31 March, 2012

Today is the end of the year

Did you know that today is the end of the year in Japan? Well, the end of the financial year and the school year. This flows on to be the end of the general business year and church calendar too.
This time of year is somewhat tied to the Sakura blossoms
(cherry blossoms), the symbolic beginning of spring in Japan.
That doesn't mean the sakura bloom on this day, but in Tokyo
they are often blooming about this time (not this year, though).

This means that this is the time of year that students start school, change schools, start university, and are looking for jobs. Companies transfer their employees at this time of year. Churches hold AGMs, finish programmes, and begin new ones.

Because most of our lives are bound up with an American-style school, it doesn't affect our family very much. Our end of school year is still two months away.

Are there any other countries in the world that start their "functional" year in April, at the beginning of spring? I've got no idea. Maybe you do.

30 March, 2012

Back from conference

    We're back home again. Great conference (aside from having to deal with a cold). A good size, we're about 65 people, not including kids. It is always a pity to say goodbye after these events, but we're tired and I'll be glad to be in my own bed tonight.
One of our sons with an MK friend at conference.
    Each year the boys get older, the easier it is. We heard no complaints about the food, though it was quite different to what they are used to. We didn't have to force them to bed early and miss lots of sessions due to sleep needs. There was a great kid's programme and whenever there was spare moments, they were outside playing on the spacious grounds with other OMF kids. It is very cool that all of them have children their age amongst the East Japan OMFers. We felt a little sorry for the couple of girls amongst a tribe of boys (16 of them), but the girls seemed to manage okay. I noted that it was a little bit like hanging out with cousins at a family gathering!
    Our jobs are quite "on the edge of ordinary" even within our mission. OMF Japan is mostly about church planting and most people are either doing it, or training to do it, or a mission leader in one capacity or another or specific mission support worker (e.g. medical advisor). Our ministries are support ministries: education of kids and editing a missionary magazine. Our ministries support not just OMF missionaries, but a wide range of missionaries from different agencies. We don't fit into any neat category of ministry that OMF has, but are glad to be included in their fellowship anyway. And indeed we are very warmly included as part of the group.
    It was great to be given a chance to give a short explanation of what we do to everyone (in fact everyone had that chance). One veteran missionary came up to me told me she had no idea that that was what I was doing. I think it was helpful for people to understand other people's work  just a little bit more. Many of us only see each other once a year, it can be difficult to develop friendships across generations on that basis, but gradually, after six years in this region, it is happening. We were encouraged on several different occasions to mingle with/pray/talk with people who we don't know well and that was a good exercise.
    I'm very aware that we're at the end of several weeks of various family members being away. I know that some families have that happening all the time (thinking of one family in Thailand, particularly). However I'm trying not to compare myself or my family to anyone else, because I know that that path doesn't help me one little bit. We're not used to it, several people in our family don't cope well with the changes that family-member absences bring about and it's been stressful (and I've also made mistakes in my editing job partly as a result of it all). But change is good for us, it helps us to grow and remain flexible and adaptable.
Outdoor "public" bath (steep hill theoretically
preventing accidental trespasses)
    We're facing a lot of change within OMF Japan in the next few months. Just a couple are a change in our field leadership (happens roughly every 10 years) and a change in our regional director (as our current director goes on home assignment with his family for a year). But the longer we remain in mission, the more we see that change is actually a constant in this profession. Even if we ourselves remain in the same place, with the same jobs, there are always changes around us as people come and go.
    Well, enough rambling. I'm off for a shower (missing the conference venue's onsen – hot bath, it was fabulous) and probably an NCIS episode with my husband to wrap up the evening!

29 March, 2012

Shocks afterwards

Philip Yancey, one of my favourite Christian authors, visited Japan a couple of weeks ago. He spoke at a few events and toured parts of the devastated Tohoku region. Here he writes an excellent blog post about his visit (if that link doesn't work try Googling "after shocks Philip Yancey") and reflections on the disaster Japan suffered last March.

28 March, 2012

Reporting in from the field

A quarter of the amazing Maze. My 6 y.o. beat everyone, 
his brothers were close on his heels at completing the maze. 
Our eldest went in later to help rescue a couple of other 
missionaries and their kids who got lost!
A quick look in here. We're one day into our mission's conference. Enjoying some good fellowship, worship, and relaxation time. Yesterday afternoon we had a Japanese BBQ, which was a great time for mingling and getting to know people better, and then a campfire, but it did get pretty cold out there.

This afternoon was free-time, during which we decided to take our kids and a couple of other families with young children to a local maze. Unfortunately a shower blew in and we got a bit wet. One of the mums sat in the car with me (we're wimps) while everyone else braved the rain. But it didn't last long and the sun came out again.

I'm struggling with a cold. I had trouble getting going this morning, but I'm feeling a little better this afternoon. I hope it continues to improve, I hate colds.

Now I need to go and practise the white baby grand (my favourite instrument in the whole world to play) for tomorrow morning's worship session. No more time to lounge in front of a computer.

27 March, 2012

Another missionary perk

Today we head off to our annual mission's conference. Kind-of like a church camp, except that it is compulsory and involves some meetings. I'm involved in playing the piano (a white grand!!!) for most of the sessions, not sure how that will go, as I don't have all the music yet . . . David is helping out with the teenagers during one afternoon. And of course we're on full-time duty during the free-time, which is not really free-time for parents of children. It is "not-free" time or the time when you have to come up with your own entertainment for the kids.

But really these conferences are another perk of the missionary life (in addition to our medicals that I mentioned yesterday). We get supported, loved, encouraged, re-fueled etc. through these times together. And it's something we wouldn't have it we weren't with a mission — it is not open for just anyone to come along to, like a mission's conference in Australia might be. Just OMF missionaries at this one.

Anyway, we'll be back on Friday. I haven't had time to schedule much while we're away, but who knows, they might have Wi-fi (I know there isn't even mobile access at the centre), and I might be able to blog from on-site! Meanwhile, I'll be enjoying someone else cooking, cleaning, washing up, and a Japanese hot spring to bathe in at nights. Just a bit of all right!

26 March, 2012

One benefit of being a missionary

Last Friday and Saturday, my three boys and I had our biannual medicals done by the OMF Japan medical advisor (a Brit). I'm wondering how many other missions have field-based medical advisors? 

I wrote a little bit about OMF the other day and their vision statement, and how being one of them gives our support-roles more meaning. Another advantage of being a part of a mission organisation is the member care that is provided.

Probably most people would consider biannual medicals an annoyance. But really it is a blessing. To be able to sit down with a native English speaker and talk about whatever medical concerns you might have is a luxury that you might not appreciate unless you've lived in a non English speaking country and had to deal with the local medical system.

Here in Japan we are blessed with a fairly good system. But still, it can be challenging to communicate with medical staff. As someone who comes from a system where you have GPs (General Practitioner) and you go to them for everything (including referral to specialists), it can be a challenge to live with a system where you have to decide for yourself which specialists to go to. I had dermatitis in my ears one time – should I have gone to a Dermatologist or an ENT? What about a urinary tract infection – is that an Internal specialist or a Urologist? As no one coordinates your care, I presume you can go to several different doctors for the same thing with no problem.

To have someone who'll listen carefully to you in your heart language is something pretty special. I don't feel comfortable having a long chat with a doctor in Japan about a concern (not to mention my Japanese usually doesn't cover me that far). Very often their waiting rooms are full and they are shuffling you through as fast as they can.  OMF medical advisors ask you how you're coping with stress, how much exercise you've been doing, how many weeks holidays you've had. No ordinary doctor usually cares so much about these things.

We're able to contact our field medical advisor for advise on how to proceed with a certain concern. So, for example, in January I had a collection of troubling symptoms one day and had trouble sorting out what exactly I was suffering. He was able to give me good advice as to what to do, which doctor to go to. One of our sons suffered an embarrassing problem one evening, after Googling it, I became concerned that it was quickly becoming an emergency and rang our advisor to check whether we should rush to hospital. He confirmed our concern and off we rushed.

Another valuable thing he contributes, is an international view of medical concerns. Different countries have different standards on various things. For example medication is called different things in different countries, and immunisation schedules are different in different countries. Our medical advisor can help us translate these things so that we can work comfortably within Japan as well as our home country. Oh, and OMF International has its own immunisation schedule as well, just to confuse things! 

So, yet another thing I am grateful for as a missionary: greater care for my health than I might otherwise receive, even living in my passport country.

25 March, 2012

Nearly home

   As I type, David is nearly home (less than half an hour). I'm tired, he's tired, and it's going to be an interesting afternoon. By God's grace and with his strength I've survived the last nine days. 
   As I've washed up each day I've gazed at this verse (pictured) that has been sitting on my window sill. It was a verse that's puzzled me in the past, for it's pretty obvious that I cannot do everything. But this week it's become clear that with God's strength I can do everything he gives me to do. 
   So many people say to mothers of multiple children (i.e. more than they have) or multiple boys: I couldn't do it. I don't know how you do. Well, neither do we, except that God gives us the daily strength. We don't rely on him as much as we should, to be truthful, but he's always there, waiting to help. For 

28 Do you not know?    Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,    the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary,    and his understanding no one can fathom.29 He gives strength to the weary    and increases the power of the weak.30 Even youths grow tired and weary,    and young men stumble and fall;31 but those who hope in the LORD    will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;    they will run and not grow weary,    they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40 NIV)

23 March, 2012

"There's an Australia Bush"

Jamie Jo wrote a fun post recently about the kids of a missionary on furlough.

It reminds me of when we were on Home Assignment last and our 4 y.o. son was known as "the boy from Japan" in his class. We got some strange looks from parents who wondered what "boy from Japan" has blue eyes and blond hair. After six months we finally ended up at a birthday party and had some revealing conversations with some parents. They'd thought their kids were "telling some big ones" and were embarrassed to ask the real truth. Once they understood that we'd been living in Japan but were truly Australians, they were much relieved and we had some laughs. Then we realised why people had seemed unfriendly, they just didn't know what to ask us!

I also remember when we were home for holidays five years ago and we announced that we were going to show the boys some "Australian bush". Our plan was to go out to a local national park and do a little bit of hiking. After that our middle son, who was about five at the time kept pointing out "bushes" saying: "There's an Australia bush."

There truly are some fun times with missionary kids and their perception of life!

22 March, 2012

5. The nature and purpose of your ministry.

This is the fifth in a series of questions I'm answering for a friend's Bible college assignment. You'll find links to the other answers in the series here.

It is "relatively" easy to sprout off all the stuff we do that makes up our ministries, but I need to take one step back to help you see the context of what we're doing. 

We're missionaries with OMF International. OMF has over 1,200 missionaries reaching out to East Asians. One step closer to us, OMF Japan has about 120 missionaries working in church planting, evangelism, training, student ministry, and support ministries.

Through God‘s grace we aim to see a vibrant, biblical church, reproducing in Japan and reaching out in mission to other peoples.                                            OMF Japan Vision (for more about OMF Japan's ministries go here).
So in that context, David and I are support workers. We support other missionaries who are working on the front line in church planting and evangelism. 

OMF considers our main ministry to be with the education of missionary kids. David works full-time at the Christian Academy in Japan teaching maths and science to high schoolers, plus mentoring new teachers, and heading up the maths and science departments at the school.

My ministries are not so easily described. I have several hats, besides supporting David and my three boys. 

  • Managing Editor of a magazine that is for and by missionaries. It is the publication of the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association, an association that OMF is a part of. This job takes up quite a lot of my time.
  • Answer the email enquiries that come from the above OMF Japan website, providing information or directing traffic to the appropriate persons.
  • Blog and freelance writing — seeking to encourage and educate others with the stories God has given me.
  • Edit and produce an annual prayer calendar for OMF Japan missionaries to use as gifts for supporters.
  • We help out at Sunday School at our local Japanese church once a month (David teaches and I play the piano). I also teach a bimonthly English Bible Study that is where the church directs people looking for English lessons. (I guess this last role isn't so much of a support role.)
  • Occasionally I use my Occupational Therapy skills to assess or advise CAJ families on issues related to their children.
  • I keep up with the Japanese friends God has given me, they don't know the Lord yet, so we pray and mobilise prayer for them.
These are the main things I do, there are others, but they are quite small roles at present.

Not much of what we do is directly involved with the above vision statement, however as I said, we are supporting those who do work on the front line of ministry. Therefore we feel a tremendous sense of ownership of the vision. We are team players. Being a part of that team, as opposed to just being a teacher and his side-kick editing-writing-emailing wife. What we do is part of a bigger vision of reaching Japan for Jesus.

Next question could be a fun one:
6. Your experience of culture shock.

21 March, 2012

Some random fun photos

I've written a lot of long, involved blog posts recently, so today I'm going the other way. Some random, recent photos.

A local housing development worksite has had this large sign up at least twice recently. "Gus under construction" just makes me laugh! The second laugh is that when I told an American friend about it, she didn't get the joke until I spelt the word "Gus". Obviously my accent got in the road. Just like today when I said "she's feeling her way" in a meeting, it was greeting with confusion. The American didn't hear the "r" of "her" and thought I'd said "she's feeling away"!
This photo was taken outside the little shop I buy milk at. I park my bike out the front at this window which is actually behind the registers (you can just see one of the workers inside). I just cannot figure out what these two "hitballs" are and why they are sitting there. Any suggestions?
The other day, actually a pretty stressful day (children's behaviour kind-of-stressful), we had a "crazy cutlery" (US=crazy silverware?) dinner. This meant a lucky dip into a pillowcase to decide what you could use to eat your dinner with. My husband won the prize for the most difficult implement: a whisk! He did pretty well, till close to the end.
The US has had a large peanut crop failure. How does that effect us? Costco in Japan has stopped stocking these massive jars of Peanut Butter (1.8kg) and we've been thrown back onto the expensive local jars. But 11 1/2 years ago when we first came, you couldn't buy peanut butter in the usual Japanese grocery stores, so I am thankful nonetheless!

20 March, 2012

Polite Lies

I've been meaning to write about this fascinating book that I read by a Japanese-American. Now the book is overdue to be sent back to the library, so I'd better get to it!

Polite Lies is written by a lady who grew up in Japan and moved to America when she was 20. The book was written when Kyoko Mori had lived about the same number of years in both countries. It was published 15 years ago (this becomes important to know).

The sub heading is "On being a woman caught between cultures." It comprises of musings on various topics related particularly to Japan, rather than America. She speaks of Japan as an outside, but someone who grew up there. So her understanding of the culture is far better than mine, yet her English is wonderful.

Her childhood story is rather disfunctional. Her mother committed suicide when Kyoko was 12 and her father married his girlfriend months after his wife's death. Kyoko's step-mother was hostile to Kyoko her entire life and her father was a mystery to her, "a man whose behavior seemed only bizarre and annoying, never loving or fatherly". 

She talks about how veiled language is in Japan. How what is truly meant to be communicated is rarely spoken of clearly. 

Here's a slightly shocking statement about speaking to strangers: 
"In Japan, whether you are a child or an adult, ninety-five percent of the people you talk to are your family, relatives, old friends, neihgbors, and people you work or go to school with every day. The only new people you meet are connected to thses people you already know—friends of friends, new spouses of your relatives—and you are introduced to them formally . . . My friends and I were taught that no "nice" girl would talk to strangers on trains or at public places . . . We had no language in which we could address a stranger even if we had wanted to . . . In Japan, you can't stop strangers and ask for simple directions when you are lost. If you get lost, you look for a policeman, who will help you because that is part of his job."
Well that explains all the silence! And how hard it is to make new friends here!

And then there is the issue of trust. How much is kept secret in this country. She writes,
"In Japan, it is easy to travel from one city to another on a different island, or from a far suburb to the heart of Tokyo . . . And yet, once I get off the train, I can't travel the last few miles or blocks to my destination on my own [because few streets have names]. I will not be able to locate a particular house or apartment building from the address . . . In Japan, public knowledge is like public transportation: accessible, uniform, and convenient. Even in the remotest, smallest village on the southern island, you can get a newspaper that reports major world and national events on its front page rather than whether the high school baseball team won or lost. What you can't find out, no matter where you live in the country, concerns your own heath, money, or legal rights."
She shares the mystery of the Japanese mindset that tends not to inform patients that they are terminally ill, it is often known to close relatives, but kept a secret from the patient themselves. I don't know how much that has changed since the years Kyoko writes of, but I suspect it lingers. In Japan is it not expected that you ask the doctor questions or that you challenge his decisions (to do so indicates that you don't trust them), he is revered and you follow his advice. 

As a foreigner you need to trust so much, often you don't know what exactly is going on, but you trust yourself into the hands of whoever you're dealing with. Obviously that isn't just because we struggle with the language, that is the way the system works! It can be pretty scary and you feel quite helpless when you get stuck "in the system". I remember when my middle son struggled with asthma and respiratory infections in his early years. We ended up in hospital a few times and I wondered if we'd ever get out!

She talks of how she had to act after her father's death, and sign away her inheritance to her stepmother:
"In Japan . . . individuals don't leave wills; they express their wishes in vague and polite terms, but nothing is written down. The property laws specify how the estate should be divided among the family, strictly proportioned according to their relationship to the deceased—fifty percent for the spouse, ten percent for each child, and so forth. The law is used only when families have disputes. Otherwise, all the property goes to the one person chose by family consensus—everyone else signs forms to give up his or her legal claims."
She also talks about the different views of bodies that the two cultures have, also about differences in education styles and that Japanese cannot just go back to university later in life. Japanese women's She writes about tears, and how in Japan it is acceptable to cry in public, but not in private between family or close friends.

I could go on and on quoting this author, she has some great insights into her birth-country. Here's one last quote:
"For me, crowded trains are the ultimate metaphor for Japanese society. Standing or sitting shoulder to shoulder, people sleep together, and yet they won't make eye contact or start casual conversations. There is a forced closeness that doesn't lead to true intimacy, communication, or even contact. Trains are also models of punctuality and orderliness—the high standard of Japanese discipline I was taught in grade school . . ."
For me — while Japan is where I spent more than 1/4 of my adult life, and I'm happy here, living the life God has called me to — I know that I cannot ever understand this culture enough to call it my own. 

19 March, 2012

What is safe?

Safety has been something that has been rumbling around in my brain recently. Actually mums spend a lot of time on this topic. You know: "No you cannot climb on the top of the car, the fridge or onto the roof, you cannot run on the road, do up your seatbelt, put on your helmet, don't hit your brother..." We lock doors, put dangerous stuff away, and strap them in. We try so hard to protect them, to teach them. 

Last night and this morning I bawled my eyes out while reading Mary Beth Chapman's book, "Choosing to See" (she's Steven Curtis Chapman's wife).  The heart wrenching bit is about her youngest daughter who was killed in an automobile accident at five years of age. She ran in front of the 4WD her big brother was driving up the driveway. It is a mother's worst nightmare. And of course they struggled with guilt. But as I look at it from a distance, there is only so much we can do to protect our kids, or indeed ourselves, from harm.

Last week we had two significant earthquakes, one on Wednesday evening and the second woke us during the early hours of Friday. I felt unusually tired later that day and I think it was because the earthquakes triggered fear in me and stopped be going back to sleep straight away. David was soon leaving the country and my female brain went into hyperdrive, What if "the big one" they're talking about happens while David is out of the country. How will I cope? Of course when we talked about it later in daylight, David reminded me that I have a great support system here, not to mention that the evacuation centre for us is CAJ!

Here's a statistic that helps you see how shaken we've been in the last twelve months:
Since the March 11 disaster, earthquakes of magnitude 3 to 6 occurred an average of 1.48 times a day in the metropolitan area. This was about five times the pre-disaster average. The Australian.
And then I read this blog post by colleagues who are moving to Tokyo from Sapporo later this year to take up the national leadership of OMF Japan. They note that one of the first thing people say to them about this impending move regards Tokyo's increased chances of a BIG earthquake in the next couple of years. CNN wrote this in January:
The University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute predicts there is a 70% probability that the capital's metropolitan area will experience a magnitude 7 quake within four years and a 98% probability within the next 30 years.
The Australian had a more balanced report here, if you're interested.

But oh, it is easy to be anxious. And the media loves to prey on your anxiety.

However I've been reading through the book of Psalms recently and one thing that's struck me is the frequent mention of safety.

Here are just a couple:
Psalm 4:8 "In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety." (NIV)
Psalm 16:5-11 
5 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;
   you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
   surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
   even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
   With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
   my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
   nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
   you will fill me with joy in your presence,
   with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (NIV) (I added the italics.)
 Japan is an unusually safe place, if you don't count earthquakes, typhoons, and tsunami. Last week I rode my bike to the dentist at night-time. There isn't a big concern about catching a train after dark. The boys walk to and from school by themselves without much concern. On Saturday, when the boys got too much, I sent them out the front of the house to wait for our friend who was picking us up to go to her house. There is almost no room out the front of our house so for about 20 minutes they were on the road. Never in an Australian city would I do that! 

But for all the safe-ness of this country, we do ourselves no favour by trusting in good architecture, careful drivers, or tsunami warnings. There is only one place that is truly safe: trusting in Jesus. 

Not to say that with Jesus as our friend and Lord, our lives will be easy, or safe, or lacking in grief (just ask Mary Beth). But we have long-term security in knowing that even if our lives are shorter, or more painful, or more dangerous than we'd like; when the "worst" happens and we leave this earth, we've got heaven to look forward to.

Preaching to the choir here: me! How often I lose sight of my eternal hope!

18 March, 2012

Day Two of Solo Parenting

Today marks day two of my husband's trip to Thailand with CAJ's seniors. You might remember this post in February where I admitted I really didn't like it when he went away. I got myself into such a tizz* that I was totally exhausted when he came home, even though he was only away for the weekend.

David, my wonderful husband.
I cannot afford to do that this time, he's away for nine days, so I'm trying to relax. It's been good so far. Yesterday was a potential mum-of-boys nightmare day. Cold and rainy Saturday, with husband gone! 

Not a great start, but thankfully I'd teamed up with a friend of three kids who's husband has been gone this last week. We'd already planned a movie afternoon with simple dinner following. It went swimmingly! The kids had fun, the mums relaxed and enjoyed each other's support and company. It did nearly all come undone at the end when my eldest couldn't find one of his pieces of clothing – his beanie (wool hat). Like a comfort blanket for an infant, he's grown quite attached to this small piece of clothing this winter. We returned home without it, but thankfully they found it and brought it to us (thankful they live close enough to do that).

Anyone else have trouble with getting night-time ablutions and bedtime done? I do. They move at a snail's pace and I find myself bouncing between three boys imploring them to move forward only to find when I get back to the one I've left, that he hasn't done a thing. I hate it! I hate putting them through showers too. They hate getting in, then they won't get out. And even when they do, they've not encountered any soap on the way through... Arrrgggghh.

Today the boys have been relatively cooperative. I substituted for my husband as the English Sunday School teacher today! 50% of the class consisted of my kids . . . so no childcare relief today. It's all mine! Thankfully the guys found some other people to talk to after Sunday School and we walked part of the way home with a young family that our boys adore (wonderful to watch them talk the ear off someone else).

Now we only have seven days left (five of which are school days, thankfully). By this time next week he should be home, and hopefully I won't be totally spent because two days later we have to go to our mission's annual conference! As the Japanese say: Ganbarimasu! (A really useful Japanese word that means to persevere, persist, keep at it, or to do one's best.)

*tizz: My computer has put a red line under that word, is it not a word? It is one my mum used a lot, meaning a "dither" or "stressed out". I just looked it up and Tizzy is a word, I guess she just abbreviated it.

17 March, 2012

Finding my sweet spot

Okay, so an editing friend pointed out that I made an error in yesterday's post. I mistakenly pointed you to another entry that I said talked about my struggles with language. It turns out that it didn't, it talked about my writing journey. But really my struggles with language led directly to my writing journey. I've told this story to many people (on deputation and at other times), but never written it here, so I guess it is time to reveal another bit of my vulnerable self.
 Below I've pasted the second half of a talk I did for our Japanese church last October, that describes my journey fairly well. I don't include the first half, because I've basically told you those bits of my story over the last couple of weeks in this series.

One of my greatest disappointments is not being able to speak Japanese well. I always imagined being a good missionary meant good language ability. So I struggled and laboured to learn Japanese. When we came here six years ago, I found myself at home alone much of the day with young children. With all my energy put into keeping them fed, clothed and happy, I got to the end of most days without the energy and motivation to study Japanese. My struggle came to be, ‘What sort of missionary am I if I cannot be fluent in the language?’

Eventually I rediscovered that I’d been uniquely made. I remembered that God had called me to Japan already knowing my strengths and weaknesses. So my question became: What possible purpose could he have for me with the abilities and gifts he had given me?

Within a few months I received several encouragements to pursue writing. I stumbled upon a small group of Christian writers on the internet who offered to help me improve. Since then I’ve had a number of articles published in different magazines and received a lot of encouragement. I also picked up other small things I was able to do well, not only without the need of excellent Japanese, but also without needing to leave home. This was such an encouragement to me.

Now that my children are all at school, God has sent other opportunities my way too. Japan Harvest is a magazine that is by and for foreign Christian missionaries in Japan. The managing editor of that magazine, Gary Bauman, invited me onto his team as the associate editor and I began that role last year when we returned from home assignment. In March this year because the managing editor of the magazine was very involved with CRASH, he asked me to be the chief editor of a special disaster edition of the magazine. It was a huge challenge, but one that I enjoyed. And the final result was very satisfying.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered this book: Max Lucado’s book, “Cure for the Common Life”. It talks about finding your “sweet spot”. It is a term used in sports, when a baseball player hits the ball in just the right place on the bat, that place is called the ‘sweet spot’. Lucado uses it to describe the place in life when you are doing what God designed you to do. A special spot that only you, in your God-given unique-ness can do. “God has given each of us a special way of serving others.” (1 Corinthians 12:7, CEV)

When we are in Australia people often say to us, “I could never do what you do.” They are quite correct. But there is no point in thinking that that makes us anything extra special, no more special than they are. God has designed each of us. None of us are the same. None of have exactly the same things that we love to do. David and I are both quite content right now, because we’ve both found our “sweet spots”. And not only are we doing things that God designed us to do; we are doing them for God’s glory. We’re supporting the missionary community in Japan, reaching Japan for Jesus. That is very satisfying.

We are each one a part of God’s body. Each arranged just as He wanted. Just like you, I am uniquely made; serving God with my gifts in the place He’s called me to.

So, before I sit down I want to encourage you to find your “sweet spot”. Don’t sit in church and look at everyone else and envying others, how God has gifted them. Ask God to help you find what He’s gifted you for. It could be anything, but it will not be exactly the same as anyone else. God made you, and me, unique. By His grace we can use that uniqueness to glorify Him in what we do.

16 March, 2012

4. The process God took you through during your first term in Japan to lead you to your current ministry.*

  • This is the fourth in a series of questions I'm answering for a friend's Bible college assignment. You'll find links to the other answers in the series here.
* This question wasn't part of the original set of nine, but as people seemed to be enjoying my story, the jump between questions 3 and 5 (as I've re-numbered them) just seemed too much because what we're doing now is not  what we started out doing. So I inserted my own "question" here. I hope it is helpful/encouraging to you.

We finally left Australia in November 2000. I say finally, because it seemed like a long time at the time, nearly three years of applying, meeting, speaking, and waiting!

First we went, as all long-term OMF International missionaries do, to OMF International Headquarters in Singapore for an orientation course. While there we learnt a lot about the larger picture of the organisation. 

While there we both had nasty gastro and my asthma flared. OMF's international medical director concluded that we were overwrought after the deputation and preparation we'd done preparing to leave. I was particularly overwhelmed at leaving Australia. Saying goodbye to everyone we knew was awful. Particularly bad, however, was the airport farewell to my parents. We took their only grandchild with us, our eldest son who was 18 months old. We didn't anticipate seeing our families again for four years, it was a heart-wrenching experience that I had trouble thinking about for many months afterwards without bursting into tears.

After hot Singapore, we descended, in mid December, upon our next destination — language school in Sapporo, in the north of Japan. Not the most ideal time for a pair of Queenslanders to land in that part of the world. It was like we'd landed on the moon. There was snow everywhere. I didn't even know that our local area had footpaths until the snow melted away months after we arrived. We moved directly into a tiny apartment. 1.5 bedrooms (the 0.5 bedroom was our own, which made up part of the lounge room). Almost no privacy (the shower opened directly off the kitchen). And the ceiling in the whole place was so low I could touch it. To appreciate that you have to know that I'm only 155cm (5"2 1/2'). The first night we were taught how to turn the water off overnight, and warned that if we didn't do that the pipes would freeze and burst and we'd be in big trouble. You can read more about that day here.

It was a big shock, but "culture shock" is a question I get to answer next week.

Me studying Japanese at home.
Our first term was divided between language study (the first 2 1/2 years) and working in a church planting team (1 1/2 years). My husband enjoyed and did well at language school, I didn't, and that was a strain for our marriage to bear. We also had a very active toddler to take care of. We had to take him out every day for significant periods (our apartment was too tiny to afford much in the way of exercise). Half-way through our time at language school I became pregnant again and the second year studying Japanese was even harder than the first. The last six months of our time at language school was done with a baby on my knee.

I remember asking a seasoned missionary during those years about how she became "sure of her calling". She answered that it was often a day-by-day process. I'm here today, I can cope (by God's grace) with today I don't know about tomorrow, but I'm not going to concern myself with that. It was a pivotal moment because I really didn't feel like I could live in this strange land for many years!

This was the winter view from our second apartment in
Sapporo. Can you see the playground equipment in the park?
After we graduated we moved to the south of the city to work with a church planting team establishing a church. It was a time of angst because we'd signed up to OMF for David to teach missionary children, neither of us felt gifted or led to church planting. Indeed I was still struggling badly with Japanese, not to mention two demanding young boys. 

When we'd first applied to OMF, we were sure there'd be room for a maths/science teacher in Japan somewhere. But there wasn't, so the plan the leaders came up with was for us to do a full course at language school and see what developed during that time. Well, nothing did. So the next step they suggested was to do some time with a church planting team. It was put to us, "It's a good learning opportunity for later when you're teaching the kids of church planters." 

We struggled along, but in the middle of that church-planting time we got a call from CAJ asking if David would teach science part-time for them starting in 16 months time. The timing was good and we went on home assignment in time to give us a full 12 months in Australia, our first time back in Australia in four years.

When we came back to Japan for our second term and David started working at CAJ (Christian Academy in Japan) in Tokyo, there was such a sense of peace. He came home at night looking so satisfied. He said that from the first week he just knew it was the right place. It took longer for me to feel happy in my role, because by that time I had three boys, two under school age and was alone with them a lot of the day in a strange city. I'd also continued to struggle with learning Japanese. That bit of the story I told briefly here, so I won't rewrite it.

So you can see a little how God led us from small-town born-and-bred Queenslanders to Tokyo residents and our current ministries (which I'll write about next time). It wasn't an overnight process, it wasn't an easy process, and it wasn't a follow-the-writing-on-the-wall journey. Many tears, and many anguished prayers were delivered during those years of preparation.

15 March, 2012

Thanks for health and commenting friends!

Thanks everyone for coming over and commenting on yesterday's short post. For a change you collectively wrote more than I did! Yay. 

You had some really interesting things to say. I'd just like to assure you that I wasn't feeling insecure at all, just pondering the question. A few of you mentioned that blogs are more fun when people comment. As a blogger, I'd have to agree. There is something strange about putting your thoughts "out there" as a blogger and having no reaction to them . . . though that is often the lot of a writer. I also want to reassure those who don't want to comment until a few days later. I'm totally fine with that. Even if no one else sees it, I will. I get an email every time one of you comments and I love it! The extrovert in me relishes these interactions.

Continuing on today in the theme of thanks. I spent the morning looking after my health.

You see? A picture of health!
One of the advantages of being a missionary, one I'm thankful for, is our regular medicals. It might seem like an imposition, but actually it really does help to keep us healthy. For example, almost every missionary with OMF that I know does regular exercise. We know that when it gets to medical time we'll have to fill in the question about how much exercise we get!

Next week we have our bi-annual medicals and so David and I had blood tests in preparation. Today I collected my test results (we won't dwell on the weirdness of having to go the triage with the nurse checking my blood-pressure, just to get the piece of paper with my results). All normal. No cholesterol, diabetes, anaemia, liver, or other problems. Yay!

I then proceeded to the Osteopath, to whom I've been going due to my persistent headaches. I was able to report to them that I'd hardly had any headaches this week at all. In fact I don't think I'll be going back for a while unless my shoulder/neck tension increases sharply again. 

But the amazing thing is the reason why I haven't had headaches this week. I decided last week to give-up coffee and see if that helped my headaches. After coming back from retreat last Friday, that's what I've done. Gradually reducing how much caffeine in my coffee. I wasn't drinking a lot to start with: two half-caffeinated coffees a day, but if I didn't have those I ended up with headaches. However the difference lately is that the headaches have been there whether or not I had the coffee! Probably because I drink so little, it took a long time to figure that that might be the problem. The other reason I delayed was the fear of headaches. But after the last couple of months of headaches, I figured I didn't have much to lose! It is amazing, because I've had hardly any headaches at all as I withdrew the caffeine. Quite the opposite to what I expected. So happy and thankful.

After the Osteopath I went to Curves for a work-out. As I made my way around the circuit I realised how much I had to be thankful for. A clean bill of health from my blood test, physical strength and sufficient money to go to the gym (granted, I couldn't run a marathon, but I'm fit enough to manage my daily schedule), and an acceptable weight. And now, a seeming disappearance of headaches just tops it all off (I know not of tomorrow, but today I can be thankful).

What do you have to be thankful for today?

14 March, 2012

Blog comments

Ben wrote an interesting post this morning pondering why people don't comment on blogs. It is something Georgia and I pondered last week at the Women's Retreat. At the retreat I had a number of conversations with people who I didn't realise read my blog because they've never commented. 

Why do you think people don't comment on blogs?

13 March, 2012

9 y.o. mood swings?

We had a pretty dreadful time with our middle son on the weekend. But it wasn't an isolated event. He's never been an easy child, but lately we've had some nasty mood swings and outbursts of anger. He's become very picky about our words (i.e. if we aren't 100% accurate, or use metaphors). And a few other things. But Sunday he was looking slightly OCD on one particular issue and we began to become concerned. 

As I often do when I'm puzzled, I did a quick Google search, typing "9 year old boy mood swings" and found this article. It seems to describe our son fairly well on many counts. I've heard of Terrible Twos, and even the word "tween". But really, is it true that this is a difficult age? If you've been there, please let me know! 

It is tricky in our job, with lots of transition it isn't easy to pick out the "stages" in the midst of life's upheavals. So at this age our older son had different "issues" and we must have missed the "tween" age as a distinct stage. At this point, though, our lives are relatively stable and this behaviour just seems unreasonably extreme. But then, this boy has tended to "unreasonably extreme" most of his life (but not in the Manic-Depressive way). The oddest thing to us is that his teachers don't know a thing about it! He keeps all the ugly bits for us at home.

To be honest, I'm not sure that teenage challenges are going to take us much by surprise, we've been dealing with those sorts of issues for a few years now, even though we're still a few months short of having an official teenager.

But, please tell me, are 9 y.o.s really prone to mood swings and angry outbursts? Or are we going crazy?

12 March, 2012

3. The steps that you took in preparation.

This is the third in a series of questions I'm answering for a friend's Bible college assignment. Here you'll find answers to questions one and two.

This question really overlaps with the previous question, in that, God took me down a path of preparation as he led me to become a missionary. That included attending a mission-minded church as a child and a short-term trip to Indonesia.

At my childhood church I developed friendships and role-models who were to be important as I pursued God's call to mission. One of those was a couple who moved away from our locality when I was 15, to become state directors of The Leprosy Mission (TLM). When I left home to go to uni, I moved to the same city that they had shifted to two years earlier. As I wrote in answer to question two, half-way through my four year degree I felt God asking me, "So, what are you doing about mission?" At that prompting I applied to join a short-term study tour to Indonesia.

I also wrote to the aforementioned couple to tell them about how God seemed to be leading me. They advised me to read missionary biographies, to pray for missionaries, and to go to mission-minded events. So I did. 

Plus I had begun applying for this short-term trip, so that meant application forms, an interview, and beginning to tell people that this what what I was doing. That was a biggie: letting people know that I was going on a mission trip was a little bit like admitting I had an infectious disease. People seemed to start to treat me differently. I had to stand up in front of groups and speak to them (at my two "home" churches). I had try to figure out how I was going to pay for this trip. I had to tell my parents about my plans. All this was God preparing me to become a missionary.

Then the trip itself was a huge part of my preparation. It gave me my first cross-cultural experience. I discovered that missionaries struggle, that they are ordinary. It was a study tour, so we were given assignments and responsibilities. We had to give reports, read books, tell our stories. My biggest surprise was learning more about myself than I'd anticipated.

Then, on the end of the tour, I'd tacked on an extra 10 days to look at what TLM was doing in Java, Indonesia. As an Occupational Therapy (OT) student, I wondered if God was leading me to work with TLM. That was a very lonely experience; travelling on my own, staying with missionaries from other non-English speaking countries, and missing the team that I'd bonded with very strongly. It was also fairly disillusioning. Seeing the struggles that TLM had with working with the local authorities and seeing missionaries who complained about "them" (i.e. the Indonesians). That trip took a whole lot of gloss off missionary work. I'd anticipated a lightning-bolt answer to my "am I called to be a missionary" question, but it simply didn't happen. In fact, I came away certain that I never wanted to live in Indonesia!

Then I returned and slammed straight into a whole lot of issues in my life in Australia. That first six-months after the trip were bad. I struggled at and then failed a seven-week full-time practical assignment for my course. I came back and everything seemed to have changed. I hated church, I felt isolated. Partly because my best friend at church had practically become engaged while I was gone, to someone I didn't like. Life hit me like a large truck and mission seemed a long way away. I became consumed with just getting through my course and wondering what would fill the black-hole that loomed: post-graduation.

Fast forward to a year later and I had a job, a lonely job. I was the sole OT for a large rural area and I lived alone. I attended a church where I was the only one between about 18 and 28. However, for all the challenges, it was a very rewarding job, the best OT job I've ever had. And several of the people who I met at church are still in my life! But still, it was a desert experience in many ways. 

I wrote about the next bit last time: not wanting to be a single missionary, dating my husband, leading via a missions conference, and so on.

I guess the usual answer one might expect from a question such as this is, "I went to Bible college." However I contend that there are many other ways to be prepared for mission. God was preparing me in so many facets of my life, particularly in the loneliness aspect, having to rely on Him, not my friends or family. He took away the childish image of glamour that mission had. He provided me with a partner who was prepared to go where God called him. He taught me about relying on him to provide my finances (and not to rely on my own efforts). He provided me with multiple friends who'd later become valued supporters and pray-ers. He had me learn about public speaking, about failure, and about rejection. He had me grow up in a church and family environment where I learnt much about the Bible. He taught me many things that I can't even recall now.

But I did do some Bible college too. As we applied to OMF International, the local committee who interviewed us suggested some Bible college would be useful. However neither of us completed a whole course, just several subjects each. It would have been different if we were headed for church planting or teaching at a theological school, but what we already knew was sufficient for what God was leading us into (more on that next time).

As a part of our application we had to go to through a Psychologist's assessment. That taught me many things about myself too (like I am an extrovert!). I took up cross-stitching as as result of that consultation: needing a hobby that would help me to "just be", as a stress-management strategy has proven to be invaluable advice.

Our nearly two-years of deputation prior to leaving for Japan were preparation too. In 1999 David worked full-time as a teacher, and our first child was born. In addition to all of this we were working on raising support, on doing deputation. It nearly pulled our marriage apart and at the end of the year we said, "Enough is enough." David quit his job and only took on supply teaching work in the year following. We left for Japan in November 2000. For that whole year we had to rely on God for all our finances, for a place to have a holiday, for churches to visit, aeroplane fares, etc. That was a challenging year, and one during which we learnt a lot about trusting God.

Actually, I think preparation for mission should include a good dose of "getting to know yourself". And that is what many of the experiences I went through prior to going to the mission field on a long-term basis taught me. 

Really, looking back, it wasn't me who took the steps to prepare, it was God who led me through various life-experiences and taught me much as a result.

The next question that I'll answer later this week is 
4. The nature and purpose of your ministry.