30 April, 2010

Combating the Commandant of Confusion

Combating the Commandant of Confusion

This is another review for http://booksneeze.com/  My previous one is here.
This time I have a DVD to review, but I'm a little disappointed.

The story revolves around a character called Confusion who tries to steal the Bible Teams' secret weapon. However, the good guys triumph and Bible Man defeats Confusion with the very weapon he is seeking to steal - the Bible.

Bible Man is a series we discovered in our school library in Japan (Christian Academy in Japan). My three boys loved the series - plenty of action, good guys in superhero suits, bad guys who look ugly and light saber fights. What more could you want?

Well, from a parent's point of view the fact that Bible Man and his team (Bible Girl etc.) all quote Bible verses to combat evil (profusely), we figured it wasn't such a bad thing. And a light saber fight with Bible verses instead of grunts is something to be seen to be believed!

The whole show is a little corny, but for little boys that is immaterial. However my disappointment stems from my boys' reaction to this particular production. It is a stage show instead of a more real-life situation with the good guys' basement headquarters etc. My perceptive 7 y.o. thought that this rendered it not-enjoyable and he hasn't been persuaded to watch it twice.

To its credit, though, the DVD includes a clear child-sized explanation of the gospel and leads them to a conversion prayer if they so wish. It could be used in a Kids Club outreach event or at a camp or beach mission.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this DVD was provided to me for review by Thomas Nelson Books <http://BookSneeze.com>. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Developing piles

We're developing piles around the house that tell me we'll be moving again soon.

My husband has half-emptied a couple of our bookshelves and made piles of theological books he wants to give away. I have a pile in the corner of our bedroom of things which are coming back to Japan with us. The pile under the bed in the spare room is threatening to take over the room. It consists of things that other things we want to give away; including a deep fryer, an extra phone, miscellaneous unwanted books, etc.

At the moment the piles are under control, but they are a silent reminder that our lives are about to be uprooted yet again.

28 April, 2010

Fruit born from monthly faithfulness

We had a phone call this morning from someone we haven't heard from in ten years. More exciting than that is that they've advocated for us at their local church, a church we've also not heard from in ten years. Their church is looking more closely at the missionaries they support and doing a little bit of renovation. (It is easy for churches to collect a lot of prayer letters and missionary prayer cards and do very little about them.) This contact of ours has stood up and basically re-introduced us to the leadership of the church, using only the literature we've put out. 

The thing that stood out as our biggest "selling point" - that we communicate regularly with our supporters. When a church is looking at choosing who to support, they usually have several criteria, that can include;  members of our church or members of our denomination, doing work that agrees with our values as a church AND communicates regularly.

It is confirmation again that when I put effort, at the end of every month, into writing our news/prayer letter, it is worth it!

It is also a case in point that we cannot easily put value on what we do each week. In this case, we visited the church ten years ago, but didn't have a response from them and haven't heard from them since. It would be easy to assume that the Sunday we spent with them was valueless - yet, here, a decade later our work has born fruit.

But praise God for advocates. Without them we would only have individuals supporting us, not churches.

26 April, 2010

Tired of meeting and telling

I'm a bit tired. Our weekend has turned out busier than I thought.

Saturday we (as I blogged) went to and OMF Alumni reunion for morning tea and lunch then rushed off to basketball. Most of the day was gone by then!

Sunday we went to our local church. Church always, even a home church, produces lots of questions to answer and as we hadn't been there since February, there were many questions. After a quiet lunch and rest time at home we buzzed over to the home of good friends who have three children almost the same age as ours and stayed until after eight. A wonderful fun time, relaxed and full of untangling social relationships between six energetic children. But more questions to be answered and discussed.

Today we dashed off down the coast to visit two families we haven't seen for years. Uni and church friends from uni days. One family we hadn't seen in ten years! The conversation was intense. The nine children between our three families added to the liveliness of the reunion. But of course, more questions. Often excellent ones, but requiring concentration and heaps of generalisation. 

We agree that we're both pretty tired of this deputation. Tired of telling the same stories, answering questions like we know what we're talking about. Tired of explaining our 'on the edge of ordinary' lives to Australians. Tired of saying 'hi' to only turn around and say 'bye, see you in four years'.

It is a natural progression towards the end of a decent length home assignment. Probably one we shouldn't resist, because it makes it easier to leave this to go back, when so many other things are pulling us back from saying goodbye again.

24 April, 2010

Beautiful on the inside

Our family significantly lowered the average age at an OMF Alumni reunion today. A meeting where 65 is considered young! Most there were former missionaries, some had even been born in China as missionary children and gone back later themselves.

What a beautiful meeting it was. I love elderly missionaries. Their focus on God, their heart for the unsaved, their God-view of the world

One reason they are so beautiful on the inside is that they've gone with a God-focus through their lives. That has meant lots of adjusting. Lots of change. Lots of other-love. They are humble, prayerful and full of praise for God's grace in their lives.

Most of them pray for us. Many came up and thanked us for our prayer letters. Most of them know details about our lives that many recipients of our prayer letters miss - merely because they comb those letters for details and pray over them, often daily.

It was a joy to be among them and it was hard to pull away to go to a totally different scene in the middle of lunch - the Australian sporting Saturday scene. Our 10 y.o. plays basketball in a league that competes on Saturdays.

I enjoyed watching him play (he's getting good). But I enjoyed our God-focused company better.

23 April, 2010

Wardrobe meme?

I've been intrigued to see something called a meme going around the blogosphere. Not knowing what that was, I asked the dictionary which said:
a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.
It is a form of circular letter under a different name?
In any case the goal of this one is to list five things in my wardrobe that I couldn't live without.

1. T-shirts for summer and skivvies (or turtle necks) for winter. They are comfortable, flexible and more often than not don't require ironing. 
2. Shoes - for summer a good comfortable pair of walking shoes for winter and for summer comfortable sandals I can walk in without getting blisters that go with shorts and skirts.
3. Just above knee-length shorts. Perfect for relaxing on an Aussie summer day. Although I've had to move to wearing skirts more often this summer, shorts are still my preferred option.
4. Singlets - in winter these are my key for keeping warm. Plus long johns in a Tokyo winter.
5. Light casual over-shirts/jackets. These are perfect for in-between weather.

I also want to mention colour. You cannot know what someone's wardrobe looks like without knowing something about the colours they wear.

My husband jokes that I've taken a serious wardrobe deviation this year. I've been stocking up my wardrobe, after having a major purge of elderly clothes before we left Japan last year. The difference is that I've bought more red than I've ever had before. In fact it used to be a colour I avoided. My wardrobe still abounds in browns, greens and purples, though. Pink is a colour I never buy, except in underwear, however recently I was given a cosy pink bathrobe that has just won my heart (because it is so comfortable, not because of the colour), so pink has crept into my at-home wardrobe anyway.

PS The 'memes' I've seen have tagged other people. So just for fun I tag Mrs Q and Helen. (Hope I got the tagging thing right.)

22 April, 2010

The market value of what we do?!

I just found the Australian Society of Authors' minimum rates and conditions web-page. It sheds monetary light of some of what we've been doing this year. For example:

Public appearances (of which we've done a few):

For up to an hour - $300
For up to three hours - $485 (which, presumably could be doubled when we jointly run a 3 hour Japan evening?)
I won't mention travel expenses, meal allowances etc.

The other day I mentioned to my sister that I was working on Saturday. She immediately wondered what I meant (presumably thinking Occupational Therapy). When I clarified and said I was speaking at a ladies group, she just said, "Oh."

Generally we (and most everyone else) undervalue what we do on home assignment, I think! It looks like we sit around doing not much during the week and then just a little speaking engagement here and there at nights or on the weekend. This doesn't include preparation time or networking, communicating and organising time on the internet and email.

The other day I was checking email on our laptop in my sister-in-law's dining room and read one work-related one out to my husband. My non-Christian sister-in-law was intrigued. After nearly ten years, she actually asked about what we do when we're in Australia. I'm thinking it looks like we're on holidays most of the time to them!

It is probably a good thing for churches and other groups that we don't charge like professional speakers - those rates might be a bit too steep!

Then to look at the value of freelance writing:

$211 per hour or for a piece under 1000 words - $860 and $0.86 per word after that!!

Wow - and to think I was chuffed to be paid $32 the other day for a 250 word piece that took quite a lot more than an hour to write and edit!! Most often in small Christian magazines the best you can hope for is an under-30-word blurb about you at the end of your article and maybe a free copy of the magazine.

Praise God for many sacrificial givers who provide for us regardless of our service to them.
Praise God for people who've never been to Japan, yet spend their time freely praying for the Japanese.
Praise God for his many provisions that allow us to give of our time to these ministries without thought of money for time payment.

21 April, 2010

Convincing people I'm not awesome

"Never pity missionaries; envy them. They are where the real action is — where life and death, sin and grace, Heaven and Hell converge." — Robert C. Shannon

The other day I was handed a present in front of a group of ladies that I'd just spoken to. The lady giving it to me said, "You're a braver woman than I."

Why do missionaries evoke such strong emotions in other Christians? Pity, fear, perplexity, awe, and even deliberate indifference. Maybe our lives are too confronting? Too scary to contemplate. Too difficult to imagine.

The "brave" comment left me speechless. I'd spoken honestly about some of my struggles to these ladies. Hoping that they'd see my frailty, my human-ness and debunk the myth about missionaries being super-Christians. But somehow I'd reinforced the myth?

I was encouraged, however, by an honest comment the day before in a small Bible study group I've attended irregularly this year. She said, "You've convinced me that you are ordinary." Yay!!!

20 April, 2010

Are you looking forward to returning to Japan?

Another question. One that occurs at the opposite end of home assignment to the, "You must be happy to be back in Australia." But is equally difficult to answer.

Am I looking forward to returning to Japan?

Yes and No.

Australia is generally more comfortable - English everywhere, I understand the culture (mostly), I have lots of friends, family is here, my timetable is more flexible when we're on home assignment (David doesn't have to be at school every day), we have a largish house and more privacy.

And of course I miss these things while living in Japan, so I enjoy the time we spend living in Australia. In that sense, No, I don't look forward to returning to Japan.

These are the things that it are easy to explain to an Australian but answering the question in the affirmative is harder. Because our questioner has usually never lived in Japan. And is generally sure that they could never live overseas themselves, let alone be a missionary. 

Japan is where we are quite settled. Our lives are more routine (home assignment is a very non-routine - lots of different churches, for example). We have a whole household of goods and furniture in Japan (some of which we miss, like our chest freezer, food processor and Lego). In Australia we only have half a household of goods and furniture, the rest is borrowed or given. There is a real sense of temporariness here in Australia: because we're only here for a short while we don't allow ourselves to settle too much. Japan is where we've spent most of the last 10 years of our lives. We miss friends who live in Japan (Japanese and expats). We miss places, food and experiences too.

And this is the biggest, but hardest to explain: Japan is where we feel God has called us and therefore we feel like we are in the right place doing the right thing - which leads to a sense of peace. Peace that pervades our lives despite the other inconveniences or discomforts we endure.

So, there are mixed feelings. This post back in February touched on that. The answer truly is "Yes and No."

Do I make any sense to you? Because I'm not always sure I make sense when I answer this question out aloud and on short notice.

19 April, 2010

Moving from crazy to calm - can she do it?

We sent the boys back to school today and I headed off on my usual Monday morning routine - gym and grocery shopping. It gave me time to process the last two weeks.

The last two weeks have held Easter, my birthday, travel in a car over something like 1 500km, camping for the first time, visits to family, farewells with family we won't see for about two years and a variety of stressful social situations with family that I'd rather not reveal here. We spent 12 nights away, spending only two or three nights in each place and travelled more than an hour on six of the twelve days!

All this followed an extra busy month of visiting churches and a month in which we'd (collectively) travelled more than 4 600km by car, train and plane.

Today I'm feeling a mix of relief that it is over and let-down that I have to stop running off adrenaline and have to settle for something more calm. Am I crazy? Probably. Possibly it is more fun to run around like mad than settle down to a more calm kind of life. A busy schedule does allow me to ignore the less urgent and more repugnant aspects of life, like cleaning house!

I am feeling a bit tired. I guess do have to rest too. THAT sounds like more fun.

18 April, 2010

Japanese and friendships

I've found a survey of Japanese people's thoughts on friendship here. It is illuminating. Particularly for one who's spent eight years in Japan trying to make friends! And the other two years of the decade trying to explain to Australians why it is difficult to make friends in Japan with Japanese.

Here is a sample:

Over 40% admitted to having only four or fewer friends.

55% of those friends were made at high school.

Q5: Which friends are the bedrock of your current interpersonal-relationships?
29.2% said children. 24.9% said parents. 16.6% said no one in particular.

Q6: Regarding socialising, which of the following describe you? (Sample size=13,534, multiple answer)
47.4% said it was best to keep a certain distance from other people.
8.3% said they often invite friends over to their house.

I wonder how Australians would answer these questions?

17 April, 2010

Ordinary pew dwellers?

On Wednesday I discovered that we now have four Sundays in a row without ministry or family or travel commitments. Shock! What will we do with ourselves?

We'll get to go to both of the churches we've called "home base" this home assignment year. Both are part of the same denomination. One is close to our place of living and the other is where my husband has been a member since uni days. We haven't been able to spend much time with either church in recent months, so it'll be a pleasure to sit back and be ordinary pew dwellers for a time.

16 April, 2010

Pay for published work

One of my "birthday presents" consisted of two envelopes. One contained a cheque for $32 and the other several copies of The Upper Room daily devotional guide for May and June. They contain a devotion that I wrote about 2 1/2 years ago.

This represents the first time I've been paid for writing something! Even more encouraging was the letter accompaning the cheque. To quote:
Over two million people in more than 100 countries will read or hear your witness (i.e. my devotion). To put that in perspective, if a preacher addressed a congregation of 2 000 new people each week for 20 years, that preachers would still not have addressed as many people as will read your contribution in The Upper Room...From the French radio broadcast of your meditation in Africa to its printing in the tri-lingual Japanese/Korean/English edition in the Far East, you will speak to God's people and encourage them in faithfulness.
I don't put this here to boast. For surely it was not I, but a gift from the Lord that enabled me to write this short devotion (under 250 words). It truly is a privilege to turn that back to Him and point people to Him and His Word. It is also amazing that it has been translated into languages that I cannot write in and especially into Japanese.

I am encouraged and spurred on to write more! I'm thinking about that dirt road incident, for example.

15 April, 2010

The last part of our adventure

My last post finished with us on Sunday night.

Monday morning was a quiet morning. I read a book. The boys mostly played card and board games with each other, their dad and grandfather. Then we had some quiet individual time after lunch (some of us on beds). And that was the end of the quiet.

Then I vacuumed the house. We loaded up my father-in-law, his suitcase and various bathing/toileting/seating equipment into our van (he was going back there for a while since we were leaving the next morning) and we headed up the road for an afternoon at my sister-in-law's place. We enjoyed afternoon tea and then the boys had fun competing on the Wii. We chatted, I caught up on email and we began to prepare dinner.

Somewhere in there I became aware that night was descending faster than usual and the temperature was dropping too. By the time tea was on the table on the verandah, we had lightning flashing all around us and I felt distinctly uneasy.

Talk turned to how we'd get home that night on the dirt road in our not-4WD and then about how high the creek might rise before we could get out to the highway. Suddenly I also remembered that we hadn't shut the windows of the old house and that our beds were in jeopardy. Our leisurely tea turned into a slightly anxious meal as we waited for the inevitable downpour.

I washed up some of the dishes while David and my brother-in-law organised a swap of vehicles. Then we hustled the boys into our rele's 4WD dual cab ute and took off back up the now muddy road amidst plenty of advice about handling the changing conditions.

Within minutes we could only see a few metres ahead of the bonnet because the rain was so heavy. It was scary! To keep a lid on it all, I began to sing for the boys. Songs like, "Fear not" and "This is the day". Meanwhile David couldn't see where the wheel ruts were, so we felt like we were sliding all over the place.

Thankfully we made it home. After we waded through the sea on the front lawn and in the front room (windows open), I quickly checked our beds - thankfully all was dry - the storm had come from the opposite side of the house.

All that remained then was to settle everyone down and pack as much as possible. We had an eight hour drive to do the next day. Plus the time it would take to load one vehicle, slide along a still-wet road and then transfer our luggage back to our own car. I set the alarm for 5am.

I'm glad I did. Actually I cannot remember the alarm, but did notice David got up. A couple of minutes later something flopped onto my pillow. Leaping up in alarm I spotted the outline of something frog-shaped. City-lubber that I am, I screamed. Someone flipped the light on and there on my pillow sat a lovely green frog - centimetres from where my head had been.

So we started the day with plenty of adrenalin! Not long after that I was in the bathroom when something small and wet landed on my calf. Screaming again I ran. Another frog, but only 1/3 the size.

I didn't have long to dwell on my misfortune, but we pushed through breakfast, final packing and even made a basic packed lunch. All before the sun rose. It was still raining, so we packed the ute in the rain, stuffing the final bits on top of boys already installed in their seats.

Then we began the slip-sliding all the way back along that road. Bonus - light to see! But it was still scary as we could feel the surface unstable beneath us. We were very thankful when we made it to their driveway, unaware that the worst was to come.

Halfway up the drive we suddenly lost traction and slid sideways, turning 90 degrees to the right and slamming straight through the barbed wire fence that separated us from the cultivated paddock alongside. The wire held for a while, then screeched as it scrapped the paintwork on the bonnet and onto the roof. Perhaps the most surprising thing was that once we'd slid to a stop all my husband did was put it in reverse and drove back onto the driveway like nothing had happened. All that remained was five broken wire strands, tell-tale scratches on the paintwork and our pounding hearts.

I wondered how we'd get our not-4WD vehicle back out that slippery driveway...

After transferring our luggage, and telling our stories, we headed out the driveway - escorted from behind by our brother-in-law in the 4WD we'd recently damaged - just in case we got stuck. Thankfully we made it out to the bitumen without trouble and I was also thankful that I had the second driving shift of the day. The sliding out-of-control feeling took sometime to leave my body and mind.

After all that, we still had eight hours of driving to survive. Thankfully we have an eight-seater Tarago - space for the boys to be separated by luggage. It was a relatively quiet trip. The biggest stressors then were three-trailer road trains that required passing on roads that were lumpy and with soft, narrow edges.

When we finally arrived at 4.45pm at my parents place in Toowoomba, they copped an earful. Frogs, storms, dirt roads, 4WDs, barbed wire fences, leaky tents etc. To say I was glad to be back from our adventure would be a slight understatement!

We stopped there a night, including my nephew's 6th birthday and an initiation into the TV series "Top Gear" then we collapsed into bed.

Yesterday we loaded up the car for the final leg - a mere 1 1/2 hr drive back to Brisbane. I unpacked our bags with glee last night! There are no overnighters booked into our schedule until July (when we move back to Japan). Not saying that we won't have any, but none are booked yet. To be honest, I cannot face putting any in there just yet, either.

14 April, 2010

Country adventures

After we left our tenting adventure we drove six hours north to visit my mother-in-law. We're very grateful for a roof that didn't leak and a nice bathroom. The bed was a challenge, though. One of those sofa beds that are only good until the second person gets in and then you end up together in a pile in the middle!

After two nights there we drove west to the rest of my husband's family. It was quite complicated. My parents-in-law are divorced. My 79 year-old father-in-law had a hip replacement five weeks ago and suffered a slow recovery. When we arrived last week he'd only been out of hospital for a couple of days and was staying with my sister-in-law, her husband and son in their small house on the property they're working on.

Their house was full, so we drove another 15 minutes down the dirt road to the house where my father-in-law has been living for the last six months or so. On another family-owned property. The old house has been vacant for five weeks. Except for the frogs and other various insects who managed to find their way into the house. Plus a whole lot of dust. No vacuum cleaner. This is a bachelor's house.

But the roof doesn't leak and has electricity! A step up from camping. Didn't mean I like cleaning up the frog poo all through the house, though.

The next day all my in-laws descended on the house for a BBQ lunch. Thankfully they brought almost all the food. We provided the venue. This was my father-in-law's home coming. Even if only for two nights. We 'looked' after him over the weekend - but really it was more about prodding him into more independence (right up my OT alley).

On Sunday we left dad on his own and trundled 30 minutes into town for church. A minister-less church with only 12 adults attending (apart from us). A church that still, despite their own struggles, prays for and supports missionaries. A challenge to those larger churches who don't spare a thought for mission.

Sunday afternoon we went over to my sister-in-law's place for a 4WDing trip out to a billabong on the property. The boys enjoyed the trip in the back of the ute and a chance to wallow in the mud. I enjoyed sitting with the only other girl in the party and my 10 month old nephew in the cab of the ute. We had a great chat. Just giving a little family support at this time of illness has broken down some of the barriers that exist. It is not easy for a city-based family such as ours who lives in another country most of the time to have a close relationship with land-based, non-Christian family. On the surface we have little in common. Just a little time, careful listening and understanding proves that is it otherwise just under the surface.

Monday and Tuesday proved to be hold even more adventure for our family, but this post is long enough. Hold your breath and come back for more next time...

As for now, we're about to complete the last 1 1/2 hrs of our journey and land at home-sweet-home. With no more overnight trips yet planned for the next couple of months, it will be sweet indeed!

08 April, 2010

Our camping adventure

We've just spent three nights in the wilderness with friends. Four adults and five kids. No electricity (except in the showers and toilets, which were a few hundred metres away). No fridge! And a cheap second hand tent that leaked.

We (David and I) had to evacuate the tent the first night when our bed got wet. Thankfully our friends had room at their feet where we could squeeze in. Thankfully there was a spare tarpaulin that prevented the rain on the next two nights getting into our abode.

Before the sun rose on our first day, we discovered that tents hold in very little noise and let in a lot of light. Our boys were up and SHOUTING before five most mornings! If I hadn't been so exhausted by the night, I'd have been in their tents attempting to strangle them.
Strangely it didn't rain once during the day. The days were beautiful, actually. Not too hot, cool in the mornings and evenings.

We were located on the edge of a shallow salt water lake. On the second day we hired motor boats and spent a day motoring up a local river. There were not many people around and the water way wound its way through national park. It was gorgeous.

The worst part of the whole adventure was the packing up, really. And I didn't even do most of it. I ended up minding the kids. And as my resources to keep them busy were gradually packed away and their tempers worsened, it became a less enjoyable activity. Add to that the knowledge that we had a six hour drive awaiting us after we finished. It was a tiresome day. And that after a few tiring days - broken nights and early starts.

But worth it! Now we're contemplating getting into camping in Japan as a way to cheaply see more of the country-side. We'll just have to train up these boys to help a little more. And get some equipment. Especially a tent that won't leak in gentle rain.

03 April, 2010

Another special day in an ordinary life

It is interesting to read about what you did 'this time last year'. This time last year I was doing the same as I'm doing today - celebrating my birthday. In a different place and certainly with different people.

My birthday wish for today was to celebrate with my family (i.e. my birth family) for the first time in five years. I got that plus an Aussie BBQ, the boys had cousins to play with and all my meals were made for me. All a girl could want for her birthday. I even had two cakes - a carrot cake and a cheesecake. Yummy!

Mum tells me her key to avoid thinking about your own advancing age is to focus on the next generation. To her, my 30+ years are young! I think I like her advice, I'll focus on the 10, 7 and 4 y.o.s in my household.

Still time to try new things...tomorrow - camping in tents!

01 April, 2010

Japan - the strange country

This is a video by a Japanese man who says the following about it:
This is my final thesis project. I created info-graphic, motion piece. My objective is to make Japanese people to think about that everything happening here in Japan isn't that normal.
 It is a little long, but worth watching. From the perspective of someone who's lived there, I'm glad to hear a Japanese person admit there are some odd (and some very sad) things about Japan. I don't even think he's touched everything, either.

Easter in Australia and other things

Easter in Australia
A four day weekend plus slightly cooler autumn weather inspires lots of camping over this weekend. For the first time ever the Marshalls are joining in what appears to be a national pastime! We'll be camping with friends for three nights early next week.

Actually it is amazing to be in a place that actually takes notice of Easter - even if it is mostly chocolate and Easter bunny ears.

Marshalls touring again
We're also about to embark on another grand tour of our immediate families - the last for two to four years. To say that we're enthusiastic about packing up again is to be very inaccurate. Yesterday I estimated how many kilometres we'd collectively done in March and it approaches 5000! And about 1/3 of March was spent living our of suitcases (by one or more member of the family). Ouch.

Thankfully after this 'grand' tour, we'll be mostly 'at home' for the next 2 1/2 months until we move out and go back to Japan.

But back to today, I actually have an urgent list of things on a stick-it note next to me - that doesn't include blogging!