30 April, 2012

The gap between those who "go" and those who "stay"

Yesterday I found this post where Sarah mentions this blog.*

I'm mightily encouraged by what she has to say. It sounds like she is a recovering missionaries-are-so-amazing-they-are-almost-not-a-part-of-the-human-race believer. Certainly, like many people she's been subjected to some dreadful missionary talks that put the guilts on people because they're not leaving their home country to serve Jesus. I'm so encouraged that she's starting to narrow that gap that often exists between "those who go" and "those who stay". The gap that shouldn't really exist because in an ideal world we'd realise we're all on the same team and we most definitely need each other. And that God is using this little blog to help close that gap in one life . . . well I'm ecstatic.

Anyone else finding that that gap is narrowing for them in recent years?

*It took me a while, but then, that was the first day I worked at Thrift Shop, and to be honest, the nearly two weeks since then have been very low on computer access time.

29 April, 2012

Cartoon character mascots in Japan

It seems that any respectable business in Japan has a cartoon character. Our bank does. The Japanese Red Cross does. The new Tokyo Skytree does. TV channels, Life Insurance, Japan Railway, Pharmaceutical companies, you name it. Yes, even the Tokyo Metropolitan Police have a cute mascot! One Car Insurance company has a koala as their mascot, see the video here.

This is an interactive video at the Science Centre that 
I visited on Thursday with the Grade 3 from CAJ.It is 
about a very complex physics experiment being conducted 
in Japan. But you can see that they've cute-ified
it using a cartoon character.
Here is a site where you can see a list of what some people voted as the top thirty cutest corporate mascots. Here's another site just devoted to Japanese mascots.

This is a distinct Japanese cultural feature. I cannot imagine the police department in Australia having a cute mascot! It seems that whenever possible Japanese will "manga-fy" anything. I remember back in March/April last year when they put out cartoons explaining the nuclear situation, featuring a character called Nuclear boy. It just seems bizarre from an Australian point of view. But this IS the land of the cute. 

Mind you, maybe Thailand is similar because late last year I saw cartoons involving cartoon whales (see here) that helped educate residents about the flood situation.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on Japan's kawaii (literally cute or adorable) culture here.

This explains something of the craziness that we saw at Tokyo Disneyland last year. The adults who were so "cute", crazy about all the Disney characters, in a way that you just don't see in the land I come from.

I'm afraid it just isn't me. I stand very much on the sideline, slightly bemused.

28 April, 2012

TMNT birthday

A huge week, as predicted! But I've made it to the end with my health intact, and finished with a bang with a family party for our youngest son.

Do you like the cake? A true family effort. I made the cake on Wednesday, my only home-based day this week. My husband made the icing last week and he with the boys put it all together this morning. The idea for the cake came from this website and the recipe to make the fondant came from here (substituting sugar dissolved in water for the corn syrup). Now we can make fondant icing (like the stuff you find on wedding cakes), we can do all sorts of things on cakes!

It was a successful birthday. He was extremely happy with his presents and loved the party. I'm feeling a very satisfied mummy tonight.

27 April, 2012

10. What are the positive and negative aspects of your relationships with national Christians?

The final question in a tough, but interesting series of questions. I realised this morning, in the pre-getting-up haze of Friday morning that I'd promised to finish these before the end of April. So, here I am.

(This is the last 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 is tricky because I haven't spent much of my time with Japanese Christians and there are two reasons for that. Firstly, my husband's work doesn't involve me closely and it is not in a Japanese-run institution (not to say that there aren't quite a lot of Japanese at the school). Secondly, since we finished language school back in 2006, I've mostly been a stay-at-home mum. During our last term I spent more time with Japanese non-Christians as I socialised with friends from my son's kindergarten. However, I'll do the best I can with the question.

Japanese Christians have a tendency to treat missionaries as special. We get often get tagged with the "sensei" or "teacher" suffix. (That is part of the language. Every name gets a suffix. Be it the generic "san" or cutesy "chan" or "kun" reserved for children, younger people, and friends.) This is a hierarchical society that reveres teachers. That is a hard thing to cope with, coming from a much more egalitarian society like Australia where you don't get respect because you have a title, you get it when you earn it (this is even different to America).

Japanese Christians who've been overseas are often very grateful for what they perceive as our sacrifice in coming to Japan.

In general, though, I've struggled to get to know Japanese Christians. This is probably a lot to do with the fact that my Japanese is bad, as well as the fact that we haven't been deeply involved in a church (as in, working within a church as part- or full-time workers). We've found it difficult to get to know people and to really feel a part of a church. So much goes on in the church that we simply don't know about. That is a hard thing to get used to after being deeply involved in any church we were a part of in Australia. Another reason why we've struggled to get to know Japanese Christians, I think, is that in Australia we do that in our homes and in other social events. People don't invite you to their homes here to get to know you. I mentioned that here. And social events haven't always been easy to get to with our three energetic and strong-willed boys.

Then again, those times we've managed to break through those cultural reserves, we've found Japanese Christians to be warm, friendly, and patient. And always helpful.

I think of one friend who helped us last year. We had an urgent medical situation at night on a public holiday. It needed medical attention, but we simply didn't have the medical language to deal with it (it was a pretty unusual problem). I saw my friend was on-line on Facebook and I messaged her, asking for help. She rang around various hospitals looking for one that would help us (they don't really have ERs like we do in the West). Wonderfully helpful and we were so grateful.

This has been an intriguing journey, answering these questions. I've received quite a lot of feedback saying that people have enjoyed hearing my answers. I'm grateful and slightly overwhelmed that people are so interested in my experiences. My challenge to you, is that it pays to ask others hard questions like these, especially people who've lived unusual lives. Finding out how they tick, why they made certain decisions, what struggles they've had. These make interesting and helpful conversations.

26 April, 2012

It takes a community to know an individual

I came across a new idea the other day. Totally-out-of-the-blue idea; an idea that I've never consciously considered before. That doesn't happen to me very often. It was in preparing a Bible study for tomorrow that I found the following passage that gives a totally different angle on why being a part of a Christian fellowship is so important.

"C. S. Lewis was part of a famous circle of friends called the Inklings, which included J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings, and also the author Charles Williams, who died unexpectedly after World War II. in his book The Four Loves, Lewis wrote a striking meditation on his death in an essay entitled "Friendship."
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles [Williams] is dead, I shall never again see Ronald's [Tolkien's] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him "to myself" now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald . . . In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious "nearness by resemblance" to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah's vision are crying "Holy, Holy, Holy" to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.
Lewis is saying that it took a community to know an individual. How much more would this be true of Jesus Christ?" pp125-127 The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller. (The emphases are mine.)

Aside from the fact that this is an awesome idea, it has other implications too. Take, for example, a colleague who is struggling to figure out who I am, who keeps initiating "personality" discussions with me. I'm now wondering if this person, with whom I've mostly just spent time with in one-on-one meetings, needs to spend time seeing me in groups where I feel comfortable. Just a thought, an interesting thought!

Anyone else intrigued by this idea? What do you think?

25 April, 2012

ANZAC, what's that?

Today is ANZAC Day. Now the Australians reading this blog won't need to be reminded of that. They've got a public holiday and restrictions on trading, at least in the morning in most places, I imagine. But there are many who aren't from Australia who read this site. Apparently only 46% of the visitors to this site are people living in Australia, so I feel quite justified in spending some time explaining one of Australia's main national days.

ANZAC Day is like Remembrance Day. It began as a day to remember the below event, the first time Australian and New Zealand troops fought under their own flag. From my understanding, prior to this event in WW1 Australians and New Zealanders fought as British troops. This was a time of proving who we were as a nation.

There are no ANZACs (i.e. men who fought in that particular campaign) left these days, after all this was 97 years ago, but the tradition of Dawn Services and parades through cities and towns in the two countries remains as a way of remembering that freedom isn't free, and passing that on to our children.

I linked to this government website on my Facebook page, but because it explains it so well, I'm going to paste the information here.

What is ANZAC Day?

ANZAC Day – 25 April – is probably Australia's most important national occasion. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.

What does ANZAC stand for?

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as ANZACs, and the pride they took in that name endures to this day.

Why is this day special to Australians?

When war broke out in 1914, Australia had been a federal commonwealth for only 13 years. The new national government was eager to establish its reputation among the nations of the world. In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The ultimate objective was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany.
The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. What had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated, after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. Over 8,000 Australian soldiers had been killed. News of the landing on Gallipoli had made a profound impact on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who had died in the war.
Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the Australian and New Zealand actions during the campaign left us all a powerful legacy. The creation of what became known as the “ANZAC legend” became an important part of the identity of both nations, shaping the ways they viewed both their past and their future.
Yesterday I brought this up as a topic of conversation at the breakfast table. I was surprised at how much the boys knew, especially our eldest. He's learned lots, I'm not sure where from, but he's certainly good at retaining information.

Australia hasn't seen much war on its own land. Aborigines faced hostility when white men were taking over the country in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In fact they've faced hostility of various forms ever since then, but it has never been a civil war-type situation.

The only time war came to our shores was when the Japanese were taking over SE Asia. They bombed Darwin and submarines were captured in Sydney harbour. Most of the wars Australia has been involved in were other people's wars. However it is good to remember the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made.

24 April, 2012

The importance of being on time

Recently I had cause to reflect on the reasons for strict deadlines for article submission to a magazine. It surprised me how many reasons I came up with from an editor's perspective:
  • In order to pursue excellence, we need time to work, when work is rushed is when we are more likely to make errors.
  • To help manage my workload as an editor who is also a mum, wife, and someone with a number of other roles.
  • So I can look after my team members, especially my designer. If articles are submitted late, that puts extra stress on the editorial team to get everything done in a timely fashion.
  • To be fair to writers 
    • so that everyone has the same amount of time to do their work (like assignments for school or uni)
    • so that editors can give sufficient time to each article and enable editors to interact with the authors over anything that needs clarifying or changing
There are probably other reasons that I'm not remembering right now, but to me, sticking to deadlines for submissions is a matter of respect. As one writers put it, "I just presume the deadline is there for a good reason, so I stick to it."

Packing magazines today.
Today I held the 2012 Spring issue of Japan Harvest in my hands for the first time. I think it looks pretty good, which is always a relief, after the hours of work that goes into each issue! I think we did a fairly good job of working to deadlines, though we still have improvements we could make. But I'm happy with the progress we're making.

The final step of a magazine production process is getting it sent out. The interesting part of a small magazine for an editor is that you are often involved in almost every step of the journey of the magazine, so sending it out at the end is exciting as well as a bit scary! It is great to hold it in your hands and a little nerve wrecking as others look it over, wondering what they'll think. 

But for now, the deadlines for the summer issue are coming up fast. And that in itself is an odd thing, because people will see the Spring issue this week for the first time and maybe even say something to me about it—however in my mind this issue is done and gone. Even old. How many times have I read each article? Too many. I've already moved onto the next issue!

23 April, 2012

A New Japanese Driver's Licence

Renewing my driver's licence today didn't seem as overwhelming as last time. Perhaps my Japanese is slightly better, perhaps because I've done it before at the same centre, perhaps because I didn't have a 2 year old with me! I did still ask a friend to come with me to help with the Japanese. I think I would have gotten in a much bigger tangle if she hadn't.

The process is rather dizzying, a bit like an obstacle course.

First is the registration desk, where they copy your current licence and give you a paper with it on, to make any necessary changes.
Then you go to window number 1 to pay for it (before you've jumped through all the hoops!).
Then station 2 which is the very short eye test.
I then had to choose a pin number, not sure why, but I did use it a couple of times during the process.
Then station 3 where they put a hole in your current licence and give you another piece of paper. They wanted to know how to pronounce my name here.
I think station 4 was where they took my terrible photo. I used the pin number here.
Then my memory starts to get a bit fuzzy. There were so many stations! Stations 5-8 I cannot remember what they were for . . . At station 8 they told me to go to lecture room 26.
Station 9 was an hour lecture. It would have been a half-an-hour lecture except that I got a ticket four years ago for failing to come to a complete stop before crossing railway tracks. A rule I had not known about before then. I have to say that an hour lecture in Japanese was a bit lost on me (they didn't even show a video). I did learn that if I serve someone too much alcohol and they go and have an accident, I can be called an accomplice! I learned that they are concerned about drivers over 70 years of age and have changed regulations on that. I also learned that I have to ride my bike on the road if there isn't a bike sign on the footpath (US=sidewalk). But aside from that I'm still a bit clueless.

I think that the last place was station 10, it was where you waited for your number to be called (mine was 10,333!!) and then you had to stick your new licence in a machine, enter your pin number and check a couple of extra details.

The whole thing took only two hours. I was prepared for it to take much longer than this. In fact the driving to and from took almost as much time as the process itself.

So, I'm licensed to drive for another five years in Japan. Phew. But to be honest, driving scares me a bit here. It seems to me the possibility of hitting someone in Japan is just higher. You drive slower in Japan, but there are so many more obstacles to avoid. The roads are skinner, there are more people walking, riding bikes (without helmets), and riding two-wheeled scooters. On many roads there are no footpaths, so everyone uses the road, including children kicking balls. Where there is no footpath, even the power and light poles are on the road, so you need to avoid them. Our road has bins that sit on the road too, they are fine unless you also have a pedestrian or a bike on the road with you, or someone is coming the other way. It can be challenging driving in Japan.

I'm just thankful I don't live in snow-country any more. Up there you have icy roads in winter and snow piled along the sides of roads that reduces visibility severely! But still, if you pray, pray for protection of missionaries as they make their way around every day. It isn't something we usually think to ask for prayer for, but the implications of hurting someone when I am behind the wheel makes me shudder.

22 April, 2012

A bulging calendar

I have a feeling that the coming week will be a little like the last week of January. I didn't mention it in this post, but it wasn't just that that week was busy, it was that my to-do list was building up and I was having trouble getting to it.

This coming week could be the same. The deadline for articles for the next issue of Japan Harvest is coming and articles are rolling in (yay!), but I haven't got time to look at them and that stresses me. But I think I'll just need to learn to leave that alone. I know writers would love me to look at their articles straight away, but that isn't always possible and certainly won't be this week.

This is what's on the calendar:-

Monday: several hours renewing my driver's license
Tuesday: several hours packing the new issue of Japan Harvest for posting out
Wednesday: my one free day, hence I'll be trying to pack lots into this day, like groceries, gym, emails, editing, Bible Study preparation etc.
Thursday: I'm driving some of the Third Graders on their excursion to the Tama Science Museum. An all-day trip. When I agreed to this I didn't realise that all these other things (besides Friday/Saturday) would end up on my calendar too.
Friday: English Bible Study at church followed by an OMF Ladies retreat on the other side of Tokyo until Saturday afternoon.
Saturday: my youngest turns 7!! Somewhere in there a cake will need to be baked and decorated (thankfully my husband is gearing up for the decorating).

Phew, I hope that I'm not overdoing it, especially after a Thrift Shop week. Thankfully most of this is not too mentally taxing, in fact most of it could be a lot of fun because it is with people I enjoy (there's the extrovert in me talking). But I'll certainly be careful about going to bed on time in the evenings (I had a 1 1/2 hour nap this afternoon too, so I'm not starting the week too badly). Next Sunday I might be taking another one of those naps, I'll probably be indulging my strong introvert "shadow" too!

21 April, 2012

Final Thrift Shop report

The final day of this Thrift Shop is now behind us. This morning I served on the checkout again, this time helping the person on the calculator by calling out the prices of the various goods. But first I have to show you a short video I took at the very start of today's shopping when they opened the doors. Saturday is more intense and less relational. People are generally there to get bargains, and, as you see in the video, get them with a good deal of urgency in some cases.

Apparently the greeters at the door gave out 600 shopping bags in the first 15 minutes or so. It is hard to tell how many people are in the gym from the floor, but it can hold a lot of shoppers! It was more crowded today than yesterday and the lines were longer. That's normal.

I also want to show off some of my purchases, I didn't have many, but am happy with what I found.
One pair of lined Nike tracksuit pants (US=sweatpants) to fit nearly 13 y.o.. Hopefully he doesn't grow too much before the end of the year or they'll be put aside for the next boy!
Corn holders, I'm not sure I've seen them in Japan. Ours are breaking, so these are a handy addition.
The boys love Garfield. So I didn't hesitate to buy some cheap Garfield books.
Travel games for our loooong trip to Uluru in July.
Tupperware. Three microwave-proof containers for lunches (we've had a number of non-Tupperware containers wrecked in the school cafeteria's microwave this year). 100 yen for the lot, if you please!
A new board game. Sequence. Glad to see all three boys playing together . I need to learn it now.
David found new photo frames, never been used!
The cerebral part of my boys love these kinds of books.
These were some of the things our younger two chose. Plastic monsters thingies. They're thrilled.
More Famous Five books (actually David found three more for free in the free-shopping period this afternoon), great for after dinner reads. 
And something for work. Some writing/editing/grammar reference books.
I didn't get a photo of the most popular toy purchased: partially broken light sabers. Generally speaking we don't buy long skinny toys for use inside the house. Our place is just too small for three boys with long skinny objects. However, somehow David gave in this time!

Time for bed now, and back to normal life again tomorrow.

20 April, 2012

Checkout chick and blood donor

Two fabulous ladies. Our PTA co-presidents. Christine, on
the left, helped me with tags today. 
Today was another fun day at CAJ's Thrift Shop. I spent four hours on the register, not just scanning bar codes, but adding up numbers on a calculator! All the same, I'm glad I've never had to do that as a job, it could be deathly boring. What makes it fun on Thrift Shop Fridays is that the pace is leisurely and again there is time for socialising with those you're working with. Each "Register" has someone on the calculator as well as two other people who help with finding the prices of the items (not always easy) and packing the items for the customer. It helps it all run smoothly.

I took a couple of hours off in the middle to enjoy the food available (cheesecake – yum), spend time with my family (help them shop if necessary) and just relax a little. Thrift Shop has a nerve-wrecking effect on you if you don't take a break from the relentless work in the gym.

This is pretty much the view that I had of the event from my
seat at the register for four hours.
Today I also took the plunge and actually participated in the Blood Drive. Every Thrift Shop the school invites the Japanese Red Cross Society to run a Blood Drive at the school. It was funny hearing some of the kids floating around in the reception area. Some 15 y.o. girls came in and were disappointed that they had to be 16 before they could donate. Some elementary kids were asking experienced older kids, "How does it feel? Does it hurt a lot?" 

They ended up taking only 200mL of my blood because my haemoglobin was on the low end of the normal range. It took them about 30 minutes of administration to get that blood. A lot of time for not much result, I felt! But now I have an ID card I suspect it will be a lot easier next time. It's been more than 13 years since I gave blood, for one reason and another. I'm sure that last time I did it they didn't have dinky printers that I could fit in a large-sized handbag, nor did they have touch screens to enter data in a data bank, they certainly didn't have pin numbers to identify me!
Some of the "crowd" from above. This is the area between
all the main buildings. At the top of the photo you can see green
leaves mingled with pink. This is the remains of the cherry
blossoms that bloomed so beautifully in this area last week.

One more day of Thrift Shop. Tomorrow is probably the toughest physically. Not only are we tired, but the morning is the fastest paced of the whole event. It is the day that anyone can come and buy, and boy do they come. You see the photo of the CAJ "crowd" from above? I'll see if I can get a comparison photo tomorrow and you'll see that we have a lot more people on campus and the lines get quite long at the registers I'll be helping run.

The shop shuts at 1 and after that there is half an hour free shopping by PTA members and students who are committed to stay to totally clean up the gym. After the shopping, they restore the gym to its former self. I'm going to come home and keep an eye on children (if I can keep my eyes open) and David will go and help with the clean-up. He's hoping he might get a severely discounted home-made pie for his efforts too, like he has a few other times.

But for now, I'm going to head to bed tonight as soon as I can. Last night I made the mistake of writing here just before bedtime and realised at the same time that next week is going to be a bit of a shocker too. I have big all-day things five out of six days! Once in bed it took me ages to calm down after the fun of writing here and then the shock of realising how busy I'll be next week. Tonight, it's going to be different.

19 April, 2012

Cool conversations and satisfying labour

Today epitomised what I enjoy about volunteering at Thrift Shop: time to connect with people and go deeper than you often do as you see friends in passing at school. Here are some snapshots of the kinds of conversations I had today:

  • Hung out with some other mums who are the only females in their family. Considered starting a club.
  • Talked with a couple of other mums about parenting, especially about teaching kids to say sorry (and don't ask me, I'm no expert).
  • I had a variety of conversations with parents of friends of my kids. I heard a funny-but-touching story about one of my sons and how good a match he is as a friend for another boy.
  • Fooled about with some folk, there were plenty of friendly joking and that was great. Life can sometimes get a bit too serious when you're a missionary.
  • I spent a short time massaging a friend's shoulders.
  • Exchanged stories with another writer about bad editing.
  • As I sorted through smelly shoes with the Elementary Principal, I reflected on what a great thing it is to see the leadership of the team willing to get their "hands dirty" and serve others.
  • I connected deeply with one friend about how challenging it is to be misunderstood because of culture expectations and differences. We concluded both that there is comfort in knowing that God understands us and that such conflicts can be good for us because they help us grow.

Well, it sounds like I didn't do any work, but that isn't true. Most of the seven hours I spent there I was working, but we girls (and some guys) can work and chat simultaneously. Although I do admit there was a decent lull in the work flow after lunch for a couple of hours, that was very handy.

I had some satisfying work-related moments too. Like helping a friend who's new to volunteering find her way around and also persuaded her to help out on Saturday when we're lacking helpers.

One cool thing is that a number of teachers bring their classes in to help out, especially PE teachers. They can be hugely helpful, or annoying, or downright unhelpful. The latter is particularly when we have to spend time undoing the mistakes they make like putting women's skirts in the baby section... I helped supervise one wonderful group of grade seven girls. And got annoyed by another older group that was quite determined to evade any work at all, in a passive-resistive way (they hid out in the back corner where I was working, happily agreed to help me hang up coats, but then did nothing about actually doing it).

We are volunteers and are therefore not paid, but the incentive is that if you work four hours you can shop early (the doors open to PTA members tomorrow and the General Public on Saturday morning). You won't believe how much never even makes it onto the floor, as we sorted we found lots of great things! Today while hanging coats I found a large-sized lab coat, texted my head-of-science-department husband and he snapped it up (most of his lab coats are Japanese-sized, i.e. tiny). Oh, and I managed to get him some preserved animal specimens too (left-over from home-schooling science).

I'll do my what-I-got blog post on the weekend, though. Time to head for bed for the we're only half-way through the Thrift Shop sprint.

18 April, 2012

An extrovert's dream

Estelle and Teresa, two of the wonderful
ladies I love working with at Thrift Shop. It
is an extrovert's dream – heaps of people to talk to!
This week is Thrift Shop week again. The giant twice-annual garage sale that our school runs in the gym. Two and a half days of setting up, one and a half days of selling and half a day of cleaning up. It is huge. Lots of work, but lots of fun too. I've enjoyed seeing people I haven't seen much of in recent weeks. You can read a post I wrote about last year's Thrift Shop here.

I'm feeling pretty exhausted already, more tired than usual. I'm glad I put some food in the slow cooker this morning before I left.

So, instead of writing something insightful here, I'll leave you with a link to an article and video clip called

Japanese Scientists Regenerate Human Hair on Bald Mouse

Enjoy, I'll be back tomorrow.

17 April, 2012

9. What are the positive and negative aspects of your relationships with other missionaries?

Hmm, this is a hairy one. Especially as a number of my colleagues read this blog! Please, no one take offence at what I write. I'm being very careful and speaking in general terms, and I don't want any of my colleagues or friends to be upset. If something I say is offensive, please write to me directly and let me know.
(This is the eighth 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.)

Positive aspects
     It it easiest to talk about the positive aspects of relating to other missionaries. Because we share many unique experiences and challenges, there is often a deep bond between missionaries. In OMF International we have missionaries from many different cultures and backgrounds, I've found, though, that our bond often supersedes the differences. 
     Many of us have discovered that we cannot wait for someone "like us" to become friends with. In fact there are precious few people "like us" on the mission field. For example, we have no close Australian friends who are in the same life stage as us, let alone from the same type of background. We have no one with who we can reminisce with about  our growing up years. Almost no one who's been to Toowoomba or Yeppoon, where we grew up. So, we have to choose to be friends with people who are quite different to us. 
    Not only that, but we recognise how transient life is on the mission field is. I mentioned back here that one of the stressors is constant change. That includes frequently changing colleagues and friendships. Most missionaries recognise that you often don't have much time to build a deep relationship with one another. I often find myself in deep conversations with someone I hardly knew six months ago; I have no idea where they grew up, let alone whether they have any siblings, but still we can connect on a deep level. It is another topic, but I find that having learnt how to do this, I struggle in Australia a bit. People are often scared if you try to go deep too quickly in a relationship. It probably makes me seem a bit like an alien!

Negative aspects
    Now this is the really tough one. Missionaries tend to have strong personalities. They have to, otherwise they wouldn't have been able to overcome the many obstacles to becoming and remaining a missionary. Strong personalities are good, but can be challenging to work with (especially if you have one yourself). They tend to be good at perseverance and are quite independent people. You can say this negatively by calling them "stubborn" and "difficult to control". I'm not really in leadership here, but I'm suspecting that leading missionaries is a very challenging job.
     Years of persevering alone in a foreign culture can exacerbate personality traits that can become somewhat "odd" without being tempered by rubbing shoulders with people of their own culture.
It is pretty well known that one big reason people leave the mission field is because they have trouble getting along with other missionaries. A sad fact, but somewhat understandable if you consider the stressors that we work under, combined with the above personality qualities. We personally haven't had too much difficulty working with other missionaries, but we haven't worked closely with other missionaries for very long in a small team.
    My biggest struggle at the moment is with a double minority feeling. As foreigners we are understandably a minority in this country. As Australians stationed at an International School that is based on an American style, we are double minorities. I find that difficult at times. It is easy for others to assume that because we come from an English speaking country, that our cultures are basically the same. That assumption can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings, misunderstandings that aren't even recognised as originating in different cultural background. And like culture shock, it is the ones that you don't see coming that blind-side you!
    I also struggle with a bit of a racial bias against Americans that my upbringing in Australia gave me. I wish I didn't, but I do. That's not to say that I don't have some wonderful American friends and colleagues. I love them as individuals, but sometimes the total effect can be difficult to swallow! Part of that is my personality, that likes to be the non-conformist, but not just that, in some ways I like people to know that I'm different and that can cause difficulties. Suffice to say, it isn't always a picnic in the park being missionaries working with and living near other missionaries. 

     Like teachers sometimes say, "School would be great without the students!" But as I was reminded in church on Sunday, if we choose to work together as God wants us to, we can achieve far more than we could apart, despite our differences.

    I only have one question left in this series and I hope it won't be a fizzer of a conclusion, because I haven't worked with national Christians very much, but like the others, I'll give it a go.

10. What are the positive and negative aspects of your relationships with national Christians?

16 April, 2012

Laughter therapy

It's been a rather emotional day for me, but not something that I can share here. So, to cheer me up, and who knows, someone out there might need cheering up too, I post a fun Swedish Chef video.

15 April, 2012

Blog, a social inconvenience?

On occasion this blog becomes a social inconvenience. What do you do when you have a conversation with someone who says to you, "I read your blog, I love it."

Firstly I'm not good at taking compliments face-to-face like that. I usually end up mumbling in the direction of my feet, "Thanks, I enjoy writing it."

Secondly, when the conversation moves on it can become even more awkward. How much of my blog do I assume they've read? When questions come along that I've recently answered on my blog, do I repeat the stories? I don't want to sound like an out-of-touch old man who just repeats the same stories oblivious to the audience.  But if I say, "I've written about that on my blog recently." I risk embarrassing my conversation partner who may have only read the occasional blog posts (I do, after all, write quite a lot of posts). Tricky.

Occasionally I wonder if people are hesitant to talk to me in the fear that the interaction might end up here.

But then on other occasions it is a social boon. It's opened some very interesting conversations indeed. I cannot forget the time that I raved on about not liking small talk and someone later that week started a conversation with me along the lines of, "So, Wendy, what's the Lord been teaching you lately?" without so much of a "Hasn't the weather been dreadful lately?"

Do you have any stories that relate to awkward or memorable real-life conversations and blogs?

14 April, 2012

A full, but fulfilling Friday

The writers working hard (the spare computer is mine).
Yesterday was a full day. In the morning we finished off the second half of our one-day writers' workshop. It went very well. Writers are generally a fairly solitary bunch, and it can be a lonely, discouraging pursuit. For writers who are also missionaries, there is little opportunity for spending time with other writers. However, hopefully we're beginning to address that with these twice yearly workshops. One of the writers wrote this to us in an email last night:
I always knew writing was fun. But I had no idea it could be so much more fun. More than anything else you brought to us the value  of writing in a community of writers. And you certainly kindled a deeper joy for writing in our hearts.
Discussing how to make our writing better.
Oh, I feel so encouraged. These workshops are my "baby" and God seems to be using them to help others in a variety of ways. Yay! One of the things God has placed on my heart is a desire, not just to encourage others with my own writing, but to get the stories of others out there too. And what better way to do that than to encourage and help other writers!

The biggest challenge with the workshops is that the participants expressed a desire that they be taught more about writing. Who me? I don't feel qualified to do such a thing. I've never studied writing formally, I've not written a book and I don't even have many published articles out there. How can I stand up in front of a group with any authority and say, "This is how to write better." I'll have to think on this for a bit. Our next workshop is to be in autumn down in the Kansai area (containing Osaka and Kyoto), so I have a little bit of time to think.
Geoff and Carol Reilly with some yummy
Japanese strawberries.

Just after 12 I dashed off to the train station in order to meet friends from Australia. Geoff married us 15 years ago and we served alongside him in the church in various ways (deaconate, missions committee etc.). He and Carol have been wonderful friends and always so warm towards us.

Two years ago we learned that they were headed to Japan to teach English at a church for one year. Unfortunately when they went back to Australia in the middle of last year we'd not managed to get together with them (they worked a reasonable distance south of Tokyo).

Then, I heard via Facebook that they were coming back again this week for a fortnight. And they would be in the same prefecture that I was in for the workshop on Thursday/Friday. So, I seized the day and asked if we could get together for lunch.

It was further away than I thought (about 70km from our house), but despite the 2 1/2 hours it took me to get home, I was totally worth it. It is not often we get to spend time here with people who knew us "back then". Most of our friends here have known us for less than six years. Additionally Geoff and Carol have experience in living in Japan and, most of all, a missionary's heart for Japan, that is all too rare in Australia too. So, conversation is easy and encouraging.

They are seeking God's leading in their lives — should they come in this later stages of their lives to serve for a longer period in Japan? Not an easy decision. As immigrants from Ireland to Australia they've already left one country and all their relatives on the other side of the world with their young family. This decision would mean leaving their three young adult children in Australia without any wider family. Tough, but I know that they're not ones to shy away from tough decisions. We'll be praying for them.

13 April, 2012

Our cool folding washing machine lid

I'm home again, after nearly four hours this afternoon getting around Tokyo and neighbouring Chiba on trains. I have not enough energy to post much about my great day, so I'll do that, hopefully tomorrow (though tomorrow has it's own agenda...).

Meanwhile, I realised again as I spent time with Australian friends (who I'll tell you about when I post about today) that I know more Japanese that I realise. For instance, I could quickly scan the signs in the lift (US=elevator) and know which floor the restaurants were on.

Our house has more Japanese language in it than I realise too. I kind-of just forget that all the appliances are Japanese. Check out our washing machine and dryer, for example. Admittedly I don't know what all the buttons do (I think David might know), but I can wash an ordinary load of clothes and dry them too, if I wanted to!

Do Australian washing machines have such cool folding lids? 
Notice the lid says, "Clear and simple".

I love how compact our washing machine is, yet it packs a punch in the amount that it holds. But I do love it when I go back to Australia and I can read everything that I see: signs, cereal boxes, ads, etc. You take it for granted, you really do.

12 April, 2012

Writing workshop fun

This evening I am not at home, I'm across "town" facilitating a one day Writer's Workshop for missionaries. It is the second workshop that my magazine editing boss and I have facilitated. The first one was last November, I talked about it briefly here.

We've kept it to a really simple format, that makes them quite easy to organise for people who are already pretty busy!

Here's what we do, if you're interested:

  • Everyone gathers after lunch. 
  • We spend about 1 1/2 hours together when we introduce ourselves as editors, spend time talking about the magazine, especially talking about our Writer's Guidelines. We talk a bit about tips for good writing. Though we don't spend a lot of time on that, we give them some resources to help them edit and improve their own work. And we answer any questions that come up as we go along. 
  • Then we release the writers to go and write for the rest of the afternoon and evening, only interrupting that for an evening meal together (for which we walked to a local restaurant tonight).
  • The next day is also free writing time for most of the morning, except that we'll start after breakfast with a short devotion and prayer time. 
  • An hour before lunch we'll meet together again to allow time for people to read any writing that they wish to and get helpful feedback from the other writers as well as us editors.
Our plan is to run these twice a year in various places in Japan. One of the goals is to build up a larger group of writers who will contribute to the magazine, it's been a little thin in recent years. 

But I also hope that through these we can encourage writers in the skills that God has given them. My feeling is that missionaries have many amazing experiences in the unusual lives that they live, very often those experiences are never shared beyond a very limited group of people. Many out there could be enriched in their faith if they heard the stories that missionaries have to tell and if missionaries could tell them in a way that is attractive to those who've never been outside their home country.

It's getting late and I need to get some sleep, so I'll finish here with a little humour. My editing boss found an excellent short handout that we've given our writers called "10 Writing Essentials". Really good, but I particularly appreciated the third point called "Avoid Jargon and Shop Talk". What is amusing to me is that they've used this example of what not to do:
Tempermental bowler, Rodney Hogg, smashed down his stumps after being given run out in Australia's first test against Pakistan at the MCG. Hoff was run out by Jared Miandad when he was out of his crease to put down the wicket after a defensive no-ball play.
It's funny to me because I understand all the jargon used here, every last bit of it. It is a story about a cricket match. Obviously this handout is aimed at Americans, and if I were to write it for Australians or British or some other cricket playing country I'd use a different example, like American football.

I'm enjoying the time with other people who are passionate about writing and communication. I just need to switch off my email tomorrow morning and get down to doing some writing myself! Goodnight.

11 April, 2012

Special gift from an angel

It's more than a week since my birthday and I have a story to tell you.

Last week my husband came home with these flowers. How sweet! But they weren't from him.
One of the music teachers at school had encountered a rather bewildered flower-delivery person with these flowers. He didn't know who the flowers were from, but only knew that they were to go to the "Husby House" for a birthday.

Well, it so happens that the former tenants of this house was the Husby family, and as there'd been a birthday in the house during the last few days they figured we might as well have them!

It's one of the funny things of being a foreigner in Japan. I presume that any foreign name in this little corner of our suburb is assumed to be associated with the school. And foreign names are very conspicuous in Japan (unlike Australia, where a new immigrant can be Smith, yet a four generation Australia can be Wang). The delivery man didn't bring the flowers to the "Husby house" (I was home all that day), he took them to the school and found someone willing to take charge of them. A funny small world in the midst of the huge metropolis of Tokyo.

The flowers ARE sweet. Sweet Peas, in fact. A scent that takes me right back to the house I grew up in, where Mum had Sweet Peas growing against a wall in the backyard. I still don't know who they are from, but at a time last week when I was struggling a little with various things, including accepting grace from God (!), a little bunch of mysterious flowers were a special gift from an angel.

10 April, 2012

8. How you maintain spiritual zeal

Somehow this is a topic I shy away from. It feels like I'm blowing my own horn, the opposite of humility. I also believe that there is no single way to do this. God gives each person their own style and I shouldn't suggest that the way I do it is any better than anyone else's. But anyway, I've committed to answering these questions here in a public forum, so I cannot shy away from this.

However here is the disclaimer: I'm no spiritual super hero. These are just the ways that God has enabled me to stay close to him, and really, it is more to do with him holding me close than me clinging on to him.

(This is the eighth 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.)

David and I have read the Bible and prayed together in bed before breakfast for our entire marriage. We don't just pray for ourselves and our family, but this is our main prayer time for all that (and who) we've committed to pray for. I'm not saying that we always do a great job (I fell asleep in the middle this morning, awoken by David saying, "I have to go and make breakfast now, I've prayed for the bottom four things on the list, you have these..." Yes, we have a prayer list, a somewhat complicated one actually, that helps us cover lots of territory (including all our prayer supporters) over a month. We use Our Daily Bread as a reading guide (you can check it out here, but we use the paper version).

I read a lot, as I said last post in this series. I try to not just read fiction, but also non-fiction, particularly edifying types of books. This is not easy, particularly as I like to read to wind down at the end of the day and edifying books aren't always easy to concentrate on when you're winding down. In the period leading up to Easter I forgo fiction altogether and try to devote myself to spiritually-building-up books entirely (again, not always successful on this count).

I'm trying to read all the way through the Bible. I've actually never done this cover-to-cover before and I'm finding the discipline hard. I've been at it since last January (having been significantly derailed by last March's disaster).

For cross-cultural workers, church is difficult, particularly those like me who don't have a great grasp of the language. Listening to a lengthy piece of soliloquy is a very difficult linguistic skill. I am thankful that we go to a service that has simultaneous translation and I frequently take advantage of that. There – I've admitted it! Without the translation, listening to a sermon in Japanese for me is more of a linguistic exercise than a spiritually helpful exercise. I try to hear vocabulary that I know and connect that to the main points on the screen (which are often bilingual).

I go to lots of prayer meetings. Our monthly OMF prayer meeting, monthly class prayer meetings for each of our boys, and weekly CAJ parent's prayer meeting. I find it really helpful to pray with others, it keeps me on track. I get to lead sometimes too and that makes me delve deeper.

Lots of people pray for us. Do you realise what a privilege this is? Do you have 300+ people praying for you and your family? Only in heaven will we know the true extent of this privilege. I count it as one way that God is maintaining my spiritual zeal, by answering all those prayers. I'm also sure some people think how terrible it is to have to rely on others for our financial support, but the truth is, it is a blessing, because we see ourselves as waiting on God to supply our needs and that is an amazing journey.

In the same way we are very often cast upon those prayers when we run into difficulties that are too big for us too manage. I remember being absolutely desperate in a Japanese hospital with my middle son when he was 11 months old, I had no family around to help, they were thousands of miles away. He had pneumonia and wouldn't go to sleep the night he was admitted. I rang someone on the last few yen of my phone card, asked them to pray for us. He fell asleep straight after that call. Just one story of amazing miracles that God has done in our lives as we've relied on him. Last post I talked about the various stresses that we've encountered, but I didn't mention that these things cast us on God's strength again and again. Having to cope with difficulties like this strengthens and deepens your faith.

The last two years I've also done an English Bible study with some other missionary women. We've used Beth Moore studies so no one has to lead, and yet we have preparation work to do ourselves for it during the weeks between meeting. And yes, these seven or eight week Bible studies have taken us months to complete due to incompatible schedules! It has been most refreshing to do these studies. It isn't easy, as a missionary, to choose to spend your time like this. It feels like you should be ministering others instead. However, I'm glad that my friends persuaded me to do these studies.

Last month I mentioned a retreat I went on, as well as an OMF conference. Both of these are annual spiritually refreshing times.

And the less frequent one is home assignment. Different people have different understandings of what a missionary does when they are in their "home" country. One of the reasons is to maintain their spiritual zeal. Spiritual refreshment and renewal after pouring oneself out in another culture is very important. Unless you've lived overseas and worshipped in another language for lengthy periods, you'll not realise how much of a privilege it is to worship in your heart language. We miss it, often playing worship music in English in our house and singing to our boys.

That brings me to something that I particularly notice when I'm in Australia. Something that often sets missionaries apart from those who remain in their home country and that is being proactive about maintaining spiritual zeal. You need to be a self-feeder. Spiritual passiveness just won't carry you through as a missionary. I don't believe it does anyone any good, actually. Actively pursuing a deeper relationship with God is not an easy task, but one of great value, one that God honours.

I now have two questions left in this series, again neither of them are easy.

9. What are the positive and negative aspects of your relationships with other missionaries?
10. What are the positive and negative aspects of your relationships with national Christians?

09 April, 2012

Wonderful park-day

Today we "discovered" a new park. Well, we went to a park that we hadn't been to before (Showa Kinen Park - or Emporer Showa Memorial Park). It is a little less than an hour's drive away and about half the size of this park that we also love. So it is a little more convenient, but still has lots of wonderful things to do.

I just love driving Tokyo streets at this time of year, though. Arounde very second corner you are surprised by beauty. Cherry blossoms are out and they are in all sorts of surprising spots around the city.
Even sitting at roadworks, we were delighted by the beauty at this spot.

Once we got there, though, we were delighted by tulips, daffodils, cherry blossoms, camellias, and a number of other flowers/flowering trees and bushes that I don't know the names of. I took nearly 100 photos, feast your eyes on this small selection:

This part reminded me of my hometown, Toowoomba, in late
September during their annual Carnival of Flowers.

I love the randomness of this bush that shoots out sprays of
flower-laden stalks.
And plenty of photographers, who are way better than me.
But boys wouldn't be happy if there wasn't play equipment. So we visited these too (in between gawking at flowers).
About 1/3 of the "rainbow hammock".
Hilly trampolines!
And a mysterious area supposed to be the "Misty Forest", but there
wasn't much forest and only the occasional mist.
We took a packed lunch and sat here:
A Japanese-style picnic spot where you remove your shoes and sit
on the floor. Most of us actually sat on the benches on the outside (you
can see David there) without removing our shoes.
And sakura (cherry blossom) flavoured ice-cream to finish off the day.

And special credit goes to CAJ for having this unusual Easter holiday (we've never before had Easter Monday off in the six years we've been there), which made it possible to get to the park on a weekday when there were less crowds.

After some pretty intense months (work-wise) and a bleak long winter, it is hard to express how delightful it is to get out into a park without shivering (oh, forgot to tell you it was the first day of the year that made it into the 20Cs) and seeing all these bursts of colour.