27 February, 2015

Japanese education system fails kids

Sometimes people ask us about how the Japanese education system compares to the Australian system. My short answer is that they are very different, the Japanese system majors in repetition, rote learning, not giving your opinion or analysing things. They don't do so much in the way of up-front presentations either. (I know, quite a negative summary, many others who have had longer and more positive associations with the system will give you a different slant.)

Another thing that they don't do is cater for children who have relatively mild learning difficulties. There are programs for children with severe developmental difficulties, but for all those who fall in the less severe categories, including ADD, ADHD, and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder or Aspergers), Dyslexia and even just learning difficulties that don't have a label, there doesn't seem to be much.

I occasionally help out families associated with CAJ and OMF with learning difficulty questions. Last year I wrote to a developmental expert in Japan (a foreigner, but who has been there long enough to know what he's talking about). I asked him about a child who has a learning difficulty, but isn't an English speaker (he has one Japanese parent and one German-speaking parent). He's in the Japanese education system. 

I was very disappointed in his answer:
I don't know of any place in the Japanese system that can validly assess and address children's learning difficulties . . . I'm not aware of any instructional programs in Japanese which effectively remediate reading problems.
A long time ago I read that Japan claims 100% literacy rate. (Wikipedia currently says this: 99% literacy, 99.9% male and 99.7% female!) I don't know how they can claim this, when they've got a system like this that hardly caters for those struggling to learn this complicated language.

After seeing the lengths that the Australian system will go to to support kids in this category, I am sad. Sad that so many Japanese kids are missing out.

26 February, 2015

The struggle for identity

I've written before about how I struggle on how to introduce myself. Or, how do I fill out the form, say, at the doctor/physio: "Occupation?"

Usually at churches we're introduced as "The Marshalls from Japan" or "The Marshalls who serve in Japan".

When I went to the writer's conference in November, I ended up with the name tag on the right, primarily because I couldn't decide which place to write for "where are you from".

I say, when I need to, "I'm living in Ipswich/Brisbane but usually live in Japan."

There is an element of identity in this. Without context, it is hard to have much beyond a cashier-type conversation with people. It can get complicated fast if I refuse to tell people a bit more of the story. I'm a simple person: straight truth is the easiest manner of conversation. And if that means I admit that I've lived a weird life, well so be it.

The matter of identity is more complex for our kids. I can get away with saying, "I was born in Toowoomba and went to uni in Brisbane." It's only after that that things get more complicated.

My kids, however, have been labelled most of their lives with "missionary kids (or MKs)" or "from Japan". They feel strongly Australian, but when in Australia know for sure that they aren't the same as other Australian kids.

In Japan we're also labelled. No matter how long we stay there, our appearance states out front that we're not insiders. We don't belong. That's a factor of the Japanese culture, where belonging is strongly tied to "sameness" and genetics. We're not genetically Japanese, so we'll never be truly Japanese (even if we become citizens).

The labels help with communication, but sometimes they hinder. With labels comes stereotypes. 

Our labels produce questions like these in Australia:
"Oh, you like sushi?"
 "You're fluent in Japanese?"
"You must like living there!"
Or, in Japan:
"Ah, beer drinking Aussie who carries a large knife!" (Just kidding, no one has ever said that to me.)
"Why aren't you tanned, don't all Aussies swim and get brown?" (Truly, I've had this from Japanese people.)
"Of course you're a Christian, you come from Australia where everyone is Christians."
People, even Christians, often feel uncomfortable at the label "missionary", which is why I often avoid using it first up. Just the other day I wrote "editor" on the form at the physio. I later told her I was a missionary, but it wasn't at the start of our conversation. 

So I can totally understand this young man's reluctance to be introduced as "an MK from Japan." By all means find that out, but start with finding out about me, not my label.

Many people have this struggle, people with disabilities, for example, or even people who are extraordinarily beautiful, talented, or famous. There is a barrier to getting to know the real person and most people don't get past the barrier.

If you go to the link above (this young man), you'll find some great suggestions for non-MKs, including this:
On Behalf of all MKs everywhere, please, treat us like normal people. True, we may be strange, socially-awkward, and not have the best fashion sense but all we want is to have a fair chance to be your friend. The reason we are weird is because our life is weird. 

25 February, 2015

Green view

The view I get every morning from my bed.
One of the joys of this season in Australia has been green space.
Our suburb here is spacious. Blocks are large and there's lots of garden. Just the joy of green grass lining the road is not to be taken for granted.

The view from the bedroom we use at my parent's house
(my old bedroom).
A special time of the morning has been the view from my bed in the morning. David and I read the Bible and pray in our bedroom before breakfast. I open the curtains and drink in the view as we connect with our heavenly Father. Admittedly there are better views in the world, but it's good enough for me. 

In Tokyo, if I look at the right angle and in the right direction I can see sky from my bed. Often it is grey, but sometimes blue. This Australian view is much nicer and is feeding my soul, refreshing me before we return to the realities of Tokyo.


24 February, 2015

Difficult days

I can't lie here. We're having some difficult days with one of our boys (I don't want to embarrass him, so I'll try to keep this somewhat vague). There has been tears, despondency, work not getting done, reluctance to go to school, fluctuating emotions, and emails to and from teachers. We're all frustrated. I feel out of my depth.

All he wants to do is go back to Japan. He's made some friends here, but not at school. School in general is depressing (except for some bright points, mostly associated with sport and music). Therefore Monday morning is depressing and other mornings to a lesser extent.

This Saturday it's only four months till we go back to Japan. And at times we're wondering how we're going to make it through the four months. My husband says, "One day at a time." I say, "And on the prayers of others." So I've confided more of the details to a few close friends and am relying on their prayers.

And looking forward to seeing the answer to those prayers!

23 February, 2015


We didn't get to the cricket on Saturday. We almost made it to the Gabba (cricket ground), though.

On Saturday it rained and eased and rained again. The radar showed the rain depression heading across the city fairly quickly in the morning, but then it hung around and hung around. We went to wrestling training and the gym (David and I) as usual, prepared to go straight on to the cricket via Maccas for lunch. The training/gym is 30 min from our house, but closer to the Gabba. That was Plan A.

We got as far as Maccas for lunch, then launched into Plan B: returning home, planning to leave again when it looked likely that the rain would ease and the match would start. Thus began a long afternoon of "Should we go, or should we wait a little longer?"

We ended up leaving at about 3.30/4, in desperate hope. The groundsmen needed 2 hrs to mop up the outfield before play could begin and local restrictions on events meant they could start no later than 5.30pm.

We drove to a train station closer to the event, caught a train, then changed to a bus. (Public transport was free with our tickets and parking near the venue difficult, so this was always the plan.) As we drove, David and I grew more pessimistic, the showers continued.

When we got to the bus stop, one of our boys noticed a "colour-coordinated family" several metres away. Turns out they were Bangladeshi supporters and we ended up sitting with them on the bus, as well as another hopeful Aussie. There was encouragement in the camaraderie of mutual "cricket craziness", for it was still showering at times.

A bright spot in this whole saga was the little Bangladeshi boy, about three or four years old that we sat with on the bus. He was happy to tell me his favourite player (Shakib Al Hasan) and introduce me to "his baby" (baby in their pram, also dressed in team colours).

Confusion reigned as we arrived at the bus-stop closest to the Gabba. We were trying to get off, but a bunch of Bangladeshi supporters were trying to get on. And yes, when I checked the website after we alighted, the match had been called off!

Oh, the disappointment. The boys, who'd already been fractious because of the uncertainty of the day, didn't quite know how to deal with this new disappointment, especially our most cricket-crazy son, our nine-year-old.

I fairly quickly realised that though this was a deep disappointment for me personally (I'd been looking forward to this for months and hoping for this opportunity for years), it was an opportunity to help the boys learn how to cope with a relatively minor disappointment. 

Our consolation.
I'm not sure how we did, though we did talk about it as we waited for the train home. I named the feelings and pointed out that it is a part of life. I especially noted that compared to other disappointments, this wasn't so big (like the extreme "disappointment" of seeing a loved one dying young, we have a real-life example of this in our extended family just now).

In the meantime I came up with a consolation-prize. We took our sandwiches to South Bank, an urban recreational area near the train station, for a dreary picnic. Then we finished off with something a bit special. A chocolate "cafe" with fancy desserts. Definitely a nice consolation.

I also discovered later with a quick web search, that we could attend an interstate cricket match for free next month, although it is not as high a profile and it is not quite as exciting a format (four day match), it will at least be real, live cricket.

However, I was still feeling the disappointment the next day when we woke up to a gorgeous blue sky. Beautiful weather for a cricket match (though there were occasional showers later).

20 February, 2015

How are you really feeling?

This is the coast that's currently being battered by a
tropical cyclone. We visited there before
Christmas because some of David's family live there.
We wouldn't be standing on that exposed point today.
It's been a bit of an emotional week. Here are some highlights and a couple of low lights.

I feel good about these things:
  • We're getting dates settled for some things, like plane tickets booked to return to Japan (though that one has mixed feelings attached to it).
  • I got some self-maintenance things done this week: optometrist, regular woman's check, and finally went to the physio to resolve a couple of long-term issues.
  • Our daily schedule is starting to take shape, it's only taken three weeks into the school term.
  • We're going to the cricket this weekend! (Or that plan could change with the weather.)
  • I'm making concerted efforts to work on my writing, as well as learning about graphic design.
  • Seeing my husband enjoying a new challenge, next week he'll begin a semester of teaching undergraduate teachers about teaching maths to primary students.
  • I bought a new tote bag, it's a good addition to my functional wardrobe. In fact I'm happy with a number of new pieces of wardrobe that I've bought.
  • I'm continuing to have fun with earrings. But how do I store them? Anyone got ideas?
The storms of life demand that we have a rock to cling to.
I'm not feeling good about these:
  • We're still struggling with the boys and the new electronic devices in the house.
  • A bit of emotional struggle with one boy in particular, about school work and homesick for Japan, he's looking depressed at times.
  • Struggling to find mutually agreeable times to meet with some people.
  • Falling through of our Easter plans to spend with some family members.
  • Today I'm also struggling with the changes brought by weather, we've got a cyclone (tropical storm) that's crossed the coast 750km to the north of us. While the 200+km/hr winds aren't going to hit here, we've got consequences: rain, forecast heavy rain, and plans that have been cancelled and changed. This just makes me feel a little rocky.
  • With the plane tickets bought, the pressure to get certain things done before we go seems to have intensified.
But I go back to that awesome collection of poems called the Psalms and read verses like:
"Why are you downcast, O my soul?Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God,for I will yet praise him,my Saviour, and my God" (42:11, NIV).
"Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterwards you will take me into glory...
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion for ever" (73:23, 24 & 26, NIV).
Praise God that he's my solid rock. 

19 February, 2015

Published writer, yes I am

Available from au.books@omfmail.com
forA$15, from us or another OMF centre.
Yes, I AM a writer! I've discovered yesterday that I've had a second story published in a compilation, God's Faithfulness.
Project Story is the other book that has a story of mine in it, it was published last year and is a compilation of stories mostly set in East Asia,and put together by OMF Australia. Most of the authors are Australian.
Available for A$10 from here or us,
plus postage

Another books that has two very short stories by me is Growing up Among Worlds, but I am not credited as OMF wished to keep the identity of all the children confidential.
Available for A$4 from us, or from here,
plus postage.
Very satisfying and definitely spurring me on to further writing.

18 February, 2015

Kimono curiosity

On Sunday I wore my summer kimono (known as a yukata) to church. It wasn't my intention but I was egged on by the deacon leading worship. 

It created an interesting effect when I was doing my "hats" presentation, as you can see. Talk about culturally mixed up! I use nine labelled hats to help explain the different roles I fulfil in Japan, I've just never done it while wearing a yukata!

I feel somewhat conflicted about wearing my yukata for a couple of reasons:

  • I never do in Japan, and I think it gives the impression that we do wear special costumes in Japan.
  • It makes me seem more special that I want to be. As indicated from the title of this blog, I'm determined to be viewed as ordinary. 
  • It diverts conversations with people from the content of our talks to what I'm wearing, which is not what I'd prefer.
Maybe my thinking is wrong, but that's how I feel. Therefore I've never worn it to church before. But, all that aside, it is a fun thing to do occasionally in Australia. I haven't yet been pulled over by a policeman and surprised them, though I rather suspect they are somewhat surprise-proof.

I usually point out to people that it isn't as comfortable to wear as it may look. I felt uncomfortable and hot on Sunday in it, even though it is designed for summer. Around my middle I wore four belts. It has no fasteners, so modesty relies on the belts being tight!

It is actually a bit tricky to put on, as it is one piece and you have to do some tricky folding and arranging to get it all right. If you're interested, you can go to this video (English subtitles) to get an idea of how tricky it can be to put on. Though I don't do the bow part myself as it shows on the video, I own a "cheaters bow", pre-tied and stiffened, it slips in the back of the obi. But as stiff as it is, it is uncomfortable, meaning that I can't lean back into any chair.

If you're interested in a bit more detail about kimonos, a missionary colleague of ours, who loves to wear kimonos, wrote a very informative blog post about it what she wished she'd known before she bought her first (second-hand) kimono. But it is longish and quite detailed enough to scare most people off (but worth scanning through, nonetheless, if you're interested).

There are many detailed rules about how to wear kimono, but there has been a recent movement to try to bring kimonos back to the "common person". Here is a blog post about a flash mob-type kimono gathering, they're calling "Kimono jack". Check out this English news article about the worldwide movement.

17 February, 2015

Interview with our boys

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to run a Japan fun night at our home church on Saturday night and we were also given a large portion of the Sunday morning worship time to speak. Very generous! So much so that the boys later commented that they felt we'd taken up a lot of time.

It is 18 months since we were accepted into membership at this church (and we were in Japan at the time). I've said before here that it is important that we do our best while we're in Australia to help them understand what we do. Thereby ensure they understand what they've gotten themselves into!

On Thursday last week the leader of the service on Sunday came around to talk to us. He said he wanted to interview the boys, so that the church could get to know them a little better too. This is unusual. We usually don't ask them to come up the front with us when we speak at various churches. Just asking them to be present with us at the event is enough, in our opinion. They'd rather be at a church where they knew people and knew what to expect.

We wanted to be sure they were okay with this idea, so I spent Thursday night asking the boys questions over dinner, taking notes and making sure they were happy with the questions. This was a great opportunity not to be missed, so I took time to create questions that were meaningful, both to the boys and to those who'd hear the answers.

Here are some of the questions they were asked: 
You all play an instrument, what do you play?
One of you was born in Japan, which one?
How old were you when you went to Japan?

How many planes have you been on?

Where do you go to school in Japan? What do you like about it?

Are you looking forward to going back to Japan in June? Why?

Can you speak Japanese?
        (followed by questions about specific situations where one would have to communicate in Japan, like at McDonalds).

What type of wrestling do you do? Where did you first learn that?

(To our middle son): Since you were born in Japan, does that make you Japanese?

What’s your best friend’s name? Where is he? How many countries has he lived in?
The end result was great. The worship leader did a super job with them and the boys spoke confidently. Later as we talked about it they were bewildered that others were surprised at their performance. I guess one might not expect teens and pre-teens to be articulate with a microphone in their hand in a room full of people (about 50 or so there on Sunday).

But I suspect that not only have our boys had us as their role models (they've seen us up front plenty of times), but they also feel that they have an untold story. The questions we orchestrated for them gave them a chance to show the side of them that most people don't see or ask about.

The unexpected outcome was that they felt homesick for Japan afterwards. I probably should have expected that. I almost talked myself out of not going back to Japan in 2005 when time and time again I told stories about some of the difficulties we'd faced in our first term. Things that you say in front of a group with a microphone can have a profound effect on you.

Thankfully they've pulled up out of that. They've certainly got plenty to keep them busy and distracted. Between school and various extra curricular activities, there isn't a huge amount of spare time to mope.

I'm starting to feel sad too, but more about leaving the people and things I love about Australia behind when we go. But I'm trying to stay as focused as I can on living in the here and now, enjoying what I can (for example, I had a huge mango for lunch).

So thankful for the opportunities on the weekend, and most especially that my boys got a chance to enter into the public realm and say something for themselves.

16 February, 2015

Numbers to measure your life by?

21, 29, and 43

The number of planes each of our boys have been on. Set to increase by eight before we settle back in Japan in July.

Who has conversations like this? Families like ours!

They also ask:

  • "How many countries have I been to?"

Four for the two youngest (Australia, Japan, Hong Kong & South Korea) and seven for our eldest son (Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Guam). David  and I have been to ten between us, all in Asia.

Not so many really. And some of those were just airport stops. Mostly we've just travelled back and forth between Australia and Japan, and a little bit within both countries.

Other numbers that help define our lives?

  • How long have you lived in Japan? About 12 years (for the three eldest people in our family).
  • How old were you when you went to Japan? 18 months for our eldest, 3 months for our youngest and our middle son was born there.
  • When are you going back? End of June.
  • For how long? Probably for three years until our next home assignment.

15 February, 2015

Crazy week

I'm breathing, in . . . and . . . out. It's been a crazy few days when I've haven't come close to finding time to blog here.

Starting last Wednesday when David and I drove to Toowoomba for the day (my home town and 1 ½ hrs away). We spoke at an aged care facility and had lunch with my parents and one of my sisters, getting back just in time to pick up the boys from school.

Thursday should have been a normal day, a catch-up day after Wednesday. But it started badly with a dog-incident. My youngest son and I were accosted by two dogs as we rode to school. They just seemed intent on chewing our shoes, but it was scary and could easily have escalated to biting. It shocked me enough that I had trouble talking for a bit and definitely felt shaky for some time afterwards. The day just continued to unfold in an unruly fashion and not much catch-up work got done.

Thursday finished without news of our van, which was at the mechanic. So we scrambled to find transport for Friday, which was stacked full of appointments requiring transport.

Friday started quietly, with two of our boys riding off before 7 for cross country training. I managed about 15 minutes of recovery time after riding to school and back (an emotional getting-back-on-the-bike experience after the dog incident the day before), before I shot off on a perpetual motion day. I dropped off the guitar to my eldest son between classes and shot off to church for Bible study. Then left before that came to a graceful close to meet a friend. 

Google maps said it should only take 28 minutes, but it took longer, and finding a park took no short time either. After we finished our lunch and traipsed around Sunnybank Plaza to
I found some great authentic Japanese sweets at the
asian shop. It was like being transported back to
Japan for a brief few minutes! They were enjoyed
at the dinner last night too.
find an asian grocery store to shop for Japanese sweets, I then attempted to race back to pick up the guitar after school. I only arrived 30 minutes too late! Thankfully my husband was able to warn our son that I was delayed by traffic and he waited patiently.

He rode home and I drove. A couple of minutes after we arrived we left again: back across town to visit the OMF medical advisor, looking for a referral required by our school in Tokyo. Instead of the requested 10 minutes early, I ended up being 10 minutes late. We didn't get back till after youth group and kids club started, thankfully our van had arrived home by then and the rest of the family could get to church on time. About then, volunteering to help out at this semester at Youth Group was looking like a challenging commitment.

I was so thankful to crash into bed on Friday night!

Saturday was not quite as bad. We had wrestling, as usual. David and I passed the time by working out in the gym. Then he searched for bicycles racks for transporting instruments and I walked to Maccas for coffee.

We ate lunch in the gym's car park again: peanut butter and honey sandwiches, made up in the car park (no time earlier) chased down by grapes.

On the way home we searched for and found a music shop to buy our new trumpet student a music book and oil. On the way home I foolishly did some texting and ended up with a whirling head from motion sickness. In the end, though, the rest on the bed probably helped save the rest of the evening.

I got up 1 ½ hrs later and, in preparation for our church's Japan night, made tonnes of Japanese rice balls (onigiri). We headed over to church at 5, set-up and ran the night, amazingly finishing on time at 8.30. We were home before 9 and very glad.

This morning we went to church early for some final setting up prior to all of us speaking during the service. Phew! 

I barely made it through lunch before collapsing.

Sometimes everything just collides and life gets way too busy for a time. I'm hoping this week will be a bit better. For starters, we're not making any day trips! Who knows what unexpected items will come up, though. Thankfully, though, after four in eight days, we've not got any formal speaking engagements now for a couple of weeks.

12 February, 2015

What accent do you have?

Our boys, and the many others like them, don't fit neatly
into other people's ideas of who they are or what
they should sound like. 
We celebrated Australia Day this year with some new Australians, British immigrants. One of their guests also had an English accent, so I asked her if she was visiting from overseas or if she'd moved over. It turned out that she'd been in Australia for many years, but never really lost her accent.

But she was quick to point out that if she were to return to her land of birth, people there would ask what her accent was. So, she's forever in an inbetween-world.

We've had Australians identify that our accents are no longer 100% Aussie. That was especially the case when we first got off the plane. Yet those we meet in Japan identify our accents as very clearly Australian.

The situation is more complex for children growing up in different countries. When I was at uni I remember meeting Australians teenagers who had been at an international Christian school in Manilla, their accents were American to our ears. 

The same has happened to our children, especially our younger two. They've all been strongly influenced by American teachers in their younger years. In fact at their school in Japan the American accent dominates (yes, I know you'll tell me that there is no such thing as "the American accent"), even for those who've never been to America, like our children.

Accent has a tendency to label you, to identify where you fit. So it is no surprise that with at least two or three accents in their history, the accents of children like ours (called TCKs or Third Culture Kids) will shift around depending on their context, as they strive to fit into their environment. 

Nor is it surprising that a TCK who moves to a completely different culture, would seek to cultivate a different accent just in order to fit in. Check out this well written article by the son of former colleagues in Japan:

You might also enjoy reading this post I wrote early last year about answering the question, "Where are you from?":

10 February, 2015

University for our son

This is another couple of questions that we're repeatedly answering:
"What is your eldest son going to do after he finishes school?" "If he goes to uni, will it be in Japan?"
I took this at our alma mater back in August
at their Open Day, when we spent time
investigating the answers to some of the
questions about "what next" for our boys.
So glad you asked. Our working plan is as follows:

  • 28 June 2015 Return to Japan
  • August 2015 School (Christian Academy in Japan or CAJ) starts for everyone, barring me :-)
  • June 2017 Our eldest son graduates from CAJ
  • July 2017-Jan 2018 He gets some kind of employment in Japan
  • Feb 2018 Our eldest son starts uni in Brisbane (he's interested in engineering and maths), probably boarding with someone.
  • June 2018 The rest of us return to Brisbane for a year. Our son may or may not live with us at this time.
  • June 2019 We return to Japan and repeat a similar pattern, with our middle son graduating two years later and then our youngest graduating in 2023. (All the boys want to graduate from CAJ.)

I hesitate to write this out in black and white like this because it makes it seem all set in concrete. Of course anything could change, but we've found that it helps us (and others who ask about these things), if we can at least have a sketch of a plan in our heads to work with. It especially helps our boys' stability if they know the general plan of what's likely to be coming up in the longer term.

So people who are shocked that we're already talking to them about dates in May this year might be floored by such long-term thinking. But it really is just a part of life for us now. We've been encouraged from early on by our organisation to think ahead, especially with regards to schooling.

We regularly pray about our future, about all the above and more. Our future is in God's hands and we pray we'll be submissive to whatever He calls us to do, whether it fits the above or not. At the same time we're mindful of being wise and planning ahead.


The chief confusion for people is about the location of further education for our boys. Yes, we intend to send our boys back to Australia for higher education. 

Reason one is that it is the cheapest option. Anywhere else in the world and they are considered International Students. Here they will be Australians and can benefit from lower fees. Not to mention that they won't have visa problems here.

Reason two is that we have networks here. Finding accommodation will be easier. They have some knowledge of the area. They'll even have a home church, if they wish to worship there, where they won't have to start from Ground Zero in terms of making relationships.

The inevitable question following that is about how difficult it will be for non-Australian educated children to apply to uni. We've investigated this too, and as far as we can see it will not be too challenging an issue. Queensland universities have lots of students coming from other educational systems. They will take the marks of our boys, along with their SAT scores (standardised test scores, something like OPs) and come up with an equivalent value that will allow them to apply. A little bit more complex than if they'd grown up here, but not too bad. Much easier than applying to US colleges, that each require individual applications including essays!

This conversation, which we've had multiple times, is getting a little tired. But that is part of the job too. We have a lot of conversations multiple times during our year of home assignment. By the end we'll be very glad to return to doing the work we've spent a year talking about.

If I can just keep remembering that it's great that people are interested in our lives and the lives of our boys, I can keep a positive attitude towards answering the same questions over and over. But I do treasure the times when we get a unique question, or one that makes me think harder than usual.

09 February, 2015

What are you looking forward to going back to?

Yesterday someone asked me this after we'd spoke at a church. It took me a moment to find an answer. First thing that came to mind: "Friends."

After that. . . "getting the boys settled back at the school and some more 'normal' life."

Now, after a bit more time to think, I'd add:
Our shower in Japan. Freezing in winter, boiling in
 summer but nice and large!
  • The shower. Though it's very hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, it is large, unlike our caustrophobic-inducing shower here.
  • My bike with its large baskets. My bike is very functional and the baskets are wonderful for carrying all sorts of things. Though I will miss the wonderful shopping choices I have here, and that I can read all the labels! Also, the bikes we have there, though they're on the cheap side, don't break down anywhere near as much as our bikes here do.
  • Various appliances in our house, including an ice cream maker, rice cooker, and huge ancient American-style oven.
    My enormous gas oven (that you have to lay on the floor to turn on).

    The gas oven in my kitchen in Japan.
    You can see the oven is a little
    too large for the kitchen, but it works
    pretty well.
  • My new camping kitchen. We bought this second hand off a fellow missionary just before we left last year and I'm keen to try it out. 
  • Another camping adventure. We're planning to go camping when we get back (we arrive back more than a month before school starts), hopefully a tour down to the Kyoto/Nara/Osaka area.
  • Not travelling so much. Not that we've had it all that bad, compared to some missionaries we hear about, it will be wonderful to have our weekends back, and (dare I say it) not quite so many social engagements.
  • Japanese convenience stores. They really are very convenient, especially for a cheap, yet relatively healthy lunch.
  • School where I know a lot more about what's going on (in part because my husband works there, but also because we've been there for eight years now).
  • Rice. Yes, I'm a Japanese rice snob. Other Japanese food will be good too, though I'm not craving it terribly, there's too much good stuff here.
That's a long enough list. Probably as this year wears on (and wears thin) there will be more that I'll be looking forward to. The boys would have a different list. I'll have to ask them and tell you what they've got, but I suspect a biggie for our eldest will be "no uniform"!

06 February, 2015

Culture shock: building relationships

I wrote a number of these culture shock posts early in our time back in Australia. Here's another. 

Our time in Australia is quite focused in many ways, but especially relationally. We're spending time catching up with people from different eras in our lives. People who've stayed in touch despite the odds and continue (in many cases) to pray for us.

Here are some friends I've not spent too much time with, but
we did bond at wrestling meet bleachers last year.
I'd love to get to know them better, but time is a challenge.
But our focus is also on building new relationships. That's been especially the case for us coming back to a different home church. You can see that in this post about time we've spent with people at church and this one about the Australia Day weekend.

But I have to say that there is a challenge with building relationships. We are acutely conscious of time. Our time here is limited, so the temptation is to try to rush things.

To make things worse, we've learnt to rush relationships with other expats in Japan. Transition is a constant part of our lives in Japan and we're often saying goodbyes, but then new hellos. So making new friends is a common part of our existence. However we don't know how long we will have together, so the tendency is to rush deep quickly. I have very good friends in Japan with whom I've spent relatively little time.

Here is a friend who I'd love to spend more time with.
Though she's an Aussie, we're rarely in the same country
at the same time. She works in Taiwan. This photo was
taken in Hong Kong where we attended
writer's retreat together.
I came across an excellent blog post that talks about the difference between TCKs (third culture kids) and monocultural (people who've never left their passport country) and relationship building. I feel a little annoyed sometimes at these TCK articles because they generally ignore those of us who are neither monocultural or TCK, but in fact share many of the same characteristics as TCKs because we've lived outside our home culture for a long time.

Nonetheless, the below extract explains about the time challenge we face in building relationships.
Why do TCKs  [Wendy: I would also insert cross-cultural workers here] do things so differently? There are several reasons, really. The greatest of them is the awareness that time is limited. We’ve lived so long in a world saturated with both expected and unexpected goodbyes that we enter each relationship anticipating that it could end at the drop of a hat—when circumstances, mission mandates, finances or the inherent transience of the international community rip us away from those we’ve loved.
We function as if there is no time—because so often, there isn’t! When we meet someone new, it’s as if an invisible timer has started a countdown. Quickly! Figure out who this person really is.
And how is this different to those who haven't been outside their country's borders for any length of time? 
Mono-culturals function completely differently. They observe a steady descent through well-defined relationship levels—not because they’re shallow, but because it’s the progression that makes their culture comfortable. -
She gives a particularly helpful graph, showing how we all end up in the same place, just take a different route. And she explains that there are good and bad things about both routes.

People at church are starting to ask, "When are you going back to Japan?" and say things like, "Ouch, we'll miss you when you go." Yep, but it is a good "ouch" because that means that despite the short time, we've managed to get to know people to a sufficient level for our relationships to be meaningful.

I hope I haven't shocked too many people by trying to go deep fast. It is something that's shocked me in the past, that people here spend so much time in superficial conversation (see my posts from last home assignment here and here).

Have you had a shock in trying to build relationships in different communities? I know that once your children are out of the early years at school it is difficult to meet and build relationships with other parents from school. That's just one example. I also remember a friend lamenting that it is harder to build relationships in your 30s and beyond, than it was when we were younger. What do you think?

05 February, 2015

The importance of support workers in mission

During the Falkland War (1982) the Argentinean military leaders placed many Argentinean soldiers on the Falkland Islands to occupy them. These soldiers were not very well trained and poorly equipped. They also did not receive the logistical backup an operation of that nature required.

The Islands legally belonged to Great Britain, who sent troops to the Islands to re-occupy them. The British soldiers were well trained and although the Islands were thousands of kilometres from Great Britain, the British Navy supplied remarkably good logistical support. The British soldiers’ moral was also much better than the Argentineans’. Although totally outnumbered by the Argentineans, the British were able to overrun the Argentinean defences within weeks, with great loss of life on the side of the Argentineans.

After the war the Argentinean president and two members of his military government were brought to trial and found guilty of negligence during the war. They were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment each.1

True story!

But how is it relevant to this blog? 

Somehow an imaginary line has been drawn in people's minds between "real, front-line missionaries" and "support missionaries". Our mission actually has no such categories, thankfully.

One of the things I've done as a support missionary is to
 help other missionaries be better writers so
they can communicate their unique stories.
A blog post appeared recently in my Facebook feed called, "In Praise of Mission Support Workers". It is written by an OMF church planter in Thailand. He wrote that he hates the question: “How much [finance] goes to admin?” I have to admit that I've never been asked that question and I'm glad. 

First I don't have a figure to give. 
Second, it implies that money not used directly in evangelism and church planting is wasted money. 
Third, I am a support missionary. 95% of what I do is supporting other missionaries, so what is a question like that saying about me and my ministries?

Modern military forces would never send their armies out without support. They need a lot of infrastructure to be effective. People who aren't on the "front line". The same principle apply to mission.

The above author successfully points out that he can't do his ministry and do all the things that are needed to support his ministry (including admin related to donations, visas), nor is he capable to do things that are necessary to keep missionaries on the field (like medical advice, teaching their kids, supervising language students).

1. Zakheim, D.S. (1985) The South Atlantic Conflict: Strategic, Military, and Techonological Lessons. In Coll, A.R. &; Arend, A.C. (eds.) The Falklands War: Lessons for Strategy, Diplomacy, and International Law. Allen & Unwin, Inc, USA.) pp 177 & 179.

04 February, 2015

Doing shopping and stuff

This morning David and I had a "shopping date". We headed off to a shopping centre and attached a list of stuff that needed attending to. It was great to do this without the hinderance of children. We ended up shopping in parallel to each other, keeping in touch with which shops we were each at, but each doing our own thing. Stopping in the middle to have morning tea coffee/milkshake (our second for the week). I also came away with a skirt from Katies that was originally $59.95 for only $17, that was great too. A lovely productive morning!

This week has really been about settling back into preparing for the remaining five months. Our minds are turning back to Japan. It's brought into focus things that need preparing for/doing/buying before we go back to Japan. It's also meant a number of emails setting up appointments/making enquiries etc.

I spent a good number of hours putting together our prayer letter over the last two days too, which also produced a flurry of emails from folk who want to meet up with us in the coming months.

Some examples of things we've worked on this week:-

  • made an optometrist appointment for one child
  • enquired about some immunisation that our 15 y.o. missed and the medical centre didn't ring us about (though they said they would)
  • enquired about making a psychologists appointment for debriefing
  • sought the contact details of theOMF medical advisor for this area to talk about a referral the school in Japan requires
  • found out David's timetable for this semester and trying to get our minds around how that will work with our one-car family
  • arranged to get together with various people here in Brisbane over the next couple of months as well as in Canberra when we're there at the start of next month
  • trying to get more details about our obligations in Canberra
  • trying to line up a car for us to use in Canberra
  • investigating courses in design and writing, thinking ahead to taking up my magazine editing role again
  • David's been continuing preparation for the courses he's teaching later this month
  • trying to line up a couple more church meetings
  • shopping for remaining school supplies, new clothes/shoes for David and me, new sheets for some beds in Japan
Quite an array! It's good to be productive, I hate being bored.