04 January, 2021

Looking at 2021

Each year I start with a blog post about the coming year. Most years we have some idea of what is coming up. We humans like predictability, we like to plan and to organise (or most of us do, to varying degrees). The missionary life seems to have more than the average amount of planning attached to it. We often tend to think in larger blocks of time. We have to answer questions like: When are we next going on home assignment? When does your visa expire? When will you next visit your family? Which country will your children go to school/university?

These are not small decisions and require planning ahead and often painfully detailed levels of negotiation and organisation, much more than just an ordinary family holiday a couple of hours drive away. Not to mention doing this on a small budget, so careful financial planning is also needed.

However, as we face up to 2021, we find ourselves with more questions than answers. In our case we've got a normal life-change (son graduating from high school) that is complicated by the fact that we don't live and work in our passport country and that he's not our youngest son. And that's even before you consider that it's an understatement to say that international travel is not easy at the moment. (Australia is reluctant, not just to let people in, but to let nationals out!)

We'd hoped to take a family trip to Australia mid-year to visit family and close friends, but that may not happen. What will probably happen in the coming 13 months is that I'll travel with our middle son to Australia and spend time getting him settled there. We're anticipating that will be sometime between July this year and January next year. High school finishes for him in early June. What happens after that for him is a big unknown. If he goes on to university in Australia, that won't start until Feb 2022, so he's got some time there to fill. How? We don't know. Like many young men his age, he has no idea what he wants to do next. Like not so many young men his age, he has extra challenges, including the challenge of moving to a country he's rarely lived in, yet is a citizen of.

Our youngest son is currently in Year 10 and wants to graduate from his current school. We want that too. So the plan is that David and I, with our youngest son will continue to live and work in Japan until June 2023. After that, home assignment and probably returning to Japan just as a couple a year later!

Those are the big rocks of 2021. Many smaller things that make up the year are also hard to see. Although, I think I can fairly safely say that work-wise I will:

  • continue as the managing editor of Japan Harvest magazine
  • continue as the social media manager for OMF Japan (after January)
  • in January I'm focussing on a new role: facilitator for an OMF workshop called Pre Home Assignment Workshop
  • I've been invited to teach a session in March at an online writing workshop for OMF missionaries (first time to do this at an OMF International-run workshop, I've run and taught at several writing retreats here in Japan)
What else the year will hold for work, I have no idea! Though I do know that, for us, there are no OMF Japan conferences planned and no in-person international meetings/conferences/trainings. We've learnt from this year that these need to go online, or on hold! One of our international leaders, who's also a talented writer, wrote about 2020 here. He's dubbed it the year of the eraser! I would concur. Anything for this year is going on my physical calendars in pencil.

On the personal front, we're planning to camp in the last week of March with friends again. Details yet to be sorted out. As for mid-year holidays, that depends on whether we can get to Australia as a family or not. We'd really love to see our eldest son again (by then, it will be two years since we have), but at the moment, with compulsory hotel quarantine stay paid by us, that would cost us a lot more than we've got budgeted, and there's no guarantee we'd be able to get back to Japan in good time. That's not so much a problem for me (I can do my work from anywhere), but for a teacher and a Yr 11 student, that's a definite problem.  But who knows how things are going to change. Hotel quarantine might change, vaccines might change things, and goodness knows what else might change.

Of course we don't know what the future holds, we've never known that. Things could get much worse or another disaster land on top of us (but catastrophizing isn't a good path to take). But at this point it seems like our daily life in suburban Tokyo will not change much, even though the number of new cases of COVID-19 are increasing daily. We're personally living a pretty quiet life already, with limited time with other people, limited travel, and we're wearing masks whenever we are in close contact with others. The government has no powers to make us adhere to curfew-type rules like they did in Melbourne and other places around the world. It seems that CAJ will probably continue to meet in person unless the government tells them not to, but I think the government figured out last year that even in schools that are set up fairly well for distance learning, kids suffer (and most Japanese-based schools are not well set up for distance learning).

But of course, as we saw from 2020, things can change vastly from what we'd imagined, though negotiating our way through this particular pandemic is getting slightly easier in terms of what we know. The big changes that happened last year were largely because we didn't know much about the new disease (back in February we didn't know much about it all, like, "How long is its incubation period?" "Are masks effective in preventing it?" and "How easily is it passed on via things we touch?"). And, for example, school administrators also didn't know much about how to run a school in a pandemic. 

We've since learned a lot, globally, about what things can be done online and what is harder to do in that fashion. We've learned a lot about thinking outside the box, about finding different ways to do things, ways that seemed too hard because we'd never done them before. These are good things. 

But the huge move to being online has marginalised even more people. Those who can't afford "unlimited" internet access, those who can't afford electronic devices at all, and those who have intellectual limitations that don't allow them to function well online. Not to mention those who are functionally illiterate. All these people have even less of a voice now than they once did. That's a great tragedy. It's also a tragedy that millions have lost their jobs or their source of steady income, not to mention the millions who have lost their lives (yes, the current number who've died worldwide is creeping close to two million) and the many millions who have lost loved ones. Pausing a moment to remember this...

But I digress from my stated theme.

So, what are my plans for 2021? I plan to continue doing much of what I have been:

  • looking after myself and my household as best I can,
  • taking care to look out for others who are within my circle of influence—keeping my eyes open for opportunities to serve them and others further afield, and
  • working to the best of my ability in all the tasks that are mine to do.
Always keeping this in mind: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters" (Colossians, 3:23 NIV).

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