he is calling me to?
Spiritual Maturity
How is my relationship with Christ?  Am I spending time regularly in the word and in prayer? Am I dealing with those issues that hinder resilience in my life? Am I addressing the sins that seem to habitually get in my way?  What is my approach to facing suffering and difficulty? What do I need to do to pursue increased spiritual maturity?
Develop a Personal Plan of Resiliency
What do I need include in my personal plan to strengthen my resilience?  How has God met me previously at times when I’ve needed the strength to press on? What is a Symbol, Song, Story, or Image of resiliency from my personal journey that can encourage me to be resilient? 

Again, this is just a skimming of the surface of this topic, but its a reasonable place to start if you haven't considered this.

For an interesting article about resilience, I recommend this one from the Mobile Member Care Team.

© 2012 Faith De La Cour.

A look back at the Karuizawa Conference

On Sunday, August 5, we  finished a week of ministry to missionaries and other expatriates at the Karuizawa Union Church Summer Conference.

Karuizawa is the town where we spent our first two years in Japan at language school.  It is in the mountains of Nagano prefecture, and has long been a place for missionaries on holiday, as a base for language and culture learning, and the center of camps and retreats.  It also is famous for being the birthplace of our first-born...

The Conference is held at the "historic" Union Church, which is over 100 years old.

It was a great privilege to be able to return to this town to share from the Word and encourage our brothers and sisters from various countries who serve around Japan. As we interact with missionaries at various stages of ministry, we sense that our 60 years (scary!) of combined ministry in Japan have given us a measure of wisdom and discernment to encourage and challenge them to be obedient to God’s leading.

Stan spoke from the book of Jonah to explore the call of God and how we should (and shouldn’t) respond. He also was able to share with the men at a prayer breakfast sponsored by German missionaries.  I spoke at a women’s luncheon on “Resilience—the strength to fulfill the call.”

We also had an opportunity to touch base with friends from multiple segments of our life and ministry.

When we were students in language school, Stan spent some time with a few other missionaries cultivating a friendship with men who ran the "Cowboy House" Restaurant. Some of the men showed a real interest in the faith, and we enjoyed being with them.  We try to stop by and see them at least once a year when we are in town.

We were late in getting there--past their service hours, but when they saw us they welcomed us for a a little catch-up conversation.  We've all changed a bit since our first meetings in 1984...

We also connected up with missionary friends from near and far. Roberta, on the right, "blames" Stan for her being in Japan. During her youth at a church where Stan's brother was the pastor, she met Stan and heard about Japan. Coming on a short-term ministry led to being called to career ministry.  She now works with the CRASH relief organization and also is involved in ministries to Returnees--Japanese who meet Christ overseas, and then return to this country.  They are not always easily grafted into Japanese churches and so transition ministries are on the lookout for these people in an effort to keep them from slipping through the cracks.

Thank you for praying for us as we prepared for this conference. We saw how His power was made perfect in our weakness.