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

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