Friday, August 27, 2010

A Day (or 3) with Grasiele

Visiting Grasi at her university
Our third Compassion International visit was with Grasiele, the college student we sponsor through Compassion's LDP program. I started sponsoring college students because at the time, I was in college. It has been very rewarding to correspond with students who are close to my own age and in a similar stage of life. Granted I'm already 29 and out of college... (The college students are also better at writing letters than the children. ;)

We met Grasi at her university, where she gave us a quick tour, then we went to some of her favorite places in the city.

Watching surfers from the pier. The guy in the middle is Mauricio; he works with the various students in the LDP program. He was also our translator.
We went to lunch at a very impressive buffet restaurant (they weigh your plate, so you can have as much or little as you want), then we went to Grasi's house and met her mom and 2 of her 3 siblings.

Most of the family sleeps in ordinary beds, but Grasi's sister sleeps in this hammock. Well, not right now, she doesn't...
We had coffee again. This time Keith managed to politely refuse. ;) We made plans to come back the next day to attend church with Grasi and her mom. Church is at night in Brazil. Maybe because it's less hot then? I don't know. We went to the "youth service." It was very loud and enthusiastic. The music, had it not been in Portuguese, could have been Seattle grunge. :) We gave a quick "thanks for having us, we love your enthusiasm, we're praying for you, please pray for us too" sort of speech at the end of the service. Then they prayed for us.

Grasi serves on the worship team at her church as a vocalist. She wasn't on duty this week, but she and her friend Debra sang a couple songs for us after the service. Debra helped out with some translation; she learned English by reading novels and listening to Jars of Clay and other English language bands. I wish it were that easy to learn Japanese!

After church, we ate ice cream and talked to the pastor and some of the other students in the LDP program.
Grasi and Debra invited us to meet up and go walking on the beach the next morning.

Everyone becomes a kid again at the beach. We started by looking in tide pools.

We saw some awesome hermit crabs.

Random loose donkey on the sidewalk. He seems friendly, though.
Lunch was locally caught Pargo (red snapper) with a traditional rice and beans dish.

We walked back to our hotel (oh my, it was hot), and had coffee in the cafe there (delicious). We prayed together and then we said goodbye. (I have to say I felt kind of bad for not crying as much as Grasi did.) We headed for the airport, and flew back to Belo Horizonte!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Day with Kaio

Now that we're done getting our newsletter sent, I can finally get around to finishing up blogging about our trip to Brazil. Actually, this probably won't be the last. It was an important trip. So, on to day 2 of visiting our Compassion International sponsored children!

The day after we met with Stefanny, we visited with Kaio at his project and in his family's home in Fortaleza. This was my second time to meet Kaio. I met him briefly on my previous trip to Brazil in 2002, when he was 3 years old. Now he's 11.

When we arrived at the project, we met Kaio and his mom, and Kaio gave us a tour of the project. We got to see many of the different classes and services available to the students who attend.

Young children's class
Music class
In the Bible classroom, Kaio explains the Bible study curriculum to Keith.
We saw a demonstration of Capoeira, a dance-like Brazilian martial art which took as its inspiration the movements of escaping slaves. It is accompanied by singing and berimbau. Keith got to try it too!
Keith played soccer with the kids too--here is his team. The game stopped when Keith got blisters on the bottom of his feet... they were playing barefoot!
We visited the kitchen. Good stuff coming from in there...
While we waited for lunch, we had ice cream from Kaio's family's new business.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch with Kaio, his mom, and the project staff.
After lunch, we took a short walk to Kaio's house. Quick digression: after spending the last several days not leaving the tourist areas because to do so would be "dangerous," it was refreshing and a bit of a thrill to go where real people live, in this case, a dangerous slum. We felt honored to be able to walk with our friends and to watch as they greeted their neighbors. Most American tourists in Brazil don't get to do this--out of necessity they stay in the safe places and miss out on real life. The neighborhood was dirty and the houses were small and poorly constructed. The poverty in which these people live is truly dreadful. (Thankfully we didn't see anything dangerous, although we were instructed to be cautious and to hide our cameras.) However, we were blessed to meet some of the wonderful people who live in Kaio's neighborhood, and to enjoy the hospitality of Kaio's family and the project. I'm so glad I get to be a part of the work that Compassion is doing in Brazil... and I'm so glad I get to be a part of the lives of Kaio and his family! Okay, end digression. Enough gushing.

As I was saying, we visited Kaio's house. The project staff explained that Kaio's parents have started their own ice cream business, and thus they were able to improve their living situation--they now have a larger house (by the standards of their neighborhood) and a small car which they use for making deliveries. It's possible that Kaio will not be eligible for sponsorship much longer. This worries his parents--they want to make sure he gets the best education possible, and they want him to stay out of trouble--as I mentioned, their neighborhood is dangerous--gangs, drugs, etc. The project workers have assured them that Kaio will still be welcome in some of the project activities, even if he is no longer officially sponsored.

Kaio and his parents pose with their ice cream freezer!
We had coffee together, looked at pictures, talked, and prayed.

As we showed Kaio our photo book, he frequently recognized pictures which we had sent to him with our letters.
This is the one and only time you will ever see Keith with a coffee cup in his hand.
Keith's gift to Kaio: a frisbee, of course!
It was really hard to go home that night...

Shameless plug: I'm totally sold on Compassion's ministry, having visited my sponsored kids 3 times and talked to kids, staff, parents, pastors, etc. This is a great program on so many levels. I'd be happy to tell you more about our visit, whether you are already a sponsor, or if you're thinking about sponsoring a child. If you are ready to sponsor a child right now, follow this link. :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

August Newsletter

Newsletter #6, August 20, 2010

Dear friends and family,

We got off the plane from Brazil on August 18 and thus have finally come to the end of 4½ months of living out of suitcases and traveling upon traveling. In case you were wondering, these are the places we have stayed since we left Sapporo on April 6: Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Unzen, Fukuoka, Kyoto, Hakone, Inuyama, Tokyo, Vancouver, Seattle, Fort Dodge (Iowa), Orlando, Fort Dodge (and a few places between Fort Dodge and Orlando), Grand Forks (North Dakota), Seattle, Vancouver, 2 places in Colorado, Seattle, Portland, Seattle, Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Fortaleza (Brazil), and finally back to Seattle again. We’re glad to be home. (Keith hates planes.)

Our big news is that we have moved to Seattle and will now live with Celia’s parents until we return to Japan. We praise God for leading us to Seattle and keeping us safe during our move. Keith drove a 24 foot rental truck through the narrow streets of Vancouver, B.C. and then to Seattle. Many things could have gone very wrong, including the time Keith was stuck mid-turn in a busy intersection, but there was no major damage to our stuff, the truck, or our bodies.

Celebrating our 5th anniversary in July near Mt. Rainier
Now we are looking for ministry work; we are following up on one possibility. We hope to find a position that will give us good experience and allow us to develop more contacts with people interested in our ministry in Japan.

One More Part of the Body of Christ

Among the many places we traveled in the last four months, one highlight was our trip to Brazil. Our school friend, Carla, invited us to come to her wedding and be witnesses, which is the Brazilian equivalent of being in the wedding party. While we were there, we enjoyed spending time with Carla and her husband, Arnaldo, with Carla’s family, and with Connie and Rebecca, who also went to Regent with us. The wedding was beautiful, and we enjoyed fellowship and food at Carla’s home.

We also decided to visit our Compassion International sponsored children in Brazil, Kaio and Stefanny, and our sponsored college student, Grasiele. The five days of visits taught us how to pray more effectively for the children living in Brazil’s slums. We had the privilege of visiting Kaio and Grasiele at home and receiving the hospitality of their families, and we also had the opportunity to attend church with Grasiele.

Worshiping at El Shaddai Assembly of God in Fortaleza, Brazil with Grasiele (next to Celia) and several of her friends
When we worship together with the people in the various places we have traveled, we are always amazed at the beauty and diversity of the Body of Christ. It is Christ who makes us into one Church, despite barriers of language, race, and social status. We were prayed for and loved by the Body of Christ in Brazil, and we praised God for their passion for the Gospel and their love for one another.

A word about charities and missionary work: while our gifts and acts of service are important, it is perhaps more important that through the experience of giving and traveling and serving, we learn how to pray. We also build relationships with people whom, apart from our mutual love for Christ, we would probably never meet. Our brothers and sisters in Christ in far-off places, from uneducated slum-dwellers to wealthy business people, have important things to teach us which we cannot learn if we simply stay at home and spend time with people who are just like us. We learn to be more like Christ through the witness of those whom we are serving, and simply because we obey God’s call to serve.

(Finally, a shameless plug: come visit us when we go back to Japan, because you will learn how to pray for the needs of the Japanese! You will be blessed by fellowship with the believers there. And you will probably eat some really good food.)

We've posted several times about this trip... so check out the last several posts too! I still have a couple more to do yet, so if you're interested, check back in a week or so.

Why Japan?

Since we came back to North America, when meeting with friends, we repeatedly hear the same question: “Why Japan?” The short answer: God gave us love for the Japanese people. There have been many little everyday confirmations of our calling which we received before, during, and after our time in Japan, but here are a couple of stories which we would consider most significant in God’s confirmation of our work in Japan.

Celia’s Story: My confirmation came on a Saturday last September, about a month after we arrived in Japan. Keith was teaching English, so I had the day to myself. I decided to ride my bike to Satorando Park to visit the farmer’s market. My heart was filled with inexplicable joy as I rode past people working in their gardens and admired the fields of onions for which our region is famous. I thanked God for blessing the people of Sapporo with good soil and delicious vegetables; I wept that most of these people don’t know this loving God who has graciously provided for their needs when he made their island. I prayed for each person I saw to know their creator and provider. After shopping at the market, I rode my bike home, thanking God for bringing me to such a good place and for calling me to serve him and make him known among the Japanese people.

Riding Home from the Farmer's Market with 20 kg of potatoes (they cost about $2!!). This was at a different time from the aforementioned story--probably in November.
Keith’s Story: Similar to Celia’s story, my specific confirmation came in everyday life—instances that would otherwise not be special had I not felt God’s overwhelming presence. On several occasions, at the subway station or the park or outside a school, God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Look around at these people.” I stood motionless. I saw men in business suits, women in tall boots, or children pouring out of school buses, and then I felt an incredible love for them. God was showing me a drop of his love for the Japanese, and it broke me when I coupled it with the knowledge that 99% of these people had no idea how much they are loved or who the Lover is. As much as I wanted to, I knew that running up to those Japanese children and trying to tell them about Jesus would be ineffective, even if I could manage it in Japanese. Showing the love of God to the Japanese will take time, and out of moments like those, God was preparing me to be willing for a lifetime of such service.

Prayer Points
  • We are thankful for a “new” home in Seattle with Celia’s parents and for safety in our move here. Please pray for all of us as we adjust to living together. Please also pray for new and renewed friendships here, especially for Keith.
  • We are looking for partners to faithfully pray for us. In order to do that, 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 have our first pledge, so we have 1% of our monthly support! We’re very thankful. Please pray that God will continue to provide for us financially for our life and ministry in Japan, and for our return there in God’s timing.
  • We are looking for work: we would like to serve in a church, and by so doing, gain experience which will help us in our missionary work.


Nuts and Bolts

Just a few miscellaneous items which fit nowhere else:
  • We moved, but our mailing address in the US didn’t change, in case you were wondering.
  • There have been some major updates on the blog, including a “get involved” page and a prayer page. We will be updating these pages frequently.
  • We need 30 people to sign up for a paper copy of our newsletter before OMF will start sending it out for us. If you are reading this on your computer but would prefer a paper copy of our newsletter, don’t be shy: please follow this link and sign up! You do not need to make a donation to receive our prayer letter. Go to this link then type “Keith and Celia Olson” in the box marked “Name of person/family to whom you are pledging your support,” check the box marked “prayer commitment,” enter your address information, and click “submit.” Send us an email if you are confused.
  • One more item for the email list crowd: we have prayer cards now! This is a simple, tangible reminder to pray for us. You can put it on your fridge or bulletin board. If you would like one, please send us your mailing address.

Money Jar: We have 1%!

We need 100% pledged monthly support for our first term (5 years) before returning to Japan.  Please  keep praying!

That’s it for this month! We’re glad to be settling down. Thanks for your prayers; please let us know how we can be praying for you.

Love in Christ,
Keith and Celia

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Day with Stefanny

Since we were already going to Brazil for Carla and Arnaldo's wedding, we decided that it would be a good opportunity to visit our Compassion International sponsored children. We have 3 in Brazil. This was Keith's first time to visit a sponsored child, but my third time. You can read about my visit to Sindy in Peru here and here. I also visited Tayrinne and Kaio in Brazil in 2002... long before I had a blog! You'll hear more about Kaio later, but here's a picture of Tayrinne.

We flew to Fortaleza, where Kaio and Grasiele live, the morning after Carla and Arnaldo's wedding. (That was rough--only 2 hours of sleep!) Luckily we had a couple of days to recover before we met Stefanny on Wednesday.

Sunset in Fortaleza
Stefanny lives in Recife, which is relatively close, but far enough so she had to come by plane... the first time for her and her two companions!

After we met Stefanny, her aunt (Marimercia), and her project director (Elisiane) at the airport, we went to the beach. This was a good ice-breaker, since Stefanny is very shy. Swimming and playing on the beach were the things to do.

After lunch, we did some origami together.

Then we asked if she wanted to swim again? No. Play on the beach? No. Bury you in the sand? No. Bury Keith in the sand? She giggled. We took that as a yes.

After that, we buried her in the sand AND went swimming. Everything needs to be in the proper order, I guess.

We went to the mall to sit, enjoy the air conditioning, have coffee and ice cream, and talk. Stefanny fell asleep (having left home at 5:00 a.m.), so we talked to Marimercia and Elisiane about Stefanny's family and the project.

Keith decided to do some origami too.

Then we went to the airport, prayed for Stefanny, and said goodbye. It was a very good, very long day.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Carla and Arnaldo's Wedding

The day of the wedding. Carla was at the salon being pampered. Meanwhile...

Carla's daddy was warming up and choosing a perfect reed for the wedding.
Celia was making a last-minute effort to finish the wedding present (still not done).
Arnaldo was being very helpful by doing the dishes after lunch.
Fast-forward a few hours...

Celia and Rebecca and Connie went to the salon too for hair and makeup. (I don't think I've ever worn so much makeup, but everyone said it was appropriate for a Brazilian wedding!) By the way, that is my high school prom dress from 11 years ago. Feeling proud of myself. I was also feeling proud of myself since I helped assemble all the little favor boxes on the table there.
Then the wedding ceremony happened, but I was busy watching, so I didn't take any pictures. Afterwards...

Carla and her family
Angelica and Carla
Here's our little group from Vancouver. Connie (next to me) was also a witness and Rebecca (on the end) translated for us. It was her first time doing simultaneous translation, and she did a great job!
When's dinner? It's almost midnight! (note: this is normal.)
Tossing the bouquet...
After most of the guests have left, Carla sits down for the first time in several hours at the "English Table."
It's been fun! Now we're ready to go home and sleep... for 2 hours before we need to get up and catch our flight to Fortaleza!