Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Japan

My friend Melissa has asked an interesting question that perhaps I should address on this blog: why Japan? Celia has explained a bit about her history with Japanese people growing up with Japanese friends, teachers, exchange students. Seattle has Japanese people in it. North Dakota does not. Growing up, my experience with Japanese culture was limited to translated video games and anime cartoons. I was somewhat interested in learning Japanese so that I could play the Final Fantasy games in their original languages, so much so that I even bought a Japanese to English dictionary. I failed. I also tried to take a college course on Japanese history while I was still in high school, which is perhaps my darkest academic secret because I ended up withdrawing from the course. I just didn't have the motivation. I also had no aspirations of being a missionary, and as far as I was concerned, foreign countries had little to nothing to do with me. I didn't even see the ocean until I was over 20 years old, I didn't like flying (still don't), and I had planned on being a doctor so that I could make a lot of money.

So what happened since high school? Well, I have a story that helps explain a bit about my personality, which you might remember, Melissa, because you were there. I was walking through the music building in college, and I looked inside a classroom to see professor Whitney teaching an aural skills class with her students who were sitting in a circle on the floor doing rhythm exercises like in elementary school. Whitney was a fun and great teacher, the class looked interesting, and it was just what I needed in response to the awful experience I had with my dreary calculus 3 class. Thus I joined the study group called Theory Junkyz (I think that's how we spelled it, but only with a backwards z). Lame? Yes, but fun. That started my journey to a music degree.

The point of the story is that I am prone to the snowball effect. Something refreshingly new caught me, and before I knew it, I was hooked. That's how I ended up taking so much Koine Greek at Regent College and learning how to play ultimate frisbee. These are small passions of mine, but ministry with Japanese people is a passion that is still ballooning. My friend Izumi somehow got a commitment out of Celia and me in the 2008-2009 academic year to help lead English conversation with Japanese working-visa holders. I dreaded cramming another obligation into my way to full schedule, but as the weeks went by, I found the Wednesday night broken English conversations to be the most compelling thing of the week. Celia and I found so much solace doing that ministry that we decided to check out Japan. Nine months in Japan was more than enough time for us to determine this was going to be a life long passion. Even in the last year of doing another TalkTime ministry with Japanese, I have found this passion of befriending Japanese people and helping them to understand a loving God who would send his son for us, to be so strong that it can hurt.

So I guess the short answer to why Japan is that it took me by surprise and I can do nothing for it but go. I have felt thankful many times, and I have said as much, that Celia and I have this same passion. It is such a gift from God to be united in like-minded ministry with my wife to reach the Japanese with the love of Christ, and it is as much a confirmation of God calling us together as a couple as it is God calling us to Japan.

There you have it. Thanks for asking the question and leaving us a comment, Melissa. Also, if you happen to have a picture of the Junkyz, could you email that to me?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cool stuff I found, and reflections on growing up

I'm in the process of organizing and packing my stuff. Two weeks from today, we will get on a plane with a 1-way ticket to Japan. It's hard to believe, really.

On a whim I started going through boxes of stuff. I meticulously kept every school paper, every drawing, every piece of photocopied music, every certificate or award, every letter and postcard I received. It added up to something like 4 file boxes of stuff. I think I've managed to pare it down to about 1 1/2 boxes, all of which fits safely into our filing cabinet. I still don't know how much stuff we are leaving behind, but now in our closet I have 4 boxes worth of space more than I had 2 days ago.

A doodle my stand partner and I did on the back of our music in middle school orchestra (Jarod the bassist was my best friend)
I don't mean to sound like this process was easy. It wasn't. I put on some moody Rachmaninoff to accompany the process and cranked the volume quite a bit louder than the volume at which I would normally choose to listen music. I played Rachmaninoff's second symphony at summer camp between my junior and senior years of high school. I hated the piece at first--it sounds a bit like lounge music before you get to know it. After an intense week of rehearsals and teenage drama (my boyfriend left for college), Rachmaninoff's second symphony became the beloved piece which symbolized for me the transition to adulthood, as well as the end of a beautiful summer, the loss of my childhood, and the loss of my first love.

I rather like this guy. I call him "green coffee bean man." I'm pretty sure I painted him in the craft room at that same summer camp, because I didn't do much painting anywhere else during high school.
I felt like I was throwing away my childhood--especially my dreams of becoming an orchestral cellist. I don't want to be an orchestral cellist any more, but giving up that dream was still painful.

I love chamber music and Bach's unaccompanied cello suites. I especially love chamber music because of the rehearsal process--a small group of musicians shares ideas with each other and works closely to present a performance which reflects the group's interpretation, while allowing each of the individuals to express their own voice. As an orchestral cellist, my duty was to blend with the other cellists and not to stand out. Still, being part of a good orchestra is an unbelievably powerful experience. Every member contributes their own sound to make something so much bigger. I think I took this experience for granted. Now I don't know if I will ever have another chance to play Brahms or Mahler or Rachmaninoff symphonies. I guess I had always been clinging to the hope that I would play them again, but yesterday as I put my carefully archived orchestral parts in the recycling bin, it felt like I was killing that hope once and for all. I have moved on. I'm a chamber musician, a missionary, a student of Japanese language; I don't have time, or space, or opportunities to be fooling around with orchestra.

I also listened to Rachmaninoff's 2nd piano concerto during the sorting process. I guess there's a Rachmaninoff piece for each of my major life transitions--this one became important to me in the last year while we've been waiting to go back to Japan. I played it (as an orchestral cellist, of course) during college, but it was brought to memory, oddly enough, by a wildly popular Japanese TV show about two pianists, which Keith and I watched last year. The Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto is a recurring theme throughout the show, and it is the piece that causes major life changes for both of the lead characters as they rediscover the joy of playing the piano. (We highly recommend this anime for our fellow music dorks--it's called Nodame Cantabile. We both loved it.) I rediscovered the joy of playing the cello while I was in Japan. I am excited to be reunited with my musical friends there, and to work on my Japanese so we can communicate better.

I found a lot of other great stuff while I was rifling around through my old papers. I was amazed to find a little slip of paper among my elementary school stuff with Psalm 37:7 written on it--on one side in English, and on the other side in Japanese. I have no idea where it came from, but it's been the theme verse of my life this last year, so I tucked it inside my planner. I also found evidence of my first efforts at learning Japanese:

We hosted a Japanese exchange student, Ayumi, the summer before I started middle school. She diligently taught me hiragana and a few kanji, which I promptly forgot. I am amazed yet again to see the way God wove Japanese people, language, and culture into my life, even though I was completely unaware of it. Among other things, I was reminded of what a great teacher my Japanese-American 3rd and 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Mise, was. I was a little snot with a big head (there was ample evidence of that among my papers), but she didn't let me get away with shoddy work. She always expected me to do my best work in every subject.

We got to try Japanese brush painting in Mrs. Mise's class. I call this one "Flower painting with faux Japanese." If you don't know what I'm talking about, look at the upper left corner.
I'll close this very long-winded post with a couple more of my favorite things from my childhood papers.

I liked to write little "poems" like this on my dad's new computer when I was about 6. I wonder if I would like something called "pizza rice casserole" (or should I say "caserole"?) now that I am snobby about rice?

There were many little notes like this one. I think my parents were very proud of me. My mom is good at encouraging, even for small things.