Thursday, October 04, 2012

October Newsletter

Newsletter #19

Dear Friends and Family,

We have a lot of news to share, but in brief: we bought a car, our designation has been decided, Celia’s parents are coming for a visit October 5-22, and Keith turned 30. We’ve had a couple of concerts, now we’re preparing for others.

Waiting for… ?

It was a very hot summer. Looking back at our last newsletter, I (Celia) see that we called the summer up to that point “relatively cool.” Ironic, that. In Japanese, we use the word 夏バテ (natsubate), meaning summer fatigue, to describe our reaction to extended periods of hot weather. By mid-September, with temperatures still in the 30’s (upper 80’s F), I felt fatigued. Our fourth floor west-facing apartment, with windows only on the west side, was frequently 5 degrees hotter than outside, with no breeze. Seattle-born Hokkaido resident that I am, I started to feel desperate.

At the same time, a number of other things happened. Both of us moved on to more advanced coursework with more vocabulary to learn, more homework, and less possibility to practice what we are learning in everyday conversations. Then we bought a car--unfortunately before we quite knew what we were getting into, the previous owner moved to another country... right when the laws changed, making it impossible to transfer ownership by the method we thought we would use. Two months on, the car still legally belongs to the previous owner. On top of all this, there were concerts to prepare for.

Keith models our new-to-us Subaru Forester during a drive along the Sea of Japan
There are perks to having a car, such as going to nice places like Furano and drinking nice coffee outdoors with friends.
One recent concert was a charity concert for relief work as part of our church's festival.
Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking “Things will be better after __.” The weather has cooled down quite a bit, and my daily class load dropped to 2 hours instead of 3, but the car issues still linger, as do the rehearsals and other preparations for concerts, not to mention the constant state of uncleanliness in our apartment. Back in June, we were waking up at night worried about getting driver’s licenses. What will the next major stress be? Whatever it is, I hope it doesn’t come until after my Christmas concerts are over. Tasks and stressors finish just in time for others to begin. That’s a missionary’s life; it will never be stress-free.

I remember back when we first arrived, a little over a year ago. My prayer request every week at our OMF prayer meeting was to get my life under control. A year later, my life is still out of control. I began to think that perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places for a happy and low-stress life.

Lately my Bible study group has started studying the Gospel of John. As we worked through the first chapter, I was struck again and again by God’s desire to reveal himself to us--through Creation, through the Scriptures, and ultimately through sending his Son, Jesus. All these gifts point us to our God, who knows us and wants us to know him. I’ve started to intentionally pause in the middle of my everyday mess to consider how God wants to reveal himself to me. Where do I see him working? Where do I see evidence of his love and provision? I’ve become convinced that the key to having peace and joy in our life right now is to actively look for God.

Even if my life is out of control, I shouldn’t wait until things get “better” to love and serve God and to enjoy my life. On hot summer evenings, we would go out on the balcony with a glass of iced mugicha or homemade ume soda and watch the sunset. In the student lounge at school, we laugh together about our language mishaps. We sing together with our friends at church, listening with delight as our voices blend with theirs. We eat meals with friends, sharing our joys and sorrows and supporting each other in prayer. At these times and many others, I see evidence of God’s love for us. He is certainly with us, revealing himself in all sorts of everyday situations.

Japanese Church and Ultimate Frisbee

It has been over three years since Celia and I had our first experience of Japanese church. We arrived early by bike, said our ohayo gozaimasu greetings, and found a seat somewhere in the middle to wait for church to begin. There were about 25 attending that day, which is an average size for a congregation in Japan. At the appropriate time, someone went up to the front and began the service (I later found out this job is called 司会 shikai--master of ceremonies). I, of course, had no idea what he said, but from his posture and demeanor, I assumed something very serious was about to take place. As we progressed through the service, we received similarly formal announcements throughout. Everything took about twice as long as I thought it should including the prayers, children's message, and especially the announcements that continued on for the same length as the sermon (this is not an exaggeration, both typically ran 30 minutes long).

On that first day, I figured this church could really benefit from my seminary training, so I began to write down my recommendations for improving the church service. First, shorten the announcements: five minutes or less. Second, scale down the shikai: he doesn't have to announce everything. Suffice it to say that I had others. The missionary pastor, Tony Schmidt, was very generous in listening to me. No, he didn’t mention that he has had over 30 years of Japanese church experience compared to my 3 hours; instead he encouraged me to continue to think about Japanese church critically. And over these last 3 years, I have come to see how naive I was.

Basically, I didn’t like the formality of the Japanese church. In Japan, however, there is great importance placed on beginnings and endings, and if something is to be done properly, there is a procedure that must be followed. By way of explaining this aspect of Japanese culture, let me share about the opportunity I had a couple of months ago to participate in an ultimate frisbee tournament. It was described to me as a low key event, so when I got there I was a little surprised to see that I had already been assigned to one of the four teams. After I paid the registration fee, I received a program for the day, and then we stood lined up by team for 5 minutes until it was the right time to start. At the appropriate time, a representative went to the front and announced the beginning of the tournament and proceeded to give a speech about working together to keep a good team spirit. Throughout the day, I heard several similar speeches. The peculiar thing was that everyone knew that the decorum and the speeches were cheesy, and from the very beginning there was good-natured razzing of the representatives: 「さすが代表さま」, 「よくできました」, 「やりすぎないよ」 which would be like saying “now that’s how you start a tournament,” “couldn’t have said it better,” “don’t go overboard now.” Other people were joking among themselves not even paying attention. Despite this lack of seriousness, the program was followed precisely as it was planned from start to finish. At the end, there was even a ceremony for the winning team with an accompanying certificate.

Whether it’s a church service, company meeting, tea ceremony, or sports tournament, following procedure brings about the comfort and harmony which are an integral part of Japanese culture. My recommendations for a faster, smoother church service would be to take out the very elements that make Japanese church distinctively Japanese. After three years, I find the more I learn about Japanese culture, the more I realize how little I know.

Prayer Points
  • Praise God that our designation has been decided. We will be training at a church near Sapporo starting in March 2013. We will give more details as soon as the decision has been officially announced.
  • Celia's parents are coming for a 2 1/2 week visit starting Oct. 5. One of those weeks we will be on vacation around Hokkaido. Please pray for safe travels and for our time together. We still have a fair bit of planning to do for this vacation as well, so please pray that we can sort out hotels and places to visit so that we can truly enjoy our time off.
  • Please pray for our October 14th concert, in which Keith, Celia, and Celia's father will be joining the choir, and Celia will be playing the viola da gamba. We will be performing sacred Baroque music from Germany; a Japanese translation will be provided. May the music and text speak truth to the singers and listeners alike.
  • At the end of July,  we were able to purchase a suitable vehicle at a very good price. However, we are still struggling through transferring ownership of the car. The process has been made complicated by the fact that the previous owner has moved out of the country, and we need her to sign documents and such. Please pray for us to have patience and that we can keep this whole matter in proper perspective and not be stressed by it.
  • We continue in praise and prayer for Celia's participation in Sapporo's Baroque Collegium and preparation for Christmas concert (starting November 23!) and for Keith's involvement in Sapporo Symphony's Choir. Please pray that we can find time to practice along with our Japanese study.
  • Celia will be going back to Miyako, Iwate prefecture October 25-29 for relief work, this time with a team consisting of her shamisen teacher, her teacher's husband, and 3 other people from their church. Please pray that the team will get along well, that they will have safety in travel, that they can be a blessing to the people of Iwate and the missionaries working there, and that each of them will grow closer to God.

Engrish of the Month

Celia found this little gem on a walk.


Thanks so much for praying. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Love in Christ, Keith and Celia

Look how much I grew!

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