Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Transition ahead ... but not yet...


I had nothing to do with the timing of my CIU course, Missionary Care for Career Transitions. The Lord, however, orchestrated it to coincide with a series of decisions that Stan and I have needed to make over the past few months. We decided to prayerfully embrace the process as I went through the pre-course readings.

Leaving

We are incredibly grateful for the opportunities we've had here to serve Jesus and represent Him to many through our years of ministry in this country. At the same time, God has been working in our hearts, giving us indications that it is time to turn over our responsibilities to the next generation of leaders. We were already anticipating our next home assignment to begin the summer of 2013, after our boys graduate from high school, but when we leave this time we will end our 30+ years of service in Japan.

Entering

Meanwhile, the Lord has brought new ministry opportunities for both of us  to serve in the care and encouragement of missionaries at the sending office of SIM USA in Charlotte, North Carolina.

  • I will take on the responsibilities of Director of Missionary Care and oversee the team that encourages spiritual and emotional care of the nearly 700 missionaries sent to 65 countries around the world (including our A2 missionaries). 
  • Stan has been asked to serve as the Campus Chaplain, entrusted to provide spiritual encouragement and support for the 80-100 sending office staff.  
Both of us are experiencing confirmation from our mission leaders, others who know us, and affirmation from the Lord for these positions which build on what we have learned and experienced through our time in Japan.

Logistics

Interestingly, we technically don't change missions with this upcoming relocation. Due to the Strategic Partnership between Asian Access and SIM, we are already considered SIM missionaries in the US.  We will continue to be supported financially and by prayer through churches and individuals' ministry of giving. And our new ministries will encompass the Asian Access missionaries when they are in the US!

We will pack up our belongings (after a radical paring down!) next summer and send them to Charlotte.  We will then begin an abbreviated home assignment, visiting our churches and friends as we are able to next fall. My SIM position is currently being filled by an Acting Director who is looking forward to relinquishing the responsibilities so SIM is asking me to consider picking up the role late in 2013.

Meanwhile...

We have told the congregation at the International Community Chapel of Saitama (ICCS) and will begin the process of working with the chapel to discern the next steps for their future.  Please be praying with all of us for the Holy Spirit to work in blessing and uniting the chapel through this time of transition.

I am working with the Asian Access/Japan leadership team to restructure my member care responsibilities so that they can be appropriately shared among several capable missionaries. As many of our missionaries are in their own transitions to new areas of ministry, pray that we will all find rest  in the Lord, and assurance that He has all of the uncertainties covered.

We are aware that we will live in emotional paradox for a long time because of this decision.  We are sad to be leaving ministry, friends, our church, a country where we've spent half our lives, memories, a cabin, and the security of a place that we call home. We are also very excited about the new ministries ahead, living in Charlotte, being in the same country as most of our family, working with the folks we've met at SIM, and the opportunities ahead to impact the world for Christ by equipping God's sent-out people.

Please pray for us as we navigate the next few years of change!






Friday, October 12, 2012

Catching family when I can


 I enjoyed being able to spend a few days with our second daughter while in Charlotte.  It was her first time to the city.  Since she has a degree in theatre, we made plans to attend a play while she was there.  When I first searched for a performance on the dates we wanted, I came up empty. Then I came across the Actor's Theatre of Charlotte, and saw that they were performing "God of Carnage."  I was a little put off by the title, but it was a play about two couples who meet for a civil discussion following a fight between their sons on a playground. Needless to say, the civility of the discussion quickly disappears. There were some very humorous elements in the interactions between characters. We enjoyed it and had fun talking about some of the technical aspects of the staging, too.





After we left there, we headed back to the SIM USA guest house, but on the way stopped for "breakfast for dinner" at Cracker Barrel Restaurant.  This brought back memories of visiting my dad. The pancakes were tasty, but the conversation was better.

 Several times during the weekend, A asked me questions about my childhood and learned things that she hadn't known.  It was an adult-to-adult conversation, and I enjoyed the interaction.


On another day, we ended our excursions with a stop at the Billy Graham Library.  It is an interesting place to visit, with elements that are inspirational and others that are downright weird.  We managed to skip the "Bessy the cow" introduction, and moved right on to Billy's early tent-meeting days.  I don't think A had heard Billy speak before, and it was nice to give her that introduction.

My personal favorite part of the exhibit is the telegram Ruth Bell sent her parents when Billy had presented her with an engagement ring, asking if she might wear it.  Their response was "yes, if it fits."

On Tuesday evening we both flew to Dallas, and then she went on to Southern California. I spent the night near DFW and in the morning was able to meet my brother for breakfast.  It was a very special treat to be able to have those 1 1/2 hours with him.  We have gone long stretches without being able to see one another, and I miss him!

He dropped me back off at DFW and I flew back to Japan on Wednesday.

One of the "costs" of serving overseas is the distance from family. I'm thankful for skype, imessage and email, but I'm also glad that there are these special times where I can meet up with family once in a while.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Reflections on a week

This past week was an intense time of concentrating on the life stages of missionaries and what we as member care personnel should be aware of in seeking to facilitate their growth and well-being.  It was helpful to look at the various stages considering them in light of our Asian Access missionaries. We met from Saturday, September 29 through Tuesday evening, October 2, and then took a "break" to participate in the "Pastors to Missionaries"(PTM) annual conference. 

I have often felt a bit uncomfortable when going to a conference alone. I am not the only one, I am sure!  At the PTM, they divided each of us into table groups for interaction at various times throughout the conference, and I really enjoyed mine.


Several of these people had served together as missionaries with the same organization years before, and each is now doing different ministries. One couple has a missionary care center, another is a traveling pastor to missionaries, and a third is in career transition from a pastorate to doing member care for a young mission.  The woman next to me is a widow, who is responsible for member care of a few couples in Scandinavia--where she and her husband had served.  She was an inspiration to me, as she shared about wanting to be intentional in how she invests her life for the Lord.

The speakers at the conference were veteran missionaries with pastoral experience specific to the needs of missionaries. Some work in difficult places, and most had a regional area in which they focused.  I wished Stan could have been with me--he would have enjoyed the interaction with many of these people.

The conference ended mid-morning on Friday, the 5th.  After lunch, we headed back to the classroom for our final session of the class. Our topic for that afternoon was end of term and retirement of missionaries.  Most interesting, and often overlooked.  How do people return to their "home country" after having lived a significant number of years away, and find meaning in these next years of life?


More than any class, I feel that in this one we got to know one another a bit more personally.  Perhaps it is because we were verbally processing our own experiences through the various stages of our mission careers.   We also gained some personal insight and stories from our professor (third from the right).  This is the first class I've had her as a teacher--the other three classes in this major field have been taught by adjunct and visiting professors.

After an intense week its almost hard to think about anything but I will have to get back into this because I have a project due in a month focusing on a specific career stage.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Confirmations

Over the past few months I have been doing preparation work for this week's graduate course "Missionary Care for Career Transition" as part of my Masters in Member Care at Columbia International University.  It has been very personally insightful as I've done various career tests, written short papers, reviewed my work experience, and put together pieces of the puzzle of how God has made me. I just got back from an interview with my professor.  She has seen me over the past two years, interacted with me at various levels, and today she encouraged me and affirmed God's leading in my life.

My parents' first prayer card photo with me
They headed to Brazil by ship in 1954 at ages 21 and 22,
having been married for five months.
I did not set out on a specific career path when I began my interest in Missionary Care.  God put a burden on my heart, and grew it over years of experience, interaction with many, time in the Word, along with reflections on my parents' early missionary days. And then about 12 years ago, our mission opened a door for me to function as the missionary care facilitator in Japan.  Armed with a paper produced by Laura Mae Gardner A MODEL FOR MEMBER CARE WITHIN MISSION ORGANIZATIONS, which listed a series of ways to get training, I started to attend conferences and workshops, gaining insight, skills and building relationships.  In the past two years I've been working on graduate level courses in the field through an extension program.

When I left a business career, married, and headed to Japan, I couldn't see where God would use me with my gifts and abilities.  In fact, I'm not so sure I was a very good fit the first few years I was a missionary.  In our course this week, we talked about how that is often the case with first-term missionaries.  But God used those years, and the sorrows that were embedded in them, as a testing ground and preparation for the future.  

Today I am especially grateful for the confirmation that God is working out His plan for me and in me.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)