Friday, October 25, 2013

Soul work...
The fall Home Assignment Retreat at SIM USA concluded this evening over dinner. We participated as much as we were able--both of us ended up with Dr's appointments crowding into what we had set aside for this retreat.  This was disappointing since we met each day at a lovely Bed and Breakfast about 30 minutes from Charlotte, and had to figure in quite a bit of extra time to make these appointments.Not only were we absent a little, but others also had schedule challenges that cut into the time of reflection. 

Even so, we appreciated being able to meet a few more SIM missionaries, most of whom have Africa experience along with  another couple with years of service in South America. And then there were three of us who had been in Japan ( our Asian Access colleague, Dee, joined us).  And did we have stories over meals! There is nothing quite so interesting as a group of missionaries swapping stories from different parts of the world!

Missionaries need to have a time and place to get away.  
  • Listening to the schedules many of these people have, they are on the road, speaking at multiple locations for weeks on end.  Of course they want to connect with their ministry partners and report on the work they've been a part of over the previous term--but it can be grueling. 
  • Many of them are dealing with family matters-- elderly parents, disenfranchised children, leaving children behind for college as they return to the other side of the world as empty-nesters. 
  • Future ministry assignments will bring changes, usually more and unanticipated responsibility.
  • Retirement questions come up with the awareness that they may need to locate to a place in their "home country" that won't feel very much like home, Often the missionaries question what they will do with themselves in retirement--especially when they still would love to be actively serving the Lord.
  • While at the US office, they are introduced to new computer programs and ways of doing things--that are incredibly efficient to those who promote them, and usually quite threatening to those who don't have time to implement the changes, or didn't grow up in the computer age, or who still have internet speeds in their fields of service measured in KB not MB.
More than one missionary talked about the significance of Psalm 23 in their lives.  There is great comfort in knowing that we have a Shepherd who cares for our every need--including being led beside still waters and having our souls restored. Our hope and prayer is that even though we experienced a choppy retreat schedule, that each one benefited from some soul work and restoration. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Some thoughts on this season's anchor passage, Psalm 37

If you've followed my writing for a while, you know that frequently I choose a passage of the Bible to "hang out in" during different seasons of my life. I call these my anchor passages. I grab hold of them and find stability, assurance, a place to solidly meditate while my little boat of life is tossing up and down in the open sea. I may have learned that term from my dad--I can't actually remember. I do know that at his funeral, one of his friends told me how my dad had encouraged him to find an anchor passage.

On our home assignment four years ago, I rested in Psalm 23. Two years ago, in the aftermath of the triple disaster in Japan and while tottering on burnout, I immersed myself in Isaiah 55. While moving from Japan this summer, Psalm 84 reminded me of God giving me strength to strength as he led me through the transition wilderness.

A few weeks ago, Psalm 37 caught my eye, and I've been camping there while doing the work of settling into a new place to call home and a new context in which to serve in ministry.  I have also been using the English Standard Version (ESV) this time which has made some familiar verses look a little different. 

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

Psalm 37: 3 (ESV)

Reflection 1: 
As we're making the adjustments to a new location, visiting churches, trying to change our thinking from old patterns that we've developed over the years of the 4-year-field/1-year-home assignment life to making this our home, it has been good to read consistently, dwell in the land.  God has lead us. Trusting in him, settle down, dwell, make it home.

Reflection 2:
If you've spent most of your life looking at this verse in the NIV, you will see the phrase that sticks out is befriend faithfulness. The NIV's say enjoy safe pastureThere is something about the term "befriend" that intrigues me. A sense of "hanging out" with faithfulness, actively pursuing faithfulness as you would a friend. I don't have any other great insights, but I really like the phrase.

I imagine there will be many more reflections from this passage as I go along. Already as I hear some of the painful stories of difficult situations in a few of our missionaries' lives, I am drawn to the verses that talk about the Lord dealing with the wicked and holding the hand of those who delight in the Lord, keeping them from stumbling. And of course there is the "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him" of verse 7--another command that I seem to see repeatedly.

So, how about you? How do you dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It was a different time to be a missionary, and other reflections

My parents married in June and were on a ship to Brazil in October to begin their missionary service... My mom was from a small town in North Dakota, my dad from a slightly larger one in Minnesota.  They had met in Bible School, and in the final year, when they discovered they were both called to do ministry in Brazil, decided God had called them to do it together. They left the US with little financial support and a lot of trust.

A couple of years ago, we ran across my dad's journal from those first years along with letters my mother had written to her parents.  It was an interesting testament to their faith and confidence in a God who provides.  At the same time, as a Member Care professional I read the material with awareness of what challenges were created by their choices.

These days, recently married missionaries are frequently required to be in their home country for one year before departing to the mission field. They are expected to have a level of support sufficient to settle and live prior to departure. It is best if they go with an organization that has a sound administrative structure (my grandfather handled their finances as there was no US office).

My parents returned to the States for several reasons. The one most frequently mentioned was "for my mother's health."  The one less mentioned, but probably more to the core of the matter, was that after personal study, my dad had chosen to follow a different interpretation of eschatology, which didn't go over well in their organization. One of the biggest reasons that people leave the mission field is relational conflict.  I'm wondering if that didn't play into their departure.

Once in the US, my dad helped organize the US office and raised funds for their mission organization.  So their overseas missionary service came to an end at around the 8 year mark--not that uncommon a length of term these days, but abbreviated from what they had anticipated.

Eventually dad was led to pursue academia, with the heart of a missionary to the secular campus. He had another brief foray into formal missions later, but was most at home in the classroom. He was always teaching...this summer as we visited the red rocks park outside Las Vegas both Stan and I found ourselves thinking that he would have taken great pains to explain to us how it was formed! We had the same sensation when we were at Ridgecrest, NC last week!

My mom began a long pursuit of her own. Having only her Bible school certificate, she began taking college classes when my brother was born. She graduated with a bachelor degree 16 years later, the same year my younger sister graduated with hers. Over the next few years she worked on a Masters in counseling, completing it at age 56.  It was a couple of years later that she had her first diagnosis of breast cancer. Following recovery, she started a counseling practice, focusing particularly on children. This sweet "grandma lady" was incredibly wise and perceptive.

Mom took time out of her counseling practice to accompany me back to Japan with our twin sons after they were naturalized in the US.  It was her first visit to Japan -- and it coincided with cherry blossom season. The ladies of my Bible Study welcomed her.

A year later, she returned along with my dad to visit both us and my brother and family who were stationed in Japan with the Navy. During that visit, she began having pains that turned out to be the return of her cancer, this time metastasized in her liver.

Whenever I flew back to Japan the last year of my mom's
life,we wondered if we would see one another again.
Still we managed to smile.
The next year and a half are somewhat a blur in my mind. I flew to the US a few times to be with her during the process.  I ended up having to be the one to communicate to her that she wasn't going to "win" this battle with cancer. [That same task fell to me a few years ago with my dad.] She died a little over a month after her 65th birthday.

Today I am particularly reminded of my mom as it would have been her 80th birthday. Mom continued to be a woman of great faith.  The notes in her Bible school journals weren't any more or less faith-filled than the way she lived her life out in the later years. She trusted God as a naive young, young woman from North Dakota on her way to Brazil, and as a wizened woman on her way to her eternal home.

The woman I am today would love to talk with the woman my mother was.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Friends in difficult places...

We have several friends who are in difficult places because of health issues.  Each of them are committed followers of Jesus and have served Him in full-time ministry.  Others are walking through challenging relationships.  I am reminded of a quote from one of the presentations at our recent Pastors to Missionaries Conference:

The God of light insists on traveling into dark places; 
the God of peace continuously involves Himself in the wars of men;
the God who is good engages the depth of human evil.
Let us not forget that God is on a journey that none of us can take without Him.

from Chasing Daylight: Seize the Power of Every Moment by Erwin McManus

As we spent time studying Psalm 23, our speaker reminded us that we are a shepherded people, and that our Shepherd would take us to various places:

  1) Places of soul renewal
  2) Right paths, paths of holy living
  3) The valley of the shadow of death
  4) A prepared table fit for a king in the presence of our enemies
  5) Pursued by goodness and mercy  (The conference theme was Relentlessly Pursued)
  6) The House of the Lord forever!

So as our friends find themselves led by the Shepherd through valleys, while others are at different places, the one assurance that we have is that our God will never leave us. He is with us in those places.

We pray that our friends will find that it is well with their soul.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Today I'm missing...

... My beauty shop in Higashi Kurume, with the weird and fashion-confused stylists who would murmur under their breath as they gently lifted each segment of hair to cut. The cost was about $25 with no tip and I almost always left extremely satisfied. Instead I went to a local Smart Clips shop and ended up with a "stylist" who told me how amazed she was that she cut the back of my hair so well... I don't see that she did damage, but I am going to continue the quest to find a new hair stylist.

...the irasshaimase (welcome)  and arigato gozaimasu (thank you) greetings when I enter and leave a store. Being acknowledged when I walk into a store or food establishment is nice. Today I walked in, looked around and walked out of two different stores without being acknowledged or welcomed.

...having been a part of a training session that the Asian Access missionaries had in Tokyo on ministering cross culturally, with a leader in this field. I always enjoyed being with the mission family and interacting at these events. Seeing the pictures of them on Facebook makes me miss them. fall and winter clothes. I know they are in the garage somewhere, but so far I haven't run across them.  Next week we head up towards mountains for a conference, and it would be nice to have a few of my warmer layers.

...leading my ladies Bible Study at the International Community Chapel of Saitama.  I've attended two different studies these past weeks, and being with groups of ladies reminds me of these wonderful women who meant so much to me as we studied together.  I don't know whether anyone else stepped up to lead them this year, or if they are having to find other places to fellowship.

THIS WEEK I WENT TO THE JAPANESE FOOD STORE!  I had been looking at the "Asian food" sections in the regular grocery stores, and was fairly disappointed.  I tried my hand at making my own Japanese curry without the box turned out okay except that I accidentally read tablespoon rather than teaspoon for salt...  But it also called for a sauce (Tonkatsu) that I hadn't seen in the regular grocery store. I ran out of the rice I picked up locally, and so I decided I needed to find the Japanese store.

As I walked in, it was so familiar. Literally, from the candy at the front through the entire small store, it took me back home. I picked up yakisoba (fried noodle) packages--the same brand my boys lived on whenever we were away. At first they seemed expensive (nearly $4, or twice what I paid for them at my local Seiyu) but then I remembered that this would feed one boy 3 times. I can't get American fast food for them at that price.  I also picked up Tonkatsu sauce, mirin (for much less than the regular markets here), and rice.  At the counter, I spoke one word in Japanese to initiate the transaction--and it was Japanese all the way after that. So naturally.

I left happy.