Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 2010 Newsletter

Back Home?

Newsletter #4, May 17, 2010

So, our all-too-short-term mission trip to Japan has come to an end. Celia finished her last cello concert, Keith finished his ESL classes, our farewell parties stretched on for two weeks (which made leaving Sapporo especially hard), we spent a few weeks vacationing and visiting friends in Honshu and Kyushu, and we flew back to Vancouver, Canada on April 26 (just in time for Regent graduation). For the last few weeks we have been dealing with Canadian taxes, phones, insurance, housing, a mountain of mail, and a million details that piled up while we were gone. Re-entry culture shock has not made this transition easier.

We have a couple of big announcements: first, we are in the process of applying to work in Japan with OMF long-term because we want to spend the rest of our lives being salt and light to the Japanese people. Second: we wanted to be able to announce our new contact information, but things have not worked out the way we expected, so we are not sure where we are going to be living and what sort of work we will be doing while we finish the application process. We hear that on average, it takes about two years to apply and to prepare to go to the mission field.

Honshu and Kyushu Vacation Report

This was an article in the print newsletter, but I have already posted a longer version of this article and a lot of pictures on the blog:

Part 1: Tokyo
Part 2: Death, Destruction, Depravity, and Martyrdom (Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
Part 3:A Baby Church and Old Japan (Fukuoka, Kyoto, Hakone, and Inuyama)

Keith reflects on leaving Japan

Keith struggles to eat a plate of hotdogs

For some reason, leaving Japan was harder emotionally than entering for Celia and me. We had both heard stories in the past from missionaries who said that when they came to China or Nigeria or wherever they were serving, it felt like they were coming “home.” I used to roll my eyes and think that it was an overstatement.

Celia and I have lived in many places before and after we met, and home was always classified as “where family and friends are.” But as we struggled to leave Japan, we had to come to terms with the fact—as cheesy as it sounds—that home had become a place for us, and that place is Japan. While leaving Japan, one of our most comforting thoughts was that we were certain God was going to provide for us to return to Japan and to continue His work there.

Japan has left its mark on us; no doubt about it. Road rage, rude gestures, huge portions of food, 56 types of oil at the grocery store, overly sweetened desserts, the problem of finding good health insurance, and many other things have surprised us. Since returning we have never felt hungry. I feel weird stepping up onto any raised area without first taking off my shoes.

A couple of weeks ago at the dentist in Vancouver, an Asian dental hygienist came around the corner, and as she began to lean forward, I started to bow. When I saw her reach her hand forward, I looked at it and thought to myself, “I have to touch her?”

Our Japanese inclinations will probably fade away as fast as our Japanese language skills, but still, if we do come to visit you, please have some rice on hand.

Language Corner
Keith writes about his Engrish… er… English classes at Kibou no Oka Church

One of the main ministries I did in Japan was the teaching of English through a Bible study and three classes at Kibou no Oka Church. I taught on Friday at 3 and 7 p.m. and on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. every week.

At times it was very hard to keep my motivation, particularly when students would not show up, which often left me wondering if it was something I did or said that had frightened them away. For instance, there were twelve students in my first advanced English class; the next week only three of them were present. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe beginning that first class with a prayer drove away all the non-Christians. Eventually I found a groove where I would start each class with a game or activity and then focus on only two or three of the week’s lessons. When students did not show up, I found solace in preparing Bible studies and playing the organ in the breaks between classes.

I also learned quite a bit through these classes about Japanese culture, about using ESL classes for evangelism, and about communicating using clear and simple English. Many Japanese people told me that they could understand my English better than any other native English speaker. Then again, I sometimes start speaking like that to other native speakers, e.g. my wife, who is always quick to point out that I sound like a dork.

Engrish of the Month

The sign reads, “Do Not Run In To Train.” Seriously, folks. It hurts.

Celia’s Cooking Corner
Japanese Restaurants

I haven’t been doing too much cooking lately, since we’ve been on vacation and staying in other people’s houses. However, we’ve eaten at some amazing restaurants! I’ve been posting about some of our experiences on the blog, so please have a look:

Restaurants I have known and loved, part 1: Sapporo
Part 2, which will feature some of the restaurants we visited on our trip, is coming soon!

Prayer Points
Looking back, we are thankful for…
  • The impending completion of our OMF application; it is moving forward.
  • The warm welcome we’ve received from so many on our return: the Danielsons, who provided us with housing, airport pickup, and even a car to borrow in Vancouver; the Wilsons, especially since Dan cleaned the mice out our car; and the Olsons—we’re looking forward to spending time with all our nieces and nephews in Florida!
  • All the people who have supported us, prayed for us, and encouraged us during our time in Japan.
  • All the relationships that we formed in Japan. We are continuing to pray that we are able to maintain these relationships at a distance.
Looking forward, we are praying for…
  • The continuing work among the Japanese. Please pray that there will be other workers who will continue the work we had been doing.
  • Satsunae Lighthouse Church. We received news that there is now a candidate to become their pastor. Please pray for wisdom to decide if this person is the right pastor for this church.
  • The completion of our OMF application process and the other preparations that will need to be made… and patience as we are waiting!
  • Candidate course: we will be attending a 2-week course in which we will be extensively interviewed and learn more about the preparations we will need to make to go back to Japan. This will take place in Colorado from June 13-25. Please pray for energy to get through a very busy and intense couple of weeks.
  • God’s guidance as we are trying to decide where to live and work while we prepare to return to Japan.
  • Our transition to life in North America.

It’s been quite a journey… and the journey continues! Now that we’re back in North America, we hope to see many of you face to face and to share with you more about our time in Japan. We will keep you updated on our application process and our preparations to return to Japan. Thank you so much for your prayers and support!

Love, Keith and Celia

Honshu and Kyushu Vacation Report, Part 3: A Baby Church and Old Japan (Fukuoka, Kyoto, Hakone, and Inuyama)

After we left Unzen, we visited our aforementioned friend, Stephanie in Fukuoka. We had gone to language school together until she graduated in March. Stephanie works with a team of Pioneers missionaries who recently started a church plant in Fukuoka in partnership with a Japanese pastor and some local believers. We went to church together and saw some of the sights of Fukuoka.

Eating lunch after church in Fukuoka

Visiting the ruins of Fukuoka Castle

Fukuoka Tower

We visited a small island where we turned over rocks on the beach and did other such things.

We headed to Kyoto next, having heard rave reviews from various people. Kyoto is indeed beautiful… but it’s probably the only place we visited where we don’t think we would want to live. Even if we lived in Kyoto for 20 years, we would still be treated like tourists… since there are a lot of tourists there.

Kyoto is sometimes known as the spiritual center of Japan; within the city there are hundreds of shrines and temples. We visited a number of shrines and temples; the grounds were beautifully kept, especially at the temples nestled into the tree-covered hillside.

At one of the temples, we stumbled upon some kind of ceremony, which we watched for a while. I chatted with some of the participants (several Buddhist nuns) in the public bath later that evening back at our hotel.

The food in Kyoto was particularly enjoyable; given the large number of Buddhists in the city, tofu and vegetable dishes were specialties.

Take note how far out into the street this geisha is standing--to keep the tourists from thrusting their cameras in her face.

 Enjoying some cold soba between temples

We spent the next several days in the Hakone region, trying to get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. We didn’t; it was too cloudy. Instead, we enjoyed looking at big trees.

Our last stop before we returned to Tokyo was Inuyama, where we met up with another person named Yuka, whom we also met in Vancouver. We saw the oldest castle in Japan, cooked tonkatsu together, and generally enjoyed chatting with Yuka and her mom and sister. We also learned about how an average Japanese family practices Shinto and Buddhism.

Inuyama Castle

Keith flips the tonkatsu...

On a whim, we made fried okra too!

And then back to Tokyo… and our Japanese vacation ended, along with our short term mission.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On a lighter note...

In marked contrast to my previous post, I'd like to post pictures of our precious niece and nephew.

We love rice! Take us to Japan!

In case you were wondering what we're doing now, we're visiting our family. Presently we're in Iowa with Keith's parents, and his sister, Sarah arrived with her family yesterday.

We have no idea where we're going to live and what we're going to do between now and the time we return to Japan, so we're trying to figure that out. No brilliant ideas so far; we're waiting for God's leading. Thanks to all of you who have encouraged and prayed for us in the past few weeks. Coming "home" to North America has not been easy. Please keep praying!

We've also been reporting back to the churches and friends who supported us and prayed for us during our time in Japan. 2 weeks ago we were at Vancouver 1st Christian Reformed Church, last week we were at Newport Covenant Church in the Seattle area, and yesterday we were at Grace Lutheran Church in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Here we are standing by yesterday's display:

(Side note for Japanese-culture-nerds: yes, I know that the kimono isn't totally correct. In fact, a 16-year girl took pains to point out to me that which I already knew. I haven't learned the art of wearing a kimono yet (and it's too short). I haven't decided if this is a kimono or a yukata, actually. It's polyester, not silk or cotton. Not bad for a gaijin though, ne?)

Let us know if you would like us to come to your house, church, prayer group, Bible study, etc. to talk about Japan. We'd be delighted.

p.s. Keith got a haircut.

Honshu and Kyushu Vacation Report, Part 2: Death, Destruction, Depravity, and Martyrdom (Hiroshima and Nagasaki)

After a week in Tokyo, we got on the Shinkansen (that’s the bullet train) and went further west. Definitely ride the Shinkansen if you get the chance. It’s a great way to see a lot of Japan, and it’s fast, comfortable, and extremely convenient. Our first stop was Hiroshima.

We felt slightly underdressed...

Of course most of our activities in Hiroshima centered around sites commemorating the dropping of the atomic bomb. I have to say that seeing the mangled “a-bomb dome,” pictures of twisted buildings and suffering children, and fragments of bloodstained clothing affected me far more than all of the war related sites I had seen in Europe. Visiting Dachau concentration camp, it was easy enough to look on as an outsider—“I had nothing to do with these atrocities,” I could tell myself. “The Nazis were evil, and the Jews were innocent.” It was, so it seemed, black and white. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was my country that was to blame. I didn’t want to speak English; I felt like people were staring at me, even if there were many other tourists there.

The A-Bomb Dome

Of course I have heard the arguments: dropping the bomb[s] ended the war and ultimately saved lives. Does that really justify it? I can’t help but be disgusted at the selfishness of the Japanese imperialism that led to the war; while the government had grandiose plans to conquer the world, it was the schoolchildren who were out clearing firebreaks on August 6 who bore the brunt of the bomb attack. Still, I can’t help but be even more disgusted by the actions of my own country, which hastily completed the a-bomb attack—its science experiment and power display on behalf of the Soviets—at a time when the Japanese were already considering surrender. (Yes, I did in fact see American documents at the museum which taught me such things. We were never taught this in American schools.)

Most people don’t talk about the war in Japan; they are too ashamed to do so, and they are afraid to stir up hatred. Why aren’t we ashamed too? I can be disgusted and ashamed, but what makes this truly painful is that it concerns people from my home country and the country I have come to love as my home. I have met WWII veterans in the US, and I probably have met some in Japan, too. These are people whom God loves. These are people who collectively chose to follow their sinful human nature and wage war on each other.

I was overwhelmed by the sinfulness of humankind and our need for redemption. The Hiroshima peace museum offered empty John Lennon style “give peace a chance” solutions: if everyone agrees that we need world peace, then the world will be saved. Thousands of letters of protest from the mayors of Hiroshima to ambassadors of various countries on the occasion of each atomic test adorned the walls. I admire their diplomatic and commemorative efforts, but they lack in that they do not acknowledge one simple fact: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:11-18). There can be no explanation for war without an understanding of human sinfulness, and there can be no world peace unless everyone in the world knows the peace of Christ in their own hearts.

After we finished at the peace museum, we wandered into a garden fair with a large display of bonsai trees, among other things. There was also a booth selling an excellent selection of pickles; we sampled each kind. It was refreshing to spend some time admiring the beautifully rebuilt city and to bask in some of the goodness with which God has blessed the nation of Japan.

Later that day, we went on to Nagasaki, where we met up with our friend, Stephanie, who recently moved to Kyushu. We saw the Nagasaki atomic bomb museum as well, and I liked (if liked is the right word) that museum more than the Hiroshima museum, because of its clear message that war (and specifically the atomic bomb) hurts everyone—in this case, Christians, Buddhists, Japanese, Korean forced labor, Allied prisoners of war, civilians, and military. One display featured objects taken from the ruins of the Urakami Cathedral, which had been the largest church in Asia. The church and the worshippers inside were destroyed.

 Melted rosaries from the Urakami Cathedral

Nagasaki was the birthplace of Japanese Christianity in the sixteenth century, and the site of some of the most intense persecution when Christianity was illegal, between the 1590s and 1871. We visited the site where in 1597 twenty-six Japanese and Portuguese Christians were crucified, as well as the nearby town of Shimabara, where 37,000 Christians were killed in an uprising, and the onsen resort town of Unzen, where Christians were tortured in the boiling sulfur hot springs, in an area known as 地獄 (jigoku), meaning hell. Ironically, we enjoyed bathing in the slightly-less-hot onsen baths…

The memorial to the 26 martyrs in Nagasaki

Unzen "Jigoku"--can you find the cross in remembrance of the Christians who died here?

Foot bath in Shimabara. This is the closest you will get to seeing a picture of an onsen.

Okay, that’s it for part 2. I promise part 3 will be less death-oriented.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Honshu and Kyushu Vacation Report, Part 1: Tokyo

Before we returned to North America, we decided it would be a good idea to see some of the rest of Japan. As many of our friends like to joke, “Hokkaido isn’t Japan.” Well, it is… but it’s very different than the rest of Japan. (Quick historical note: Hokkaido was settled by the Japanese in the 19th century, and Sapporo is roughly the same age as Seattle and Vancouver. Before the Japanese arrived, Hokkaido was already the home of the Ainu people.) We wanted to see “old Japan” and reconnect with some old friends, so off we went to the islands of Honshu and Kyushu.

First we spent a week in Tokyo. It seemed like the right thing to do, since Tokyo is what most people think about when they imagine Japan: an extremely crowded, huge city which is busy 24 hours a day. We thought we would hate it, but we didn’t. Then again, we came during cherry blossom season, and except for a couple of rainy days, they weather was great. Maybe we wouldn’t have liked it so much had we visited in the middle of the hot, muggy summer. In any case, Tokyo didn’t feel like a big city the way Boston or New York do. People were friendly and courteous (with the exception of a few businessmen who were in a hurry to get somewhere), the trains were efficient and ran on schedule, everything was very clean, and there were a lot of open spaces and parks.

Some Tokyo highlights were spending time chatting, debriefing, and praying with other OMF missionaries, picnicking under blooming cherry trees (that’s called お花見=ohanami, which literally means “flower viewing,” but specifically refers to viewing 桜=sakura=cherry blossoms), and visiting the Edo-Tokyo museum, where we learned about the city’s history. I also got to spend my birthday at nearby Nikkou National Park, visiting with our friend, Yuka and looking at beautiful trees and temples.

First thing to do on our arrival in Tokyo: find some cherry trees. The only thing is, we really needn’t have gone out of our way, since there were cherry trees everywhere.

Often ohanami parties get pretty wild. We went to one of the popular spots (Ueno park) to observe the craziness. It was a cold, rainy night, and only the diehards were present.

We met up with Ayumi, who stayed with my family for 2 weeks the summer when I was 11. We had lost contact, but I wrote her a letter in Japanese, with some help from my teacher. She emailed me a week later, and we met up in Tokyo.

We made a day trip out to Nikkou National Park, where we met up with our friend, Yuka. (Note the writing on the building behind them…)

(If you can't read it, it says "pink hair.")

Nikkou is famous for impressive temples in beautiful surroundings.

It was my birthday, so I had a phone call from my parents.

We walked around the Imperial Palace. You can’t actually go in, since the imperial family lives there, but you can walk around the outside.

We had Hiroshima style okonomiyaki from a street vendor. Delicious! And the fried egg on top was pure genius…

We visited the infamous Yasukuni Shrine, in which war dead are remembered (i.e. worshipped). The controversy is that a number of WWII war criminals were enshrined there.

This was Keith’s favorite display at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. (Hint: read the caption at the top of the picture.)

Keith makes friends with condemned fugu in front of a fugu restaurant.

We visited the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. It was fun to see a museum with excellent displays on some of our favorite films and on the mechanics of animation… and it was cool that they were child-sized. We had to bend over to see them. Oh, and I think I had the prettiest cappuccino ever in the café.

That night, we stayed over with Ronna, who had been my preschool teacher, and her daughter, Erika. Ronna and her husband, Dave have been missionaries in Japan for more than 20 years, so it was exciting to hear more about their life in Japan and see where they lived and worked.

End of part 1. Part 2 coming soon!