Friday, October 31, 2014

October Newsletter

Keith and Celia Olson · Newsletter #26 · October 31, 2014

Autumn picnic tea on our day off
Dear Friends and Family,

It’s been an embarrassingly long time. We have been engaged in what we call “putting out fires”: taking care of urgent things which aren’t necessarily important, while neglecting things that are less urgent but more important. Fortunately (?), the very important but long-overdue prayer letter has now become a fire to put out.

Over the last six (yikes) months, we have enjoyed fresh vegetables and fellowship at the farm, joined a team of small-group leaders in launching “Koinonia” small groups at our church in September, continued developing relationships with people at church and in the neighborhood, helped out at our annual church bazaar, planned and led worship at two conferences, and Celia played two concerts. Keith continues his Isaiah sermon series at Wakaba, and he also had the opportunity to preach at Kita Hiroshima Church and Nayoro Grace Church.

We have also continued in our first-term assignment to receive training in “how to be/do church in Japan.” Our conversations recently with Pastor Takahashi, missionary colleagues, and others at church have revolved around steps seekers take on the path to faith, and about encouraging church members to read and love the Bible and to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth.

We are beginning to think about how to finish well: we have eight months left of our first term, and only about seven months at Wakaba. We’re starting to have a lot of ideas about the sort of work we want to do in the future; over the next several months, we will be thinking seriously about where to go and whom to work with. Please pray for us as we make these next steps of faith.

On our summer holiday, we hiked across Daisetsuzan National Park.
We also took the Takahashi family hiking with us--their first time!
When it gets to be autumn, we start thinking about the church bazaar! I played cello for the guests who were waiting to come inside.
I worked at the café corner making coffee and matcha!
Keith played games with children who came to the bazaar with their parents. Several middle-schoolers helped out.
Celia and Shino played 2 concerts, in Nayoro and Kita-Hiroshima (pictured here)
We led worship for OMF Hokkaido Conference. Keith played cajon--you can see his knee behind the guitar player.
Keith led us in a devotion and communion the last day of conference. (And he made the bread himself!)

Prayer Points
  • We give thanks for everyone who has given financially to our ministry. After looking at our budgets of the past years and the one for next year, we see how blessed we are by God's provision. For the last 20 months, we remain under-supported, but for the sake of being transparent, I also want to say that our living and ministry costs balances this out by being less than expected. Please pray that we can remain in the black.
  • "Koinonia" small groups started since September and are going strong. Pray for depth in fellowship and in Bible application. Pray especially for the group that Keith is leading, for wisdom for Keith and a Christmas caroling party that his group is hosting on December 13th.
  • Celia and Shino (pianist) are preparing for concerts:  December 14th at Hokuei Church, 21st at Wakaba Church, and 23rd at Megumi Church (Asahikawa). Please pray for good health, good weather, and good first contact with these churches for guests.
  • Please pray for our 2nd term placement, as we are having discussions with OMF leadership over the next several months.
  • Please pray for us as we learn to walk alongside seekers (as well as those who are not yet interested) and encourage them to take steps of faith. Please pray especially for Mr. and Mrs. K, for Mr. S (our farm friend), and middle and high school students.

Preaching in Japanese

While I (Keith) was filling out various financial documents this September, a supporting church asked us two very good questions: what were some joys of the last year and what were some hard things of the last year. I immediately thought of the sermon series through Isaiah that I have been preaching every other month since October of 2013. I was not sure, however, which question it answered.

After we joined OMF, my various advisors have been encouraging me to preach more, something which I must admit I wasn’t thrilled with at first. But I have come to the conclusion that since Japanese pastors are few and overworked, if it can take some preaching pressure from them, I am glad to share the sermon load. When we started at Wakaba Church, Pastor Takahashi said I could preach from anywhere in the Bible. “Good, I’ll just rewrite previous Japanese sermons and even translate some of my English ones,” I thought. When I prayed about it, God gave me a different thought, or maybe he just made me rethink a thought I have always had. I believe sermons are words first meant for the pastor to hear before they are for the congregation, and for many years now, I have felt God’s beckoning toward a certain part of scripture. If I wanted to spiritually grow through these sermons, I realized I needed to trust that God would meet me in the text and give me the words that I needed to hear, so I undertook God’s challenge to preach through one of the books I understood least:  Isaiah.

Fore-telling and forth-telling prophecy, oracles, Babylonian captivity, remnant, and the like are not the everyday sort of words one learns at Japanese school. I was not even sure I could give sufficient explanation in English, so what chance did I have in communicating anything in Japanese? For that first sermon, I spent weeks rereading my dusty Old Testament textbooks, studying maps and timelines, and trying to brush up my Hebrew, to not much avail. I also read through Isaiah a number of times to more avail, yet I still felt absolutely overwhelmed and incapable. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, God did an amazing thing. He met me in Isaiah. I still had to spend weeks agonizing over writing it out in Japanese, but in the end I had a sermon. And each sermon has passed similarly. I read through Isaiah a number of times, I feel completely incapable of saying anything coherent in a sermon, and God meets me there. As I reread Isaiah, again and again I am struck at God`s immense passion which simultaneously rages against sin and yet promises salvation that encompasses all nations. The moments when I met God in Isaiah are definitely some of my biggest joys of the last year.

But I am also painfully aware of how far of a gap there is between what God has been teaching me and what I present on a Sunday morning. Cutting pages of exegetical jewels, personal story illustrations, and applications into 20-30 minute sermon is hard in any language, but then having my carefully crafted Japanese sentences corrected and finally stumbling through that written script on a Sunday…Let me just say that the Japanese way of nodding in consent with eyes closed in contemplation is also the perfect cover for nodding off in general.

I know it is not possible for me to communicate everything through a sermon, but God’s passion became my passion, and I long to see that become the Japanese Church’s passion as well. I have 4 sermons left to preach, may God use them to teach and challenge me so that I may teach and challenge His Church.

Language (and Culture) Corner

The following exchange happened at tea ceremony class. One of the steps while enjoying tea ceremony is to ask the host about the tools. We were supposed to be very serious and contemplative, but…

   Celia: What kind of ocha-ire (tea-container) is this?
   Keith: Tonkatsu (pork cutlet).
   Fujiyama-sensei (our teacher): (laughing) No, it’s setokatatsuki.
   Keith: That kind of sounds like tonkatsu.
   Celia: You’re hungry, aren’t you?
   Keith: Yeah.
   Celia: Tonkatsu is delicious, isn’t it?
   Keith: Yeah.
   Celia: We should eat tonkatsu soon, right?
   Keith: Let’s go.
   Fujiyama-sensei: (cracks up)

Yes, tea ceremony class is fun when you don’t take yourself too seriously and have a good teacher. And it’s good for the soul.

Although this blog had an unscheduled hiatus this last month, it should be up and running again now, with a new post (almost) every weekend. Thanks for continuing to support us in prayer!

Love in Christ, Keith and Celia

No comments: