Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas-time happenings, part 1: Spiegel im Spiegel

Now that Christmas is "over" here (everyone starts preparing for the New Year holiday after their Christmas Eve dates), I feel like I actually have time to celebrate Christmas. Today is a slow stay-at-home sort of day... and there's also a blizzard outside, so I'm glad I don't need to go out!

Thus I am starting a series of posts about our adventures over the last month--playing music at church, caroling and relief work in Ishinomaki, and our Christmas celebration at church.

The first Sunday of Advent, November 27, was also the last Sunday of the month, so our church had "open church"--usually this means a music performance or testimony as part of the service, and special coffee time afterwards. This time, Keith and I were asked to provide 10 minutes of music. We chose Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt, a piece which particularly fits well in an Advent service. I also had a chance to practice my Japanese public speaking by explaining the meaning of the piece before we played it.

Well then. The text of my introduction is below (go to google translate for a good laugh), and then there's a video of the whole thing. It wasn't a perfect performance, it was recorded on Keith's iPod, the piano was out of tune, and I still sound funny speaking Japanese... but here is a sample of us doing one thing we hope to continue doing after language school.

今日の演奏はArvo Pärtが作った「鏡の中の鏡」です。 私とキースの大好きな曲です。 弾く前に、少しこの曲を紹介したいと思います。

今日はアドベントの最初の日曜日です。 イスラエル人は神様を求めて、長い間イエス様がお生まれになる事を待っていました。 神様も愛する人間達を求められて、ご自分の大切なひとり子をこの地球へ送られました。 イエス様は人間と同じように生活されて、人間のように死なれました。 そのイエス様を通して、神様と人間は会えました。 

これがこの曲の意味です。 アルヴォ・ペルトはクリスチャンなので、いつも深い信仰を持って、作曲しています。 作られた曲はアルヴォ・ペルトの深い信仰を表しています。 

この「ラ」の音は鏡の表で、イエス様です。 神様が最初から人間を求めておられるので、私達人間は鏡のように神様の愛を映して、神様を求める事ができます。 チェロのパートは遅いテンポの音階で神様と人間の求め合う事を表現します。 この曲では、いつも鏡の中で神様と人間が会えます。


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

December Newsletter

Newsletter #15

Dear Friends and Family,

Greetings from a very messy apartment. We just sent off boxes with Christmas presents and played/sang in our first Christmas concert of the year, as well as had some new friends over for dinner. The result? A lot of great language practice, but very little “studying” (or cleaning).

December is the busiest month for Christians in Japan. Starting tomorrow (Wednesday, December 7), we will be spending 12 days with a team from Westminster Chapel (Bellevue, Washington), singing Christmas carols and doing other sorts of relief work in Ishinomaki, which is near Sendai. We are hoping to be able to express the love of God through music, to encourage people who are still hurting. On a personal note, this trip will offer us many opportunities to practice Japanese and learn about doing music ministry in Japan.

Below are a few pictures from the last month or so.

On a walk in Odori Park, downtown Sapporo
Trying out the harpsichord with Shino
Tea with Mikiko and Yuugo in the kotatsu!
Making kimchi at a Korean friend's house

Lessons in Weakness

Celia in class with Jomen-Sensei, who is not at all responsible for Celia's frustrating day in class.

We continue with full time language study, likely until sometime around next Christmas (2012). Various people keep telling us that learning a language is a marathon, not a sprint. For that reason, we are trying a more balanced approach—I (Celia) finally got out my knitting stuff, I started learning a cello and piano sonata with my friend, Shino, and I’ve had my first Shamisen lesson. (A Shamisen is a 3-stringed Japanese instrument.) But I digress. The temptation to treat language school like a sprint—all consuming, taking all available time and energy—comes simply enough from frustration at my own lack of skill. (Today’s class was especially frustrating.)

Right now, however, we’re still in the blissful period when people expect us to make mistakes—and are therefore quick to forgive us when we accidentally say something rude. Fortunately or unfortunately, this is a temporary state. Our Japanese will improve over time, and others’ expectations will increase—but we will continue to make mistakes. Already I’ve started to notice (in retrospect) that I am speaking without thinking about what I’m saying. This is good, and yet it is also bad. The more natural I become, the more likely I am to make a very bad mistake that won’t easily be forgiven.

We’re fairly proficient at everyday chatting, so people can get the impression that our Japanese is better than it actually is. We’re still quite limited in our range of conversation topics—I can talk about foods I like, but to talk in depth about a book or a movie I like or to give my testimony is beyond me at present.

All of these things can be very frustrating at times, but I’m thankful for language school and for the opportunity to learn Japanese. I’m thankful for every conversation I have with a Japanese friend, for every tiny step I make in becoming just a little more fluent. And yet I am also thankful for my weakness.

When we arrived in Japan for the first time in July 2009, I felt God’s presence like never before. That being the case, I assumed it was something about being in Japan. Perhaps it was. But it could be that when I acknowledged my own weakness, being in an unfamiliar place where I couldn’t speak the language, God revealed himself to me.

I am once again painfully aware of my own weakness, and yet blissfully aware of God’s strength. With the Apostle Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10). I wouldn’t go so far as to describe our situation as hardship, persecution, or calamity—but weakness? Absolutely. Sometimes I need to be reminded of my helplessness so that I can come again to this place of closeness with God. This is where I should be all the time, but sometimes if I’m feeling a little bit strong, I try to venture out on my own. Paul’s words help bring to mind all the times when I have found strength when there was none to be found in myself.

Prayer Points
  • We will be joining a team from Westminster Chapel in Bellevue to sing Christmas carols in Sendai and Ishinomaki for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami, December 7-18. Please pray for safety in travel and good health. Please also pray for those who will hear us: that they would be encouraged, that many would seek the truth, and that we can help them make connections with Christians who are in these communities long term.
  • We just got our budget for next year, and because of the dismal exchange rate, our support figure in US dollars has increased by about 15%. This will affect almost everyone in OMF Japan. Please pray with us, trusting that God will provide for all our needs.
  • We are thankful that our growing skills are enabling us to deepen our relationships with friends here. Please pray for motivation to study, and for us to keep up with our daily assignments.
  • We are thankful for many wonderful opportunities we've had in the past month. Please pray for balance, as there are many issues vying for our attention: Japanese study, practicing our instruments, cooking and eating and showing hospitality, spending time with friends, communicating with friends and family at home, taking care of day to day things like paying bills and figuring out why there is condensation on all the walls, etc. Above all, we do not want to neglect our relationships with God and each other.
  • There is lots of outreach going on this month in Japan as people are interested in the meaning of Christmas. Please pray for Kita Hiroshima Church (our church’s) outreach concert on December 24, as well as other such events. Please pray also for those working right now in preparation for Christmas outreach, especially that they would not neglect their own spiritual lives amidst all the busyness.

Your participation requested!

Last Christmas we received an electronic photo frame from Keith’s mom. We would like to use it to display pictures of our family and friends, to remind us who is praying for us--and to remind us to pray for you too. Please send us a favorite photo or photos by email, and we’ll put them in the frame. Thanks!

Engrish of the month, and a cultural note

This is the outside of a pachinko parlor which we pass on the way to the subway station. Pachinko is a kind of gambling which is popular in Japan. Some people spend hours (and their paychecks) every day playing pachinko. So in a way, the Engrish on the signboard is remarkably fitting:

The text reads, “It is new century arrival to an amusement. RISING reverses common sense. Please spend the pleasant time of a thrill and excitement.”

Please pray for people who struggle with gambling addiction.

You will be in our thoughts as we celebrate this month. Thank you once again for your prayers and support.

May our God, who for the sake of the world took on our weak human flesh, bless you this Christmas.

Love in Christ, Keith and Celia

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Speech

Happy Thanksgiving (again)!

Today is also a happy day for me, since it marks the official end of the "beginner course" in language school. Thus I gave a speech. Since today is Thanksgiving, I decided on a Thanksgiving-themed speech.

Thus I give you the text of my speech, in Japanese. Sorry, English speakers, no translation. As usual, for a good time, please follow this link to use Google Translate to make your own Engrish.

Basically, the speech includes a brief history of Thanksgiving, followed by a description of my family's Thanksgiving celebration, and finally, a list of things I'm thankful for. (I just posted a list of 56 things I'm thankful for--in English--if you want to read that instead.)

Here I am, mid-speech. I gave the speech in the student lounge during tea break. As you can see, we have coffee and things. :)

私の国で、今日は特別な日で、私の一番好きな日です。 「Thanksgiving」を少し紹介したいと思います。


あるアメリカ人にとって、「Thanksgiving」は特に愛国的な日です。 1620年、「ピルグリムファーザーズ」がイギリスから来ました。 そのころ、イギリスではみんな英国国教会で礼拝しなければなりませんでしたが、ピルグリムになった人は非国教徒でした。 その人達は自分のやり方で礼拝したかったので、罰金を払わなければならなかったり、刑務所に入れられたりして、イギリスを出たくなりました。 長い間考えて、アメリカへ行こうと決めました。 

旅は長くて、危なかったです。 一番危なかったのはニューイングランドの冬でした。 ピルグリムとメイフラワー号の搭乗員は初めてのニューイングランドの冬だったので、それは北海道のような厳しい冬で半分位の人が死んでしまいました。 

次の年の11月に、作物の刈り取りが終わった時、三日間北米の原住民と収穫の感謝祭を行いました。 そのごちそうは今の「Thanksgiving」のモデルです。 ピルグリムは何回も色々な理由で感謝祭を祝いました。 その目的はいつも神様に感謝する事でした。

私の子供の時、家族は毎年父のいとこのジェーニさんの家で「Thanksgiving」を祝いました。 母はパンプキン・パイを持って行きます。 母とジェーニさんとやすこさんは台所で忙しくしていて、私と女のいとこ達はお婆さんと話します。 父とヴィックさんはアメフトを観ます。 弟は2階で男のいとこ達とテレビゲームをします。 ごちそうができた時、みんなはジェーニさんの大きくてきれいに飾ったテーブルの周りに集まります。 ヴィックさんが祈ったら、みんなは食べ始めます。

アメリカの祝日の中で「Thanksgiving」の時にしか伝統的なアメリカ料理を食べません。 ターキーやかぼちゃやじゃが芋などは元々アメリカ大陸の産物でした。


食事の後で、母は「さあ、皆さん、どんな事に感謝していますか。」と言います。 それから、みんなは感謝する事を伝えます。 その後で、パンプキン・パイとコーヒーが出ます。

今の「Thanksgiving」の祝いは全然違います。 お婆さんが亡くなりました。 ジェーニさんが家を売りました。 それに、今年、私とキースはピルグリムのように故郷を出て、新しい国へ引越ししました。 ですから、ピルグリムの勇気に感心しています。 日本へ来たので、とても嬉しいですが、毎日新しいチャレンジをしています。 大変な事もありますが、毎日神様に日常の小さい事を感謝しています。


私はこたつを感謝します。  たたみと布団を感謝します。 外で乾いた洗濯物のにおいを感謝します。 部屋からのきれいな夕日の景色を感謝します。 いちょうのきれいな黄色いはっぱを感謝します。 いつでもおいしい日本茶が飲める事を感謝します。 すき焼きときのこを感謝します。 お弁当を感謝します。 キースがお弁当をおいしそうに食べているのを見る事を感謝します。
礼拝の後で、教会員とそばを食べながらお喋りする事を感謝します。 毎日、日本人の友達と話して、日本語に慣れていく事を感謝します。 祈り会と持ち寄りの食事を感謝します。 日本語で祈る時、下手ですが、神様が私の祈りも分かる事を感謝します。

私は弱くて、神様に全ての事を信頼しています。 私は父なる神様の大切な子です。 それで、いつも神様に感謝しています。

By the way, we did actually manage to have Thanksgiving dinner. We provided rolls, mashed potatoes, and apple crisp. We celebrated a day early, since Wednesday was a holiday in Japan. :) Oh, and today was potluck day after prayer meeting, so 2 days of feasting in a row.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

56 things I'm thankful for

Happy Thanksgiving! Here is a list of 56 random things I'm thankful for, in stream-of-consciousness order. Most of them are related to our daily life in Japan. Enjoy!

This is a kotatsu. It's a table with a blanket over the top and a heater underneath. Ahhh... Also, those are my friends. I'm thankful for them. And I'm thankful for tea and scones and mikan (oranges).
  1. Kotatsu.
  2. Sukiyaki with seasonal mushrooms, eaten while sitting in the kotatsu.
  3. Mushroom season.
  4. Seasonal foods in general. A few that come to mind: melons, kaki, winter fish…
  5. Sunsets over the mountains which we enjoy from our 4th floor apartment.
  6. The lady in the supermarket with the yellow mark-down stickers which she puts on the packages of meat.
  7. Eating soba after church. Also, drinking instant coffee while taking with church members about what we’ve learned in class over the course of the week.
  8. The smell of laundry after it has been hanging to dry outside on a crisp fall day.
  9. The Japanese squeak-birds. That’s my name for them. I think they’re actually called “brown eared bulbul” or something like that.
  10. Ginkgo trees changing color.
  11. The subway: downtown in 10 minutes!
  12. Those donut-like things we get at Jusco. I’m not sure what they’re called—something-yaki, I suppose. Anyway, they’re filled with sweet red beans and soy milk cream. Delicious.
  13. Buying a huge bag of onions at our favourite place.
  14. Buying tea at our favourite place, after sampling several varieties and learning something new about tea from the friendly shopkeeper.
  15. The man in the supermarket who tells me where to find things. I see him walking to work most days as I’m coming home from school. I think he lives near us.
  16. Sample day at the supermarket (Saturday evening).
  17. Floor chairs and floor couch. 
  18. Tatami.
  19. Eating Korean food (bi-bim-ba).
  20. Inviting my friend over, sitting in the kotatsu together while listening to music.
  21. Yakiniku in the park with friends.
  22. Watching all the Japanese families enjoying yakiniku in the park.
  23. Onsen. 
  24. Talking with old ladies at the onsen.
  25. Karaoke with friends. 
  26. Singing in Japanese. At church, karaoke, in class, wherever. Also, learning new songs.
  27. Sleeping on futon.
  28. Electric mattress pad.
  29. Drinking houjicha/sencha/mugicha/genmaicha, etc.
  30. The electric hot water pot that dispenses water at exactly the right temperature.
  31. The rice cooker that makes perfect rice, oatmeal, cheesecake, etc.
  32. Walking along the river at Jozankei, crunching leaves under my feet.
  33. The cool autumn air. Or the cool night air during the summer.
  34. The teapot I found at a second-hand store.
  35. Being in my own apartment with Keith.
  36. Sitting down in the shower.
  37. Talking to Keith while he washes the dishes and I dry them.
  38. Cooking with a gas stove.
  39. Cooking with cast iron on a gas stove.
  40. Prayer meetings.
  41. Potluck after prayer meetings.
  42. Talking to my Japanese teacher about gardening.
  43. Getting mail from home.
  44. Being creative with whatever food is on sale. 
  45. Making bento.
  46. Watching Keith eating his bento.
  47. Funny commercials on TV.
  48. Japanese style physical humour.
  49. Figuring out the meaning of a new word and its reading based on the kanji.
  50. The constant reminders of God’s provision.
  51. The fact that God brought Keith and me together… and then gave each of us the same love for Japan and the desire to be here!
  52. Feeling weak and helpless and totally dependent on God. I can’t do this alone. But that’s such a reassurance, since I’m not doing this alone. This is God’s work, not mine.
  53. Cute bento boxes.
  54. Wearing warm clothes when it’s cold.
  55. The reminder, as I gasp out feeble prayers in Japanese, that God is not dependent on my ability to be eloquent to understand what’s in my heart.
  56. Drinking Japanese tea whenever I want it.
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." --Colossians 3:15-17

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October Newsletter

Dear Friends and Family,

お久しぶりです! (It’s been a long time!) Life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately, but our “big news” is that we are actually in Japan, and we’ve finally settled down in our new apartment in Sapporo and started language school.

Our apartment: not quite there yet

Getting here was quite a trip. Rewind 2 ½ months or so to July 31, when we flew back to Japan from Singapore, having completed Orientation Course. We spent the next 5 days in Tokyo preparing for relief work. Celia spent long hours practicing (and having a viola da gamba lesson with an awesome teacher!) while Keith studied Japanese.

Then we continued on to Miyako, Iwate prefecture, where we in OMF are focusing our relief efforts. We stayed for two weeks, working with the local church and other volunteers to put on outdoor mobile cafes for people in temporary housing and others affected by the tsunami. Celia played cello and viola da gamba at the cafes while Keith served snacks and drinks and talked with people. We didn’t want to leave... and yet we became painfully aware of our need for further language study.

After our time in Miyako, we made a detour to Yamagata prefecture, where we spent a delightful weekend with the sending church of the pastor of our Japanese church in Seattle. Celia played a mini-concert as part of the Sunday worship service.

Fun with musical friends in Yamagata
And then, on August 22 (5 trains later), we arrived in Sapporo! Since then we’ve been studying, unpacking, organizing, meeting up with old friends, making new friends, starting to get involved at our new church, and trying to find some semblance of balance in all of this. Please pray for us as we continue to adjust to our new life here.

Celia on the train with many instruments


Relief Work Reflections

From August 5-18, Celia and I had the opportunity to work in Miyako to give relief to, pray for, and simply to be with the survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. It was a profound, multi-faceted experience, and instead of attempting to summarize these two weeks, I thought I would give small slices of life as I experienced and recorded them in my daily journal.

8/5    We left in the morning and traveled all day from Tokyo through Sendai to Morioka on the Shinkansen (bullet train). There is no designated place for cello sized luggage, so I stuffed them behind the last row, and attempted to apologize to the people there because I was not only taking their luggage space but the fat cellos made it impossible for them to recline their seats. I probably sounded something like this: "Big cello...pain in the butt...very sorry...can't...impossible...very sorry." After that uncomfortable episode, the rest of the journey went fairly smoothly.

We stayed in a building that was just out of reach of the tsunami. A few blocks down the road, and we saw watermarks seven feet high. A few more blocks down the road, and there was a gas station ripped to pieces. A few more blocks down the road, and there's nothing more than the empty foundations of buildings similar to a graveyard in feeling and appearance.

Our primary work is running a mobile cafe. We make food; pack the cafe van; pray; drive; set up tents, tables, and chairs; pray; wait; serve food and drinks under the atmosphere of Celia’s cello and viola da gamba music; talk and be with Japanese people; repack cafe; and return home.

Weather: hot! Celia mentioned that she experienced for the first time the distinct pleasure of playing the cello with sweat literally dripping from her.

8/8     Today, everything reminded me to pray, and I took every moment to pray. The barren house foundations, the old ladies bent over with age, the neatly groomed gardens next to the sidewalk. Even if I have zero ability to speak in Japanese, I can pray for these people. Always pray.

8/10     Celia played at a school today for about 11 children. Afterwards, she let each one play the small viol. They all had this look of wonder as if they were holding something magical, and I wonder how many of them are asking their parents for violin lessons now.

Hildegard does not like bubbles, and please keep your sticky fingers out of her sound holes... 

8/12     We talked with the Meas, our team leaders, until late in the evening about death and counseling in the Japanese context. In their time here, they have heard some incredible survival stories, including a family that jumped out of their car while it was being swept away and were able to hold on to some trees until the wave passed. They talked with another man who climbed up a telephone poll as the wave swept underneath. Often these stories are followed by guilt for surviving or fear where they relive the experience.

Today was the last cafe. It was raining so hard that we had to use an indoor community center area. Our main problems were getting airflow into the stuffy room and dealing with the muddy shoes. A whole bunch of children came in around lunchtime and grabbed some grub and went off to a tatami room where the boys played card games and the girls did a sort of sticker drawing diary. I didn’t get to talk to them much before they went off, so instead I went to go organize their shoes in Japanese fashion (in Japan, you turn your guests’ shoes so that they are easier to slip on while leaving). While I was turning their muddy little shoes, I felt an overwhelming gratitude to be in this place serving like this. Tears came to my eyes. Serving and showing the love of Jesus to the children of Japan was one of the main ways God confirmed my calling to Japan. When the children came back for second helpings, I hid behind the table pretending to grab some more cakes from the box while I wept. I’m not sure if these were tears of gratitude for being able to serve or tears of sorrow for all that these people have had to endure through this disaster. When the rain had let up a bit, I went outside. From the vantage of the temp housing units there was a stunning scene of clouds rising from the green hills, below which were mounds of garbage and cleared lots. The contrast of beauty and destruction, nature and industry, was very present to me. I want to stay here and continue serving, now more than ever, but I know this is not God’s plan for me at this stage. I need more language skills, and now more than ever, I want to study.

Kasetsujutaku (Temporary housing units)

Note: We have written much more extensively about our experiences previously. Please see this post and this post.

Prayer Points
  • We’re so thankful to be in Japan--and to have come safe and healthy to Sapporo.
  • We’re thankful for chances to reconnect with old friends! When we were here before, we often wrote about our friend, Mikiko and her family in our prayer letters. We are happy to report that her son, Yuugo, who was born with a serious heart condition, is now healthy, and Mikiko’s mom was baptized! Please continue to pray for this family, especially as Mikiko’s husband, Curtis is still studying abroad in Russia.

  • Please pray for a more favorable exchange rate between the Japanese yen and currencies of the home countries of the various OMF missionaries. Japan already has a very high cost of living, so adding a poor exchange rate makes raising and maintaining support a challenge. The current situation is also detrimental to the Japanese economy, which relies heavily on exports.
  • Please pray for our language study: good relationships with our teachers, balance with the rest of our life, opportunities to practice, and protection against burnout.
  • Please pray for good communication habits with friends and family at home.
  • Please pray for the ongoing work in Miyako. Some particular needs are housing for workers, energy and protection against burnout and discouragement, and God’s guidance as this very new ministry evolves.

Finance update

The quick explanation: we’re fine.
The long explanation: After talking and praying with our supervisors about next year’s budget, we have decided to budget for a car, which will aid Celia’s cello ministry. Fortunately, our old car sold for a good price, and that will offset this added expense to a large extent; however, simply owning a car in Japan can be expensive. We give thanks to God for steady support, and we trust in God’s continuing provision for all of our needs, including this one.

Language Corner

Viola da gamba this, viola da gamba that. So what’s a viola da gamba? We received a gigantic dictionary as a gift from friends of ours when we got here, so let’s have a look.

We love the picture. (In case you were wondering, in Japanese, viola da gamba is “biora da ganba.”)

Even after two and a half months, we still have moments where it suddenly dawns on us, “Wow, we’re in Japan!” Thank you for helping us get here.
Love in Christ, Keith and Celia

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yes, we are still alive...

... buried under a pile of homework and clothes which need to be folded and put away. Along with many other things that need doing, like our prayer letter which is long overdue. (Sorry.)

Here's a quick overview of the kinds of stuff we've been doing in the last month and a half since we arrived in Sapporo.



Watching the sunset. We have a great vantage point from our 4th floor apartment.

Eating yakiniku (Japanese bbq) at the park with friends

Visiting our old church (on potluck Sunday... and my friend's mom got baptized!)

Eating ramen at our favorite shop

Grocery shopping (right from the source)

Making Brazilian food for my friend's birthday

Buying an oven... and making lasagna!

And last, but certainly not least, STUDYING JAPANESE. Here is a sample of my homework (a short "essay" about karaoke), since I don't have any pictures yet. I recommend Google Translate for a good laugh.


私は小学生の時、数学大会にさんかしました。 さんかする子供のために、ピザ・パーティーが行われました。 その時、初めて「カラオケ」をしました。 しかし、アメリカのカラオケはあまり楽しくなかったです。 知らない人の前でばかみたいにしなければなりませんでした。 私はとても恥ずかしかったです。 もうカラオケをしない方がいい、と思いました。

二十年間位後で、日本へ来てから、 友達が私達をカラオケに誘いました。 最初に行きたくなかったですが、少し日本のカラオケについて習いました。 日本とアメリカのカラオケは全然違います。 日本では、友達が一緒に小さい部屋で歌ったり、お菓子を食べたりします。 壁は厚いですから、知らない人にはあまり聞こえません。

私は大きい声でビートルズの歌やトトロの歌などを歌いました。 とても楽しかったですが、次の日に、のどがいたかったです。

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Japan Disaster Relief

I (Keith) have written several pages of reflection, and each time I go back to summarize, I end up writing another page. I've decided to make a fresh start and see where it gets me. Celia and I were in Miyako to help with relief work Aug. 5-18. After a month of reflecting back, I still say these were some of the most profound experiences I've ever had. The work there was so meaningful, and more received there than anywhere I've ever ministered. I did not want to leave, and even now I want to go back.

We worked with a couple who had a small child, and the majority of what we did was run a mobile cafe. The Japanese government has been quick to supply the basic needs of food and housing but has done very little for emotional and spiritual needs, so this mobile cafe allowed people to gather for some free iced coffee and sweets, and then talk and share fellowship. Each time we did this even I was able to contribute with the limited Japanese that I had. These people have suffered so much, and they were eager to talk. This eagerness was what really surprised me, and they freely accepted prayer, which is something I've never seen in Japan before.

Temporary housing units (kasetsujutaku) where tsunami survivors are now living
Indoor cafe on a rainy day
Celia was able to play during the mobile cafe while I talked with people and served them drinks and food. Playing music in the middle of the temporary housing units was really all the advertising we needed. As soon as she started, people would come to listen to music, have a drink, and talk. Some people would stay for several hours, and would even help us take down the tents and tables after we finished. This sense of reciprocating is very strong even among these people who have lost everything. Perhaps it is especially strong among them. I have found that to be a gracious receiver of Japanese reciprocating is as important as being a gracious giver. One time, a person stayed inside his temporary housing unit during the whole cafe, and only afterwards, came out to give Celia a melon in thanks for the music that she was playing.

The local chiropractor, also a member of Miyako Community Church, provided massage therapy during one cafe.

Celia with her melon, against the backdrop of our Miyako short-termer apartment's baking station

We also visited a couple of elementary school after-school programs, where we did mini-concerts and games.

Day in and day out there was plenty to do. Short term teams were always coming and going, and the apartment we were renting was in need of constant cleaning and upkeep, and supplies for the cafe were in a constant state of chaos. I felt for Iwatsuka-sensei, the pastor of the local church, who was trying to do follow up with every place that we visited. Some times there were three mobile cafes, and this pastor spent the whole day driving between them. His church (Miyako Community Church) of about 15 members and a small Catholic church nearby are the only churches in about a 90 km radius. We had amazing times of fellowship, praise, and prayer with them.

Hanging out after church... and yes, those are the same cafe tables.

Laura-Jane preaching, upstaged by her son

We did not want to leave. There was so much work to do and we were very eager to do this work. At the same time, we were very much aware of the lack of language skills we had. If we really wanted to be effective, we need to be able to answer a question like, "Why do you Christians come here to do this?" For the first time, I also understand how Christian work can take over a person's life, where the work becomes more important than the source or reason of the work. Even Christian service can become an idol because it does feel good to be needed and to contribute. So after our time was over, we left feeling more changed by Miyako than the changes we had hoped to make there. We need to know Japanese better, and now we have motivation behind our year plus of language learning that we still have to do.

We continue to cherish these experiences in Miyako and to pray for what God is doing there now. Please follow this link to read more from Keith journal; Celia's journal is coming soon. (Keith makes no promises as to correct punctuation or coherent thought; much of it is written in shorthand. ;)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Severe Beauty

We're in the city of Miyako, Iwate prefecture, on the east coast of Japan, doing relief work among the people affected by the March 11 tsunami. Here's a quick update now that we're finished with our first week here.

One thing that especially strikes me about being here is just how incredibly beautiful it is: the rugged, rocky coastline with fjord-like inlets, the tree-covered hills, the clear skies, and the birds. The areas where tsunami came are relatively small, but unfortunately, the tsunami came to the flat areas right on the coast, where most of the people are living--right up the inlets and into the villages.

Jodogahama beach

Yesterday I was sitting under a cherry tree, playing my cello for the outdoor café we set up at one of the temporary housing facilities. I admired the trees on the mountain, and watched a couple of large birds soaring against the backdrop of the clear blue sky. If I turned around, I could see the ocean, calm and sparkling in the sunlight--behind a swath of destroyed houses and a huge mound of trash. In other places we visited, a completely undamaged house could be right next to an empty foundation of another house. Some places sunflowers are growing out of the wrecks of houses.

Also Yamada: surviving house next to destroyed houses
Akamae: trash heaps being sorted. The picture just doesn't do justice to the magnitude of the trash pile...
Akamae: destroyed houses, green hills
This place is full of these kinds of contrasts. As I watched the café guests talking happily and sipping their drinks, I feel a deep sense of peace and contentment. Yet we also hear stories of people reliving the day of the tsunami every night in their dreams.

First café location: Taro
Playing for other relief workers after delivering children's tables and chairs to a shelter in Yamada. The chairs are very sturdy. :)
This café location was in Miyako, only a couple of blocks from where we're staying.
Some people listened from inside their apartments. One such person came out at the end and gave us a melon to thank us for the music.
This mother and daughter stayed for the whole afternoon.
At this café, I talked about music with some of the children. They even chose a piece for me to play. :)
The aforementioned location with the cherry tree, Akamae
This place is a gift from God. I pray that the people here see God's face through the beauty of the land and through the acts of service of God's people who have come to be here with them.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good--his steadfast love endures forever.