Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cheering for "our" kids

Today’s coffee: affogato. That’s espresso and ice cream!

Suddenly it’s summer. The garden is mostly planted, and today we spent most of the day outside cheering for members of our youth group at their school 体育祭 (taiikusai—sports festival)… first sunburn of the year. Somehow I managed to spend 10 days in Hawaii without getting a sunburn. In the morning, the events were standard track and field events; Ke and Ko both won their individual events. (No, those aren't their full names...)

Ko (red headband on the left) takes the baton in the 4x100 relay.
Then around lunch time, things became quite interesting, starting with a jump-rope contest in which each class of 30 kids jumped a single (very long) rope (Ke and A’s class won with 31 consecutive jumps!). Then there was a race of one kid walking on all the other kids’ backs, a 6-legged race (Ko’s class won), tug-of-war with 5 different ropes, and a giant relay—30x100 (once again, Ko’s class won). We don’t usually get the opportunity to see the kids in our youth group outside of church, nor have we ever been to any sort of school event, so this was a good opportunity for us.

Ke and A's class in the jump-rope competition... yes, the whole class!
We get the impression that while in the US, it’s relatively easy for a member of the community to visit a school, here it seems to be rather unusual. As youth group leaders, we’re largely dependent on the parents and the kids themselves to make contacts and invite friends to youth group events. I admit I find that a bit frustrating. Not to mention the kids themselves are always so busy with school, cram school, and club activities that it’s difficult for them to see coming to church as a priority…

But today was fun. We spent the day with our friends from church, and we cheered for our kids. I hope they know they are loved.

By the way, last week’s talk went pretty well, I think. It wasn’t an easy talk to write; as I was working on it, I had the impression that if the middle-school-aged me had heard this talk, I wouldn’t have listened. Our talk came at the end of a long day at church (Sunday school in the morning, worship service, potluck lunch, the church’s 33rd birthday celebration, and then youth group), but somehow I don’t think we made too many bad Japanese mistakes. The kids liked the stories about how Keith and I started dating and such. The other leaders liked our stories of how we grew spiritually through dating and marriage. Some of the kids opened up afterwards and shared their questions and concerns. Takahashi-sensei’s impression was that although the talk was maybe a bit beyond our mostly middle school aged group, it’s good that we’ve started the conversation early, and now we need to keep it going. Please continue to pray with us for each of our kids as they grow up to make wise choices that are honouring to God.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

2 stories from a busy weekend

Today’s coffee… was a long time ago.

Most weekends are busy, but this weekend has been way beyond busy. Let me explain.
Yesterday and the day before, I spent most of my time working on a talk for the youth group, which we will present tomorrow. As for the content, let’s just say that it’s a topic Japanese parents (and probably a lot of American parents too) are embarrassed to talk to their children about… wink wink nudge nudge. One of the advantages (?) of being a gaijin in Japan is that you can get away with saying things that others can’t. I have a feeling this will work in our favor on this particular occasion. Please pray for us!

Today we had a 納骨式 (noukotsu shiki—depositing the ashes of a deceased church member in the church’s grave plot). Although this person had died a couple of months ago, we had to wait for the snow to melt to go to the grave. The weather was better than expected, and after the ceremony was over, everyone was standing around eating snacks and drinking tea—at the cemetery—I admit I set down my cup on a headstone more than once. I overheard the deceased person’s younger sister enthusiastically talking about a certain plant, which happened to be growing abundantly across the street. I never would have guessed that you could eat it, since in Seattle it’s generally a nuisance. Yes… I’m talking about Japanese knotweed, which is called イタドリ (Itadori) in Japanese. So, we went together and cut a whole bunch. She taught me a couple of recipes for other wild plants, too. Oddly enough, Japanese knotweed tastes a lot like rhubarb, which is hard to get here… so believe it or not, there is a blueberry and knotweed crumble in the oven.

Blueberry and knotweed crumble. Kudos to Keith for peeling all of it...
Now I’ve got to practice my talk for tomorrow, wash dishes, and by then it will probably be bedtime. Yay!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Living Book

Today’s coffee: Columbia

I want to tell a story that I’ve been telling a lot lately to friends at church. From the time I was very little until I graduated from high school, I attended Sunday School every week at church. I heard Bible stories, learned about missionaries, prayed, and put a few coins my parents gave me in the offering plate. When I got a little older, I remember doing worksheets and study guides and answering questions. Sometimes we played games and ate a snack.

Somehow, I didn’t make it past the “fill-in-the-blank” attitude towards the Bible. What’s the correct answer? How do I make the grownups think that I’m a good little girl? If I answer the questions correctly, that’s what they think: I’m a good Christian girl. With this attitude towards the Bible, I wasn’t very motivated to do devotions or otherwise read it for myself. The Bible seemed to have very little to do with me. My senior year of high school, I started attending a Bible study group with a few other girls my age, and I started to notice that there was something more to the Bible than I what I had experienced before.

Around my third year of college, I joined a Navigators group for Bible study. We alternated who would be the leader; each person took a turn doing background research, writing questions they wanted to discuss, and coming up with application points. It felt like a barrier had been removed: I was no longer trying to figure out the correct answer or impress anyone. The worksheets and study guides actually came between me and the Bible. Rather than considering what the Bible said, I had been trying to figure out “correct answers” based on someone else’s interpretation—I was studying the study guide, not the Bible.

In graduate school, I joined an InterVarsity group, where I learned the Inductive (Manuscript Discovery) method. Each member of the group had a copy of the passage to be studied, printed out double spaced with no paragraph markers. We engaged with the text itself before bringing in any outside resources. By reading, observing, and studying the Bible together as a group, we found that the Holy Spirit drew our attention to all sorts of things we hadn’t noticed before. The Bible was no longer just a 2000+year old book; it was alive. It had things to teach and challenge us. I was finished with looking at the Bible from a distance. This book is to be entered into and lived out.

After years of ambivalence, Keith and I began to love God’s Word, and for that reason we decided to go to Regent College. Neither of us had any ambition to become pastors of missionaries; we just wanted to know the Bible and read it in the company of friends.

To some extent, that hasn’t changed. We are in Japan because we want to read the Bible with Japanese people. We want to hear what our Japanese friends and colleagues think and how they understand the words that are so familiar to us.

Reading the Bible together with the Inductive method will be the centerpiece of new small groups which will start in the fall. 2 weeks ago, we introduced the Inductive method to our church with a study on John 2. We had an absurdly large group of about 25, but everyone talked and laughed and shared what they noticed and how they were challenged. (No thanks to me; I was tasked with explaining the method, but frankly my presentation was awful… but once we got started everyone seemed to get the gist of what to do and even enjoy themselves… so who cares about my failed presentation??)

Takahashi-sensei took notes with everyone's observations and questions.
Towards the end, one church member who, according to his wife, is not interested in devotions or Bible study came into the room. “It looks like you’re having fun,” he said. (I think I may have seen his wife high-fiving with the person next to her.)

Our “method” still needs some tweaking based on Japanese group dynamics and our particular church culture. I’m looking forward to hearing feedback from the group leaders tomorrow!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Singing a love song

Today’s “coffee”: honey lemon tea?

I’ve been extremely healthy for about the last 9 months; that’s probably a personal record for longest time without catching a cold. Then on Thursday, it hit. I don’t remember the last time I’ve been this sick… and I think I’ve become thoroughly Japanese, since I went to the doctor for cold medicine. Anyway, I’ve recovered a bit, having skipped going to a rehearsal, a prayer meeting, the Franklin Graham “Festival of Hope,” and hanami (picnic with cherry blossoms). Boo. At least I got sick after I finished performing at the International Shamisen Festival on Tuesday; it would have been difficult to sing with a cold...

I can’t say it wasn’t stressful leading up to the concert, so perhaps that may have contributed to this weekend’s illness. I really had no idea what to expect, and it was my first time to perform hauta (a style of singing while playing) in front of people who actually know about shamisen. As I was awake late the night before the concert, freaking out about various things, I spent some time praying and reflecting on why I started playing the shamisen. Actually, there’s many reasons: the obaasan at our language school’s Japanese Culture Day wearing a purple kimono and playing shamisen as if she thoroughly enjoyed it (I’m pretty sure she lives in our neighbourhood), Tomiko-san’s invitation to take lessons from her, the feeling of accomplishment in learning an instrument which I picked up quickly even when language studies were going badly, the awesome buzzing sound… but most importantly, when I came to Japan as a missionary, I decided to learn about Japanese culture as a way of showing love and respect to the people around me. I wanted to tell them that God loves them.

With that in mind, I pictured myself on the stage, playing and singing a love song to the Japanese people. I prayed that somehow in my performance, my thoughts would reach them. After that I was able to sleep… and then I was able to go out on the stage, no more nervous than I would be for any other concert. I didn’t even mess up any of the words!

The concert was sold out... so Keith took this picture from backstage. (First performance with Kanzo!)
Yay, I didn't mess up!
Of course this is only a starting point—the pieces I played had nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity. I just hope that by continuing my studies, I will have opportunities to use words to communicate God’s love more directly. (And I did… at the after-party!)

Friday, May 02, 2014

May Newsletter

May 1, 2014
Newsletter #25

Dear Friends and Family,

We’ve now been at Wakaba Church for over a year, and our ministry responsibilities have gradually increased over that time. Recent highlights have been Keith’s sermon series in Isaiah (next installment is May 11, from Isaiah 11), a Tea Ceremony outreach, Celia’s worship leading at “Sambi Reihai,” our every-other-month Sunday afternoon mostly-music worship service, inclusion of youth from nearby Tonden church at our movie events, and thinking creatively about children’s messages--recently Keith had the children tell the Easter story using pictures.

Christmas party and mini-concert (3 viols!)
Tea Ceremony outreach
Leading worship for Sambi Reihai
Roasting marshmallow peeps with the youth group
Children's message at Easter
Takahashi-sensei's guitar class
Coming up in the near future, Wakaba will start new “Koinonia” small groups. The groups will be led by church members, and the purpose will be fellowship, spiritual growth, and outreach; each group will have a specific outreach focus. The centerpiece of each group will be a Bible study once a month; we will work together with Takahashi-sensei to train the leaders in the Inductive study method (also known as the manuscript discovery method), which we have both found to be helpful for understanding, applying and learning to love the Bible.

It’s our hope that the church members and seekers will be able to enjoy reading the Bible together, and that this experience will draw them closer together and to God, and encourage them to invite others in. However, a wise friend encouraged us to think about ways to include all sorts of people, including those who don’t particularly like studying or reading. Therefore, we’re thinking about providing the groups leaders and members with a wide range of “tools” for reading the Bible.

That’s why we’re looking for suggestions, especially if you would describe yourself as an “active type who doesn’t like reading.” What motivates you to read the Bible? Have there been particular methods of reading or studying the Bible that have worked well for you? Although we believe that God is always near, under what circumstances have you been particularly aware of his presence and leading? We’re eager to hear from you--please email us or leave a comment.

Prayer Points

  • Praise God for 2 baptisms at Christmas: Ke and Ko, both second year middle schoolers. Please pray for the spiritual growth of others in the youth group, especially M and T, who probably believe, but have been unable to take steps towards baptism; also for M and A.
  • Please pray for the new “Koinonia” small groups, starting with leader training between now and September. Celia and Takahashi-sensei will lead the training and preparations, while Keith and church members, M, A, and E will lead the groups.
  • Keith’s sermons have increased in frequency, sometimes as often as once a month. Please pray for this to be a joyful learning experience.
  • Celia will play shamisen in 2 concerts in May (6th and 30th). Please pray for Celia’s ongoing fellowship with Christian musicians through these concerts and other opportunities as well.
  • For our ongoing training and preparations for the future. We’re in the last year of our first term; please pray for wisdom for us, for Takahashi-sensei, and for our leadership in OMF as we start to consider what to do in our second term and beyond, and what sort of training we will need for that.
  • Seeker, Mr. K began attending our church in December; his wife sometimes comes as well. Please pray that they will begin to read the Bible.

Financial Update

We have so many reasons to be thankful in Japan, and we want to take time to specifically reflect about our blessings financially as well. When we get our monthly finance statement, we are always humbled by the generosity of so many of you who financially support us. Since our last financial update, however, some of our support has stopped. Over the last 15 months, we have averaged 74% of our total support figure. God’s provision has remained steadfast primarily through a favorable dollar-to-yen exchange rate and reasonably priced housing, so we are doing okay. Please continue to pray with us for 100% support.

Where's the missing article?

Originally, there was more to this newsletter, but some of it we didn't feel we could share publicly. Please let us know if you would like the receive the full version by email.

Language Corner

It’s been more than 3 years since the March 11, 2011 disaster, but the relief effort is ongoing. Please continue to pray!

Thanks for reading!
We’re thankful for each one of you.

Love in Christ, Keith and Celia

On vacation with Celia's family in March
Happy Spring! I'm putting out some new growth!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

More lessons for an awkward gaijin

Today’s coffee: Mother’s Day Blend—I’ll just have to pretend I’m drinking it with my mom…

Today’s just been one of those days. I’ve never once thought that I wanted to quit or go “home” to America or anything like that; I’m just tired of being a gaijin (foreigner). Actually, being a gaijin in itself is not so bad; it’s just that gaijin tend not to know stuff that Japanese people know by common sense. I also get tired all the time with very little to show for it. And I feel like a broken record, always whining about the same things and trying to justify my lack of productivity. Thus I am at Tokumitsu for a change of atmosphere, consoling myself with a cup of coffee.

What could it have been this time? We just had a couple days off, and fun time with friends; shouldn't we feel energized? Monday, Keith and I spent the day at an onsen; the following day (Tuesday) we went the rest of the way to Nayoro for the opening ceremony of a new church plant where some colleagues of ours are working. On the way we visited a museum and took in the beautiful Hokkaido scenery. On the way home, Takahashi-sensei rode with us, so we had several hours of time to talk together in the car—some about things at church, but mostly just about whatever came to mind.

Hokkaido eye-candy: Taisetsuzan
At Shiokari Pass on our way to Nayoro
Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon with Tomiko-san (my hauta shamisen teacher) and her other students. We played lots of shamisen, and I had tea with Tomiko-san after the other students went home; I was very encouraged by the time spent together, talking about what it means to be a Christian performer of Japanese traditional music, among other things.

This morning (Thursday), I woke up with a headache and no motivation to do anything. Too much excitement (and use of Japanese language) over the past few days, perhaps? Or maybe just “living as a foreigner in Japan”? Sometimes I forget that things just take more time and energy when living here. I’ve been trying to cope with cup after cup of caffeinated beverages, but…

Along with the fun of learning about shamisen from Tomiko-san yesterday, I also noticed something that had bothered me when I first started learning viola da gamba: because of the years I spent learning the cello, I pick up new string instruments very quickly, but my knowledge of the instrument and its history, and the amount of repertoire I can play are far behind my playing level.

I’ve written before about the Japanese method of teaching: copy what the sensei does, and when you’re a sensei, you might be able to start doing your own thing (a bit). In general, I’ve found this method to be refreshing, especially as a beginner. I don’t feel that I have the knowledge or experience to make my own interpretation of hauta songs just yet, so I’m glad that Tomiko-san is not pressuring me to do so.

However, the other shoe dropped yesterday. In order to preserve the hauta repertoire and see to it that the songs are appropriately passed on to the next generation—and probably also provide job security for teachers—there are very strict rules about who is allowed to teach and perform the hauta repertoire. If I haven’t been taught a given piece of shamisen music by someone with teaching qualifications, I am not allowed to perform it, even if I can figure it out from recordings and sheet music. By the same token, I have no teaching qualification, so I’m not allowed to so much as pass on sheet music. So… instead of playing next week with a very capable duet partner who has studied another style of shamisen but not hauta, I’ll be playing by myself, since I’m not allowed to “teach” her, even if I’m just handing her sheet music. Masahiro-san, who is organizing the concert next week, assures me that Tsugaru shamisen is not as strict… but he immediately understood what I was talking about when I explained the situation to him.

I also found out that the concert next week is completely sold out—over 400 seats. I should be happy… but I had friends who wanted to go but couldn’t get tickets. (Keith will be coming as staff.)

So, I should be grateful that Tomiko-san kindly and thoroughly explained all this awkward stuff to me (I know it wasn’t easy for her), but right now, I’m tired and I still have a headache, and I just want another coffee and a nap. I’ll probably feel better about things tomorrow. Then, after the concert next week, maybe I’ll start working on my teaching qualification.