Running in Snow

So here we are this week, back to Annie and Nomura san.  They were in full swing when we arrived on the field in 1979. We didn’t know it then, but Annie would have 30+ more years of faithful service and how about Nomura san??

The first time we visited Hokkaido, they invited us for a meal. After that, we made it a point to be invited to their house whenever we were on the island, and especially if we were bringing friends with us! I remember Nomura san would always be in a full kimono, looking beautiful, turning special attention to all of our children, who in turn adored her.  I also remember being impressed that finally I understood the phrase sometimes used of a table ‘groaning’ with food. Both were excellent cooks, and it seemed each time that they outdid themselves; Annie especially, whenever she could show off her ‘Southern cooking’ for appreciative Americans. She even passed on some clever ‘hacks’ (before they were called that) for making ingredients that couldn’t be found in Japan.

There are so many things I remember about these two.  Life in Hokkaido was (and still is) hard.  Not far from Siberia, there is nothing to stop the wind and the cold, and the winters are long and dark.

One time we were sitting at this ‘groaning’ table, reveling in the taste of forgotten favorites like bacon and grits, when something felt like a freight train hit the house.  Suddenly we were sitting there in the dark.

Annie pushed back her chair with resignation and headed for the light switch, sighing and saying,

“Well, that’s it till spring.”  The snow on the roof had slid off with a thunderous crash, completely eclipsing all the windows on the north side of the house.

Don’t get me wrong; Annie and Nomura san loved their lives and their challenges.  She laughed about the tram drivers repeatedly scolding her for shoveling snow onto their tracks.  She leaned back in her chair with a triumphant sigh and reported that after several of these reprimands she told them, “After all I do for this city, you tell this old lady where I’m supposed to put all that snow you keep pushing into my yard!”  They shot to attention and stopped complaining.

As much as these two loved the Japanese, they also knew how to play the game.  Annie told me of riding a very crowded train from the capital city of Tokyo, almost 800 miles away, down on the main island of Honshu.  Back then it was at least a 2 day ride, and with smoking allowed in every car, accompanied with either coal or diesel smoke pouring thru every crack, it could be quite laborious.

One time she said, “I was riding with Blake (a bachelor missionary who lived a few cities away from Annie)  “We had to give up our seats because there were so many families that needed them, but after awhile I got so tired standing that we made our way to the dining car. It also was crowded but we found two seats and I ordered an apple for us to share.”  She paused and thought back wistfully, as if remembering the good old days.

“We sat there for over an hour” she continued her story.  ”Finally Blake got embarrassed and went to stand out on the freezing platform between the cars to wait, but I figured that was his decision so I just sat there……for another hour or so….” She chuckled to herself and then added, “It’s amazing how long you can peel an apple!”

Finally in May of 2005, after all the church starts; the Japanese people that she had mentored into the second and third generations, the programs she had started, the other missionaries she had loved, winter came in and this time broke her down with pneumonia.

She lay in the hospital as people began to gather and they heard her murmuring in a satisfied whisper. Moving closer, they realized that she was paraphrasing Hebrews 12:1, “I’ve run with perseverance the race that was set before me.”
Nomura san arrived, bustling around to encourage her and begging her to stay just a little longer, talking about the flowers she was planting in their garden that would need her attention.

But finally she too realized that her “Big sister” needed some rest.  She leaned down to Annie’s ear and said, “Sensei, you go on home now, I’ll be all right……”

Observers said that at that moment Annie’s heart rate slowly dropped to 0 and then bounced up to 100 just for a second.  They figure she had seen Jesus!

And Nomura san, you ask??  At the writing of this, she is alive and in a nursing home. I’m guessing she’s in her late 80s but I’m not sure anyone ever really knew her age.  She has good days and bad days, as do we all.

Sometimes she seems to ‘rally’, especially when spoken to in English, as if her dear Sensei were back, but mostly she just keeps on keeping on.

My ‘almost son’ Katsuya, that I write about often and lives nearby, told me that she was sick during this last winter, and in fact was hospitalized for a time. However, true to her nature, from her bed she kept saying to everyone as they passed by, “Mada iketeru, mada iketura ”  (I’m still alive…..I’m still alive).

And she is.  Pray for these amazing warriors who bested the best by choosing to work in some of the toughest country in Japan.  Several generations of pastors, missionaries and laymen exist today because of these two.

Next week I’ll tell you about another, more modern-day girl that we know.

Unless, of course, we’re too far into the Outback. We’re planning to accompany a friend 9 hours north to see some other friends, and the area is not known for its stellar internet and telephone service. If I can’t get anything to send on Sunday, I’ll do it as soon as we home on Tuesday.

Cheerio, Marsha

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