Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas with the fam, part 1: North Dakota

Merry Christmas! Here's a quick report on our road trip and time with Keith's family.

We made it to North Dakota... and we got stuck behind a sand truck at one point. Gross...

We played with the kids. My how they've grown!

Compare this photo with the smiling child in the previous picture. I think they might be related?

I was sick, so we didn't do much. We did manage to get to church, where Keith preached (recording coming soon), and also to Elizabeth and Michael's first Christmas pageant! There were a bunch of little kids with stars on sticks who were supposed to sit still and look cute while the older kids did their stuff... perhaps needless to say, they started hitting the microphones and each other with the star sticks. One kid fell off the back of the risers and nearly knocked over the backdrop. The production became known in the family as "the trainwreck." We celebrated with pizza afterwards.

The kids were all dressed up, so we did a little photo shoot.

Keith had some time with his friend, Jason. They did Keith and Jason sorts of things.

We're in Iowa now... all 14 Olsons in one house. What a party! More on that later.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Luncheon

This year, my family was invited to provide music for the program of the annual women's Christmas luncheon at our church. We sang carols and antiphons and O Holy Night--complete with a verse in Japanese (sung by me, of course). We finished the concert with Jesus Christ the Apple Tree which you can download and listen to if you want.

Photo credit: Pat McGiffert. Thanks a lot!
This was also a special event for me, since not only was it my first time to attend, but it was also my first time to host a table! I love hospitality and pretty things on the table, so I went all out. I dug through all the boxes in my storage closet and pulled out all the beautiful things I received from my grandmothers.

At the luncheon, I sat with Andrea, my childhood friend, my mom, and the ladies from our Japanese church. My dad was one of the waiters.

The food was amazing... everything was made from scratch by a team of cooks from our church. What a talented bunch! Of course, the head chef did win our chili cookoff this year...

On a side note, I'm happy to report that my teacups and other such things finally have a home which is not a box in the closet under the stairs! This beautiful piece of furniture was built by my grandfather. :)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Keith reflecting on Japan grief

There have been many times in my life when I suffered grief. Most of those times were in high school and were compounded by the problem that I seemed to lack a reason for my grief. I later found out that it was my detachment from God that was the root of my problem. So I know what grief feels like. When it hits me more intensely, it affects me physically. I kneel down and stare at a spot on the ground. Somewhere in my chest cavity there are muscle contractions that force me to double over slightly. I studied some human anatomy, but I can't seem to place what exactly is contracting, maybe my intercostals because I also draw in a slow breath that I never fully exhale until the intensity passes. To an extent, this physical pain reflects the mental pain of my grief. 

I write this because I along with my wife have been feeling grief over Japan. I first misinterpreted it as reverse culture shock, which we did have, but the lingering sadness over the months did not abate like the culture shock did. It was only recently at a conference about communication, when we were discussing the various symptoms of grief, that we noticed we had those symptoms of shock (which we attributed to culture shock), sadness, wrestling with pain, and attempting to come to terms with reality. Celia and I have attempted to short-cut the process by claiming God's promises that He will bring us back to Japan and that right now He has called us to Seattle for a reason. I am, however, still at the stage of wrestling with the pain of having a calling to Japan and acknowledging the reality that I do not live in Japan. I am grieving the loss of relationships that we were fostering in Japan, of seeing all the children growing up at Satsunae Lighthouse Church, of explaining the gospel to college students in simple English, and of working with our mentors and co-workers. 

My favorite picture of Satsunae Lighthouse Church in Sapporo, Japan

For each of these areas and others I have given myself excuses like, “I can be with people here now,” and “There's no reason why I should miss my Japanese friends more than I missed my family when I lived there.” I have downplayed this grief, and compounded it like I did in high school. The difference is that I do not feel distanced from God, and to some extent, that is part of the reality that I grapple with. The reality that God gives me a passion for Japan, does not (nor do I want Him to) take my passion away, yet settles me here in Seattle which is not Japan. I am aware that there are a number of reasons why God gives me the desire to go to Japan but keeps me in Seattle for this time (plenty of reasons like: I can be a living testimony to American people that Japanese people need Jesus, or the obvious reason is that I need prayer and financial support that I otherwise would not get if I were in Japan or that I would not want to get if I were not passionate to go, or another reason is that I can partner with others who are passionate about helping the Japanese but unable to go themselves), but one thing about grief: it does not listen to reason. When I think about what I did when I missed my family while living in Japan, I realize I did very few of those things upon coming back here. When I went to Japan, I knew I would miss big events, like the births and baptisms of nieces and nephews. I addressed the problems specifically and prayed about it. I dealt with it instead of trying to cheer myself up. I did not say, “God has led me to Japan for this time, so I should make the most of my time while I'm here and stop 'living' back at home.” Maybe there is a time to say that, but it was not when my brother was in a burn care clinic in Minnesota and I was in Japan.
My brother (born with spina bifida, hence the wheelchair) was flown by helicopter to Minneapolis to treat his leg burns, which happened shortly after Celia and I had arrived in Japan in 2009.
So even in the last week or two, I have noticed that I perceive this grief differently. It is no longer negative feelings to be discouraged but acceptable feelings that show the burden of love (pardon the Christianese) that God has placed on me. I love the Japanese there, and I love my family here. Both types of love are God given, and I must deal with the consequences of this love. “To arrive means to have left,” which is something I will have to deal with over and over again especially as a missionary.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Knitting projects (procrastination)

I'm procrastinating right now. There's a lot to do that I don't feel like doing... so here I am blogging about my knitting projects. Also, I'm working on about 10 projects right now (need to use up the yarn stash before moving to Japan), so there will be a lot more pictures of completed projects after Christmas!

First, hats. These are great for using up yarn. I posted pictures of Alison's baby sweater in my last post. I used up leftover yarn from that sweater for Alison and Alexander's hats, inventing the pattern as I went:

I also made a birthday hat for Elizabeth, which she received about 5 months late. Oh dear. She picked out the pattern herself from my friend, Cosy's pattern book. (She was 2 at the time... ;)

Elizabeth's hat, and Michael's birthday hat, which is still in progress (oh dear... his birthday was last week...) came from leftover yarn from this blanket (pattern available here), which was Carla and Arnaldo's wedding present:

I'm working on a lot of stuff at the moment. One recent fun discovery was this blog, which has many fun snowflake patterns. So I'm making Christmas ornaments.

Incidentally, the green sweater in the picture is the one that's been in progress for several years. It still doesn't have buttons, but I'm wearing it anyway. Hopefully I'll actually finish it soon...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

My sermon is online!

In case you missed our November newsletter (previous post), I preached at Newport Covenant Church (my home church) last Sunday on Psalm 145 for our Thanksgiving service. I never would have thought I'd do that when I left for college 11 years ago... but now I have. Then again, I never thought I would become a missionary.

Well, it's over... I think it went pretty well. (This was my third time preaching, but I got a lot of public speaking experience in Japan, since I gave my testimony a whole bunch of times.) What was really great was the open mic time afterwards. Many people had the opportunity to publicly thank God for his goodness in their lives for the encouragement of the congregation. I was encouraged. :) Oh, I also got to lead communion for the first time in the second service. I remembered the words of institution, but forgot the prayer. Oops.

On Monday I wandered around wondering what to do with all my free time... and quickly filled it with other things I had neglected to do last week while writing the sermon. Oh well. On to the next big thing: on Saturday my parents and Keith and I will be providing music for the Newport Covenant Church Christmas luncheon. I'm also hosting a table. What fun!

The sermon, as the title says, is online--you can download it here or listen from the church's website.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 26, 2010

November Newsletter

Newsletter #8, November 25, 2010

Dear Friends and Family,

I find it somewhat ironic that I'm writing about our Christmas travel plans in the middle of a winter storm in Seattle. Nevertheless, weather permitting, we hope to drive from Seattle to Grand Forks, ND and stay for a few days around Sunday, Dec. 19 and then down to Fort Dodge, IA for Christmas with Keith's family. Please contact us if you want to meet us or to introduce us to someone while we are in the area.

Autumn leaves in our yard meet first snowfall
Having divulged our Christmas plans, I'm now backtracking to Halloween weekend, when Celia and I spoke at an OMF conference. It was well attended: about 100 people showed up to Youth Night. We were encouraged, and we hope we encouraged others to consider involvement in missions, even if they aren't traveling across the ocean. Just recently, we also attended a “Sharpen Your Interpersonal Skills” (SYIS) workshop, which, among other things, taught us that we are still grieving the fact that we left Japan. When we started speaking about this loss in terms of grief instead of reverse culture shock, we were better able to identify where our “heaviness” for Japan comes from. Fast-forwarding back to the present, here we are at Thanksgiving weekend…

Boldly Proclaiming God’s Faithfulness

As I (Celia) am writing this, I’m taking a break from sermon preparations. On Sunday, I will preach about thankfulness at the church where I grew up (Newport Covenant Church), using Psalm 145 as my text. In my sermon, I’m going to encourage the congregation to proclaim God’s faithfulness, because to do so will make God’s glory known in our own lives, among our family and friends, and to the ends of the earth.

I find when I write a sermon, I am often preaching as much to myself as to the congregation. This sermon is exactly what I need to hear right now, because sometimes it isn’t easy to give thanks. There are times when I can hardly stop myself from gushing God’s praise to anyone who will listen, but much of the time, distractions of life get in the way, and I don’t really feel very thankful. Sometimes life sucks. Thanking God starts as a discipline which I must do, which then swells into heartfelt praise. Thus my daily discipline is to spend time in prayer thinking about what I am thankful for, starting with concrete things around me if I can’t think of anything else. The more I look for God’s goodness, the more I see it.

At the risk of embarrassing some people, I would like to proclaim how God has been faithful to us through the people he has put in our lives. We have been very blessed!

Recently, as we mentioned, we went to Abbotsford, BC for the SYIS conference. Our housing was provided by Pete and Sara Heinrichs, who had been complete strangers until we arrived. When we came into their home, we immediately noticed that their refrigerator was covered by pictures of missionaries and exchange students. We learned that over the years, Sara and Pete had traveled extensively to visit and encourage missionaries, and that they had welcomed numerous international students into their home. Sara carefully set the table each morning with a spread worthy of a Bed and Breakfast. As we ate, we prayed together and encouraged each other. I was overwhelmed by their hospitality—“This is our missionary work,” Sara explained. We are thankful for the many people who have hosted us in the last 7 months, especially when we were trying to discern where God was calling us to live.

Breakfast with Pete and Sara
During the last several months, we have had the opportunity to gather in prayer with a number of different people and groups. We have been searching for God’s will for our lives, as we are seeking to serve him in North America while we are waiting to return to Japan, so being supported in prayer has been very important and encouraging to us. In particular, we are thankful for my mom’s MIT prayer group, who have been praying for me since childhood, for Hosanna Christian Church (the Japanese church we have been attending), and for the OMF prayer group in Seattle, which mostly consists of retired missionaries who have encouraged us through faithful prayer and by sharing wisdom from their many years of service. There have been many others; we are greatly encouraged every time we hear that someone is praying for us!

During the month of October, God provided us with several great opportunities to meet people and make connections. We are thankful for the ministry of Phoebe Wong, the OMF regional ministry coordinator in Vancouver, who arranged the conference at which we spoke at the end of October. Earlier in October, we met up with Obo, a fellow student from Regent, who is now a pastor at a Japanese church in Seattle. He introduced us to a number of other Japanese pastors, so hopefully we will be able to speak at other churches.

Finally, we are thankful for the people who have supported us financially, through treating us to meals, giving one-time donations, and making pledges. Many of these people have been long-time supporters—in every sense of that word.

We thank God for allowing us to partner in ministry with so many loving and faithful supporters. We have acknowledged only a few of the people we are thankful for here; we thank God for each and every one of you reading this letter.

Prayer Points
  • Praise God for the turnout at the OMF conference in Vancouver! We are thankful to have been able to speak at that conference and at other churches as well, and we are praying about other speaking engagements as well.
  • We have decided to participate in community groups at Newport Church. Please pray for Mel and Janet, with whom we plan to start a group in January.
  • We're driving some 3,683 miles (about 60 hours) in December, so please pray that the weather and our Subaru will cooperate with us for a hassle free drive across the country.
  • We thank God for everyone who has given us a one time donation; these will help us with plane tickets and initial set-up costs in Japan. However, while OMF does not require that we raise all the money necessary for the first term before we leave for Japan, we need people to pledge to support us when we get there (usually given in monthly amounts). Please pray with us for pledges.
  • We still experience waves of sadness when we remember and miss Japan and our friends there. Please pray that we can find balance between our passion for the Japanese and living well now, in this current season.
  • Both of Celia’s grandparents have moved into their third assisted living home. Please pray for their continued adjustment, especially that they will make friends. They are still unhappy, but they are getting good care.

Preparing for Japan
Warning: the following is very nerdy… and silly.

Even though we’re in the US, we’re still studying Japanese. We’re specifically focusing on reading and writing, since that is relatively easy to do without a teacher. Japanese has 3 sets of characters which make up its writing system: 2 syllabic sets of 46 characters each (hiragana and katakana) and kanji (the Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system which provide meaning; there are about 2200 in standard use). Kanji is complicated, since most of the characters can be pronounced in several different ways depending on the context. Some people—both Japanese and foreigners—try to avoid studying kanji, since any kanji character can be written in hiragana as well. However, it is fascinating to learn… and very necessary, given the huge number of homonyms in the Japanese language. Let me explain with a test sentence, written in hiragana:

Translation: ??

Without kanji, this is a meaningless run-on sentence. Adding kanji, the pronunciation stays the same, but we know the meaning of the sentence and where words begin and end:

(uraniwa ni wa niwa; niwa ni wa niwa niwatori ga iru.)
Translation: 2 birds are in the backyard; 2 chickens are in the garden.

We are thankful for kanji!

Money Jar: We have 1.5%!

We need 100% pledged monthly support for our first term (5 years) before returning to Japan. Please keep praying with us that God will provide for our financial needs!

“The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you.”
—Psalm 145:9-10

May your voice join with all of creation in thankfulness to our God, who is worthy of our praise.

Love in Christ, Keith and Celia

Saturday, October 09, 2010

October Newsletter

Newsletter #7, October 7, 2010

(Note: Due to sensitive material, we had to leave out one of the articles this month. If you would like to read the newsletter in its entirety, please send us an email to receive an electronic copy, or sign up to receive our newsletters by snailmail on OMF's website. Actually, we still need about 10 more people to sign up before OMF starts sending them for us... so please feel free!)

We have been up and down the Pacific coast from Canadian Vancouver to Californian LA meeting with friends and making connections. When we say “coast,” we do, in fact, mean hundreds of miles on the vomit-inducing Pacific Coast Highway. During this last month, it was particularly encouraging to meet with a number of our fellow OMFers with whom we worked in Japan. At the end of October, we will be speaking at an OMF conference in Vancouver, B.C. on October 29-30--this will be two separate events: Youth Night and Heart for Asia--and at Vancouver First Christian Reformed Church on Sunday, October 31.

At the same time, we are becoming more involved with our church, Newport Covenant, through joining weekly groups, participating in the music side of worship, and attending the sermon prep prayer group. We believe that Newport Covenant is one of the reasons for which God has led us to Seattle; we want to support this church in its time of transition as they are implementing a new vision statement and searching for a new lead pastor. Another reason we are in Seattle is to support Celia’s mom while she cares for her aging parents.

Christ-like with a Servant Heart: Re-learning to Love My Grandparents

Living in Seattle, as we mentioned, comes with the blessing of being near my (Celia’s) family. I never thought I would move back in with my parents, but I think God has given us a lot of grace and patience as we’re learning again to live together.

Everyone together at home, preparing for the annual Chili Cookoff
We’re also back in the same place as my mom’s parents. In my childhood, I spent many happy days at Grandmother and Granddad’s house, on their boat, and vacationing together in Hawaii. They constantly found new ways to show affection to each of us grandkids.

Grandparents change when they get old, though. Both of them have dementia now, Grandmother more so than Granddad. In some ways they’re the same: they still love me, and they’re still stubborn and independent. Despite their increased needs, they would prefer to be left alone to live their lives in a sort of “freedom” which means “without help from others.”

Grandmother lives in a state of perpetual confusion. She is nervous in an unfamiliar place, including her own room in the assisted living facility, and she gets flustered when Granddad, the anchor for her memories, leaves the room. Her confusion sometimes leads to agitation. Recently, matters came to a head when she hit one of the staff at her assisted living facility, and was therefore taken to a psych hospital. Although it is hard for me to imagine my sweet Grandmother hitting people, this development was not entirely unwelcome, as Granddad had been interfering when anyone tried to care for her. She was thus allowed to get help for her condition.

Meanwhile, Granddad, who finds the meaning of his life in caring for Grandmother, has come to live with us. This is probably a temporary solution, but it has made for a huge change in our house. Mom works hard at keeping him active and involved by including him in the household chores. Although he was once a gifted Boeing engineer, because of his dementia, now he must relearn simple tasks like grinding coffee and cutting up vegetables.

In this situation, I feel helpless. Granddad is the same person who loved and cared for me as a child; over and over he tells the same story about playing “hide and seek” with me on a boating trip in the San Juan Islands. But now he can’t hear, and he often forgets instructions. How do I show love to him now? If I retreat to my room and try to get work done, I feel guilty for abandoning him, especially if no one else is home. I have a hard time inviting him to help me in the kitchen, since I can do the same tasks faster and better.

Celia on the boat with Granddad
Sometimes it’s even hard to know what to talk about. One evening, when my parents were out, we ate our dinner in silence. No one could think of anything to say—except the same old “hide and seek” story. Last night was a little better. We talked about the time when Grandmother and Granddad went to Japan. He remembered a floating shrine gate, a lake with boats, and a big mountain. (I think they went to Hakone.) He also remembered that the people there were very kind.

As much as I want to honour my family by supporting my grandparents, who are lonely, confused, and probably bored, and by supporting my Mom, who is their tireless—and largely unappreciated—advocate, I can’t help but think at times that this “honour” isn’t getting us any closer to Japan. How do I reconcile my calling as a daughter and a member of this family with my calling to serve and evangelize the Japanese people? I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer wrestling with this subject, and I think I’ve found that the balance point between these two callings is “Christ-like with a servant heart.” This is the motto of one of my mentors, which I have adopted for myself. However, I’m still trying to figure out what that motto means in this situation.

Grandmother was discharged from the hospital a couple of days ago; Granddad will also move into their new place soon. This is the third assisted living facility that they have tried. I’m praying that this one works out for them—and I’m praying that I will find new ways of serving, loving, and appreciating them in these final years.

Here's a couple more grandparent pictures:

Celia and Colin with Grandma and Grandpa (Dad's parents)

Visiting Keith's grandma in Aberdeen, South Dakota

Prayer Points
  • We have decided to attend Newport Covenant Church. Please pray for us as we look for ways to serve there and define our role—and also that we don’t over-extend ourselves. Please also pray for the church in its time of transition.
  • We are thankful for peace in our home; the living situation with Celia’s family is going well. Please pray that we will be a good support for our families, especially Celia’s mom, Joann.
  • Celia’s grandparents are moving into their third assisted living home. Please pray that they will adjust well and be content.
  • Please pray for new and renewed friendships, especially for Keith.
  • We are looking for partners to faithfully pray for us. Thus we are seeking opportunities to share about our work in Japan with churches, small groups, and individuals. Please pray that we would know who to ask and which opportunities to pursue.
  • We are preparing to speak at an OMF conference in Vancouver on October 29-30. Please pray that God will give us the right words to encourage the attendees.
  • We are thankful for our first pledges; we are up to 1.5% of our monthly support! Please pray for God’s continued financial provision for our life and ministry in Japan, and for our return there in God’s timing.

Money Jar: We have 1.5%!

We need 100% pledged monthly support for our first term (5 years) before returning to Japan. Please  keep praying with us that God will provide for our  financial needs!

We hope this letter finds each of you well. Blessings as you seek to follow God in your own lives.

Love in Christ, Keith and Celia

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Speaking about Japan in Van. Oct. 29-31

After my wife has posted some 170 blog posts, I have finally decided to try and pull some of my own digital weight (I'm not sure that idiom works here). So dear blogviewers, particularly of the Vancouver variety, let me invite you to mosey on over to

OMF Youth Night
Friday October 29, 7:30-9:30 pm
Basel Hakka Lutheran Church
2575 Nanaimo Street, Vancouver, B.C.
and then hop on by
Heart for Asia
Saturday, October 30, 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM
Westminster Bible Chapel
7540 6th Street, Burnaby, B.C.
on your way to
1st Christian Reformed Church in Vancouver,
Sunday, October 31, 10:30 AM - 12:00 Noon
2670 Victoria Drive, Vancouver, B.C.

We will be speaking about Japan and missions to some extent at all three.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Update Post 1: Time with Keith's family in May (cute pictures of kids)

June was really busy, so we didn't manage to get many cute pictures of our nieces and nephews up on the blog, but they are really cute, and we're really proud of them, so here's some pictures from our trip to Florida in May.

This is Alexander, who turned 1 in June, with his mom, Sarah. Yes, that is an onigiri that he is eating. I got the whole family hooked on them. :)

Michael and Grandpa: it would be best to take the shirt seriously.

So cute... so messy... so glad I didn't have to clean up after him...

We surreptitiously got this shot of Keith's parents walking to the pool...

Here we are at the Magic Kingdom with Elizabeth, our "fairy god-daughter."

It was hot. We stayed cool with this umbrella... which attracted stares and catcalls. Weird. I guess people in Florida don't know how nice the shade is.

It was a long line... but Michael was having a good time with Daddy.

 It's a small world...

...and this is what Japan looked like back in the 1960s when the ride was built.

Needless to say, the kids got tired.

Meanwhile, Keith and Nate got into some trouble.

Back in North Dakota, we hung out over at Joseph and Catherine's house. Ali hung out on the lawn with the dogs.