Saturday, August 31, 2013

“Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

 Two weeks ago we attended the Sunday evening service in a fast-growing church here in Charlotte.  We were struck by the work that God is doing through the ministry of this congregation.

They announced that the next two weeks would be baptism in all their services at all their locations.  We decided to drop in this evening to see one of these baptism services.  They announced that last week, 1800 people had been baptized across their multiple sites.

We don't know the numbers baptized tonight, but they had two tanks and several pastors that rotated through the baptism.  While some people had come anticipating being baptized, they also encouraged others to follow Christ's command to publicly declare their faith in Christ. The passage they spoke on was Acts 8:36 where the Ethiopian eunuch, in responding to the Scriptures, said 
“Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”
Toward the end of the service in the auditorium, they called out for any who wanted to be baptized to follow ushers to changing facilities. They had prepared bags for those who chose to be baptized with the t-shirts, shorts, undergarments flip flops and toiletries.

They were well prepared with staff and logistics to handle a large number of baptisms.  We cheered as each person came up out of the water...many who were obviously full of joy at the step they had made. There were several families who were baptized, and we saw two couples literally baptized together as another pastor would stand outside the tank and help baptize the second person.

We love baptisms. Indeed, we find them a great cause for celebration, and always enjoyed it when we could hold baptisms at the International Community Chapel of Saitama.  And so as we sat watching these baptisms, there was joy mingled with sadness.  Joy because we loved witnessing people making this public stand for Jesus. Sadness because it both brought back good memories of our baptisms back "home" while reminding us that there were very few baptisms in our final term, and there are still two baptisms we long to see within our own family.

As the service wrapped up, and Stan went up close to look at the tank (he has spent the last 23 years looking at baptism tanks...), we were greeted by one of those assisting in the service. It was hard for us to even find words to express what we were feeling, and God used this man and his wife to give some comfort and encouragement to us that we very much needed. It was a well-timed God moment and we were touched by his prayer for us and for a specific request we had shared.

We left and headed back home, but on our way out were struck by the fact that the Chick Fil A was open across the street.  We wondered out loud  "What is the world coming to? Aren't they supposed to be closed on Sundays?"

...  It took a few seconds of mental processing to remember that this is Saturday night...

Monday, August 26, 2013

The power of comparison in estimation of "stuff"

Today our international shipment was delivered.  We were told it was coming in it's shipping container which had to go through x-ray at US customs last week. "Routine," they said.  From the day when we started taking bids until today, I have not had a good sense of whether we were moving an excessive amount of stuff or not. 

 When the movers drove up the container, I was a bit fearful, because it looked bigger than I had hoped.

So coming around to the back and looking into the just opened container, I was so relieved! (Though I wonder if we paid for all that open space...)  Stan estimated that our goods were in about 1/3 of the container.

Since we are renting this house for a yet undetermined amount of time, we asked to have the boxes stacked in the garage. We hope to get into some of them, and don't really want to get into others until we are truly ready to settle down and stay a while at our next home.  Sadly, all the numbers that identify the contents are on the top of each box. One of our next tasks will be to label the sides so we can determine what we need. (Like the rice cooker ... though I do have a general idea of where they put that box). And Stan found his fishing poles and tools.

This is the photo that gives me the perspective, though.  I've seen lots of garages much more full than this as we've gone around neighborhoods in America. With that comparison, I can breathe a sigh of relief.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Standing just past the middle of my transition bridge...

For nearly a year I have used this image of a bridge to describe our move from Japan to the US, and all the associated emotions and stages that we have to experience in the process.

It has taken a lot of emotional and physical energy to get to the center of the bridge. We began the whole process of Leaving with all the goodbyes, and celebrations, and unsettling about a year ago.  There was a clear time when we knew we would make it to "the middle" as we set a date to depart the country.

We've known the chaos of the move, of not having a place to call home, of feeling like strangers in Japan as we left and in the US as we entered. Ron Koteskey in his e-book Before You Go Home has described this Transit stage as beginning "when you leave your house in your host country and ends when you unpack your mind, not just your suitcase, in your passport country." While our suitcases are unpacked, I'm not quite sure about our minds...  Koteskey says that unpacking our minds" involves considering the good and difficult things that happened during your time in the other culture, and then fitting these experiences into your life story."  While we had a short debrief last week with a wonderful couple here at SIM, I think it will take longer to unpack our minds in the way he describes.  After all, we were there for 30+ years!  I appreciate Koteskey's suggestion that this is the time to emphasize abiding in our unchanging God, using John 15 as a guide.

Now that we are just beyond this center-of-the-bridge chaotic transit stage, we should begin Entering. It is clearly going to take us some time to feel like we have reentered this culture.  It is kind of overwhelming when I remember the statistics from my Missionary Transitions class last fall--for every 5 years on the field, expect 1 year of adjustment.  Do you realize that means it could be 6 - 7 years before we feel settled!!!???  My prof mentioned that we were cheating a little bit, since we were returning to serve in a mission office where there would be people with similar life stories and greater understanding of what we were experiencing . So while the time getting to this point on our bridge was fairly defined, knowing when we step off onto "solid" ground and feel mostly at home is not so clear.

You know, there are moments for each of us when we think it would be easier to be back in Japan.  I'm so grateful that we are sure that God called us back to serve here. He has led us to Charlotte and to SIM USA, where we will begin important work in equipping and encouraging missionaries serving around the world. We need to remember God's words to Joshua as he led the people of Israel back to their land--Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. (Joshua 10:25)

Updates in the entering process:

  • Our shipment we sent from Japan over seven weeks ago arrives tomorrow.  I'm not sure whether to be excited or overwhelmed! We will store most of it in the garage of this house, and save opening many boxes until we are settled in our "permanent" house. 
  • We need to focus on getting our North Carolina drivers' licenses in the next couple of weeks. 
  • One son is working at SIM on the grounds and maintenance staff. The other son is applying for jobs in the area. 
  • We hope to purchase our own home sometime in the next six months to a year. We are not sure when we should begin the process, but expecting another move within this time-period extends the Transit stage a bit in our minds and hearts. At the same time, we are truly thankful for a lovely place to call home for now.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Some thoughts on visiting churches

The thought crossed my mind on June 16 that we were going to be visitors in churches for a very long time. That was the first Sunday after our farewell at the International Community Chapel of Saitama.

Stan and I have never together chosen a church in our soon to be 30 years of marriage. There are churches one of us was affiliated with before marriage, and many of those generously support our ministries. Each church represents some level of relationship with us which is wonderful.

But now that we've made it to Charlotte, where we have no church relationships,  the visiting is beginning in earnest. We are not just looking for a place to worship, but for a community to connect with and a church to call home.  We've been to three churches now (yes, only two Sundays, but today we decided to on a double-header). Each one has been a unique cultural experience for us. We've visited a few more via their web pages, and wonder how far is too far when it comes to driving to church.  One pastor's intro video repeatedly stated  that he was a New York Yankee's fan, and that Red Sox' fans (my husband, for example) just might not feel too comfortable there...  ;-)

Last Sunday we attended with friends which eased  the newcomer experience. This Sunday we headed to churches on our own. At one, we made the effort to get the "visitor's packet" at the information booth--no one seemed to be looking for newcomers.  At the second one, there was a well-trained team of greeters who quickly determined we were new and gave us our "VIP" packet, and with that in our hands, others we met on the way in were quick to welcome us.

In some ways its like dating. We are looking for a relationship--preferably long term. But we also don't want to commit to the first one that comes along, just because it's uncomfortable to not belong to anyone.  One thing that is different from dating is that we have no question that there are lots of options out there!

In most of these churches, if we want to further check out the fit, we're going to have to "go home" with them to get a feel of how they run outside the Sunday worship.  This means attending/joining a small group. And most of these start in a couple of weeks...  or we wait a while. We need to trust God will direct us to His church for us in His timing, meanwhile we are privileged to see many unique pieces of the mosaic that makes up the Body of Christ.

Next week we drive an hour away to meet up with  friends of Stan's going back to college days in New England...and their Sunday School teacher and wife who are former A2 (LIFE) missionaries from around 25 years ago. (Its a Small World music plays here...)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cultural adjustment space

We wrapped up our three weeks in California last Monday and flew to Charlotte on Tuesday, August 6. We stayed at a guest house across the street from the SIM USA headquarters for the first week, while we worked along side a great staff at SIM to set up the house that we are renting for the next season.  


The mission recently purchased this home about a 10 minute walk away from the headquarters for shorter- term rental and they gave us the option of choosing what furniture we wanted in the house from what they had in storage. This 3 bedroom house is lovely.  We're just beginning to get the feel for what life is like with space... maybe even living with teenage sons will be easier with room to move around as well as "get away." So far we each seem to have found "our corners" and they are in separate rooms.

To get a feel for how different this is for us consider that from where I am standing to the doorway going into the dining room is the size of our 2nd floor kitchen/dining/living room in Japan the past three years. There are so many cabinets, counter space and even the island in the center.  I'm a bit overwhelmed!

Trying to figure out the logical placement of kitchen supplies will take us a while.  The oven is on one side and the stove-top cooking is on the opposite side of the kitchen. The sink is on an angle with a window that overlooks the living room. Basically, everything is FAR away. Today as I broke eggs for scrambled eggs, I couldn't figure out whether to do it near the sink--so I could toss the eggs shells there, or do it next to the stove top and find something to collect the shells so I could walk them across the kitchen to throw them away.

Sometime in the next 12 months we hope to purchase our own home. Until then, we have decided to enjoy this one to full.

One of the best part of this house?  NO STAIRS!  After living on three floors for three years, we are so thankful that everything is on one level.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

An opportunity to hear from us in Glendora on Sunday, August 4.

This weekend we share about our ministry and transition at 
Cornerstone Bible Church in Glendora, CA. 
Join us at the Koinonia class from 9:30 a.m.
or contact us for details on an afternoon informal gathering from 4 ~ 6 p.m. in La Verne.

What happens in ...

One of the gifts my parents left to us Brooks kids is a timeshare ownership, and we finally had an opportunity to use it the week our boys were at their MK Transition seminars.  The only challenge was finding a place to go on the west coast in mid-July for our available exchange points.  We finally settled on a family resort with no on-site gambling in Las Vegas.  Our California friends don't seem to flinch when we say that city's name, but we know that it represents all kinds of things to many others.

This was the view from our balcony in the evenings as we faced west.  We spent time out there reading and watching the sky (when it wasn't 117F).  Our first two nights the city was hit with severe thunderstorms and flash floods.  We were safe and dry the first night, caught out it it the second.

Just outside of Las Vegas is a geological formation, called Red Rock Canyon, and our resort took a bus load of us out for a morning trip to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area. It was beautiful and we enjoyed time at the visitor's center as well as the few stops we made along the 13 mile scenic loop. 

If I remember right, some of the stone has oxidized, producing the red color. We joked that it looked like someone had randomly painted it red above a certain line, and occasionally missed a few spots.

Just to prove we were there...

And yes, we were in Las Vegas.  Here is a photo of the "strip" of casinos and hotels from the roof balcony of our resort...far enough away. yet a 15-30 minute shuttle ride from our resort. Between the strip and our resort is the Las Vegas airport. We had actually been here once before--on our last home assignment we stayed one night on our way back from visiting the Grand Canyon.  We thought that one visit would do it for us...but here we were again.

We returned with a plan. We wanted to see one Cirque du Soleil show, and I wanted to see the canals in the Venetian.  I had seen a show (in Japanese) about them finishing up the Canal walk and thought it would be fun.  We were able to get very discounted tickets to the Cirque du Soliel ~ Beatles "Love" show by sitting through a 90 minute time share presentation...and gratefully walked out not having purchased another "property."  We enjoyed the show--and yet were glad we paid the discount price, not the full price for it.

And we made it to the Venetian the second night in Vegas.  It was a lovely walk, and we enjoyed seeing the gondolas. There were some disappointments--few of the gondoliers were singing, and it was a much shorter canal than we expected.  We talked about going on one of the rides ourselves later in the week, but decided not to. That evening we were caught in the rain and thunderstorm as we walked the strip to catch our hotel shuttle bus...a little slip-sliding on the way, but we made it safely back.

There were other things to do besides visit the canyon and the strip.  We went to the National Atomic Testing Museum which was an interesting presentation on the development of the Atomic bomb, the testing in Nevada, etc. It also had a little "Area 51" display related to the possibility of alien life forms which was not worth the extra money. It reminded us of middle school science fair projects, and most of the information is freely displayed on the Discovery Channel at least once a year.

We also stopped by the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop featured in the History Channel's TV show, "Pawn Stars." We opted for the free tour and stood in a fairly short line at the end of the day to walk through their small shop with an add-on for all the tourist goods (like a T-shirt with Chumlee on it...WHY?). We did this one for our boys...

On Sunday we attended Central Christian Church's Southwest Campus.  It was a "box church" with a live band and site pastor, and the sermon on a feed. We appreciated the service and the sermon. There were at least two if not three other churches in the same warehouse complex--I guess an updated version of a church on every corner. 

By far, though, our main objective in this week was to rest and relax after all the weeks and months of goodbyes and packing. And the resort had just what we needed for that.

We floated around on the "Lazy River" several afternoons, and then sat back in beach chairs and enjoyed being still.

On our last afternoon, this was the view from that beach chair.

There was also a regular swimming pool, places for people to grill (we were invited to join a group of parents of high school basket ball players from somewhere in Minnesota for one dinner), and a couple of restaurants right on the grounds.  As you can see, we could look one direction and think we were in the tropics, and another direction and realize we were in the high desert...

And there were plenty of times where we just watched the sky.  It was beautiful, and even though the temperatures were between the high 90's and 117 ("its dry heat, you know," people kept saying) we were able to be comfortable.  What we were continuously aware of is how tired we were, and it wasn't related to the temperature. And we still are...

Oh, and while the famous saying, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas may be floating around out there, the truth is also clearly stated on several billboards around the city: