Saturday, May 05, 2012

May Newsletter

Dear Friends and Family,

The winter is over, and we’ve woken up from hibernation! Actually, our life has been quite busy and exciting for the last several months, with a vacation to Hawaii with family, Keith joining the Sapporo Symphony Chorus, Celia joining Baroque Collegium Sapporo and continuing with her shamisen... and of course we press onward in our language studies. We’re excited to see how these musical opportunities will unfold, especially regarding the new friends we are meeting!

Missionaries Need Vacation

In case you were wondering, that's Keith, Celia, our sister-in-law, Jiayun, and Celia's brother, Colin, photographed with an underwater camera. And in a way, this photo represents our feelings about Japanese study before we went on vacation... we feel better now.

We went to Hawaii in March. Trust me (Celia), we would have gone on vacation much closer to home, had Keith’s cousins not lived there, and had my parents not met us there. But in any case, we needed a vacation, having not had an away-from-home vacation since we arrived in Japan.

OMF gives us 4 weeks of vacation each year, and we are required to use it. We’ve realized recently how important rest is to anyone living cross-culturally. Although we are very happy here, everyday life in Japan makes us quite a bit more tired than it does when we’re at home in the US. When we go to the grocery store or the tea shop or go out with friends, conversation, menus, package labels, and signs are all in Japanese. While this is great for language learning, it also makes us tired.

My brain is filled with Japanese. In fact, it is so full of Japanese, that a lot of other things get pushed out. I studied German for 5 years, but now I can’t speak German at all. I often forget things or lose things. In the US, I am very well organized, but in Japan I’m a bit of a mess.

We’ve found that our speaking and listening skills are several weeks behind what we are learning in the classroom. It takes awhile for our brains to digest what we are learning. Sometimes it feels like over-eating.

That’s where vacation comes in. When we came home from Hawaii, having not spoken Japanese or studied at all for a week and a half, we were actually speaking Japanese at a higher level than when we left. Having had time to rest and be with family, we had some time to slowly process what we’ve been learning.

Some of the highlights of the trip were cooking and eating with Keith’s cousin and his family, visiting the Pearl Harbor museum and memorial, worshipping (in English!) at a church where a friend from Regent is associate pastor, a boat trip with my mom on which we were able to see whales and other sea life, playing shamisen with my dad, and the traditional Wilson family frog search.

Cooking with Stacey (Keith's cousin's wife)

Eating with Eric and the kids

After church in Honolulu

Celia went on a boat trip with her mom.

Traditional Wilson family frog search (seriously, we've been doing this since I was 5)

Celia's family

I think our next vacation will be in Japan, and we’re looking forward to resting again and seeing more of this beautiful country!

Worshipping with non-Christians

I (Keith) happened to know somebody who knows somebody who is good friends with the conductor of the Sapporo Symphony Chorus. Therefore, after playing the Japanese version of the telephone game for three weeks, I was able to enter this choir despite having already missed half of the rehearsals and nearly bombing my audition (the twice removed relationship helped I think). I started in March, and every Tuesday night since then, I’ve had the privilege to join my voice with a hundred others to sing Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis,” a piece written for worship services in Latin.

I was going to say that it feels surreal to sing praises to God with so many Japanese people, most of whom wouldn’t even understand what they are singing even if it were in Japanese, but actually Tuesday nights feel very real and meaningful, which makes sense considering we are singing truths about the gospel. Whether the people in the room know it or not, they are giving glory to God, and it makes me smile and frown at the same time. I smile because I know the secret, which is that Beethoven has somehow tricked so many choirs through the years including this Sapporo Symphony Chorus into unknowingly worshipping God. It makes me frown that this worship is a secret and unknown to the many people who sound so passionate but are only passionate insofar as the music moves their own feelings. After rehearsals, I’m left feeling these two extremes, but both are spurring me on to the same thing, which is to see worship in Japan done knowingly and for the glory of God alone.

Celia’s Cultural Education Journal: Learning about the Japanese View of Art

Last November I started taking shamisen lessons. A shamisen is a 3-stringed traditional Japanese instrument which is played with a large plectrum called a Bachi. I’ve been making good progress, and last month I had my first performance!

With my teacher, Arai-sensei

Once during a lesson, my teacher asked me which “school” of cello playing I belonged to. I responded that I didn’t really belong to one; in fact, my teachers had encouraged me to develop my own style and not to listen to recordings of pieces I’m working on, so as not to be affected by the performer’s interpretation. My teacher looked surprised, and handed me a CD. “This is my teacher’s performance of the pieces we will play in the concert. Listen to them and learn her interpretation. You can also practice along with the CD.”

I realized just how different my concept of performance is from my teacher’s—and from that of many performers and artists in Japan. Their creativity and expression comes within the framework of a long tradition, as they seek to emulate and learn from past masters. Suddenly the way I had been taught to view performance seemed naïve and even oppressive—if my performance is not unique, different from the thousands of other cellists who perform the same piece, then it has no value. Realizing the value of learning from and emulating those who have gone before suddenly became an attractive and freeing proposition.

I’ve started writing a journal of my experiences in learning about Japanese culture. I will be including short updates in our newsletter, but please check our blog for more frequent updates.

Prayer Points:
  • We are thankful to have so many musical opportunities: Celia with her viola da gamba and shamisen buddies and Keith with the Sapporo Symphony Chorus. Please pray for our preparation for concerts at the end of May and especially that we can have deeper relationships with our new musical friends.
Rehearsing for May 31 concert with new viola da gamba friend, Kumiko
  • Our designation process continues; during this month’s field council (May 15-17) our placement after language school will be discussed and potentially decided. Please pray for those attending this council to prayerfully consider the church where we could best serve and learn, and please continue to pray for us to be attentive to God’s guiding for our ministry after language school.
  • Every newsletter we mention in some form or another the need to find a good balance between studies, church, friends, and other responsibilities. Particularly, please pray that Keith would find a means of exercising now that it is warmer; pray for us to persevere in our Japanese study as it grows harder and harder while the grammar and vocabulary are becoming less and less applicable to everyday life; pray for us to continue to make time to be with friends.
Jingis Khan (lamb hot pot like dish which is a specialty in Hokkaido) after church!


Engrish of the Month

To celebrate spring, we’ve chosen this Engrish which we found on a bowl.


Next week on May 9 we celebrate the anniversary of receiving the green light to return to Japan! Thanks to all of you who prayed, invited us to your churches and homes, pledged to support us, and generally loved and encouraged us during our year in Seattle. We will never forget the ways the love of God was made tangible and present through each of you.

Love in Christ,
Keith and Celia

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