Saturday, September 27, 2014

Concert and Church Bazaar announcements, and whining about being too busy

Today’s coffee: El Salvador, roasted by our friend, Tim!

Last week… was very busy, as was the week before, and the week before. I’ve gotten a lot done… put out a lot of fires… but there are still more fires to put out. As stress and work pile up, my Japanese level drops and I make lots of stupid mistakes playing the cello.

Speaking of cello, Mr. Darcy (modern cello) is currently in the shop. My next concert will be played entirely on baroque cello, with baroque, classical, and modern bows. Since we didn’t have time to put together an entirely new program, we chose pieces from our repertoire suitable for a cello with gut strings… but with short fingerboard and gently sloped neck, some of the pieces we chose are pushing things a bit. The Schubert “Arpeggione” sonata goes way off the end of the fingerboard.

For those of you for whom the last paragraph read like Japanese even though it wasn’t, let me summarize: this next concert will be a challenge. It will be a good challenge, I think, but a challenge all the same.

If anyone would like to come, the concert will be Sunday, October 12 at (I think) 1:30 p.m. at Kita Hiroshima church. (Address: 北広島市泉町1丁目2-3) Eventually there will be some sort of chirashi, I think. I’ll be playing Brahms’ e minor sonata (first movement), Schubert’s “Arpeggione” sonata, Mendelssohn’s D Major sonata (first movement), and a few surprises. Keith will be preaching for the worship service that morning.

However, before we get to the October 12 concert, there is also our church bazaar: Saturday, October 4, 11:00-2:00, at Wakaba Church. (Address: 石狩市花畔2条1丁目) Come early for best selection of cakes and cookies. People usually start lining up around 10:30. I will be playing cello outside to entertain people while they wait, weather permitting. After that, I’ll be making coffee and tea for the café corner.

As if that weren’t enough to keep me busy, we also have 2 conferences we’re going to in October… and we’re doing music for both of them. I will be spending the afternoon rewriting a song for the second of the two conferences. And then there’s the farm, which is still going strong…

I thought about writing something else, but my brain is full of… everything. Sorry for being whiny. This is the nature of missionary work: sometimes we get very busy when everything seems to pile up at once. If you are praying for us, please do pray that we will be able to get enough rest, and to complete all the stuff we have to do without worrying about it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Curiosity, concerts, and too much coffee

Today’s coffees: an espresso and a drip coffee (Kenya) from About Life Coffee Brewers and a latte from The Theatre Coffee. Oh, and there was also a matcha latte from Starbucks before that. I think I’m going to have the shakes.

Sharon, and espresso shots
Gorgeous espresso shot...
This was the Kenyan drip coffee. It kind of looks like I'm drinking coffee in the shower.
Latte with pretty art
So… it has been a crazy week. For the last week, I've not slept in the same bed twice in a row. I’ve been at home, in Nayoro, in Jozankei, and in Tokyo… I really wish all of these trips had been more spread out, but… this is just how it happened. Having taken care of various business this morning and then having had coffee with Sharon (yay!), I’m now killing time until it’s time to take the train to the airport. The weather is bad throughout Japan, so I’m hoping my flight is not too terribly delayed. I’m ready to park myself at home for a few weeks and sleep in my own bed…

The concert went well. I think we played well, and our colleagues, Tim and Miho and three church members did a great job of welcoming the guests. It was an honor to be a part of Nayoro Grace Church’s first outreach concert.

Playing Debussy with Shino
After the concert, with one of the church members and one of Tim and Miho's kids. Somehow we didn't get a picture with Tim and Miho...
Which brings me to the book I’ve been referring to for the last few weeks: I Once Was Lost. The second chapter is about encouraging curiosity about Jesus in those with whom we already have trust relationships. I realized that this is the stage into which most of my concerts will fall: church members bring friends, neighbors, and family members, who may or not have any interest in Christianity, and who might feel weird if they think they are coming to a concert and they get a sermon. In the past, when I was stressed out about preparing for concerts (especially the “testimony” or “message” bit), I felt like God was urging me simply to tell stories that point to him. As I think about it, that’s one way of encouraging people to be curious.

This time I played a favorite hymn (How Firm a Foundation) on Shamisen; before I played, I read Isaiah 41:10 and 43:1-2, the passages on which the lyrics are based, and told a story of how the song had encouraged me. I hope that through this simple testimony I was able to encourage an attitude of curiosity in members of the audience.

Well, time to go to the airport!

p.s. I actually wrote this yesterday, since I had time to kill. I made it home safely and on time, and yes, I got the shakes from too much coffee. Oops.

The sunset from the plane was beautiful... much more beautiful than this picture.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

温泉卵・Onsen eggs

This week on Monday and Tuesday, I went to Jozankei Onsen for a retreat with some of my colleagues. During Monday's free time, we happened to observe a man cooking eggs in onsen water--a special hot spring for eggs! We decided that we had to try it.

Here's what you do: put eggs in a basket or mesh bag, dunk in hot spring (70 degrees Celsius), wait 15-20 minutes. Easy! (If you are at Jozankei, we recommend spending the waiting time with your feet in the neighboring 足湯--foot bath.) 

My friend, Shirley eagerly waits to see how they will turn out. 

Done! (Heh heh... We cooked our eggs in an onion bag...)

Cello calluses make handling hot eggs easier.

15 minutes gives you quite a soft egg; we did ours for 18 minutes, and they were on the soft side of hard boiled. I imagine 20 minutes would be completely hard boiled.

I ate my eggs with ume-flavored dashi and soy sauce.

Keith preferred to eat his egg right out of the shell, topped with a little soy sauce.

Of course, some of you don't have access to special hot springs for cooking eggs, but you can get a similar result from cooking you eggs in 70 degree water on the stove, although I imagine the temperature would be hard to control.

And if you're worried about food poisoning because of low temperature, guess what? Japanese eggs are pasteurized. I assume you can get pasteurized eggs in some other countries too. But be careful, okay?

Friday, September 05, 2014


Today’s coffee: Dominican Republic

Here are a few stories from this week.

Our farm continues to provide us with more food than we can eat. We’ve more or less decided not to eat out until things slow down a bit. Since tomatoes are quite expensive in Japan, Keith, who loves tomatoes, planted 24 tomato plants, each of which produced 15+ large tomatoes. Keith also likes to eat pasta with tomato sauce. Last Saturday was a movie night for the youth group; we made a big pot of spaghetti sauce with sausage and eggplant. (I continue to be amazed at how much these skinny middle-school kids can eat.) Sunday night, we had leftover spaghetti. On Monday, we realized some of the tomatoes were starting to go bad (and we have no freezer space), so guess what? More spaghetti. Tuesday we had no time to cook… so, spaghetti. Wednesday and Thursday? You guessed it; spaghetti. Tonight I’m making soup.

Soup made from my mom's Italian tortellini soup recipe! Except you can't get tortellini here, so I stuffed wonton wrappers with ground chicken, basil, cheese and garlic. I made too many, so we deep fried the leftovers.
For our day off on Monday, we went hiking. Since we were pretty tired, we chose a hike close to home—手稲山 (Teine-yama), which we can see from in front of our house. We’ve not had a single day off with good weather since July; although we were both tired, we knew that we would regret it if we didn’t take advantage of the perfect hiking weather. The hike followed a stream with waterfalls for a lot of the way; then the final climb had us scrambling over boulders. From the top, we could see all of Ishikari and Sapporo… although it was a little weird to walk through a forest of TV and radio towers as we neared the peak.

This part of the hike went on for a bit longer than I would have liked... but it looks cool, anyway.
This is Ishikari, our city. We live on the far right side, in the center, just above a patch of trees. As you can see, we're close to the beach.

Tuesday was our first tea ceremony lesson after our teacher’s summer break in August. Over the past couple of weeks lots of stuff happened and we suddenly got very busy; thinking about the lovely two hours of peaceful tea ceremony class gave me motivation to keep plowing through task after task. By Tuesday afternoon, I was so tired that I was slurring my speech and making all kinds of stupid mistakes during rehearsal with Shino. Still, after taking a break of over a month, I managed surprisingly well at the tea ceremony lesson. Sitting in front of the pot of gently simmering water, I had a space to rest, even as I played the part of the host and prepared tea for Keith and Noriko.

On Wednesday, we had our muffler fixed. My friends here used to call our car ヤンキー車, literally “Yankee car,” since somehow “Yankee” came to mean gangster or delinquent in Japanese. (Take that, New York.) But no more. Our car no longer rumbles; we don’t have to be embarrassed coming home late at night. While driving home from rehearsal today, I kept trying to clear my ears, only to be surprised that they weren’t plugged.

It’s a concert weekend! We’re off to Nayoro, about 3 hours north of here, tomorrow morning. This time I’m going to try to take seriously what my teacher always told me: short practice session the day before (everything should already be perfect, right?) and only warm-up the day of the concert. I think I might have convinced Shino to do the same. After all, playing cello and speaking Japanese seem to require the same sort of brain-power, so I often find that while I had plenty of energy to get through an entire concert in the US, I tend to lose focus toward the end of concerts I play here. Tomorrow’s final piece is probably the most difficult piece I’ve ever played. So, I’ll try to go to bed early.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Concert Announcement

This is a little late, but I'm playing a concert next week in Nayoro, which is 4 or so hours north of Sapporo. The poster is below. For those of you who don't read Japanese, here are the details:

Chapel Concert
Saturday, September 6, 6:30 p.m.
Nayoro Grace Church, Nayoro-shi nishi 9 jo kita 9 chome 21-67
Tel. (01654) 8-7742

I will be playing with pianist, Shino Inoue. Among other things, we will play Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata and Brahms' e minor cello sonata. I'm going to be working really hard this week... :)

Prayer and baby steps

 (I actually wrote this post last week, intending to post it right after Ultraman's post. But life happened, so I didn't. So, please enjoy this post a week late...)

Today’s coffee: Peru. But it’s late in the day. Will I sleep tonight?

Last week I described my freak-out moment on the blog. Today I described it in front of a room full of pastors. That was somewhat intimidating. And yet somehow it was good to share my struggles with them.

I also had a striking realization this morning: although I have been told since I was small that I need to “bring friends to church” and “tell friends about Jesus,” that was the extent of my evangelism training. (And, I basically gave up after my beloved grandmother got angry when I tried to tell her about Jesus.) Even at Regent College, I had no intention of becoming a missionary or a pastor, so I didn’t bother taking any classes geared in that direction. I think part of the problem was that in my concept of evangelism, the bar was way too high. What about the people who don’t care, don’t want to hear, and have a complicated history with Christians and organized religion? How do I relate to such people, and how do I deal with rejection? Because, as I sometimes have to remind myself, I really do believe that what I’m offering has great value—it’s worth risking everything for.

As a follow up to last week, I’ll briefly mention what I’ve learned and tried as a result of the first chapter of I Once Was Lost. To summarize, I learned (although I think I already knew this to be true) that most people start their journey of faith by forming a trust relationship with a Christian. If I don’t have a trust relationship with my neighbors, they’re not going to care what I have to say about matters of faith, and they’re certainly not going to want to come to church with me.

So, I decided to pray for the people in my neighborhood (and spend more time outside in the yard). This does not mean the “God, please give me an opportunity” sorts of prayers. I discovered that for me, those sorts of prayers are self-centered, and I need to take a break from them for a while. I started praying for each person’s well-being and salvation… and guess what? Immediately, something about our relationship with our neighbors changed. The man next door, with whom we’ve never actually talked, brought us a whole bunch of potatoes and a squash. Another time, he came and talked to me when I was working in the garden. Then, Keith rode the same bus home from choir practice with the man from the house on the other side; we had once had a very awkward conversation with him, but this time he chatted with Keith about his family.

We’re now into our fourth year; less than one year left until home assignment. I can’t help but think that there’s not enough time left, but God is capable of working far beyond our expectations.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ultraman's Photo Diary

There's this funny thing we do at church. It sort of started naturally. There's an Ultraman action figure, which probably came from the toy box upstairs. (Ultraman is a superhero character whom Takahashi-sensei fondly remembers from his childhood.) Somehow, Ultraman started showing up around the church in funny places and in funny poses. I'm actually not sure who started it, and I'm not sure who all is participating... but I started taking pictures. So... Wakaba Church proudly presents "Ultraman's Photo Diary."

Flying above the clock:

Keeping the coat-tree company in the summer months:

Trying on Takahashi-sensei's shoes:

...and as a response perhaps, he was found napping in Keith's shoe later the same day:

Trying to blend in with the office supplies:

Hanging out by the mailboxes:

Climbing the wall:

Riding an interesting vehicle:

Relaxing on the bookshelf with a Bible and a bunch of bananas:

Protecting the sanctuary from bad guys:

"Takeishi-san, don't forget your CD!"

In the genkan (entryway): "Welcome to Wakaba!"

To be continued...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Unspoken expectations and freak-out moments

Today’s coffee: Kenya

Today is refreshingly cool. Perhaps it’s a good day to get some work done at the farm. It looks like a jungle with all the weeds, not to mention kabocha-out-of-control. I’m very thankful for cool weather, since last week we had natsubate. That’s a very useful Japanese word which means “feeling tired and gross due to hot, humid weather” or something like that.

In the middle of tired-hot-cranky, and following a conversation last week with our pastor about our future (in which he was very affirming and positive), we went home and had a freak out moment. (No, it's not Takahashi-sensei's fault.) That’s the sort of moment where we wonder if we are really fit to be missionaries. Well, mostly I had the freak-out moment, but Keith sort of did too.

Although Takahashi-sensei praised us for our ability to build relationships with people and encouraged us to “level up” in that area, I felt very strongly that I had failed in the unspoken expectation all missionaries face: you must bring new people into the church. This church. In our year and a half at Wakaba, I brought 2 friends once. They were musicians, and they played with me in our Christmas concert. Honestly, if they were seriously interested, I would want to send them to a church closer to where they live. But as for making friends in the neighborhood and bringing them along to events and such: zero.

I confess that the freak-out moment was not so much caused by my concern for the well-being of people in the neighborhood as for the pain of my own failure to meet others’ expectations, even if they are unspoken, and I had to repent of that. After all, “success” is walking with God. That comes first, even before evangelism. (Please don’t shoot me for saying that… it’s like “putting on your own oxygen mask first before assisting the person next to you.”)

After I had my head on straight again, I picked up a book which had been lurking on the shelf for a number of years. It was a gift from someone; I can’t remember who. (If it was you, let us know, and thanks!) The book is I Once Was Lost by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp, subtitled “What postmodern skeptics taught us about their path to Jesus.” Although the authors’ context is very different from mine (IVCF university ministry in the US), I have found a lot of what I have read so far resonates with things I have learned and observed in Japan. I’ll write more about this book after I’ve finished it, but for now, I’ll just say that I’ve been encouraged to be patient, pray consistently for the people God has put in my life, walk together with those who are on a journey to faith, and trust that God is working in their hearts. But seriously—this book has been super helpful so far!

It seems like we weren’t the only ones to be tired, hot, and cranky—I heard from a number of colleagues about their freak-out moments in the last few weeks. (Please pray for us not to be discouraged or distracted!) Still, I hope other peoples’ freak-out moments have turned out as fruitful as mine did!

p.s. My computer came home. Yay!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Watermelon Pickles

Yes, really. Pickled watermelon rind is my new favorite. Since fruit is so expensive in Japan, I don't want to let any of it go to waste! 

This is a simple, summery Japanese recipe which I found in きょうの料理 (kyou no ryouri, meaning "today's cooking"), my favorite cooking magazine. I wanted to share it in English. They're a little sweet, a little salty, very refreshing... and pretty, too! Not to mention, the ingredients can be found anywhere.

Watermelon rind
Salt: 2% of the weight of the watermelon rind

1. Cut the rind off the watermelon, leaving a bit of the red part. Using a knife or vegetable peeler, peel off the tough outer (dark green) skin.
2. Cut the watermelon rind into small pieces, about an inch long and 1/4 inch wide.
3. Put the watermelon rind and salt in a ziplock bag, and mix it around a bit by squishing the bag with your hands.
4. Wait at least 30 minutes, then enjoy!

These pickles are a great snack on their own, or a side dish for a meal. However, the magazine includes a recipe for marinated watermelon rind pickles and a soup with pork and pickles. I'll probably try those too!

(Sorry for the lack of posts lately; my computer is in the shop, and I'm typing with my thumb on my iPod...)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Redefining success

Today’s coffee: cold-brew iced coffee… but actually, it’s not all that hot today.

Today we had “parents’ movie event” in which we watched Spirited Away and talked about it. It was good to hear how they responded to the movie, and how they felt about their kids watching it, since it’s probably going to be the feature of our next movie night. The last time I watched Spirited Away was before we really spoke Japanese very well—over 3 years ago. I have to say it made a very different and powerful impression on me this time. The movie felt like a series of parables in which the filmmaker, Miyazaki brings to light problems in Japanese society; the lead character, Chihiro, has to struggle to overcome each challenge. I’m looking forward to watching it with our youth group, and I’ll probably write more about this later.

This week has been pretty busy. There was no post last week because of busy weekend: we found out K-san*, who recently started attending our church, plays shakuhachi, and invited us to his concert and supper. Then we went on an overnight retreat with our church, since Monday was a holiday. After the retreat ended, we climbed nearby Kamuishiri Mountain with Takahashi-sensei and his family—their first “real” hike, they said. It wasn’t a particularly easy hike; it was about 10km and over 600m of elevation gain. It was fun to see the kids’ excitement—K-kun and A-chan* would run ahead and then call back to their dad, “Look at this! Wow! Take a picture!” (K-kun is a long distance runner. We weighed him down with 6 liters of water, but he was still the fastest hiker by far.)

For me, hiking is an opportunity to enjoy God’s creation and to spend time with friends. I love that walking or even mountain climbing is also a way of describing our spiritual lives.

Recently, Takahashi-sensei said something that stuck with me and has been very encouraging: “Success is walking with God.” (He says lots of helpful things.  We’re blessed to be working alongside a wise and likeminded person!) Although I think that particular message was perhaps intended to correct a preoccupation with worldly success, I took it to mean that my primary calling and work is to walk with God—more important than keeping the house clean, practicing my cello, or even my work as a missionary. There’s a lot of stuff I try to do on my own (or feel like I should be doing on my own) that I don’t need to worry about at all. If I’m walking with God, I am not alone. I cannot begin to describe how freeing that is.

And… here’s some pictures of our hike! Enjoy!

*But first, a Japanese language note: “san,” “kun,” and “chan” are suffixes added to people’s names based on age, gender, and relationship—like our Mr., Mrs., and Miss. “San” is normal to use for adults other than family and close friends, “kun” is common for young boys, and “chan” for girls. Also, “sensei” literally means someone who has gone ahead in terms of life experience. We use it in place of “san” for pastors, doctors, teachers, etc.

The "before" picture. We look so energetic!
Datekanba tree--a kind of birch.

Last push to the peak, on the left!

The wind blew the bamboo grass so that it looked like waves.
Lunch break picture, at the peak! We had onigiri and hard-boiled eggs.
Hydrangea grows wild in Japan.
K-kun is still in the front, carrying 2 bags.