Sunday, February 26, 2012

February Newsletter

Keith and Celia Olson
Newsletter #16
February 26, 2012

Dear Friends and Family,

Apologies for an overdue update; 申し訳ありません。Three months have come and gone quicker than anticipated. We had a very blessed time over Christmas giving musical gifts and receiving a lot of Japanese pickles in return. Our Dickens caroling trip to the victims in Tohoku was perhaps our highlight, and we also managed to make it into the Hokkaido Newspaper via the Christmas Eve Concert at our church.

Celia welcomed the new year by cooking three days worth of Japanese traditional New Year’s food (おせち), making her famous among the teachers at school. We continue to find that food is one of the most useful tools for friendship and evangelism in Japan.

Starting in the new year, Keith has joined the piano rota at church and plays once a month, and Celia has continued her shamisen (Japanese traditional stringed instrument) lessons.

Our studies are progressing; both of us are now in the intermediate course, and we are hoping to graduate in December of this year. We have begun the process of discussing with our directors where we might go after graduation to minister and continue learning about Japanese language and culture.

It wouldn't be February in Sapporo without Yukimatsuri/Snow Festival!

Carolling and Community in Ishinomaki

In our last newsletter, I (Celia) wrote about our most recent experiences in learning to trust God in the midst of weakness, specifically through our efforts to learn Japanese. This continues to be a recurring theme in our lives. While weakness is sometimes painful, the constant awareness of God’s presence and our constant need to rely on him can be incredibly sweet.

I originally wrote much of the following in Japanese as part of a presentation to our church about our relief work in Ishinomaki, (a coastal community near Sendai) in December. To briefly explain our trip, we joined a Christmas carolling group from Westminster Chapel in Bellevue, Washington to visit schools, retirement homes, relief workers, and community outreach locations. The trip was fun, difficult, and rewarding all at the same time.

Singing in Dickens costumes at a church in Ishinomaki

When we were in Ishinomaki, due to our improved language skills we were able to communicate with the people we met there much better than last summer in Miyako. We came to admire the tsunami survivors even more deeply than before through many conversations and opportunities to work together. In particular, Sumiko and her brother, Tateo left a strong impression.

Together with Sumiko

We met Sumiko and Tateo at “Takidashi,” which literally means emergency rice distribution, but in this particular neighbourhood in Ishinomaki, it has come to mean a time to socialize and eat together. Tateo prepared the coffee, while Sumiko supervised the gaijin (foreigners) assembling the soba noodle soup for lunch. The two of them frequently participate in neighbourhood events, so we had many opportunities to talk to them.

I was surprised when Sumiko said that she was a little bit thankful for the tsunami, since she was able to meet many interesting people as a result. At the time, I thought she was talking about the people who came from outside to help, but now I wonder if she was also talking about her own neighbours. Through common suffering, people came together. They became strong through suffering, beginning with the realization of their own weakness, thus enabling them to receive help from each other and from outside.

Japanese pop culture might explain this phenomenon in terms of bonds between people—when we work together, anything is possible. 頑張って東北! (Do your best, Tohoku!) Around the world, people saw and admired the quiet patience with which the Japanese dealt with the aftermath of the tsunami—indeed, it was worthy of admiration. I am thankful for people like Sumiko and Tateo, who through their own suffering realized their weakness, received help, and now are reaching out to help others.

And yet human bonds will fail, and human strength does not last. People in the disaster areas are tired of the word 頑張って (ganbatte—do your best). My prayer for the people of Ishinomaki, and my ongoing prayer for myself and for all my loved ones, is that we will find true strength in admitting our weakness and depending on God’s unshakeable strength and provision. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30—this passage is a favourite among my friends in Japan). Already some people in Ishinomaki have believed, and many people have started attending church and having conversations about faith with relief workers and local Christians.

(Through a wonderful, Spirit-filled coincidence, our presentation followed a fantastic sermon on Mark 10:46-52. Well, I thought it was fantastic, anyway.)

Designation: What Comes Next?

We have started our designation process, in which the OMF regional and field directors discuss with us possible church placements for the remaining years of our first term after we finish language school. Our designation will be an important step to solidify our language, to give us a closer look at how church works in Japan, and also to prepare us for a more independent ministry for our second term. Therefore, as much as we would like to jump right into a full time ministry position (something that immediately comes to mind is relief work in Tohoku), continued education will be the foremost purpose of our designation.

In preparation for this, we have been and will continue to travel to various centers of OMF work and meeting with veteran OMF missionaries. February 3-8, we visited Aomori in northern Honshu, and in March we are planning a visit to Tokyo.

On our trip to Aomori, we saw a famous dog named Wasao. He was upstaged by a couple of cats.

At this stage we have a number of passions, and we’re not entirely sure where God is leading. Our interest in Japanese food and culture and ministering where there are no churches seem to point us in the direction of rural Japan. A more urban setting, however, would seemingly increase the opportunities for Celia’s evangelistic concerts and for a ministry Keith is interested in among recluses (hikikomori).

The OMF council determining our designation will meet in May, so please pray with us to be attentive to God’s leading in the upcoming months as we attempt to discern his will for our future ministry.

Prayer Points
  • We give thanks for the time we had carolling with the Westminster team from Seattle in Tohoku. Please pray for the new church that started in Ishinomaki last summer; most of the congregation do not yet believe. Please also pray for our hosts there, Andy and Lorna Gilbert, as they continue to follow up with connections they made during our concerts.
  • We are thankful that we’ve been able to solidify our vacation plans, and we are looking forward to going to Hawaii with Celia’s parents in March.  Please pray that we can work well before the vacation so we can truly relax when we get there and not feel guilty.
  • We were glad to have had the opportunity to go to Aomori and to meet the Ghents and Elliots, veteran missionaries with more than 20 years of experience. We learned much about their ministry and about the advantages of staying long term in one area, as well as many of the challenges facing rural church planters in Japan. Please pray for Christians in rural areas to be more active in sharing their faith, and for seekers to stand firm against pressure from family and neighbours to abandon their faith.
  • Please pray for our designation process.
  • Please pray for our musical efforts: Keith is hoping to join a choir, and Celia is looking for excuses to practice her instruments. (Have we mentioned that it is difficult to find balance with all the things we need to do here?)

Engrish of the month

This is a delicious chou à la crème. In the US, we would probably call it a cream puff. Translated into Japanese, it becomes シュークリーム. Transliterated back into Romaji (the Latin alphabet), it sounds like “shoe cream.” That in itself is funny, but here’s what is written on the bag: “Recently I’ve become very healthy. My hopes have begun to swell. Dreams have increased one by one.” By hopes I mean hips. And by dreams I mean pounds...

Thank you for your prayers and support. Also thanks to everyone who emailed us a picture; it is comforting to see pictures from home as a reminder of everyone who has helped us to Japan.

Love in Christ, Keith and Celia

1 comment:

OMF Web said...

Loving the way you've dived in to Japanese culture. Envying your cooking.