30 April, 2014

Common misconceptions about missionaries

It's very much on my mind that we'll be going back to Australia in under nine weeks. Someone asked me yesterday if I'll continue to blog while we're there. It never occurred to me that I'd stop. 

I blog about what this ordinary missionary family gets up to in life. When we're in Australia we often feel even more like missionaries than we do here, because we spend much more time talking about what we "do" rather than just doing it. So it seems perfectly natural to continue to blog.

One of other ways we feel more like missionaries in Australia is because we run up against some interesting questions and misconceptions about who we are and what we do. I can't say that we've encountered all the below, but I think these are probably all out there, whether or not people are able to articulate them:

 all work in third world countries.

move from country to country.

are unsettled or resisting "settling down".

are spiritual superheroes.

are very unusual individuals.

are all evangelists or medical people.

live in poor conditions.

are serious all the time.

are all Westerners in non-Western countries.

don't encounter the sorts of problems/temptations that non-missionaries encounter, like depression, stress, breakdown, marital issues, health issues, cancer etc.

are all amazingly fluent at the local language.

This seems to be a common topic for missionary bloggers to write about. Here's a post by a missionary in Africa with an interesting list of misconceptions he's come across. Here's another one with Five Big Misconceptions.

Do you have some more you could add to the above list?

29 April, 2014

Non designer's designing

Some time ago production editor of the magazine I edit lent me a cool book. It's called "The Non-Designer's Design Book".

It's kind-of scary, though. I'd been designing newsletters for more than a decade and finally I read something by a professional. I was a bit embarrassed. But it certainly has helped me improve our newsletter's design.

Here is a recent Kids newsletter that I designed.
You can see these principles at work here (at
least I hope I've done a pretty good job).
These days with desk-top publishing being so accessible, many people are designing things. This includes missionaries who are writing prayer letters every month. Just in case this is you, I'll outline some basics from the book for you, so that you can improve your presentation.

There are four basic principles. See here for a more detailed version of what follows, plus great examples.
  1. Proximity
  2. Alignment
  3. Repetition
  4. Contrast
Items relating to each other should be closely grouped. This reduces clutter and assists the reader to negotiate their way around the page without too much grief or stress. This includes grouping your white space together rather than distributing it all over the place. It means things like the start of your writing should be straight under the headline.

Nothing should be just plonked on the page wherever. I think this has probably been my biggest failing. Elements should have a visual link with other elements on the page. The easiest way to create a link is to align them on the right or on the left (try to avoid centering). For example, if you have two photos or boxes at the bottom of a page, make sure they line up.

Make sure you repeat some aspect of the design throughout your piece. For example, don't use 10 different fonts in a couple of pages. Try to keep the size of your font consistent. This goes for colours, layout, and extra elements like bullet points. Try to get some consistency so that your work has coherence.

Create interest by differentiating similar items from each other, but the differences has to be big enough to notice. So use dramatically different sizes, fonts, shapes, shades, spacing. For example:

this      &         this

aren't dramatically different, though they are different fonts.

this       &         this

are the same font, but dramatically different in size.

I'm thankful to have become aware of these basic principles, though I'm far from being a professional designer. As I not only design my own newsletters, I work with designers, it is good to have a little bit of a concrete idea about good design. 

28 April, 2014

Laughter is good

We're getting more and more, "Oh, we'll miss you!" comments as our departure gets closer. I don't really like those comments, though I guess I should be happy that people will miss us. It just reminds me that our leaving will cause pain for more people than just ourselves.

This was me at our conference in March.
My team had to dress me and another team
member up for a Spring Fashion Parade.
We also played various other games.
We laughed all night long and it was fabulous.
However I one comment I received on Saturday as we packed up the gym was a surprise. A friend said, "We'll miss your sense of fun." (Or that's the essence of what she said.) 

It isn't something I thought I was known for, but it is something I really enjoy. One of the great things I enjoy about Thrift Shop is laughing with other people. I do find myself drawn to those with whom I can have a good laugh.

I've heard it said that humour is an essential characteristic for a missionary. This blogger agreed. Unfortunately our work is often too serious and we don't get many opportunities to laugh.

I appreciate it that most OMF Conferences include a Fun Night. I guess it would be easy to think that that is an optional extra, or something to help lighten the schedule load. But I think that it is a very important part of ministering to missionaries, and each of us ministering to one another. 

A couple of years ago I had a conversation at a conference with someone who was doing relief work in the disaster zone. She commented that the fun night was really good because, "There isn't much to laugh at where we are."

The benefits of laughter seem to be well documented scientifically. Check out this link.

What's made you laugh recently?

27 April, 2014

April 2014 Thrift Shop

We entered Thrift Shop season this year with only three things on our "To Buy" list, but we've ended up with a lot more than that. Let's just say we're suckers for a bargain? 

Mind you that was the adults' "To Buy" list, the boys had other ideas. It really is the only time of the year that they have free range to shop, and it is like Christmas for them, in terms of getting "new" stuff!

Here are some, but not all of the things we bought. I think most of the things not photographed were purchases (or freebies) that the boys got.
A giant casserole dish to cater to my family's growing appetites.

A bunch of books that will probably be returned to the Thrift Shop "library"
sometime in the future.
I shared this story on Facebook yesterday.
On Friday afternoon, after Thrift Shop closed
for the day, I discovered an email sent that
day about a band concert our middle son
has to play in next week. What we didn't know
before then was that he was required to wear
dressy clothes, including better-than-sneakers.
He normally refuses to wear such clothes, and, never
having had an reason to have to wear these types
of clothes before, there are none in his wardrobe.
Turns out that we were able to find a whole set
of clothes for free for him during the ½ hour free
shopping allowed to those who spend about three
hours cleaning up the gym after the event.
God's provision indeed!
Once I get a replacement pedal for my sewing machine,
I'll be all ready to try making some new skirts. Looks great!
Some DVD action. Watching NCIS being one of our favourite
relaxations as a couple in the evenings. Men in Black has been
recommended as something our boys would enjoy.
A brand-name hoodie for our next winter,
cost only a couple of dollars.
More relaxation time.
This one also made it onto my Facebook page. I bought a frozen yoghurt/ice cream maker at Thrift Shop for ¥1,000 (about $AU10), it was more than ¥8,000 new.
Frozen yoghurt is rare in Japan. 
This was one of those unexpected finds that makes Thrift Shop like an exciting treasure hunt (I've never even thought about buying one of these). I didn't even see it out on the floor, but happened to be working with its now former owner for two hours at the register on Friday afternoon. She happened to mention that it hadn't sold yet and my interest was piqued. We love our frozen desserts around here, and frozen yoghurt is rare in Japan. After a quick call to David I took the plunge and bought it. I can't wait to try it out!!!!
Boy toys found by our youngest.
These were finds by our eldest. A Japanese abacus (soroban), a dice game, cute container and more books..
More boy toys...it feels like we've discarded a bunch of younger toys (at least two or three boxes) and gained toys that appeal to older kids. At least we're not having to pack up and move everything to another location in nine weeks...
Another boy's toy. Found this floating in the bathroom sink when I returned from working yesterday afternoon.
This was my great toy find. We already have a couple of tubs of Zoob,
a construction toy that is not cheap (it was a gift). But we've
never had WHEELS. And if you know any boys at all you know
that wheels make a big difference! This toy kept two boys awake on
Thursday night!
Even big boys aren't immune to the lure of plastic swords. 
What was bought was the plastic "stand". Suits their HeroScape
collection. Discovered by our middle son.
A cool Ikea alarm clock that also functions as a timer, thermometer
and clock, depending on which way up you sit it. Also bought for a couple of dollars. It was for our middle son. I'm yet to hear it function...
This was the real thing we were looking for: luggage. We have a larger
luggage allowance than we've ever had before and bigger boys with larger
clothes. These will come in handy and the three
bags cost only about AU$12 in total.
More books and some clothing. Shorts and t-shirts.
Wooly mammoth. Shhhh, this is for a birthday present for our youngest son this week.
And possibly the cutest find by our eldest: Top Trumps
cards to add to our collection with cute dog pictures!
Pulling apart the shoe-display stands.
Someone who reads this blog urged me to take these two photos of
our two younger boys helping with the clean-up of the gym
yesterday afternoon after Thrift Shop was all over (for three hours). They both
did a fabulous job for no monetary reward and we're very proud of them.
Their older brother was in the paid-crew of high schoolers who were helping with heavy lifting outside and in the storage area of the cafeteria basement.
One of the staff members made a short video (less than 4 minutes) showing some of the action of Thrift Shop. I recommend checking it out:

26 April, 2014

Soooo tired....

Friday, with various things for sale and senior students doing various
projects for their "comprehensive" assessment.
Another Thrift Shop is over. The headmaster of the school described it as like a garage sale crossed with a block party on steroids (not quite his exact words, but close enough). It is an enormous event. 

My husband waiting for a sponge to be
thrown at him.
Today I worked from 8.30 till five with two breaks of about 20-30 minutes: working one of the eight registers for four hours, then cleaning up and turning it back into a functional gym. I'm really tired and I'm not the only one. An event like this takes hundreds of volunteer hours. It's such a great way to get to know other parents and staff, as we serve together. 
Early Saturday morning when the doors had just opened.
I'm working on collecting some photos of our treasures gleaned, but that will keep till tomorrow (after I've made a birthday cake). Today I bring you just a few photos from the last few days at Thruft Shop itself. Mostly pretty bad photos, I've really been more focused on serving than photo taking. 

25 April, 2014

Photo Answer #51

Okay, the guesses to this photo question were (most of these are on Facebook where I post a link to all my blog posts):
  • planter
  • modern art bench
  • tap cover for ease of turning
  • for keeping socks in pairs when washing
  • garden bed decoration
  • tiny garden beds
  • fancy bricks
  • jelly moulds (US=jello)
  • candle holders
But the most frequent guess was actually the correct one: umbrella stand. Here's proof.

24 April, 2014

High Profile Overseas Visitors

One of the pile of clothes I was working on today: these are just jackets.
While Australian news has been awash with reports about William and Kate, we have our own celebrity news here. The US President landed yesterday and is here until tomorrow. It's interesting to see the cross-cultural challenges that such visits provoke.

For example, how low should the US President bow when meeting the Japanese emperor? See this report.

How much sushi should Obama eat while dining with the Prime Minister? It's obvious from the comments that follow the article that those non-Japanese people don't understand that eating your whole meal is a high value of Japanese people. Additionally, I note that Obama did the American thing of no small talk. That isn't the Japanese way, either.

Justin Bieber has also been here this week and caused controversy, in a way that he seems to be talented at.

Thrift Shop is held in the gym, quite a large gym. This is the foyer where they
were sorting and labelling non-clothing donations yesterday.

I now need to go and chill for a little bit before bed because I'm tired, yet wound up. We're half-way through this CAJ Thrift Shop. All the preparation is done and now we're onto buying and selling. Thankfully the weather looks great and hopefully we'll have crowds of people!

23 April, 2014

22 April, 2014

Wow, God's weaving

One small thing that's encouraged us in the last week would seem almost like a lucky coincidence, except that we know differently.

Here's the story:

Last year we camped around the north and eastern sides of Hokkaido. One weekend we
Nishi Okoppe, nestled in a valley.
spent in a small town (Nishi Okoppe, 1,190 people) with a family we knew from CAJ, but who'd moved up to Hokkaido (if you want to read more about that day, check out this post). 

We camped in the local park free of charge (but no shower or bath). On the Sunday they invited us to worship with them in a local couple's house. For worship we sat around their dining room table and watched a live broadcast of a church service in Sapporo. This is the only church there is in this little area. 

That local couple has been praying for a local evangelical church to be established. We told them of a church plant planned for a nearby larger town that OMF would be involved in. They were excited to hear that news.

We were thrilled last week to hear that at the second ever worship service of that church in Nayoro, this Japanese couple joined our missionary colleagues, even though it is nearly an hour's drive away.

So delightful to catch glimpses of God's bigger picture. Who else could have worked this out? An Australian missionary family who happened to be on holidays and meet up with friends we knew from Tokyo who introduced us to a local Christian couple. This missionary family happened to know one piece of information that would make a huge difference for this couple: that a church would be starting in their area. 

The missionaries who are starting this church in Nayoro probably needed this encouragement too! This is what they wrote to us:
It's exciting to know that the Lord is weaving all these meetings together for the extension of his Kingdom here in Japan!
Amazing! Praising God!

Week 3: Photo A Day

For anyone who didn't catch these on Facebook this week. This is a bit of fun I'm enjoying this month, responding to this photo meme.

Day 15: I'm reading these. 

I'm doing some quiet reflection in my reading leading up to Easter, I'm re-reading these books off my shelf.

Day 16: my vice

I haven't been sure what to do with this topic so I looked the word up. One of its meanings is "A slight personal failing; a foible". 

So, taking a somewhat oblique view on that, here's one of mine. As a result of a disgusting slimy wet change room I was forced to use in Primary School when we had swimming lessons, I find it very difficult to tolerate walking barefoot on wet, hard surfaces in public swimming/bathing facilities. I don't have so much trouble in Japanese onsens/public baths because they are generally kept so beautifully clean. This photo is of the bathroom at one of campsites we stayed at in Hokkaido.

Day 17: something I've learned. 

This week I learned two things about papier mâché
1. It doesn't wash off clothes easily in a washing machine. In the future I would protect the floor with newspaper, not a sheet!
2. Though there is a Japanese word for it, it is relatively unknown. I base this on the discussion I had with my language exchange passengers yesterday. One is an artist and owner of a stationery store and had never heard of papier mâché, in English or Japanese.

Day 18: good
Today was far from a quiet, contemplative Good Friday. We had school this morning and a crazy-loud inside carnival at school in the early afternoon. Then we've had five boys wrestling for hours in the lounge room. I'm on my own just now and can hear joyful boy-wrestler sounds. I love this: being a mum of boys and bringing joy to other boys by gifting them with hanging with our boys here.
 In the space between all the above I've been able to reflect on what makes today "Good". Part of it is that what God's given me to do in this life suits me so well. But ultimately it is what I've taken a photo of. The knowledge that Jesus died for me and thus demonstrated his love for all people. 

Day 19: money
We have a tiny cache of international currency from our limited travels. We haven't been to all these places, so I don't know how we got everything. But in here is money from Australia, Peru, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Thailand, US, UK, NZ, Hong Kong, Singapore, Scotland and even some no-longer-used one and two cent pieces from Australia. 
What always amazes us when we go from Japan to Australia is how large and heavy Australian coins are. Thankfully it isn't necessary to carry as many coins there as it is in Japan.   

Day 20: eggs

Easter Egg Hunts are not a part of my family tradition. But our boys have enjoyed being a part of our Japanese church's giant Sunday School Egg Hunt on Easter Sunday over the last nine years. It's a big event for the church. This year they had 75 kids participate (usually under 25 attend weekly). My two older boys had the privilege of helping hide eggs. I'm so thankful to be a part of a church that holds Christ as central and doesn't hesitate to shine His light in their local community.

Day 21: close
This is how close our house is to our neighbours' house!

21 April, 2014

Is the group still more important in Japan?

One big difference between Japan (and indeed many/most Asian countries and Western Countries is a different emphasis on group vs individual. In Japan the group is more important than the individual. 

This is hard to understand when talking in generalities, but I've grown in understanding as I've lived here that it generally means you consider the group and their rules before you consider your own needs and desires.

Needless to say we foreigners fail on this point often.

One example of this was in the phrases I wrote about last week, in apologising for leaving before someone else by using osakini, you are saying the group is more important than your need to leave and apologising that you really do need to go.

What confused me, and still confuses me a bit is that just because the group is more important doesn't mean that individuals can't make decisions for themselves, because they clearly do.

It's interesting, though, to read this story about a teacher-mum who had to make a choice between being present at her new students' entrance ceremony and present at her son's ceremony at a different school. She chose her son's ceremony and has been criticised by some, but supported by others in that decision. It seems that things are a changing, albeit very slowly.

Have you got other examples that you can share with us? Perhaps from other group-minded cultures?

20 April, 2014

10 weeks (yes I'm counting)

10 weeks today till we fly to Australia for a year. 

How do I feel? 
This was the end of our first home assignment. This photo
brings with it all sorts of emotions. Changing countries is
just emotional!

Increasingly less able to hold "homesickness" for Australia at bay. 

Also I'm struggling to stay present here. It is all too tempting to be thinking and talking about the future all the time. I'm finding it difficult to remain motivated to do the work I still have to do. 

Practically speaking we're in pretty good shape. Knowing we won't have to pack up our whole house and move out is a big relief. 

We've also secured tickets that allow us to take 40kg each! What a luxury! That means we won't have to be posting things. It also means we need a few more bags...

I'm pinching myself a tiny bit that we're finishing up our third four-year term in Japan. I can't quote you the exact statistic, but I'm well aware that most missionaries don't last even 10 years in this country. That we're still here is amazing and only God could have done it!

I'm tired, though. I'm looking forward to that short holiday we're planning between here and there. It won't be long enough, but it will be a start. There's a tent waiting for us in Australia. I'm looking forward to sneaking away to use it. 

Meanwhile here we face a big week: Thrift Shop. Plus a birthday early next week. (My "baby's" turning nine!) Big days ahead. I've planned an easy menu for the week and I fancy it will be light-on blog-wise too. 

19 April, 2014

A boy-filled couple of days

We've had quite a time over the last two days. Note that doesn't say a "quiet time". No Good Friday holiday in Japan. Easter is relatively unknown in Japan. No Easter eggs.

School had a half day yesterday, but then they had a special event from noon for a couple of hours with the high schoolers putting on a carnival that included food and games, raising money for the school to give towards a project in the Philippines.

It turned out to be a cold, rainy day, entirely gloomy (about 12 degrees Celsius cooler than the day before, down from mid 20s to low double digits). But that wasn't the atmosphere in the rainy-day venue of the cafeteria. It was quite the place to hang out, if you could cope with the noise! 

I enjoyed a small portion of Sri Lankan chicken and rice and hung out with friends as we watched the chaos swirl around us. Kids paying to throw wet sponges at teachers and administration. Others paying to arm wrestle with members of the wrestling team (and usually winning, they were good sports). Face painting, balloon sculpting etc. A fun day was had by most (two of my boys went home early, it was too busy and loud for them).
Japanese futons make wonderful temporary wrestling mats.

Then I can home with two more, one of our own and a friend. Then an hour or so later we went and fetched another boy. So, five boys: 14, 11, nearly 11, 10, and nearly 9! Quite a collection. 

Wrestling was the first item on the agenda and they went at it hard. Particularly popular was the chance to wrestle our eldest. It was common for a bit to see him with one or more boy attached to him!

Then they stopped for some Ben 10 DVD action, then a simple dinner of hot dogs, potato wedges and salad.

After dinner we shuffled them through the shower and they took in some more Ben 10 then played HeroScape (war game) and headed for bed. It was all rather civil, really. Everyone in bed by 10, including us. Not all asleep, but in bed and quiet.

HeroScape before bed.

This morning things proceeded along a similar vein with similar components. One boy left at 11, another teenager joined us at 12.30 and one left at 2. Quite the revolving door. At least notable for our family. We generally live quieter lives than this, at least socially. Our family's makeup tends towards the introverted side and we do most of our socialising outside of our home.

I've loved these 24 hours, though. None of the boys who come have brothers their own age. It is delightful to hear the sounds of boys enjoying being together. Not to say it was perfect. We've had a couple of blow-ups, some times when we've had to put a lid on things (like toilet talk). But generally it's been a sweet celebration of boy-ness.

Today while they've been playing, I've been working my way through a recipe I found in the latest Women's Weekly magazine. (This isn't quite the same recipe, but I can link to it!) 
Don't these look mouthwatering! Even more so to those of
us who have hardly ever had them in the last 12 years.

Hot Cross Buns. Being a yeast recipe, it's taken a while, but they're finally cooked and cooling on the stove top just now. Though my nose is all blocked up (I've got a mild cold), it still smells amazing. Hot Cross Buns are another thing we can't buy here and I've never been bold enough to try making them. 

David did try last year, with moderate success. But this recipe isn't too hard and all the ingredients we had easily available—not to be taken for granted, I flick past 90% of recipes in this magazine because I can't get all the ingredients. I know they're supposed to be eaten on Good Friday, but in Australia they are sold for months before and after Easter, it seems.

Later this afternoon the two teens (our son and his friend) will head off to pick up a female classmate, "just a friend", to go to the high school banquet. So we'll have a quiet evening with just two boys. I think we will need it!

18 April, 2014

Encouragement to continue

It doesn't actually take too much encouragement for me to continue writing and editing, but I never shrug it aside when it comes. Here's some from the previous couple of weeks.

This is an excerpt from an email I received this week from a lady I've never met, but who read an article by me in our home denomination's magazine, The Messenger:
The [article] I read in The Messenger was called “Missionary Life and Grief”. . . It really touched me and I felt for you, “mother to mother”. . . 
I pray . . . that He will hold you in his powerful hand every moment as you rest in Him. I pray that He will give you peace and wisdom in every struggle, that He will sustain you in times of pain and sorrow, and that always your whole family will be filled with joy!
The latest issue of Japan Harvest
We're very thankful to all who pray for us. But it is unusual to hear in such detail how someone is praying for us! A wonderful email.

This in an email from a fellow OMFer about our last magazine issue:
I just wanted to write to say thank you to you and to all the contributors of the Winter edition of Japan Harvest which I received in the post today and could not put down and read in one sitting and just had to thank you.
I'm just thankful that I'm able to use the gifts God's given me to help and encourage others. It is such encouragement as we prepare to go back to Australia and tell people about what work God's given us to do over the last four years. 

Yes, we can truly agree with what Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus:

Ephesians 2:7-10 (The Messenger):
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

17 April, 2014

Photo answer #50

This one didn't turn out to be too hard, at least the answer came very quickly from a few

But before we get there, it is fun to brainstorm about this mind-boggling product, Maple Flavoured Almond Poodle Blend. Here are Deb's fun suggestions:
A large vat of poodles from which is extracted...
Or a type of almond hair conditioner for frizzy hair...
Or a carpet freshener for poodle accidents in a maple scent....
Ah, the possibilities are delightful.
The true answer lies here: http://www.justhungry.com//almond-poodle. Basically it is a mangled French word that means "powder". So it is Powdered Almonds.

The Japanese language has a tendency to do this, because they only have 46 sounds, they squeeze foreign words into those 46 sounds and the result can be unrecognisable. For example, Makudonarudo is Japanese for McDonalds!

In the case of the "Almond Poodles", they've taken a foreign word (poudre), squeezed it into Japanese (puudoru or プードル) and then "translated" back in "Romaji" script (ABCs) with an unfortunate result.

16 April, 2014

No more karate

Just over a year ago we had a surprise entry into the karate world. Our two younger boys joined a karate club in a nearby city. My husband's faithfully ridden with them every Wednesday afternoon and I've faithfully put dinner on the table a full hour early to get them there.
When they started we had the start-up costs of their uniform. So we said they must stick at it for a year then they could decide if they wanted to give it up.
Our youngest son has been a bit challenged by the discipline required, in contrast his older brother's self-control has been rewarded by moving up several belts in just a year. 

However they've both decided to stop. I was able to watch this performance at their last training night. The four boys (all from CAJ) choose a "kata" (set series of moves) to perform for everyone and did very well.

So, for the first time in nearly five years we have no after-school extra curricular activities that we have to get them to. (Our youngest still has piano and choir, but they are at school, and don't affect me much at all, except for practises at home.) They did swimming for nearly four years, then karate. Now nothing. It feels nice, actually. A break before we go back to Australia and try out having them all involved in a wrestling club in Brisbane!