21 February, 2018

Heading back home (which is where?)

This morning I'm blogging from the airport. Again! I'm in shock, actually. I've never gotten to a boarding gate for an international flight so fast. I arrived here less than 45 minutes  after was dropped off! I'm usually a bit of a mess before international flights, especially in and out of Australia, but today I'm feeling calm. And that's after having said goodbye to my son last night! I was even able to eat a decent breakfast at 6am, and that's almost unheard of in my history of flying internationally! I'm in quite a different emotional spot to when I wrote this blog post at Narita airport just two weeks ago.


This whole trip has gone remarkably smoothly. I'm so thankful. Have I said that before? When  big things like this work so well and I'm at peace in my spirit, I really know that people have been praying and that God is very present in the situation (and gone before, preparing so many things). What else can I do but praise him?

I read Psalm 98 yesterday morning and it starts like this:
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvellous things;
Indeed, I echo the psalmist's words today.

Mums in Australia have said to me about leaving our son here for uni, "I can't imagine doing what you're doing." But in many ways that is our life, we do a lot of things people who live in Australia can't imagine. But for those of us who live outside our passport country, it is expected that our children will leave and go to another country to study or work after leaving high school. So this really isn't as unnatural as you might think, and it certainly isn't unexpected. We've been thinking about this time for many years now. 

So I won't say it is easy, but it isn't as hard as you might expect. It's been made much easier by being able to see our son settle into a good living situation. He's with a Christian family who also have other university students living there, one of whom is very connected into the local church and a good Christian group on campus. Knowing that he's secure in his faith is another huge joy. Also seeing the steps he's made just in the last two weeks towards being independent, has been a big confirmation that this is good timing. He's ready for this challenge. (He had a difficult last time he was in Australia, I didn't write much about it on my blog, but just a hint came out here: https://mmuser.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/difficult-days.html That year really distressed me in regards to thinking ahead. What I didn't realise, though, was how much more maturity would come in the following 2 ½ years!)

So, here I sit. At another boarding gate. Preparing to go back to the rest of my family, and not feeling so bad about that at all (it will be nice to be in my own house again, though I've enjoyed all the meals made for me over the last two weeks). It's a new chapter, the next six or so years, as we gradually transition all our boys through their final years of school and into life as young adults. And once again, we're "making it up as we go".

19 February, 2018

Vital community

Book Face, the cool bookshop/cafe where I spent my morning.
I spent the morning at a cafe with some ladies from our Australian home church. It was great. I'm flying back to Japan on Wednesday, so this was the last time to see them before July. Though it was hard to say goodbye, I am delighted that they have been able to keep a corner in their hearts for me to jump in and out of their lives. 

And not just them, there are others too. What a blessing God has given to have special friends both in Japan and here. Even though I can never be satisfied because I always have to be away from one community to be in the other, I'm not without community in either place.

It was timely to see this article up on Facebook this morning. I worked on it (as an editor) a few months ago. It talks about the importance of community in helping new missionaries settle into their new country. Though it was beyond the scope of the article, I think that it really helps a missionary (or at least this one) to have some people who love and accept them in their home country. That's asking a lot, because you go in and out of their lives, something that can make good friendship quite a painful thing. But oh so valuable to have, so that this missionary, at least, can feel "at home" in either place.


16 February, 2018

A different week

This week has looked very different to last week. This week I've dedicated to catching up with certain special/key people/groups. 

I haven't seen my son at all, though we've had some video calls and I'm proud to report that he's doing really well and seems ready to take on the challenge of uni classes starting on Monday.

I'm feeling tired, but really happy. So excited by all the amazing people who still count me as a friend, though I'm not an ideal friend-choice in that I'm absent for years at a time. God has blessed me abundantly!

I said, "Say 'sushi'!" which really did get them smiling.
Today I spent several hours with a bunch of ladies from our home church who meet for Bible study on Friday mornings. I spent a year with them last time we were home and will be back there from July. It was great to be there again and feel loved. What I really love about this group, though, is not how they make me feel, but that there is no pretension.  They're very honest about the struggles they face. There is also a very down-to-earth Australian feel about it all—I'm not on any special pedestal, and I love that.

But I'm going to try to get to bed a bit earlier tonight. It's tempting to stay up later and chat online to my family in Australia (10pm here is 9pm there), but tonight they're at an event at school, so I'm going to try to catch some more Zzzzzs.

15 February, 2018

Brisbane trains

So a bit of a different post from my sojourn in Australia. I travelled on the train today and took some photos of things that are a little bit different to Tokyo.

No ticket gates on many stations (i.e. a place you have to swipe your transit card to get through). You have to "level-up" and remember to touch your transit card to a "post" on the platform somewhere (short, yellow pillar in the middle of the photo).

Train stations with park-and-ride car parks, and dedicated drop-off areas. The former I haven't seen in Tokyo and the latter is uncommon. Also, the areas around train stations in Tokyo are generally really built-up, not necessarily so in Brisbane. 

As an aside, this train station seemed to be next to a train workshop and they appeared to be testing the horn of the yellow train you can see in the picture behind the cars. It was LOUD!

Inside a Brisbane train is designed for less people. Most Tokyo trains only have seats lining the sides so a maximum number of people can fit (standing) in the carriage. There are also many more things to hold onto in a Tokyo train, again, because many people ride them standing up.

It's hard to see, but also in this photo is a button next to the door that you have to press in order to open the doors. All the doors open whenever you stop on a Tokyo train—one reason that they are so overheated in winter, because otherwise it would get quite cold inside with all the door opening.

Ah yes, and the big elephant: many, many less lines. I didn't get a photo of the timetable, which reveals how few trains actually run on these few lines. Train travel is not as convenient as Tokyo. You have to be more careful about when you get to the station, so that you aren't waiting 29 minutes for the next train.

I was surprised at how long we stopped for at most stations. In Tokyo you get very little time to hop on or off for most stops.

12 February, 2018

A week into my time in Australia

These magnificent gum trees are a huge part of reminding
us we're in Australia. I love them!
I'm on my seventh day in Australia. It's feeling a little less shocking to be here. On that first day or two you feel almost raw with the change and it's a struggle not to tell everyone you met that you've just got off the plane after being away for so long.

However, as I meet various people I'm acutely aware of how I have been away and how much I've missed. Like I've been in a time capsule, I'm asking:
"So what is your daughter doing now?"
"What happened with your marriage difficulties that you were struggling with three years ago?" (Yes, sounds pretty direct, but this lady was pretty open about her struggles with her ex in the Bible study I went to at our home church.)
"How is [a mutual friend]?"
"How is your knee (a friend I knew had a significant knee issue)?"
"Who's child is that?" (Especially at church yesterday.)

No wonder I'm feeling a bit worn out. That's on top of these ongoing sagas with establishing our son in Australia:
  • A smart phone that has a not-yet-activated SIM card in it because he doesn't yet have a card for his bank account that allows online/internet banking. That card should arrive in the mail this week.
  • He hasn't got concession transport fees yet on his transit card. There seems to be a mix up between needing Centrelink approval (Australia's social security institution) of his student status...which he doesn't have yet and just needing a student number at an approved institution...I'm not sure why there is a problem still.
  • And yes, the doozy that is his Centrelink application for an allowance for student who come from low income families. This is the one that's asked him for details of his employment over the last six month, which countries he's lived in and when over his whole life, and won't accept an international phone number for his parents! But we're trying to stay positive: if the government is willing to give you money, you do your best to jump through the hoops the present to you.
Last night we did a three-way video call via Messenger (David in Japan, me in Indooroopilly, and our son at his place), he made a bit more progress on the application, but it was an interesting way to "be present" but not quite at his side as he worked his way through the application. The difficulty is that he's not been allowed to start applying for this until he landed in the country and showed his face at one of the branches, proving he's a real person and living in Australia. So now he's not only adjusting to all the "perks" of adulthood (bank, phone, groceries, buying bigger ticket items like a bike, etc.) and adjusting to Australia as an adult (finding a church, learning about his local environment, finding friends, interacting with Centrelink, etc.) but will soon be adjusting to life as a university student too. We are both really thankful it's all in English. And believe me, after living in Japan for all these years, we don't take that for granted.

But these are some of the successes of the last week:
  • A couple of hours at uni netted: a student card, a second-hand text book, and, for one subject, a necessary (but hard to find) workbook.
  • Ordering a bike that should arrive this week.
  • Learning public transport and the general geography in the local area.
  • Learning how to buy stuff using his debit card.
  • Getting back to the wrestling club and he will sign up for membership this afternoon.
  • Meeting up with some friends he knew from last time.
  • Catching up with some family members.
  • Going to our home church yesterday, and it really did feel like home, though we'd been away awhile.
  • Phone/transport card/Centrelink/bank: they're all in the process of being solved, just not quite yet.
  • And not at all least is getting to know the six other people in his new home and liking them.
On Saturday, while my son caught up with some friends, I got to wander around a shopping centre I visited many times last home assignment as I met with people. It was really nice to have some time to myself. I did some shopping too, some things to fill up the now almost-empty suitcase that helped our son get his stuff to Australia.

Yesterday we went back to our home church and were welcomed with open arms. Literally! I had more hugs from friends yesterday than I think I've had in the last year. Japan just isn't a huggy-kind of place. After much talking with people after church we went to a friend's house for a BBQ and a number of friends from church also came. After five hours there, I was really tired, but my cup was full. So many people who haven't seen me for nearly three years who still have hearts big enough to welcome us back into their lives. We're so blessed!

This week is a little different for us both. Last week we worked hard together to achieve the above. This week he's off to uni for a couple of days of orientation. I'm free-er to meet up with friends and family and even make some inroads in preparing for the rest of us coming back in July. Hopefully it's a little less frantic. I'm glad that we went at it hard, though, because uni actually starts a week earlier than I thought—though I'm sure I looked up the date several times—due to the Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast in April (when they will have an extra week's holiday). Classes start next Monday and I fly back to Japan next Wednesday (21st).

But now I really probably should stop writing here and get some other work done. Like some magazine article editing that I didn't get done before I left Japan!

08 February, 2018

Day three of settling our son into Brisbane


Another busy day today. We went out into the country west of Brisbane to access our storage container on a friend's relative's property. Found some useful stuff for our son, found some junk too! Amazing how hard it is for a 16 y.o. to assess what he'll want/need 2 ½ years later!

After that we had lunch with my parents and one of my sisters. They live west of Brisbane, so where we were was something close to half-way for meeting.

As beautiful as Brisbane it, it was gorgeous getting out of the city. I spent a lot of my young adulthood driving around south east Queensland in the area west and north-west of Brisbane. It's very nostalgic to be out there again. We had lunch at a restaurant in a park, and it was great therapy to gaze at the magnificent Australian gum trees.

On the way back into Brisbane we did some Op-shopping (shopping at "Op" shops, or secondhand shops). The goal was clothes, but I think we got an equal amount of books!

Then this evening we've had dinner with friends who have supported us in many ways since we first began this journey into mission. As former missionaries themselves (and the wife a former TCK herself), they have great insight and, as always, wonderful conversation.

But we're getting tired. Lots of information, lots of conversation, lots of busy-but-not-fun stuff. Transition is exhausting.

Tomorrow morning we're both taking an "at home" morning. Both of us have computer work to get done, but a slow start is sorely needed.



07 February, 2018

Re-entry shocks

We've been in beautiful Brisbane just over 36 hours and have done quite a lot already. But jumping in and out of cultures and countries it really is a bit of a shock to the system!

Beautiful Brisbane. So much green in this city. We're not in the
inner-city, but in the next outer ring (this photo is at Suncorp stadium, about 3 km from the inner city). Our son is living about 9 km from the inner city.
It is always a challenge to know how much backstory to give people you meet, especially people in the service industry. And it's often a surprise to see how they deal with your unexpected revelations. It was actually a relief to just say at the library, "My son has just moved to Brisbane to start uni and we wanted to get him a library card." No need to explain where he'd been before this . . . not like at Centrelink (the government social security arm) who needed that information and then presented us with a special form designed to help prove that you'd moved to Australia. Yes, even if you've got a passport, you still need to prove residency, which is harder when you've only just got here as an adult for the first time.

Little things give re-entry shock, but they aren't all bad. Small things I've had to adjust to these last 36 hours:
  • What's my bank card/credit card pin number again (it's been two and a half years since I used it)?
  • Oh, I can do my McDonald's order on a large touch screen instead of awkwardly staring at an unfamiliar menu while an impatient employee hops from foot to foot.
  • Which way is it to drive from this familiar place to that familiar place?
  • How does one act on a train again?
  • When half-naked people walk past...
  • Prices just seem so high.
  • There are so many white people around...
  • Not all Asians speak Japanese.
  • Wearing shoes in the house.
  • Putting so much rubbish into the same receptacle.

But it really is good to be looking forward again, looking at the future, rather than looking back and saying goodbyes. Mind you, I took my son back to his old wrestling club this afternoon and that was a good memory. This has been a big week for him with goodbyes, travel, hellos, and lots of new information. Wrestling was a good antidote.

Tomorrow we're getting out of the city to retrieve some stuff we have in storage and to meet some of my family for lunch. It'll be nice to go for a bit of a drive and not have to deal with any service staff (except to buy stuff) or bureaucracy.

But I'm also looking forward to another good sleep tonight. I'm enjoying being able to retreat to my own room. I'm staying with friends across the river from our son.

05 February, 2018

Nameless grief

I'm sitting at Narita Airport typing this. I'm just a little early for checking in and our son hasn't arrived yet, so I thought I'd sit down and process today a little in words. It's been a big day so far, and I won't see a bed for more than 12 more hours! Though I hope I'll be exhausted enough to sleep on the overnight flight.

This morning was really hard. Much harder than I'd anticipated. Watching our younger sons try to say goodbye to their big brother for five months was gut wrenching and tear-inducing. I know this is the right thing for our son, but it is harder to see how it is the right thing for his brothers. I don't want to invade their privacy by telling you about their relationships with one another, suffice to say that our eldest is deeply embedded in both of their hearts.

Missionary families tend to be tight. There are no other people in this world who come close to sharing all the experiences that we've had together. Splitting that up is super difficult.

Then I had my own dramas. I've had a medical issue that saw me at the doctor three times in the last month. Last time he said I didn't need to come back because things were fine, but if things changed, I should go back as soon as possible. Yesterday and this morning I thought I saw a symptom that warranted another visit, so I had to make the difficult decision to change my plans. Today was supposed to go like this:
8.30am Wendy leave to go to our monthly mission prayer and fellowship meeting, which is about halfway to the airport.
2.30pm Wendy to proceed onwards to the airport and meet our son who would make his own way there.
7.30pm we fly out of Japan

But getting in to see the doctor proved challenging and by the time I was done there was almost nothing left of the fellowship time at the meeting. Just a policy planning meeting, that isn't my forte, not to mention that I was already emotionally exhausted and physically not a lot better (sleep's been difficult lately), not in great shape to contribute to such a meeting.

And so I grabbed some lunch at home and headed off straight to the airport. Oh, by the way, the doctor was very reassuring and I've been told not to worry, there is no problem that he can see. Phew!

But back to before 8.30. I had to figure out how to deal with a distraught son. I tried to reassure him that tears were fine and normal. That our grief at this parting was a sign of how much we love his big brother. But of course I was weeping too.

Later, while waiting for to see the doctor I went for a little ride down the river. [There are no appointments, you simply line up and put your name on the list, the earlier you arrive, the earlier you get on the list...I was there 20 minutes before the office opened, but still had to wait two hours and since their waiting room holds barely a dozen, you are told when to come back, so it becomes like an appointment.] 

The small amount of exercise was good, but even better was hopping off my bike at a small weir. There were some gorgeous cranes that I watched for a while and then I realised that the weir held a metaphor for this stage in our lives. The water was calm, you could see the bottom (it's not deep). But then it hit the weir and it became chaotic and white and you couldn't see the bottom. It rushed over the edge and smashed into the water below and some of it hit a big rock. Further down the river the water gradually became calm again, though there were small waves and ripples for quite a distance.

It's a simple metaphor: We've hit a weir in our family. Things are bound to be chaotic and unpleasant for a time. But they will settle down again. 

I told our eldest about this when I got back to the house and his immediate response was to say, "Thank you Holy Spirit for that insight."

Naming the grief
Last week I saw a good article about the importance of recognising grief, even when it doesn't fit into what other people consider as significant or you don't feel able to tell others that you feel sad about it.

There are some griefs that are more easily admitted to, more "socially acceptable". Our grief right now fits into the more acceptable types, though that may not be so for our younger boys who probably don't feel comfortable talking to their peers about it. I hope that they can feel safe to grieve at home.

But much of the grief that missionaries struggle with isn't talked about and it probably just as little understood by those outside of the missionary community. 

I remember struggling to have joy about coming back to Japan last time and finding when I told someone I thought would understand, she didn't. She thought that my call to Japan would enable me to be joyful about going back to Japan. I was feeling the grief of once again letting go of Australia and especially all the new, precious relationships I'd made during my year there. That didn't allow me to feel particularly happy about returning to Japan at the time, though my emotions followed later.

Today's parting brings back many memories of people we've said goodbye to over the years. That probably makes it all a little bit harder for us all to deal with, even though we know it's the right thing and we wouldn't want to hold our son back from moving on to the next stage in his life.

So there are today's ramblings. I will rendezvous with our son soon and we'll go about all the details we need to take care of to get onto the aeroplane. In a sense I'm glad that we're done with the farewells for now (it was getting to feel like a funeral) and we can do some practical stuff then get into some hellos.

04 February, 2018

Be strong and courageous

A new day is dawning, a new chapter, the chapter where
our boys gradually fly away into adulthood.
I wrote here last month that I was going to reflect on the passage from Joshua 1:9 this year, and especially on this blog at the start of each month. I've been trying to write this post for a few days now, but it hasn't been easy, I have a lot going on (personally as well as work-wise) just now and isn't easy to think straight. But here goes:


Thursday I wrote:

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go"(Joshua 1:9, NIV UK).
God is recorded as saying approximately the same thing as the above—be strong and courageous—to Joshua seven times and a eighth if you count it when Moses said it to him in front of all of Israel (Deut. 31:7). Joshua in turn said it to the commanders of his army (Joshua 10:25). David said the same phrases to Solomon (1 Chronicles 28:20), especially in the context of entrusting the building of the temple to him. 

Just the other day I read about King Hezekiah, who said it too, when the odds were against being able to survive a seige by Assyria's Sennacherib. He encouraged the military officers in the square at Jerusalem's city gate saying, "Be strong and courageous. Do no be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles" (2 Chronicles 32:7–8 NIV UK).

"Do not be afraid" is even more common and is said by God to Abram in Genesis right through to John in Revelation.

"God will be with you" was said by Israel (Jacob) to Joseph when he was dying and by Moses to the Israelites when God was displaying his power at Mt Sinai.

One of the more famous statements in this line is from Isaiah 41:10:
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (NIV UK).
It turns out that today (Thursday) is a good day to pause and ponder this. It started out as probably the last day at my desk before other things overtake me and I fly to Australia on Monday (Ed: circumstances were conspiring to possibly change my plans). I'd hoped to get a lot done, but I'm stuck in the mire of email address difficulties and therefore unable to get my head around the myriad of things on my work to do list.

I haven't done a good job of concentrating on this . . . I've written this over several hours while dealing with email issues, writing a prayer letter, updates from my husband at the Far East wrestling tournament, talking with a boy about his packing, etc. And now I have boys coming home from school sharing my space (the downside of an office at home in the living area) . . . and nothing more will end up being written today (on this anyway).


The next day: 

So often I'm afraid of the unknown, or the stuff I can't control. Or I get dismayed because I feel weak. As I write this at the start of Friday, I know that I'm facing a long day, and I've only had about five hours sleep, a lot less than I really need. But it turned out to be a good day, in a happy place at a wrestling meet with friends.


Today (Sunday):

We leave tomorrow, me and my son. I found my eyes have been a bit leaky. It's not that I don't want him to move onto this next exciting stage, but I find change hard. I've said a lot of goodbyes in the last 20 years and this is yet another one, and a biggie. Also this mum's heart has stored up in it all the challenges of the last 18 years, and can hardly believe the young man he's becoming. It has a measure of exciting, sad, and scary all mixed in. It is also the start of a season of goodbyes for us, as we say goodbye to all our boys in the next six years or so.

In the midst of it all, I'm trying to do what we were encouraged to in church this morning: trust God. And this is the God we trust:
Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV UK).
So tomorrow, as I go to the monthly Kanto OMF prayer and fellowship meeting in the morning and then on to the airport for an overnight flight, I will try to keep my mind on: "Be strong and courageous, do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (NIV UK).

03 February, 2018

Global Hymn Sing 2018

Have you ever participated in a Global Hymn Sing? It is something that OMF and Getty Music have hosted on one Sunday in the past two years. It simply means that churches (and other gatherings) across the world all sing a selected hymn on a designated Sunday. What makes it more interesting is that you can register that your church is doing it, so it appears as a dot on a world map.

Why? The goal is to raise awareness of the many across the world who haven't heard the Gospel, and to "inspire thought, prayer and action towards global evangelism."

Here is the official blurb:
29% of the world's population live in places with little or no access to the Gospel. That's over 2 billion individuals worldwide who need someone to share the good news of Jesus with them.

For two years Getty Music in partnership with OMF International have hosted a Global Hymn Sing, inviting churches to come together in their worship gatherings, in solidarity with brothers and sisters all over the world, and sing a hymn to inspire thought, prayer and action toward global evangelism.  Nearly two-million people in more than one-hundred countries have responded to the call to sing together with one voice, and this year we hope YOUR church will join that chorus!
This year the Global Hymn sing is on February 25 and the hymn is Jesus Shall Reign. 

Jesus Shall Reign has been a famous missionary hymn for generations and was sung by the great missionary and Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) at the train station in Edinburgh as he embarked on a missionary journey to China. While interned during World War 2, Eric served alongside China Inland Mission (now OMF) workers, along with other organizations. He even gave his running shoes to a CIM mission kid named Steve Metcalfe, who he challenged to become a missionary to the Japanese, which he did!

Register your church to sing this great hymn and receive all resources FREE, including sheet music, orchestrations, audio, videos and MORE. 

If you have any questions or need assistance, please email us (Global Hymn Sing Team) at globalhymnsing@gettymusic.com.

Last year I participated in an unusual way in this hymn sing. I was asked to be the pianist for an OMF missionary choir at a memorial service for a Japanese missionary who passed away last April. The memorial service was held on the Global Hymn Sing date last year and the choir sang the designated hymn. You can see a short montage video of last year's Global Hymn Sing here (but we don't appear).

Our Japanese home church is planning to be involved (the hymn is translated into multiple languages), as well as my parent's church in Australia. Maybe you could get your church involved too? The best thing to do is to register your church and they'll send you the resources you need.