30 June, 2016

A pre-holiday flurry

I'm knocking things off my list of things to do and trying to fend off new things to add. On the list I published on Monday I've done most of the things in the top section. 

It is the last point (editing) that seems to have no end! With three magazines in varying active stages at present, I feel a bit like I'm fencing, I've got stuff coming from various angles and throwing some out there myself as well. Very soon I'm going to have to put an artificial stop to it all and start serious preparing for camping. We leave in only about 35 hours.

Here's some of what we've been up to:

Yesterday I got to play with a cleaning "toy", it did
a good job, but it was tiny and had no handle, so
I was on the floor with it.

Others got to do heavier work, though sitting on the floor for about three hours highlighted that I'm no longer as young as I used to be. 
Things can get tight here. This is moving a washing machine out.
David's been mending holes in the floor of our tent (very important because it doesn't look like we're going to get away without significant periods of rain). Last night I also patched up the tent bag that I made a few years ago.
Tent and tent bag: being mended inside
as we have nowhere outside to do it.

Instead of being grumpy with my family and obsessing
about how much computer work I needed to do, I
picked up my computer and walked to our local coffee
shop this morning (this afternoon I'm at another location).
It was a good strategy, taking me away from all that could
distract me and focused my attention well.

All this activity has been tinged with sadness. The people we helped clean and move yesterday are leaving us "permanently". Their lives have entangled with ours in many ways in the last few years (including using their sewing machine to initially finish that tent bag I mended last night). It will be sad not seeing them around. And we received more somber news about our field director's health this morning, plus news yesterday that the head of school (CAJ) had suddenly resigned.

It will be a relief to go away from the craziness for a couple of weeks, but the sadness won't go away so easily.

29 June, 2016

Mobilising people for mission

I wrote some time ago about putting together a mobilisation table for this conference. Here is what it ended up looking like with the help of a creative colleague's input:

We've gathered names of people willing to write stories for our OMF Japan website as well as the addresses of those who are blogging. We sold some books: "31 Days of Prayer for Japan" and got expressions of interest in ordering a prayer calendar that I produce. Plus we had some mobilising ideas in the form of prayer cards and photo albums and ideas written up on the "seed pods". One of my ideas didn't work (a competition to design mobilising bookmarks or postcards), but we'll give it a go again later in the year, just that voting will be by email rather than in person.

I'd say it was a success. I think it is something we should do regularly at conferences: sharing ideas on how we can do this challenging job of mobilising people to serve/pray/support missions.

28 June, 2016

On this week

One feature I've been enjoying recently on Facebook is called "On this Day". It lists all the posts you've done on this day throughout your history with Facebook. Periodically it recalls a significant memory that I'd forgotten, or didn't know the exact date of.
July 4 2013: This was taken in the park we camped in in
Wakkanai, the northern most city in Japan.

It turns out that this last week of June has been a significant week for a number of years for us. Not because of birthdays or anniversaries, but mostly because of school holidays and large transitions.

Here are a few things that have happened this week over the last ten years:

2015: Last year we flew back to Japan after a year in Australia this week (actually today).

2014: We flew to Australia from Japan for a year (tomorrow).

2013: We finished our national mission conference in Hokkaido and began our memorable camping tour around northern Hokkaido.

2012: We few to Australia for a holiday that included a road trip to Uluru (Ayres Rock) (tomorrow).

2011: We were hosting friends from Brisbane for a fortnight, giving them something of Japan experience on their holidays.

2010: We were preparing to return to Japan after a year's home assignment in Australia.

2009: We were preparing to fly to Australia for a year.

2008: This was a stay-at-home-in-Tokyo year (we had 3, 5, and 9 year olds). But we did discover on this day that our middle son had chicken pox, which he kindly shared with his brothers over the coming weeks.

2007: This was an uneventful week in 2007. We did fly to Hokkaido early in June for the national conference, and then flew to Australia later in July for a holiday and Wendy stayed on with the boys into September for her sister's wedding.

2006: I went to Sapporo for a language refresher (2nd July) and the family followed a couple of weeks later on the car ferry.

You certainly couldn't say we've had a dull decade!

27 June, 2016

Don't compare, it cripples

Our conference photo: about 120 adults, 70 kids, plus childcare workers.
We're the largest mission in Japan and when we all get together
it is quite a sight.
A great temptation at missionary conferences is to compare. This is the one time you get together with others in the world who are most like you, it is the one place in the world where you seem most ordinary. And it is a place where it is very tempting to compare yourself to others.

It was refreshing to share one lunch with two couples: one who's been around longer than us and the other who are newbies. The advice from the former to the latter was: "No comparison." It was good to hear again. It's something we need to regularly remind ourselves of because otherwise we slip into saying things like this (either to ourselves, or aloud):

  • My Japanese is awful.
  • I'm a second-class missionary.
  • I wish I had better evangelistic skills.
  • There's been no fruit in my ministry for ages.
  • If only I had gifts like so-and-so I'd be okay.
  • What am I going to write in my prayer letter this month? It's still the same-old-same-old, not like so-and-so who's had three baptisms in the last three months.
  • Just look at that missionary family, they seem to have it all together, their kids are bilingual and they're all so talented.
And so on. The temptation to compare is huge. Usually we put ourselves down, but pride can be an issue too.

I know that missionaries aren't immune to this. Last week I came across a excellent blog post from a writer's perspective about comparison. It's very relevant to whoever you are, I recommend you read it if you struggle in this area (and I'm betting it's most of us).
I need not feel threatened by the achievements of others. When I do feel threatened I am not able to encourage or build up others. I am in self-preservation mode and lose sight of the big picture. I am more likely to miss loving God and loving my neighbour the way God wants me to. 
Jenny Glazebrook, from linked blog post.

26 June, 2016

Post conference exhaustion

Wednesday during free time at conference, I walked to the
 "coffee shop on a cliff" and we were rewarded with a
delightful time of chatting with this view in the background.
Conference was tiring. I always look forward to these events, but the exhaustion caused by conferences continues to slip my mind a little. Exhaustion was compounded, of course, by the trip home on Friday night. 

Thankfully we've had a pretty quiet weekend. I was even tired enough to have a nap for an hour and a half this afternoon. For those of you with little kids, I'm at a stage of life where it's not always the case that I'm so tired that I could sleep just any day, so being able to sleep is a sign I'm pretty tired.

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed at the list of things I need to do (or potentially need to do) in the next few days before we leave for our camping trip. But I'm trying to stick with the strategy of just doing the next thing.

My list includes the following:
  • mend tent bag
  • work on camping list
  • get eldest son's shoes mended
  • write a prayer letter
  • digest my new camera's manual
  • do a critique for one of my writing partners
  • help clean a friend's apartment
  • a meeting to reorganise sign storage system for CAJ's Thrift Shop
  • a visa run to pick up our visas
  • new friends for lunch
  • language exchange afternoon tea
And the biggest item on my to-do list:
  • Do as much work on magazine editing as I can before we go (I've got three magazines on the go at different stages at present, so this point includes proofreading checks, checking edited articles with authors, plus answering questions from editors, writers, and designers.) Unfortunately this won't get finished to a point where I can walk away for the 15 days of our trip, so the computer will be packed too, though hopefully I'll be able to do just minimal work while we're away.

25 June, 2016

The remainder of the story

One of my sons asked me at lunch today if I'd already written up our travel story (part of the dialogue we kept up in the midst of it yesterday was "this is going to be a good story we'll be telling in the future"). They're getting used to my speed, I guess!
In our upgraded seats at 9.35 last night.

The English explanation of our cancelled flight on the
top line there is "Due to ship shortage" which seemed
just a little out of place in an airport.
What I posted last night here was not the end of the story. We waited an hour in the line pictured in yesterday's post. When we finally got to the start of the line an airline employee offered us an upgrade to a non-budget airline and a flight leaving 1 1/2 hrs earlier than what we'd been promised five hours earlier. In fact we were onboard only 40 minutes later in slightly better than our usual Ecomony seats. All five of us were upgraded for our 90 min flight. Including a footrest, which was delightful for this short lady!

We arrived in Tokyo at 11.40 and then had to figure our how to get home. By the time we'd collected our bags we were out of time to take the train route across Tokyo (trains stop between midnight and five am). So, armed with money given to us by the airline just before we boarded in Sapporo, we approached the taxi rank. The person in charge there appeared to only represent one company, however, and couldn't find a taxi big enough for five passengers. He pointed us at a public phone and basically said, "Find one yourself." There were more than a dozen companies listed. 

During our five hours of waiting, we hung out at Starbucks, investigated
a chocolate mini museum and shop, did some Christmas and other shopping,
and ate dinner. I saw these and wondered if I really wanted a "Mint Face"!
It was midnight and the task of ringing around in Japanese just seemed like the last straw. So we did some quick research. We investigated rental cars: no cars available. We briefly thought about a capsule hotel but couldn't quickly find info (my phone had 10% battery power and David's had no service). So we went back to taxis and took two. 
It turned out to be a good move. They drove together and we got home in just 60 minutes. It was expensive but we had the money from the aeroplane company plus we had saved money in Sapporo because we had vouchers for meals there. So it all worked out in the end. In fact the Sapporo-Tokyo airport and airport to home legs were very comfortable, more so than if we'd gone economy class and trains.

We arrived home just after 1 and all were in bed within minutes. An 11 ½ hour journey! But we had great attitudes and behaviour from everyone the majority of time. A much nicer trip than Monday's. 

Thankfully today was fairly free. I'm the only one with something scheduled (the last photography school time), and that was only half a day. 

So it will be one of those stories in our family: "Remember that time our flight home from conference got cancelled because of a ship shortage..."

24 June, 2016

One of those air travel stories

We're in the midst of one of those air travel stories. We've been at the airport for over five hours and still have more than three hours to wait. As we left the conference we received an email saying our 6pm flight had been cancelled. When we arrived at the check-in counter they said we could get onto a flight at 11.10pm or book into a hotel and fly tomorrow afternoon. Not sure if they would have paid for a hotel but we decided to wait for tonight's flight. The challenge is that Tokyo trains don't run much after midnight. Thankfully the company will pay for a taxi, the first time we've ever taken a taxi in Tokyo. 

They also gave us food vouchers, and in the land of parenting teenage boys that's gold. We've had quite a feast and everyone's been pretty happy. Right now we're back in the check-in line and it's a long one. But time is something we're not short of tonight. Energy and tempers might be short tomorrow, though, as we'll probably not be home much before 2.30am. 

23 June, 2016

Interesting décor

This hotel has 647 rooms with a 4,000 metre square water play lagoon in the basement. The place was built 31 years ago. But it has an older feel than that, mostly because of the interesting furnishing and decorations spread throughout the halls. What kind of décor would you call this?

The huge dining room we've been eating in. 

A couple of the oddest high chairs I've ever seen. 

I found this in a corner of the large lobby. 

22 June, 2016

Where are you staying?

The last 24 hours have been better. I got rest yesterday afternoon and evening (skipped out on some of the programme, but shhh, don't tell anyone). I also slept better last night, though I did go to bed with a headache. I've had better conversations today, too, life-giving conversations rather than the other kind. 

This hotel is in a hot springs area (Jozankei) and is situated in a green valley and makes great use of that. You can see green from most windows. The dining room, especially. I love it.

The dining room is two stories high with windows from floor to ceiling along two of the four sides. 

This was taken from our table at lunch down to the adjacent river. 

The top large windows here are the dining room. Directly underneath is the indoor water park. Our boys spent several hours there yesterday. 

The view from my bed!

I'll take some internal photos at the hotel to show you tomorrow and maybe you can help me with words to describe the decor, however here is one of the more tasteful decorations (in one of the restrooms). 

21 June, 2016

Yesterday did me in

A lot happened yesterday. We left home a bit before 7 am and arrived at our conference hotel just southwest of Sapporo at 3 pm. In between that was three squishy trains in Tokyo peak hour (quite a drama with luggage and teenage boys who aren't used to so much personal space invasion), one plane, and a chartered bus. Then we had meetings from 4 till 9, with a break for dinner. It's already a bit of a blur! In the middle of that I also had two music practices and a mobilisation table to help set up and announce. 

It's no wonder to me now that I developed a headache in the afternoon that "turned into" a stomach migraine by 8.30. Sleep fixed me up on that front and I feel fine today, thankfully. 

I like the idea of travel, but I really am not the world's best traveller, it messes with my wellbeing. 

Conference days are good, but busy, with meetings from morning to night. Just now we're squeezing in a short rest between lunch and the start of the afternoon meetings. 

I am particularly looking forward to relaxing in a Japanese bath (see here) this evening after the programme is over for the day. 

19 June, 2016

Today's bits

This was the view from our room last time we
were there.
I'm racing to get lots done before we leave tomorrow morning for our mission's national conference in Hokkaido (big northern island of Japan).  (See here for last time we did this in 2013 at the same hotel.)

Today after church we celebrated Father's Day (it is Father's Day here and in many countries in the world today, unlike Australia) by going out to a cafe for morning tea. It was fun to get the boys to try to remember stories about their dad.
This photo of my family I took on our way from church to the cafe for our
Father's Day celebration. It lacking clarity. I was riding my bike and
just whipped my phone out of my bag in my front basket and
snapped one shot. David just happened to turn around at that moment!
He didn't know what I was doing and I didn't call his name! Amazing.

We stopped at a hardware store on the way home to get a chicken-type wire to make a lid for our turtle who's been trying to escape his enclosure recently.

We rested after lunch, as usual on a Sunday.
What caption would you add? This was how we transported our
turtle to our friends' house. It felt a bit weird but Tiny was fine!

Then three of us took the turtle to his/her turtle-sitters for the next month. They were very, very excited. With five kids in the house I'm not sure Tiny the Turtle is going to get much peace and quiet.

I then had to make 100 biscuits to take to conference. There's one thing about conferences in Japan (or Asia in general, I guess), is that they don't really do "snack time". Hence we've been asked to provide 20 portions of snacks per person attending = 100 for us!

Then it was heating up leftovers for dinner, eating, and reading the final instalment of our family read-aloud book for a while, Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix. (It's obviously not coming to conference with us). I've since read and sent some important emails and am writing this quick blog post.

Packing has occurred at various times through the day and continues as I write (I'm not quite finished myself...)

It's exciting to be going away (except for getting up at 5am) for the week. The conference has many things we're looking forward to:
  • great fellowship,
  • fantastic meals (all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast and dinner),
  • swimming pools in the basement,
  • luxurious onsen in the basement and on the top floor (Japanese public baths),
  • networking, and
  • more fellowship.
Hopefully we'll get good Bible teaching too. 

It will be nice to doing something different and to not be stuck at my desk and for the boys to be occupied. Oh, and hopefully there will be some nice weather, especially on Wednesday afternoon when we have free time, so that we can enjoy Hokkaido's rural beauty too.

However I am aware that my work doesn't stop just because I've got something like this on. The magazine is hopping on various fronts at present (three magazine at various stages on the go at present) and other matters that will need to be monitored. I'd be horrible at a traveling job: I always find it difficult to keep up with email etc. when I'm away.

But while I continue to sit here and write this, I'm not getting anything else done. So, farewell for now! 

18 June, 2016

More photography school

Today was the second instalment of our three-Saturday photography school (see last week here). We went up Mt Takao, a 599m mountain 38km south-west of here. We caught trains out there and spent the day traipsing around the mountain taking photos. I walked more than nine kilometres, much of it was up and down. 

This was the view at the top.

Lots of people there, many tourists. You can see it was hot (about 30C) as people were hugging the shade. Actually most of the walking was semi-shaded by trees, this was one of the sunniest spots. 

Riding the chair lift part-way up the mountain. So fun, I haven't been on a chairlift for a long time!

It was fun learning a new skill, but especially I think that it involved a lot of problem solving: Wanting to take a good photo, trying, failing, changing the settings on the camera, and trying again, and again, and again.

The below photo was taken at a museum at the bottom of the mountain. It was hard to take because it was under glass and there were numerous lights on the ceiling reflecting off the glass.

The next two were me playing with the depth of field. One is just focused close, the other has more of the distance in focus.

This photo doesn't look that great, but I appreciate it because it took a number of tries to even get it this good. An ant running around on this shady rock and I worked hard to get him in focus with enough light.

So aside from all the technical side of photography, it was fun people-watching.  There were many, many people on the mountain. We sat at the top for half an hour for lunch and lots of people walked past. The below photos were snapped with my iPhone while eating lunch.

I'm amused by Japanese hiking-fashion. Shorts and tights seem to be big. Some people even had thick woollen socks on. I can't imagine how hot they were.

Another good day, and I can't wait until I get my "new" camera on Monday, but I'm ready to chill out now. Time for a shower to wash off the sweat of the day and watch a West Wing episode.

17 June, 2016

Spiritual warfare

This week we received an email from our mission's Japan leaders calling us to prayer. It's not that we aren't praying, but they are urging an extra special time of prayer. They pointed out a bunch of stuff that's hindering the mission's work at present:
  • personnel issues: 
    • ill health (cancer especially)
    • finance (candidates unable to come because they don't have the financial support despite doing deputation for a long time)
    • leadership and support staff (ill health, lack of appropriate support staff etc.)
  • property issues: churches unable to get buildings/land for their congregations
  • partnership issues: churches unable to find pastors to hand take over from the missionaries
And of course the ongoing, always present issue of a lack of response to the gospel in Japan.

These things discourage us. Some of these things hinder us in the work too. There is a sense that there is a fierce spiritual battle going on.

I've often felt that with the magazine too. We have a great team now, but we're still battling to get it out on time. We battle miscommunication and discouragement. Sometimes it doesn't seem to matter what we do or improve, we still find challenges at every hand.

There are, of course, many things to be thankful and to praise God for, but I think we also need to take care that we don't disregard that we're in a spiritual battle here.
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" Ephesians 6:12 (NIV).
In 1 Peter 5:8 we're warned to "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (NIV).

This is, of course, why our mission requires us to not just have financial support, but prayer support too. Why we're required to send our prayer letters often. Why it is ill-advised for people to join us on the field very quickly, without taking the time to build a team who will faithfully support them in the good and the bad.

Please pray for us as a field (we have over 120 missionaries in Japan). The problems can seem unsurmountable at times and discouragement is often close at hand.

Why missionaries need time off

I have a post planned for later today, but I just saw a blog post by Susan, a friend and colleague here in Tokyo and thought it was too good not to share. She writes about why she took a day off, why missionaries need to take time off, more than you might think.

16 June, 2016

Hydrangea season

It's hydrangea season. A local friend noted the other day that the hydrangeas seem to be even more glorious than usual. I'm not sure, but they certainly are amazing. I rode along the river earlier today and stopped multiple times to take photos with my iPhone (for this post). Just look at the variety and depth of colour!

They're everywhere. Alone like this.
In flower beds beside buildings (all the flowers in this photo are hydrangeas, just down the road from our house).

And crowded between houses and the bike path alongside the river.

Japanese shops do seasonal decorating. A couple of months ago it was cherry blossoms. Now it's hydrangeas.

It makes me feel better for how I ended up dressed today. It wasn't raining when I left, so I threw my "rain pants" into my bag. I put them on on my journey home because it started drizzling. But I ended up looking a bit like a hydrangea myself!