Just a glimpse into a moment of our participation in church life here in Japan... I wrote about this ceremony last year here.
One of our regular stops on our Tokyo tour for people who come to visit us is the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building to see the panoramic view of the city. It's quite impressive. (And free!)
I've seen it over and over, but I'm always overwhelmed by the expanse of the city. The landscape is urban as far as you can see in every direction. My mind can't even comprehend the number of people who live here, and my heart aches as I remember the statistics that only approximately 0.3% are followers of Jesus. That is why we are here, but the task is so great, so immense. What difference can I make?
On our most recent trip with a short-term team we were viewing the urban expanse on a cloudy day, trying to see as much of Tokyo as we could before the rain started. And then this happened...
Light. From the heavens. Illuminating the darkness.
I was thinking about this image tonight as I read a Bible story with Sam. (Let me pause for a quick shout-out to the Jesus Storybook Bible, a great resource if you love good storytelling for kids.) It was part of Sally Lloyd-Jones's retelling of Isaiah's message...
"You've been stumbling around, like people in a dark room. But into the darkness, a bright Light will shine! It will chase away all the shadows, like sunshine" (p. 147).
I am reminded that the Light of the World is not overwhelmed by Tokyo, or by Japan. God is at work here, and he is sufficient for the task. I may feel small in the midst of this expanse, but I am a reflection of the Light of the whole world. The burden of illumination is not on me, merely reflection. Now that is a relief!
Pray with us for Japan. And pray for us that we would be reflections of God's light here.
After Hi-BA camp, our family spent a couple days showing our camp speaker and his family around Tokyo. On our way from Kichijoji to Shinjuku, we set the diaper bag on the overhead rack. Then we did the dreaded deed… we got off the train without the bag. (Did I mention this was Shinjuku station, the busiest train station in the world? Like, the entire population of the city of Chicago goes through the station every day.)
We didn't notice it at first. It didn't feel like we were traveling particularly light since we had two kids and four extra people in tow. But when we got to the restaurant where we were headed, I asked Arthur for the diaper bag because I needed my nursing cover and a diaper for Theo.
There was a sinking feeling, followed by a slight panic, followed by a quick mental plan of how to survive the next several hours without diapers, wipes, a nursing cover, pacifiers… Then there was the realization that my phone and wallet were also in the bag, as well as a few of Sam's things, including his most favorite treasured water bottle.
Arthur and I exchanged panicked glances and debated quickly whether to go register the lost bag right away or wait until after lunch. We decided that sooner was better, so he set off back to the station office. Sam soon realized what was missing and started to cry, so I prayed with him that God would get us our bag back. Today.
Meanwhile, Arthur was praying hard but wasn't having much success at the station office… all they could do was give him a phone number for a holding warehouse to call at the end of the day in case the bag was collected by station officials. (After thousands of people had ridden the train, of course.) As he prepared to return to us with the bad news, he felt a slight prompt to go over to the train platform for the return trains.
We had been on a Chuo line train, which ends at Tokyo station and then heads back across the city and out to the western suburbs. Arthur crossed over to the platform where a train was parked, delayed on it's return from Tokyo station. He ran along looking through the windows and stepping briefly into the train cars, in the infinitesimally small chance that this could be the same train, and…
wait for it…
There. was. our. bag.
It had traveled to Tokyo station and come back to Shinjuku. And the train had been delayed long enough for Arthur to hop on the train, grab the bag, and get back off before it headed off to Tachikawa, or Ome, or Takao, or wherever that particular train was headed.
When he came back to the restaurant with the bag and the story, we stopped to thank God. (This was immediately followed by a much-needed diaper change.) We praise him for answering prayer for something so small yet so complicated.
And as we reflect back we are reminded that the God who knows the number of hairs on our heads and sees each sparrow that falls can keep track of a diaper bag traveling solo across Tokyo. Surely his care for us is great!
One of the things we love about our local church here in Japan is the way that they celebrate events that are important to Japanese culture but in a biblical way. The two most recent instances of this were the Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3) Day back in mid-November and New Year's Day.
In November many Japanese celebrate their children by dressing them up in traditional clothes and going to the Shinto shrine for a special dedication ceremony. This is done on the years when girls are seven and three years old, and when boys are five. The ceremony is a combination of thankfulness for the child's life so far and asking for blessings for the future. Many people view it as simply a cultural tradition, but we believe that there is spiritual significance to these dedications before idols.
In response to this, our church has a Kodomo no Shukufuki Shiki, or a "Blessing the Children Ceremony," also in mid-November. Our pastor prays for each child by name, one-by-one, and the children's ministry volunteers prepare a special gift for each child. This year Sam got blessed twice (and double presents) because they did it at his Friday morning kids' group as well as on Sunday morning. We appreciate the extra prayers and special attention on the children that week. However, I can only imagine what it means for a Japanese Christian family who has gone against the culture by deciding not to participate in the Shinto ceremony to have something special for their kids at church that week!
New Year's is a major holiday for Japan, as well as the time of year when the most Japanese people go to the shrine to pray for blessings for the new year. Millions of people will crowd into different shrines for their first prayers of the new year.
While many of our friends are visiting the shrine, our church has a special New Year's Day worship service. There is an excitement and energy in the air as everyone wishes each other akemashite omedetou gozaimasu, or happy new year. Our pastor often shares something reflective about the new year and we linger after the service to spend time with others who share our belief in the one true God.
Contextualization is a tricky thing, especially within a culture where so many cultural practices are so closely tied to religion. And Japan is not an easy place to go against the grain. We are thankful for a church that offers biblical alternatives to significant cultural events that our believing friends have chosen to refrain from participating in.
This past November as we walked to church the morning of the kids' blessing ceremony, my heart skipped a beat as I saw a family about a block ahead of us with a little girl all dressed up in a kimono. They were just coming up to our church, and I thought it was so special that they had gotten their daughter all decked out for the church ceremony. Then they continued walking past and I realized with a sinking heart that they were on the way to the shrine around the corner instead. Pray with us for the millions of Japanese who live all around us and who do not yet know the one true God.
Language school. All missionaries have stories about it. Mostly horror stories. But mixed with nostalgia and memories of the "good ol' days." I thought the day would never come, but I have finally entered the ranks of a missionary who is "done with language school." Not done learning Japanese, by any stretch of the imagination. But done with this season of going outside my home to learn language formally so many times every week.
Arthur is ecstatic. Sam is thrilled because Mommy is home more. I'm not sure how to feel about it, actually. Part of me is relieved. Obviously going to school added a fair bit of stress to my life. Weekly, daily deadlines. Being tested on kanji I had studied the night before sometime between Sam's bedtime and the point at which I couldn't stay awake any longer. Presentations, memorization, being stretched beyond my limits and always feeling like I didn't know enough. And I do appreciate having more time and energy to invest in my family and in our ministry.
And yet part of me misses it already. I miss the interaction, the camaraderie, the competition, the high standards, the chance to get out of my apartment without a diaper bag multiple times a week. I grew to love my teachers and my classmates over the past two years. My post-school life is decidedly less structured and my accomplishments are much less measurable. The only expectations on me are the ones I can't meet, like "Change the world" and "Make our investment in your ministry worth it." I have to set my own pace of continued learning, figure out how to pursue relationships and share the gospel I so recently learned how to explain in this complicated language. I have to create my own goals and ask for accountability. It was easier in many ways to be able to outsource that to my teachers!
And yet in this new season of ambiguity and transition, I find that I am forced to look to the One whose opinion matters the most. What does God expect of me? Surely it is more than language competency, more than meeting expectations of those who sent us. A humble heart. Patience with my family. A joyful attitude of service, no matter what the task. Time spent with him allowing myself to be molded into his image. Seeking and following his leading as I go about my day and interact with those he puts in my path.
I'm thankful for my two years of language school, and at the same time I am thankful they are over. God, help me be faithful with what you bring next!
We arrived in Japan two years ago today. Give or take a day. We actually can't remember if we left the US on October 3 (and thus arrived here on the 4th), or if we left on the 2nd to arrive on the 3rd. It's a little hard to have an anniversary if you want to be technical, so I guess we won't get hung up on that sort of thing.
It may not be that long in the big scheme of things, but two years feels like a really long time. Two years of hearing Japanese every day. Two years of washing dishes by hand. Two years of not eating at Chipotle or Five Guys. Two years of learning culture and language. Two years of missing friends and family back "home." Two years' worth of holidays and birthdays and anniversaries and celebrations. Two years of making this our home.
Two years is long enough that our toddler doesn't even remember the States, except for what he's seen in pictures and people he's seen on Skype. Two years is long enough to make friends with people whose language I couldn't speak when I came. Two years is long enough to go through seasons of deep sorrow and to live to see the other side. Two years is long enough to experience new depths of God's faithfulness.
And so as we celebrate completing our second year of life here, we look to the God who has sustained us through the ups and downs, the joys and the sorrows. He has not always acted in ways we would have chosen, and he has not always answered our prayers in the way we would have liked. But he has proved himself to be faithful and sovereign again and again. By his grace we see glimpses of his purposes in having us here, and we trust that there is more we cannot see. Happy two years, God.
When we signed up for this missions thing, we knew that goodbyes were a part of it. I expected that leaving would be hard. I expected that living far away from family and close friends would be difficult, and that each time we had to say goodbye that it would hurt.
But what has surprised me recently is who is doing the leaving. Yes, we said a lot of goodbyes two years ago when we left the States. But we have had countless friends say goodbye to us since we have been here. And for some reason it's often harder being the one who is left behind.
This summer it hit me particularly hard. We said goodbye to a precious baby, my step-grandfather passed away, and two close missionary families returned to the States, all within several weeks. The next month it was announced that the English-speaking pastor of our church was resigning to focus on an international ministry, and my first and closest Japanese friend told me she was moving because of her husband's work. The following month brought more goodbyes as a family in our prayer group returned suddenly to America and as we said goodbye to teachers and classmates at school.
Bam bam bam. In some ways I'm too numb to care anymore. What's the point of pouring into those around me? Everyone's just going to leave. I switch my focus to invest in my Japanese friends, but nothing is guaranteed.
We weren't designed to go through life alone. Yet the only One who can meet the deepest needs of my soul is not another sinner, but my Savior. The One who said goodbye to heaven to show us what God looked like with skin on. The One who fled to a foreign country as a toddler, who didn't have a place to lay his head as he moved from place to place as an adult. The One who said goodbye to his family to do his Father's will. The One who was betrayed and abandoned and forsaken by so many. The One who said goodbye to his followers to return to heaven again. And the One who valued and impacted every.single.person.he.touched. Brief interactions with some, miracles with others, years of investment with still others. The One who made it possible for us to have eternal life...with no more goodbyes.
I don't want to be hardened by goodbyes. When I meet someone I don't know if they will be a part of my life for a moment, a few years, or a lifetime. God knows, but he doesn't usually tell me. All I can do is be thankful for the time I have with those around me and try to be like Jesus as I interact with others. Oh dear God, give me grace to receive your good gifts of friendship with joy, to freely give of myself, and to trust you to fill my deepest needs.
Glamorous. The mundane is anything but that. The idea of trekking the globe to reach the unreached sounds adventuresome, exciting. But what does it entail on a daily basis? Packing, sorting, moving, unpacking, packing, moving, unpacking, laundry, diapers, going to the store, laundry, diapers, going to the store, cooking, washing dishes, cooking, washing dishes, making a new friend!, cooking, washing dishes, riding the train, climbing up stairs, climbing down stairs, riding the train again... You get the idea. And so the midst of it I ask, am I pursuing adventure or am I pursuing Christ? Am I striving for excitement or faithfulness? There's not a lot of glamor in the mundane, but there are a lot of opportunities to grow closer to our Savior and to love the people around us. God, make us more like you.
This week has been heavy. Reflections on the death of our Lord. News of a dear dear friend back home going to be with Jesus. Thinking about the baby we lost who would have been born sometime around this week. Aching with the losses that our friends around us are grieving.
We have hope because of Christ's resurrection, and we celebrate that today. Hope that this life is not all that there is. Hope to see loved ones again in heaven some day. Hope that God is good and all-powerful over death. Hope in a new heaven and a new earth, where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain, where every tear is wiped away.
Hope in Christ is the anchor for our souls. In spite of the sorrow around us, we can always have hope because of the gospel. Hope for new life.
Sakura are blooming in Japan right now, a reminder of spring and life and changing seasons and fleeting moments of beauty. We are reminded that our lives are brief and fleeting, like grass that withers or flowers that fade. It is what endures that gives us purpose. God, grant us the grace to live for what is unseen and eternal.
We recently celebrated another year of life for our little pint-sized missionary. Turning three means that Sam has lived for half of his life in Japan. TCKs ("Third Culture Kids") are described as growing up between worlds, and we definitely see our little guy picking up parts of both of our worlds.
1. He prefers drinking mugi cha (cold barley tea) over water or milk.
2. When we go to a pizza buffet, he picks curry rice.
3. When we go to a "Western" restaurant, he picks curry rice.
4. He can say his colors in two languages, and he replies based on what language you use to ask him.
5. He doesn't question why Curious George speaks English on our computer but Japanese on tv.
6. When I tell him we're having friends over, he asks what language they speak.
7. He corrects his grandparents' Japanese pronunciation (both those in the US and those in Japan)!
8. He draws "maps," complete with local train tracks, express train tracks, our house, and America.
9. He is completely baffled by the fact that America doesn't have bullet trains.
10. Upon completing a puzzle of the USA, he asks where Japan is.
11. Upon completing a puzze of Japan, he asks where the US is.
12. He knows our train station and bus stop, but when we ask him where home is, all he says is "I don't know!"
We pray that his life is enriched by the experiences we have as a family here and by the unique joys of growing up overseas. We are thankful to see him thriving here and making friends. But just in case the challenges of belonging everywhere but nowhere at the same time get to be too much, maybe we should start saving for counseling...
Happy birthday, little buddy!