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

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