Tuesday, December 08, 2009

December Newsletter

Merry Christmas!

Looking at Christmas lights and eating baked sweet potatoes purchased from a sweet potato truck in Odori Park (on the way home from a concert)

Dear friends,

Merry Christmas from the Olsons, or as we say in Japanese, メリークリスマス. This is more of a newsletter than a Christmas letter, but please check our blog again soon, as we will post a more traditional/all inclusive “year end recap” here.

It’s hard to believe that our time in Japan is already half over. It has gone by remarkably fast, especially now that we are busy with many different activities. We are continuing on with our language studies, but we’ve dropped to 1 day a week to accommodate our other responsibilities. Keith teaches English Bible study and conversation classes at Kibou no Oka Church on Fridays and Saturdays. We have already had many opportunities to use our musical gifts. We have continued to help with music for worship at our church, as well as at a number of other churches.

Our Church: Satsunae Lighthouse

Playing Bach at Kibou no Oka Church

Concert at an art show arranged by Oomagari Church (a new church plant) with the theme of the life of Christ

December is the most significant time for outreach for Japanese churches, since at this time people are interested in coming to concerts and other events, and sometimes they are curious to learn more about what Christmas means. For us, this means playing many concerts. Last week, we both were part of a city-wide outreach concert. Keith sang in the choir, and Celia accompanied on cello. Celia will be playing two major concerts on December 22 and 24, as well as playing for numerous parties and events.

We have also begun work with students at Hokkaido University. Our most important tasks are to meet students, make friends, and generally be present in their lives.

Talking about Jesus
Working with Students through FMZero

FMZero's "Upside Down Party"

On Wednesdays we have been meeting with college students for English conversation, games, and Bible study. The group is called FMZero (that’s OMF backwards). During the Bible study, we talk about Jesus and Christianity in a manner quite different from the evangelism which is carried out in the US. If you want people to listen to the gospel in the US, then you must come up with a novel way to present the gospel that grabs people’s attention but does not immediately give off “Christian vibes.”

For example, while I (Keith) was at the University of North Dakota, everyone was talking about a guy named Eric, and people were wearing bright orange shirts with bright orange buttons asking, “Do you agree with Eric?” Whenever you asked an orange shirt what’s up with this Eric guy, they gave you an elusive answer saying that all would be made clear at such and such a date, time, and place. This went on for weeks. The ploy worked well; many people, myself included, showed up to hear Eric speak. Eric was a Christian and he wanted to talk to us about Jesus. Once the word “Jesus” was mentioned, the atmosphere changed from excitement to “groan.” In the US it is just uncool to talk about Jesus so directly because people have their preconceived notions about Christianity already and are “vaccinated” against it.

This is different from working with the Japanese, because many have no notion of what sin is and why Jesus would have to die for them. I don't need to dress the gospel up with bright orange buttons. I can be myself, tell the story in the old way, and Japanese people hear it with fresh ears. I don’t mean to imply that evangelism is easy in Japan. The students who come to FMzero are drawn by the prospect of practicing their English speaking skills with native speakers. Many hear the Bible stories for the first time, but remain unaffected by them. The sad fact is that the cold weather, homework, and tests are increasingly keeping even our “regulars” from coming to hear the gospel at all.

Culture Shock?
Celia reflects on praying aloud in groups

We have been pleased, and somewhat surprised, that culture shock has been relatively painless. There are many things that are different about living in Japan, but many of them were expected. What we didn’t expect was that our most significant “culture shock” would be from adjusting to the unique culture of OMF. We hear that we are not alone; many other missionaries also experienced this when they first arrived in Japan.

Before we became a part of OMF, praying out loud in groups was not something we did very often. If we were in a group prayer setting, we would pray along silently as others voiced their prayers. We usually did not feel the need to verbally contribute to the group’s prayer.

 At OMF’s weekly prayer meetings, we break into small groups several times during the meeting to pray for different needs. Since we are new, the names and situations are unfamiliar to us. However, staying silent and listening is not really an option. There is an unspoken expectation that everyone in the group will verbalize their prayers. For me, initially, this meant that while other people were praying, I was frantically trying to fabricate a prayer in my mind, frantically trying to remember names (often unfamiliar Japanese names), frantically trying to say something intelligent about a situation I know nothing about. Unfortunately, I really was not participating in others’ prayers. After all this is over, I was as exhausted as if I was coming out of Japanese class.

In this context, I had to learn to listen better. In my weakness in public speaking and prayer, I had to learn to rely on God to give me the words to pray. If I wait and listen for God’s prompting, I don’t need to prepare my prayer in advance; I can fully participate in the others’ prayers. If I wait on God, he will give me words even for an unfamiliar situation.

Sometimes when I’m really tired, I still don’t seem to have any words. Maybe God wants me to listen and be encouraged by the other people. Sometimes I simply need to explain that I’m tired and I don’t have much to say.

It’s really been a privilege working with the other OMF missionaries. Many long years of living abroad and depending on God have given these people patience, humility, wisdom, and a sense of humour. We are thankful to listen to and be encouraged by their prayers.

Prayer Points
Looking back, we are thankful for…
  • God’s provision of such support around us. The food, hospitality, and love offered to us in Japan by missionaries and Japanese alike is truly heart-warming.
  • The many Japanese contacts that we are making. It’s hard in any culture to turn an acquaintance into a friend, but language barriers make it even harder. So we are thankful for Mikiko-san and her son Yuugo-kun, Takaaki-san, Watanabe-san, Naho-san, Shino-san, and many others who patiently listen to our broken Japanese and try so hard to speak in English. We wait in anticipation of more friends to come.
Looking forward, we are praying for…
  • O-san, who comes to a English Bible study that Keith is teaching. She is interested in Christianity but her husband will not allow her to go to church. There are many cases like this in Japan. Please pray that seekers like O-san persevere and bring the light of salvation into their families.
  • Our conversation partners. We have begun to meet with several people for Japanese and English conversation exchange. Please pray that these will be times for mutual growth in foreign language speaking—sometimes it is hard to speak in Japanese when their English is so much better than our Japanese. Also please pray that opportunities to share about our faith will arise.
  • Our church, Satsunae Lighthouse Church, which is attempting to make the change from being missionary led to being Japanese led. One of the biggest challenges in this change is calling a pastor. Please pray for unity in the church in this decision and adequate funds for calling a pastor will be raised.
  • One of our church’s members, K-san, who will soon graduate from Hokkaido Bible Institute and who has already been called to pastor a church. N Church was another OMF church plant, and K-san will be their first Japanese pastor. We are thankful for God’s provision of a pastor for N church and of a place for K-san and his wife, M-san to serve God, but we are mindful of the challenges ahead of them. As this situation suggests, there is a shortage of pastors in Japan. Please also pray that God will raise up young people with a heart to lead his church.
  • Celia’s Christmas concerts. Celia will be playing 2 major concerts on December 22 and 24. Please pray for efficient rehearsals and practice sessions, for good communication between Celia and her pianist, Shino-san, and for physical strength to endure long rehearsals. Pray also for the people who will attend the concerts—these will be outreach events, and Celia will be sharing her testimony.
  • Celia’s grandmother, Grace. At present she is in very poor health. Please pray for Celia’s family as they visit and support her, and for Celia and Keith as they try to support the family from a distance.

Engrish of the Month
“British Bistro Bear” dishes: Celia could not stop laughing.


The back of the cup reads: “Bistro bear is the best gentleman of a British tradition. He is cleverly refined, is very stylish and kind. Ladies enjoy conversation with him.”

Language Mishaps
We are not immune…

By swapping the two syllables, Keith confused 大変ですね。 (taihen desu ne?/That’s difficult, eh?) for へんたいですね。 (hentai desu ne?/Perverted, eh?) Not a mistake to make in polite company. The pastor of Kibou no Oka church thought it was hilarious, though.

Celia, trying to compliment our Japanese teacher on her singing (that would be “先生は歌が上手です”/sensei wa uta ga jouzu desu), told her “先生は下手が上手です” (sensei wa heta ga jouzu desu/Sensei’s unskilfulness is skilful).

A friend of ours explained to his teacher that he was going to prison for his vacation (かんごくへ行きます/kangoku e ikimasu) rather than South Korea (韓国へ行きます/kankoku e ikimasu).

Foreign loan words transcribed into Katakana are a source of amusement. We explained to our teacher that we had looked after the children at the missionary conference. She supplied us with the appropriate (or shall we say inappropriate?) verb: “ベビーシッターをします” (bebi-sh*tta- o shimasu—there’s no “si” sound in Japanese). After the laughter subsided, Sensei suggested that we change the pronunciation slightly when we are around native English speakers.

Toilet Tidbits
You know you’re all fascinated by Japanese toilets…

I don’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t catch up to the sophistication of Japanese toilets. Here is the picture of our house’s toilet with accompanying remote control, containing some of the most easy to understand Kanji (seriously, take a look and I bet a person with no Kanji background could understand some of these pictographs).

Some aspects of the Japanese toilet are admittedly a bit strange, and having lived in Japan for many months, I still do not fully comprehend all there is to know about “using the facilities” in Japan. For instance, there’s the sound function that plays running water (for encouragement maybe, or to cover up other potentially embarrassing sounds), and the retractable bidet function (a potentially very messy button to push if you are in search of the flush function). A quick note to visitors to Japan: the flush lever is in the same place that you’d expect to find it: next to the upper tank. Depending on which way you turn the lever, Japanese toilets have dual flush action, small vs. large flush. But saving water doesn’t end there; on top of the upper tank is a sink. You can wash your hands with the water used to fill the tank after you flush. This saving water function seems to me to be a no brainer, as does the seat warmer. No one likes the feel of cold porcelain on bare skin in the middle of winter. Some parts of Europe are already incorporating some of these ideas, but if I knew what the statistics were, I would still say that they are meager. I tell you, if you are replacing a toilet, get one of these.

It’s Cold Outside!
Now that it’s winter, onsens are very inviting. Keith describes his weekly Sabbath habit.

Onsens are great. I've heard they are great places for evangelization, but that is probably because they are great places to be in general. We’ve decided to go to the onsen once a week on our Sabbath, which is typically on Mondays for missionaries. Onsens are establishments based around thermally heated water. There are pools containing back/feet water jets; other pools are a murky brown (I have yet to determine why they are that color); there are outdoor pools; a cold plunge pool; a sauna; and maybe most peculiar is the electric pool that sends a mild electrical current through your body (nonlethal, yet refreshingly painful). I suppose some gaijin are weirded out by walking around with a bunch of naked people, but my experience at public pools and the YMCA prepped me for that. However, the only thing that prepared me for the cleaning lady was the couple of times I saw one in the men’s public restroom. The cleaning lady is very professional about her work, so I am no longer shocked when I see her. I can always tell who she is even without my glasses on because she's the only one allowed to wear clothes. Once you get over those couple of hiccups, the onsen is a relaxing, cheap (about 5 USD) place which is especially nice in the cold winter. I can spend hours in the onsen going between hot and cold pools, which is apparently very good for the circulation and skin.

Blessings on your Christmas celebration. May you know God’s presence as you celebrate his incarnation in the person of Jesus.

Love, Keith and Celia

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Concerts and whatnot

As you may know, my primary job here in Japan is playing my cello. This is not a big surprise, since my primary job when I am at home is playing my cello and doing other music related activities. Keith has also been playing piano and singing a lot. Here's a little snapshot of some of the things we've been doing since we've been here, and a bit on what's coming up in the next couple of months...

Our first musical responsibilities were playing for worship at church. We've been doing this with some regularity since our arrival.

Then, our first concert was part of JCE5--the 5th Japan Congress on Evangelism. A couple thousand people were there, from all over Japan! This was a really important conference, since it only happens once every 9 years or so, and it probably won't happen again in Hokkaido for a long time. Can you find Keith in the choir? He really blends in quite well. It was his first time performing in Japanese! I got to play with some excellent violinists to accompany the choir.

In this picture, the word which you see repeated over and over on the screen can be transliterated "hareruya." Any guesses what piece we're performing? ;) The other pieces we performed were the Sapporo Olympics theme song ("Snow Ballad"), Beethoven's Ode to Joy, and You Raise Me Up. We're performing with this group again this Thursday at a big Christmas concert.

In October, Keith and I played together as part of an art show. I played two mini-concerts by myself (unaccompanied Bach suites--first complete performance of the 2nd suite!) and Keith and I played a longer concert together. A pastor from Hokkaido is quite a gifted artist--he did a number of copies of famous Biblical-themed paintings, as well as a number of his own works. All of the paintings featured scenes from Jesus' life. We had expected that people would walk around and listen the the music while they looked at the art... but no, they sat down and watched us. Our hosts kept adding more chairs... Keith found this to be a rather nervous situation, as it was his first time playing solo piano in a "concert" setting, rather than providing background music. He did really well, and we had a lot of encouraging feedback after the event!

When we played Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel, we asked everyone to go look at the pictures--that piece really reflects the idea of God coming to us as we reach up to him, seen most clearly in the incarnation of Jesus.

The very next day, we played for the worship service at Kibou no Oka church, where Keith has been teaching English (and practicing the organ). This was part of the church building's first birthday festivities. There was a special celebration in the afternoon, and I played a couple of pieces and joined with an ensemble of musicians from the church to play some movie theme music.


I played again at Kibou no Oka in November for their monthly "kirakira time" outreach. (Kirarira means "sparkle sparkle." We are amused.) I played a movement of Bach's G major sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord. I played with Naho, who is the organist at Kibou no Oka. We "made do" with a cello and an organ. (Ahhh... that organ is soooo nice... but I miss my viol!)

Keith and I, along with our friend, John, provided music for the ceremonial opening (hakkaishiki) of a new church--Hiragishi Izumi Kirisuto Kyoukai (translated, that means Hiragishi [a neighborhood of Sapporo] spring of water Christian Church).


(No, those people aren't all members of the new church--they came from all different churches in the area to pray for an support the new church!)

Coming up...
Right now I'm preparing for Christmas concert craziness. I had my first rehearsal with my pianist, Shino, on Saturday. We'll be preparing for 2 concerts on December 22 and 24, in Asahikawa and Chitose respectively. We're working on Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach. In addition, I'll be giving my testimony, and we'll sing some Christmas songs together! (Presently I'm looking for an opportunity to play the same concert in Sapporo so I can invite my friends... hopefully I'll have an update on that soon.)

Actually, the Christmas concert schedule starts this week: we have a concert on Thursday, then on Saturday, I'm playing a Bach suite and giving my testimony at a local church here in Sapporo. This will be part of Sakae Church's patchwork quilting exhibition.

In addition, I'm playing for all kinds of Christmas parties and events throughout the month! I think on Christmas day, when it's all over, I'm going to want to sit on the couch in my pajamas and stare at the wall.

And finally, a few prayer requests...
  • I'm thrilled to have finally found a pianist! Praise God! I was pretty nervous for a while there. It was a little bit last minute, but we had our first rehearsal last Saturday. Please pray for good communication (neither of us are really comfortable in the other's language), good and efficient rehearsals, and a good working relationship.
  • There are a lot of concerts and other engagements, so I need to be able to use my time wisely, not only to practice and rehearse, but also to rest well. I'm also continuing with student work, various tasks at our church, and language study. 
  • Please pray for me as I'm planning the concerts for December 22 and 24. I will also be preparing my testimony for these two concerts, as well as the one this coming Saturday (December 5).
  • Please pray for the possibility of a concert in Sapporo. I'm looking for a church to host us. At the minimum, it would be a very informal chance for Shino and I to invite our friends and family to hear us. Or, it could be a chance for us to partner with a church for an outreach event. Please pray that we would find the right opportunity and the right place to play.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Janelle's Dumplings

Here's Janelle with her little dumplings.

Ha ha. Very funny.

I'm going to post a recipe for the dumplings Janelle taught me to make. (For those of you who don't know, Janelle was my piano trio partner [violinist], college roommate, dear friend, etc. from the University of Colorado. She is now married to Kelly, and they have 2 kids, Elaine and Elliott.) In Japan, dumplings of this style are called gyoza, but I don't know what they're called in Taiwan (where Janelle grew up). I don't think the dumplings I make now are "authentic" either in Japan or Taiwan, but I think they are delicious, and since they are made with easy to find, inexpensive ingredients (here in Japan), they are a great thing for me to make. The ingredients shouldn't be hard to find in major North American cities either... the one thing you really need is gyoza wrappers. Wonton wrappers work too.

Anyway, here's what you need. I don't do measurements. Use your judgment, and look at the pictures which follow.
  • Dumpling wrappers of some description. I think gyoza wrappers (the round ones) are easier to deal with.
  • Ground meat. I would recommend chicken or pork. Generally, you want to have slightly less meat than vegetables.
  • An egg. This helps everything stick together.
  • Minced vegetables. I typically use napa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, green onion (negi in Japan), zucchini (usually I substitute cucumber in Japan--see hint below), carrot, onion, ginger, and perhaps a little cilantro. This isn't a fixed list, but my dumplings usually are about like this. Have fun and experiment with your favorites and what you have on hand!
  • A little seasoning: salt, black pepper, hot pepper flakes (I use shichimi tougarashi in Japan) if you like it hot, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and powdered dashi (Japanese soup stock) if you happen to have some on hand. Otherwise, use more salt.
  • Corn starch or potato starch. Your mixture will likely be quite moist, especially if you included cucumber. Adding some kind of starch will help take care of this problem. You don't want your mixture to be too moist.
First, chop your vegetables and put them in a big bowl.

Next, add the meat, egg, seasonings, and cornstarch. (If you really like meat, you could use a bit more than this relative to the amount of veggies. Or, just leave the meat out if you don't want it at all. I can't vouch for the texture, having never done these meat-free.)

Mix, mix, mix! I usually use my hands, since that seems to work the best. You could try using a mixer if using your hands grosses you out. Add more cornstarch if necessary.

Lay out a few wrappers at a time, put about 1-1 1/2 tsp. of filling on each one. Wet the edge of the wrapper, fold in half, and pinch shut.

You can boil, steam, or pan-fry your dumplings, but I usually pan-fry... although there was a memorable hotpot I made into which I threw about 45 dumplings which had stuck together after sitting (raw) in the fridge overnight. (That reminds me... always cook them right away! Don't let them sit for very long, or they will turn into a sticky mess! Or freeze them--see note below.)

Anyway, pan-frying. Actually, I think this might be called steam frying. I don't know. It works really well, though. Heat up some oil (I prefer sesame oil) in a frying pan over medium heat. Put a single layer of dumplings in the pan, and brown one side. Flip them over, then pour about 1 cm of water into the pan. Cover the pan, and wait until the water is gone, and the other side has gotten a bit browned.

Now you're done! Arrange them all pretty-like, sprinkle with green onion and sesame seeds, and serve with dipping sauce. (Or just dump them on a plate and shove in front of starving husband.) I have included two suggestions for sauce below.

  • If you are using cucumber, grate it, salt it, and then leave it to drain for about half an hour. This will give it a chance to lose some of its moisture, which can make the filling very sloppy.
  • To test the flavor of your dumplings, immediately cook your first 1-2 dumplings (or more if you have lots of taste testers), then taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. (You obviously can't taste the raw filling, that would be gross! And the onions wouldn't be cooked.)
  • Dumpling wrappers usually have one side with more cornstarch on them than the other. You want to put your filling on the more cornstarchy side--then it will be easier to stick it together.
  • If you want to freeze your dumplings before cooking them, spread them so they're not touching on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Wait until they freeze, then put them in a container.
Sauce 1:  Sweet Wasabi Sauce (my own invention)
  • 1/3 c soy sauce 
  • 1/3 c seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp wasabi (use real grated wasabi if possible, not the powdered stuff)
  • ½ T ginger
  • A few drops sesame oil
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro
  • Green onion
Mix the ingredients together. If raw garlic, ginger, and onion isn't your thing, you could saute them in a frying pan for a bit to mellow them out, as with the following recipe. Yum...

Sauce 2: Negi (Green Onion) Sauce (from a Japanese magazine)
  • Minced Negi/green onion
  • Tougarashi/red pepper flakes
  • 100 ml soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp sake
  • 2 Tbsp hot water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger
Heat a frying pan with the sesame oil, fry the negi and ginger. Add all the other ingredients, then turn off the heat.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Pretty things, funny things, tasty things

Here's a quick update on the kinds of things we see here every day. Some things (as the title indicates) are pretty, some things are funny, and some things are tasty... we'll start with the funny things.

Did you ever think you would see a Hello Kitty violin or ukulele? Hello Kitty is on everything.

Chocolate covered potato chips... both tasty and funny... it was funny to find something we thought was unique to North Dakota here in Japan.

"Mt. Rainier" coffee out of a vending machine. (Seattle is quite famous. We see pictures of Ichiro everywhere.) Unfortunately I only read the English advertising "espresso and milk" but not the katakana, which said "burakku" (black). No milk to be found in this coffee...

Peeing statue we found while we were away at a conference... it didn't seem to fit with the rest of the park. Oh well, someone has a sense of humor.

Pretty things...

The sky is so dramatic here! This is the view of our neighborhood from our apartment.

Trees changing colors...

especially ginko trees...

Stained glass at a local community center...

Children. These ones are pretty nice. Transitioning to tasty things, those buckwheat crepes they're eating were pretty tasty...

Ramen is famous in Sapporo. We eat it about as often as we can... and we eat every last drop.

Sushi! A guy from our church is a sushi chef! This is the meal he prepared for us. It was really helpful, since it was our first time going to a "real" sushi restaurant, that the food was prepared by someone we know... we weren't afraid to ask dumb questions or just chat (and blatantly stare as he was working).

Life is beautiful.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What I'm Thankful For

(I started writing this last Monday, but didn't finish it, since I realized I was going to need to go make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner. Oh well. I'm still thankful.)

Here in Japan, today is 体育の日 (Health and Sports Day, or something like that), which, oddly enough, is a national holiday. In Canada, today is Thanksgiving! Ironic. I will celebrate Health and Sports Day by eating a lot of food and loafing on the couch.

Usually on Thanksgiving, it is my habit to think about what I am thankful for, and more importantly, to give thanks to the one who gave me all of those things. Here's a short list of things that come to mind. I'm thankful for...

Keith. Yes, very thankful for the husband. He is peeling potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner right now. He is my companion on the crazy adventure that is our life. I'm glad God sent me to Japan with Keith.

Family. Even though they're far away, our family is supporting us in prayer. Sorry, I don't have any recent pics since we haven't seen them for a few months... use your imagination or look at the other posts. ;)

Friends. We miss our friends at home in Vancouver, and all the other places we have lived before (Colorado, Boston, North Dakota, etc.), but we are thankful for the new friends we are meeting here.

Dinner out with fellow missionaries

Eating ramen with Mikiko, our conversation partner, and her son, Yuugo. Well, actually all of the ramen is gone at this point. Delicious...

We're also thankful for our new friends at church. Um... once again there is food in all of these pictures? That sounds like a segue...

Food. I love the fall since there are wonderful things to eat. As I have previously mentioned, I think there's something special about Hokkaido's soil. God is indeed very good...

The vegetable stand at a local church bazaar

Our Thanksgiving Dinner hosts with the turkey, imported from North Carolina. I promise you the rest of the meal consisted of delicious local Hokkaido produce...

Work. Is that weird? Perhaps it is, but we are thankful to be doing the work God has provided for us. We get to study Japanese, meet with college students for Bible study and conversation, play for concerts and worship services, and other stuff too. We love our job.

We played for some mini-concerts at an art show put on by a church.

My heart is filled with thankfulness. That's the title of a song that I like, actually. God has truly provided abundantly for us.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Our Church

(I finally have some pictures in which we are not eating. It was getting a bit embarrassing... all our pictures seem to revolve around food. We like food... but we also like other things.)

Since we've been in Japan, we've been attending Satsunae Lighthouse Church. Our church is about 10 years old, and it was started by OMF missionaries. It is still pastored by foreign missionaries (Tony and Pat Schmidt), but most of the other leaders are Japanese. Right now the church is in the beginning stages of preparation to call a Japanese pastor. One of the first steps was to become a part of JECA (which I believe stands for "Japanese Evangelical Church Association"... but don't quote me on that).

The church is small, but it feels big because it's so lively. There are children everywhere. I'm finally starting to figure out which children belong to which parents. It's taken quite a while since no one seems to sit together with their families in the church service or during lunch. We meet in what used to be a large house. Tony and Pat live on the second floor.

Today we helped lead worship. Keith played the piano and I played cello. Kaori-san planned the service and sang. Maybe we will lead singing someday too, but for now it's nice to play the cello, because then I don't have to worry about text! Singing is great language practice, though.

Every Sunday after church we eat lunch together. On the first Sunday of the month, there's a potluck. My contribution (lentil and bean stew/chili/whatever) is in the red pot in the foreground. Today there was also a birthday cake for Keith and four other people. (We couldn't escape entirely from food now, could we?)

Please pray for our church:
  • As I mentioned, we are making preparations to call a Japanese pastor.
  • We are starting an Alpha course in 2 weeks (October 18). Please pray that this class would be a blessing to the neighborhood... and that it would be well attended by people who are curious about Christianity and eagerly seeking God.
  • Our pastors (Tony and Pat) are currently on vacation in Vancouver! Please pray for their safe travels and for those who are taking care of things in their absence.

Friday, September 04, 2009

September Newsletter

I haven't posted in a while. Now I guess I'll make up for it with one big post... our newsletter! I would have just posted the PDF version, but I didn't want to post our contact info. Let me know if you want a copy, and I'll email you one. Here goes...

The Olsons Have Arrived in Japan

Newsletter #1, September 1, 2009

Dear friends,
After living here in Sapporo for a month, we are filled with thankfulness, and we are eager to share our news with you.


The Daily Grind

We’ve been thinking a lot about what we do every day... since for the past couple of weeks, daily activities have been a major topic of study and conversation in our Japanese classes. In fact, last night’s homework for Kanji class was 300-400 characters on our weekly schedule. Here is a short sample from Celia’s assignment: 私は午前六時におきます。 そして聖書を読みます。 毎朝七時になっとうとげんまいを食べます。 (I get up at 6:00 a.m. After that, I read the Bible. Every morning at 7:00 I eat natto and brown rice.)

We are presently studying 4 days a week. Each day we have 2 sessions of conversation and grammar class and 1 session of Kanji class. We were expecting to find the grammar easy and the conversation difficult, and such has proved to be the case. Celia is dealing with the second language problem, and thus has actually started speaking German in Japanese class. Progress seems slow, but when we look back, we really have come a long way. We can talk to people! We can mostly talk about the weather and our daily activities, but we are gradually adding more vocabulary and conversation topics to our repertoire. Every small gain is exciting.

The rest of the day is usually taken up with studying, cooking, grocery shopping, other housework, and occasionally meeting friends for a meal. Amazingly, we still have enough time left over for pleasure reading! Although we currently live upstairs in the same building as the school, Celia has been diligent about making bentos to make sure we are able to eat a healthy lunch. It’s also conveniently packaged to bring downstairs to eat in the student lounge. We usually eat Japanese food, since it’s delicious… and also a lot more economical than eating a lot of imported food. We are starting to think there’s something magical about the soil in Hokkaido. The vegetables are amazing, even out of urban gardens here in Sapporo! Every last bit of empty land is carefully cultivated… or paved.

Celia practices her cello every day. She will be playing frequently in our church, along with Keith on piano, and Celia will play in other churches as requested for worship services and events. Currently the music of choice is Bach and Bach alone, but other music will be added as it is requested.
Keith will start teaching English this week on Fridays and Saturdays. This job has some perks: the church holding the English classes recently acquired a pipe organ, and Keith has been invited to play it between classes! “It has manual action!” Keith exclaimed excitedly.
Sundays of course we go to church. Since most Japanese are extremely busy during the week, including Saturdays, Sundays tend to be very busy days: church, social engagements, rehearsals, and meetings all happen on Sundays. Monday morning we are exhausted! Our church is small and family oriented. We meet in the living room of a large house. Tony and Pat, our mentors and the pastors of the church, live upstairs. After every service we eat lunch together. This is a great chance for us to practice our Japanese! Many of the other missionaries find the formality of Japanese churches hard to take. We don’t really mind, since we are accustomed to worshipping in a set pattern every week. It’s very helpful to us as foreigners, since it’s easier to follow what’s going on with minimal Japanese. Tony and Pat give us their sermon outlines so we can follow along with the sermon. This is also very helpful, since when we know what to expect, it is much easier to start catching some of the Japanese.
Our work is picking up a bit, with more to come when the university starts up again in October, as we will be involved as English conversation partners and in Bible studies and other events. At that point we will drop back to 1 or 2 days a week in language study so we can manage our workload.


Some Japanese Words

Bento (おべんとう): Japanese boxed lunch. The preparing of bentos (cute or not) is a fine art in Japan, and it is catching on elsewhere in the world.

Gaijin (外人): foreigner. That would be us. This is our excuse for all kinds of mistakes and (unintentional) bad behaviour.

Kanji (漢字): Chinese characters used in Japanese writing. With so many homonyms, Japanese would be incomprehensible without them. By high school graduation, students need to know about 2000 characters, but there are about 80,000 characters total. We’re aiming for those first 2000…

Natto (なっとう): fermented soybeans. They taste (according to Celia) like coffee-flavoured cheese. Westerners typically find natto rather vile, because of the stringy consistency and strong smell. Celia loves it. Keith’s comment: “I don’t like coffee; what makes you think I’d like coffee-flavoured cheese?”

Feelings of Helplessness
Things aren’t all a bed of roses. Here are some of Keith’s experiences with Japanese language and prayer.

At church last week, we broke into small groups to discuss the sermon and prayer topics. Obviously, the conversation was in Japanese, and in the month I've been here, I have gotten used to not following any Japanese conversation. During the discussion time, however, I felt that I was hindering the intimacy of the group because I had nothing to contribute. Someone spoke after me in my group and said something so moving that it brought tears to another group member's eyes. I have at times felt frustrated at not being able to distinguish face cream from toothpaste at the grocery store, but this was the first time I felt like I was really missing out on something good. It made me question what I am doing here.

Yesterday made me question even more. I have been playing soccer on Fridays at the local recreation center. Usually this is fine because I don't need to say much to kick the ball around. Last night a kid on my team tripped over the ball and landed on his arm hard. When I came up to him I saw that his left arm had a very unnatural dip in the middle. I wanted to tell the staff at the center what happened, call his parents, and send him on his way to the hospital. Basically, I wanted to take charge of the situation, but I did not even know how to tell him not to move his arm. I played soccer with this kid three times already, and I don't even know his name. "What am I doing in Japan? What can I do for this kid?" I asked myself. I can pray, so I did. It may have been the first time that anyone has prayed for him specifically. I can let these situations of toothpaste and broken arms make me question my calling to Japan, or I can let them encourage me to act in ways I normally would not and spur me on to learn the language. When the kid broke his arm, my first instinct was to take charge, and only when this was not in my ability did I pray. Perhaps I have put too much stock in communicating with words; what I really must concentrate on is how I can communicate the love of God in actions.

Prayer Points

Looking back, we are thankful for…
  • Our safe arrival in Japan, on time, and a relatively painless transition to life here
  • The guidance of our leaders (Alaric Dunsmore-Rouse and Tony and Pat Schmidt)
  • New friendships among the students in the language school and at church
  • Our praying and donating friends who enabled us to come to Japan
  • Good health, good food, and a chance to rest from all the craziness that surrounded our departure
  • Progress in our studies and our work. We are glad to have had some Japanese before becoming more involved in the churches here.
  • Evidence of God’s work here; we are excited and thankful to be a part of that.

Looking forward, we are praying for…
  • Satsunae Lighthouse Church, where we are attending: our church, which is currently missionary led, is preparing to call a Japanese pastor. This will bring a greater financial burden on this small congregation. In addition, the church will need to make some changes in order to welcome a Japanese pastor—in short, become more Japanese. Change happens slowly in Japanese churches.
  • Our language studies: patience, patience, patience! Also, diligence in private study, courage to speak when we are out and about… and to avoid offending people by accidentally saying something impolite. Japanese language has a complex layering of different tiers of politeness. Luckily most Japanese people seem to be very willing to forgive a gaijin who is trying to learn their language.
  • Keith, who has been having trouble sleeping. This is not a new problem, but the new environment, with so many interesting things to see and think about, has exacerbated it.
  • Celia, whose cello practice sessions have been going very well! Pray for confidence, diligence, and flexibility in preparing for worship services and concerts coming up this fall.
  • The people we will be ministering to in our various teaching and musical engagements: that they would come with open hearts, and that in serving them, we would model the love of Christ. (We’re not going to mince words: we are here to tell people about Jesus. We want to convince them, by our words, actions, and prayers, that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. It is our prayer that all of Japan would be saved.)
  • The church in Japan: unity in the Body of Christ, faithful living every day of the week, not just Sundays, and the strength to persevere in the face of pressure from society and family
  • The Japanese people: that they would find true hope in the One True God. We have already experienced a “delay” on the subway, which is code language for “someone threw him/herself in front of the train.” The economy is in bad shape; in this time of crisis, pray that people would turn to God and not to their pocketbook or even the new government for hope and security. We do also pray for wisdom for the newly elected government to effectively care for the needs of the people, especially the poor.
  • Our future: we still are waiting for God's call either to full time ministry in Japan or to something else that he has planned for us. May we see the sign when he gives it, may we have strength to follow it, and may we be patient until it comes.

Celia’s Cooking Corner
Recipe Contest

I love cooking! Exploring all the new flavours (and enjoying certain familiar flavours for significantly cheaper than in Vancouver) has been quite a thrill. However, now that autumn is upon us, I’m starting to crave the rich soups and stews of my native land… and finding it somewhat difficult to adapt the recipes I’m accustomed to, since some of my standard ingredients are hard to find here.

Thus I solicit your advice. You’ve supported me in prayer, now I ask you to support me with recipes. Whoever sends the best recipe gets some kind of cute Japanese prize! Here are the rules:

  1. The recipe must be for soup or stew. That’s what I’m craving. More contests may follow with other themes.
  2. The recipe must contain onions. We live in an onion growing region. They are fresh, cheap, and delicious.
  3. The recipe must contain a source of protein: the best options here are seafood, pork, and tofu. Beans are also nice, but here they are expensive and limited in variety.
  4. Recipes must not require fancy equipment. We are limited to a stove, a tiny oven, a cutting board, a couple of knives, a soup pot, a frying pan, a vegetable slicer (last weekend’s splurge), and some measuring cups.
  5. Extra points for economy. We’re on a missionary budget after all…
  6. Recipes will lose points for using imported ingredients. Typical Japanese flavours are rice, soy sauce, sesame, rice-based vinegar and alcohol, shiitake mushrooms, vegetables (especially root crops, cabbage, and leeks; no zucchini or beets, to my surprise), and the above-named protein sources. These are cheap and easy to find. Try to avoid: cheese (milk and yogurt are okay), “exotic” herbs and spices (including what you would typically find in Southwestern or Mediterranean cooking… sigh…), lime, peanuts, lentils and other “unusual” legumes, wine (too expensive, and technically we’re not supposed to have any), and regionally specific vegetables (use “hot peppers” instead of “jalapeno peppers,” for example.)

That’s it! Email me if you have questions.

Engrish of the Month

“To produce music is also in a sense to produce children.”

—Music composition notebook

We hope you have enjoyed our very first Japan newsletter. Hopefully we will be doing this with some regularity. Until next time, keep praying! Blessings on each of you.

Keith and Celia