30 November, 2015

Kids Newsletter—December

It's time to send out our quarterly Kids newsletter. If you'd like a better copy, please email me.

29 November, 2015

Back home from camping

We've been back 24 hours from our camping trip.

Good news: It wasn't anywhere near as cold as was predicted (one prediction was max -1 on Friday and -6 minimum). The coldest we saw was -.04˚C at about 8am on Friday. We were up at 2am fixing the annex that night at it was above zero even then.

Bad news: The swing that the boys remembered so fondly had been "removed for safety reasons". Probably, the high pine-tree branch it had been attached to had begun to break. The flying fox had also been removed. This news was taken fairly stoically, but has meant that we may or may not return to this campsite. We'll be looking around for another with more appeal.

Good news: 

  • The boys kept themselves busy anyway and had lots of fun. 
  • Attitudes were great 90% of the time, which is probably a higher percentage than we get at home. 
  • My dream of everyone "pitching in and helping without being forced" pretty much came true for set-up and take-down.
  • The view was a spectacular as ever. Worth getting out of bed for even when the temperatures are very low.
  • Temperatures on Thursday while we set-up and ate dinner were very mild (10˚C dropping to 7˚C during dinner).
  • My modified simple menu was worthwhile (I pre-cooked some food, making me busier earlier in the week).
I couldn't stop exclaiming at the view. To the point where I'm 
being mildly teased about it by one son. The location is
basically surrounded by spectacular views. From this 
location, if you turn around and walk about 300m, 
you get a view of Mt Fuji.
Sunset on the first night. We were the only
overnight campers this night.

A bit of a weird panorama, but it gives you a little bit of perspective.

Getting out of the wind into the tent was a good way to pass 
the evening. We played card games. The silver insulation sheets
were marvellous. You can see it, but I'm sitting on an electric
carpet (about 40cm x 40cm). It was fantastic too, but too little to
share. A larger one would have been super.

The only time we saw the thermometer under zero.

Loved the skies!
One activity that still existed was the Park Golf course. It's a
game from Hokkaido, a bit like putt-putt or mini golf, except
that it is played on much more "natural" courses. This course
was more "natural" than most as instead of "sand traps" we
had "leaf traps". At one point my orange ball disappeared 
into a drift about 15cm of leaves.

Many Japanese campsites have their own camp kitchens.
This is one of the best equipped we're seen. Usually 
camp kitchens are merely sinks with cold water taps under a shelter
This kitchen had gas burners and hot running water. Not
to mention a view. One of our camp traditions is that all the boys take turns to help
parents (who also take turns) wash or dry after each meal. 

This is another camp tradition: bananas, chocolate, and marshmallow in foil cooked in the fire. Amazing. I know you can do this at home, but I've kept it a camp-only dessert so it's really special.
My view on the last morning before I got out of my toasty warm bed. Wondering how we coped with such low temperatures? Each boy had two or three sleeping bags (they are all second-hand and not super quality). David and I slept on the queen-sized air bed I bought at Thrift Shop for 500 yen. We had a thin blanket under us, each were in our own sleeping bags, and then we had two queen-sized blankets (and our jackets) on top. It was toasty.
I wore two layers on my feet legs and three on my torso, in addition to a scarf and beanie.
Just to prove that our dining room did indeed include an amazing view. This is the guys sitting around the breakfast fire.
We're occasionally asked whether Japanese people camp. They do. Probably a lower percentage of them than Australians, but we're rarely alone in a campsite. We were the only overnight campers on Thursday night, by Friday night there were a handful of other campers. But by the time we left just before lunch on Saturday there were nearly a dozen other campers. We saw a couple of these tepees yesterday, they look cosy.
A bit of self-generated fun while we waited for the bottom of the tent to dry off before we
packed it away for another winter. The three boys (can you see them all?) each stood on a campsite-marker.
On the way out of the campsite we stopped to take in Mt Fuji's beauty.
One of our traditions has become stopping at this local road-side farmers stall to buy apples. We bought 20kg of "seconds" for 100 yen a kilo (about AU$1.13). When apples usually start at 100 yen per apple in this country, that is a huge bargain.

One big reason the boys love camping at this time of year is because there are hardly any creepy crawlies. No putting sunscreen and mozzie repellent on whenever you're outside!

But I've come home tired and headachy (latter probably muscle tension, cold does that to you). I didn't sleep super well on Friday night because the wind was loud in the trees surrounding the campsite and periodically it whipped down and teased our tarp-annex. I found myself tense, just waiting for the moment when we'd have to get out of our cosy bed and fix it up. After a while I had to distract myself with other thoughts. Thankfully it stayed up all of Friday night, but I did lose sleep.

But it was mentally refreshing to get out of the city, as usual, and I can't wait until next spring when we can go camping again.

Camping at this time of year also always functions as an awareness exercise. My prayers for the homeless of this world take on a new dimension. As I think about the Syrian refugees in Europe at the moment my heart goes out to them. Not only have they lost almost everything they know, they are facing a cold winter. I've also heard that the Christians among them still fear for their lives and are often staying away from the "comfort" of the crowded refugee camps.

26 November, 2015

Reviving a camping tradition

We're going camping today. It's going to be cold, but fun. The boys (who aren't overtly enthusiastic campers) were all happy at breakfast, even the one who's usually grumpy. So I'm happy. 

I think the main reason they're happy is that we're repeating a fun experience that we've done before. After a year away, it's good to be back, going to the same campsite at the same time of year. It's a tradition.

Statements heard this morning:
"I can't wait to get on that awesome swing. It's the best swing in the world."
"Remember the apple farm. Are we going to buy apples mum? Those apples are amazing."
"Oh, and the ofuro (Japanese public bath), we're going there too, aren't we?" 
Here are a few photos from our three earlier Thanksgiving weekend camping trips, as you can see, it is a divine spot.

25 November, 2015

More funny English

Finding funny English can be an interesting pastime in non-English speaking countries. In Japan a great source is the 100 yen shops that have English translations on many of their products. Here's some we found on the weekend.

The last one I found on a packet of tissues this afternoon. It brings to mind images I'd rather not imagine.

24 November, 2015


One day we'll understand the troubles we go through now,
 but for now it's as if we are looking through grubby glass.

Our daily Bible reading notes usually has a single, sometimes pithy, sometimes redundant or corny statement at the bottom. Today it was disappointing.
Jesus is the only friend who will never disappoint you.
Just quickly without thinking hard I could think of several people (most of whom are friends) who haven't had their prayers answered: two whose spouses have died young this year, one who desires joy but never seems to get it, one who has post-natal depression for the second time despite all precautions, and one who is lonely, despite many people around her, one who wishes her job were easier, even though she works for a Christian organisation, and another who yearns to be married. 

Those represent only a smattering, of people I know about or who've confided in me in recent months. I'd want to bet that there are many more out there, or perhaps everyone who's had something that they've desperately prayed about not answered in the way they wanted.

Philip Yancey's Disappointment with God delves deeply into this.

So clearly there are problems with the above quote. Everyone I mentioned above are Christians. 

Jesus is indeed the perfect friend, the only perfect friend, in that he doesn't ever do evil against us. But because we aren't perfect and we don't live in a perfect world bad things happen. In God's great wisdom he's using all this imperfection for his good purposes, but we don't necessarily know what that is. And it often hurts.

On Sunday one of David's colleagues preached about the Bible metaphor of God as the potter and us as the clay. It was great to hear a live sermon in English (I often listen to a  recording of a sermon from our home church during the week). But the metaphor is such a good one, and as a lover of pottery and the husband of a potter, he was able to give extra insight.

This image appears in several places in the Bible. Some examples are Romans 9:21 "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?" and Jeremiah 18:4 "But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him."

The preacher on Sunday pointed out that if we were to imagine ourselves as clay being formed into a piece of pottery, there's a lot of rough stuff that happens during the process.

It is a helpful analogy when feeling that Jesus isn't appearing to be the perfect friend that you want. He's not just a friend, he's our creator, Lord, and is in the business of forming us into the vessels he wants us to be.

So I object to the simplistic statement that Jesus is the only perfect friend. He is perfect and he is a friend, but he's much more than a friend. And from our limited and flawed perspectives he can appear very imperfect indeed.

Do not be discouraged. Jesus' love for us is very great, greater than a best friend.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). 

23 November, 2015

Cheap restaurants in Japan

Most of my day was spent in meetings. School-related meetings plus one magazine meeting. I had coffee at a local coffee shop and lunch at a local restaurant, one of the below. But I've spent less than ¥1,100 (less than AU$11.50). That included a drinks bar and a bowl of pasta for lunch. I doubt that I could do that in Australia. 

We missed these cheap places to eat and meet in Australia. A lot of our individual meetings (more than sixty) with people were held in coffee shops, and we were very thankful that many people paid for our coffee or tea (or even a whole meal) otherwise ministry expenses could have been quite high.

22 November, 2015

I feel sorry for Samson's parents

My three boys on holidays in July.
Yesterday morning I read about Samson's early life in the Bible (Judges 13-16). Have you ever read it from the perspective of his parents? I was a little shocked. We've been having challenging times with our boys. Bad attitudes, subtle and blatant disobedience, push back all over the place. The sort of behaviour that leaves you drained at the end of the day. On top of that at least one email about each boy from the school this week, with concerns about various things. And one boy who's needed considerable scaffolding at night to get his assignments done.

I'm tired and wondering if I can manage to get through the next eight years of parenting teenage at school.
But then I read Samson's story. His poor parents!

Before he was born his parents were childless, his mother was barren. An angel appeared 
to her and told her she was going to have a baby boy. And he gave her some specific instructions: she was to be careful not to drink wine or fermented drink and no eating "unclean" things (as defined by the Jewish law). Don't cut your son's hair. He's going to be a permanent Nazarite. (Someone especially set aside as a holy man, something like the monk of today.)
She went and told her husband, describing the man she saw as "very awesome" (NIV). Her husband, Manoah, prayed, asking God to send the man of God again to teach them how to parent this boy.
The angel came again, but to the woman who was out in the field alone, she fetched her husband and they had an interesting interaction.
Manoah asked what should govern the boy's life and work. The angel repeated the instructions he gave Samson's mother (she's nameless). Then Manoah invited the man to stay for a meal of goat. The Bible notes that he doesn't realise that it is an angel. 

At this point the angel starts to sound irritated. He doesn't want any food, but urges them to prepare a burnt offering to the Lord. They do, but first they ask him his name. The angel tells them it is beyond understanding (some translations call it "wonderful").
The angel ascended in the flame of the burnt offering. Manual and his wife "fell with their faces to the ground" and realised it was an angel they'd seen when he didn't appear again.

Manual exclaimed that they were sure to die now that they'd "seen God", but his wife realistically noted he'd accepted their offering, so surely they wouldn't die.

I can only imagine that they needed such a clear demonstration of God's purpose in this young man's life because he certainly wouldn't have been an easy child to raise. We hear a lot about Delilah and the incident at the end of his life knocking a whole building down. But his young adult years are also recorded in strong, colourful terms.

The context of his birth is that Israel had been up to bad stuff again and God gave them into the hand of the Philistines for 40 years. Samson was his chosen man to get them out of there.
We first hear that the spirit of the Lord has stirred in Samson at the end of Judges 13, then the next chapter starts with Samson choosing a Philistine wife. He bluntly told his parents, "I saw a woman, go get her for me now!" Ouch. They try to reason with him, suggesting it would be better to marry within their own people, but he just cuts them off and says this is who she wants. Verse four tells the reader that this wife was God's plan's to go into bat for Israel.
This courtship didn't start well. It didn't end well either. At their wedding he managed to alienate the "thirty companions" his wife's people had chosen to be with Samson (see 14:12-18). The end result? He killed 30 men of the town and stole their clothes to settle what he'd started. And his wife was given to his best man.

Later he went to visit his wife and was turned away by her father. He went on to avenge the Philistine fields and they avenged that loss by killing Samson's wife and father.

From this unlikely start Samson led Israel under the rule of the Philistines for 20 years.

But just think of his parents watching this. Their eldest and presumably only son's marriage in tatters from the very start and he's out there killing his in-laws and others from their community. What a disaster. What a strong-willed young man.
But somehow, in the midst of all this, God's will was done. Though this man seemed to be out of control, his birth was clearly organised by God for a purpose. Though there's a lot we don't understand, can you imagine how his parents felt? They didn't know how the story ended, or the privilege of the editorial notes that we have in the Bible.
They must have despaired at times. Wondered if they'd done all that they were supposed to do. Wondered why God had given them such a child.
Just as we wonder at times. Just as we despair of the future for our kids. Don't you wish sometimes that you could know the end of the story? The editorial notes that might be written if we knew what was going on below the surface?
In the end as parents we can't do anything about this but look to God for wisdom every day. Entrust our kids and our parenting to Him. Then wait and hope and trust.

21 November, 2015

Franklin Graham is in Tokyo tonight

It's five o'clock here and the doors have just opened at Tokyo's famous Bodoukan. Thousands will be pouring into the 10,000 seat stadium to hear Michael W Smith and other Christian musicians. Then Franklin Graham will address the audience. It is part of a much anticipated Billy Graham Evangelical Association's (BGEA) "Celebration of Love" or in old terms "crusade".

Last night and this morning the scene was repeated, and tomorrow evening the final large gathering will take place.

They've trained many Japanese Christians in "counselling" skills to minister to those who come forward and have engaged the support of more than 400 local churches. They've gathered and trained a huge choir of locals to perform (I haven't heard how large).

One of our sons is good friends with the son of one of the BGEA's missionaries. It's been interesting to get to know that family just a little and see the vast amount of behind the scenes work. On Monday I was in the office building that houses their head office and was taken in the office for a short while to meet someone. There were about a dozen Japanese people busy on phones and computers. It was very intense, the air full of joyful anticipation. 

In this land of 126 million people, less than 1% love the Lord. If this were the start of something big, it would be amazing. Japan has never seen a large-scale Christian revival. We continue to pray.

Here are a couple of links you might be interested in looking at:

  • A report from last night.
  • Here's a live link you can watch tonight's event at from 6pm Tokyo time (5pm Qld time).
  • Here's a pre-event flash mob on the streets of Tokyo advertising the event (we know a number of the faces in this vide).

20 November, 2015

Dealing with criticism of something you've created

I've been neck deep in editing for a couple of months now. 

This week we mailed out the summer issue of Japan Harvest, the magazine I manage, the last issue that was largely put together in my absence in Australia. 

This week we finished editing the articles for the autumn issue and the designers are now working on it. 

This week I began receiving articles for the winter issue. Today I've been allocating the various tasks required for each article to various team members.

It's keeping my brain limber!

Finishing off articles includes checking with the author that they're happy with our edits. 97% of the time people are, or have only minor issues. 3% of the time (I'm guessing the percentages, by the way) someone has major issue with what we've done.

This week I had someone in that latter category. Thankfully he acted graciously and didn't take it personally, even though he felt as though we'd over-edited and taking his voice out of the article. That is precisely why I make a point of checking with authors (not every magazine does), because I've had this done to me and it isn't nice.

But it isn't easy to deal with criticism of your writing. It is something you get used to and even come to appreciate (as long as you don't come across an editor that isn't professional and fair). Here is a helpful blog post that gives some pointers about dealing with criticism of your writing. And a quote from the post:
It’s important to remember one truth: Your editor wants you to write something their readers will love.