27 April, 2017

Difficult news to get our heads around

I'm feeling overwhelmed by a number of things, but the biggest is that we've had two missionaries in Japan die from cancer in the last two days (one from Scotland, our Field Director, and one from Japan who was working in another part of Asia)

As I try to put thoughts down, my words are a shambles of bits and pieces, please also excuse my lack of clarity. Whatever I put down seems to be inadequate. I'd like to be profound, but the case is simply that we don't understand. It makes no sense to our mortal minds. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in heaven today as these two men figure out what was going on, why they've been called to heaven so early and left those who loved them behind.

What I can say is that my emotions are mixed. On the one hand I feel a bit like David when his first child with Bathsheba died (2 Samuel 12:15-23). He pleaded with the Lord for this life of his child while he was ill so much so that his attendants were afraid to tell him when the child died, however David cleaned himself up and appeared to be "normal" again:
22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him,but he will not return to me.”
So, in a way, it is a relief that we now know these men are with Jesus. Yes they will be missed and we still don't understand why they had to die in the midst of fruitful ministry, but the end of the waiting period is over. I hope that doesn't sound callous, if it does, please keep reading.

I feel like the grieving has continued on several levels for months, but especially these last four weeks or so. Obviously when we first heard last year it was a shock and we've prayed ever since. Then in February things were looking up, it looked like the stem-cell transplant had taken for our field director, but in late March the news was bad again and continued that way.

Periodically we heard news that cheered our hearts. Our Field Director's wife (my OMF line manager) was particularly good at pointing out all the good that God was doing in the midst of this horrible situation. For example, after they knew there was no earthly way to recover from this they had a few weeks to say all they needed to say to one another before he went to heaven.

It is only just over two years since another OMF missionary in his 50s died from cancer. I wrote about that here. On top of that a teacher from CAJ is also battling what looks like terminal cancer and less than two years ago another missionary in the CAJ community also died from cancer. It feels like an epidemic and it's easy to give in to fear, but I know our Lord doesn't want that. Sometimes it seems hard enough that we've been called to minister in a land that shows little fruit, but this too? 

It is scary to me, putting this down in black and white with the intention to hit "publish" when I'm done. However the psalms give me courage. Psalm 42 is a good one to dwell on:

vs 3 My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
vs 5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God. (NIV)
The night before my birthday early this month we received what turned out to be the last email from our Field Director. Here is a portion of what he wrote:
I challenge you to keep on with the good work and ministries you are engaged with in Japan in the hope that many will turn to Jesus and be built up in Him. 

We are not a people without hope. We have found the words of one of the verses of Stuart Townend’s song very helpful in recent days:

There is a hope that lifts my weary head, 
A consolation strong against despair,
That when the world has plunged my in its deepest pit,
I find the Saviour there! 

And the second half of the first verse:

I stand in Christ, with sins forgiven;
And Christ in me, the hope of heaven!
My highest calling and my deepest joy,
To make His will my home. 

May God be glorified in all things.  We all have the hope that one day we will meet again in a better place.

Your brother in Christ.
Here's the whole song: 

Here are the lyrics of the whole song:
There is a hope that burns within my heart 
That gives me strength for every passing day
A glimpse of glory now revealed in meagre part
Yet drives all doubt away
I stand in Christ with sins forgiven
And Christ in me the hope of heaven
My highest calling and my deepest joy
To make His will my home.
There is a hope that lifts my weary head
A consolation strong against despair
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit
I find the Saviour there
Through present sufferings future's fear
He whispers courage in my ear
For I am safe in everlasting arms
And they will lead me home.
There is a hope that stands the test of time
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face
When sufferings cease and sorrows die
And every longing satisfied
Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul

For I am truly home
Indeed, our colleagues are now truly home. And those of us left behind who still suffer, will have courage whispered in our ears and hope that lifts our weary heads.

25 April, 2017

Being flexible

Here is an edited post I wrote in 2009. It is still relevant (though I no longer go to Curves):

The other night at Curves one of the trainers was giving out slips of paper detailing some changes during the next month in opening times. Just a simple slip of white paper, covered in black type, all in Japanese. 

They are very kind to me at the gym and knowing my reading isn't so good, so she attempted to convey to me verbally the essence of the message, to be sure that I understood it. She then apologised for any inconvenience, but I replied trying to say that my schedule is a bit flexible. Unfortunately I couldn't remember the word for "flexible". So I did what any foreigner with some Japanese knowledge will do, and I Japanized the English word and said I was "furekishiburu".

To understand this you have to know that Japanese is a syllabic language. That means that they don't construct words with single letters like in English, they construct words with syllables. This works fine, it really does, until they try to import foreign words. Just like when we try to read Welsh words which have not enough vowels, the Japanese panic a little when they see two consonants together. Then they insert vowels in the middle and on the end in most cases.

So McDonalds becomes an unwieldy Macudonarudo. An easier example would be "beetle" becomes "beetoru". They also have only five vowel sounds and some English consonants don't have an equivalent (for example "r" and "l" come out the same). However, once you put a word through this filter, they can actually pronounce it and remember it. 

Many, many English (and other language) words appear in Japanese and make foreigners' lives easier. They are even so kind as to use a different alphabet to distinguish between Japanese words and foreign-originated words. The problem comes when you cannot remember which words have been adopted and which have not. Occasionally you get a surprise when you use the Japanese word and they come out with an English-type equivalent. 

That's a long explanation, I'm sorry. I guess this story is not so easy to understand, after all! Anyway, they didn't know furekishiburu

After some explanation and gestures, they figured out what I meant and someone immediately said, "ahh, furekishiburu taimu". Can you translate? Yes - "flexible time". They had a phrase including the word, but not the adjective itself! Ah, the fun time we have living in a non-English speaking country. It sure makes you furekishiburu!

24 April, 2017

Thrift Shop thoughts

Last week was as busy, as predicted. As one friend put it, you put your life on hold for four days when you work on the Thrift Shop committee. 

So, I walked away from my usual work, I organised a string of left-over meals for home, and paid less attention to my kids. Of course it was all waiting for me after Thrift Shop finished on Saturday. The dust bunnies are accumulating because I skipped my once a week vacuum on Wednesday. I'll get them this week! The emails and editing accumulated too, but I'm gradually tackling them today. In the weeks prior to Thrift Shop I said many "no"s, in an attempt to preserve space after Thrift Shop to catch-up.

It's tiring and stressful
What makes Thrift Shop extra tiring and stressful is that we're overseeing a huge amount of work in a very short time with a volunteer workforce of varying understanding of what they're supposed to do.

(Mostly) high school boys who helped us with the heavy lifting of
set-up. Most of the Thrift Shop infrastructure is stored under the cafeteria
in a poky basement accessed by steep stairs. Think: tables,
coat racks, coat hangers, shelving etc. We need these guys!
Thousands of second hand items come into our care in the first two days and then we sell the majority of it over just 10 hours over the next one and a half days and finally, after the shop is closed, we give away the remainder to a charity and second hand store then clean up and restore the gym to it's former state. It's a huge job that runs remarkably smoothly because we do it the same way every time, twice a year.

My view from behind the "register" before
the customers turned up.
I get people overload. One day I came home and hid in my bedroom for a while till I'd calmed down. On Friday in the middle of the day I "hid" in the workers room for a bit too. It induces visual overload and decision overload. 

Dust overload too! Many workers wear masks because they struggle with the dustiness. I'm okay, but my eyes were gritty by the end of the day and nose a bit itchy. I cleaned my glasses on Thursday at lunchtime and just a few hours later they were covered in dust again.

On Saturday I worked on the registers for four hours, about two hours in I was struggling with a furry head (possible headache plus fatigue) and then a stomach ache. It truly is exhausting. This morning I really struggled to wake up.

But it's worth it
However, despite all this, I continue to do this. There are a couple of reasons:
I laughed with a Japanese lady from church over these tags off things
she was buying. Most things are tagged with just a price and a PTA
number, but this artistic seller created art on hers. What was even more
special was that I got to have a conversation with someone I don't normally
connect with.
  • It is a great way that I can support the school within the job that I do. My schedule is more flexible than many people's so I can make the time to do this. But it also is a job that only happens twice a year, so the commitment isn't so big that it stops me taking on other things. For most of fifty weeks in a year I can forget that I do this job.
  • It is one of the key ways I've gotten to know people at school. I look at a number of friends that I have and realise that Thrift Shop was where I either first met them, or took big steps towards knowing them better. Working alongside people is a much less awkward way to get to know people, especially when there are cultural barriers. When I walked in on the first day to start work last week I was greeted like a long-lost friend by the key people who I do this with each time. Friendship is so important in sustaining us, and volunteering at Thrift Shop is a key way to invest in other people.
Another reason that I don't mind being on the Thrift Shop committee is that it gives me a defined job to do. I find that easier to manage, especially at the big set-up and take-down times.