At the Feet of Jesus

Life has tended to crawl along at a snail’s pace (very restful) these last few weeks as we travel to retirement on what we’ve named the “Grand Tour”.

But the pace has radically speeded up lately, as if someone had hit the fast forward button.

First there was the reunion with my sister and then our “long lost” cousins here in Brazil.

Now it’s our last week of travel before hitting the ground running in Maine. Some of the things we did are already blurred, but I DO remember that on Thursday I found myself at the feet of Jesus!

Not literally (although you might not be surprised, since we’ve spent a lot of time whining about our mishaps, aches and pains!), but this time it was at the great stone edifice called “Christ the Redeemer”, that well-known icon that reaches out high above the city of Rio de Janeiro.

I guess for most of my life I’ve been exposed to this statue through every media angle imaginable I’m sure you have as well, and my only thought was “cool!”.  I don’t think I ever thought fate would have it that I could actually see it.

However, I found myself almost in a Catholic trance as I looked up at him.  I just never…….

Maybe it’s the pain pills, my advancing age, or just my debilitated condition, but I literally almost wept.  Not only is it beautiful, but it’s really symbolic, isn’t it?  The designer, whose name naturally I forgot, commented about his ‘art deco creation’, saying, “I want to bring Rio to the feet of Jesus”

Maybe some people are moved to tears at an art museum, (nope, not us), or if they’re Japanese, maybe a cherry blossom in spring. I find that no matter how I try, I tend to be pretty cynical and ‘above it all’.

But as I stood there looking up, I was reminded again that I am a created being helpless and small under the open arms of a loving God.  I hope I can always stand in awe at “His” feet.

As we were waiting for the elevator (yup, you don’t get up there honestly) we heard a little boy saying excitedly to his mom, “Look Mom, over here, it tells how they MADE Jesus!”

It’s my prayer that I’m never guilty of “Making” Jesus.  I know this is just a statue, some might even say a ‘graven image’, and while I didn’t worship it, I may have been so in awe that I forgot that this Jesus was ‘made’.

The rest of this next week will spin by and hopefully you’ll hear next Sunday from us at the firework ceremony at one of the birthplaces of our nation, Boston.  The next day we’re going to ‘get to the business’ of being missionaries on assignment in the States for the next 4 months.

I plan to tell you more when I have time about our wonderful catch up with cousins working here in Brazil for the last nearly 50 years, as well as other observations……..but as I speak, Tony and my sis are tapping their feet waiting to charge off to Iguassu falls. I plan to be impressed, but since it’s winter down here, I may be more interested in keeping body and soul together in the cold.

Praying that you have a wonderful week with the LIVING Savior,

Marsha

Contentment

Nesting CloseNesting

This last week we’ve been driving around in Portugal.  We rented a car, drove to a timeshare we had reserved, and prepared to set up camp there for the week. Unfortunately the ‘timeshare’ was not quite up to par with others we had visited. Instead, the byline for the week seemed to be, ‘let’s see how much we can irritate you’.  Tony became convinced that it was actually a front for Russian money laundering. Most of the staff were Russian, and every question, such as, “Is there internet?” “Can we take the towels to the beach?” “Do you ever change sheets or towels?” was met with a sneer and a heartfelt “NYET!”

On the good side, after all the physical ailments we’d been suffering, from Tony’s broken ribs to my Chikungunya virus, it was encouraging to see that we’re finally recovering enough to be offended.  Then we set about deciding what to do.  True, this place was virtually ‘free’ in the sense that timeshares are ‘free’, but after all the admin stuff, they’re not really free.  From that point of view, we were able to take a fresh look at the place, laugh at the 1950’s elevator, where you have to close the door by hand, and actually made friends with Anna, the one Russian girl who spoke some English. We chose to ‘enjoy’ the place for a few days and then hit the road.

If you’ve been on Facebook, you may have seen that after leaving the timeshare, we discovered a lovely farm stay that more than made up for the week before.  Now we’re sending this from a medieval  town called ‘Sintra’ up in the cool forests above Lisbon.  Then tomorrow we head off for the airport and the 7-hour hop over to my missionary cousin’s place in Brazil and the last few days of our trip before starting a series of church camps up in the state of Maine.

Last night we made our way to ‘The End of the World”……..or so they thought in Columbus’s day.  It’s called Cabo da Roca, and it’s located at the literal westernmost edge of Europe. People used to think that from their vantage point they could actually see the ocean falling over the edge off on the horizon. Looking at the mist over the water yesterday, I could really see where they might have thought that.

But the ‘theme’ this week for me seems to be ‘adaptation’, and it was illustrated appropriately by the many storks we’ve seen driving thru the countryside.  I’ll enclose a picture of one of the more adaptable ones (although truth be known, her selection has become the norm, we only saw about two in natural habitat, i.e.; dead trees). This adaptable girl and many others had built a huge nest right at the top of a cell phone tower at the edge of town, and seemed quite comfortable. What with all the concern expressed by the hazards of phone signals, I couldn’t help but wonder how those stork babies were dealing with the stimulus overload.  We didn’t see any on the power poles, probably by trial and error they realized that never ended well!

I’m reminded of Paul who said so aptly of his life, “I’ve learned to be content with whatsoever state I’m in”. (Phillipians4:11)  Paul didn’t have the opportunity to stomp his foot and change lodging, which was often prison (no clean sheets and towels there!) …….so he settled in, sang songs and was ‘content’.  I would hope this could be the lifestyle for all of us.  No dead trees?  How about that MUCH HIGHER and minimalist cell tower?  Settle in and have babies!!

Til next week, from Brazil, Marsha

Lessons From Pain

Looking back, I think my mother had a tough life.  Had she have lived past my 14th birthday, she would be 100 next year, so you can imagine the times she lived in.

I believe her mother, a widow of several times, ran a boarding house on skid row in Denver during the war.  Maybe this was the beginning of Mother’s many ‘opinions’ that she was somehow able to pass on to me in my formative years.

The first one was about cockroaches.  People who had cockroaches (especially in the dry climate of Denver) were unloved by God and shouldn’t be on the planet. Mother was a clean freak, and even though our house was often messy it was never ‘dirty’.  Pulling out the refrigerator to clean was a monthly activity.

Naturally I grew up with the same attitude until I moved to Liberia, Africa……We ran a dormitory for missionary kids so that they could attend school while their parents worked out in the bush.  We had a full time houseman and believe me our house was CLEAN.  Tell that to the cockroaches that would run across your face with enough weight to wake you in the night……..It was then that I had to start thinking about the validly of Mother’s opinion.

Another category was fleas and lice.  Of course these were too horrible to discuss, but nobody in God’s grace would have them…….

In God’s grace, He gave me both.  Pets who got the whole house ‘hopping’, and loving children who brought home lice from kindergarten, and just so I got the message, sharing them with me!

Now I’ve had to face another one of those wrong ideas.

When one of my children was tested on a 5th grade IQ test, he listed ‘allergies’ as a mental illness.  Apparently that’s the going opinion with our family, sorta, “Oh goodness, this is all in your head, get over it!”

Lately a few of our acquaintances have experienced ‘neurological difficulties’ of one form or another, and secretly I have clucked my tongue and thought, “What wimps, they’re just looking for attention, there’s nothing wrong with them.”

BAM!  OK God, I get it.  Every judgment I lay down, He lets me experience! These past 10 days have been enlightening to say the least.

I can’t remember experiencing such ongoing pain as I have lately.  And yet, if I’m not moving, no one would know anything’s wrong. But wow, just watch me try to sit up, or hold a coffee cup or, well, anything that requires physical motion.

I DID get the ‘all clear’ from the blood tests, but we’re pretty sure, since I match the symptoms exactly, that I got that wonderful souvenir from the Maldives, the mosquito borne “Chikungunya” virus, made famous by Lindsay Lohan last year.  It most resembles Dengue Fever, is incurable, but once you’ve had it you’re ‘vaccinated’ for life (thank goodness). It attacks the joints and nerves and is ‘very painful’.  Recovery (after you’re clear of the virus, which apparently I am), can take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months.  I’m voting for the 2 weeks, as I’m seeing some infinitesimal improvement every day.

Tony, ever the coach, but at the same time a lovely nurse, wants me to do exercises and get better, meanwhile I’m learning to squeeze the toothpaste with my elbow against the counter…….

I DO feel better, and I’ve learned my lesson.  Don’t judge another’s situation if you haven’t been there!  If you do, you may get to experience it just so you can understand better! ha

My knees seem to be recovering first; at least I can stand up now without help, so Tony and I took a bus tour around Madrid yesterday.  We wanted to remember this lovely city for more than just the hospital.

It was a stretch for both of us but we survived and slept better than normal last night, so things are looking up.  Today we’re having a true Sabbath here in the motel room, just praising God for His Hand on us thru this drama. Next week we hope to rent a car…….that way I can ride and look out the window (eyes not being a “joint”, they’re working fine).

Expect a great update next week!  And of course thank you so so much for your prayers. Our ‘Grand tour’ Retirement trip is turning into the ‘Ibuprofen tour’ but it’s almost as nice.

Thankful to God for all his teaching, Marsha

Finding the Real Deal

Florence Church

Good morning Loyal Readers,

Today I’d like to tell you about something that happened to us in Florence this week.  No, nobody fell down or got sick, I think/hope those days are finally over.  Tony bought a new wallet and is guarding it with his life.

We were delighted to meet up with some fellow missionaries on Tuesday.  Not only was it good to see old friends and catch up on all the gossip of a group we’re no longer associated with, (add a tear here) but they were able to give us some money to get us thru to the next juncture where hopefully we’ll meet up with a replaced ATM card!

In typical fashion of those of us in missions, we hit the ground running!!  We went to our quaint little rooms and threw down our luggage and headed out.  We had no real plan except to be together, so we decided to start at the top of the hill and work down.

Tony had been in Florence when he was 18.  He remembered two things, the statue of David (being a teenage boy raised in Texas this was a special thrill if you know what I mean).  Also, he had a vague memory of a beautiful church.  According to him it was ’sorta mosaic and took his breath away”

Well, if you’ve ever been to Europe, you know that finding a ‘beautiful church’ would be pretty easy, but which one?  After our many transits thru Europe in our career, we’ve seen quite a few breathtaking churches.

We tramped the city up and down, looking at this church and that………..”no?” he’d shrug as we looked at the map and soldiered on.  Of course we had to stop for lunch, afternoon tea and dinner in the search, so we weren’t suffering that much.  The whole time jabbering like 4 lonesome people would when finding an English speaker.  At one point Bonnie and I stopped into a store and I stepped out to alert the guys.  I could see them a block down the street like two old Italians, Tony pontificating on some point while punching the air with his fist.

As the day turned to dusk we gave up on his particular church quest and headed for a market that we’d heard had some good food.  After all, it had been 2 hours so it must be time to eat.

We rounded a corner and looked up speechless!  I could hear Tony yelling from several yards away, “This is it, THIS IS IT!!”

I’ll try to attach a picture but I know it won’t do it justice. Google it if you like.  It’s called the Santa Maria Del Flore, and of course it’s one of the most important sights of Florence. How on earth did we miss it till now?

I shook my head and wondered how often we miss the obvious.  We tell each other what we’re searching for but wherever we look we just ‘don’t see it’………..until we stumble onto the Master, the Obvious One that we’ve maybe remembered from long ago but Who got lost in all the shuffle of imitation.

Here’s hoping you find the ‘Real Deal’ that’ll take your breath away this week!

Marsha

We Got Picked!

Dear Friends

If you’re reading this, consider it a bit of a miracle as weve been struggling to get internet where weve been.  Who’d think in this high tech age, you could wander off the grid, but then that’s what we like to do.  Tony commented that where we are weve seen no MacDonalds or Starbucks, and believe me, these days thats a hard place to find!  Of course the fact that this letter is a day late is testimony to the fact that Italys CinqueTerre is not on the main broadband route.

Last Sunday youll remember we were not worshipping in Church but rolling down sand dunes with some friends from Australia.  Because they live in Doha, Qatar, where worship is on Friday, we had a bit of a different weekend but found ourselves worshiping the Lord to have such good company.  It was really wonderful to catch up with such uplifting people.

We arrived in Rome to a delightful little 11th century hostel, converted from a chapel started by friars who were commemorating the 350AD deaths of 40 Roman soldiers who were executed for their strong belief in Jesus.  Except for spotty internet, the place was a dream.  We went to sleep every night looking up at the brick vaulted ceiling and being glad we werent in an earthquake zone anymore.

Then, partly to make up for the fact that we weren’t able to go to Everest this trip, we headed out on our rail passes to the furthermost northern regions of Italy and the Dolomites.  What a lovely area! We stayed in Trento and Tony was delighted to see the place where the Protestants and Catholics tried to come to terms back in the 1500’s (Council of Trent).  Like most committees, it took them 15 years to agree to disagree.

Perhaps the highlight of the area was the museum dedicated to OTSI (pronounced UUT-si).  You’ll remember he was a guy that a man and wife ‘discovered’ when they were out hiking at about 12,000 feet, just off the trail.  At first they thought it was a dead animal or perhaps some leather or such, but after realizing he was a human and reporting it, and after a LOT of who-ha, they’ve decided that he is indeed about 5000 years old.  I’ll have to say the whole thing was very interesting and well presented, although Tony chose to take offense on the museums official stance on ‘Global warming and how its ruining everything’.  He couldnt help pointing out that they wouldnt have found this great tourist draw if he hadn’t started melting out of the ice! ha

Now, as you’re reading this, we are in the world famous Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.  I hope we don’t look too ‘UN” Riviera, in our one on, one in the pack outfits.  We just couldn’t justify dragging our metal carry-ons on a trip this variegated, so we crammed what we thought we needed into little day packs and left the rest in a locker in Rome.  I will say it may have contributed to us getting well, but after 5 days we’re ’sick’ of looking at each other and washing in the sink!

Just when we were congratulating ourselves for being such savvy travelers, Tony got his wallet lifted in the train station.  Now that its all over, the cards cancelled and the boo hoos said, we are thankful that the ‘picking’ went unnoticed, and we werent mugged or traumatized.  Of course were embarrassed to spoil our perfect record of being ‘untouchable’, and we lost a bit of cash, but wed packed well and had divested our goods here and there, so we can carry on with little or no disturbance. We’ll have to give the guy credit for getting the wallet out of a zippered back pocket without Tony knowing, and feel a little bit sorry for him that all the cards he has subsequently tried to use have been declined!  What a world we live in!

On the heels of that, we learned that a nephew of my son and daughter in law has contracted cancer.  Hes only three and in a non-Christian family, so Im sure youll want to pray with all your hearts, not only for him but his family.  His name is Jai.  Also pray for Nathan and Kylie as they minister to them. Life seems so unfair sometimes.

On Tuesday we’ll meet some friends we served with 40 years ago for a few days.  That will be a nice balm on our hurt pride and possibly they can exchange some money for us since our debit cards went with the thief.   Then were off to the Indian Ocean to see if we can enjoy some sun and water.

We think of you and try to keep up with what’s going on.  Perhaps the purpose of this trip is working because we’re smiling more and worrying less…….or maybe it’s just the high carb Italian diet, who knows?

Safe in His hands, Marsha

As near as Your Reach

We have found over the years that Arab based airlines are some of the most luxurious of the world.  Last night we flew Qatar Airlines.  (I’m beginning to ‘hear’ the pronunciation of this little country as CAT-tar, but who knows).  It was as we anticipated, two full meals with all the extras,wider seats, etc etc.

However Tony told me this morning as we were landing that the two big swarthy gentlemen, sporting the whole Jihad mojo, had during the night had called the stewardess and asked to see the cockpit. ……….I was glad he spared me this news till morning! Anyway, after a while the sweet young thing came back with the chief steward and explained sweetly that while that may have been possible a few years ago (like when they were nine) it was no longer allowed.  I guess even Arabs have to live in a fallen world now.

When our son was a little boy, and thinking he was too sick to go to school, often I’d put a “Tums” (Gaviscon) in his pocket with instructions to take it before going to see the nurse. More often than not, that was all he needed; just the assurance that help was as near as his reach.

That’s sorta been our week.  If you’re getting this email it’s because you requested it (I hope!).  You’ll remember we left the field last week, so this is coming to you from two humble lay people. Granted, we’re still “on the clock” officially, with several furlo responsibilities to see through before officially retiring in November, but already we’re feeling the separation from the daily duties among our mission family. It continually startles us that we’re traveling without permission, not filling out the weekly forms, etc etc.  Sorta like children who experience life without parents for the first time!

Our first ‘bump’ on this trip was losing Nepal.  Our tour agent there, who will have no ability to refund us because his business was destroyed, continued begging us to come ahead, saying that ‘several’ of his people were still able to function.  For once in our lives, we had the necessary reserve to know that we mustn’t go where we’d be in the way as well as testing fate by being useless foreigners.  We rerouted our frequent flyer miles to the only place they’d take us,  Hong Kong and then Bali where we waited out the time we were to be in Nepal.

No sooner that we’d arrived in Hong Kong, amidst seeing old friends and enjoying their company, Tony lost his footing on a bus when it stopped suddenly, as they’re prone to do in Hong Kong.  He fell back on his ribs, and was pretty sore for a few days.  By the time we got to Bali, he was really miserable, so we ventured out to find a doctor in a foreign land, and were delighted to find a modern hospital, very reasonable prices, and a competent Doctor.  At first there were hints that he would be banned from flying but after several tests, they decided that he should just heal up the most likely re-cracked ribs from his big fall a couple of years ago.  What better place than Bali?  We got a really humble but charming little hotel on the beach at the last minute, sandwiched between two 5 star ones, so we enjoyed rock bottom prices with great atmosphere on either side.  The beach is the beach, so that’s nice. An author I’ve been reading gave us the best description of Bali when she said, “There’s so much nothing to do that there’s no time to do it all”

After two days in Bali we got a text that said there was a medical issue with one of the kids…….something nobody ever wants to see, so we once again had to grab the Tums and pray as we had no internet or phones for about 24 hours.

Fortunately that nail biter resolved itself along with some others and we’re beginning to feel like we’re really starting off this trip properly.  We’re now in Doha, Qatar with some church friends from Australia.  He’s a Qantas pilot succonded to Qatar Airlines, and we’re off today (they have Sundays on Friday here so we missed that) to suss out some Souks and Sand dunes!

Tony wonders out loud if all these ‘troubles’ are a symptom of the grief we’re feeling at leaving our life we’ve known for so long.  I don’t know the answer to that, I’m just glad that whatever it was we’re getting on thru it.

Look for something more up beat next week, with no ’Tums’ involved……..we hope!

Sayonara, Sayonara, Sayonara

Well Folks, this will be my last blog as a ‘real’ missionary.  If you’re getting this thru a church email, they will probably stop mailing it out en masse. Unless you have requested to stay on a mailing list, we will not send you any more episodes…… although I’m guessing we’ll still see God popping up here and there on our extended trip home and will try to post something most weeks.

We actually left our home in Japan this last Friday and I’m sending this out from Hong Kong.

While the first few days this week looked a bit like “The Wreck of the Hesperus”, we had competent help and the whole mangle of our motley possessions came together and were successfully carried off to the lap of fate. We look forward to seeing it all again in 6 months, at least long enough to assign it to another 6 months of storage before we finally settle in Australia.   We have now survived three whole days living out of two carry ons, and apart from the fact we have so much stuff that we can’t find anything, and one person at church asked us if we were dressed completely in black for a reason, things are going smoothly!

We’ve been associated with International Baptist church in Hong Kong for about 20 years, first leading the Japanese church as interim pastor for a brief  3 months and then countless pop in visits.  If I had to leave the land I love, coming to Hong Kong was a soothing consolation.  We have been feted to lots of good food and laughter with old friends.  It certainly is a balm for a hurting soul and because we were not able to continue on to Nepal we’ve a few extra days to enjoy this exciting city.

Of course ‘giving up Nepal’ was heartbreaking for us, but not nearly as much as our other colleagues there who are now safely evacuated.  Please continue to pray for the situation there.

Today at church, we were again blessed, not only to hear and see God’s provisions in so many old friends but to hear another great sermon about being a branch in God’s tree, not the trunk.   I didn’t know the story behind Ravi Zacharias until today. Evidently he had tried to commit suicide at age 17 and a seemingly random missionary for Campus Crusade for Christ dropped off a Bible for his mother to read to him.  Although incoherent, something in the Scripture sparked his spirit and he woke to become what the late Charles Colson later ranked as  ”the greatest apologist of our time.”  No one said if the missionary ever knew what had become of the boy he had ministered to, but God knows all of those stories.  .  It was a great encouragement to us as we leave so many ‘unfinished stories’ in God’s care……..and to remember that our work is never ever ‘retired’.

You might like to see this little list I made as we were saying goodbye to Japan. I think in a way, it was a little form of grieving. I know there are a lot of other things we’ll miss, but have a look:

Thinks I will miss in Japan:

* 5:00 announcements that are broadcast all across the neighborhood to say that it’s time to go home

* Drink machines on literally every corner, with hot drinks as well in the winter. And oh by the way, you can pay for them with your train pass…unless like us, we had a different budget!

* If that’s not enough, you can probably see a ‘combieny’ from where you’re standing (short for “convenient”, like 7/11)

* Incredible politeness and reserve of the people, especially in public places… even if there’s an earthquake going on

* Feeling safe…anytime, anywhere (except of course for the occasional earthquake).

* The people

* Standing to one side on the escalator (on the left in all of Japan except in Osaka, where you stand on the right) so that people in a hurry, like me, can walk up the stairs.

* Heated toilet seats, everywhere

Things I WON’T miss:

* Sorting rubbish into 5-9 categories for disposal

* Incredible politeness and reserve, especially regarding showing their feelings to others, including family

* Never ever being alone……anywhere

* Heated train seats, (like sitting on a volcano)

* Feeling huge all the time

* Squatty potties (a bit of porcelain on the floor, cleaner that regular toilets but hard on these aging ole’ knees)

As an old Japanese commentator used to say on TV when his program was over, “Sayonara, Sayonara, Sayonara.”   Will miss our little chats with you all, but please keep in touch with us, marsha@mywoods.net or marshagwoods@gmail.com

The Look on Their Faces

Today was meant to be my last blog.  We leave Japan next Friday, May 1st, almost exactly 37 years after we first ‘landed’ here.   However, because of the earthquake in Kathmandu we’ve been thrown a wrench in our plans to ‘hike on Everest’ just a bit.  While shaking with relief that this tragedy didn’t chose to happen next week, we tremble in sadness for the lives lost.  Please be sure and continue to pray for all those victims.  Thankfully all of our personnel in the area are safe and there was even some brief talk of us going to help the disaster teams that are converging as we speak. After all, this is basically was what we’ve done for the past 4 years. But then a quick assessment reminded us that we lack the language, culture and resources that we had here in Japan, so as tempting as it might be, I’m afraid we’d probably just add to our missionarys’ plight there, being more of a burden than a help. So after some quick shuffling of our frequent flyer points, we’ve been able to set up a few days in Hong Kong, meeting up with dear friends and staying long enough to send out the “real” last blog from there next Sunday.

But now I want to  ‘sum up’ our thoughts on Japan.  We were able to visit a wonderful service today and hear an inspiring sermon about ‘Bethel’, where Jacob wrestled with the Angel.  The theme was generally, ‘sometimes you will have an unexpected and maybe even a bad experience, but you need to remember that it just might turn out to be a blessing from God.  Apropos to our situation, I think.

About Japan:

Tony and I have been watching the Japanese educational TV’s daily drama for the last few years.  You may remember me mentioning the true story of the little Samurai girl, Yae san, who became a Christian and helped found one of Japan’s premier universities.  Then there was another one about a little urchin on a scholarship to a Christian school that kept our attention for several months.

The one we’ve been watching lately is called “Massan” and it’s again the true story of a Japanese man and his Scottish wife in the late 1800’s.  Incidentally, we read that she was in fact a dedicated Christian but that never came up in the drama. Together, they are credited with introducing the first malt whiskey to Japan.  While it’s not as compelling to watch as the two previous dramas (I’m not really ‘into’ whiskey and all that), this one has been interesting too, especially watching how she worked to be accepted as a blonde foreigner in the 1800’s.

Because each day’s drama is only 15 minutes long, it’s easy to watch even when you’re running around packing. Something that was said today, may have sorta summed up my almost 40 years here.

Now let me skip to the side and tell you what’s been happening here in our last couple of weeks.  As you know, we’re saying good-bye to our lifetime in Japan.

On good days, it’s a happy time, on bad days, I stumble and wonder what we’ve really accomplished, and if our lives here even mattered at all.

A couple of weeks ago we had a combination egg-dyeing party, complete with the Easter story and of course lots of chocolate.  As everyone knew it would be our last meeting, we went around the room sharing, and people fell into telling where and how they’d become a part of our little “Nishiarai Life” group.  We refer to them (behind their backs of course) as the “ornery non-believers”, because after 2 years, we have seen almost nothing happen of any note on a spiritual side, leaving us scratching our heads from time to time.

Anyway, it was kinda sweet to hear them say, “We met the Woods in an elevator” or “We sat together on a bus” or “We said we needed a family and they said they did too”. Another lady who actually commutes from the other side of Tokyo said,  “My mother said you were interesting, so we came along”…………what a full and bittersweet time we’ve had with them.  We pray every day that they saw something of Jesus in us, and they’ve continued to shower us with attention as we get ready to leave.  One particular old lady just bursts into tears every time we see her, crying over and over….“Sabishii” (lonely).

Back to the TV drama.  When the guy finally, after many years of failure, develops a whiskey that has a chance of being accepted in the Japanese market, here’s what the head of a large influential department store says to him.

“Until now, you’ve always made the whiskey to prove that you could, you wanted to sell it for your own glory……but this, this, I can tell, was made because you have come to love the Japanese and began to envision the look on our faces when we tasted how delicious it is”.

When we arrived in Japan, I may have been out to prove something.  I may have thought that I would be the one who brought God to the heathens…….I’m pretty sure I can say with all honesty that those first few years in Japan were NOT marked by a genuine love for the people, nor for their way of talking (described in a moment of frustration by a 16th century missionary as “the devil’s language”).

But over the years, the Japanese treated me with patience and love, and finally the whole reason I do any work to evangelize them at all is because I have come to love them and want to see the delicious look on their faces when they experience Christ!

That has become the life long blessing, maybe not so much for the Japanese, but for ME!

Please stay tuned for one more week!  Marsha

Starfish in the Sea

Gift Bags

I believe the craziness has well and truly begun!  Our mission put on a big retirement party for us last Friday night and we were absolutely humbled with all the attention from our coworkers.  As if that weren’t enough, our kids sent along a video about growing up as missionary kids. That really made me stop and thank God again through my tears for all of His blessings to me, especially family, be it through bloodline or shared faith.

Now we start the last week in our apartment before we move everything into storage for at least the next year. You can imagine the chaos. Already I can’t sleep because I have lists and scenarios racing thru my mind, but I want to stop the madness long enough to share a thought with you about something that came across my mind recently.

Someone posted the old familiar story about a little girl throwing starfish back into the sea after a storm.  You probably have heard it.

She was walking along, picking up starfish that had washed ashore (and were therefore doomed to die out of the water). Someone older and wiser saw what she was doing and felt he had to speak up. “Why are you wasting your time?” he asked. “Look down the beach; there’s thousands of them. What you’re doing makes no difference.”

Holding a small starfish in her hand, the girl smiled and said, “I guess you’re right.” Then she tossed it into the water and said, “But it made a difference to that one.”

Many years ago I gave a starfish to one of our fellow missionaries. We were both struggling with the ‘success’ of our ministry (or I should say, the lack thereof), and I thought that maybe we should both have a star fish to remind us of the job we were to do.

Can you imagine the wave that swept over me the other day when we visited in the home of these old friends? There, in a prominent place on a bookshelf in their new apartment which has by necessity been “downsized” yet again, was their starfish: old and brittle but a reminder of what we’re still all about. Engage the ones that God places in your path and do what you can, even if it seems hopeless.

I’ll attach a photo of another ‘job’ we’ve taken on this next week.  As much as possible, we plan to visit every individual in the neighborhood whom we’ve had contact with, from the waitress at the coffee shop to the guy at the vegetable market. I’m talking about the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, people who know who we are (because we stick out)  but have never been what I would call “close”. We’re giving them a little package with three cookies and a greeting that says basically that we appreciate their years of befriending us.  Enclosed in the greeting is a link that will show them the plan of salvation in Japanese. Starfish in the sea.

The other day we bumped into to a dear old couple we often see in the early mornings at a favorite little coffee shop. He’s obviously had a stroke as he always totters in about 5 minutes after she arrives. It’s clear that they love each other as she hollers to him everything we say.  We’ve talked often, but at a very shallow level.   When she saw us, she was so happy and said, “Oh! I thought we’d lost you!”

When I gave her the cookies, she said, (of course in Japanese)  “Oh my goodness, I have nothing for you!”  I said, “Oh but you do! For my ‘gift’, could you just give me your name?  She did, and I’m going to give it to you, it’s Keiko Yokoyama.  I told her that my friends and I were going to pray that she and her husband would come to know God as their Friend. She shared that she cannot understand the internet (plan of salvation etc) but her daughter will help her. We parted better friends.

As we count down the days till we leave the land we love, I have to remind myself that we may not have made much of a difference ……… but that’s okay.  God knows each and every one of them, and in His time, in His way, maybe He will send along another of His children to walk along the same beach.

Love ya,

Marsha

As you’re reading this, we’ll be on the road coming home from a wonderful weekend in our “home town” of Sendai.

This was our last trip up north before leaving Japan, and it was filled with laughter, memories and tearful goodbyes along with promises to return someday.

This morning at church, Tony passed around a bottle of sand while recounting the story we mentioned a few weeks ago from a Sudanese refugee in Ethiopia. He had never seen the ocean, but the village chief had told him that it was an “angry thing, always trying to get to you”. But the ocean was held back, he said, because of the sand barrier that stood between the water and the dry land. “What a wonderful God,” the young man said, “to create the sand!”

Tony went on to say this morning that, sometimes, he feels no more significant than a grain of sand, especially when we look back over 40 years of ministry. But that’s the point, isn’t it? God didn’t create us to be spiritual giants; He intends us to be grains of sand, standing together with a strength that can hold back the ocean.

This weekend we also said goodbye’ to our friend Tsutomo Furukawa.  You’ll remember me talking about him falling down his stairs at his home a year and a half ago.  He should have died on impact but he’s survived.  Unfortunately he’s been unable to recognize anyone since, and has been failing for the last year until he’s in a coma for the last several weeks and the end seems near.  It’s very sad to see such a strong man of God slipping away, but as we prayed together we felt a peace that God is in control.  His wife Keiko rejoices in the strength God has given her, but we all pray for release.  He was an accomplished architect and I will add a picture that he drew many years ago of Sakura

Speaking of Sakura, we enjoyed Sendai this weekend for the chance it gave us to see the beautiful cherry blossoms again. They’re just about finished in Tokyo, but up north they’re in full bloom.

The Japanese have a special place in their hearts for the cherry blossoms. They say the brevity of the cherry blossoms gives them their unique significance.

I guess they’re right, in a way. I don’t think Jesus was belittling the lilies of the field, which are “here today and gone tomorrow” (Matthew 6: 28-30) but instead was glorifying the love of God, who considers us precious in spite of our brevity on this earth.

Tony always jokes that, unless you endure a Japanese winter, you can’t truly appreciate the cherry blossoms. I agree.

I grew up in Colorado, but with the humidity, Japan winters are exponentially colder……and because of the flimsy-ness of so many houses and churches, it’s a cold you cannot escape.  So to ‘weather’ a winter here is a true act of stamina.

But back to that ‘brevity’ thought.  I have to say, we’re feeling the time racing away as we step around boxes and try to get everything done that’s required before we pull up stakes and make this final (we hope!) significant move. Looking through picture albums and all the trinkets of a 40-year accumulation, we can’t help but wonder if we did anything at all ……. or did we just manage to be a gossamer blossom before floating away in the wind?

Then, before we completely depress ourselves, we remember those precious words that we hope are waiting for us somewhere down the road, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few (emphasis mine) things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

Cherry blossoms and sand, like us, hardly noticeable on an individual level.  But what a difference they make in the Hands of the Master!

In His Hands

Marsha

Cherry Blossom TimeTsutomu's Sakura