31 March, 2014

Kids Musings March/April 2014

Four times a year I put together a newsletter for kids about Japan, I've been doing this for over 10 years. It started as a desire to reach out to the children of our supporters. I was given a passion for mission as a child and I wanted to provide a tool for our supporters to do the same for their kids. 

Here is the "Kids Musings" I've done this week (I've modified it, so that it is not personalised at all). The theme I'm using this year is food (and drink). 

If you would like to take this and use it yourself or give it to others, please feel free. This is totally free for your use. If you'd like a better quality version, just send me an email.

30 March, 2014

My unusual afternoon

This afternoon, instead of hanging out quietly at home I accompanied my eldest to a wrestling practice. But, you say, isn't all that over?

Well no. Our son is part of a Japanese wrestling club (not sumo, freestyle wrestling) in the off-seasons. He usually goes on Monday nights, but as this is also Spring Break for Japanese schools, a special practise was held this afternoon. 

I went because it was at a venue he's never been to and we weren't confident he would find on his own. It took about an hour by train to get there, not too far by Tokyo standards!

Interestingly we arrived just as some other high schoolers were leaving. One of them we recognised as a very good wrestler in the international school's league. I guess they went to the morning training time, the training we won't allow our son to go to because it is at the same time as church. 

As I sat and watched them train, I was reminded of the many hours I've spent learning the piano. Particularly the hours spent at my teachers house. I had three hours of lessons a week, half of that was a group lesson. Piano is a very solo instrument. You don't usually spend much time with others when you're learning it. At the time I'm not sure if I valued the group lesson as much as I should have. 

But back to wrestling, it's the opposite to piano: there isn't a lot of training you can do alone. You can do "conditioning", strength training etc. alone, but you really need to practise with a partner to improve. But here's where it is the same as a musical instrument. You need to practise the moves over and over again till they become semiautomatic. Till you intuitively know what to do. 

Knowing all this makes it all the more impressive when you actually watch a bout. An awful lot of work has gone into refining those skills!

Sunday afternoon is usually very quiet for us. I generally spend a couple of hours lying down to read and play sudoku, Words with Friends, and Spider Solitaire on my phone. Sometimes I cross-stitch later. However despite spending more than two hours on trains today and then two hours sitting on a vibrating gym floor, I've had a refreshing time. I've been reading Looking for God by Nancy Ortberg.

 It's another compellingly honest book. I could quote many passages, but here is one that's close to my heart:
The greatest apologetic, the best defense or evidence of our faith, is the way we live authentically with God. Authenticity implies honesty, struggles, questions, desert times, shaking fists, and hopeful silences. I can only model what I'm experiencing. Anything else is either behaviour modification or "faking it" – neither of which is transformational.
We have this mistaken idea that living the Christian life is a series of mountaintops, a succession of grand faith adventures.  
It is not...God lives in the struggle. It is there we find Him. 
As school starts up again tomorrow I'm very aware that we're stepping onto a slippery slope. A slope that ends with us moving back to Australia. It's going to be a struggle. I hope I can struggle authentically. But it is encouraging to realise again that I can expect to find God many times in the slide. 

29 March, 2014

Refreshment and Unity

We were at an OMF Japan Conference most of the week. We had a guest speaker and his wife, missionaries in Japan with another mission. I was sitting with Anne, the speaker's wife at one meal. She asked something that got me thinking: 
My name tag for the week, with our theme verse.

"How do you do it? The mission conferences I've been on with our mission have mostly been full of business meetings."

As I've thought about it I realise that OMF is full of specialists. It is also not a democracy. We're church planters, youth workers, short-term worker coordinators, medical advisors, teachers, leaders, etc. 
One of the worship teams (yes, I got to play this gorgeous

Most of the mission business is dealt with by our leaders and representatives of the members, not talked about between members. Matters that involve individuals—like where they will work, or when they will go on home assignment—is discussed between the relevant parties. I can only imagine that that makes life easier for the leaders because amongst 125+ missionaries, there could be about 100 different opinions! Essentially we trust the leaders to make decisions that are in the mission's best interest.

So conferences are therefore about refreshment and expressing our unity as one "field".

The refreshment is primarily spiritual and social. Most people find conferences physically exhausting (late nights talking). So conferences include Bible talks, time for prayer, and time for interacting with one another over meals and snacks. We spend time getting to know one another. 
It was lovely to look out of the chapel
where we had all our gatherings and
see this tree beginning to bloom at
the start of spring.

It is also a time where our leaders inform us of important things that are going on, for example, the impressive list of people who are working towards getting clearance to come and join us in Japan. This year we spent a couple of hours discussing important changes to our structure.

While all this is going on, there is a children and teens programme also going on. This is always a source of great joy for us. Our kids love getting together with their OMF "cousins", many of whom they only see once a year. And it truly looks like a bunch of cousins. A variety of ages, all hanging around together.

It is a joy to express our family-ness too. Now my kids are getting older I feel free-ed up to do things like cuddle other people's babies, or play with younger children.
The younger children having fun.

Irish-Cambodian and Australian "cousins"
One boy I met for the first time (a four-year-old Australian) really reminded me of my boys at that age. So full of energy, and prepared to play with a ball for a lengthy period of time He even tried to tackle me and wrestle me!

I've come home refreshed in soul and spirit, but rather tired of body. I made it through the week on an unusual amount of coffee for me. But thankfully I haven't developed the headache I expected today! 

I love my OMF family. I don't know what I'd do without them in Japan!

28 March, 2014

Spoon Challenge

Today we got back from our 4-day conference with OMF "family". It is an interesting group of people, all who feel called to work for God in Japan and are committed to be a part of the fellowship we call OMF. Most adults are between 25 and 60 years of age, with some exceptions. 

Despite the many similarities, there are quite a lot of differences too. Aside from personality differences, probably the biggest one is nationality. OMF Japan has, at present, 129 people with 19 nationalities represented! 

That can be quite a challenge, especially when many don't have English as their first language. English is the language that the organisation uses and most people are pretty good at it. But there are quite a variety of accents. One of the things I love about OMF, though, is that no one nationality dominates. Though our American friends tell us that they find it quite British/Commonwealth-ish.

Always in an international environment, there are surprises. The other day we had an American OMFer staying with us and we were all surprised about these spoons. For an Australian, they have different names and functions. Our friend, however, didn't know that.
For us, the spoon on the left is a soup spoon and is only used for soup. The spoon on the right is a "dessert" spoon, but is used for cereal also, but definitely not for soup. So I'm wondering, is this just an Australian thing?

27 March, 2014

Fun English #3

It is pretty obvious what these are, so they don't qualify for a "Photo Question" post. I'm not sure where they got the name "Muddler" from, though. Would you like your coffee "muddled'? 150 of these for 105 yen!

26 March, 2014

Fun English #2

Here is my second "Fun English" for the week. Two right-handed rubber gloves with "fluffy processed" insides! Yours for only 105 yen.

24 March, 2014

Addressing stereotyping

Last year I was assured by an Australian-Asian visiting Japan that you could easily tell which country an Asian is from. That isn't what I've heard from ethnically Asian missionaries here. I'm wondering if it is less easy to tell in Japan than in Australia? What's
Can you tell where these short-termers were from?
your experience? Can you usually tell what country an Asian-looking person is from?

It's easy to slip into stereotyping and labelling. We all like to be able to file people into boxes in our minds.

 Here's an interesting short article about a Japanese writer/artist who's husband was transferred to China. She received many "poor you, having to go to China" comments from friends. The news report is about how she set about addressing those negative stereotypes: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/people/AJ201401200006

Fun English #1

We're away for four days at an OMF Conference. So I'm going to do some easy photo-based posts. 

Do you think this slogan might work in Australia?

23 March, 2014


Developing Resiliency seems to be a popular topic to think and talk about at the moment. 
This is the Japanese primary school our eldest son went
to for a bit over a year when he was six and seven. It is
a period we remember with pain and sometimes regret.
However, I do think that we all grew through the time
that we struggled through the challenges we faced here.
Scientific studies have shown that resilient people show lower levels of depression and are more likely to develop personally as a result of adversity than people with low levels of resilience. (from the post linked towards the bottom of this post)
It's a first world problem, of course. But something that we do well to be aware of. In some ways we can cushion our children's growing up years, but the reality is that we can't control everything.

The life our family leads, though we lead it in first world countries, brings a little less control than perhaps we'd have if our children lived all their growing up years in the same suburb or town. However, we still face the temptation to make their lives easier by smoothing some of the bumps out and therefore removing opportunities for them to grow and develop life skills that will help them later in life.

This post got me thinking about how going to Australia in June is building resiliency in us all.

Here are a couple of relevant points from the blog post: 
  • Teach your child to identify struggles as challenges to overcome, not tests to avoid, and teach them phrases such as “this too shall pass” or “every challenge makes you stronger” to spark this outlook.
  • Introduce new experiences to your child which will help them step outside their comfort zone, such as playing with children who speak another language and trying new foods.
For starters there'll be plenty of "outside the comfort zone experiences". The change will also be full of struggles and bumps to ride over. I need to remind myself of this post when I'm feeling sad that our work is causing various challenges for our kids.

Here's a post that is more focused on adults than children.
Some points from this post:
Focus on building and maintaining relationships.Be optimistic.Keep learning.
How about you, do you take steps to build resiliency in your kids, or yourself? I'd love you to share some.

    22 March, 2014

    We survived and press onwards

    One of the ways the Seniors (and staff) travelled home
    from Thailand.
    Just reporting back at the end of the Solo Parenting Week. David arrived home about an hour ago, after a long journey (they were travelling for more than 24 hours, via boat, elephant, bus, and plane). He's now snoozing upstairs.

    But what I really want to say is that we survived. More than survived, we thrived.

    My two strategies worked:
    1. I organised some coffee dates with friends, for some good adult conversation and perspective!
    2. I froze some meals, so that I had little cooking to do in the last week at that crazy hour when boys are doing homework, showering, and ravenous too.
    Plus I had good tempered boys who were cooperative 95% of the time. 

    This photo is from two years ago, but they did a similar
    project this year. They laid most of the floor for a
    kindergarten for a poor village in northern Thailand.
    Only one child had to leave the room during one meal (and that was his choice, I didn't order him out, only suggested). That is huge. Meal times have been a high stress time in recent months. Closely followed by the after school–pre dinner period (homework, piano practise, showers).

    I'm very thankful. God has given me a wonderful week with my boys. Wow, I've even enjoyed them most of the time.

    Now it's Spring Break for CAJ. A one-week holiday, the last one we get before school finishes for the year in early June.

    We only have two boys for the next two days, so life should be fairly peaceful. The third boy has gone to a Soccer Camp till Monday.

    And then on Tuesday we all pack up and go to a four-day OMF conference.

    In the midst of this I'm still working on two magazines. Hopefully I'll have everything done I need to get done before we go on Tuesday!

    And life goes on...

    21 March, 2014

    How come you're coming to Japan?

    I love hearing the stories of how people end up coming to Japan as missionaries. I had two friends pry my story out of me this week and today I've been editing the story of someone who came a few decades ago. 

    Here's another one, this one is more recent (he's coming next month). Levi's been helping me with editing this month and it will be great to meet him. This link goes to his blog and shows him telling how he's ended up coming to Japan.

    20 March, 2014

    One key to our parenting

    Twice this week I've been asked what we use for devotions with our boys. To back up a little, I have to explain that after dinner most nights David and I do one-on-one Bible time with our boys for
    about 10-15 minutes each, sometimes longer. (I'm missing his help with that this week, we take it in turns so that none of them get the same parent each night.)
    Three different age-levels. YP's for 11-15 year olds,
    Mettle for 14-18 year olds, and Topz for 7-11 year olds.

    A couple of years back we struggled to find material that would challenge our kids who're at a Christian school and have been hearing Bible stories since they were born. This led me to a UK group who produce attractive, age-appropriate material. And they ship overseas. So, every two or three months the boys each get a cool magazine in the mail and we use it nightly.

    We've had our eldest using these for about four years now, but in the last year or two we've introduced the younger two to them as well. (It's interesting to go back 3 ½ years to this post and see what we were doing then, it's interesting to note that our eldest's attitude to this activity has improved since then.)

    Each day has a Bible passage and some notes to read. The one our 8 y.o. is doing also usually has a cartoon or some kind of puzzle or activity to complete. It's working well.

    The bonus of this is that we get one-on-one time with each child each day. I've had some great conversations with each of them. Not every day, but every now and then. I think this is vital, especially for keeping a good relationship with teenagers. I like to use the time to help them process their day or to gauge how they're feeling about something. For example, our eldest and I have had many conversations during the sporting seasons about the competitions and how he did, how he was going to approach the next one, etc. Often times this is when I'm answering questions about sex too (you might be surprised at how much of that comes up when we read the Bible).

    After we've done the Bible and notes and chatted, we each pray. This has been a long battle. I laid down a basic formula early on: "give thanks, say sorry, and ask for help". I just love praying individually for my boys in their hearing, love it! 

    Sometimes I love their prayers too. Often they are pretty basic or formulaic, but occasionally there are some gems, times when you see straight into their hearts and see their faith. Other are ones that get repeated later when David and I are alone, like the time our eldest prayed to be more "offensive". He was referring to wrestling, meaning he needed to take the initiative rather than be defensive.

    We used to sing to them too, but now, more often than not, they're playing Christian music in their rooms, so I let the professionals do it.

    I hope that this doesn't sound all over-the-top spiritual. This is what works for our family (please note that we don't do an all-family devotional time). What works for you will probably be different. I just put this up because at least two people were interested, so I guessed that others might be too!

    19 March, 2014

    Satisfaction in Finishing

    This is the revised 1st edition, which came out
    in 2009. The 2nd edition has totally new
    content and I think it's going to look great!
    So excited that the second edition of 31 Days of Prayer for Japan, the publishing project I've been working for OMF over the last eight months, is now at the design stage. We've finally handed all the content over and are awaiting to see what kind of magic the designer will do.

    It's been a challenging project. All the content was written by missionaries on the field, who are experienced and knowledgeable about their topics. A lot of collaboration, consultation, and negotiation has gone into getting it all sorted. That adds up to a lot of emails, Skype, and phone calls. 

    I've worked with Lorna, OMF Japan's personnel manager, we've had great coffee meetings putting this together! As we live more than an hour apart, it's taken some travel and creativity to get together when we did. It's been good to work with a partner in this, each of us brings our own strengths and expertise to the table and we spur one another on. Not to mention that we enjoy each other's company. Our families are similar, in that we only have boys, so we have plenty of common experiences to share. And yes, sometimes we had trouble staying on task!

    This sort of project suits me very well. I work best when I have a lot of independence, yet, have a team to work with. Indeed in my Psychology assessment (part of the application to join OMF) back in 1998, the summary included, "To maintain her interest . . . Wendy needs to both work closely with others and be somewhat autonomous." Yep, I think they pretty much nailed me there.

    But for this project, we're almost done. Such a satisfying feeling.

    Hopefully we'll have the 32-page booklet in our hands before we leave in June. I can't wait. There is something very satisfying about being in the publishing field, in being able to actually hold something that I've had a large part in putting together.

    18 March, 2014

    Japan Photo Answer #49

    Pretty much everyone got this right. The biggest question is: Where was it found?

    In Japan most of the highways between cities are express tollways. To help drivers and passengers make the distance, they have rest stops along the way, where you can get off the highway without going through a tollgate. We love these. Some are large and have multiple shops, and almost always local souvenirs, others are much smaller. There is usually a cheap fast Japanese food option. The car parks are often enormous.

    And there is always a large set of toilets. Only once have I seen the above display at the entrance, though. You guessed it: it is a diagram of the toilet arrangement, with lights indicating which are occupied and which are vacant. I wish I could tell you exactly where I found it, but I didn't record that and can't remember. I can tell you that we found it on the Chuo Expressway between Tokyo and Hokuto on our first November camping trip in 2011.

    For those who are wondering, it is pretty normal these days to have a urinal for little boys in lady's toilets. I think it's a great idea for mums.

    17 March, 2014

    Tired, yet buoyant

    We had a really good weekend. Thanks for those of you who are praying for us! The boys have been 95% great, I'm so thankful. The boys will be home any minute now, so we'll see what kind of evening we'll have! 

    Last night we got to Skype with David. And that was great too, The boys got to tell him all their news. No chatting with Dad tonight, though. They're in tents tonight, in-between two days of working to build something for a nursery (childcare centre). The details were a little sketchy, but usually the kids end up laying concrete for a new building.

    I'm just home from my first "sanity saving" coffee date. I'm a little bit tired today, so I'm especially glad for the coffee: an excuse to drink the real stuff. And glad for my friend, someone I can be totally honest with about parenting struggles!

    But, as I wrote on Friday, the real reason I organised time with a friend for today (and for the next two days) was to ensure that I had quality adult conversation time, giving me something to look forward to, but also to keep me psychologically healthy while David is away. It's working so far.

    The reason I'm tired is because I had trouble putting this book down last night. It is an unusually honest biography by the daughter of Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and Samaritan's Purse. It is unusual, too, in that it shows the struggles of his loved ones, the family he left behind while he travelled around the world helping other people. Somewhat refreshing for a biography of a person in ministry.

    He was a man of extremes, and somewhat emotionally unstable, that had terrible consequences for his family. The main reason I couldn't put it down was I wondered how all this was going to end. Does the story have a good ending, or a bad one? I gave up at 11.30 and put it down before I finished. I'm waiting to tonight to find out the answer, but don't worry, I won't spoil it for you, just in case you decide to read it.

    Ah, there's the first boy home. I'd better go. See you tomorrow.

    PS The other emotional challenge of the day was email on my computer quitting for most of the day. Thankfully two restarts has brought it back again and I'm feeling quite relieved!

    16 March, 2014

    15 March, 2014

    The funeral has begun

    My son is in the flanny and hat (?US=plaid shirt), he was
    Lurvy, Mr Zuckerman's hired man.
    On Thursday I watched my youngest son's class perform a short stage-version of Charlotte's Web. They did a good job, though one of the hardest things to do seemed to be to project their voices. I barely heard any of the lines spoken without mikes and I was only about four rows from the front.

    It's been a while since I saw the other parents from this class. I was shocked to find that people have begun mourning our departure. They've discovered that we're leaving for a year. 

    We're back in that period before a departure that feels like a living funeral. I shocked someone yesterday who started to enthuse to me about a friend who was coming as a new staff member in August. She stopped half-way through and said sadly, "Oh, but you won't be here." 


    I replied, "But it isn't a funeral . . . we'll be back in a year." 

    She was shocked at my words, primarily, I assume, because it used that word: funeral.

    It does feel like a funeral, though. We're going and there is pain in that, and people will miss us. Praise God they will miss us, that means that we've meant something to them. It's hard enough to leave, but when you have repeated conversations like the above it does tend to make it even harder. On Thursday afternoon in the space of a couple of hours I had multiple conversations about us leaving. It just left me feeling empty and sad.

    Thankfully at home we're able to enthuse about the upcoming change. Over breakfast this morning we talked like this:

    "Oh, in Australia, we'll be able to have Weetbix every day," enthused my eldest as he spread his toast with butter.
    "And as much Promite as we want." said his brother, catching onto the spirit.
    I reminded them, "What about lamb, and meat pies, and sausage rolls?"
    The youngest chimed in, "And BBQs and sausages."

    "Remember the space, the large backyards."
    "And the fast cars."
    "No," corrected one boy, "higher speed limits."

    Ah, our hearts were filled with good memories of Australia and how good it will be to be there for a while. I guess for the sake of others I must undergo a living funeral. Thankfully I can come home and rejoice with my family in the things to look forward to while we're away.

    14 March, 2014

    Sole Parenting Time

    This morning my husband left for an eight-day school trip to Thailand. Every year the Senior class goes on a trip to another country (recently it has been Thailand). While they're there they help out a some needy people by constructing something they need, often for a school, and in the process learn a lot about
    They're going almost all the way up to the
    Thai-Myanmar border.

    I've just looked at the post I wrote last year on the same day, and it says most of what I was going to write! Including my embarrassment at admitting that I find it hard, primarily because I have a number of friends who cope with their husbands doing frequent and long trips away.

    However, I've got a couple of things to add to last year's post. Knowing myself, I've organised some things to take care of myself psychologically. 

    1. I've organised some coffee dates with friends, for some good adult conversation and perspective!
    2. I've also frozen some meals, so that I have little cooking to do in the last week at that crazy hour when boys are doing homework, showering, and ravenous too.
    And I'm playing this song often:

    13 March, 2014

    Pushing Out of My Comfort Zone

    I admit it. I'm a coward. Especially when it comes to using what poor Japanese I have.

    But, I have to stop a moment and celebrate a success today. I'm too embarrassed to even tell you in this public place exactly what I managed to do, but I'm celebrating. I hate using the telephone in
    My kitchen is very much part of my comfort zone. The
    telephone on the left of the photo, is not!
    English, but today I made a phone call in Japanese. It was a small thing, but something that needed to be done and done by me. I did it without confusion and without making any vast errors. Then I did a victory pump in the air after I finished!

    In the early years of being a missionary you feel as though you're miles from any comfort zone you might have once had. As time moves on, though, and you regain a new comfort zone. Things you can do with ease, places you like to go, people you like to be with. 

    But your comfort zone remains far smaller than it is in your home country. It doesn't take much to bump you out of it. A broken pipe, a delayed train, a medical emergency. These things, small and large, we take take in our stride in our home countries, in our native language. These things become much harder in another country.

    The challenge is to not let yourself remain in that narrow place where you feel comfortable. You can't help the unexpected things, but to regularly push yourself out of the zone is one of the hardest things to do.

    So, today I'm celebrating and hoping that this tiny success will motivate me to keep pushing out.

    12 March, 2014

    Life goes on, ready or not!

    Here's what life looks like for us this week:

    • The boys have various projects due, including some biggies. One on the human brain and another on deforestation. I'm trying not to get too involved in either of these. I tell myself, "You've already passed 5th and 9th grades, it's a part of them learning responsibility."
      This is a Cherry Blossom (sakura). No, they're not
      out yet, but other blooms are. Today's 16 degrees and
      it's starting to feel a lot like spring. Of course Friday
      is forecast to be rainy and 9 degrees, but that's
      spring in Japan!
    • The high schoolers have a Spring Banquet coming up. It's a girls and boys go in pairs, kind of formality. Our son, for the first time in his life, has asked a girl on a "date". He doesn't see it like that. She's just a mate who he hangs around with at lunch-time. But he did have to ask. New territory for us all!
    • David is going to Thailand on Friday morning with the seniors for eight nights. I can feel my anxiety rising, despite trying to remain calm!
    • Plugging away at home assignment preparation:
      • talking with the ladies who'll be living in our house (have I told you that yet?),
      • seeking a home for our turtle and car, 
      • fielding emails from Australia about setting up house there,
      • discussing when we can replace this computer: here or there,
      • and so on!
    • I'm working on the magazine, as usual. 
      • We're trying to get the spring issue out soon after the winter issue (which won't be out till the first week of April). 
      • Working out details with the person who's volunteered to do part of my job while we're in Australia.
    • I'm tidying up the 31 Days of Prayer for Japan project for OMF. Searching out photos, marketing etc.
    • This afternoon, I'm about to go to my third performance of Charlotte's Web. It is a CAJ tradition for the third grade class. This is the first year we've had our youngest in a grade where both his brothers have also been in that grade. I saw my eldest's class perform this play six years ago, somehow missed my middle son's class, it must have been a schedule clash.
    Yes, life goes on and you either go with it, or you get dragged along behind. 

    By the way, does anyone in Tokyo want a turtle for a year?

    11 March, 2014

    Three years later today

    I've been collecting news stories as I've come across them in the last couple of days, particularly in my FB feed. Please take the time to look at some of these links today and pray for this nation that's still in pain.

    Here are some poignant photos of what things look like now in the region, where the devastation is still evident in many places.

    This is a very rough map of the general area
    that was affected, though it did go higher and
    lower than this, the tsunami was worst in this
    This article shows us of the mental health stress and loneliness in the region. We see an example of someone refusing to get help, preferring to deal with their pain alone, and blaming herself for not doing one small thing that could have saved her loved one.

    Shockingly, the article also says this:
    Some daycare centers don’t celebrate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day any more because so many children lost at least one parent.
    This article has some statistics:
    As a result of the tsunami and Fukushima crisis, among almost 270,000 evacuees as of last month, 100,000 are in temporary housing. It remains unclear how many more years it will take to build all the needed post-disaster housing. 
    Japan has so far built only 3.5% of the new housing promised to refugees in heavily affected Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.

    This story is of a 57 year old widower who has taken up diving so he can look for his wife's remains in the ocean. The story is well written and takes you to the heart of those who lost loved ones.

    This is a very sad article about young children in the Fukushima prefecture that have been cloistered inside for most of the last three years.
    And the impact is now starting to show, with children experiencing falling strength, lack of coordination, some can not even ride a bicycle, and emotional issues like shorter tempers, officials and educators say.
    “There are children who are very fearful. They ask before they eat anything, ‘does this have radiation in it?’ and we have to tell them it’s okay to eat,” said Mitsuhiro Hiraguri, director of the Emporium Kindergarten in Koriyama, some 55 km west of the Fukushima nuclear plant.
    For those concerned about the radiation risks. It is still hard to know what is the truth, what is being withheld by the company and the government, and what is media hype. So I'm not going to put any links here related specifically to that issue.
    A little girl who was only 4 months old at the time of the earthquake, she was rescued after 68 hrs of being trapped in their house. She's now a healthy three year old looking forward to going to kindergarten in her uniform. Here's the story: http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0001084528

    This story highlights the mental health of middle school students in a school that's evacuated from close to the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Imagine being a chaplain in this school? The school nurse finds herself listening repeatedly to the pain of these children.

    10 March, 2014

    Three years later

    Tomorrow at about this time we will remember the big earthquake that hit Japan three years ago. Of course we've not forgotten, but somehow the anniversary seems big. I can't believe it is only three years, it seems longer.

    Last week a missionary from the stricken area mentioned that this will be a dark time. If you think about it, that makes sense. About 18,000 people disappeared from there forever. They left behind many more who still mourn their rapid departure.

    Empty shelves in one of our local shops in the
    aftermath of the earthquake three years ago.
    Those of us who experienced the earthquake and the shocking aftermath of that (yes, even those like us who didn't experience any damage or loss of life), find our thoughts easily switch back to those days, weeks, and months. A few weeks ago when transport was disrupted by two big snow storms meant that items were missing off shelves in the shops for a couple of days. Our minds quickly zoomed back to the time after the earthquake when we wondered when we'd next be able to buy toilet paper or yoghurt. A mild form of post-traumantic disorder, I suppose.

    What's still shocking is that so many people are still living disrupted lives. Many who moved into temporary housing in the months after the disaster are still living there. The abandoned house-foundations are still bare in most places. Communities that once existed, exist no longer and seem no closer to being rebuilt. The statistics on the mental state of those who survived is almost as horrific as the disaster itself.

    And, of course, the area around the Fukushima nuclear power plant is still abandoned. At the time, the nuclear issue divided the nation, the world even. That issue still divides people from one another, it divides families. For those living in the Fukushima prefecture (state) it is a controversial topic that they tend not to talk about.

    So, tomorrow we remember. 
    We remember those lost. 
    We remember that we live in a fragile country. 
    And we remember we're not in control.

    In a nation of less than 1% Christians, not many will remember this Bible passage that became precious during those dark days.

    Psalm 26:1-3 NIV UK
    God is our refuge and strength,
        an ever-present help in trouble.
    Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
        and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 
    though its waters roar and foam
        and the mountains quake with their surging.
    Though we're not in control, it is possible to know the One who is. How we long for Japanese people to know this!

    09 March, 2014

    Another Fabulous Retreat

    I'm still feeling really quite exhausted after the week past, but I expected that. Retreats for me aren't about catching up on sleep or rest. They are about filling up. 

    Filling up on friendship. 
    Filling up on worship.
    Filling up God's word. 

    And, in this case I also got to fill up on writing due to the writer's retreat just prior to the Women's Retreat. 

    The theme of the Women in Ministry retreat was "Called not Driven". Our speaker honed in
    on that we have to figure out why God wants us to do, set goals, and be disciplined. It all sounded a bit like hard work, but the alternative is being driven by others expectations and dragged around by our own needs and emotions. 

    I realised that I do already have goals, especially personal ones. These help me stay on track and be productive. I also realised that I'm pretty good at saying no. So, it was encouraging to realise these things.

    Our speaker also encouraged us to nurture our psychological selves by allowing ourselves "luxuries". Even something like setting the table beautifully or listening to classical music or dressing nicely. These are things we can neglect in our earnest desire to serve others. 

    I enjoyed the worship time. I always do. Singing in English is such a luxury and a joy. 

    One new song we learned has stuck in my head.

    "I Am"
    (performed by Crowder)

    [Verse 1:]
    There’s no space that His love can’t reach
    There’s no place that we can’t find peace
    There’s no end to Amazing Grace
    Take me in with your arms spread wide
    Take me in like an orphan child
    Never let go, never leave my side.

    [Chorus: (2X)]
    I am,
    Holding on to You.
    I am,
    Holding on to You.
    In the middle of the storm,
    I am Holding on,
    I am!

    [Verse 2:]
    Love like this, Oh my God to find!
    I am overwhelmed what a joy divine!
    Love like this sets our hearts on fire!

    [Chorus: (2X)]

    [Verse 3:]
    This is my Resurrection Song
    This is my Hallelujah Come
    This is why to You I run
    This is my Resurrection Song
    This is my Hallelujah Come
    This is why to You I run
    There’s no space that His love can’t reach
    There’s no place that we can’t find peace
    There’s no end to Amazing Grace

    [Chorus: (2X)]

    The chorus, particularly is stuck in my head. Listen to the whole song here.

    The chorus could be misunderstood theologically, but it holds two meanings: of us clinging to God, but so much more that God is holding onto us.

    Yep, in the front row again!
    But again, one of the highlights for me was friendship. Being with other women. Drenching myself, in fact, in friendship. 

    We had a seminar on the emotional needs of missionary women. The speaker had done a survey and according to that, by far the largest emotional need of missionary women (and women in general) is friendships. 

    So I'm pretty normal when I need my women friends to remain mentally healthy and find that that is one of the wonderful benefits to going to a retreat over a number of years. You develop friendships that deepen over time and nurture my soul. As the only girl in my house I have to go out intentionally to meet my need for women friends. I certainly feel like my cup is full right now, even if I'm exhausted.

    Soaking in friendship
    It's taken me a long time to grow to appreciate Japanese public bathing. But I find that now I can relax and enjoy taking a bath with my friends at a retreat like this. Sounds strange to Australian ears, I'm sure. But instead of hanging out over supper tables I hung out in the bath after the evening session was over. So many good conversations I that had trouble getting out of the bath. Most times my "bath" took over an hour.

    Next year I'll miss this. Being in Australia, I'll be indulging in other friendships, but I'm sad I'll miss this special retreat. Hanging out with missionary friends who know what it is like to live in Japan, even if they don't know my home country, is a special experience. Shared experiences are catalysts for strong relationships.

    I'm thankful, though, for the abundance of friendships that God's given me — both sides of the ocean. Any of my friends who're reading this, count yourselves thanked!