31 December, 2014

Looking back at 2014

Almost a year ago I wrote a blog post about what we were looking at 2014 holding. It's really interesting to look back at these posts each year and reflect on what did and didn't happen.

The biggest surprise for the year was finding that we didn't have to pack up our whole household and move out. Instead we've had two teachers housesitting for us. That was a great relief in moving back to Australia, but even more that we can look forward to moving back into the same house (just rearranging the three bedrooms on the second floor).

In the post I wrote at the beginning of the year I resolved to reflect on Hebrews 12:1-3 each month on this blog. I didn't do so well at that (next time I'd choose a whole chapter, three verses were too few). However, in an interesting turn of events I found out last night that a meditation that I submitted before Christmas last year to The Upper Room magazine is slated for publication this time next year. That little piece was based on Hebrews 12:1-3.

One of the other things I mentioned in the above post was that at the time it was easier to list the things we'd miss in Japan while we were away for a year. What was harder was predicting the opportunities, the good surprises. Some of those thus far have been:
The car friends bought for us driving at the front of the school
our boys have the privilege of attending for these 12 months.
  • wrestling action for all three boys (and a significant gold medal for our eldest)
  • new friends
  • a house provided for much less than we anticipated and a car bought for us
  • a trampoline (first time our family has ever owned one)
  • many pieces of furniture and other furnishing that's been given to us for the year
  • driving lessons for our 15 y.o. (on a family property)
  • school camps/trips
  • guitar lessons and his own guitar for our eldest
  • opportunity for our youngest to try the trumpet six months earlier than his mates at CAJ in Japan can try band instruments
  • a growing interest in cricket
  • tickets to a live cricket match (World Cup, no less, in February)
  • both younger boys will have iPads for school use for the next six months
  • a growing first-hand appreciation for Australia (for our boys), including Western Australia
  • growth in resiliency (at least I hope that is what we're seeing)
There's just a few that easily come to mind. We have much to be thankful for.

We're half-way through our third home assignment, the third individual year we've spent in Australia since we left for Japan in November 2000. It's been wonderful to visit churches and individuals who've travelled with us for the last 14 or 15 years. That's a significant length of time to maintain a relationship where you don't see one another so often. Such faithfulness is worth giving thanks for. That is one the purposes for us being here this year: to say thank you.

But ultimately I need to say thanks to God. Here is a phrase that is repeated many times in the Bible:
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever" NIV.(For an example, see 1 Chronicles:16:34)

And finally, I shall heap all the praise that people keep trying to heap upon us, back onto the true deserver of praise:
If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11, NIV)

24 December, 2014

This time last year

Last year I was dreaming of an Aussie Christmas (not a white one), this year I'm living it. 
Last year I was shopping at 100 yen shops, parking my bike out the front, this year I'm avoiding shops and the crowds that go with them as much as possible.
Last year I was suffering a dreadful cold and asthma flare-up, this year I'm healthy and
Last year's Christmas morning tea in Japan.
thankful. 

Last year I attended a Christmas eve service with my family, coughing into the white mask that covered my mouth and nose, this year I'll go with my parents to their church early tomorrow morning before the home-based festivities begin.
Last year we celebrated Christmas day all by ourselves, this year we'll celebrate it with my whole family: my parents, two sisters and their husbands and children.

We enjoy Christmases in both Australia and Japan. We're not particularly homesick for Japan, but are enjoying being wholly present here in Australia. Yes, we've done some long drives to spend time with family, but I'm grateful that we are here to do it. We're usually not.

So, wherever you are tomorrow, I wish you a happy and blessed Christmas. For those we are missing loved ones, perhaps because you're in a different part of the world or because they are no long with us in this world, I hope that you are able to enjoy Christmas nonetheless, being thankful for what you do have, rather than being sad for what you don't.

If you can, remember that Christmas is a day of good news (see Luke 2:10-12). Jesus came that we might have abundant life (John 10:10b). Though that life will never be perfect this side of heaven, we can know a small taste of it by savouring the joy of trusting in Jesus now.

19 December, 2014

Books that have shaped me

I was tagged months and months ago asking for the ten books that have most influenced me because of how they stretched my thinking. This post has been languishing in drafts since then, occasionally pulled up and pondered. I've only come up with five, which seems crazy as I've read thousands of books in my 40+ years.
This is also an excellent book.


The Bible by God inspired authors (this really is in a category of its own and many of the following books were by those who were shaped by the Bible).

I Am David by Anne Holm
Suffering by Edith Schaeffer
Pilgrim's Progress (Children's Version) by John Bunyan
Second Mile People by Isobel Kuhn
Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels

I've read many biographies and autobiographies that have influenced my life. Here are some I can remember reading about:
Corrie Ten Boom The Hiding Place
Isobel Kuhn
Hudson Taylor
Annie's Coming Out by Rosemary Crossley and Anne McDonald
Lewis Braille

A couple of other non-fiction books come to mind here:
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Prayer by Philip Yancey
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey
Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado

Other books that I might add here are fictional books that I've loved or been moved by, but I'm not so sure if they've stretched my thinking quite as much as the above did at the time I read them.
Heidi
The Billabong series by Mary Grant Bruce
Nancy Drew mysteries
Colleen McCollough series about Rome
Bryce Courney's The Power of One, and others of his set in that era of South Africa

All in all, books in general have shaped me in so many ways that it's nearly impossible to pinpoint those that have influenced me most. I can't imagine life without them.

18 December, 2014

On Holidays for an Australian Christmas

Our lunch-time stop on the trip up to Rockhampton. There's
been lovely rain along the coast recently and we enjoyed
beautiful green along the road.
I'm well and truly into our Australian Christmas holiday mode now. Christmas holidays in Australia for me in the last 18 years has been travelling between our two family geographical areas: Toowoomba and Central Queensland (Rockhampton/Springsure). Granted this is only the seventh time but still...it's what we do when we're in Australia.

On Monday we came up to Rockhampton (it took 8 ½ hrs to drive it) to stay with David's mum. I realised how tired I was. I was really flagging by the time we arrived. 

So Tuesday we did a little bit of shopping, and not much else. Oh, the boys played lots of Wii games (and were very grumpy as a result).


Menacing creatures. This farm has thousands of crocs.







Can't believe I caught this image with my smart phone's
little camera.



We watched them harvest some crocodile eggs.
It required several people in order to hold back
mum, distract dad, spot, and collect.
Gorgeous view on the coast. The water was beautiful in colour.
Yesterday (Wednesday) we got into our tourist strides. We visited a local crocodile farm, which was great (my boys had a great time asking questions and learning about these amazing animals). Then we had lunch near the beach followed by a swim at the beach close to where David grew up. A couple of his aunties and one of his cousins with her two children came also. It's been dreadfully hot, so it was wonderful to hop in the water. I'm not a beach loving person and would usually sit and watch. But we were so hot yesterday (around 35 degrees or more) that I was the first into the water! The water was as warm as a pleasant bath. Amazing.


Can you possible guess that this is the inside
of the caves. My smart phone camera
didn't cope so well with the low-light of the caves.
Today I ended up going Christmas shopping with my mother-in-law. She wanted help in buying our family's presents. I have to say I'm a little embarrassed, she was very generous! This afternoon we revisited the local caves. We checked these out four and a half years ago when we drove through here on our way to Brisbane at the start of our last home assignment. The caves are still beautiful. Bonus in this weather is that is was lovely and cool inside.

Tonight David's mum looked after the boys so we got to go out on a date to a local Malaysian restaurant. Yum! One of the downsides of spending your holidays visiting family is that David and I get little time to ourselves. It was wonderful to just sit and chat.

Tomorrow we drive for half a day west to the rest of David's family. We'll stay at David's sister and brother-in-law's place again (like we did in September) and have an early Christmas with them on Saturday. Looking forward to seeing them again.

Next week we'll head eight hrs south to my family and celebrate Christmas on the actual day with them. The first time in 10 years that we have done that (on the 25th) and the first time ever for our youngest. It'll be a great day.

But all that mostly to say that I won't be writing here much in the next couple of weeks, writing when I have the urge and the time, but not daily. Sorry folks, I need a holiday.


16 December, 2014

Some progress in post-tsunami reconstruction

Periodically we are asked questions about the reconstruction after the earthquake disaster (though usually only when we bring the subject up first). This is an extract from a newsletter about a small country town where our mission has set up a base that offers a Cafe ministry plus more to the surrounding residents:

In July I wrote that little progress seemed to have been made in Yamada towards reconstruction. That is no longer the case. Since September, the grassy weeds and bare foundations around Ippo Ippo Yamada have been replaced by construction equipment, piles of earth, ditches and workmen. The ground shakes constantly to the distress of café customers who wonder sometimes if they are experiencing yet another earthquake. Volunteers staying upstairs may be woken early as loads of earth are trucked in from as early as 5 am. The town is raising the ground level by between 2 to 3 metres. The prefab café may soon need to find a new home. Pray: 1. Despite the tsunami swept area of Yamada becoming a building site, new housing for displaced people is still a distant dream. After raising the ground level, it will take time for the ground to settle sufficiently to build on. Temporary housing units are intended to last 2 years. Nearly a quarter of the population of Yamada are still in temporary housing after 3 years 8 months. Pray that Ippo Ippo Iwate may be a light and an encouragement to people with an uncomfortable present and uncertain future. 


14 December, 2014

What's your image of a typical missionary?

Probably not this South American colleague of ours in Japan:

Or these?

13 December, 2014

The importance of having people who pray for you

Here is a video by one of our colleagues in Japan and he touches on the importance of missionaries having people who pray for them. Really good! (Just over four minutes.)

http://vimeo.com/112811754

12 December, 2014

An interesting week

I've had some unusual days this week. 

Tuesday
On Tuesday afternoon I caught a train, then bus to visit my parents up in Toowoomba. The plan for the had begun as an attempt to fulfil one of our duties as OMF home assignees. We are asked to go around and visit the various mission prayer groups, that usually meet once a month. They are quite scattered and not easy to get to when you have children at school, but nonetheless we try. My parents usually host one, so I planned to attend their prayer group on Wednesday. 
Australia at its finest. They've had rain
here recently.




Wednesday I went up early because I wanted to see what my parents have been doing at my old high school. They've been putting a simple breakfast on for students once a week as a chaplaincy event. In fact they've been quite involved in supporting the chaplain at my alma mater. But as they live 1 ½ hrs from here and I needed to be there by 8am, I decided to go up the night before.

Then it got complicated. I was going to drive and leave the family without a car for a time, but then we discovered that they'd planned to hold the prayer meeting at someone else's house, 50 minutes north-east of Toowoomba. So we changed the plan so that they could all attend. I would catch a bus to Toowoomba and they would meet us the next day. 

It all unravelled when our car, which was at the mechanics for some repairs, didn't get "discharged" until too late (more than a day after we took it to the mechanics). So it was just me representing the family. But, in hindsight the whole affair, which seemed a little odd, actually meant we did have someone at the prayer meeting. If I hadn't had gone up the night before none of us would have been there. So I'm thankful.

The room where we had the prayer meeting on Wednesday.
Gorgeous! This couple lent us their house back in 2010 for
a holiday while they were away. Great memories.
But then I had a problem, how to get back home again. From the prayer meeting I went back to Mum's and Dad's place and we were considering the possibilities when Mum's phone rang. It was her sister who happened to be in town with her husband visiting a sick relative. They live in Brisbane and were driving back that afternoon. Wow, I had my lift! Plus an hour and a half with my aunt and uncle who I rarely see. Wonderful!

Thursday
We drove to another out-of-Brisbane prayer meeting on Thursday (having received our car back on Wednesday afternoon). It took almost two hours each way, and two hours of chatting while we were there. But thankfully the house had a pool, so our boys had lots of fun and exercise too!

Friday
We dashed to the library this morning to get our supplies for the holidays (we're going away next week till after Christmas).

Then we had some guests for lunch. Mum and Dad were in Brisbane visiting a sick relative (yes, there's a theme there) so they dropped in on their way home and at the same time we'd planned to have the son of colleagues in Japan come with his girlfriend for lunch. So, it turned into quite a festive affair. We "shook the fridge" and came up with a decent spread. Fun!

In between all that and preparing for Christmas and going away, there hasn't been much time to write here or do other computer work. But I do have to say that the boys have been very helpful because of the new rules we put in place on Monday (see here). We've had plenty of help with housework and they've gotten exercise everyday too.

It's been wonderful to get into the Christmas spirit the Australian way. With boys on summer holidays, the summer heat, storms, cricket on the TV and making preparations for Christmas, it's really felt Christmassy. In a way that we don't get in Japan.

11 December, 2014

Japan Kid's Newsletter December edition

Our latest Kid's newsletter for your enjoyment and, if you wish, use. Email me for a better copy (address on the right of this).


10 December, 2014

An age-old question: "Am I Okay?"

I found this encouraging blog post "Am I okay?" three and a half years ago, in the midst of a traumatic series of months in our lives. I didn't get around to posting about it here, but it is as relevant now as it was then.

As I've written honestly here, I've often had reassurances that, "You're okay." From friends, but also from God. 

All I need to do it look at my Bible to be reassured that, though God knows more about me than anyone here on earth, He will not fail to love me.

Psalm 139:1-2 
You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar (NIV).


and

Isaiah 54: 10
Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you 
(NIV).

09 December, 2014

My, how Japan has changed

This is an interesting article about some changes that have taken place (at least easily measurable ones) between the previous time Tokyo held the Olympics (1964) and now. 

Here's an interesting one:
17. Japan’s  land area was 369,776 square kilometers a year after the Olympics. In 2013 it was 377,961 square kilometers, thanks mostly to landfill. 

08 December, 2014

Tip toeing through the forest of parenting in an electronic age

Today's the first day of the Christmas/summer holidays for our boys. We're trialling a new strategy. This is what the boys found when they finally got to the breakfast table:


Knowing that our boys can whip up a storm of nitpicking at the words and rules, we've deliberately kept it simple and generous to start with. It's generated some interesting discussion, especially, "We think that unlimited is too much screen time."

I countered with, "I did modify it with 'virtually'! But our goal is to help you do some self-management here." 

We don't want to be spending the holidays with stopwatches in our hands and be fighting constantly over how long they spend on electronic devices. We also want them to begin to self-limit.

Note that as I type at 9.46am, all the above jobs have been done and the boys have gone out for a jog/ride together. No protesting, no problems!

Note also that we'll be taking them to 1 ½ hrs of wrestling training this evening, and insisting on electronic-free reading/rest time after lunch.

We've limited their access to electronic things much more in the past. Usually they get half an hour each on Saturday and Sunday (with only a little more on holidays). And TV is rarely on for more than 45 minutes in a day (except when the cricket is on). 

But with our eldest (15) buying his own tablet three months ago, the balanced has shifted a little. We haven't restricted his time on his own tablet except when homework wasn't getting done, or other important tasks. I'm not sure if we were wise or not. Like all parents of our age, this is new. We're tip toeing through territory that didn't exist when we were young.

But with the younger two having school iPads next year and our oldest having a "Bring your own device", things are about to get more complicated. So, we continue to tip toe.

06 December, 2014

When are you going to settle down and get a real job?

I relate to this article about the challenges of the people who we love who don't understand what on earth we're still doing in Japan. 
This was my 40th in Japan last year. It was a time when
I was acutely aware of our absent family and friends in
Australia. Nonetheless, I had trouble parring down
the list of friends to invite to my party. We aren't lacking.


Actually I think our families have mostly given up asking when we're going to "settle down" to a life like they've known in Australia. I guess they're probably resigned to our strange life, even if they don't  understand. (I wrote a little about those kinds of conversations here.)

Basically it boils down to the fact that, though our lives look odd and unsettled to most Aussies, we've been working for the same organisation for over 14 years now and feel quite settled. We know that what we do is hard for people to understand, so we try not to expect that.

Explaining our "call" to people is plain hard, pretty impossible when they don't share the same love for God that we do. We're sad that it causes pain to those we love. The pain of our absence in their lives. 

But I like these closing paragraphs from the article:
Or maybe you’re that person who has a loved one “out there,” and you’re missing each other’s livesI know that hurts, too. To be left and to be the leaver—they’re both difficult roles to play. I feel those aches. I know what it’s like to have your favorite person/people gone from your everyday life—to be missing from around your table at the holidays, to not see babies grow, … and I know what it’s like to be the missing one.
But I also find that it’s in these hurts that there is much beauty. And I think each person needs to come to terms with that themselves. I can’t make anyone understand or agree with my Call. But I do know that my God is strong. I ask Him, for my friends and sometimes for myself, to place a peace and an understanding in our loved ones.

05 December, 2014

Looking forward to an Australian Christmas season

Today is the last day of school for the school year for our younger two. Our eldest son finished last Thursday. I've been a bit shocked at how quickly this has come and how far it is still until Christmas.
We usually celebrate Christmas on our
own in Japan. This is our normal.


I guess I'm too used to Japan, where they finish school much closer to Christmas.

I'd also forgotten that this is the end-of-year combined with Christmas party season in Australia. Every little group closes up shop for Christmas and the end of the calendar year. In Japan we're immersed in two different cultures, each with different "end of years".

Japan celebrates New Year at the beginning of January, but their school and business year doesn't align with this, that happens at the end of March.

America (the culture of the school where David teaches and the boys study) celebrates Christmas and New Year too, but it doesn't mean the end of the school year, that is May/June. They only take a two or three week break from school at that time.

So in Japan we don't have end-of-year parties at this time of year. We have Christmas parties, but things aren't finishing up for the year. Certainly not for the two months summer break that we're working on here. Late December and January are fairly "dead" times for any church groups. Hence we'll have six weeks without deputation events in churches.

But in a sense Australia gets it easy, combining and end-of-year party with a Christmas party reduces the number of parties you have to do in a year!

It's been five years since we last celebrated Christmas in the summer. Our 9 ½ year old has only had one Christmas in Australia in his life and he's never celebrated that at my parent's house on Christmas day. It's been 10 years since we've done that.

So, I'm looking forward to a hot sweaty Christmas. One that involves time with family, lots of cold food, summer fruit, cricket and wearing shorts and t-shirts. Seems strange to most people from the northern hemisphere, but it's what you are used to!

I'm looking forward to nearly two months of not having to shove the boys out the door at school time. Of having a more flexible schedule. And, to not be putting on my missionary name badge and sprouting my stuff in front of groups (after this weekend).

04 December, 2014

Stress and missionaries

I've been writing an article about stress and missionaries. In the midst of my research I found this noteworthy article. It was presented at the American Association of Christian Counsellors World Congress in 1997. And I quote here from it:
This is our house on the left and our
neighbour's on the right. One small part
of the stress we face is neighbours so
very close.

We have used a modified version of the Holmes-Rahe stress scale* to illustrate the amount of stress usually experienced in cross-cultural work. We have found that on the average, using this scale which is not comprehensive, cross-cultural workers experience about 600 points of stress per year. The level may peak as high as 1500 points in some circumstances, and drop to merely “normal” for people who are in long-term, stable situations.**
* On this scale the average stress for a person in the US is 100 points.

** The original study revealed that 200 points of stressful life events caused 50 percent of people to become seriously ill (cancer, heart attack) within the subsequent two years. With 300 points, 90 percent became ill. 

Ouch. We encounter that much stress?

When I have people question what we're doing for such a long period as 12 months in Australia (and it's happened at each of the last two churches we've visited), I want to grab them and show them this graph. We're under stress in our "profession". Is it wrong to have time away from our country of service to recharge a little? Noting that the time here is not 100% holiday, not even close.

The introductory paragraph to the above article sums up the challenges of this life well:
Ministry is a hazardous occupation! It exposes one to the deepest needs of humanity, many of which seemingly can never be met. Along with sharing in many life joys, a person in ministry also gains the dubious privilege of dealing with all the “uglies” of human nature, the muck of erring and sinning disciples, the heartbreaking consequences and crises of God's law broken. The values inherent in ministry are for self-giving, sacrifice, working for change in the self, others, and the social context. In a sense, these are dangerous values, “setting up” the opportunities for failure and burnout. One's work in ministry is never done; there is no end to the possibilities to influence persons and the nature of life in one's context. There is no handy cut-off time to show when you have done enough. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to measure one's success in bringing about change.
So, not only is it a challenging occupation, it is hard to take breaks from it. The phrase, "There is no handy cut-off time".

The article also mentions the "uglies" of our job. Though we don't have so much of those ourselves, working in wealthy Japan and in roles that don't come close to the ugliness (war, poverty, instability, sin) that many missionaries find, we find just the crowdedness of the city of Tokyo to be wearying. This year in Australia we nickname our "space therapy".

There are a number of other stressors mentioned, that you may not think about, like: 
Additional spiritual stresses sometimes include being isolated from spiritual peers, from a body of believers who share our perspectives and beliefs. One may be deprived of the nurture of the body of Christ or Christian observances because of working in isolation or anti- Christian cultures. One may lack accountability and thus drift away from the anchors of faith, gradually slipping into habits or practices counterproductive to ministry.
And
superhuman expectations.
But possibly the most amazing thing, in light of all this is:
. . . that most missionaries DO adapt and work effectively in spite of killing levels of stress. Other researchers have found this too. Secondly, most cross-cultural workers adapt and cope, becoming used to and remaining effective under loads of stress that would land more “regular” people in the hospital.
Praise God, for He's the only explanation I have for that outcome.


03 December, 2014

Tears

As I've met up with various friends over the last few months, I continue to be encouraged by people saying they really like my blog because I'm honest and open, we don't have a photoshopped life displayed here. That's what I aim to do, so I'm glad that that's the way it comes across and that it's attractive (not just dirty washing hanging out).

But now I feel the challenge to continue with the honesty, even now that it makes me feel a bit vulnerable.

Last night I cried at a school awards ceremony. That doesn't sound so bad, does it?

I sat in the auditorium on my own and typed this:
Feeling alone in a crowd. Waiting for the yr 4 & 5 awards night to begin. Because we also have to go to the yr 6 & 7 awards tomorrow night we've split up parenting duties rather than drag everyone out both nights. It's tines like these that I remember we're (almost) strangers at this school.
I cried when they began with the National Anthem. We were sitting in a ¾ full lecture theatre and people sang well. The joy that filled my overflowed in tears. (For those who aren't Australian, it is a rare event where the Australian public sing the national anthem, unfortunately.)

Then I cried at the end when they showed a slideshow with photos from the school year. It's hard to express how that caused me to be upset, but I think it was that so many of the events the photos depicted, my son couldn't be in because we weren't even in the country yet. That doesn't sound like worth being upset about now that I type it out, but it got me last night.

Perhaps it was born of feeling lonely at that time, in this land where I'm supposed to fit? Perhaps it was an accumulation of things, trying to be brave and cope with all the challenges of moving countries, yet having so many friendships (ours and our kids) that are interrupted by our lifestyle. Or maybe just a touch of hormonal instability?

Nevertheless, I want you to know that I don't always have it together. I tend to downplay the challenges of this life at times, but it isn't easy. I don't regret following God's calling on our lives. He's blessed us in so many ways that would be harder to see if we lived lives more geographically rooted in one place. But I don't want to pretend that it is always a cinch. It does hurt and it does get lonely.


I also wrote about this emotional struggle a couple of weeks ago here.

02 December, 2014

Ongoing sadness four years later

This morning I sat in a park with a friend. A park that was under metres of water in Brisbane's flood nearly four years ago. Two months after that disaster we experienced our own disaster in Japan. The fourth largest earthquake ever recorded which caused a tsunami of mammoth proportions.
The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40.5 metres (133 ft) in Miyako in Tōhoku's Iwate Prefecture,[16][17] and which, in the Sendai area, travelled up to 10 km (6 mi) inland.
There were many differences between the two disasters. 

South East Queensland: Up to 50 people were killed, mostly in areas where flash floods occurred. Most of the floods were expected and most people were able to move out in time.
Damage initially was estimated at around A$1 billion[3] before it was raised to $2.38 billion (Wiki).
This morning as I sat in the park that had been covered by this flood, I saw zero evidence. Houses that had been flooded were occupied. The park was restored (or reformed, I don't know, I hadn't been there pre-flood).

North-east Honshu: Around 18,000 people were dead or missing as of February this year (Wikipedia). While earthquakes and tsunamis are expected in Japan, this tsunami was unusually large. The tsunamis (yes, there was more than one wave) simply flowed over structures designed to protect communities from inundation by tsunami, so many people were caught unawares.
The World Bank's estimated economic cost was US$235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in world history (Wiki).
However, if I were to go today to one of the areas in Japan that were inundated, I'd see much evidence still remaining. Mostly empty foundations: places where people used to live, but no longer do. 

The fourth winter since the giant disaster in north-eastern Japan has arrived and many are still in temporary housing. Not because there isn't enough money, but because the money for reconstruction is tied up in red tape. This article is quite detailed in places, but it reveals the sad reality for many who have been promised homes, but don't yet have them.

Summary of the below: 
Lots of negotiation has been required to get land to build new homes on. It hasn't been easy to find the true owners of property. 

Here is more detailed explanation:
The government’s five-year reconstruction plan was built on unrealistic assumptions, said Yoshikiyo Shimamine, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo. “Given bottlenecks such as labor shortages and material cost rises, and difficulties in getting consensus among residents who are relocated, reconstruction budgets are not something that can be spent within five years,” he said. 
Officials in Ishinomaki, home to 150,000 people, say spending the more than ¥437 billion in reconstruction aid has proven tough. With all of the municipal-owned land having been designated for temporary housing after the tsunami, the city government had to negotiate the purchase of an additional 9,000 plots to build permanent homes, the reconstruction office’s Oka said. That inflated the price of a plot of land in Ishinomaki by 15 percent last year, the biggest jump anywhere in Japan.
Before the city could buy land, it had to track down the legal owners. That proved tedious, said Oka. Officials discovered that in many instances, properties had been passed down without proper inheritance procedures.


01 December, 2014

Stepping into the unknown

On Friday I asked for prayer at our church's ladies Bible study for our trip to the Sunshine Coast that afternoon. Of particular concern was that we didn't know much about the weekend or what would happen during it, especially about the couple who would host us.

It is the "unknowns" that can make this deputation lifestyle a challenge with our boys. They like to know more than we can generally tell them about what's coming up when we're faced by a weekend like this.

Here's what we knew:

  • we were speaking at the church for an hour followed by morning tea on Saturday
    We got to the beach too.
    Alexandra Headlands. Beautiful!
    morning
  • we had to put out stand up at the church the next morning at 9am and stay until after the 9.30 service
  • the church had arranged for a couple to host us
  • we knew their names, address, and phone number
  • and that they also had three men staying with them: a refugee, student, and another missionary on home assignment
  • we would be near the beach
  • the boys would all be sleeping in one room and us in another
  • they would feed us meals, including dinner on Friday night at about 6pm
There's a lot we didn't know. We couldn't remember this couple (though they could remember us). I guess that is the main thing. We had no idea how it was all going to go, or what to expect. And that is not a happy position as parents when you have boys who don't like the unexpected.

Well we were pleasantly surprised with joyful hosts who were flexible and generous. They've extensive experience with missions and we enjoyed their company. Even the boys, who stayed at the table after the food was finished, without a word from us, which is quite statement in itself.

Once again our heavenly Father has taken care of us, beyond what we expected. But we did pray about it! So I guess we should have expected those prayers to be positively answered. Oh we of little faith.

30 November, 2014

Ministry in the midst of dirty underwear

This morning I stood in a church's car park digging around in a bag of dirty clothes, trying to stop my husband's underwear from falling onto the ground. My agitated son jiggled about next to me, his shorts in tatters.


Earlier I'd walked across the same car park as I attached my official magnetic name-tag to my blouse. We were at the church to represent our mission at their annual missions Sunday. (Something that I'd like to suggest is not a good way to approach promoting missions in your church, but that topic is for another day.)

Our children have always had a nice levelling effect upon us. Our journey as missionaries began very early in our marriage. We first started speaking at events like this when I was pregnant with our first child. It took us a long time to be able to get clearance to leave and our son was 18 months old when we finally left Australia. I used to pray before events that there would be someone who would volunteer to look after him while we spoke up the front. I remember searching for a private space at the back of a large historical, but unfamiliar church where I could breastfeed. That was just a part of our normal life.

Once in Japan and in language school we studied the Japanese language while our son napped. When he didn't nap, we didn't study. Partway through language school I fell pregnant and needed to nap myself, so my study fell behind.

Our second son attended his first school at only a few weeks of age. He accompanied me to my one-on-one Japanese lessons. The boys indeed kept us from devoting ourselves too much to our studies, but they also had us out in the park meeting other families, and sitting in the cry room at church. They had us grounded in the reality that we were just like any other person on this earth, nothing special.

When we came back the first time from Japan our eldest was five and his nearly two year old younger brother's introduction to the land of his citizenship was via visiting churches. The third boy came along only a couple of months before the end of that year in Australia. His first road trip was to visit churches in Sydney and Canberra, his first airplane trip was to Japan when he was not yet three months old.

As we've gone along in this interesting lifestyle they've been a part of whatever what going on. There's been no clear separation between family life and ministry life. Occasionally we've done "ministry" without them, but more often than not they've been in the vicinity.

So it's no surprise this morning that as we set up our table, like we've done many times before, we had a boy come to us with a problem. He'd shredded his shorts. No idea how.

If we'd been at a church in Brisbane, we'd have had nothing to offer except condolences, but today we had our luggage for the weekend stay. Except that our stay was coming to its conclusion and everything we had was pre-worn.

Hence I was dispatched to dig through the bag of dirty clothes in the boot of our car. 

29 November, 2014

What religion is Japan?

Today I'm "out in the field". Well actually I'm sitting in the bedroom I slept in last night at a house I've never been to before. People who knew us, but we didn't remember them. 

This morning we spent 2 ½ hours at their church doing a presentation and talking to people. Only 17 people (not including kids), but as a group they get an "A" for enthusiasm for missions. I had a lady almost in tears as she talked to me (I'm still not sure what that
One of the few times we've been to the beach in Japan.
It was early spring and just a bit chilly, but the boys
enjoyed making sandcastles.
was about). It confirmed to us again the value of encouraging churches to set aside time outside of their Sunday morning worship to hear from us. We have more flexibility and time and can be more personal.


It has meant a whole weekend away for us, though, because we're there again tomorrow morning (though not upfront in the service). However, the bonus is that the ocean isn't far away and there are many choices of amazing quality beaches. As Queenslanders we had no idea that the beaches we have here are spectacular, until we moved away. But anyway, we've been in Queensland for five months and haven't taken the boys to the beach here yet (only in WA). So, it's about time to lather up (we're all very fair) and head down to the water.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with an answer to a question we periodically get when we're doing the rounds:

What religion is Japan?

Most Japanese identify themselves both as Buddhists and Shintoists, while surveys have shown that only one-third of the people profess a religious faith. That’s because many Japanese people don’t understand “religion” in the same way that Westerners do. They practise religion for the functions it fulfils in their lives. Many people are dedicated at a Shinto shrine at birth, get married in a Christian-style wedding and have a Buddhist funeral. Each religion provides different benefits at different times. Please pray that many Japanese people will know Christ as the only One who can meet all their needs.* 


* Adapted from 31 Days of Prayer for Japan, 2nd edition, OMF International.