Thursday, November 22, 2012

Reflections on cooking thanksgiving dinner in Japan

This was our last time to cook thanksgiving dinner in Japan. I don't plan on boring my readers with all the "lasts" but I thought I would show you some of the challenges we face to experience our good-old American Thanksgiving dinner. Some of it has become easier over the years and we've adapted.  Our two biggest challenges are -- getting the "right" foods, and being able to cook them!

When we came to Japan back in the dark ages, we would have to pre-order a turkey from one of the few importers.  We would pay somewhere around $50 + for a 14 pound bird.  Since Costco has come in, we have been able to get turkeys and the price has gone down somewhat. This 14 1/2 pound turkey was only $30. Another item we have to search for is cranberry sauce. There are a few international stores that carry them, and usually we stock up (this year our friend brought it--thank you Doug!). I've never looked for canned sweet potatoes--we have Japanese sweet potatoes that are considerably different from the yams we use in the US, but that's one area we've had to adapt. And canned pumpkin for pie is also something we look for in the import markets.

So, having the bird is one thing.  Having an oven big enough to cook the bird is another...

This is my kitchen -- to the left is a stand with my convection oven and a small microwave above it. (Breadmaker, toaster oven and coffee pot finish out the appliances.) The bird just barely fit in the oven--last year it didn't and Stan ended up having to take it to the church and cook it in the US sized oven over there. We've heard stories of friends who have sawed their turkey in two in order to get it into their oven.

This also means that I can't have anything else in the oven while the bird is in everything gets cooked sequentially. Inevitably something has cooled down a bit too much by the time it gets to the table. At least the heat from the oven helped warm the room for a few hours!

Also note that there isn't a lot of usable counter space after all these appliances get their place. My cookbook is open on top of the toaster oven.  Sometimes its on top of the garbage cans, or the step ladder gets opened up and its balanced on top of that.

Another challenge is having enough space for more than once person working in the kitchen at a time. The only "work space" is where the turkey is -- the cake pan beyond is sitting on our 3-burner stove top. The drawers below hold pots, pans, our dishes, silverware. Anytime someone is standing there working, he or she is blocking an item the other person needs...  So while we would like to "cook together" we seem to inevitably get in each other's way.

I  will not complain, though. This is a large kitchen compared to others I've seen.

And now the leftovers are packaged and put away to be brought out again over the next few days.  We had a nice time with a friend who with his family (all away this year) has been "our extended family in Japan" for many years. We are going to miss them.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Watching God work...part 2

It doesn't take long for a new missionary in Japan to learn that not every "yes" means "yes."  Those "yes" answers might mean that they don't want to offend by saying "no." I have invited people to events, and they've said they would come, but inevitably something would come up and they would call, or worse yet, they wouldn't call.  It doesn't take long to get cold feet and not invite people or to become skeptical of people's answers.

Yesterday, my trainer from Curves made it to ICCS.  Each time I went to the gym over the past two weeks, she mentioned she would be coming on the 18th. So I was expecting to see her, but there was always that little fear... Yet I haven't been pressuring her, she has been pursuing this, and as I wrote in my last entry, it has been fun to watch God work.

My trainer, M-san, is on the right
She arrived just in time for worship--which this week was mostly in English. (She is not an English-speaker). Nevertheless, she seemed to enjoy it.  The sermon was translated side by side, and she seemed engaged with it.  We had our small group prayer times, this week for Djibouti, and she sat there listening to the groups around the room praying for this nation. After the service she stayed for our covered dish lunch, and was able to talk with a number of those in attendance. And after the lunch she stayed while we got our our Operation Christmas Child boxes out and finished packing them to be sent out this week. She seemed to have a good time and exchanged numbers with one of our young business women. I think she wants to come again--several times when something would come up in conversation that she apparently thought might get in the way of her returning, she asked if it was okay to come back.

Today she whispered "thank you" as I stepped into my place in the circuit at Curves.  

As I worked my way around today, I looked at the faces of other women.  Some are part of the "old-timers" group where we share encouraging greetings with one another. But others have very sad or unhappy faces and aren't responsive--yet. I wonder what other women God is reaching out to there.
This was the first year we did Operation Christmas boxes.  Samaritan's Purse has a good reputation in Japan as a result of the ministries they extended to people in the Tohoku area after the earthquake, and this seems to be one way people can give back.  I hope that through our efforts there are children in the Philippines (the destination of the boxes from Japan) who feel loved and cared for.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Watching God work...

When I started attending the local ladies' gym last year, it was because I needed to start exercising.  Joining with my coworker and friend, Barbara, made it easier to enter that first time.  Over the past year we have both made a point of trying to engage in contact with both customers and trainers in some way. 

In that first blog post I mentioned the song on the "Worship Track" -- This Little Light of Mine. Our "approach" is through greetings, a smile, making efforts to engage in small talk and answering questions that come our way. People know when we've been gone for a while and often ask where we've been if they haven't seen us recently. At a restaurant one day, Barbara had one lady make a point of telling her friends that Barbara is "her friend."  (We don't know this woman's name...)
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. from 1 Peter 3:15 
In April, two new trainers came to the gym to join the two that were already there.  One of them, M-san, found out that we were missionaries, and mentioned that she had gone to Sunday school as a child. She hadn't been to church for a while, but seemed open.

From April through October, I was gone at least half the time with graduation/wedding/summer break/trip to the US for class/A2 fall gathering.  But Barbara continued to go faithfully multiple times a week.  One day recently, M-san asked her if she could visit one of our churches.  She had received a brochure in the mail for a church in her area (and didn't know anything about it), but that seemed to have gotten her interested in visiting. Barbara encouraged her to check with me, since ICCS is closer to where M-san lives.

I've given her a map, and invited her to come. She knows we're an international church, but seems glad to know that she is welcome.  Each time I go to the gym, she makes a point of speaking about her intentions to visit.Today she said she plans on coming on Nov. 18, which is covered dish Sunday. This will be a great week for a newcomer to visit.

What I am enjoying about this is watching God work.  He is drawing her. He is putting things in her path to remind her of things she heard probably 20-25 years ago.

If you are one to pray, please pray for M-san. We know that even as she opens her heart to attend church and connect with believers that Satan will try to interrupt and distract her.

Meanwhile, I'm finished traveling for a while and hope to attend the gym more frequently.  I'm seeing a few more opportunities to be that "little light" and want to keep on shining.  Plus, I need to lose some weight...

Thursday, November 01, 2012

What does this picture say?

Walking into a store with a food court last weekend, I was struck by the display.  Most likely, one of these at a time would have been non-impressive, but together it didn't make sense to me.
  • Seeing the Colonel in his Santa Suit already, goes along with the push to pre-order your "traditional American Kentucky Fried Chicken Christmas dinner." But the sign he's holding is not selling chicken for Christmas, but tells us that every 28th of the month is "chicken day."
  • The Baskin-Robbins Halloween display is descriptive of how Halloween has become a  marketing focus here (still a bit cuter than ghoulish). I don't think that there was any Halloween when we first came to Japan in the dark ages.

The McDonald's arches filled out the visual overload. Think of this--we are in Japan.  All of these are imports.  They exist along side Japanese fast food outlets in the food court.  People can take their pick--do I feel like burgers or beef bowl, fried chicken or ramen, ice cream or manju (steamed buns with filling).

 It has been said that some Japanese are Shinto when born, Christian when married (so called Christian wedding chapels are a big business here) and Buddhist at death. The challenge we have as followers of Jesus is not settling for Christianity to be one of the "religions on the shelf" or options in the food court.

A time for training

From October 25-29 Asian Access Japan held a training and team-building event for our shorter term missionaries in Tohoku. We have recently filled out our Tohoku team with three new missionaries who arrived on the 22nd. Two career families also just arrived in Sendai from their previous assignments in the Kansai area. 

The shorter term missionaries met on Thursday evening and spent Friday doing work in the Ishinomaki area, helping with various ministries that have come as a result of the tsunami response. The Japan Leadership Team arrived on Friday evening, and on Saturday morning any available career missionaries in the area joined us for the day. 

We stayed at a lodge on the Morigo Camp facility about 20 minutes north of Sendai.  This area was used as a base by Samaritan's Purse and other relief workers up until a few months ago.  The facility we were in was very nice and comfortable. The  older main camp lodge was damaged by the earthquake, and will need to be rebuilt, but this one is very solid.

We began the training time with some of the CPA (Church Planting Associate) missionaries sharing ethnographic studies they had done of their areas. The most complete and fascinating (to me) was the one shared by Nozomi (right in the photo) who lives in downtown Tokyo. She had some excellent insights into the life of people in her area, well worth  publishing.  Sue (left)  the trainer overseeing this project. prayed for her afterward. Others also presented their studies, with interesting insights. This exercise provides both understanding of their ministry area and ideas for more focused and needs-based approaches to sharing the Gospel.

We also had several training topics presented by others in the mission.

Mike and Mary Jo talked about  Bounded Sets and  Centered Sets and how those concepts can be applied to churches.

The talks always prompted interesting discussions.

We were blessed to have Bob Hay from SIM with us (left above with his hand raised), who had served in Japan with another organization for 10 years previously. His Japanese speaking ability was still amazing after years away!  Bob is involved in mobilizing missionaries for Japan through our Strategic Partnership with SIM. Spending time with the Asian Access missionaries and visiting ministry locations helps him as he shares the opportunities with potential missionaries from the United States.

On Saturday, the career missionaries in the area joined us for the training time.  It was good to be all together.  This also meant we had a large number of our younger missionary task force with us, as well.

These three were with us the whole time, bringing joy to us all.

One of the volunteers from Ishinomaki came down and spent time with the older missionary kids.  We were grateful that the weather was nice that day so they could take advantage of the outside.

The next day it poured!

Usually our next all-mission event would be held in Mid March, which would leave us with 5-6 months until we see each other again, but in 2013 we are going to meet Mid May, instead. For some who work in areas with few coworkers, saying goodbye was hard.