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What About Bob?

In following the theme of “God’s Faithfulness in Japan”, I have a bit of a humorous story to pass along.  We’ve tossed this one around for years. It’s always good for a laugh, but pretty hard to repeat.  I guess it helps if you’re one of the “Bobs”.

Anyway, here’s what missionary Bob Gierhart has to say:

“In the early 80’s there were seven “Bobs” in our mission.

Early one Saturday morning when we were living in Kyoto and working at the Kyoto Friendship house, I received a call from someone who said, rather in a rush, I thought, ‘Bob, I’m putting them on the 9:00.’

As I said, ‘Okay’, he hung up.  I was half asleep so I hadn’t asked for any details nor had I asked any questions. And these were the days before called ID.

The caller assumed I was supposed to know who it was that was calling, and who would be arriving (and where) after being put on the “9:00″. The problem as I saw it, was that I didn’t know who called, who the person was that was coming, when they would be arriving, and whether they were coming by train or plane.  Needless to say I was in a bit of a fix.

It was about 9:00 on a Saturday morning and someone was going to be waiting for me to meet him or her when they arrived somewhere that morning.

After a couple of minutes of panic, it came to me that perhaps that person had called the wrong Bob and the right Bob would know who it was and where they were to be met.  The problem was, who was the right Bob?  As I said, there were seven “Bobs” in the mission at that time.

I called Bob Hardy who lived in Kobe not too far from Kyoto.  He worked at the Baptist Hospital in Kyoto.  I thought it might be him.  However, when I talked to him, he had no idea who it was.  He agreed to go to Osaka Air Port to see if someone was waiting for him.  In the mean time I would go to the Kyoto Train Station.

After several hours, neither one of us saw anyone who might be waiting for a “Bob”.   We hoped someone would call one of our wives telling us they were waiting for us somewhere, but when we called our houses, there had been no messages.  We had no idea what happened to that person.  Of course these were the days before mobile phones, and even pay phones were few and far between.  Dejectedly, I returned home as did the ‘other’ Bob.

It wasn’t until two years later that we learned the rest of the story.  It seems Chuck Gafford, who was living in Tokyo, put the president of Golden Gate Theological Seminary, Dr. Harold Graves and his wife on a train going to Arakawaoki Station in Ibaragi-ken (far north of Tokyo, nowhere near Kyoto or Osaka) at 9:00 that Saturday morning and had assumed that Bob Daugherty was going to meet them.

Bob Daugherty used to live in the same house in Kyoto that we were currently living in. Chuck Gafford must have looked in an old mission directory for Bob Daughtery’s phone number. When I answered and he said “Bob”, I guess he didn’t realize he had the wrong Bob and that I, Bob Gierhart was now living there.

Meanwhile, on this Saturday morning, Bob Daugherty was wondering why Chuck Gafford hadn’t called him to tell him when and where to meet the President and his wife.

And so, no stranger to confusion after living many years in Japan, Bob Daughtery realized he just needed to get down to the train station and see if his expected guests were there.

There he found Dr. Graves and his wife who had been waiting at Arakawaoki station for over an hour.

When Bob Daughtery arrived, there was much rejoicing even though Bob was mortified that he had left such honored guests waiting for so long.”

Back to Marsha…. Now, I guess if I was a better missionary, I’d find the sermon in this story. Several have been suggested, but maybe I should just close with a moral: If your name is Bob, you might consider changing it to Robert.

Or how about this one: Psalms 147:4, He determines the number of the stars; He gives to all of them their names.

Rest assured, God knows your name, and He never gets confused.

Til next time,

Marsha

A Soft Word in Due Season

Happy New Year all,

Well, did you enjoy the holidays?  I know we did.

We had a wonderful, if chaotic Christmas day with all of our children, their in-laws and soon to be added (thru son in love Chris’s brother) even more in-laws.  Of course there were three joyously rambunctious little boys who made us glad we have a pool to throw them into when it got too loud.

When all was done and dusted and the hordes moved on to other venues, Tony & I shot off to the mountains for a few days to rest and recuperate.  We found what’s known as “the coldest area of Queensland”, about 3 hours due west from our house in a little town called Stanthorpe.  There we found a quiet little cabin with no air conditioning (didn’t need it at night), no internet (wanted it, but really didn’t need it) and spent time writing, sleeping, hiking and getting ready for the New Year.

We were able to finish the book we’ve been writing for what seems like forever, about our life together these last 50 years.  Pretty interesting stuff…… at least to us.  Probably not to another soul, but if you know of a publisher or a book agent who would be interested in looking at it, please let us know.

Ok, we also did a fair bit of Bible reading and the Lord really impressed me with a New Year’s thought I want to share with you.  Come Sunday, we made our way into town, found little Stanthorpe Baptist church, and sprung ourselves on them. They were lovely, and guess what the preacher chose for his sermon?  Yes, the same thing I was reading in Acts 21 and 22, especially around 22:24.

To paint the picture, Paul had been told by several groups of believers and then by the Lord himself to take care in Jerusalem because the authorities were out to get him.

But he went anyway, and after 7 days in the temple, (where he was sure to be noticed, I’m thinking), eventually he was arrested.  He was chained, subjected to the crowd who almost killed him, until the situation escalated enough for the soldiers to come and literally pick Paul up and carry him out of the melee.

And then, after carrying him into the fort, he ‘spoke’ to the commander,  “May I say something to you?”  He didn’t scream or plead, he just ‘spoke’.

What happens next is Paul launches into a long testimony to the guard of who he is (a Jew) and what has happened in his life. He throws in a reference to studying under Gamaleil, which subtly lets them know he isn’t just any Jew but a highly educated one.

Then he goes on thru his conversion to Jesus, telling them the complete Damascus road story.

But it’s his next question that I think we can learn from.

Acts 22:25 says this, But when they had tied him up to be whipped, Paul spoke (I’m guessing here, in a quiet and respectful voice) to the officer standing there, “Is it lawful for you to whip a Roman Citizen who hasn’t even been tried for any crime?”

You’ll have to keep reading to hear what happened, but I thought WOW.  This is PAUL, one of the most assertive of all the men in the New Testament, who liked to preface his letters by things like “I say unto you” and countless other commands and opinions that he didn’t seem to leave open for discussion.  (”It’s better that a man never marry” sort of thing)

So why was he so meek and mild?  I don’t know.

I remember a friend of ours who was that way.  He died a year ago and we still miss him terribly.  Why?  Because he had a way about him.

I’ll never forget him and his wife Beth visiting soon after we moved into our house.  We were so proud of it, including the beautiful lawn that Tony had just mowed…

It spread out from the deck and we all four stood there admiring Tony’s handiwork … until Alan “spoke” to us.

He said softly, “This is beautiful, I wonder, did you want all those lines in it?”

That’s all he said, it wasn’t him bowling over in laughter, as we all did when we realized that the blades weren’t adjusted and had carved deep grooves in the yard.  He didn’t call Tony an idiot, he just said, “Did you want that result?” Paul did the same thing, in a tone that only pointed out the obvious.

I would like to think that Christianity may have been on trial here as well.  The guard tying him up must have been curious about these firebrand ‘Christians’ and how they would behave.

Paul was sharing his faith……by just being “Christian”. I can’t think of any better New Years Resolution than to be kind, and gentle…showing Christ to a crazy world.

Have a great week ‘getting back into things’.  We will do the same.

Marsha

PS. We enjoyed getting to know a little about the pastor at Stanthorpe Baptist where we visited.  He is a transplanted American from upper New York but has been out here longer than we have.

He told me he had been converted from being a rather famous celebrity chef in NYC  (and no, he said, he does NOT watch all the TV cooking shows) to ultimately becoming a pastor.

When he heard that in the US, we’re Southern Baptists (they don’t have that denomination here) he told us that he began his search for God after sitting by a Southern Baptist missionary on a plane.  They had a good talk and “Joe” shared his faith and said he’d be praying for him.  That’s all; nothing more, but it got him thinking.  He never got his complete name, but refers to him as “Baptist Joe”, the one who showed him that life could have meaning.

Any of you SBC “Joes” out there want to claim this conversation?

Making Memories

Good Morning,

Well, we may not have snowstorms to contend with here Down Under, but we have had some pretty wild weather this past week. Our neighbor across the street had just hooked up a massive reindeer in the front yard. Really … the thing was almost as tall as his house, and the way it was placed, it stared right over his wall and into our place. A little disconcerting, but I was NOT responsible for what happened the day before yesterday.

They call it a “Super Cell” here; one of those perfect storm combinations with everything you’d expect: hurricane strength winds, cricket ball sized hail, and enough rain to make me grateful the low-lying land behind our house is an official flood plain. It is … and it did.

We survived though, with nothing more than a truck load of tree limbs to haul away. Looking around the area, though, I thought, “Something’s missing.” Sure enough the 20-foot reindeer had learned how to fly. I believe he’s at the top of a gum tree about four houses down the street. We thought about calling the fire department … after all, don’t they get cats out of trees? But a closer look reveals that Rudolph has been pretty well shredded, so it would not be a rescue as much as a recovery.

Elsewhere, things are escalating for Christmas, with lots of special services, get togethers, singing and food. It’s been a busy day today with Tony preaching this morning, then a special Japanese Christmas gathering this afternoon. I won’t keep you too long.

But, as we continue to think about Japan, here’s an excerpt from one of our missionaries, long retired, about the REAL meaning of Christmas:

We had arrived in Fukuoka in July 1967.  I was Charlie’s new bride and had not studied Japanese yet.  It was now Christmas…my very first Christmas not to be at my home in East Texas.  We went thru the motions of the holiday but after we put our guests on the train, we returned, rather somberly, home.  Unfortunately, I began to remember all the Christmases I would now be missing and was about to start crying.   But I believe God was watching, and we heard the doorbell ring. It was one of Charlie’s high school students, Kaoru Sadamatsu.  He came in and it did not take long for him to use up his English, so I excused myself so that he and Charlie could visit. That night—my first Christmas in Japan—Kaoru became a Christian. That was indeed a special Christmas, and many more were to follow Our prayer for you and yours this Christmas is for an extra special helping of happy memories in the making. Something that will come to mind at your Christmas Futures as the best thing that could have happened.

Tony and I will be offline for a week or so, escaping to some nearby mountains we’ve yet to visit and hopefully compiling these letters I’ve been sending out about ‘God’s Faithfulness in Japan” into a book.  I’m guessing we won’t have internet, so maybe there’ll be nothing for you to read on the 30th, but don’t despair, we’ll be back in the New Year!!

Merry Christmas,

Marsha

Remembering Christmases Past

I still remember my first Christmas in Japan.  I was cold, I was frustrated in the language, or should I say “lack” of language.  I was missing my family and generally dreading celebrating such an important event in a country that didn’t even recognize it.
Then one day I passed by Hazel Watson’s office door when for some reason we were visiting the mission headquarters in Tokyo.
Les and Hazel had been in Japan forever, or at least that’s what I thought.  I knew she had FIVE master’s degrees, because that’s what she liked to do on her furloughs. They’d been working in Japan for over 25 years, and been on five, one-year furloughs during that time; thus five degrees. She thought learning was fun, and was simply energized by the studies. There didn’t seem to be anything this woman wasn’t game to try!
She called out a cheery hello and invited me in. We exchanged greetings, she asked the typical questions like “How are you settling in,” etc.  Then I asked with a slight quaver in my voice, “How will you be spending your Christmas this year?”  I knew her children were grown and back in the States so I figured it would be a hard time for her.
“Oh, we’ll be at church from dawn till after dark,” she sighed.  I almost collapsed into the chair and reached for my tissues because I pretty much thought we were both going to need them.  I couldn’t think of anything more torturous than being with ‘those’ people all day on this, possibly one of the more emotive days of the year!
Then she continued as she popped up and almost danced, “It’ll be so wonderful, I can hardly wait!”  My jaw dropped as she continued her pirouette around the room, “There’ll be singing and children and lots and lots of food!  Then when it gets dark we’ll have a candle service with the Christmas story acted out by the kids and hundreds of strangers will come in and hear about Jesus!!”
Her joy was almost infectious.
Fortunately, we ‘got thru’ that first Christmas, actually rather happily because we too were sharing Jesus, eating and singing……..
And as the years went on, we began to LOVE the idea of a freezing cold Christmas in a foreign land.  I laughed to my friends that the candle service was the only church service in the winter where I was actually warm, and the memory of that alone lingers fondly with me today.  We discovered that as we made friendships, learned a little more language and “suffered” with “those people” through the bitter cold, the hard seats and interminably long sermons that felt as if they were left over from Samurai days, we actually developed a bond that grew into genuine love. Looking back now, I can see that they gave us SO much more than we’d ever left behind.
God is so good to first share His Son with us, and then to share His children with each other.  Wherever you are this year, be it bitter cold, perishing hot, or somewhere in between, I hope the bonds you’re making with His family will grow only stronger over the years.
As you’re reading this, Tony and I are off to celebrate carols at the church.  It’ll be ‘warm’ for sure, even with the air conditioners pumping overtime, and we’ll have candles, even though it’s still light outside in the mid summer.  And most importantly, we will be celebrating the joy of being together, now and forever, thanking God again for His great Gift.
Pass it around…Marsha

If Just a Boiled Egg …

As we continue in the Christmas season, I’d like to tell you about a WWII gift from a Japanese prison guard that changed a man’s life.

We met the aging veteran several years ago in a large church in Louisiana. We had been invited to share about our work in Japan. After the morning service, we were invited to stay for lunch. As we stood and chatted with church folks, an approaching gentleman caught my attention. He was rather frail and his gait was unsteady, but the smile on his face broadcast the love of Christ throughout the room.

He introduced himself and startled me with this comment, “I was led to the Lord by a Japanese prison guard”.

That’s certainly not something I’d ever heard before or since. I asked him for details.

“Well, you see, I was in one of the more notorious prison camps in Western Japan, near Niigata” he said with a southern drawl.

I nodded in sympathetic agreement.  I’d heard of the place, and knew that it had been a bad one.  Not only were the guards sadistic and merciless, but the weather there was so treacherous that the death rate was particularly high.

The man continued, “I was almost dead of malnutrition and the cold.  But there was that one guard”.  He stopped, and a far away look came over his face, as if he were seeing the sight all over again.

“Whenever he could, the guard would hang back a bit from the others and then from beneath his coat  or inside his hat would come an egg……or a handful of rice or piece of beat up fruit or vegetable”.

“At first, I was afraid that this was some sort of cruel trick. If I took what was offered at all, it was like an animal, grabbing it and running away to eat it in secret.  But as I began to regain some strength, I could feel a sense of hope coming back from deep inside me.

“Finally one day, I was bold enough to take the food, give a small bow and smile in gratitude. We had no words between us to use, so I shrugged my shoulders as best I could with a look of ‘Why?” on my face.

“I’ll never forget what he did next, only after carefully looking around to be sure no one was watching. Very quietly he raised his finger to his chest and crossed himself.*  Then he hurried away.

“I was certainly not a Christian back then. I had even prided myself as needing neither God or anyone else, but on that day, I could do nothing but fall to my knees, crying tears of both grief and happiness. God was saving my life.”

He went on to explain that as the guard was highly secretive and since neither one could speak the other’s language, there was no way to learn any more about him. The war ended, he was released, and eventually found himself back home in Louisiana.

But when he did get home, one of his first actions was to find a church and learn more about the faith that Japanese prison guard obviously had. When we met him, he was a testimony to joy, and love and forgiveness.

Today I feel pretty certain both the guard and the Louisiana man have gone on to their eternal reward; and if that’s the case, then I’d love to be able to witness the reunion that’s going on between the two of them in Heaven.

And I can’t help but wonder: is there an egg or a piece of fruit that I’m holding onto? Who can I give it to in the Name of Jesus?

Especially during this Christmas season, may we look for opportunities to be salt and light, and if necessary, a boiled egg for someone whom God points out to us.

Feeling blessed, Marsha

*I must interject a note here that all kinds of Japanese Christians occasionally  ‘cross themselves’ to visibly note to onlookers that they’re Christian.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re Catholic; it’s just a symbol of Christianity that most people recognize.  We were told to ‘cross ourselves’ at Buddhist funerals to let others know that as Christians we wouldn’t be doing the ritualistic stuff out of conviction and we didn’t mean to be rude or disrespectful.

Things that go bump in the garden

Hello friends,

As you’re reading this, Tony and I will be sitting in a performance of Handel’s Messiah.  I don’t know where we got culture, certainly not from our humble beginnings, but give me a seat to see Les Miserables or the Messiah and I’m in High Cotton!!  I must say though, I wilt at Opera.

And so today, we realize that we only have 3 more Sundays til Christmas, with not much time really to contemplate the season the way we’d like to.

Of course we’ve all heard that the Son of God was probably not born in cold December, as the story goes, but Tony was reading the other day about how Jewish culture leans towards counting a child’s ‘birthday’ as when he/she was conceived. The is true in fact among many Asian cultures, including Japanese. This adds an interesting discussion point when we read in John 1:14 that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Our Asian friends point out that Jesus didn’t “become flesh” when He was born, but rather when He was conceived. I’ll leave that to the theologians, but then we don’t have to the know the WHEN; only THAT He was.

But today I want to tell you another story.  It sorta has a thin connection to Christmas

We’d been in Japan several years when we got some new missionaries.  This couple and their two boys were unstoppable.  In particular, the wife clearly had a musical ear, leading her to have a real gift for the languages. I tried not to be jealous of her prowess.

And then one day she dispelled any jealousy I’d had by telling this story on herself.

It was the Christmas season. That’s when we missionaries would crank into gear and take every opportunity imaginable to show Christ to Japan.  After all, materialism had appeared soon after the war was over and most Japanese understand that Christmas is coming, even going so far to seek out churches and other venues in the hope of some ‘holiday cheer’.

Mind you, most have very little idea to this day of WHAT Christmas means, apart from gift giving to children  and eating Kentucky Fried Chicken with your boyfriend on Christmas Eve. I’m not making this up, you can google what an incredible marketing ploy the Colonel pulled off some 60 years ago!

And so this new missionary invited some ladies to her house for Christmas tea.  There, to the tinkling of fine china, she shared with them about Jesus, why He was born, etc.

Just as they seemed to be losing interest, she announced that next week, she’d like to have this time together again. They smiled and nodded in agreement.  Then they all sprung to startled attention when she continued,

“And I want you ALL to go into your gardens this week and gather up as many cockroaches as you can find!”

Seeing their faces, she thought to herself, this is a bazaar request, so she elaborated,

“You see, next week we’re going to PAINT the cockroaches and decorate our houses with them!”  More jaw dropped stares.

As the ladies were stumbling over themselves in horror, bowing and making excuses that they’d left a pan on the stove or it looked like rain and they needed to get home, she fought back tears of defeat and tried to understand how she’d offended them so.

Her best friend, the last to leave, but leaving all the same, asked, “I wonder what you’re trying to say?”

Later that afternoon, as she was cleaning up the penny dropped. She’d been saying “Go-kiburi” which is the word for  cockroach, when she had been meaning to say, “Matsu-bokuri”.

If you say these two words quickly, you can see how similar they are.  Cockroaches and Pine Cones.

I’m  happy say she sent a runner to tell the ladies about her mistake in the language, and the group grew and many were blessed.  This family stayed many years, grew in the language and culture and influenced many for Christ.

Be we’ll never forget to be careful what we say for it has to power to terrify people!

This last week I heard a good sermon.  It was filled with hope, and relative to the season. Ephesians 4:29 was included, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

We have the POWER to ‘Change the Narrative” in people’s lives. Our words can make them raise up and find life, or as in the story above, run in terror.

Guard the ‘story’ you tell this season, both in words and deeds, to those around you.

Happy decorating!

Marsha

Getting Excited!

Last week you may have seen me, rather ungracefully (me, not you), on Facebook. We were at our grandboys’ combined annual ‘slip and slide’ birthday party.  Every year I keep saying, “I’ll go down the hill … next year”; and I realize next year is not going to get any better. So this year, before the teeming hoards arrived, I just “Did It”.  I have to say, it was a glorious experience (except maybe for the painful dish soap that knew no boundaries whatsoever).

I think in our old age we start to focus on the aches and pains and forget about hope and ridiculousness. Tony’s booked in for his big splash next year! (Editor’s note: Tony here. “It ain’t gonna happen”).

The entire kid community, comprised of neighbors, school and church chums is beginning to realize this is a major event of the season.  What started as a small strip of plastic and a garden hose has now taken on a “NASA Level” annual project. Son Nathan just keeps making it grander and grander, explaining that he now has a reputation to think about.

This year, he expanded the run to a double-wide construction grade roll of plastic, generously fed by a dozen irrigation sprinklers and liberally soaped up by volunteers using heavy duty squeeze bottles all the way down. Surrounding the entire slide were a string of 78 “pool noodles” providing bumper protection as well as a focal point for any passing space station.

Now we’re actually starting to worry about the 10-foot high retaining wall drop off at the bottom of the run. Until this year, no one thought a slider would ever get that far, but the goal is now within reach, given enough mass and momentum. A temporary stopgap was hastily assembled this year by heaping up plastic at the bottom and filling it with water. Next year we’re going to need a pond… or maybe a bungee cord.

So if there’s a word to take home from all this, it might be the word, ‘Anticipation’. For Tony, as well as myself, growing up, the day after Thanksgiving wasn’t set aside for Black Friday sales (we didn’t have them back then anyway), but for decorating the house for Christmas.

I’ve been reading through all the Gospel stories about Mary and the angel today, and what better word for describing this story is there? Anticipation!

It’s with anticipatory hearts that we jump into this year’s Christmas Season.  It was an acquired taste, and it’s taken many years, but I can honestly say now that we love the idea of a HOT Christmas with all the trimmings, like cold prawns and ham decorated with mango slices, followed by a big “Pavlova” dessert. Icy drinks and long bright daylight evening Christmas Carols in the park, reminiscent of childhood 4th of July celebrations back in the Northern Hemisphere. For the hardy, there will be plenty of time with friends at the beach …. and of course, more food than can be imagined, carefully packed in the old Eski (ice chest).

But what makes it really joyful is the knowledge that the reason for the season goes all the way back to the message of Christmas, and the anticipation that has been generated for the last couple of thousand years.
“For unto us a Child is born, a Son is given”

Happy Beginnings!

Marsha

P.S. Next week I’ll get back to the Japanese stories till I run out, which, unless you give me some more, you can anticipate sooner than later.  In the New Year, we’re anticipating some pretty exciting travel/vocation related stuff, so stay tuned!

Coming and Going

So last week I touched a little on the difficulties Tony and I had trying to learn the Japanese language back in 1979.

Most of us missionaries could fill volumes about our mistakes in the language, many of them unrepeatable in mixed company. Any of you who have ever had to deal with a language that you were not born with know what I’m talking about. The traps are everywhere; and it’s not just the words. Things like syntax, intonation, spelling, and that huge grey area full of euphemisms are lurking everywhere, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting, reducing him or her in an instant from the status of respected peer to that of village idiot.

Having said that, I simply have to pause in honor of our beloved Japanese people and their eternal patience.  I’ve realized after many years, that the Christians we worked with in the northern town of Sendai, were particularly gracious with us.   Maybe they’re just more ‘godly’, or perhaps it’s because they’d known a couple of generations of missionaries before we got there.

One of our more saintly mentors, Bob Boatwright of Atlanta, Georgia, had very early on dispensed with those difficult object particles in the language, known as “Wa”, “Ga” and ‘O”.  The mystery around them lies deep, but we have been assured by our teachers and our friends that the proper use of them is absolutely essential to speaking proper Japanese. So you can understand our horror when we first moved to Sendai straight out of language school and heard Bob Boatwright preach a sermon in Japanese.

We listened in confused silence for awhile, then turned to each other and whispered, “Is he….?”

“Yep, the rumors are true; he doesn’t use object particles.”

When the service was over, I turned to my new Japanese friend and asked, “Do you understand what he says?”

“Oh yes,” my friend insisted, even as she was correcting my own grammar. “When Boatwright Sensei speaks, we can feel the pain he has suffered to learn our language. We forgive, and we love him.”

Let me add that this man was no slouch in the language. He read the Japanese newspaper every morning, preached sometimes 6 or 7 times a week, and was always there to help us when we simply could not understand the salesman at the door. In fact he was the only one among all the missionaries in town who understood the obscene caller when we passed along Bob’s phone number, apologizing for not being able to understand the poor person, no matter how many times he repeated himself.

We were blessed with a sweet couple, Kumiko and Shinkichi Ito, who not only became good friends, but our priceless language checkers over a period of about 20 years.  I learned years later that Kumiko’s major in college was English, but I would have never known that as she never spoke it.

One day we decided on the phone to meet up.  We talked about our house and their house, and we decided (at least I thought) that the meeting would take place at 4:00 PM at their house, so I said,  (In Japanese)  “OK, we’ll come to your house at 4:00!”

Well, that works in English.  You begin a visit by “coming”, no matter whether it’s at my place or yours.  “I’m coming to your house, you’re coming to my house”……..makes sense.

So we loaded up the kids and went to their house, where I’d said we were coming…….and we waited about 30 minutes, wrote a note and went home.

That’s where we found their note, saying that they had ‘come’ to our house.

“kimas” (come) and “Ikimas” (go).  Two little words, big difference in understanding.  We always laugh about that.  Kumiko told me, “Next time we speak English!”

But as I think about it, I’m not sure switching languages would have solved the problem. As I said before, even in English we talk about “coming” to your house, even if we’re not there at the moment. The problem lies not in the word “come” but in where you happen to be situated. I can be halfway around the world and still talk about “coming” to see you, because in my mind I’m already there.

Well, this could become a lot more complicated than it ought to be, so let me just close with a spiritual application. Jesus said, “Come to Me”, and in those three words, I understand all I need to know. He is there. I am here. I want to be where He is.

As we move into Thanksgiving, I would love to be where you are. This is a time of family and friends, of gathering together and sharing the joy of our blessings. But even if I can’t “come” to you, be assured that I will be “going” to the Father in my prayers, and by His love and mercy, we will be together in His Spirit, bound by His love.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Marsha

Two Fingers

Today I’d like to tell you another interesting story about God’s faithfulness in Japan.  It’s an old story, but an important one, at least to me.

I was a very young missionary.  I think it was about 1979 or so and we were in the struggles of language school, beginning to wonder what the point was, especially if we could never manage to communicate with ‘these’ people.  So far we’d learned to say important things like; “I’d like to buy a blue ashtray”, and “Last night I ate spoiled shrimp in the Ginza”.
One Sunday, we went up to Tokyo to sit in on one of the many services of Tokyo Baptist Church, where we occasionally got to go for a treat (since it was in English).  A glance at the bulletin mentioned that a lady named “Yoneko” would be speaking.  I didn’t know anything about her and wondered what she’d have to say.
And then a very beautiful and stately woman ascended the stairs up to the platform and turned to address us.  It was only then that I noticed she was missing an arm.
Well…..did she ever had a story.
She had been a young woman just at the finish of WWII, about 73 years ago now.  She, along with many Japanese because of the war, had almost no education so had to find work where she could, happy to be a train attendant selling chips and tea on a little local train line on an island south of Tokyo.

The hours were long and the pay was insignificant. By now she had been doing this job for several years, and what meagre family she’d had had died or dissipated, and she had no real friends. The landscape of her daily life never changed.

Gradually she began to wonder at the meaning of her life.  There was no room for improvement that she could see, and with everyone being devastated by war, she couldn’t better her circumstances.  She supposed that she was glad to even have a job, but struggled with thinking of a future and wondered why she hadn’t died with everyone else.

One cold night, the doubts overtook her, and as she left after finishing her shift, in the early hours of the morning, she chose to end it all by stepping off the platform into the jaws of the oncoming train.

Blackness.

And then, some days later, from far away, she could hear voices and see shades of light.  She wondered if she was in the afterlife, but instinctively opened her eyes to observe the surroundings.

A scream of raw pain overtook her but she remained conscious. Then gradually she realized she was looking up at the ceiling in a hospital.

The nurses rushed over to her with happiness mixed with concern.

“Oh, we’re so glad you’ve survived, you had us scared there for awhile”, they greeted her.

She reached for them, but didn’t touch them.  Looking down she noticed that although she ‘felt’ her arm move, there was indeed no arm there.  Then she looked down at the sheets and saw that they were tucked in tight and there were no impressions of legs.

She had, at the crushing impact of the train, lost her two legs at the hips, her complete left arm and three fingers on the right one.

As you can imagine, she was not as happy about surviving as the nurses were.

For days she lay in pain and agony, both physically and mentally. Finally she came up with a plan.   It would be painful, but she would somehow take the pain pills in her one remaining palm, and surreptitiously tuck them under her pillow until she had enough to really ‘ease’ the pain and leave this world for good.

And then one day, in her un-medicated raw pain, her eyes focused on a handsome young man standing beside her bed.

“Hello” he said in disgustingly cheerful voice. “I’m here visiting someone else and I’ve been told that you’ve had an accident. Do you mind if I pray for you?”

“Go away!”  She screamed and tried to roll away from him.

“No, just hear me out,” he said kindly, leaning toward her and smiling.

Well, she was Japanese, and had been brought up to be polite, so she listened as he explained God’s love for her, and His concern that she get well.

She closed her eyes and let the sound of his voice ease her pain, even though she didn’t believe a word of it.  He wrapped up his short visit with a question,

“What would be the harm of just asking Jesus to love you?”  Then he said good bye and left.

That night, as the pain continued and she couldn’t sleep, she thought about the fact that she had just about enough pills to end it all.  But then she also thought about the guy’s question……….No one had ever loved her, so maybe that might be an interesting feeling, if only it could happen.

Finally in the wee hours of the morning, she prayed.

“Jesus, if you’re really there and you really care, please, if it’s not too much trouble, think of me.”  She wanted to say, “Please love me,” but she couldn’t even imagine that.

Unbelievably, she slept the best she had since the ‘accident’. When she woke, it was to the sound of birds chirping in the trees.

“Oh!” She thought, startled, “Look!  I have TWO FINGERS!!  I can grasp things!  How good is this God to let me have TWO fingers!”

And from that moment, she was a new creature.  She was the beautiful composed lady I was looking at on the platform.

She recovered, was fitted with prosthetic legs, MARRIED the handsome boy, who was a young pastor.  Together they had two beautiful girls.  She went on to tell how the first baby lay quietly as she changed diapers, and never struggled against her as she went on to do everything that was required to take care of her. Then soon after, the second one was born, and was as wiggly as any baby could be, perhaps, Yoneko thought, because she had a wonderful big sister who could help.

I think Yoneko and her husband are rejoicing with the Lord now.  I do know they had a long and fruitful ministry.

That morning long ago, after hearing her speak, I came away much inspired.  Somehow I could take my worthless sentences in Japanese, and trusting God, make them work for His Kingdom.  I understood again that He always takes what we have and makes it enough.

I’m reminded of that beautiful verse in the Bible (and then the accompanying hymn) that says in Malachi 3:10, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Have a great week, Marsha

Sweet Reunion

My daddy and Mr. Kojima sat eating watermelon together, laughing and enjoying stories about their grandkids and life in general.  They were both in their 60’s and it was in the early 80’s when this was happening.  My parents had come out to Japan to see their new grandson Nathan and spend some time with us in our new country, about 2 years after we’d arrived. We were industriously studying Japanese, living next door to Yokohama Baptist Church where Mr and Mrs Kojima lived and took care of the church and the grounds.  They had become like grandparents to my two boys and we were enjoying this special visit.

Suddenly the scene froze as Mr Kojima raised a piece of watermelon to his lips.

“You know”, he said, clearing his throat, “A few years ago you and I would have killed each other”…………Daddy’s face let on that he’d just thought of this about the same time.  You see they were BOTH WWII veterans, just on different sides.

Then Mr Kojima said, “Let me tell you a story” and we settled in.

“When WWII was well into it, I was drafted to go to service.  I would be leaving my wife, but I was honor bound to serve Emperor and country.  I don’t think she minded that I was leaving, we’d never enjoyed each other too much”.

Then Mrs Kojima interjected.  “It wasn’t that I didn’t like you, I HATED you!”  then turning to us, she continued, her head bowed and speaking in a confidential tone, “Ours was an arranged marriage as all marriages were those days.  He was a brute and beat me regularly, especially if his business wasn’t going well or he’d been drinking.  I had to live with his family as was the custom, so I was practically a slave and had no place to run.  It was easy to understand that I was definitely not happy.”

“Yes Yes, I remember” he leaned over and stroked her hand lovingly.

The story continued.

He went off to war and ended up on the island of Saipan where the Allies had been engaging the Japanese for about 16 months. There had been an estimate of 30,000 Japanese deaths to that time.   Finally the end was near and the Japanese were scared.  The propaganda that they’d been fed by the Japanese about the Americans led over 1500 people, mostly women and children, over a period of several days, to jump to their deaths off some very high cliffs.  What a tragedy, you say, but Japan was really under the sway of ‘Death without surrender” and this was the only honorable thing they knew to do.

Kojima, for whatever reason, was not in that area at the time, so he and several of his buddies took to the nearby jungle to hide out.  There they stayed for over 2 years, contacting no one, ignoring the leaflets dropped from helicopters explaining in Japanese that the war was over and they could come out.

“Why would we believe such a thing after all we’d heard about the demon Americans” he told us

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, so to speak, Mrs Kojima continued to live with her inlaws, unhappy as always, but praying dutifully at the family shrine every day.

“What they didn’t know, she chirped in”, was that my silent prayer every day to Buddha was that Mr Kojima would die as bad a death as he’d given me when he was living”.

But then one day she happened upon a church, and listening to the Good news of love and forgiveness, gradually her hard heart began to change.

Back in Saipan, it had been two years, and Mr Kojima and his friends were enjoying the nightly movies put on by the GI’s from their camp. They would broadcast the American musicals with Doris Day and other beautiful women onto a huge screen that was facing the jungle, most likely aware that while they were enjoying themselves, there were hundreds of little black eyes watching the movie right along with them.

Finally Mr Kojima had had enough. He told his friends, “These guys can’t be all that bad, I’m going to turn myself in,” and he marched into the camp.  GI’s ran to him and clasp his hand in greeting and took him off to the commander.

The propaganda wasn’t true. They did not eat him or beat him, but fed and clothed him and even went back with him to the jungle to tell his friends.  And even though they brought a message of Good News os to speak, no one would come out.  No one would believe or trust him.  Sound like a Bible story?

And so, Mr Kojima thrived.  It was far enough post war by now that he wasn’t considered a prisoner, and he was housed, taught English and more importantly, thru some of the men, told about the Love of a Savior.

He retuned home eventually.  There was Mrs Kojima waiting for him.  She might have had a conflicted look about her, but he was glad to be home at any rate.

Within months, he began to wonder what had happened.  She was not throwing his food at him or recoiling from his advances. she was almost, what’s the word, he tried to think………..nice?

Finally she shared with him how a man called Jesus had made her able to love him.

The rest is a love story that led them to us.  Mr Kojima, having been prepped by the Americans, was able to quickly ask forgiveness from God and his family and from that time on, the two of them really fell into a deep love for each other and others.  They even had children and added to their joy.

As they sat there with us, we all had tears in our eyes.  My Daddy spoke first, “Yes, we would have killed each other, but now, because of Christ’s love, we’re brothers.” ………and then that prompted us all us all to have a big american hug!

Christ the healer….

Now both my Daddy and Mr. and Mrs Kojima are sitting at the feet of Jesus, the one who brought them all together!

This week let’s think about the forgiveness God thru Jesus can give us all, forgiveness to put away the past and enjoy the future.

Happy trails, Marsha