24 September, 2014

Single Missionaries and Loneliness

I came across a blog post today that nicely complements the article I wrote about loneliness and missionaries

I've had two single missionaries tell me that I didn't mention singles in my article. That was a deliberate miss, the article was short and written from personal experience. I don't have experience as a single missionary. However this article does a pretty good job. 

Though I am a little doubtful about the section where the author talks about helping singles find a marriage partner. Most singles I know are tired of people blundering into their lives and trying to "fix them" by finding them. I certainly would be very reluctant to meddle with someone's life like this unless I was very close to them.

23 September, 2014

Overview of the weekend

Some of those at OMF Queensland Day Conference,
praying for Japan.
It's the September holidays at last. Americans would call it "Spring Break", though it is two weeks long, a bit bigger than a break. We're travelling around Queensland visiting family (Toowoomba and Springsure) and stopping to do some camping in-between.

But I want to give you a bit of a run down on how our crazy weekend went.

Warm-up prior to the wrestling meet.
On Saturday we were awake before 5, and left home at 6.15am. We took our eldest son to the airport and waved him off on his first aeroplane trip on his own. He flew down to Melbourne in order to be in time for weigh-in (on Saturday) prior to the National Youth Wrestling Championships on the Sunday.
A tall, echo-filled gym. The acoustics were dreadful.

Then the rest of us went to the Queensland OMF annual conference, which was, thankfully, only 15 minutes drive from the airport. We spent 9.00-3.30 meeting people and answering questions. We spoke up front for while too. 

At 3.30 we farewelled my parents and the other two boys, who were going to spend the next two days with their grandparents, and took off for the airport ourselves. At 7.20 we landed in chilly Melbourne, caught a taxi and met up with our wrestler, his coach and teammate at the motel.

The next morning the guys headed off for a high protein breakfast at McDonalds and David and I enjoyed a quiet (and lower calorie) breakfast alone at the motel. Then we walked down the street to Victoria University and spent the rest of the day watching wrestling.

Our son was in a category of three, including himself. He wrestled hard and beat both his competitors, winning gold. It was great to be there to witness it and support him. And I got my wrestling fix!

Struggling to gain control of his opponent.
Apparently there were only 45 competitors (from 6 to 18 years of age) at this national school-age competition, which gives you an idea of the size of the sport in Australia. Probably, though, there is double or triple that number of school-age wrestlers in the whole country. But the travel time and costs of travel were prohibitive. If it had been held in Queensland, for example, we would have had all three of our boys involved in the competition.

But we're getting a good picture of wrestling in Australia. Small, but the standards are still fairly high. If any of our sons want to pursue the sport after they finish school and are living here, there is scope to continue into the senior (18+ years of age) ranks.

Spending the day with Jan was a blessing, even if I did end
up with a scratchy throat from trying to talk over all
the noise!
An unexpected outcome was catching up with an OMFer (Jan McCalman) who once served in Japan, but who we hadn't seen for several years. She now lives in Melbourne and met us at the wrestling. It was her first time watching the sport and she enjoyed it, except for the little kids who often got quite emotional when they lost.

We caught a 7pm flight back to Brisbane and by 10.30 were home. Exhausted, but happy that we had taken the plunge and explored something we previously knew nothing about: Australian Freestyle/Olympic-style Wrestling. We brought back videos of our son's bouts, but nothing beats being there. So glad we could be there with him.

21 September, 2014

Being a Wrestling Mum Today!

Today we're in Melbourne, supporting our eldest son at the Australian National Youth Championships. This is the first formal wrestling meet we've ever been to in Australia, so we're interested to see how it all works. The thing I'm most intrigued about (besides how my son does against his fellow competitors) is the huge number of categories they have.

In Japan, among the American-style international schools, there are middle schoolers and high schoolers and they don't wrestle at the same tournaments. The middle schoolers are organised according to weight and experience. Amongst the high schoolers there is only about 12 weight categories. No age categories are used in either group. But check out this set of categories. Phew!
I'll let you know later how it all goes!

19 September, 2014

The joy of working from a position of strength

Missionaries often work from a place of weakness.

In our host country it is because we don't know the culture, our language isn't strong, and we're foreigners. We're often battling fatigue because life in another culture with the above mentioned barriers is harder work than living in your home country.

In our "home" country it is because we're often visitors, living in other people's homes or visiting a church, group, or city for a brief period. We're also often transitioning in and out of the country, which puts us in a vulnerable, weak position.
This was one of the weakest days of our lives
as missionaries. The day we first left the country.
I'm smiling, but there were lots of tears too.
The pain of parting from loved ones lasted many years
after the photo.

As a mum with three boys I also find that my family, in the midst of all of the above, takes up much of the energy that I've got available. Even sometimes more than I have in the "bank" for my own health.

When we're working from a place of weakness it is hard to find enough traction to help others. It's like standing on a balance ball, while trying to pour a cup of coffee for someone. It is close to impossible.

The twist here is that not only do we find it hard, at times, to find a position of strength to work from, we often see people at a distance we want to help. I wrote about it back in January 2011 when our home state was suffering floods (here). It hurts being in Japan and seeing people we love in Australia needing assistance, but not being able to do anything physical about it.

So it's a joy to be in Australia for a year, with enough time to move into a place where we're not so restricted and more able to help others. I think that is one of the benefits of taking a longer home assignment: being able to give more of ourselves to supporters, supporting churches, friends, and family. Getting off that balance board for a while is a good thing.

In the last month we've been able to visit a relative who had a serious health scare. I've also been able to cook a meal for a family who's supported us in our transition to Australia. A family that needed a hand because the mum was unwell.

Both of these things I've wanted to do many times for people in Australia when I've been in Japan. And similarly the other way. It was a joy to be able to actually physically help.

We've learned a lot from being weak and dependent on others. But these little opportunities to physically help people bring us so much joy.

18 September, 2014

Where did you meet your husband?

This week is always a little more. It is a birthday and anniversary week, followed by another birthday next week.
A couple of weeks after we were discharged from hospital
in 2002.

This week we're celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary and the 12th anniversary of me and our younger son spending 20 days in a Japanese hospital. 

Our son doesn't remember those 20 days, because he was born in the middle of them, but I remember it all too well. Nonetheless, we'll celebrate his 12 years of life tomorrow after he comes back from his trip to Canberra.

Christmas morning 1993, Bali.
I've been trolling through some old photos that we keep here as opposed to Japan. I've scanned a few in so that geography doesn't matter. 

Periodically I find a way to drop into a conversation that I met my Australian husband in Indonesia. Not strictly true, we did meet earlier, if only in a short-term missions group as we prepared to go to Indonesia on a study tour. But it makes for good conversation! 

Possibly we did meet even earlier than that, but we don't really remember. We lived in '91 and '92 in sister/brother residential colleges (dorms) at the University of Queensland.
A group photo of the tourers. I know where a handful of these
folk are (three of us are in Japan), but the rest . . . 

We both have albums of photos from our trip to Indonesia in December-January '93/'94, and even some photos with us together. I didn't remember that we sat next to one another at Christmas Dinner in Bali back then in 1993!

21 years later we've been married 17 years (on Saturday). And it will be a busy anniversary. No quiet romantic dinners. We're dropping a teenager at the airport, presenting at a missions conference, and then flying to Melbourne. The luxury is that we're flying child-less. We haven't done that since our honeymoon! Fitting that we flew to Melbourne that time too.

Oh, and if you're wondering, there was no romance to ruin distract us on our mission trip. We were strictly warned off that track before we left Australia's shores by the single missionary leading the tour. Our romance began about 2 1/2 years later . . . and it is a long story.

17 September, 2014

Kids Musings September edition

Here's our (generic) latest Kids Newsletter. Please feel free to use, or to ask for a higher quality copy to use.

16 September, 2014

Appreciating Australian nature

We've been experiencing beautiful Queensland spring weather. The temperatures have been mid to high 20s and the humidity low. Absolutely gorgeous. We're appreciating more and more the wonderful place we get to call home for a year.

Just outside our backdoor is a bunch of jasmine that's flowering at present and producing the most amazing scent.

Today David urged me out the door for a bike ride mid-morning. We're not getting our usual to and from school bike rides this week because everyone's away except our youngest and his bike is in for warranty-covered repairs. So, to fight the home assignment bulge, a bit of extra exercise is needed!

We found a park we didn't know about that is only about 300m from our house. Two main reasons, I guess. First we've been quite content to hang about at home on this huge piece of land (compared to our small block in Tokyo). Second, we haven't had that much hanging-at-home time as a family anyway! We certainly haven't had time to get bored. Though we've been riding to school, we're sticking to a single route that doesn't go past this park.

It's not a fabulous park with lots of walks or play equipment, but it is green space, with lots of eucalyptus trees. We miss these trees when we're in Japan, but all too soon we get blasé about the wonderful Australian bush. It was great to be out for a short while enjoying it today.

We're deep into the throes of preparation for our camping trip next week to Cania Dam (see an aerial shot here). We've borrowed some gear and it's looking like it'll be a good time. Hopefully nice and relaxing. If it all comes off, it will be the longest time we've ever camped in one spot (four nights). I'm looking forward to it!

15 September, 2014

International school: what is that?

David and I have just been talking about how little Australians seem to know about "international" schools. We're guessing it is because few have had any direct contact with one at all.

I write "international" in inverted commas because that word often means "American-style school in a country that isn't America". Though there are British-style international schools out there also. 

Our boys aren't missing falling over on this playground.
No grass at CAJ (typical in almost all Japanese schools.

Many who've experienced both CAJ (Christian Academy in Japan) and truly American schools will tell you that CAJ isn't truly American. But it is closer to an American school than any other type of school. Certainly, those of us who don't come from that background find there are many culturally-related things to learn, including terminology.

Each international school, like any school, has it's own unique culture. Some of which is usually picked up from the culture in which it is situated. For example, the K-5 students at CAJ have indoor and outdoor shoes. Everyone has shoes they only use in the gym.

Here are some basic facts about CAJ, as an international school.
This was published in last year's school

  • It is a K-12 school.
  • There is no boarding facility attached to the school.
  • Instruction is in English.
    • But many of the students receive extra support because they come from non-English speaking families, or have previously attended Japanese-language schools. In the lower primary classes, well over 50% of students fall into this category.
  • There are Japanese students at the school. But it really is a mixed student body. In this manner, the school is international:
    • 22% of students have both parents Japanese
    • 37% of students have dual passports (parents have different passports)
    • 15% have both parents with American passports.
    • 17% have both parents Korean.
    • only 42, out of 450 students last year had both parents from a country other than North America, Japan, or Korea. Our boys are very much in the minority.
  • Student Mobility rate: 25% (one quarter of the student body changes every year). Yes, we say lots of hellos and goodbyes.
  • All the teachers are Christians and most consider themselves missionaries.
  • Many of the teachers are direct hire: they applied directly to CAJ for a job.
  • The rest, like us, are seconded from mission agencies.
  • Most of the staff are North Americans (66% last year), 22% are Japanese and other nationalities was 12% last year (we're in the minority again).
  • The curriculum is mostly American, with modifications.
  • The school year begins at the end of August and goes through till early June.
  • They don't have regular term breaks, like Australian schools, the only week-or-longer holidays are Christmas-New Year (about 2 1/2 weeks), Spring (end of March for 1 week), and Summer (about 10 weeks).
Want to know more about the Christian Academy in Japan? Here's their website: http://caj.or.jp

What other questions do you have? Ask away!

14 September, 2014

Name hassles in Japan

When we first were going to Japan, nobody told me my name would change.

Wendy Marshall became Maasharu Ooendii (my first name isn't too different from it's Australian pronunciation).

I became a citizen of Awsutoraria. I baulked at this. Surely I could just call Australia, Australia? But no, it isn't understood, you have to use a Japanese accent with foreign words, unless someone speaks English. 
Getting used to the Japanese version of my name was a little
like getting used to breathing through a snorkel (this was
during our brief holiday in Cairns in July). It felt awkward
and constricting, and took time.

So, incidentally, I have a terrible time in Australia with Australian pronunciations of Japanese words. I have this reoccurring conversation with people who think they know Japanese food and ask what food I like, I hesitate, then they tell me what they like, in an Australian accent. It can be awkward, because I often don't know what it is that they've said.

But back to names, there are much worse names than ours, particularly names that have bad meanings in Japanese. Like "Ben". We had a friend who was working in Japan and he never revealed that he was called "Ben" in Australia. He stuck with Benjamin or his surname. Sorry to all you Bens out there, but "Ben" means, among other things, a bowel movement.

It's not always as simple as a straight translation problems. Because Japanese generally adds vowels between consonants, names can end up almost unrecognisable. Given a list of names of our friends only written in Japanese script, it is really hard to figure out their names.

I've sat at our local doctors with friends and heard their names called and not recognise it. For example:

Robert becomes Robaato.
David becomes somethings between Deibiddo and Deividdo.
Kelly becomes Kerii.
Lesley becomes Rezurii.
If you'd like to check out your name, try this name translator.

Check out what's happened to these German women's names in Japan. 

13 September, 2014

A bit crazy

The next five weeks are a bit crazy. 

Son #2 goes to Canberra with his class tomorrow, till Thursday. 
Son #1 goes on his class's school camp on Tuesday till Friday. 
Looking forward to an Australian holidays soon!
Son #2 has a birthday while he's away. 

Next Saturday, though, takes the cake:

  • son #1 flies to Melbourne at 8am for National Youth Wrestling Championships 
  • we present at the Queensland OMF Conference that morning (you're welcome to come too, if you dare)
  • David and I fly to Melbourne in the afternoon 
  • it's our 17th wedding anniversary 
  • sons #2 & #3 go to Toowoomba with my parents
We get back on Sunday evening after watching wrestling all day. The next day we pack the car for a camping trip and go to Toowoomba (1 ¼ hrs away) for a few days. 

Wednesday we're meeting an unknown quantity of Toowoomba friends in a park. 

The next day we head north for a camping holiday and then time with David's family. 

We return early Oct for four days of school before flying to Perth for nine days of work and pleasure. 

Phew! Hopefully that holiday time in there will rejuvenate us a little because there's signs of fatigue in everyone. 

12 September, 2014

A quieter week?

This week has been a quieter week on the deputation front. We have a break this weekend from formal church ministry and instead get to hang out with friends who also happen to be supporters.

Injured thumb
I've spent portions of three days driving to and from doctors and X-ray appointments. Our youngest son wrenched his thumb during wrestling training on Monday night and so just to be careful, we've had it checked out. Thankfully nothing was torn or broken or dislocated, so time will heal. But it has taken a chunk out of my week.

We've been gathering camping equipment for our camping trip at the end of the month. Thankfully friends have lent us most of what we need (of the biggest specialist equipment). 

And we've been helping our middle son pack for his class trip to Canberra, starting on Sunday morning, including trying to hunt down a pair of ski gloves for their trip to the snowfields while they're down there!

Preparing for our visit to WA
Another notable activity of the week has been trying to drum up deputation opportunities. We're going to Western Australia next month for nine days and had locked in a couple of Sunday morning "appearances" but this week have sent off a number of email to various contacts over there trying to fill in some holes. 

It seems a shame to go all that way (with the cost of five tickets) for just two Sunday mornings and two evening meetings. By the way, for those of you who don't know, it takes about five hours to fly to Perth from Brisbane, which is about the same as flying from New York to Los Angeles. From London, you could get to Africa in the same time!

Last time we sent David over on his own, but want to go back one last time as a whole family (next HA at one of our boys will have graduated from high school). We have many faithful prayers and givers in WA, we really want to go and thank them together. Plus it's a beautiful corner of Australia to visit! We first visited there for deputation when our eldest was one, and once more at the start of our first home assignment when we only had two children, so we want to allow our youngest to experience a tiny taste of the west coast of this amazing nation.

Drumming up meetings in Queensland
We've also been seeking meetings with churches in south east Queensland, sending out emails to supporting churches here to see what we can be doing in the last couple of months of 2014.

New book
The book that my story has been
published in.

Today I received my author's copy of a book, Project Story, that is the compilation of 25 stories from Australian OMF missionaries. One of my stories, "Crying in the Snow", is included. This is worthy of note, because it is the first time I've had something I've authored included in a book (not just a magazine or ezine). The book is also for sale, let me know if you'd like a copy (A$10 plus postage if I can't hand it to you).

PS about tonight
Just heard from the friend we'd planned weeks ago to meet tonight that she's ill with a stomach bug. Boo! 

As crazy as it sounds, I could only give her two possible dates in October when we could meet her family for a meal. But she's busy those two dates, so it will be November before we can get our families together. 

We're limited in when we can meet people by children in school, so weeknights are pretty much out. And weekends are so full of various events for us, plus two weeks away on holidays and two weekends in Perth. It feels so frustrating, because we have plenty of time during the week, but few people have time then!

Generally tired
So that was our week (at least the major point). But I have to say I'm feeling more energetic today than I've felt for a couple of weeks. The huge weekend in Sydney two weeks ago really knocked me around (plus the cold I was fighting off at the time). That plus last weekend's overnight with deputation Sat-Sun took some recovering from. I can't say I'm disappointed we had a "quieter" week and have a similarly low-key weekend coming up. 

I'm also desperately looking forward to getting away for our camping trip. This transition to Australia, though well planned and as easy as we could possibly make it, has taken its toll and we're all easily worn out.

11 September, 2014

Scruffy hospitality—great idea

We're experiencing lots of hospitality while in Australia. It is one of the joys (and challenges*) of being on home assignment. 

Last weekend we stayed overnight with an older couple. The wife apologised for her "scruffy" house. But I felt very much at home. They hadn't made a big effort to tidy up for us, but their attitudes were welcoming and open. We didn't end up spending much time with them, because we had dinner at the church on Saturday night and went to bed soon after we came home. But on Sunday morning they cooked up a simple, but yummy breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast, and we had lively conversation.

Teresa, my good friend in Tokyo, is fantastic
at Scruffy Hospitality!
The boys felt welcomed too, not in the least by the announcement that the house included an "armoury". The wife has been very involved in various children's theatrical performances over the years and had a lovely collection of weapon and shield props.

Here's an article about Scruffy Hospitality, that I recommend to you! I certainly am guilty of insisting I make meals from scratch for guests, but then I do that for my own family too and they are generally fairly simple recipes. However I'm not guilty of spending excess amounts of time tidying up prior to having guests. I'm not guilty of making the table look amazing, or providing meals that have taken hours to prepare and include hard-to-get ingredients.

I absolutely agree that authentic conversation is the most important thing. That's something that's not easy to come by, but is on top of my list of what makes a great time together with friends or family.

So, if we end up at your place I won't be judging. If you end up at mine, you won't find it perfect. But let's have a great conversation!

*Challenges, because it means quite a busy schedule, more busy than we're used to at nights and weekends.  It also means a lot of "new" people for our boys to meet. Most of the people we meet are known to us, but the boys don't remember them.

10 September, 2014

Lonely missionaries?

Several years before I became a cross-cultural worker in Japan, I went on a short-term trip as a single person. Before I left, a young man I was interested in told me he could never consider dating someone who was interested in cross-cultural ministry. I was not even close to being a cross-cultural worker, yet I could already feel the bite of loneliness that comes with the calling. 

(The rest of my article can be found here on the Thrive website, published Sept 9, 2014.) 

09 September, 2014

Culture shock while driving

Look at this lovely road we drive on every time we
leave home in Australia! 
I've done so much more driving here than I ever do in Japan, mostly because things are just much further apart. One of the closest places to us that we go to regularly is the school, and it is 3.5km away (instead of 300m). 

Today I drove 20 minutes to take our son to the doctor, some of that drive was a 100km/hr as we're close to an expressway. We go that far because we have a medical centre we like and have used since our first home assignment in 2004/5 and have just stuck with it, even though it means a bit of a drive. 

View out of the front bedroom. The road
changes width just there.
As I was driving home, our ever observant son pointed out that the two lane road we were on was very wide. Indeed he was right. At that point the road could have been four lanes and still been more spacious than many roads in Tokyo.

Yes, driving here is much easier than in Tokyo. The traffic is less, the roads are wider and there are generally few pedestrians, cyclists, poles, road signs or rubbish bins on the roads to dodge! 

Can you see that power pole on the road?
That's outside our house.
I'm serious! On the two-way road we live on in Tokyo there are all of the above. Very often you have to give way to a car coming the other way because you can't get around one of the above obstacles on the road. Then when you get to the end of the road: a T-intersection, you often have to jiggle a bit to give way to cars turning into the road because there simply isn't room for them to get past you while you give way at the actual intersection. 

I could write a lot about driving differences, but I really need to get to bed, so I'll just give you one more: this is something I've been tempted to do in Australia, but somehow I don't think other drivers would understand my Japanese non-verbals.

08 September, 2014

Origami, rubbish sorting, and all sorts of fun

Musical night
On Friday night I went to our younger sons' school musical. The kind where everyone has a role, there were hardly any main parts. It was written by staff and fairly well done. The whole thing was exploring freedom and what that means, especially when we walk away from our Creator.

A scene from the musical. Most of the kids were dressed
 the same: in white shirts (Grades 1-6), so it wasn't easy to
pick out  your  own child! I'm also not used to having
so many Caucasian faces in my boys' classes, reverse culture shock?
What I didn't expect was to run into so many people who I knew. I met two people I knew from my high school Youth Group. I didn't know that either of them had children at the school. I also met three other people from more recent times. Two of them didn't know we were back in the country. It was a bit awkward because I'd walked up on a conversation the three of them were having. For a second or two it looked like they'd seen a ghost!

Relaxing start to Saturday
On Saturday morning I stayed home with David and the boys went to wrestling training alone. I chatted on the phone with a long-term friend who I'd been playing phone tag with for several weeks. Then I got dressed and baked some biscuits. It was a lovely morning in. 

Up the mountain

Doing origami (in the foreground). The boy in the black
shirt (our son) is teaching a group of people. The gomi
game is on the other side of the room.
Mid-afternoon we headed off for Tamborine Mountain. This "mountain" is a 28km square plateau 525m above sea level. It is inland from the Gold Coast and has a strong tourist element. It also has a strong Christian mission link, with a Convention Centre (a flashy name for something that isn't actually that flashy) which holds many Christian conventions and camps. OMF used to own a campsite up there and we spent many a weekend "on the mountain" in our young adult years. We actually first started our application to OMF back in 1998 at a mission convention up there.

We've also got strong connections with the Presbyterian Church on the mountain. This was the fifth time we've visited there over the last 15 years. It was a joy to be back, even though two of our most enthusiastic supporters who happened to be from this church have now gone to be with the Lord.

Gomi Game
This group is trying to understand
the sorting instructions. The green sheets
are the "bags" they have to sort into.
The church organised a bring and share "curry night" as a fundraiser for three of their young people who are going on short term mission trips in the next few months. Each of them had a short time to be introduced to the group. It was a great idea to combine that with our visit, because we ended up with more attendees than we would have alone. About 30-40 adults and 20 children came along, more than either we or the organisers expected.

We shared fairly briefly an update on what we'd been doing and then jumped into some fun. We ran a Japanese slipper-chopsticks relay. It nearly derailed because we gave them MnMs to use the chopsticks on, and that was just a bit too tricky for most people.

After that we split into two groups. David ran our Gomi Game (Garbage Sorting Game) with one group. Two of our boys and I did origami with the other group. Unfortunately we ran out of time and didn't get to swap the groups over.

An adult helping a girl change her shoes
in the relay.
We finished by playing a Youtube video of Japanese Christians singing "Blessed be Your Name" in Japanese, with subtitles. I don't know how many sung along, but I certainly did. I had a lady come up afterwards saying that she'd never heard Japanese people worshipping and was quite touched by this short video. We missionaries do spend a lot of time talking about how many people don't know Jesus, and sometimes forget to encourage people to pray for those who are Christians. It was the first time we'd tried this and it seemed to work well.

We had a 10-15 minute slot in the morning service and filled that with some stories and a couple of videos. I didn't feel that great about what I'd said, but sat down afterwards truing to remind myself that "It's not about you, it's about God." I was, therefore, amazed afterwards to have people come up and say things like "You are a breath of fresh air." and "We loved hearing from you today."

Our eldest son loves making cranes. Here he made a tiny
one out of some left-over paper. The coin is a 10 yen
piece, about the size of an Australian dollar coin.
During the sermon all five of us went out and ran the Sunday School. It's days like that that I love being married to a teacher. He just ran with it and I followed along like his assistant. After an introductory talk we dressed up two children in summer kimono. Then we did a slipper-kindy hat relay (a whole lot easier than the night before). And finished off the time by  teaching origami. Our boys were fantastic with this, all able to teach a couple of different figures.

Afterward I caught up with a missionary from Wycliffe who I'd known through my church during my uni days. Actually a whole bunch of Wycliffe-associated folk were at church. They'd been doing some training at the Convention Centre. Several of them talked to us afterwards. One said it was so nice to be at a church where another missionary got up to speak about some other ministry. Yes, I would agree. Sometimes as missionaries it gets to be a bit lonely, being the only "visitor" and the only ones talking about mission. This church is such an encouragement because they are very mission minded and often have mission-related events on.

I came away tired, but elated. It was an encouraging weekend. One where we got to do "fun stuff" more than serious "talking from the front". Quite up my alley!

The bonus yesterday was that our point person forgot to organise for someone to have us for lunch before we drove back to Brisbane (he'd organised overnight accommodation with a family from church, though). So instead the church gave us money to buy our own lunch, apologising all the way.

The bonus of this was being able to just be ourselves over lunch and go home when we were done. We arrived home at 2pm and had a lovely long afternoon chilling at home. We finished this weekend in better shape than we did last weekend. Very thankful.

06 September, 2014

Toilet paper vulnerability

We're into another busy weekend, though not nearly as busy as last weekend. Before I go and pack my bag for 24 hrs away, I want to let you know that toilet paper is a high priority in Japan.
Finding toilet paper home six days after the earthquake in
2011 was a big joy.

Three days after the huge earthquake in 2011 I took the kids to the park and watched, to my surprise, a number of people walk past with large stores of toilet paper on their bikes. One lady had about four packets (each with 12 rolls) balanced on her bike (I wrote about it on the day here). I wondered what that was all about.

The next day I realised there were conspicuous absences on shop shelves, toilet paper being one (see a photo here). I presume now that that was because people stockpiled it, but I'm not sure. For weeks afterwards shops had signs up restricting buyers to one packet each and even listing how much toilet paper one person needs. I still remember the joy of being able to buy some toilet paper for my family, so excited that I took a photo!

So it didn't come as a great surprise when I saw this article recently, where the government was advising people to stockpile toilet paper in their disaster preparation kits. One reason being that 40% of toilet paper in Japan is made in a single geographical area, which, like the rest of Japan, is disaster prone.

So, this weekend, appreciate your toilet paper!

05 September, 2014

Culture shock in food

I anticipated challenges with some food with our boys, like rice and brands that they didn't like (like soft drink), but some I've been blindsided by.

Recently I've heard from them: 
"I don't like Australian cucumber."

Then I found the Australian mandarins (mikan) left in school lunch boxes untouched.

One boy said during tea, "I'm going to get some mayonnaise..." but he returned from the fridge without it. 
This is a highway stop in Japan. I'd bet that the average
Australian would have trouble choosing a drink from
this lot!

"Oh, I forgot that I don't like Australian mayonnaise."

I've been giving them a crash course in Australia chocolate and lollies, we've had some winners and some losers. But I do think it is important for them to know a little about these products because it can be awkward in social situations. If they have no idea what a "Violet Crumble" is, how can they make an intelligent (and polite) decision when offered them by others.

The other day I bought a bottle of cheap "Lemon, Lime, and Bitters". We told them it was a flavour they can't get in Japan and gave them all a taste around our table. 

Doing this privately is a kinder way of helping them discover their likes and dislikes, than to leave it until they're in public. Of course there are many things they'll encounter that we can't expose them to at home, but little things can help. 

I'm tempted to be grumpy at them for their fussiness, but then I remember how fussy I was at their age. And how many things I still don't like. I never buy celery, for example, and though I buy cucumber for everyone else, I never eat it at home.

There are many things that make up culture, food is just one. It's easy for us "monocultural" folk to forget that these kids, though they have an Australian passport and call themselves Aussies, don't know much about this country.

04 September, 2014

Considering Hebrews 12:1-3 again in September

It's been three months since I did this. Time has slipped away fast! Back in January I blogged here about a passage that I felt God wanted me to focus on this year. I've been trying write something about the passage at the start of every month.
Heb. 12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (NIV)
Cloud of witnesses

After the weekend a "great cloud of witnesses" brings to mind the many who've witnessed
our missionary careers, especially those exmissos and others strongly connected to OMF Australia. What a privilege to have these earthly witnesses.

On the weekend we met with people who've known me since my youth, even childhood. People who've been with us on our journey even before we became missionaries and followed us through the years as we struggled in our early years. And who still pray for us regularly. It was such a joy to see them face to face.

We're very aware that we also have heavenly witnesses who we used to know on earth.
These were two of my youth group leaders
who are heavenly witnesses for me now.
People like Ian Scott who I knew as a child and young person, yet passed away too young, yet who encouraged me when I showed an interest in mission as a university student. Youth group leaders and parents of childhood friends from church, who all encouraged me in my faith. And more lately, people like Mary and Bjorn who visited us in Japan to encourage us in our first term, Neill and Merle who invited us out to lunch last time we were in Brisbane and used to send us weekly emails with summaries of news. All these are now our heavenly cloud of witnesses.

This is something that is on our minds as we see many others who began their missionary service, but have moved on to other things for one reason or another. We're aware that, whether we feel like it or not, we're now "senior missionaries", having served three terms. It is only by God's grace that we're able to continue on, that we have our health and the financial and prayerful support to remain in this work.

We're also aware that staying the course is not a given. The possibility of a change of course is always there. God may call us elsewhere. Our health, or that of someone in our family may fail. And we always need to guard against temptation, against being pulled away from our faith or failing to serve with integrity.

Fix our eyes
There are many distractions. And many of them are very good, eg. friends who want to see us. Of this, we're very aware. In Japan we have considerable blinkers on. In some ways we're sheltered from many distractions. In Australia we see what kind of lifestyle we may have had if we'd remained here and both had professional careers. We've both taken leave of our consuming jobs in Japan and, poking our heads up, we see other things we could be doing with our time. The temptation is there to get distracted from our calling.

And what is our calling? Primarily, to fix our eyes on Jesus. After that, he makes our next steps clear bit by bit. But we mustn't keep our eyes on the world for long or we're sure to make some mis-steps.

Stories of missionaries. We didn't hear too many of them on the weekend, there simply wasn't time. Perhaps if we'd be able to go to other workshops, we may have heard some. But here are some samples:

  • A missionary leader who seemed to constantly have national disasters thrown at him. "Constantly in a state of crisis." were his words. His advice to his successor who's feeling like he's drowning, "Ask God for grace and strength and wisdom for today and today only."
  • A couple coming back from their first term. Whose leaders had to leave the field in their first few months with them, and who had significant health issues.
  • A family who deeply desired to be overseas, but had health issues with their family members (actually this is a common story). They had to stay in Australia to take care of their family, though their hearts were overseas.
Say yes to being a missionary, you say yes to hardship. That's been our observation. You also say yes to many amazing experiences and wonderful privileges. Trusting God in the midst of these challenges, in the midst of long periods of waiting, of financial uncertainty, produces faith that is strong and deep.

Tempted to grow weary and lose heart
My temptation is in weariness at present. Both physical weariness and a temptation to lose heart. When you realise how few Christians care about mission in general and how few church are interested in really praying for the lost other countries, it is easy to lose heart. 

But these verses rally me, keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, who seemed to be on an even lonelier mission when he was on earth. At the end he was abandoned by almost all of his closest friends. Keep looking at Jesus and what He's called me to do.

03 September, 2014

News snippets from Japan

Here are some news snippets from Japan:

Dengue in Tokyo
Batman in Japan

New cycling policy in Tokyo? Interesting in that it notes that the majority of cyclists in Tokyo are women with children:
The majority of Japanese cyclists are “regular people” riding mamacharis on the sidewalks at speeds less than 30 km/h for distances of less than 2 km each trip. Compared to these cyclists, the roadies, mountain bikers and bicycle commuters make up just a small percentage of the total number of cyclists.
Roundabouts are making an appearance in more places in Japan. I know of two that have pre-existed this announcement, but you can understand that this "new" phenomenon may make drivers and pedestrians nervous.

02 September, 2014

OMF Australia's National Conference 2014

The morning was spent travelling, we left home at 6am, snagging some breakfast on the run out the door, and in the car. Actually we ended up grazing most of the morning on the healthy food we'd packed for breakfast and snacks. It was a long morning, ending with a significant wait at the airport for the van to the conference centre on the other side of Sydney. 

Thankfully we had some "new" friends to keep us busy. A young man, 12 months of age, needed some help in staying patient. His parents were headed to the same conference as us, so it was lovely to "be family" to them. No one told our boys off for playing handball next to the luggage carousels (when they weren't in use), bonus! 

Actually it is much more pleasurable travelling with older children. I bought them some puzzle books (logic, sudoku, etc.) as travel entertainment and it worked like a charm! I love it, though it has been quite a wait.

Then from 2pm till 4pm we had a home assignees gathering. There were 17 of us. Most of the others we'd never met, so it was interesting sharing stories and praying for one another.

From 4pm for an hour we "experienced missionaries" got to share advice with the appointees (those who've been accepted by OMF Australia, but haven't yet gone to the field because their waiting on clearances like finance and medical).

Then we spent a couple of confusing hours getting our luggage and selves 1.3 km down the road to the conference centre, finding our rooms, locating my parents who'd flown down also, and getting some dinner from a local take-away shop. In the midst of that we discovered that we were supposed to bring towels, but must have missed that communication.

Oh, did I mention that it was cold and the younger boys managed to get soaked from the waist down, including shoes, within minutes of seeing the ocean?

We had a meeting that night, worship time plus a message from OMF's General Director, then supper (Australian for late night snack time). I was so tired, but there were many people to meet and talk to. Lots of old faces and some new ones. The main reason I persevered was the promise of towels, and I was desperate for a shower. Eventually at 10pm, we got towels and I showered and crashed.

This was the big day. 200 stayed in, but 100 visited for the day on Saturday. It also was the morning that we had to do our 5 minute presentation up the front (if we went overtime we got shot by a water machine gun). 

After lunch we ran two back-to-back workshops about support ministry. I enjoyed that much more than the 5 minutes up-front. It is always risky partnering with a seasoned teacher in up-front things, however, they tend not to want to plan things in detail and then just run away with things once they are up front. At least in the workshop we could confer a little, but in front of 300 people there is no margin. It's scary!

While we were running the workshop, I was simultaneously trying to dry out some of the boys' clothes in the laundry next door. Most of Saturday it drizzled and we were quickly running out of clothes.

Saturday night we ran an origami table at the 150th anniversary party. Our boys are so good at this that I actually had free time to go and sample other Asian crafts. We also dressed up in our summer kimonos (as I mentioned yesterday). It's the first time we've
done that as a family, the boys aren't usually up for "dressing up on demand" it was fun!

Thankfully in between the previous two paragraphs we had some free time. We hunkered down in our room and recharged.

Do you remember what it was like when you saw relatives at an event after a year or two when you were younger: "Oh, how you've grown!" Well the weekend was full of that kind of thing, in fact this whole year is a bit like that. People who've not seen our boys for five or ten years usually start with a comment like that!

This day was a bit more laid back, but still there were many people who wanted to talk with us. Thankfully, though, we had no official duties to carry out, so we could relax. After lunch we headed back to the airport and made it home by 7.30.

Phew! What a weekend. It was hard to get up and get going on Monday morning. I was starting to feel a bit more normal this afternoon. Hey, I even did some baking, gardening, and we ate dinner at home (first time in five days).

It's exciting, but also weird being a part of a "special" group of people called "missionaries on home assignment" at an event like this. The sad side of it is that if you're not part of the "elite few", but once were, you can feel very sad. 

There was one former missionary there who's resigned from OMF (as far as I know, anyway). I'm not sure of the reasons she's returned to Australia, but I do know that she was upset on Sunday morning. Re-entry is very hard. She felt like she was a "failure" and said her heart was still in her country of service, not Australia. I prayed with her and hope that some people in her local area will reach out to her in this grieving and adjustment time.

The difference in a home-side conference and a field-side conference is that the field-side ones are supposed to be refreshment, fellowship and teaching in English. The home-side ones are more reporting-back and recruitment. We certainly didn't get much refreshment!