Timing is Everything

Tonight this blog comes to you from a rest stop in the middle of nowhere as we’re making a late night drive home from an exhausting but exhilarating weekend in the north.  Trips to our ‘home town’ of Sendai and the attached disaster zone are always emotional, but this one was exceptional, owing in part to the timing of the trip.
For this particular journey, because of what we had on our schedule, we decided to stay with our lifelong friend, Shinkichi. You may remember his wife, Kumiko, died 4 years ago. We all still miss her of course, and while we Westerners don’t really remember or commemorate actual death dates, Asia does, with strict rules about when and what to observe. On the trip up, I vaguely remembered that she died ‘about this time of year” but of course as soon as we arrived, (on June 27th) we realized that June 27th was the actual day she died, so we were quickly fitted into a bittersweet family reunion, with lots of well-wishes from all around. Fortunately, with two new grandkids, the evening was filled with laughter and just a little bit of sadness.
Then the next day we had planned a quick “memorial climb” to a nearby favorite mountain of ours, but the weather didn’t cooperate, so instead we found ourselves downtown, running some errands and mostly reminiscing.  Twenty years in a ‘little’ city of a million like Sendai will give you a heap of memories, and this day was no exception. Every corner, every little hole-in-the-wall shop evoked recollections, mostly associated with misadventures while dragging our small children downtown for some necessary item. We laughed as we pointed out landmarks, and looked for other ones that must have gone the way that old things go. I pointed out the bus stop where I once boarded a bus bound for home with a grabby tow-headed baby who’d just been given a huge balloon….
Remarkably, most of what I felt was an ACHE for the happiness long past, but of course it was mixed with some long-forgotten memories that quite honestly weren’t all that great. But whichever they were, it was so wonderful to relive them again.
Then we went to visit other good friends, the Furukawas. This lovely couple were some of the first to come to Christ when we lived in Sendai 30 years ago and we have a long and sweet history.  You’ll remember from my previous blogs that Tsutomu, the husband, fell down the stairs 6 months ago and literally ‘broke his head’. He has recovered … somewhat ….  but unfortunately, he makes the phrase “All the lights are on but nobody’s home” have new meaning. Wife Keiko is trying to care for him alone and she’s a real trouper, but she’s wearing thin.   He smiled when we came in the door, but gave no indication that he knew who we were.
….and back to the “timing” thing, we had a good visit,  albeit Tsutomo just sat and smiled. Then, as we were about to say goodbye, all lined up for the ‘memory photo’, Tsutomu suffered a major and horrible seizure.  Talk about helpless…we prayed thru the event and then tried to move him but it was just too much, and later, after yet another episode we all ended up in the emergency room. Hours later he was finally admitted to the hospital, and as of now, we’re still waiting to see how it’s going to turn out. I’m just SO GLAD we were there, if not to help, at least to offer some comfort. That’s what the family of Christ is all about. Please pray for Keiko and the decisions she’s going to have to make soon.
This morning we returned to Taitomi Baptist, the church where we served for many years. Two of the first baptisms here were Mr and Mrs Tanaka. Remind me to share their amazing story with you soon.
Long story short, Mrs. Tanaka remains faithful, but the Mr. got sideways with a previous pastor years ago and stopped coming to church…. until today. After dropping his wife at church, he went home, only to discover his house key wouldn’t work and he couldn’t get inside. There was nothing to do but come back to the church to get his wife’s key. What a surprise he had when he opened the door to find Tony and me! It had been years since we’d been together. Sunday school was put on hold while we all rejoiced at his sudden appearance, and finally after every excuse was exhausted, Mr. Tanaka agreed to stay and hear Tony preach.  In God’s amazing timing, it was a sermon that couldn’t have been more directed at him personally! He promised to start coming back to church; please pray for him.
And finally this evening, Tony and I were able to share with church leaders from all over Sendai the new “Anagaion” (Upper Room) study course that Tony’s been writing. It’s still in the ‘alpha’ mode and needs a lot of refining, but we hope to see results soon.  I went to sleep both nights to the sound of Tony and Shinkinchi hammering out the translation, laughing and occasionally even calling over to daughter Yuu’s house for the extra finesse she can always offer.  After all, she’s married to a Texan and ‘get’s’ Tony’s way of thinking.  (Thank you Yuu!)
When it comes to God’s work in the world, timing really is everything, isn’t it? Aren’t we glad for the Father who can see the big picture and knows the every minutiae of our future.  We can rest in his hands.
In His time,
Marsha

Who’s Watching You?

Well, this week has been a rather busy one. I’m glad to report I survived the birthday that insisted on showing up in spite of my attempts to shoo it away. And, I have to confess, the ol’ body is still holding up well… well, for the most part.  My sister, who just turned 70, apparently has lost some of her math skills and was bemoaning that she had missed my 65th.  I had to remind her I’m 6 years younger than her, making me ONLY 64.  But there are perks up here in the rarified air. We found out the other day that Tony owes NO TAXES this year in Australia because at 65, he’s passed some kind of “age line”.  Yeah!!!
We’ve had a couple of volunteer teams and a brand new career missionary arrive in Tokyo this week. In celebration, the rainy season took a breather and gave them all a wonderful first impression. It’s been such an encouragement to look at this city of 39 million thru their eyes, and see again all the hope and expectations that have been there all along, but that tend to hide with the increasing years.
Yeah, these new folks have encouraged us.  It seems like sometimes just when I’m about to ‘give up’ and say, “I’m getting too old for this,” God will remind me through an experience or a person, “Look, you’re not in control here, I AM.”
Along with the volunteers, I had a couple of other rather bizarre things happen this week:
First, I was invited to be a ‘practice head’ for some beauticians who wanted to try out some new hair dye on a Gaijin’s (foreigner’s) hair.  Believe me, we Caucasians do NOT have Asian hair, and this has been a ‘challenge’ over these last 35 years to discover that fact along with my hairdressers.  Of course I agreed to the practice session, largely because it was free!   Three hours later I walked out with a new ‘look’ one that reminded me of those posters of malnourished babies in Africa, suffering from kwashiorkor. (You may remember the bloated bellies and orange hair. Please don’t think I’m making light of the tragic situations with those poor children).
In true Japanese fashion when they removed the towel, we all screamed, (I of course, was able to keep my cool and was only screaming inwardly). They made comments (a little too loudly, I thought) like, “Oh!  Isn’t it beautiful!” and then they started bowing and smiling and saying “Arigatogozaimas” (Thank you) over and over suggesting a quick exit would be appropriate.  I ran.
That night I got a note from one of our far distant, and let me say ‘weird’ acquaintances here in the neighborhood.  The note said, (in English) “Why you in Shidome today?”  With goosebumps racing up and down my neck, I wrote back “How did you know that?” while visions of phone tracking, infrared surveillance, and other marks of the beast issues ran wild in my head.  The answer came, “Oh, my husband looked down from his office window and saw you!”  Now, this might happen on a dusty street in Dullsville, Ohio, but this is Tokyo and the area where I was contains no less than fifty 40-story buildings, with office space for HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people inside, and this husband that I’ve only met a few times happened to see ME outside, who knows how far down, from his window. Maybe it was because I was still a blonde on the way in, or worse yet, because I was orangutan orange on the way out?
Then, a few days later when I finally had the nerve to leave the house with my new hair color, I went to a neighborhood grocery store that I seldom visit  (I was laying low, remember?).  From behind me I heard an excited “Maa-sha-san!” and turned to see a lady I will assure you I’ve never seen in my life.  Of course I smiled like she was a long lost friend and she began, “It must be cooler now, where you live.”  My eyes are by now rolling around in my head, but I’m still smiling………she continued, “you know, Umejima’s so hot” (this is three blocks away, where we lived two years ago). “Oh, yes! I beamed,  “We like our new place but we miss the old one.”  She continued, “You must be lonely now that Kawana san has moved back to Chiba.”  How she had this information I can’t imagine, but I could honestly agree.  I gave her my card and invited her to church……..maybe I might find out her name then?
As I think about this week, I have to wonder, WHAT’S going on?  When I feel small and ineffective, God just sends some precious volunteers to ‘remind’ me of what a great city I live in with so much potential……..and then just for fun throws in a couple of seriously RANDOM ‘meetings’ to remind me that it’s not lost on these folks, who I am or what I do………
So that’s been our week.  A bit rambling.  Next week, we’ll report from the Tohoku once again as we’re going up to touch bases with churches and loved ones there.  Your prayers are always so critical to what we do.A little older, a little oranger,
Marsha

Celebrations

This last week Tony’s been working online doing his doctoral studies.  What an age we live in where he can attend ‘class’ back in California via Skype for 5 hours a day!  I’ve had to maneuver myself to avoid casually walking thru the camera range and accidentally exposing my presence to 6 ol’ guys who are staring at the camera and talking about things way over my head.
As I was passing by one time, I heard the professor asking Tony to elaborate on his paper about the “Discipline of Celebration”.  Those two words don’t usually end up in the same sentence with me, so I paused behind the door to listen.
Tony, clearing his throat and assuming his ‘Yoda the Sage’ voice, began to pontificate that this particular discipline focuses mainly on the ability to recognize both the joy of the mundane as well as the ‘passages’ of life and in turn looking at them as reasons to celebrate, because they’re ‘right’, and as God intended them to be.
We have been experiencing a few different celebrations lately.  For one, Friday was my birthday.  Yes, it was Friday the 13th and someone pointed out that it was also a full moon  (northern hemisphere at least) and that this ‘coincidence’ wouldn’t happen again until 2049, when I will ostensibly be 99, so I did my best to see it, and I did.   We had a beautiful alfresco dinner overlooking Tokyo harbor.  The weather was perfect, the food was divine and the company was sublime.  What can I say, a true celebration!
But then I thought of another celebration we had rather by accident awhile back.  Tony was explaining to the Doctoral students that ‘celebration can be something insignificant and spontaneous, like sending the grandkids toys for no reason whatsoever.  I remembered with a smile visiting my grandsons a couple of months ago.  4 yr old Isaac led us right into his room immediately upon our arrival and pulled out a weary looking box from his shelf.  As I looked around, there was very little else in his room (he and his brother have an adjoining toy room that carries the bulk of their clutter). As he lifted it down with great care, I realized it was a box from us, sent probably 6 months ago.  He opened it slowly and reverently and began to show us one or two of his most important possessions.
My eyes teared up to realize that this box, so humble and unthought of, held all the power of distant grandparents in it.  He was ‘Celebrating” every time he struggled it out of the closet, celebrating the fact that he has and is loved by a “Jiji and Mae”, as he calls us.  None of the junk, mostly from the dollar store, that we sent them was inside it, but somehow it remained something precious just in the joyful thought of getting the box…..
There have been other celebrations this week.  One of our dearest young people ‘celebrated’ the announcement of her engagement with a short term missionary who has returned to the States.  They invited us to celebrate with them, she in person and he by Skype in America. It was a great day at our little church to be able to pray with both of them as we look forward to their lives becoming one.  Please pray that she gets a ‘fiancé’ visa and can be allowed to join him soon in marriage.
Another moment as were strolling thru a beautiful hotel on my birthday was to become unwitting spectators as a large bridal party swept thru. The beautiful bride and all the family were decked out in very traditional and serene Kimono. Japan can really “wow” you when they do their traditional rites.  We prayed for their future, that they will find the real meaning of life.
Another friend said goodbye to her husband as he joined his pain free celebration in Heaven.  We again, as spectators, stand in awe of the life they had together and hope for a sweet reunion one day.
A longtime friend with cancer ‘celebrated’ being strong enough to teach Vacation Bible School all week, perhaps a small victory, but a personal best.
What do you celebrate?  I believe that we, as Westerners, have it pretty good.  We ‘expect’ many things that the rest of the world would think were reasons for celebration.  I will never forget our little newly adopted daughter Nicki’s first Christmas at three years old.  She was so overjoyed about the tangerines in her stocking that we almost had to give up on getting to the presents……….My prayer for her (almost 25 now) is that she can continually live in that kind of Joy and Wonder.
And my prayer for all of you today is that we can all have that ’special box’ or that ‘tangerine’ that makes us stop and smile and thank God for everything he does.
Blessings, Marsha
Late Note, we are NOT celebrating that grandson Ezekiel fell down and split his lip badly enough to need several stitches.  Pray for healing and sanity as Mom holds it all together with Daddy the policeman at work.

Pinwheels and Moles

I came across something interesting a while ago when we were up north working in the disaster zone.

On one particularly pretty lawn (which fortunately was above the tsunami line and was spared the salt bath of three years ago), we came across no less than 100 gaily colored plastic pinwheels ‘planted’ all over the grass, just a few feet apart from each other.  All were blowing happily in the wind, making a sort of ‘buzzing’ sound that I’m sure you can imagine.

I put it down to someone’s eccentric taste and gave little more thought to it.  But a day or two later, I happened to meet the owner of the yard, and commented to her on the strange sight. Come to find out, she was not eccentric at all, but rather was being practical.  You see, her lawn had been infested with moles.   She didn’t really want to poison or trap the poor things, as they were just doing what they were made for and were industrious enough to find in her front yard the opportunity for uninterrupted digging bliss.

The moles continued happily until the largesse ended with the invasion of pinwheels, spinning nosily above their home. According to her wishes, it seems that after a few days of constant vibration, the little critters decided to move on to greener (and quieter) pastures.

For Tony’s doctoral study, he’s been reading lately about “incarnational traditions”; that is,  “finding Christ in everything”.   One of our favorite quips over the years has been to look at anything, then comment, “I think there’s a sermon in that!” So, true to form, Tony and I have had fun discussing this “pinwheel” topic … where’s the sermon?

Help me here: I think the “Wind” driving the pinwheels has to be the work of the Holy Spirit. And of course we must be the moles.  But are we moles necessarily the bad guys who need to be sent packing?

But wait, is it possible that no matter how cute we ‘moles’ are, perhaps the garden we’re playing in is not, in fact, very safe? Or maybe there’s a better place for us to be what we were made to be?  Consider the lady we met: if this strange experiment didn’t work, the next step was poison……or even worse for the moles, the terror of traps. Could we think of the pinwheels as the Spirit’s way of saying, “This is a not a good place; stay at your peril”?

All thru the Bible we read about the ‘murmurings’ of the Holy Spirit, who constantly ‘moved’ people from one place to another. I can hear God saying to the Apostle Paul, “Okay, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Do you want a dream telling you about your future plans, or how about a bright light that leaves you blinded?”

I suspect many of you could come up with even better examples, perhaps from your own experience.

As you read this today, you might remember that it’s Pentecost Sunday.  Remember that “Sound of a Great Wind” that got those disciples out of their punk and onto the streets? They, like those moles, must have wondered what in the world was happening… but “happen” it did, and God moved then all out of that room and on to accomplish great things.  They listened and got to business, even though they might have been the most unlikely of characters.

We’d love to hear your comments about moles and pinwheels. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even award a mention to the ‘most twisted theology’ taken from a life experience!

Listen: what’s that noise?

Marsha

Impatience

A few weeks ago I wrote about our friend’s son Peter, who literally ‘held the ropes’ and saved the life of his friend.  This week, I’d like to tell you about another experience we’ve had lately. Maybe it should be called “Holding on, even when you don’t know what’s coming”.
Spring is upon us, and the other day we set out to beautify our tiny balcony with some flowers. You can’t imagine what it costs in Japan to get 24 little plants to make a row against the wall overlooking a rather dismal view. Across the street is the ten-story building housing our local police headquarters. The windows are not see-through, so what we usually see instead is the reflection of our own balcony, sometimes loaded with laundry. So, cost be hanged, we declared, and determined to have something beautiful to look at. What we came home with were several armloads of Impatiens.
Most of you know what an Impatien is.  It’s a small annual plant that blooms with a wild abandon of vivid colors. As an additional ‘charm point’, these guys seem to be resistant to my efforts to kill them, at least before the first frost.  I like them because they’re just a “happy plant”, always there, bright and cheerfully faithful, demanding very little from me.
Now we have what we lovingly refer to as ‘our yard’ and to celebrate, we even dragged out two stools and sat knee to knee with our breakfast on our laps this morning……anything we can do to celebrate  new life after a particularly cold winter.
I got to thinking about Impatiens.  Since the word is so close to ‘impatience’ I’ve often thought they are very similar.  You see, I’ve been known to grow tiny plants from seed, waiting during the dark months till a tiny sprout finally comes, then loving and caring for it till it most likely dies, but sometimes lives…… Once in awhile I’ve even kept a gift of an exotic plant alive long enough to coax a bloom or two, but the rule with me is usually to ‘get it, enjoy it and say goodbye’.
Our life is a lot like those impatiens.  We just figured out that we have only a little more than a year till we officially leave Japan and start…………….???? who knows????  We’ll join the ranks of the RETIRED.
We are IMPATIENT on so many levels.
We struggle to see what lies ahead, all the while cowering in fear that we won’t be able to manage on our own.  My thoughts drift back to a cold home brand pizza served to us by one of Tony’s elderly aunts years ago.  She commented, “Sorry it’s not more, but life’s just so hard on a fixed income.”  I had no idea what she meant, but I knew I didn’t want it. Now that term has popped up again, and I’m beginning to tremble with horror.
But more than that, I’m IMPATIENT with what all needs to happen in this last year of our (paid) ministry.  It is becoming clear that unless God appears in person, we will not be leaving behind a functioning church in East Tokyo.  We have lots of enthusiastic people, but none of them seem to ‘get’ Christianity yet.  We are beginning to understand more and more that our job for this last year will not be to plant a church, but plant the Seed in minds and hearts and pray for the harvest, even though it may be long after we are gone.
As if to affirm that thought, I got a message on Facebook this last week.  It said, “Hello, my name is (Japanese name)” I had no idea who this was.  He continued, “Are you the Marsha Woods that asked me to paint her house back in 1995?”
I quickly answered that unfortunately I didn’t remember him, but yes, someone had painted my house about that time.
The next message shocked me.  He said, “My wife and I were so impressed with your lovely family that we went and found a church and became Christians.  Now we are active members and love reading the Bible the most!”
THAT’S a harvest I didn’t know about for 20 years!!
And so I have to say to myself, “Why am I impatient?”  Is it because I, like so many, want instant gratification, want ANSWERS….I want to KNOW what the next 10 years will bring in our lives, I want to KNOW what the last 35 years meant in the big picture of us living all those years here in Japan……..
But then I realize, wouldn’t it be sweet if I could just wake up like my little Impatiens every morning and bask in the SON and bloom for His glory, knowing that yes, I will probably die with the first frost, but I would have done what my purpose was, to make someone or Someone smile.
Blessings on you all, may your summer be filled with glorious blooms!
Marsha

“Konyakku-shiki”

"Konyakku-shiki".

"Konyakku-shiki"

Dear ones,

Yesterday we attended (actually Tony participated, as the missionary would) a “Konyakku-shiki”.

Now what would that be, you ask?

In Japan, as far back as Samurai days, a vow is a vow.  I’ll write about that later in another blog, but for now, let me explain that in Japan, getting ENGAGED is a big deal.  This may be an Asian/Middle East thing, do you remember in the scripture that Joseph, when hearing that his bethrothed was pregnant, was thinking of quietly ‘divorcing’ her?  Same thing.

Eriko and Masahiko are two lovely young people that met in a church we work in last year.  Eriko had actually become a Christian back in Australia while attending a church we helped plant many years ago.  We’ve known her since she came back to Japan, and now she and Masahiko, who is actually a pastor’s son, became acquainted and yesterday they made vows to each other in front of God and man, and became officially engaged.

There was a small ceremony with some singing and lots of prayers.  Afterwards, I teased the pastor about being so ‘pessimistic’ in his sermon, focusing, I felt, on the ‘eyes wide open’ and ‘this ain’t gonna be easy’ aspect.  He replied, “These are things that need to be said, but it’s considered unkind to point all that out

in the Wedding sermon!’  So true.

At one point, as tradition demands, the couple exchanges gifts.  We’ve seen mostly large diamond rings that will be tucked away in family safes and never worn, or savings accounts and the like in other engagement ceremonies we’ve done.  These kids are self supporting and even that on a shoestring, so to our surprise, they exchanged nice, well made SHOES!  After the service I commented on the unusual gift, and the groom to be answered with a sparkle in his eye, “Well, we figured we’re going to walk this road together, so we might as well start with good shoes!”

During the reception that followed, I was encouraged to find that the groom to be’s mother had actually been in the first graduating class of our mission’s nursing school back in the late 50’s.  We had a fun time reminiscing, both she and I trying to remember all the old missionaries’ names.  It blessed me because it helped me to see the BIG PICTURE of how Southern Baptists have led and blessed this country towards Christ thru the 140+ years they’ve been here.  Believe me, sometimes I feel as though I’m spitting in the wind, but then we have a day where a girl saved in a church we were involved with in Australia meets a boy born to a mother educated by our mission who then later married a ‘boy’ who becomes a pastor and they together have a son about to marry our little Aussie Christian…………it’s all related somehow.

Thank you Lord for this new couple who will serve you in Japan……even long after we are gone.

Have a great day in the Lord,

Marsha

PS, Look over in the “Photo Gallery”, top left, to see the picture taken at the konnyaku-shi

Holding the Rope

Today I’d like to tell you the story of some of our friends from college days.  Actually it’s about their boy, Peter, whom we only knew from Christmas letters and the like.  Peter was born ahead of schedule at 26 weeks weighing in at only 1 lb and 13 oz (about 400 grams). That was back in 1978 when preemies didn’t have the care they have today, so he really was a miracle baby who survived nicely into early adulthood. His birth alone was one reason never to forget Peter, but it was his death that leaves us awestruck.
Peter was a free spirit who loved the Lord and the great outdoors, as well as his family and friends.  His parents (our friends) became attached to the US embassy as doctor/nurse and as a result their kids were blessed with the opportunity to see the world from one end to the other, a life full of adventure. Peter’s favorite thing was climbing mountains with his dad in their free time.
In Peter’s 21st year, the deepest implications of the verse from Jeremiah 29:11 became real to him and his family, and to us all. “I know the plans I have for you….” His parents raised Peter with a love for God’s Word, and that verse always had a special significance for him, in light of his miraculous birth. Coincidentally, our own daughter had chosen that as her life verse as she considered her Russian orphan roots and God’s Divine Hand that brought her into our home at age three.
But back to Peter, for him to even survive his tiny birth with no damage just had to be proof to all of us that there was a very special plan for his life. That plan unfolded one day and it was NOT the one that any of us wanted, but nevertheless, in God’s sovereignty, it was the plan that defined his life.   You see, on that fateful day, 21-year-old Peter held the rope for a friend who was climbing on the face of Yosemite. A huge boulder above them dislodged and fell straight toward Peter.  In an instant, he had a decision to make: let go of the rope and run for safety, or stay and hold on. Choice number one would have saved his life, but doomed his friend to fall. Choice number two … well, Peter made the lightning fast decision to stay there and die.
The story itself is enough to fill me with so many emotions, from horror to unspeakable admiration, but over the years I can’t help but see so much more in that act of sacrifice. In many ways, YOU are holding the rope that keeps me here. Your emotional, tangible and most importantly, your spiritual support is priceless, and so very precious.
Since Easter, I’ve thought a lot about Jesus; how He could so easily have ‘thrown in the towel’ and headed back to the safety of Heaven. He could have chosen to look at the world, hanging in the grip of sin and let go and step away to save his own life….we know from Scripture, that he even asked His Father if that cup could pass from Him, but without even an answer, he in his heart, made the right decision.  To stay the course, to save us from a certain death.

Remembering the great sacrifice of both of these men, Peter and Jesus, I wish you a good week in the Lord!
Marsha

Never Forget

Happy Mother’s Day!

We’re back at home in Tokyo now, looking forward to getting back to some kind of daily routine again.

First of all let me say “Happy Mother’s Day” to all of you moms out there.  I’m reminded that our very first Sunday in Japan 35 years ago was a “Mother’s Day” service, and when they made some unintelligible announcement, someone punched me in the back. Naturally we thought, “Oh, we’re visitors” and both stood up…… gave everybody a good laugh because they were asking for the mothers to stand.

On that note, I want to call out a special greeting to all those who want to be mothers but for some reason are not.  I spent quite a few years yearning for another child after a particularly bad miscarriage had rendered me finished with childbearing. I can remember the loneliness I felt as other mothers were able to ooh and ahh about their kids.  It’s hard to feel ‘passed over’ especially when this holiday hits.  Today that child that we finally adopted called to say he loved me.  Actually both of my adopted lovelies made that call……. reminding how much actual mothering they let me have…….I feel blessed.

Anyway, today I’d like to highlight a couple of things we saw in the disaster zone this last trip that might be worth noting.

Things are indeed returning to a ‘new normal’ we’ve been working for these past three years since the tsunami. The people we’re ministering to in the temporary housing units have organized quite a bit, complete with selecting people to be in charge, a “neighborhood watch” of sorts, designated parking slots, some flowers set around here and there …….everything you might expect to see in a small town.

We took our team of volunteers to the city offices, as we often do, to see the picture of the town of Ayukawahama that had been taken just before the earthquake/tsunami struck.  It was poignant to see and be reminded that where once stood a vibrant community absolutely full of roofs without a space in between had been transformed in an instant to a huge debris field, then gradually into several acres of vacant lots, with just an occasional foundation remaining. Below the offices, further down the hill, a nursing home where all the residents were killed is now an empty space.  But this time I was surprised to go into the city office and find the picture gone.  I searched around and finally found it stuck back in a corner where almost no one could see it.

It’s almost as if no one wants to remember.

OK, I think I get that.  We were confirming this with our friend Miyuki, whom I wrote so much about in the beginning.  She and her husband lost 7 huge fishing boats out of their fleet, along with their house and all their possessions.  As we visited her the other day, she told us that the next day they would be receiving their second new 1 million dollar boat.  I’m happy for them.

But more than all this “moving on” we were amazed to see a few houses going up right back where the tsunami struck.  It is forbidden to rebuild in a lot of places because not only did the tsunami strike there but the land mass of Japan itself has dropped by 6-8 feet (two meters) leaving those places lower than sea level!  Still where they can, people are building right back where they lost everything.  I wonder why?

I guess some people are just counting their losses and gambling that they’ll be safe for another 100+ years.

Have you seen this in other people’s life?  I am (continually it seems) reading in the Old Testament.  One of many recurring themes seems to be, “When are you guys going to GET IT?!”  This morning I was reading in Deuteronomy where Moses went up the hill….. and the people forgot. After all those awesome miracles, they got shook and returned to their old ways, or made up new ways…….over and over.

Pray for the north of Japan.  Pray that they won’t completely forget that moment when they opened their hearts to the Creator God and called to Him for help.

I hope you will all have a good day today and remember your Creator, who never forgets you!

Marsha

Hawaiian Hope

Yesterday was one of those “unforgettable” days that come around every now and then. This particular day was prompted by our Hawaiian volunteers who we’ve been escorting through the tsunami zone. They’re a wonderful mix of seniors in their 70s and 80s, as well as a couple of 20-something “kids” who have been invaluable when it comes time to move luggage! This is the second time for the team to come to Japan, and they are truly veterans in every sense, bringing joy and hope everywhere they go. They’ve also brought a wide repertoire in their bag of tricks, so that they can always draw a crowd, whether it’s preschool kids at the local community center, fellow seniors at the temporary housing units up and down the coast, or at our own Taitomi Baptist Church in Sendai. If you’ve come to play, they have all the equipment for putt putt golf, fishing over a wall with a plastic bag instead of a hook, and some kind of outdoor bowling game using lava rock carved into little wheels. For crafts, they offer paper flowers, traditional Hawaiian leis and a not-so-traditional lei made from a nut that doubles as a bright-burning candle or, if necessary a powerful laxative. Musically, they can do the hula with the best of them, and I especially like their rendition of the “huki lau” (I think it involves food, so it’s gotta be good!).

Speaking of food, I have to mention the highlight of every gathering: an Hawaiian favorite called “spam musubi”: a unique concoction of rice, seaweed and yes, spam.

But at the end of the day, these folks share our passion for bringing hope to people who have none, and furthermore don’t know where to find it. One older lady yesterday told us, “I haven’t been this happy since I had to move here.” Of course it wasn’t long before she was hearing stories of love from people who knew first hand from Whom the love comes.

You might think this has all been a flash in the pan from a team of volunteers who are here this week and gone the next, but the beauty of their ministry is that they’ve been preparing for over a year now, making sure that the people they entertain will not be left alone. Jared and Tara, two of our folks here, have already arranged to continue meeting with the kids, not just from the one community center the Hawaiians visited, but to all six centers in the area which are connected. Taitomi Baptist, the church which was first on the scene after the tsunami out on the peninsula, are going with the Hawaiians wherever they go, assuring the people that these folks are okay. Next week, after the team has left, Taitomi will still be going out there, faithfully showing God’s love.

This is the Church at Work, with a capital “C” and a capital “W”. Where else but among God’s people can you find young and old, from Japanese fishermen to Hawaiian ukulele strummers coming together and finding peace, hope and love in the Name of the One Who called them together? It’s a great experience, and I’m glad to be a part of it. Thank you All for being of a part of this with me, through your prayers and all the concrete things you do to make things like this happen.

Aloha!

Marsha

Fascinations

As I’m writing this blog, we are literally ‘back in the saddle’.  We got home Tuesday night from a trip to Bangkok that became a trip to Bangkok AND Australia!  I woke up the first morning back and thought, “I don’t know where I am, but this bed is sure comfortable!

Anyway, the saddle that we’re in now, after just 3 sleeps at home,  is represented by two vans full of enthusiastic Hawaiians who have come to help us spread the salt and light in the Disaster zone.  They arrived with boxes of stuff and piles of enthusiasm and are already running our socks off.  Amazing since most are in their late 60’s and 70′S!  Tony has found that he IS able to drive if he sorta leans into it and positions his left hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and then uses his right arm to drive like a New York cabbie, so that’s a big help.

These guys’ enthusiasm reminded me of a comment I heard while tearing around Bangkok with my best Japanese friend. With her I realized that having a good friend who shares your values as well as sense of humor, (in this case ditsy-ness) is a real gift.  I don’t have that in any nationality while we live here in Japan and I realized that I really miss it.  I have good ‘friends’ here, but because of their non-Christian status, everything I do is countered with the deep underlining thought of ‘how can I show Christ in this moment’.  However, Kanae is a strong Christian who really ‘gets’ me.   She speaks pretty good English, but occasionally her English sounds (I’m guessing) a little like my Japanese…..she gets the point across but often uses the wrong word.

So anyway, we were jabbering away in our strange language of broken English (her) and broken Japanese (me).

Upon arriving at her tailor’s to drop something off, she said, “  This lady is a really good tailor, but when I brought in 10 pairs of my husbands trousers in to be altered, she did it, but after that she refused me.”

“Oh?” I said a bit surprised, “Why”?

Then she replied with this funny answer.

“Because she said she does not find altering trousers fascinating”

I laughed in her face.  There is the right word in Japanese, “omoshiori” that means ‘interesting’……I think that was what she was aiming for, but she overshot it in her English just a bit.  I could picture a little old lady sitting in a dark corner under a single cobweb covered bulb, working a treadle machine and saying to herself, “Garsh, this job is just not giving me the buzz I was looking for!”

OK, here’s my point (you knew I had one somewhere, right?)

Is MY work “Fascinating”?  Is YOUR work “Fascinating”?  In fact, do we even have the right to fascination in our job?

I think that working for God is the most exciting/thrilling/exhilarating/fulfilling work on the planet………..except on the days (I won’t go into percentages here) where the work is dull/ depressing/ demoralizing/and just no fun.

Paul said many things in his letters to the churches, a lot of it about the ‘fascination’ of working with God.  I like the one in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, to die is Gain”

What could be more fascinating than that?

Next week a ‘disaster team’ update! Stay tuned,

Marsha