Friday, May 24, 2013

Celebrating our years with Asian Access

One of the joys of the"long goodbye" we are experiencing is that of having time to celebrate the work God has done through out our years of service.  

Nearly two weeks ago, we had the privilege of  reflecting with the Asian Access family at our annual retreat.

Joe Handley, President of Asian Access, opened our time with prayer. We are grateful for the support of Asian Access leadership as we have made the decisions to change our ministry location.  We will continue to serve the Asian Access missionary family even in our new roles from SIM USA in Charlotte, which helps a lot!

A slide show summarized our years of service, starting with Stan in 1979... We may try to get it uploaded here at some time in the future. They had also made arrangements for our daughters to join us from opposite sides of the world via Skype. One was up past midnight and the other had just gotten out of bed to start her day.

The mission gave us a lovely woodblock print...

...which Stan showed to the girls.

The celebration closed with the mission family surrounding  us physically and in prayer. 

Later that evening we had a time of celebrating milestones before the annual talent show.

 Our sons weren't with us, but they were honored for graduating from high school (in faith--since graduation is two weeks away).  This is our best imitation of their dynamic expressions of appreciation as we stood in for them.


And then the show began.  In the career reprise, there were a number of references to Stan performing Neil Diamond's "America."

It had originally been performed at the closing evening for summer "Scrum Dendo" missionaries.   As these young people had spent 10 weeks in Japan and were gearing up to get on the plane the next morning,they responded well to a rousing "air band" performance of the song, which ends with the refrain...

Got a dream to take them there
They're coming to America
Got a dream they've come to share
They're coming to America

They're coming to America
They're coming to America
They're coming to America
They're coming to America
Today, today, today, today, today

I was glad that Stan gave the encore performance.  Hey, most of our missionaries are too young to even know who Neil Diamond is...  And I'm expecting that song to be played as we head to the plane on July 13...

One of the final acts started with this screen, and I knew I was in trouble.

If you can't read the smaller print, it is "What Would Faith Do?"  Since I've had a variety of leadership positions, and have been called on to advise our missionaries in various life issues, I didn't know what to expect.

A panel of "experts" were given questions with multiple answers and needed to choose what I would have recommended.  I was then asked to respond.  Most of my answers ended up with the choice that included others taking on the stated responsibilities, while I moved to Charlotte.  There is total truth in that.

As of the end of the retreat I have turned over the Member Care responsibilities to a very capable team. They will do well, and I think there may come a time when I'll wish other countries had as committed and capable staff as Japan does. 

All but the original Neil Diamond photo, courtesy of Robert Adair. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pacing and Praying

We returned from Karuizawa on Monday after our Annual Asian Access Japan retreat.  The pace of this retreat was very welcome--the messages were on prayer, and a prayer team came from the States to minister to us through out the time.  There was lots of "white space" in the schedule which was a gift to all of us who are in some way or another in need of time to catch up with ourselves.

We were honored on Saturday afternoon with a farewell celebration. Hopefully I'll get a link to the slide show and share it with you. We also were blessed to have our daughters join us through Skype--though that meant one was up past midnight and the other had just gotten out of bed in the morning.  And Stan did a couple of his comedy routines at the Family Fun night on Sunday evening. (For those who have seen them, he did Betty Lou, and the Neil Diamond "America" reprise).

On Tuesday morning, Stan headed to a four-day Prayer Summit. He was at the first one in Japan 19 years ago, and has attended several through the years. This seemed like good timing for him.

I met up with some ladies from the ICCS Ladies Bible Study on Wednesday for a great lunch at a Brazilian restaurant in Tokyo.  It was delightful to spend time with them around the table, and I shared my "favorite verse" with them--Proverbs 3:5 & 6. I know that each one of these women wants to follow Christ more and more in their lives, and I expect they will continue to encourage one another in the future.

Today I was at the Asian Access office going over some aspects of my role that are being picked up by others now. I am thankful for a competent and willing team and leave them to grow in their tasks.  And I am at peace that they will do well.

Stan still has a few weeks of sermons ahead.  Our church is joining two others in Tokorozawa on Sunday for the Global Day of Prayer, and he has been a part of that planning, and then he preaches at ICCS the 26th, June 2nd and June 9. The transition leadership team is planning on a congregational meeting on the 26th to go over details of their plans for the next phase.  And they are planning a farewell for us on June 9 and all our children will be with us!

I have a calendar that I've used for the past 4 1/2 months that shows that we're nearing the 8-weeks-to-go mark. Tomorrow I have a phone call scheduled with the shipping company that we're going to use to send our household goods back to the US.  We are making good progress in going through things, and throwing substantial amounts away. I am amazed at how much freedom I feel when I walk away from those garbage bags put out on the curb!

We still have some things to work through--like what to do with the things we aren't going to take..."garage sales" aren't too very common here! We also need to find a place to stay the last week and a half or so before we close up this house. We don't need it now, so I am trying not to worry about that one...

I still stay awake at night wondering how it will all get done--yet know that it is possible if I continue to pace myself well. It appears that we have raised close to 40% of the shipping cost which has to be paid at the end of June, and we trust God will provide the remainder in time.

Meanwhile, it is a matter of taking things one day at a time.  Pacing ourselves as best we can.  If you are a praying person, please pray that we get restful sleep. My earnest prayer is that we will make it through this moving season healthy in mind, soul and body, enjoying our final days with friends here while we wrap up all those loose ends.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Oh the changes we've seen! (And God has faithfully provided!)

We are progressing through boxes of files--some that haven't been opened in five to ten years.  Today Stan took 100 kg (~220 pounds) of paper to the city refuse center. Since there was quite a bit of personal data involved, we wanted it to be delivered straight to the incinerator, rather than to be recycled.

Even though we are throwing much away, we are also discovering treasures. For instance, I discovered our first support profile requiring $2,800 per month plus $7,275 for outgoing expenses. Lets just say it's considerably more than those figures now! 
The chart above illustrates how many yen you could get for $1 over the past 29 years. When we first came to Japan as a couple, the dollar would buy about 250 yen. Within that first year, the yen began to get stronger. The average over our whole career has been around 120 yen.  But in the past four years, the dollar hasn't been above the 100 yen mark, and averaged around 84 yen.

I suppose another way to illustrate this is with the 100 yen bottle of Coke.

When we first arrived, that 100 yen bottle of Coke was about 40 cents.

The average over our whole career has been round 85 cents.

The past four years, it has been $1.20.

(By the way, we have a Coke bottle collection from various countries in Asia.  Our movers have told us we can't ship the bottles to the US with the liquid in them. We're debating whether to have a coke-tasting party before packing the bottles, or pack them full in our checked luggage...)

Now many people don't really get into the numbers, so let me tie this all together.

When God led Stan and I to come to Japan, he provided funding through generous individual givers and churches, and that $2,800 per month was met amply.

As the years moved on, that monthly support figure ballooned because of cost of living, size of family and kids' education expenses, benefit and tax costs, along with the decreasing value of the dollar versus the yen. The Lord continued to provide through generous individuals and churches.

God has been faithful and His people have been faithful. As we come to the next funding challenge (relocating to the US is going to take more than that initial outgoing expense 29 years ago!) we trust in His provision as well.  And yet, there are those times when the refrain of the song 'Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus so clearly expresses my heart...
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I've proved Him o'er and o'er.
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus
O for grace to trust Him more.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Ten weeks and counting

It seems like a long-time ago that we told you how God was leading us to relocate to Charlotte, North Carolina to serve globally from the SIM USA sending office. Last October that we shared how Faith was asked to become the SIM USA Director of Member (Missionary) Care and Stan to utilize his pastoral and people skills in a portfolio of opportunities at the mission headquarters.

Now we are 10 weeks away from our departure and we are looking at shipping estimates, trying to sell furniture on Tokyo Craigslist, and sorting through boxes that we've stashed in closets in order to downsize what we take.

Last Wednesday, Faith had her last Bible study for the ladies of ICCS. At the same time, Stan was speaking for his last time at the Chapel of the Christian Academy in Japan.  This week we attend our final spring retreat as Asian Access missionaries.  Faith completes her responsibilities as Member Care Coordinator for the mission at the end of that retreat. On June 9 Stan will preach his final sermon at ICCS and we will enjoy a farewell celebration that afternoon with friends and all the members of our immediate family. (If you're in the Tokorozawa area, stop on by!)

Fall, 1984 outside our Language School

Over the past two months we've gone through and scanned many photos covering the 34 years of ministry in Japan. It has been a great season of remembrance and thanksgiving as the photos reminded us of people we served along side, others who heard the Gospel or were strengthened in their faith through our ministry.

We are also beginning to think more about the future and looking forward to using our life and ministry experiences as we share in the SIM USA office Mandate of Connecting God's people to God's work in the world. It is exciting to consider how we will be part of the mission movement, not only in Japan, but in 65+ countries around the globe as we serve from the States.

Thank you for praying with us through this season of transition. As we get closer to departure, we treasure your continued prayer for the myriad of decisions we have to make, resources needed to relocate, and emotional and relational stamina to leave Japan well.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The End of an Era

Yesterday I led my last Bible Class at the International Community Chapel of Saitama.  It was fitting that our final lesson was on the Resurrection. We started with Mark 16 but then went to the parallel accounts in the other Gospels. For many of the ladies it was the first time to cross reference the accounts. Each one has a little different perspective.  We found it interesting how the women in the story are entrusted with the message, even though the disciples have trouble believing them.  And we were grateful that we are a part of those called blessed, who not having seen yet have believed (John 20:29).

I have been leading Bible Studies at the church for most of the past 22 years. I clearly remember that our first study was based on the book, What Happens When Women Pray.  That year, one of the members asked us to pray that she would be able to have a child.  We prayed, and a few months later she stopped coming.  Eventually we received a phone call from her husband letting us know that she had been under bed rest through  a difficult pregnancy!  Their son is now college age.

 In early 1994 we had a women's retreat.  The speaker was the wife of the man in Japan coordinating the Billy Graham crusade that year. At that point we had several military wives attending, and we were able to rent space at a US military recreation facility for the retreat.

 Looking at this photo, I am reminded again about a time in studying First Peter, how the lady, second from the right, top row, realized the significance of  1:18 & 19. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. Sadly, to my knowledge, she never turned from the religious system that was handed to her from her ancestors to receive the redemption of Jesus Christ.

Here is a picnic with another season of study.  We enjoyed a picnic under the Cherry Trees.  

A couple of these women are foreign wives of Japanese.  For many years this has been a group of women who have been dear to my heart. The challenges of cross cultural living are made even more difficult by faith journeys that are different from their Japanese spouse.  I have been honored to be able to remind them of the fundamentals of God's love for them and His goodness. 

This photo is from April, 1996, when I had returned from the US with our sons. My mother had accompanied me back and we met together with the Bible study group.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to bring women to the Word these many years. I trust that God has used it in many of their lives to challenge and strengthen their faith.  I hope that others will step up to fill any gaps that I leave in this aspect of ministry.  Most of all, though, I hope that these women will have learned that they can read and understand the Bible for themselves, especially through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the process.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.  Romans 1:16

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Acts 20:32