I had to chuckle to myself this morning as I was reading my Bible. I noticed a couple of times in 2 Kings the admonition to, “Tuck your cloak into your belt”.
That’s was us this last Wed morning. Our dear mentor and friend Naoki Noguchi went home to be with the Lord Tuesday afternoon. Kamikaze, devoted Christian, precious pastor. He was all of those to us, and more. By the time we got the word, the wake was scheduled for that same evening ………..a mere 1200 kms (800 miles) away.
While Tony was on Skype in a doctoral seminar, and then rearranging our Tokyo commitments, I high-tailed it to the train station and bought tickets leaving in 90 minutes. We grabbed toothbrushes and all things black and literally ran out the door, heading for the Bullet train, 45 minutes and 2 transfers away from our house. We slid into our seats, panting and wiping sweat and settled in for the 5 hour ride at 270 km/167 miles an hour to the southernmost island of Kyushu.
We arrived at the funeral home to a crowd of over 500 people. We were the only foreigners, but did fine if you don’t count standing up with the family and joining the receiving line by mistake……..(you’d have had to been there to understand our addled brains at this point). Finally, a kindly usher with an ear phone and white gloves practically belly crawled over and whispered in Tony’s ear, something to the effect of, “Excuse me for mentioning this, but I’m guessing you’re not family, am I right?” Well, Hey, we FELT like family but took the clue and slunk murmuring “sorry sorry” back to our seats.
The next day was the funeral. Even more people, better sermon and telegraphed wishes from around the world. We were content to hide in the back after last night’s display. Thankfully because of our obvious foreignness , every person who knew us was able to find us afterward. A true reunion of great joy amongst the ‘bewildering feeling of sadness’ at losing a friend, mentor and pastor.
Ok. Our hearts are full, but I want to summarize what was said, as it applies to all of us.
As you may know already from my comments on Facebook. Noguchi Sensei preached 17 times in the last 4 months of his life. Number 18 was scheduled for last Sunday, August 17, but the church surprised him by coming to the hospice, suggesting that he might like to preach from his bed. He did.
These were his four points:
1. Thank you
2. Excuse Me
3. It’s been fun
4. See you again.
Let me extrapolate.
1: ”Thank you”. What a blessed life he had. He was ALWAYS talking about how blessed he was. What a JOY he felt to be part of the ministry of telling others about Jesus and what He’d done for him. To the people gathered around his bed, he expressed again his gratitude to them.
2: “Excuse me”. Noguchi Sensei taught me the euphemism “Oh Boroshiki” or “BIG Scarf”. Japanese used to, and to some degree even now, carry a whole host of ’stuff’ around wrapped in a scarf. When it’s all tied up, the four corners make a knot and that makes a great handle. The best part comes when you’re done, because it folds up to fit into your pocket. Having a “big scarf” means you go through life always leaving room for and expecting the best. Like dreaming you can build a church with no money and no people… yet. Or that you can get that hardened ol’ sinner to accept Christ….soon. He was ALWAYS thinking big, even when those around him insisted on looking at reality, much to their shame afterwards. It might be hard to believe, but we’ve got the records to prove it: since the big earthquake and tsunami, over 3500 volunteers from all over the world were able to share his tiny church floor……because he thought they should. Even while saying the words, ‘excuse me’, Noguchi made no apologies for having expected only the best for everyone. We were all a little disappointed that he couldn’t make it to his first anniversary, Sept 1st, with his new bride Yumiko, but she understood. From the sermonette she preached at the door of the funeral home as we left for the crematory, we feel confident that she’ll carry on his legacy.
3: “It’s been fun”. That was so typical of him. As we talked on the phone last Saturday, Tony said, “I know this sounds strange, Sensei, but as much as possible, try to enjoy this time. In a little while, we’ll all be looking back on this day, remembering God’s goodness, and rejoicing.” Noguchi quipped back weakly what would be his last words to us, “This is….. fun”.
4: ”See you again”. Gathering his family close to the bed, he gave them each a blessing, then told the grandchild who had not yet become a Christian, “Don’t wait any longer. I want to see you again.”
After this special bedside worship session, he played his Shakuhachi (Japanese flute), ate some sushi and asked for singing. His favorite was the Japanese version of the old hymn, “I Hear Thy Welcome Voice”.
Gathered around the bed, they sang all 4 verses, and then Noguchi Sensei continued to repeat the last line over and over, “Sin has left its crimson stain, He washed me white as snow…….He washed me white as snow……….He washed me white as snow.”
We’re back home now, feeling sad and hoping there’ll be no more parting with loved ones for a long time. Definitely ready to get on with ministry, starting with church today and then at the end of this week a trip back to the north and the disaster area. We’re taking along a fresh keen new missionary couple. They’ll make the trip ‘fun’…….mainly because they too have really Big Scarfs!
Keeping our eyes on the goal,
Marsha (and always Tony)
Of late I’ve been trying to edit my book “River Crossings” as the publisher is pushing me to get it up onto Kindle soon. I came across this story, which some of you may remember. The post was December 6th 2010 I think. That seems like ages ago, but here’s how it went:
Years ago I was a young missionary in Japan. I was there to save the world, and maybe just a tad filled with myself. One night I went alone to the evening service at church. Tony must have had a meeting somewhere, I don’t remember.
Anyway, I was sitting there, the only foreigner in the service. The text for the message was from Matthew 26, where the lady is pouring perfume on the Master’s feet. Pastor Noguchi read the passage and then talked a few minutes about the woman, the cost of the perfume, etc. Then he took an interesting turn when he said, “Look at our missionaries”.
I was glad I’d been paying attention as all eyes were suddenly focused on me.
He went on, “I know they all must have been leaders back home where they come from. They are talented and intelligent. They would have to have drive and ambition or they wouldn’t have made it this far.” I sat up a little and beamed, basking in the praise. Then Noguchi threw me a curve…
“And they get here, and what? They study the language for a very long time, and they still talk like 6 yr olds. They never really understand us, and they are bumbling around lost most of the time.” (I shrank in my seat, even though all eyes were now politely turned aside. I knew he was right.) There was some murmuring and nodding in agreement. Noguchi went on, “Sometimes we might be tempted to just thank these folks, and kindly suggest that they go back home where they can do some real work; where they will be comfortable and can actually use their skills.”
After a brief pause, but before everyone started voting us off the island, he picked up his Bible and read the words of Jesus, this time in SIMPLE ENGLISH. “Forbid her not, for what she does is a fine and beautiful thing”.
“Don’t you see?” he said to the congregation. “Missionaries all over the world are pouring out their LIVES at the feet of Jesus… for whatever it’s worth, what they are doing is a Fine and Beautiful thing!”
That was a turning point in my life when I realized I’ll never be Japanese (or Thai). I will never speak any language like a native, including American English, which seems like such a long time ago, and Australian, which my Aussie brothers and sisters insist IS English. But like it or not, my life IS being poured out, as the wrinkles on my face confirm.
What a comfort to think that Jesus might give me a squeeze and say, “Good on ya, Marsha!”
In all truth, it’s not much of a sacrifice to love these people, and if that’s part of what “pouring out” means, then I can’t complain. I guess the bottom line is simply this: our lives are running out, at least the part associated with our mortal bodies. The question is not, “How can I plug the leak?” but, “How can my pouring out make a difference to the Kingdom?”
May your pouring be a good one, and may it be said that it was indeed a “fine and beautiful thing”.
“When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
(Matthew 26:12 – 13)
How poignant this post became (at least to me) this last week as we have celebrated the life of Babs Christy, a fellow missionary Journeyman from years ago whom I talked about last week. And to add to that, our dear friend Pastor Noguchi is ‘pouring out the rest of his life’ as we speak in a hospice called (in Japanese) “House of Glory” in far south Japan.
Tony spoke to him by phone last night and said, “Sensei, I know this may sound strange, but as much as you can, try to ENJOY these last few days with us, knowing that we’ll see you again soon.”
His response was weak, but I could almost imagine his smiling face as he whispered into the phone (in English, which he sometimes enjoyed flashing around) “…………..FUN”.
If those are his last words to us, they couldn’t have been better. I posted on Facebook that he is dying and I’ve had at least 30 responses, all saying how he “poured his life into theirs’ in so many different ways.
This morning another of our favorite pastors heard the news and added Noguchi Sensei’s comment into his sermon. He said basically:
“This weekend marks the annual festival of “Obon” where Buddhists remember their dead. Unfortunately, it’s not a happy celebration of remembrance, but one of fear, that of thinking the dead will come back to haunt and hunt them, so the spirits must be appeased in any way possible. Very few people visit the beaches this week for fear of being caught and drowned by the visiting spirits.”
Then he added, “Isn’t it appropriate that Noguchi Sensei rejoices in this season, looking forward to going home to his Savior, even calling it ‘fun’! How the Gospel changes us from fear to hope.
Pray for us as we wait for the phone call announcing his death. When that happens, we will try to rearrange our schedules to get to the other end of Japan to thank and encourage his family.
Keeping it pouring,
When our first child Trevor used to go off to summer camp, he’d be all excited. Then he’d come home, report all the fun he’d had and then slip into an 11 month case of what we called the ‘retroactive heebie jeebies’, and have to be coddled and convinced to go for another wonderful experience the next year.
That’s sort of how we’re feeling after our grand climb. Last night as we lay in bed safe and sound, I asked Tony why he grabbed me and kissed me in the headlights of the rescue vehicle. He answered with an assured voice, “Because I didn’t think we’d make it”.
So where to begin. Beautiful day, two small packs FULL of snacks, rice balls and water, best shape we’ve ever been in, sunny and 8:00AM. We sail onto the trail with joyful abandon, even though within minutes my old comfortable tennis shoes blow a tread. No worries, Tony’s penknife takes off the offending bit and we’re back on track. We pass up a water source because we have half bottles and are confidant that there will be more up ahead (Mistake #1). We get to the first intersection of trails at 12 PM, 2 hours slower than usual, but hey, we’re 64 and 66. By now my phone has died because it got stuck on camera mode in my back pocket. The map was on that phone, but no worries. We’ve climbed this mountain so many times it’s like an old friend.
At the next split, we don’t find water, but it’s not too hot. Cache one pack with snacks and the rest of the water to lighten the load (Mistake #2) and push on to the summit.
Rain begins to sprinkle, but we’re good. Stop to ‘discuss’ throwing away the summit but I’m reluctant to give in.
Tony says, “Well, I won’t say quit unless we hear thunder”…… I’m not kidding, the words are not out of his mouth when lightning cracks and thunder rolls right overhead. Tony ponders whether imminent death is worse than resentful wife (Mistake #3). We decide to go ahead only as far as the chains, because hey, that would be dangerous in lightning! Remarkably, within about 20 minutes the sun comes out beautiful so we continue on, with inflated chests of victory.
We make the summit at 2:45. A little late but that’s because we missed the trail at one point and ventured onto a cliff face not meant for people like us (Mistake #4).
Now we turn around and begin the descent in earnest, knowing that we’re thirsty and running behind time. We get to the junction and the cached pack is GONE! Alas, we remember the exuberant gang of junior high school boys we had met and also remember that ‘boys will be boys’ and snacks will turn anyone’s head. We forgive them but wish they’d left the water.
About 5:30, we’re coming to where we should be seeing the trail to a ski area with a cable car we had planned to ride down. But by now it’s raining so hard the trail has become a log ride. It’s almost impossible to take a step without slipping. We both fall repeatedly and painfully, but by God’s grace are spared anything worse than cuts and bruises.
Eventually we come to a hut, a tiny one-room affair available to hikers. We see that every inch is occupied by a large group, but ask if there’s a source of water anywhere. The man leads us about 200 yards down a different path to a spring, then insists that we come back up to the cabin. As we squat in the only space available, the foyer, he makes us coffee, which is better than any Starbucks I’ve ever tasted, then he gives us the facts: It’s at least two more hours to the cable car, which by now has already stopped operating. Since it spans several deep canyons, walking underneath would be impossible. It will soon be dark and the trail from there on down is even worse. There’s no choice but to stay in the cabin with them.
We consider it, but Tony decides we simply have to go on. We have no food, no blanket and nothing dry to change into. Plus, there’s no place to even sit; and we simply can not stay with these guys, as kind as they are. (Perhaps this was probably our penultimate Mistake #5, leaving the dry hut.).
We head on, against their wishes. They gave us an umbrella (useless except as a hiking stick) and a small woman’s rain jacket, asking that we leave them at the bottom of the cable car the next day, if we made it.
From that point on, an already difficult descent becomes a nightmare. With increasing darkness, we fall more and more, insects came out in droves, biting anywhere we were exposed.
While I’m wearing a garbage bag for a raincoat, Tony tries the borrowed small ladies coat for awhile but since the hood is the only thing that covers anything on his girth, we swap bag (which fits him nicely) for coat. (He’s using his garbage bag to keep the phone dry) By this time we’ve had a couple of phone calls from the B&B owner where we were to stay the night. He’s worried about us.
The trail is horrible, just as predicted. I also try whistling when I remember all the hikers today wearing “bear bells” (Apparently bears don’t like to be surprised). But I have to give that up as my lips are too wet.
There are ropes and chains to hold on to from time to time. I’m following Tony, mildly relieved now that it’s too dark to see down the precipice where we could fall, but all the while BEGGING him not to fall. Of course we both know from experience that falling is not a voluntary choice. Once I fell down standing still, the mud is that slick. At least the lightning has subsided.
I begin to wonder about the big things. SO many of our friends have recently faced challenges, including two this week, where they have either lost a mate or almost. (I guess it’s our age that is beginning to bring these experiences into focus). We juxtaposition for lead on the trail, depending on who is more stable at the time, but either way, if Tony went over, he’d not only leave me, which would be beyond devastating, but also he carries the one tiny mag light and the working phone. Today we can laugh about which would be worse, the loss of HIM or the rescue he represented. At the time it wasn’t funny at all…..
The phone rings again and we have to let it ring out. No one can answer it because we’re too wet. Iphones depend on skin contact and if there’s water between……. Finally it rings again and we’ve found a bit of hanky in some far nether-region and dry a finger off enough to make contact. It’s our B&B guy and he tells us he’s called the authorities and they’ll meet us on the ski slope in a 4WD, if we can just get that far.
We stop to thank God and hurry on. Finally we break thru to a ski slope (we can’t find a trail, but we just head downhill). Within minutes we can see headlights way below, moving slowly. Tony has just faceplanted again, but he tells me to take the mag light and try to get the guy’s attention.
It takes at least another half hour to get to where he waits. From out of the darkness we hear a man’s voice, “Woods san desu ka?” No sweeter sound was ever heard. The drive on down to the village is another five miles or so, which had we been walking would have taken the rest of the night, barring the onset of hypothermia, which by now is a distinct possibility.
What can we say, theologically? It should go without saying, but say it we must: God was gracious and spared our lives. But did He warn us back up there on the mountain? I believe He did; but by ignoring the warning, were we being rebellious? Perhaps. How often do we act pig headed, demanding that our selfish wishes are granted?
Well, we got our wish, we made it to the summit. But I have to wonder if the cuts, sore muscles, bruises and insect-stung swollen eyes we suffer today are not unlike a good switching with a stick.
These last few months before we retire are going to be filled with a lot of goodbyes. Climbing Mt Myoko was one of those, remembering years and years of fun adventures on that mountain. I think I can say it was a “proper goodbye” but as we exited the rescue vehicle, enervated by our harrowing experience, we thanked the man profusely and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll NEVER be back!”
PS. While we are thanking God for being patient with us, I came across the verse that says it all. 1Kings 20:11, “One who puts on his armor should not boast like the one who takes if off.”
Have a safe and dry week!
You may remember that I said last time that we’d have news of our GREAT CLIMB this week, and some of you may be waiting with bated breath to see how it went, but if you read Facebook, then you already know. I’ll save most of the gory details for next week, when I can move around better.
But here’s a ’sneak preview’: last night, after a hot ‘onsen’ bath as we were heading to bed, Tony got simultaneous charley horses (muscle spasms for you Aussies) in BOTH thumbs! Why, you say? From holding so long for dear life onto chains which were fastened to the rock face of the mountain.
So, more details next week after we recover, but this week let me tell you a bit about the day before the Big Climb, when we took a little ‘warm up hike’ and observed what I’ve pasted into the Photo Gallery. Have a look at the top left picture.
At the base of that particular hike, we noticed a sign that mentioned ‘falling rocks’. What they failed to mention was that the trail had degraded into about a 10-inch cliff edge horror!
Someone had very helpfully fastened chains along the edge of the ledge, but as we got farther along, we came upon this interesting ‘problem’ (which you can see in the picture). The all-important chain was now lying on the ground, still fastened to a huge chunk of rock which had come loose from the cliff and now sat on the ledge, along with the chain firmly smashed under it. We ventured a look above and saw many more rocks, many surrounded by dribbling water, just waiting for the next shake. We scuttled along, praying that what happened here would not occur again on our watch.
We came away that day with just a few scrapes and a good idea of how to pack for the ‘big trip’. (if only we had followed our own advice)
But back to the rock and the chain…. Tony pointed out an interesting thing: Sometimes we put so much faith in the ‘chains’ in our life. Those things that keep us feeling safe and secure, but we often neglect the rock it’s fastened to, assuming it’s… well, it’s a ROCK! It’s not going anywhere, is it?
What are some of our ‘chains’ you ask? How about financial security, family ties, reputation, this thing we call happiness?
And what are the rocks? hmmmm.
In a moment of theological insight yesterday, we thought of good old Church Father Thomas Aquinas, who once remarked about a group of well-meaning but misinformed church folks, “It seems,” he wrote, “that they have both feet firmly planted in thin air.” Yesterday during the Big Climb, Tony and I experienced that feeling, of holding on to thin air, more than once, and I can tell you, it ain’t fun!
Can we always remember to put our faith in the thing that will REALLY hold us, the One on Whom we can always depend will protect us? He is a Rock, you know, and maybe a chain as well.
Yesterday, as we huddled on a cliff during the first bout of thunder and lightning, we prayed that God wouldn’t let us do something foolish just to reach the summit. Not only was He our chain (at least the one that held and didn’t slam us around the mountain from time to time), He protected us through the kindness of strangers and some good rescue folks and gave us not only the Summit, but some lifetime memories. Just.
Stay tuned!! This morning we were able to limp into a little church we attended years ago and caught up with some old friends. It was a day of real chain-celebration.
We’ve been hiking a lot lately. When I say ‘a lot’, let me remind you we live in a mega city, so first we have to set out on a grueling excursion to get ‘out of town’ before we begin our sojourn up some mountain. Between the lack of time and the expense of getting around, both in and out of Tokyo, we’ve managed to do this only a couple of times, so most of our ‘hiking’ consists of climbing our apartment stairs (don’t laugh till you try it!).
The reason for this ‘training’ is that we are going to try to climb a mountain on August 2nd for our 45th anniversary! Now you may think we’re crazy; you certainly wouldn’t be the first, but hey, we’ve climbed this mountain many many times. In fact, there was a time when we tried to climb it every anniversary! Why, you say?
One reason is that the summit is exactly the same altitude of our Colorado childhoods, (8500 ft or 2700 meters for you metric folks out there). Because of this, the flora and fauna remind us of Evergreen, which is (almost) like a trip home. But then the anniversary bit…….
Tony put it this way. “Climbing this mountain is like our marriage. It’s a LONG haul with some scary bits, but the view at the top is worth it!”
Notwithstanding that the LAST time we climbed it, was for Tony’s 50th birthday and that was, well, ah, about 16 years ago! hahahah You’ll have to stay tuned to see if we made it to the top or wimped out at first base. We’ve already had some animated conversations about how much we love each other and whether we’ll stop if the other one is having difficulty or just give him a swift kick.
In regard to this ‘training’, we were hiking last week and ran into, of all things, a journalist with a big camera. Apparently he was with his local TV station and they were interviewing “interesting” climbers for their tourism sound bite. We talked and joked and answered all the canned questions, “Where did we come from” “Why are we here” “Can we use chopsticks?” all the normal stuff. We finished recording and went our way.
On our way back down, we bumped into him again, and this time we sat down (exhausted) and had a chat.
His name is Mr. IIjima, and he had quite a story to tell. He’s a local guy, descendant of Samurai, so we got to talking about the TV drama “Yae no Sakura”, that I mentioned in this blog a couple of weeks ago. One thing led to another and soon we were talking about Christianity. He offered that most of his family had become Christians over a hundred years ago (about the time of the drama).
The next question was naturally, “And how about you?”
“Oh no, no”, he quickly answered. Then he continued, “You see, I was raised in the church, but about Junior High I got ‘busy’ (this is typical in Japan with the emphasis on education above all else) and began to find other things to do.”
We said with our facial expressions that we were sorry, and he said, “I’m afraid that I started looking at the people in the church and stopped looking at God.”
What an honest assessment! We commended him for his honesty and didn’t continue down the track of what it was about the church people that turned him off, because we all know that’s a never-ending wellspring of disgruntlement. I thought of Romans 14 and 15 where Paul is trying to get the church members in this exact same situation to look at God and not each other.
Instead, we talked on for quite a while and parted with him taking our details and promising to really think about what God means to him and why he needs to get back to Him. We’d like your prayers!
On a completely different topic, our son’s family has been eclipsing us in praying over this property thing I spoke of last week. We also felt all of your prayers as experienced by feeling an unearthly sense of calm. Remarkably, an idea has surfaced that may be a solution that is far less costly than losing the farm! ha. Pray for DISCERNMENT and Wisdom, I know you are.
Stay turned, I hope we are still intact at least with one typing finger next week when we post!
To the SUMMIT!!!!
Good morning! (or evening). Before you get alarmed, we’re sending this out early because we’ll be away from the internet for the next 48 hours, and didn’t want to miss talking to you!
Last week we had the fascinating drill of preparing for a ‘Super Typhoon’. The media started with all the hype: what to expect when the storm hit, what precautions to take, what to do if the power went off, and how to go about cleaning up the mess when the storm passed.
For you who don’t live in Japan, a typhoon is like a hurricane……or as Wilkipedia says, “A MATURE tropical cyclone” The origin of the word is “Tai” (“Big” in Japanese) and “FU” for……you guessed it, “Wind”. Sometimes the Japanese are refreshingly simple in their descriptions.
However, if you say “Typhoon” in Japan, people tend to freak just a bit. In fact, there’s a proverb here that describes the four things that strike terror in a Japanese heart: “Earthquake, Thunder, Fire and Father”. It might be safe to say that in modern times, ‘father’ has been westernized enough to be downgraded in fear and replaced with ‘typhoon’, because after all, we live on an island, never far from the sea.
As we did the obligatory preparations, I had to remark to myself that there are some similarities in this action to real life.
The first announcement usually sends everyone scurrying for emergency items: water, tarps, roof repairs and the like. We’ve weathered many typhoons in Japan, some really bad. I remember one passing thru and somehow (?) leaving us with a box of half drowned and very frightened kittens on our doorstep. I suppose they had help getting there. Something like, “Oh, what a great opportunity to offload these on the foreigners while they’re huddled inside”. I remember another time sitting in our car on an elevated freeway while it jumped and bounced around like a leaf in the wind…..
Next step in this preparation was to begin canceling plans and appointments. We had Bible studies moved to different dates as well as dinner plans and outings with friends. Everyone was told to stay inside.
Then, once we were all battened down, we started listening for hourly updates.
I’ll get back to the drama in a minute, but first let me share a word about our own personal storm this past few weeks. Due to a misstep with the Australian city council regarding what we thought was some innocent repair work on the land that constitutes our property, we’ve now been declared an ‘enemy of the state’ and the swords are being sharpened for battle. From so far away we have little choice but to wait and worry. We pray and say we won’t worry (what’s a lot of money and loss of reputation really?) and then we cycle back to our nail biting.
Our son is being a real hero, meeting with councilmen, geophysical engineers and surveyors, trying to find out which hoops are the best to jump through and in which order. The forecast is daunting and we can’t help but think we’re being picked on, as the council looks for some sap who’s too dumb to fight and will pay for a major retaining wall, thinking he’s somehow to blame. I can’t help but think of the kittens…….
But back to the real typhoon, last week, after a pretty mild rain shower and an eerie shift in the barometer about midnight, we were told that it had diverted out to sea, leaving us unscathed.
We are praying that hopefully, like so many typhoons, this ‘council humbug’ will wear itself out in the getting here, and when it actually does make landfall, it’ll just be a gust of wind (read “hot air”). Maybe we can even give all the associated ‘kittens’ away like we did last time.
Please DO pray for us, for safety in this exciting place we call home, and for grace and mercy to reign in the mess with our house Down Under.
As you are hopefully getting this 12 hours early, we are leading a Church retreat somewhere deep in the mountains west of Tokyo. We are leaving now, extra early, to train across Tokyo to the east, dressed in our church clothes, carrying our backpacks for the camp along with many books to distribute. (We chuckled and said we feel like Tony’s Dad, Uncle Buddy, as we packed up). Then after teaching the first Bible Study that Tony has written to a group of Seniors, we’ll walk the mile or so back to the train station to ride for 2 hours to the OTHER side of Tokyo to get on a bus with 45 people for this big adventure!
Life is never dull, even in a Typhoon.
Here we are again, already. I can’t believe another week has flown by. Because our work is so different from day to day, sometimes the weeks drag by, while other days the pace picks up like a roller coaster at the top of the climb, leaving us breathless before we even realize what’s going on.
The night before last was like that … at 4:00 am both of our phones (which incidentally are always switched to “silent” mode when we’re done with the world), started SCREAMING at fever pitch, “Earthquake is coming! EARTHQUAKE is coming!” (in Japanese of course). By the time Tony fumbled to his phone to look, the tremor hit, but fortunately was not much more than a good shake, not unlike a passing train. What WAS disconcerting however, was the map that showed the epicenter to be near Fukushima where the nuclear reactor still sits, propped up with I-beams purportedly to keep the spent rods from spilling out and bringing a mushroom cloud over Tokyo.
But at 4:00 in the morning, we were more disturbed with the question of HOW did Big Brother have access to BOTH our phones, and was able to override the silent setting? Alas, being too sleepy for the “Big Questions”, we put our pillows over our heads and went back to sleep.
I’ve been reading in Romans, and today’s passage in chapter 10 really struck me. Paul is writing to the Romans (obviously) and is defending his call to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. In verse 18, he reminds us that the message of salvation has gone out to “all the world”, to “the ends of the earth”, so that no one, not Jew nor Gentile, can claim to have “never heard”.
We often forget that at a heart-level, the Japanese ARE seeking Christ, even if they don’t realize it. The “munashisa”… empty heart… they feel has been put there by Christ Himself, so that they will never be at peace until this void is filled. For the last 2 ½ years here in Tokyo, we seem to see a lot of the emptiness, but not a lot of the filling, leaving us often discouraged and thinking, “what’s the use?”
But Paul spoke to my heart today when he reminded me of the question: “How can they call to Him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed? And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out?” And then my favorite, in verse 15, “How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news!”
This morning, Tony used one of his favorite phrases, “As long as you have a pulse, God is not through with you”. It’s true, isn’t it? God has given each of us a job to do, and every job, in one form or another has the single goal: to proclaim the message.
Yowsie. I have to remember the words from my own blog last week, when I said that I’m the daughter not only of a samurai, but indeed the King of Kings. I need to recommit myself every day to living this ‘missionary’ thing thru……….to His end, no matter what I see or don’t see happening.
On a happy note, today Tony preached two times and in between those services taught his new ‘Anagaion’ (upper room) course to a big group of eager young people. This activity will escalate thru the summer, along with the heat! He’s beat, but it’s a good kind of tired. We hope you all have a wonderful week, LIVING His life and carrying the Good News to those who are there around you.
And I hope if you’re awakened to some woman screaming that there’s an earthquake coming you know whether to run…. or roll over and go back to sleep.
So somehow we got sucked into watching a daytime drama here in Japan.
Now before you think I’m stuck on the soaps, this isn’t quite that. Japan, for many years has created a one-year daily 15 minute ‘drama’ about some facet of history. It’s broadcast by NHK (which is the equivalent of the ABC or the PBS where you live), educational, and is very respectable. The same episode airs about three times a day, so almost everybody catches it, or at least is keeping up with it by word of mouth.
The ‘drama’ for last year, was called “Yae no Sakura” loosely translated something like “Miss Yae’s Cherry Blossoms”…………So many of our friends were talking about it that we decided maybe we should make the effort and watch it. The fact that we found a (legal) download with subtitles sold us on the enterprise. I’ll have to say though, that even WITH the subtitles, we spend a bit of the time looking at each other and scratching our heads…. Picture if you can, watching something spoken in Ye Olde English, including a couple of wars and tons of politics and customs of 170 years ago. I told Tony if I didn’t understand a LITTLE bit of Samurai lore and culture, I’d be lost anyway.
Yae was about 6 or 7 and because she was a precocious child, took a keen interest in her big brother’s growing expertise with guns. She was thwarted again and again, told that she was a girl and girls didn’t concern themselves with such things.
10 or 12 episodes later, she’s grown to be about 12 or 13, and is a real ‘tomboy’ who just won’t give up. Finally her big brother sits her down and gives her this advice. It really resonated with me for some reason.
He said, “You are a Samurai’s daughter. I have watched you for years and against our better judgment, Father and I are going to give you our permission to pursue this interest even if it’s not the norm.”
“But”, he continued, “you need to know two things: Once you begin this study, you will NOT give up, and even if you become proficient, you must never expect that you will receive any praise”.
The story continues with her growing up, marrying a fellow clansman and leading a platoon of men (remember this is the 1800’s) during a battle much like America’s Civil War. She is known throughout Japan as their own version of “the Joan of Arc”.
We are far from finished watching this drama and I can’t stand the suspense, so I read more Yae’s history from my friend “Google” and found that she had many more unusual and ambitious experiences, including both victories and disappointments…….and somehow lived to the ripe old age of 87.
Soon after the end of the Boshin (Civil) war, her first husband ‘released’ her from his family name after he was unjustly accused of a crime, and in so doing protected both her name and the Samurai clan as well. Soon after, he died in prison. She relocated to the old capital of Kyoto where eventually she married again, this time to a Japanese pastor who was instrumental in her conversion to Christianity. They had the very first Christian wedding in Japan, and went on to found Doshisha Daigakku, which remains today one of the oldest Universities in Japan on the par of Harvard or Cambridge.
Her name is also associated with several reforms, including opening formal education to women. At her funeral there were over 2000 people and they ‘honored’ her with a special word pictograph, ???. (if your computer has the fonts you’ll see a Japanese word there, otherwise, imagine that I’ve written JAKU). It means “A person having an undisturbed heart under any circumstance”
We’ve had and are continuing to have some tough “circumstances” this year, although nothing like what Yae faced. We would appreciate your special prayers as we continue to try to put into practice that somewhat tired phrase, “What would Jesus do?”
And then we remember that in some ways, like Yae, but so much much, more, Jesus also was passionate about His calling from an early age and never wavered, even though enemies abounded. Very few people gave Him any praise or real recognition, apart from showing up here and there to ‘get’ something from Him.
….And yet, He saw it through to the end, He died on the cross for us and got that praise from the Father.
How we all long for the day when hopefully we’ll also hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
What more can I say? Keep your powder dry, never falter, give it all you’ve got, and be a true Samurai (even if you’re a girl)!
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,
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,