Friday, May 20, 2016

May Newsletter

Celia and Keith Olson
Newsletter #32, May 19, 2016

Sunny birthday hike: Celia is 35!
Dear Friends and Family,

Just a few days until we are back in Japan! We’re excited… May 23!

Over the last ten months, we have spent a lot of time pondering first what sort of ministry we will do in our second term, and then, where we ought to live. Should we choose to live closer to church, or closer to where Keith will teach? As we got to the point where we needed to make a decision about housing, I (Celia) spent a lot of time during a family vacation “praying,” as in, demanding that God tell us where to live when we go back to Japan. But I eventually felt that God didn’t want me to demand answers. Time spent together with God comes first, so I quit asking questions and started listening with all my senses. God led us one small step at a time, and although we aren’t completely certain, we think we will be renting a house near church. (We’ll send updated contact information with our next newsletter.) Please pray with us as we continue to take our re-adjustment to life in Japan one step at a time.

In the midst of seeking God’s will for where to live, I wrote this reflection on our ume (Japanese apricot-plum) tree and what it means to put down roots.

Uprooted Again

Our ume tree is getting too big for its pot. We bought it thinking that we could nurture it and enjoy it in its pot until we had a place to plant it. Our dream even three years ago was to put down roots.

It’s too cold for a potted ume tree in Ishikari, so we brought it inside for the winter, where, of course, it started blooming far earlier than anything outside—in February, when the snow was still several feet deep. We brought it into the living room to enjoy its sweet scent and beautiful blossoms. Once the petals started to fall off, we put it in the entryway since it was making a mess. As we rolled it across the living room; it released a flurry of petals—hanafubuki (flower petal blizzard) inside the house!

Blooming ume tree in our living room
Our ume tree is getting too big to move. It barely fit in our car when we dropped it off at our friends’ house for them to look after during our home assignment. I want to plant it in the ground when we go back. It needs to put down roots.

But putting down roots is a dangerous business. Remember our garden? The memory of digging up all my precious plants to make way for cars still stings. All the work I did, gone. It wasn’t “my” house. I shouldn’t care; I should be flexible, I keep telling myself. But I do care, and that’s why uprooting hurts.

We OMF missionaries are pioneers: we go to the unreached, lay a good foundation, and then move on when our ministry becomes self-sustaining. And yet, I think we make light of the tremendous investment of time and energy it takes to build relationships and really get to know a community and a place, especially in Japan. Some of our Japanese colleagues have served in the same church for decades. Is our flexibility too western for our context?

There is a tension between a godly willingness to go anywhere at any time and a godly rootedness that affirms the goodness of God’s creation and life in community. My profound desire is to stay in one place and put down deep roots. I struggle to understand if this is sin and selfishness or if it is God’s call to rootedness. I have been through eight major moves since becoming an adult, but I’m not getting accustomed to it; each move seems to be harder than the last. I’m praying that this move will be the last one for a while—that we can build deep friendships and produce fruit that will last.

Prayer Points

  • We give thanks for financial and medical clearance to go back to Japan on May 23!
  • We rejoice that Celia’s concerts with Shino in March and Keith’s class at Regent went well.
  • We praise God that Pastor Takahashi’s daughters, M and A, were baptized on Easter. Please pray for their continued faith journey as A starts her first year at university and M starts work as a preschool teacher.
  • Please pray as we start up life again in Japan, especially during the first week (May 24-29) before our refresher classes start (May 30): we need to buy a car, sign up for cell phone service, register with the city, shop for appliances, and most importantly, make a final decision about where to live.
  • Please pray for our language refresher course, that we relearn quickly what we have lost, and that our studies prepare us for our new ministries.
  • Pray with us as we look for a good balance between our outside ministry commitments and our involvement at Wakaba Church. 


Tea Bowl: We have 100% Pledged Support!

We have received financial clearance. Thank you for your prayers, donations, pledges, and re-pledges. We couldn’t do this without you!

Recent Happenings

This month, we have lots of pictures!

Concert with Shino at Newport Covenant Church, March 5
Shino joins the Wilson/Olson family band!
Celia plays shamisen for "Japanese Storytime" at Japanese Presbyterian Church, where our friend, Satoru Nakanishi is the pastor.
Tea Ceremony in our living room for Pastor Nakanishi and his wife, Hiroko and Celia's parents, coordinated by our awesome teacher, Tanaka Keiko-sensei
Dinner-date with nephew, Calvin. Look how big he's gotten!
With Keith's sister, Becca after her wedding

Language Corner

This time, we would like to introduce to you the Japanese Tanka poem. It is similar to a haiku, but has 2 extra lines. The syllable count is 5-7-5-7-7. Celia wrote two for your enjoyment. Give the Tanka a try; we’d love to read your Tanka poems too!
Raindrops fall, and leaves
Quiver from gentle impact—
Lush spring abundance.
Lovely things your hands have made;
My heart overflows with green.
Tiny moustached birds
Carry twigs to build their nest,
Hidden and secure.
Heavenly father, I pray,
Please build my home close to you.

Over the course of our home assignment these last ten months, we have missed Japan a lot, but at the same time, we count many blessings for which we cannot show enough gratitude. We treasured the time we were able to spend with supporters, the gorgeous meals we shared, housing and cars, trips to visit family, being present at the wedding of Keith’s sister, fellowship and worship at church, tea ceremony and theology classes, and praying together (in person!) with friends who have interceded for us faithfully over these past five years. We thank God for each of you who have walked with us during our home assignment.

Love in Christ,
Keith and Celia

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Today’s coffee: “Sunrise” Kona (for those of you who visit Kauai, it’s the house brand of Living Foods Market—best coffee I found on Kauai!)

Today's coffee.
We’re counting the days. At this time in 2 weeks, I will hopefully be sleeping soundly at the OMF Sapporo guesthouse. Or, I might be waking up already, since it gets light at an ungodly hour at this time of year in Hokkaido. In any case, less than 2 weeks until we leave!

But first, we are leaving for Iowa today to visit Keith’s family, since Keith’s sister, Becca is getting married on Saturday! (I will be wearing my iro-tomesode kimono, which is the proper kimono to wear to the wedding of a close family member… and isn’t really appropriate for anything else. Glad I have an opportunity to wear it!)

As our home assignment draws to a close, I’d like to share with you a couple of thoughts that have been occupying my mind lately.

Last fall, I took the opportunity, at my friend, Jane’s invitation, to take a pottery class. I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, pottery class would have been on it. In the midst of life-transition-reverse-culture-shock stress, whacking huge lumps of clay against the table was pretty therapeutic, as was getting my hands all covered in mess while I tried to make something beautiful… “tried” being the operative word.

My goal was to make a few chawan and a few other small implements for tea ceremony. I didn’t do too badly with hand-building, which is the method of choice for certain types of chawan. They certainly looked like the work of an amateur, but a good first effort.

Hand-built scraffito chawan, in progress
My first hand-built chawan. Not bad!
Then I had my first try on the wheel. I had watched my teacher’s experienced hands form a beautiful little chawan according to my description, so I tried to do just as she had done. She advised me not to be too picky with the shape or size of my first efforts—to call them “happenings” and decide what they will be used for after I see how they turn out. Some of our best pieces are the ones that go “wrong,” she explained. Just play around and enjoy… and if it’s really useless, just throw it (at the wall. Throwing pots. Ha ha.)

Drinking coffee during class out of the chawan my teacher made. I shaped the foot and did the glaze. (It's actually supposed to be for tea, but there was coffee, and no other cups.)
My first try was probably beginner’s luck: I managed to make a nice straight cylinder. But this “luck” didn’t last. My long, skinny fingers seemed to be a liability rather than the asset they are when I play my instruments; to my surprise, my strong cellist-fingers were not strong enough to control the clay. They got stuck and spun around, giving my perfect cylinder a couple of funny divots in its rim. My teacher, observing my work, declared that I had made a little flower vase.

My "happenings": cream pitcher, vase, and... sermon illustration?
I tried again: just when I thought I had succeeded at making a chawan, once again I caught one of my fingers in the rim. “It’s a cream pitcher,” enthused my teacher. Last try: my chawan was shaping up nicely… and then the clay got too wet and the whole thing collapsed. I decided to keep it anyway, to practice glazing (and maybe to use as a sermon illustration).

The sermon illustration. (Any other suggestions?)
I gained a whole lot of respect for my teacher, and for anyone else who can successfully use the wheel to make what they actually intend to make. I realized that using the wheel takes a lot of practice to develop strength and skill—in an 8-week course, I wasn’t going to get there. My teacher, however, had been practicing and honing her skills for years.

I also know the importance of practice. I have been practicing cello regularly since I was ten. If I stop regular practice because I’m busy with something else, my skill and my strength both decrease. Seven years ago, I started learning Japanese. After previous language-learning attempts, I’ve concluded that the best way to learn a language is to live in a country where that language is spoken, because opportunities to practice will be almost inescapable. Although I’ve been working hard at keeping up my Japanese level these last ten months in the US, I’m kind of scared to find out how far I’ve fallen…

But there’s one more thing I’ve started practicing this year: listening. Listening also requires practice, whether I am listening to God, to other people, or even to my own thoughts. I’ve learned repeatedly this year that before I demand that God give me answers to some problem I am trying to solve, I need to spend time with him, remembering who he is and what sort of relationship we have. There have been many big decisions to be made this year, and all of them seemed to take especially long—probably because I needed to first learn to listen. And I’m sure I will re-learn this lesson many more times.