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)
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.
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.
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.
- 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.”
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.
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