30 June, 2010

Finishing off the first part of our move back to Japan

This morning we got up early after sleeping on a thin mattress in the echo-y room that used to be our bedroom. We ate breakfast on camping chairs in the room that used to be our living/dining room and quickly jumped into the final stages of our clean. Mostly a final vacuum, bathroom clean and MOP. I put this in capitals because it took me nearly two hours to mop our kid-friendly mostly-tiled house. As opposed to the professional carpet cleaner who began at the same time as me and was done in under 40 minutes!

While I finished off the mop my husband loaded our 8-seater van to the roof with all those last minute things you don't get to till the end - the dish drainer, door mats, toilet brushes and rubbish bins. We also had our mattress, folding chairs, kettle and a TV that needed throwing out. Finishing before 9.30 we then went to hand our keys in and found a coffee shop to celebrate our completion of this stage of our transition. We dropped some library books off, got some more (for our book-eating 11 y.o.) and visited the bank to change our address. As a final act before leaving the city we dropped our elderly TV off - so elderly that established second hand stores wouldn't touch it - at the dump.

This afternoon, after arriving back at my parents' house in Toowoomba, we spent the afternoon sorting through boxes we'd packed at the last minute on Monday. We were especially looking for the bolts to put together our queen-sized bed (it serves four out of five years as Mum and Dad's spare bed). It took all afternoon, but eventually the bolts were found, not in a box, but in our lounge which also serves as a spare bed/lounge 80% of the time.

Tomorrow we are left mostly with the task of sorting the stuff we have left and plan to take (most of) back to Japan and begging some extra kilos off the airline. Shifting a family across the ocean requires more than 20kg of luggage allowance! One of my sisters arrives sometime tomorrow, so my family will be together again for the final time in 2-4 years.

Our lifestyle, our calling is not without pain. The physical struggle to shift houses and sift belongings. The emotional pain of saying goodbyes when you don't want to. The balancing act when two different countries claim your passion. The social angst when people don't know how to say goodbye graciously. But on the positive side, in our weakness we get to depend on people, we get to experience receiving the care, concern and prayers of others. We've received that this week and are lifted up as a result. I started Monday in tears due to the careless words of people and within hours was lifted up into encouragement by the actions of people who care. The care I would never have experienced except that I was in need. Praise God!

29 June, 2010

Moving and cleaning

The last two days we've been shifting stuff out of the house we've been in the duration of our Australian year and cleaning. Here are before and after pictures.

Tonight me and my husband are sleeping here (or rather camping as there is practically nothing left except a mattress). Tomorrow we hang around while the carpets are cleaned, we mop the floor and high-tail it out of here to find the kids again - at my parents' house up the mountain in Toowoomba.

It'll be a relief to have this part of our move over - always the worst. I am quite sad to leave this place behind - it's been the best place! God even blessed us with a "farewell" sunset.

We've had a small, but steady stream of helpers over the last two days. Not just helpful but encouraging too. And great for breaks over a cuppa (cup of tea - for non-Aussies). Two of our helpers also took the hermit crabs home to their their place.

This is the first time we've had our boys helping us move - in almost every previous move since the first was born 11 years ago there's always been one baby or toddler among them, so we've kept them away. As it was, our 5 y.o. seemed to get a (minor) injury every hour at least. Last year in Tokyo we were already on the other side of the metropolis when the move happened, so we stayed away. They were a great help (90% of the time) yesterday. Very keen for some muscle action! We kept them out of the cleaning action today, though.

Now - no kids and nothing in the kitchen. My hubby just has to take me out to dinner. Though neither of us is feeling terribly romantic, it's nice to have some down-time without the kids (who've been something of a handful over the last week). Hopefully we'll sleep okay tonight, the mattress looks pretty thin.

27 June, 2010

HMT - Home-side Ministry Team

When I mentioned our home side ministry team the other day I realised that I didn't have a photo of them all - and actually it wasn't that we had missed the opportunity, despite meeting several times during our 12 months in Australia not once had they all been together with no one missing. Miraculously, yesterday they were all at our park gathering and we snapped a photo.

Again I want to say how much these guys have helped, loved and encouraged us. It is knowing this group is standing with us that helps us stay buoyant when we feel discouraged by others who don't understand or don't appear to try to understand. We are so thankful for them.

26 June, 2010

What did you do today?

What did you do today? Well most days as a mum consist of a rather random collection of important and less important tasks. You might think that two days out from moving I'd be packing, but on the contrary here are fourteen of the (possibly) more interesting things I've done today (in no particular order):
  • Wrapped a Christmas present
  • Shopped for new shoe laces
  • Hung out in a park for five hours with various friends and supporters who turned up to say good-bye (see photo)
  • Hobbled (or will) together dinner from a few left-over sausages, pasta, a tin of spaghetti and some veges.
  • Said "see you later" to some long-term friends
  • Did sudoku in bed
  • Chatted with a missionary/teacher who works in Cambodia
  • Rooted around and found materials for the boys to make a sign so people could find us in the park
  • Added a long-time supporter to the email list for our prayer letter and one to our Kids letter too
  • Connected two of my friends with each other
  • Applied a Bandaid to a knee
  • Provided moral support to a husband and three rather unhelpful boys as they sought to deconstruct the swing set prior to moving
  • Answered a barrage of questions about Random Breath Tests after we were stopped by police on the way home from the park
  • Cuddled a baby girl
We've had a good day - the park time was relaxing and got us out of this increasingly empty shell of a house. We're getting to the business end of moving and are beginning to feel as though we're camping in our house instead of living here. It'll be good to get it all over with on Monday (moving day) and then life gets simpler for a while.

25 June, 2010

Heaps of emotions?

There are heaps of emotions running around for all of us. To give some context on today, we've just had parent teacher interviews for all three boys for the first time ever. Also that was our final farewell to the school. This afternoon our 11 y.o. is having a final play date with his current best friend. As a 'make-up' treat we're taking his brothers to a park and for a special afternoon tea.

Here are just some of the emotions:

Surprised and relieved - at the teachers comments about our eldest. Very positive - probably the most positive parent teacher interview we've ever had in relation to our 11 y.o. It has been a long road to this point.
Happy -  that all three boys have had a great year and all three received great report cards and comments from teachers at the interviews.
Sad - that we're pulling away from such a good year at school. The boys are sad to be saying goodbye.
Ecstatic - this one is our 7 y.o. who was so excited to be going to school today to see his teacher one last time. Wednesday night and yesterday morning he was highly strung (which filtered through to his brothers). This made dealing with them an emotional experience.
Impatient - this is the boys, but increasingly us too. Impatient to be through all the goodbyes and packing and get on with settling in to the next chapter.
Excited - the boys are excited about this afternoon. But also the whole concept of leaving in 16 days.
Disappointed - this one is mostly me. I'm disappointed that there are some who we haven't seen this year for various reasons (some of which I don't want to dwell on). Tomorrow we have a picnic in the park for people to come and say goodbye, some we'd hope to see once more cannot make it. Disappointing.

Packing has become painful this week - only in that it has had to be painfully slow. A bit like picking bits off yesterday's roast chook. We've been very organised and allowed ourselves plenty of time, so there was no need to pack furiously - and if we had done the boys would be left with nothing to do these last few days before we move on Monday. Hence I have time to blog!

But now I'm off to bake some apple muffins - which will feed the family and get rid a little bit more of the stuff in our pantry.

Footprints Blog tour links

Here are the links I promised in yesterday's post on the Footprints Magazine Blog Tour. Sorry I didn't get it up yesterday, Janet has been ill this week and unable to get the links to me till late last night (after I was in bed).


24 June, 2010

Footprints Magazine Blog tour

Have you seen a blog tour before? It is like a virtual promotional tour where an author (or in this case a magazine editor) is interviewed on various blogs and the interviews appear across several or more blogs over a period of days or weeks.
Today I have an interview with Janet Camilleri, editor of Footprints magazine. This tour celebrates the 50th edition of the magazine.
 There are a lot of magazines out there. What makes Footprints unique?
As far as I am aware, Footprints is the only non-denominational Australian Christian women’s magazine in print, with nearly 100% home-grown (Australian or New Zealand ) content. And we are run by volunteers as a not-for-profit ministry, rather than as a business.
 Wendy's note:  Christian Women magazine announced recently that they are no longer producing a print version, only an online version.
What is your favourite part of editing a magazine?
Umm … all of it?!  I enjoy writing. I enjoy hearing from our readers. I like doing the layout and sourcing just the right illustration to go with a piece. I love seeing how a heap of separate articles come together to create a magazine, with just the right balance of topics. I like marketing and promoting Footprints.
What I find most difficult is when readers ask me for ideas of what *they* could write. When I have an idea, it’s usually something that *I* want to write about! So it is very hard for me to come up with ideas for others, especially when I have no real idea about their background, talents, interests etc.
Last year we went to Manila together to a magazine editing conference. What was the biggest thing you learned there?
Not to eat salad! Just kidding. (We both picked up a tummy bug and as we were drinking bottled water, I think we got it from eating salad that had been washed with un-boiled water.)
I learnt many things, but probably the biggest thing was how important it is to look after our readers and writers. As Rick Warren says in the first sentence of “The Purpose Driven Life”, it’s not about me (and yes I have made that mistake in the past!). It’s about glorifying God, encouraging our readers, nurturing younger Christians, comforting the hurting and lonely, reaching out to others with the good news of the gospel, and giving writers an opportunity to grow and improve and publish their work, and so much more …
You're a passionate woman (I know, after travelling and rooming with you!). What is your biggest passion for the future of Footprints?
That it reach as many Aussie Christian women as possible, so that they can get the faith lift and encouragement that each issue of Footprints brings. I am forever hearing new subscribers say “I just wish I’d found your magazine sooner” … I wish that too!
I know you have a vision to help rural and isolated Australian women. What have you done towards that goal?
You know, I almost mentioned that to answer your previous question. You must have read my mind!
The internet is a great opportunity to reach that goal, as it’s accessible 24/7. Through our website, blog, Facebook fanpage, email chat group and free monthly ezine, we are able to reach women no matter where they may be.
I have also made myself available to speak at women’s groups and churches in small country towns, and have been invited to places like Childers, Dalby, Emerald, and Yeppoon, to name just a few.
But now that you ask that question – hmmmm. You’ve got me thinking, just what would be the best way to reach the women in the outback! Love to hear from anybody that has some ideas …
What is the biggest mistake you've published?
Trust me, there have been a few! In our early days, I made a typo on a contributor’s name, so that it said “Batty” instead of “Betty”. Oops! There have also been times when the end of an article has been cut off inadvertently when we went to print.
I have made some more serious errors of judgement in the material I have chosen to publish. I’m thinking specifically of a joke which was called “three reasons” – it listed three reasons Jesus was really black, a woman, and I forget the third. I’m hopeless at remembering jokes so I can’t really remember it. A couple of our readers found it a bit offensive, and as an editor I should have thought of that before printing it just because “I” liked it.
And I hear you have a special offer for my blog readers?
Any Aussie readers are welcome to send an email to editor@footprintsaustralia.com with their postal address, to receive a free trial issue of Footprints. (Of course we’re hoping that they will love it so much they will not only sign up, but that they will also tell their friends!)

Thanks for answering my questions Janet. We look forward to seeing many more editions of Footprints magazine.

For those interested in finding out more about Janet and her magazine, here are the Blog tour dates. Unfortunately I don't have the links for all of them, but will post them as soon as I can.

Fri 25/06           Julie Miller “Works for me Homemaking”
Sat 26/06          Kay Weight “Heart and Soul Pursuits”
Sun 27/06         Michelle Evans “Michelle Dennis Evans”
Mon 28/06         Kathie Thomas – which one Kathie??! I know you have several!
Tues 29/06        Lilian Read “Mothering Misadventures”
Wed 30/06        Corallie Buchanan “Buchanan Beeline”
Thurs 01/07       Joni Leimgruber “Every (1) Matters”
Fri 02/07           Narelle Nettelbeck Moments for Mum
Sat 03/07          Catherine Oehlman Squigglemum
Sun 04/07         Paula Whitehouse Paula’s Sharing Spot
Mon 05/07         Kelly Burstow “Be a Fun Mum”
Tues 06/07        Tabitha Bird “Through My Eyes”

23 June, 2010

Hidden weapon

I did quite a bit of city driving today. Enough to have plenty...well...some thinking time. I thought about how David and I cope with the difficulties which face us, particularly a large obstacle like transporting our family across the ocean. Many people shake their heads in wonder. But I realised that a lot of our ability to cope comes down to how we spend the first 30-40 minutes of our day.

Before we get out of bed we commit our day to the Lord, which includes offloading all our cares and concerns (especially those of that day and the previous day) onto his broad shoulders. Then we get up and go at it, confident of His help as we go about our day. Simple, really, but broadly under-rated.

Good news day

The boys finished school today. They're as high as kites this afternoon and struggling to settle down to sleep. It is not a case of them being finished with hated school - more to the point in their minds they are a lot closer to going to Japan now. Now we've only got 18 days 11 hours 46 minutes and 3 seconds to help them wait. It could be a long few weeks!

Actually we're very thankful. They've all brought home great report cards. Not just academically, but behaviourally too. They aren't perfect, but it is great to see them working to the best (in most cases) of their abilities. We've had some terrible struggles with our eldest over the last few years of his schooling, it is encouraging that he seems to have turned a corner.

I'm also really thankful for this verse at times when parenting is hard: Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

The other good news for the day is that we've booked good tickets for me to Hong Kong. I bet you thought we were going to Japan!?! Well you'd be right. But I've been invited to a week-long writing workshop in Hong Kong at the end of August. So, only a week after school in Japan begins, I'll be shooting off on my own. I'm looking forward to it a lot, but at the same time praying that the family will cope with my untimely absence.

22 June, 2010

The care of missionaries

Australian churches find it hard to look after missionaries. At least that is my observation. I am not about to write a "how to" document on it, but I did read something recently that puts the case for caring for missionaries very well:
"Service of the Lord in cross-cultural environments exposes missionaries to many stresses and criticisms. While acknowledging that missionaries also share the limitations of common humanity, and have made errors, we affirm that they deserve love, respect and gratitude. Too often agencies, churches and fellowships have not followed biblical guidelines in dealing with cross-cultural workers. We commit ourselves to support and nurture our missionary workers for their own sakes and for the gospel witness."
(The Declaration issued after a World Evangelical Fellowship conference on Missiology in Iguazzu, Brazil, 1999 quoted in "Honourably Wounded" by Marjory F. Foyle)

I don't want to comment on our own situation much, aside from saying that we've developed our own support group. Our Homeside Ministry Team (some of them are in the photo of one of our meals together). A group of nine who love us and who've been many things to us over the last five years. They've done a lot of practical things for us this last year, including find and furnish the house we're in. And help us now move out of it. They've welcomed us home with open arms, listened to our woes and funny stories. Who've met with us several times over meals during the year to listen and ask. Praise God for them and using them to hold us together!

21 June, 2010

A fridge?

One of the stressful things that happens during transition are unexpected things that need decisions made about them, and sometimes quickly. Our current stressful event arrived in an email about our house in Tokyo. They are able to organise for us to move into it only 36 hours after we land. Which is good news.

At least mostly good news. The main difficulty is that, amongst all our stuff in storage we don't have a fridge. Our old fridge was dying, so we threw it away before we came back last year. Sensible move, you would think. However, moving into a house without a fridge in mid-summer is fraught with difficulties. As it stands, we don't know that we'll be able to select one and get it delivered in time. This morning's email from our Tokyo-based supervisor suggested we could look at fridges on the website of a large Japanese electrical goods shop and make a suggestion or two and maybe he could get it organised prior to our arrival.

Sounds reasonable. Until you have a look at the website. Go on, have a look here. It seems that Japanese fridges have gone the way of multi-drawers. I've never used a multi-drawer fridge. The numbers relating to drawer capacity don't mean a lot to me. The website doesn't let me look inside the fridge either. Do I feel comfortable about making a remote decision about something as important as a fridge? Not really.

Then I had a great idea - we could look up the same fridges on an English website. Unfortunately the fridges the same company sells here are different to the ones they sell in Japan. But this website at least gave us a more comprehensible explanation and view of the inside.

My other idea is to go to a large electrical goods shop here in Australia and actually open one of these fridges, so I can get a better idea of what we're talking about. Haven't actioned that one yet, but in the next two days (before school holidays begin), I think we will.

We also need to find a washing machine, but I think that that can wait until we're on the ground. After all there are Laundromats.

20 June, 2010

The last...

We're into "the lasts" stage. When you say, "This is the last time we'll do such and such."

Today was our last official deputation meeting. Yay! It was a good one too. A potential new supporting church!

This week we have the last three days of school, the last (we hope) doctor's appointments here, the last week in this wonderful house and the last days of living out of a wardrobe rather than a suitcase - for a while, anyway.

But it is increasingly looking busy. This week, aside from packing, there is one final morning with my Occupational Therapy mentor. Medicals for all boys for their new school in Japan. An open day in the park next Saturday (for anyone who wants to see us "one last time"), parent-teacher-interviews and a school-based mini concert, art gallery and parade (all separate days). Then we move out next Monday. Phew! Praying for lots of strength. I'm particularly head-achy at present and it isn't much fun.

But soon it will be all over. We had news yesterday that it is possible that we could move into our house in Tokyo only two days after we arrive (possibly fridge-less, though). That is amazing and will minimise the time we spend 'home-less', hopefully speeding up our adjustment back into life in Japan.

Yours, in the midst of growing chaos...

19 June, 2010

School newsletter encourages

This week this came home with our 5 y.o. in his class newsletter. I'm teary.
Goodbye to the Marshall Family
We're sad and excited to be saying goodbye to the Marshall family. J and his family will be returning to Japan over the school holidays. The children are excited that J gets to go home and tell people about Jesus but also sad at losing their friend. Please keep the family in your prayers as they get ready to go home. At prep we have talked about playing with J for the last few times and the children have been regularly praying for him and his family.
Obviously I've edited his name out.

We have our kids in a Christian school for a reason that is different to most. We thought that a Christian school might have more understanding of the in-and-out-again missionary lifestyle that we lead. We've been blessed by wonderful teachers. The teacher who wrote the above is beyond what we imagined - she is passionate about mission and so excited that our child has been in her class.

18 June, 2010


Today we had morning tea with the pastor (and his wife) who married us nearly thirteen years ago. These people are special. They immigrated to Australia from Ireland a year before we were married to be pastor of our church. He was on the missions committee of our church at the time we began to apply to OMF International. They were at our farewell from that church nearly 10 years ago too. They have been through considerable suffering themselves - a near fatal accident, permanent injury, serious conflict within a church and unemployment. And now they are going themselves (in their 50s) - to teach English at a church in Japan for a year.
There were many dimensions to our conversation today - from reminiscing to practical advice to discussion about mission in general and many stories of their varied experiences.

There are many things I could write about our meeting, but one sticks in my mind. She remembered something we said on the actual eve of our departure the first time in 2000 (I only remember being very emotional and terrified). We apparently were interviewed before the whole church and were asked, "Why are you going to Japan?" The answer (I presume David gave) was "Because of the Great Commission". This stuck in her mind all these years as she's never heard anyone say that.  Apparently most people give a longer winded version of what they consider their "call". Obviously David cut to the chase that day. We still agree. The great commission is out there for every Christian - no special divine lightning bolt from heaven is necessary.

One of the things that is part of our role as missionaries, especially on home assignment, is "mobilisation". Similar to the business term "recruitment". It is a rather nebulous part of our role. And, as it turns out, we do mobilisation just by being us and answering the questions. Another person told me last year that just us doing what we do is challenging to those around us. Amazing how God uses us without us even knowing!

P.S. The photo, by the way, is of some of our friends at church our last day in Australia in 2000.

17 June, 2010

Raising Boys

On the weekend I saw this post by Meredith and pursued this book called "Raising Boys". I found it hidden in a local library, so decided to put all my other reading aside (I have several books on the go at present) and check it out, after all it is a lot cheaper to do that than wait for a less hectic time and have to buy it.

Even though I'm reluctant these days to read parenting books, this one was more from a psychological point of view - looking at gender differences, brain and hormonal differences. It is not written from a Christian perspective, but that's not too much of a concern for a discerning reader. There are many good things about the book, but I'll start with the things I didn't like.

I skipped over the evolutionary theories, which were contained mostly in a short section. With my oldest at 11, I felt quite confronted with some of the ideas of how to talk about sex, sexual orientation, masturbation and the section about pornography was definitely off target when parenting with a Christian worldview. Of course the idea that sex is only for marriage was not mentioned.

On the other hand, there were many excellent things to learn. The serious effect that testosterone has on the body and what to approximately expect when in terms of behaviour. He demystified some of the behaviour surrounding boys, for example, when boys are rowdy it is often because they are anxious and just want someone to take a firm lead. There was a very useful chapter on what Dads can do and also about sport.

Some specific lessons I learned:
  • it's okay to step back and let them do stuff with their dad, in fact if I don't I'm interfering with that important relationship
  • because I provide a lot of services to them, I have a lot of bargaining power (this is useful when answering the question, "Why should I do what you ask me to do?")
  • teaching boys to do housework is not only good for their future, but allows a better relationship between them and us (as they will talk while doing), it gives them good self-esteem and helps them to develop organisational skills
  • that most boys need help learning how to organise themselves (more so than girls)
  • it is important for me to keep being affectionate with them, even as teenagers as well as complementing them
  • because boys have fewer connections from the language half to the sensory half of the brain it is important to read to them, talk to them a lot and explain things
  • 1-2 extra activities outside school is the maximum we should allow
  • staying connected with your son through the challenges of puberty is very important
Parenting is a massive challenge. Essentially though I learned that because our children have two parents still together who love one another, a father who is involved in their lives and a family who eat together two or three times a day puts us well above average. Yes, you can make yourself guilty about lots of stuff you don't do well, but these basics are a massive start.

16 June, 2010

Mysterious missionary moves

Someone recently commented that we're handling this process of leaving Australia objectively and not so emotionally. In some respects that is how we cope with the emotions - by getting on with all the tasks (and they are myriad) associated with moving internationally. Not to say that we aren't sad, excited, worried, stressed and relieved - all at various times, but we don't wear those emotions on our sleeves. Maybe this could be seen as repressing emotions. But I guess we have the opinion that it is something we have to do regardless of the emotions we feel, so we might as well get on with it. Besides, being emotional all the time is quite stressful in itself.

I've commented before that watching missionaries change countries can been a disturbing thing. It is a process that makes them look mysterious in some way. As they gradually withdraw from life in their passport country, they do things that most Australians have never done - plan to be absent from the country for several years running. Even our solicitor finds this to be an unusual lifestyle to plan for.

Additionally the missionary's thoughts turn more and more to the place where they are going so they can seem somewhat 'absent' in the present. In some ways I imagine it might be a little like the process a Christian goes through who is dying slowly. Putting their affairs in order, saying goodbye and beginning to look forward to what lies ahead.

To the people being left behind it is mysterious for a few reasons - for starters they cannot imagine doing it themselves. Secondly the missionary is much too busy to communicate much at this time, so most of what goes on is unknown for the observer. Thirdly observers don't know much about what it is that it is motivating the missionary to want to go through the pain of transition. This time the third reason is even more marked for us because we are going back to a place we've pretty much lived in and worked at before. We have a much better idea of what we're headed to and therefore it is not such a terrifying transition.

I hope that by documenting this move (as I did the last one) on this blog it will help those who read it to understand just a little bit more. It also helps me not to suppress those emotions too much.

15 June, 2010

Short legs

It's official. I have short legs! I went jeans shopping today at a shop that has many jeans and notably some jeans with "short leg length". But apparently that doesn't extend to "super short legs". Their definition of short is 78cm (30.7") inner leg seam. My legs measure up at just 71cm (28"). If you've met me you'll know that I am short, but not too abnormally so. I think I'm about 5'2" or 158cm. That is only about 5cm (2") shorter than the average Australian woman.

Delightfully my height is exactly average for Japan! I wish I could say the same for my circumference. Again, I am not large - my wardrobe contains mostly Australian sizes 10-12. But in Japan I'm shopping in the XL section. Petite Asian girl I am not - though my height matches, obviously my build does not.

But now I must stop shopping for clothes. I've had a wonderful year of shopping in Australian shopping centres. My wardrobe has had a serious overhaul. However now we're facing getting it all back to Japan. With only 100kg luggage allowance between the five of us (plus carry-ons) we're going to need to post some boxes. And that is not cheap. I think Australia Post charges something like $128 (10 000 yen or $US109) for 10kg.

14 June, 2010

Surgical robots


Tiny robots that aid surgical procedures and medical checkups are currently the focus of intense worldwide research. In fact, some of these small-scale devices already are in practical use.

Four Japanese facilities have introduced medical robots using systems developed by U.S. companies, such as the Da Vinci surgical system.

The robots, equipped with arms less than one centimeter long, can move around inside the human body and treat affected areas, echoing ideas first set out in science fiction. The small devices are able to repeat subtle movements precisely, making doctors' lives easier. Furthermore, due to the small size of the robots, patients need only small incisions to undergo major surgery.

The robots' arms operate similarly to human wrists. Surgeons operate, by remote control scalpels and clamps attached to these arms, while viewing the targeted areas on a monitor.

The Tokyo Medical University Hospital uses this technique for cardiac surgery and urology.

The complete system weighs nearly one ton.

According to the Robotics Society of Japan, these kinds of robots, which presently are merely a kind of surgical tool, will become capable of automatically conducting entire medical operations - from diagnosis to treatment - sometime between 2025 and 2050.

“There is less blood loss since the system allows surgery to be more precise,” said Kunihiko Yoshioka, associate professor in urology at the university in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Source: Yomiuri News, by M. Takata

The penny dropped

Well, maybe the yen dropped. I connected two things I knew about Japan today as I had lunch with friends who've supported us for a long time and just recently went to Japan. They said - as most short-term visitors do - that "Japan was a wonderful place. And that if they hadn't heard about the many difficulties (like suicide, mental health issues etc.) from us, they would never have known."

It occurred to me that Japanese are all about presentation - making it look good. They do this with food, with shops, with relationships, and, obviously with tourism too. It is a clean, efficient, polite country. Perfect for tourists.

It just annoys long-termers like us, when people breeze in and out of the country and rave about it, but see only the good stuff. We, who see the difficulties, the two-faced-ness and the inefficiencies. The desperation, sadness and loneliness. Who get tired of the politeness and want true friendship.

But now I know why - the Japanese have done their usual trick of putting on a good "outside face" and beguiled the tourists.

13 June, 2010

Memo to self: another book to read

Hmmm, here's a book maybe I need to read - about raising boys. Although I am rather suspicious of parenting books these days.

There is a time to avoid the "M" word

Yesterday we went, somewhat reluctantly, to a family engagement party. My husband's cousin's engagement party, to be exact. It was one of those things that you have to do, if at all possible. Especially when most of them usually live about 8 hours away from Brisbane and they all happened to be in the same city as us - it really was the right thing to do. So we did.

And we had a good time. It took me a while last night to figure out why. After all, we knew hardly anyone. There was plenty of alcohol and smoke around - not our kind of party. But I finally figured it out.

David's cousin's sister (also his cousin, obviously) has lived and worked overseas. One of the places she worked was in an international school in China. So our "job" isn't such a mystery to the family. Therefore we were simply introduced around as "David and Wendy who work in Japan. David teaches at a school there." Very simple. Very effective. And we had some lovely conversations. Avoiding the big "M" word which makes everyone awkward and uncomfortable was a huge plus.

Unfortunately we missed out on the big activity of the party, barefoot lawn bowls, because the club has a rule that precludes children under 12 from playing. So instead we took the boys for a walk. The club is right on the Brisbane river and almost next to the famous New Farm Park. A wide footpath (sidewalk) began at the club and followed the river for some distance, so we took our boys and another boy who they'd met at the party, for a walk. It was delightful. The boys skimmed rocks and we found a few things to climb too. We returned in time to hear a speech and eat some cake.

The other fun thing about the day was that it wasn't about us. Our life recently has been so deliberate. Deputation means going to meetings and talking about Japan and us. At this end it also means deliberately meeting with individuals who support us and friends to say farewell. Not that we talk about ourselves all the time, but the timing of all of this is related to us leaving. Going to someone else's party - a party because they've decided to get married - was delightfully refreshing.

Though maybe it was all special because I viewed the whole experience through "red trench coat" glasses...

12 June, 2010

Yesterday I hung out in commercial eateries

Yesterday was one of those days when everything ends up on the same day. I organised to meet up with a friend from my teenage years then the ladies from my Bible study wanted to have a farewell lunch for me. Finally my "oldest" friend was free for a "see you later" coffee in the afternoon.

Most of them read this blog, so I have to be careful of what I say!

Firstly I met this friend, who I didn't go to school with, but we learned piano together for many years. Our teacher had a somewhat unique system where she taught many children at the same time. Each of her students attended two 1.5 hours lessons each week. One of those was an individual lesson, but in the presence of up to a dozen others. When you weren't being taught one-on-one you either did theory at the large billiard-sized-table or were sent to one of the two "back rooms" to practice a particular passage, piece or scales. The other 1.5 hour lesson was a group one. We were grouped into similar music grade levels and often ended up "out the back" hearing each other's scales or other exercises. Our teacher was something of a dragon and you daren't even yawn, let alone talk to fellow students. As a result, I never really knew much about my fellow students, even though I saw them often. So, yesterday I didn't know what to expect from our time together, but 20 years on, we actually found heaps to talk about - our children, husbands, life experiences, photos and even a little bit of reminiscing time! We've resolved to get together again in less than 20 years time, and hopefully include one other friend who is the same age as us and was a part of those group lessons too. This has all come about through Facebook, by the way! Otherwise we'd totally lost contact. Yah for Facebook.

I went from that to lunch with some far more recent friends. These ladies are associated with a local church that we'd previously visited, but not spent much time at. This home assignment we've spread ourselves between two "home churches" (when we've had free Sundays). The fortnightly Bible Studies I joined in on with these ladies have been refreshing. Not just what we studied, but because the ladies themselves were willing to be real - to share their various struggles and not pretend that "I'm okay thanks" as we often reply when people ask.

Finally I had coffee with this friend I've had all my life and who I've already blogged about here. This was our last meeting for a couple of years, but we didn't say "Goodbye" just, "See you later".

I came home feeling a bit rung out, yet happy. God has blessed me tremendously over the years with so many friends.

10 June, 2010

Are you any different?

On Tuesday night we were invited to a meeting of the committee that helps run OMF here in Queensland. It was kind of like a debrief for us and an informative time for them. We gave a brief report (like we've visited 25 churches etc.) and then they asked us questions. You'll know, if you've followed this blog this year, that "Questions" has been a bit of a theme. They didn't ask us easy questions (like "Is it winter or summer in Japan now?"), but they did ask good questions, thoughtful questions. One was, "Compared to when you went back to Japan in 2005 for your second term, how are you different?"

Took a little bit of thought, this one, but it is worth thinking about. First of all I'd need to explain the context of our going back. We served our first four years in the northern island of Japan. Second term was to be Tokyo. Almost like a different country - different shops, different public transport, different expats to get to know, skinnier roads etc. First term was language learning and church based ministry - where both of us were home for portions of the day most days. Second term was to be David working a "day job" away from home - teaching at CAJ, and I was to be the mainstay at home for the children. First term we had one, then two children. Our third was born during home assignment, so we went to Tokyo with three - one of which was only three months old.

We had a huge number of changes occur in a very short space of time. Going back to Japan last time was almost as challenging as going there the first time. Thankfully we didn't have to learn a new language, though. That might have bust us.

Going back this time we're heading back to similar ministries. At least David is. I'm going back to things I've been planning for for a while. Our living situation is similar to our previous term. We already have friends there. We know where to get things. We know how to get around. Our boys are going to a school we are familiar with. We have a doctor, a dentist and a hairdresser. We know how to drive to the immigration office (an hour away). AND all our kids are school age and much more independent. They all sleep through the night, which helps during stressful times!

But back to the original question. It is hard to judge, but we must have grown through all the challenges we've faced. I think we are probably steadier in the Lord. We've experienced intense loneliness and survived. That has to change you. Maybe only others can see it. I wonder.

One other aspect I gave was regarding our feelings about the future. Five years ago we didn't have much of a sense of how God was leading us in the longer term (except that it seemed to be to persevere with mission work). I didn't have a pervasive feeling that I could manage in the longer term in Japan. It was more a case of living week by week. Not long after we returned, however, I remember thinking - "Yeah, I think I can do this. I think that I can think of living here for a long time." Hard to explain, but real at the time. Now we feel like we've found the place God has been preparing us for and we can see ourselves persevering at CAJ for a long time, if God doesn't move us into something else.

This is hard to explain. I hope I've managed. If you've known us for a while, maybe you'd like to comment on whether you've seen us change over the years?

It's too bad

This morning as I did the school drop-off, I saw the mother of our 11 y.o.'s current best friend. This is only a recent friendship and obviously she's only  just discovered that we're returning to Japan soon. She said,
"That's too bad for my son."
I didn't really know how to reply, but inside I was screaming,
"How about my son? Not too good for him either!!!" 
English is her second language and she's pretty shy too, so I know that she wasn't meaning to sound as rude as she did, but still.

09 June, 2010

What food can't you get in Japan?

Last night in a five minute break while I waited for something to finish cooking for tea, I raided my cupboard for things that I won't be able to buy (or easily buy) in Japan. People often ask, and I sometimes struggle to answer. Actually I was surprised at how much I found - and our cupboard is beginning to get a little bare (we're moving out in less than 3 weeks, it should be).

A few qualifications are needed.

Coconut is available - just not very common and not finely chopped.
Tomato soup is available, but only at Costco - an American super-sized wholesaler. That shops is more than 30 minutes away by car and we don't go all that often.
Sultanas are rare - usually raisins are what you find.
Soup of the varieties we are used to are pretty rare, although becoming more common. Chicken noodle - I'm not sure I've seen it in a shop. But we usually buy a box from the Foreign Buyers Club (FBC) over the internet.
Flour is available (though it is lighter than Aussie flour). Self-raising is not. Back to adding baking powder.
Cereal is light in its representation on Japanese shelves. Even cheap oats are not easy to find. Again, we usually buy oats and cornflakes in bulk from either FBC or Costco. I make my own muesli, using whatever I can find (well, not quite).
We'll be taking some Golden Syrup, Promite and Vegemite with us.

Of course there is lots of other stuff we cannot buy, like Mars Bars, Picnic bars and Turkish Delights. Licorice, Lifesavers and Freckles are not available. The flavours of chips are different (I miss salt and vinegar). Other things we can't take - like Aussie sausages (much healthier - less preservatives - and taste better too), bulk fruit yoghurt, sausage rolls and pies.

For another post after we get there is Japanese food we miss and find it hard or impossible to buy here! We are becoming bi-cultural - liking some things in both places. In fact we try to do that - appreciate the good in each place, while we're there. So, back to fattening up on Aussie goodies before we have to leave it all behind...

07 June, 2010

Anatomy of transition

Two weeks after I wrote about deciding how to feel about us upcoming transition. I'm thinking about emotions again. I've pulled out a book that helped me at the beginning of the transition into Australia 11 months ago. It quotes Dr David Pollock from Third Culture Kids and identifies five stages of cultural transition:
"1. Involvement - a state in which you feel you belong in a place and society; people know you; you...have meaningful relationships and responsibilities.

2. Leaving - a time when you celebrate, grieve, and say farewells. you withdraw from responsibilities commitments, and relationships. It is a stage marked by a mixture of emotions, such as excitement, anticipation, grief, and guilt.

3. Transition - the period when you first arrive in the new situation. It is best defined in the word chaos - feeling frustrated, confused, purposeless, and ignorant, not knowing people, places, and social skills...

4. Entering - the moment when things begin to come together and make sense again...

5. Reengagement - the point when the person feels secure and involved again, accepted and belonging....

All of this takes at least one year." ("Burn-up or Splash Down", by Marion Knell, p11-12)
We are definitely in stage 2 and have been for a while. The tricky thing is that we were not in stage 5 for long after our last transition, and in some ways we never made it there at all. So in essence we've been going through cultural transition for at least 18 months now (started 'leaving' Japan somewhere around Jan 09). Will we be re-engaged by Christmas? I hope so!

At least this time we are going back to a place we mostly know (living in a different city, but not too far from where we were before), a job and school we know. Even potentially a church we know. We already have friends there. That is a huge plus! We have older boys too. Last time we went back with a 3 month old! I'm optimistic.

06 June, 2010

A (very useful) peg

This style of peg is very common in Japan. Because they don't have washing lines, they have washing poles (see below). You can buy a dozen or more for only 100 yen (about AU$ 1.30). We've sent several packets home to various friends/relatives in Australia with young children. The pegs are useful for things like attaching bags to stroller handles or making indoor cubby houses. We are usually asked for more!

05 June, 2010

Unusual reunion

Most of yesterday I drove these ladies around Brisbane. That's what you do with international and interstate visitors. However this was an extra-ordinary event. All these ladies have served as missionaries in Japan for fifteen or more years. One comes from Scotland and another from Canada. Two are in Melbourne, but originally come from New Zealand. The other three are from Brisbane. Our only common point aside from our faith is service in Japan with OMF International over a 60 year period.

The main event of the day was celebrating Ruth White's 90th birthday (she is the one with the scarf). We even did the OMF Japan "thing" and went around the table sharing a prayer point each (well, a couple of us shared more than one). We could have been back in Sapporo at the weekly prayer meeting!

With more than 150 years of missionary experience between us, it was a gathering that could take your breath away. Except that I know they are all normal women, just like me. They know I write and I mentioned to them that I have an article soon to be published in the OMF magazine about the Ordinary Women who happen to be missionaries and the chorus was - "We fit that too!" This, as we made a toilet stop at park.

At first they apologised for taking up my day, but at the end of the day said they were probably doing me a service, giving me a 'girls day out'. And it's true. Despite most of them being old enough to be my mother or grandmother, I had a fun time. There is something about the missionary experience that bonds people, even people who've never worked together. I've holidayed in the same houses these ladies have. I've eaten the same food, travelled the same roads, lived amongst Japanese in the same way they have. When you live overseas parts of that culture embed themselves in you. For the most part, no one in Australia shares that. I cannot utter Japanese phrases to most people in Australia without strange looks. We had a mild gripe about how Australians mangle imported Japanese words and brand names!

I did spend a lot of time driving while they chatted in the back of our van (incidentally, probably the only reason I was invited to such a unique event - I drive an 8-seater van!), so I missed many conversations. Some were about people, places and events that I don't know. If the opportunity had been right, I'm sure I could have gathered enough information in the day to write an article or more on each of these ladies! Maybe one day.

They gave their lives for God's service. They've suffered as a result. Yet, they have gained much and I'm certain there are many rewards awaiting them in heaven. Meantime, they blessed me yesterday, as they've blessed many in the past.

03 June, 2010

Keep at it, Mums

This morning I read a post entitled The Importance of Listening to Mom. It's written by an Occupational Therapist who's seen some accidents that could have been avoided if the kids had just taken their mum's advice. I feel encouraged to keep warning those kids, particularly boys who reason "It's never happened to me therefore it won't!"

02 June, 2010

Throw away your guilt about evangelism

This home assignment has been rich in terms of books read. I've read some great ones (and some not so great ones too). I recently read "Promoting the Gospel" by John Dickson. It shone light on a wrong belief I've had since I was quite young. One that the church must have instilled into me, I don't think it came from Mum and Dad.

The belief that Christians who aren't fabulous evangelists are not quite making the grade. Not that they're in danger of losing their salvation, but they should be trying harder in this area.

I've felt guilty about this for a long time. Compounded by the fact that now I call myself a missionary people tend to expect that I've "converted" lots of folk. That I'm an expert on evangelism. (And they ask questions backed by this assumption!) Not so.

This book takes a broader and, I think, more Biblical perspective of the topic of evangelism. The author points out that "evangelists" have a special gift of evangelism (Ephesians 4:11) - much like pastors have a special teaching gift, some have the gift of prayer and other have the gift of serving. 

This is the book's main idea:
'So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God ..." (1 Corinthians 10:31) ... The Lord is not asking you to be a superstar evangelist who preaches the gospel to everyone you meet (though, if you are wired that way, go for it). Reaching out to your friends and neighbours is a broad task. It is not an optional extra of the Christian life like attending an evangelism course, going on an outreach trip or reading a Christian book on promoting the gospel! It is an orientation of 'whatever you do'. p 51
That comes as a relief. Permission to throw away the debris of guilt I'd been hoarding.

He goes on to write about other ways (other than preaching the gospel) that all Christians should 'promote the gospel'. Through praying for non-Christians, through giving to those in need and to those in ministry, through compassionate deeds, through Christian behaviour, through public worship (not just seeker sensitive services) and through daily conversation.

I was so encouraged by this that my husband will tell you it came up in almost every conversation I had outside our family for more than a week.

It fits with my experience and understanding of the Bible. That we are part of God's gospel work regardless of where we are and what we are doing, if we are living how he wants us and designed us to live.

We've been going around to churches, speaking about Teams. Telling folk that they are a part of getting the gospel to Japan if they pray for us. We are not evangelists. We don't do an evangelist's job in Japan (or Australia). But we do pray for those who do. We give to those who do. We support evangelists in other ways (like David teaching their kids). We worship publicly. We have non-Christian friends, family and acquaintances - we behave in a Christian-like fashion among them. And I'm sure you do too. Be encouraged. I encourage you to get a hold of this book too.

Pirate Pizza

We had a fun and healthy dinner last night. I simply provided hot dog rolls cut in half and a variety of salad and potential pizza toppings. Everyone was on their own then, making their own version of pirate ships with various scenery additions eg. Lettuce waves, tomato treasure, capsicum star-fish. We hardly noticed that we were eating, so much fun were we having. When things got a bit slow while we waited for the grill, we played the Pirate Alphabet Game - where we had to think of something pirate-related for every letter of the alphabet.

A whole lot of fun. Much more fun than the Subterfuge Soup I made the night before that was also very healthy, but not much fun due to opposition from the younger set.