Good morning everyone,
On Friday this last week, we marked the 5th anniversary of the great earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
I’m guessing most of you who are reading this barely remember it at all. Some of you may remember when a couple of years ago a Japanese man’s crated motorcycle, name and address intact, drifted onto the beach somewhere in Canada. Doing some online research I’ve found that out of an estimated 5 MILLION tons of debris that went into the water March 11th 2011, there is still about a million tons floating around in an area of the Pacific estimated to be larger than the state of TEXAS and will not arrive on the West Coast of the Americas for three more years. Recently they found parts of a ship still floating and colonized by a school of Yellowtail Jackfish, native only to Japan. Talk about a cruise!
As we continue to bask in the summer sun down here in Australia, we reminisce about our time working in the disaster, the struggles we suffered trying to help the people who were beyond hardship, as well as so many blessings.
If you’ve been on Facebook this week, you have a whole buffet of film clips to watch. Tony and I tried to watch one this morning and all the old feelings of gut wrenching tragedy surged back with the pictures of the tsunami…….we had to stop.
But what I want to share with you on this 5th anniversary is a short note from one of our dearest ‘daughters’ in Japan, Yuu Chan.
She wrote: “Hello, Hope you are all doing well, I wanted to tell you that Mr. and Mrs. Hiratsuka came to Taitomi (Church) today. They attended worship and then stayed to eat lunch. We decided to have a special fellowship afterwards and asked them to share their story.”
Their story includes the fact that they are a couple who lost everything but each other in the tsunami. He had a stroke many years ago and is practically immobile, but they share a rare love for each other.
When my friend Gail and one of her group of volunteers first met Hiratsuka san, she was working in a shop amidst the rubble of the “tsunami zone.” As Gail and the volunteers shared what they could with her, she invited us all to set up a base from where we could continue an on-going ministry to disaster victims in the area. Over the next several months, Tony and I visited many times, often leading volunteer teams who would come with crafts or games, or simply to visit and encourage those who needed God’s love so badly. The visits continue to this day.
And now, 5 years later, the Hiratsukas made their way into Sendai and our own Taitomi church! It would have taken them over an hour to get there, using roads that are still damaged and in some places impassible. What a testimony to the love and appreciation they carry for the faithful folks who have given so much of their lives to helping the Hirastsukas and hundreds like them. We rejoice, knowing that the efforts of the folks at Taitomi Church have not been in vain.
In addition to this good news, Yuu Chan also visited one of our very special friends even further out on the “Oshika Hanto”, the peninsula closest to the earthquake’s epicenter, and inhabited mainly by small fishing villages. Most relief efforts were very slow getting to this area, because of the unbelievable devastation in the nearby city of Ishinomaki. It was for that reason that Taitomi Church chose to concentrate their efforts here. Yuu Chan visited Miyuki san, our dear friend, and was delighted to see that they have rebuilt their home, higher up from the shoreline, and are continuing their fishing business. God has used Miyuki san in awesome ways over the past five years, as she has worked so hard with us to find and minister to victims in the area. Now pray that God will work a special miracle in her heart, and lead her to a genuine faith in Christ.
Japanese take a long time to ‘process’ stuff, and maybe that’s why these two rays of sunshine are so special to us, just another affirmation that God is in control, even when things don’t happen fast….and even when we are far, far away.
Bless you as we all prepare for Easter. It’s a time when we give special thought to the resurrection of Jesus, and are reminded that by the power of God, even death has no victory for those who love Him. The earthquake and tsunami was by far the most horrible experience Tony and I have ever had with large-scale tragedy and suffering. And that makes it all the more glorious when we see evidence of life coming from the rubble, in the lives of people like the Hiratsukas and Miyuki.
Thanks again for your prayers, and know that we think of you and pray for you often.
As part of our “get to know our new country” plan, Tony and I have been walking around our neighborhood. This is not the neighborhood we hope to live in eventually, but the trendy zone for the rich and retired, or else the drunk and stupid, depending on the day. What I mean is, this is “Surfer’s Paradise”, one of the top beaches and tourist spots in Australia. We’ve been renting a tiny “bed sitter” near the beach while we settle into retirement and get all of our ‘ducks in a row’.
This morning’s stroll took us south away from the hype, looking for a ‘cheap breakfast’. One place wanted $17 for an egg and bacon wrapped in a tortilla. Move on. Finally we came upon a “Bowls Club”.
Now you know that this does not mean that people sit around and admire cooking equipment. “Bowls” is an important sport for well….old people. They dress very properly in ‘Whites’, and obey strict protocol on the Greens. We noticed this morning that many of them also carry their own bowling balls in stylish personalized bags (on wheels for the older folks), and sometimes come with fancy pinchers to pick up the ball off the ground.
It appears to be a team sport, involving a whole lot of “bowling” and conferring with each other in whispers as they make their way around on a perfectly groomed green field. We have yet to understand the strategy, but it looks serious.
As expected, there at the club, found the cheaper cafe, requisite with the “nest” of bowlers. It was still early, so they were gathered around the tables swapping stories and getting stoked up for the game.
As we dipped into our $5.00 brekky (with one cup of coffee for an additional $4.50), most of the bowlers began moving out of the restaurant and around the corner towards the bowls club. We couldn’t help but notice one gentleman, however, moving slowly towards us.
He was your “Aussie’s Aussie”, complete with floppy hat tucked under his bicycle helmet. Finally he had everything loaded on his “pushbike”, as they call them here. We were amused to watch him take his cane and feed onto the side along the wheel and around all his other equipment. Then as he stated to mount up, he stopped……. carefully retrieved his cane and came back inside.
“Forget something, Mate?” the waitress asked, to which the gentleman just smiled, reached over to his table and grabbed …. A large and shiny potato masher. As he went back outside, striding now with great purpose, Tony and I tried to imagine what part a potato masher could play in a proper game of bowls? Was it used to smooth out the grass? Replace divots? What??
A few minutes later, the gentleman came back in, made his way laboriously over to the cash register, and set the potato masher on the counter. It was then we noticed the small key wired to the handle. I didn’t test it, but I’m pretty sure the key fit the toilet door outside.
The Bible is full of people like us who just don’t get it. They see the obvious, but fail to understand the real “key” to what they’re seeing. I mentioned recently about the Disciples who were clueless to Jesus’ upcoming death and resurrection. It just didn’t seem to be in their paradigm.
Paul added his “amen” to that later in I Corinthians 1:18, observing that, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I could add something like, “Even potato mashers are mysteries to those who just don’t get it.”
I didn’t send out a blog last week, several of you commented, so I apologize. It’s just that we were busy, but busy with the mundane stuff that leaves you scratching your head and wondering. Honestly I sorta felt that we had nothing uplifting to say. Regrettably we still are struggling to find the new normal in our lives, but for the time being, I’ll spare you the details.
This week I wanted to share with you a bit of fun we had last night. We went to see the SEARCHERS! Who of you out there are old enough to even know who they are?
Well, let me begin with Wikipedia’s comment. “The Searchers are unarguably the second best band out of England…. after the Beatles”
Yup, you guessed it, most of you don’t know them because they were eclipsed by the Beatles. There’s a sermon in that…..don’t be #2! ha
Six of us, ages 60-70 went to see them at a local concert hall. We didn’t really know what to expect, but the tickets were cheap and the fellowship was good……
There were over a 1000 of us in there, and it was the quietist, best behaved audience I’ve seen recently! We commented that they were tamer than in our church services! The concert droned on at a very respectable non-threatening sound level for 3 hours. The singers were clean shaven and wore suits. Obviously we were experiencing a different generation.
Oh, but what fun we had singing along to their original hits, some of them like “Sweets for my Sweet” “When You Walk in the Room”, “Needles and Pins, and a favorite (which somehow we remembered EVERY word), “Love Potion #9”!
But I’m a funny thing. I always find that I’m more impressed with the person than the performance and I have to say I was IMPRESSED by these guys. The founder, John McNally started the group in 1959, he is now 74, has been married to one woman for 52 years and as near as I can tell, has performed 4-7 nights and days a week, sometimes several shows, for the last 56 years! His side kick, Frank Allen has been with the band since 1964, and the third singer, Spencer James, a ring-in when someone died, has been with them only the last 30+ years…….
Why, you ask? Their answer was confident: “We love what we do!”
After our ‘big night out’ we had a great Sunday today doing ‘what we love to do” as well. We cracked out early and went to Brisbane (60 miles north), picked up a brand new to Australia little Japanese girl who’s starting University tomorrow and doesn’t know a soul. (We’d never met her either but contacted her by email and arrived at her address to find her waiting.) She’d never even been to a church. We took her first to Aussie church (a great one!) and then across town to our monthly Japanese lunch and service. She was smothered with love and already has several new phone numbers and is all set to go to the beach with about 20 other young internationals this next Saturday.
Back to last night, for the last encore (there were several) of the Searchers, they sang, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. As I research the song, I see that it was written by Richard Rodgers for the Rodgers and Hammerstein play “Carousel”, but who knew that? Later it was adopted by several English Football teams as their team songs.
Apparently it meant a lot to the Searchers, so they sang it.
But in my little world last night I stood there realizing that this was the second time this week I’d heard this song and the goosebumps went up my spine. The other one was on the radio as I was just minding my own business.
You see, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was my graduation song from a tiny Christian High School in a much forgotten little nook in Kansas. We marched in, accompanied by this exhilarating music, bolstered with courage and NO idea of what we were facing in the future. ..
And now almost 50 years later….., we face the same ‘future’ with no idea of how it’s going to play out……
I don’t know if you’re going thru a tough time now or not. We’re not really having it tough; I suppose it just might be a little more complicated than we’d like, but as we near the Easter season, we all have to think of Jesus and what He must have been facing. He DID know what was going to happen, but I doubt that it was any easier for him as he tried to prepare His rather dense to the situation disciples. How did he feel as he began to ‘walk thru the storm’……..
Driving home this afternoon, hearts full of hope, even though we don’t know much about anything, we’re encouraged to have found 4 old guys who ‘love what they do’ and have found the strength to ‘walk on’…….and today seeing Japanese and Australians sharing Christ so enthusiastically……….and then, as if to top it off, this is what greeted us, hanging over the Gold Coast where we hope to live for a long time:
Good Morning Friends,
As I write this, we’ve just arrived home from a full day of church. Today is my son’s 35th birthday as well as the 10 anniversary of him proposing to his dear wife, but alas, that celebration will wait as we were all in our churches and nobody had time for that!
At the first church we went to, we were blessed to hear from a young missionary family to Cambodia. It was fun and nostalgic to see all their enthusiasm and youth.
During the service, a visiting pastor from Japan was making a greeting to the church and Tony was called on to translate. Even though we’d never met, the pastor ‘knew’ us well from praying us thru the death of our son some 20 years ago. It choked Tony up to share about how this pastor is now, back in Japan, grooming Trevor’s best friend, Makoto, to become one of the next great preachers amongst Japanese Baptists. What a small world. What a faithful God.
After a lovely ‘dinner on the grounds’, we took the pastor to the Japanese church nearby where he, as promised, preached for ‘under an hour.” It was a good sermon and his Japanese was easy for us to understand, always appreciated.
But let me back up to this morning before church when I checked email before heading out the door. I came across a blog posted by a missionary friend of ours.
I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that our mission has felt it necessary to “downsize” its numbers by about 1/4th or 800+ missionaries. Most of these people were given the choice to ‘voluntarily retire’, but some didn’t even have that luxury and were summarily dismissed.
My friend was one of these. It was no fault of her own or any lack of her obvious talent, but it was deemed that the division in which she worked was no longer a high priority.
What she wrote really struck a nerve and resonated with what I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about lately, and that’s simply dealing with one’s “loss of identity”.
She mourned a lot in the blog but thru some careful examination of Scripture and soul searching, found that she just had to remind herself (and me, in the process) that our identity does not lie in a person’s job description, status, race, gender or even respectability. Instead, it can be described simply in three words: “In Christ ALONE.
For Tony and me, this is recurring FACT that we just keep having to cling to as we step gingerly into retirement.
But wait…. come with me back to the Japanese church this afternoon. When the service was finished, an older Japanese woman came up to me and said, “You probably don’t remember something you said to me years ago”. Of course I was smiling and nodding at her, all the while mentally wracking my brain, wondering if I even knew her, much less ever gave her advice!
“We were in a prayer meeting”, she went on, “and I was sharing that I go to a little church nearby on Sunday mornings, but because I’m Japanese, I can’t understand anything. No one seems to notice me and I feel that I’m just wasting my time.”
Apparently, according to her, I replied to her with these sage words: “Have you ever thought that just showing up every week is a real ministry of encouragement to all of those around you?”
Of course that was a long time ago. We moved away and I never heard another word and completely forgot about it until today.
“I took your advice and just kept showing up,” she beamed, “and somehow I find that I’ve been there 10 years. The pastor died, the pastor’s wife moved into a rest home, and now people are looking to me for stability and fellowship. I’ve been so blessed all these years by just SHOWING UP!”
I left church today thinking about my friend’s timely blog and wondering about my own identity………..in Christ alone.
I’ll have to admit I never was much to brag about. Nowadays I’m coming to grips with the fact that I may never live up to all those ideals I held onto in my youth, returning to haunt me again when I listened to the enthusiastic Cambodian missionaries.
But maybe, just maybe, in my newfound retired state, I can “JUST SHOW UP”……..and let Christ Alone tell me who I am.
Hello Everyone, hope all is well.
It’s been a rather quiet week after the craziness I talked about in the last blog settled down. Tony did a great job preaching twice today, in English and Japanese. Part of his sermon topic was encouraging people to stretch their faith and keep moving forward, perhaps even by taking on his “Anagaion” discipleship course. The people at Golden Gate Seminary who are reading his doctoral thesis proposal about it are silent. We’re hoping the committee’s awestruck at its brilliance and not just dumbstruck!
We’ve made an offer on the house we like (Remember I mentioned it last week?), then we listed the other house to sell, which would be necessary if we were to buy this one. Things are quiet on that front, too, but it’s only been a couple days.
Actually, the only thing of any note this week is that I perceived something about myself. Something I hadn’t realized before, even though I’m rounding the corner on 66.
I’m hoping this ‘discovery’ isn’t something that’s been patently obvious to all you readers over the years and I’ll have to admit that the revelation is kinda spooky, coming this late. But before I lose heart, I remember my precious Grandmother talking about ‘how she was turning out’ at about 90. I shudder to wonder if I don’t have more gruesome character traits to unearth before this is over!
That something I came to realize is that I have a bad habit of “whinging”. Sounds like “win” + “jing”.
For those of you who are not of British or Australian descent, let the dictionary program explain it to you: Whinge: to complain persistently and in a peevish or irritating way. I guess in ‘American’ we’d say “whining”.
I think I’ve probably had this habit for a long time, maybe since I was a kid (Well, I was the baby sister after all). But even after all these years with Tony, who is both a really nice guy and perhaps doesn’t listen to me all that often, it never came to light. I began to get a hint about it this last summer when I had a different roommate than Tony at a girls camp in Maine.
Through the week, whenever we had down time, I carried on about this and that……. I didn’t feel good, I was fat, I couldn’t find such and such at the grocery store. It was when she kept offering solutions that it sorta began to irritate me, but I chalked it up to it her personality and (I perceived) need to control……….
Then again last week, I had another ‘episode’ that sorta hit me between the eyes. We were reconvening our weekly Bible Study (it’s been summer break here and everybody has been gone out and about for about 2 months). There was a large spread of tempting snacks, and there sat my measly contribution glaring out at us from the middle.
I commented to my friend, “Oh, I would have brought something nice but I’m in such a small little apartment I don’t have a baking pan.”
“Oh!” she said with pity and shock, “I’ll be happy to lend you one!”
Wham! She got me!! I don’t think she meant to point out my whinging. I think she was genuinely concerned about my need and wanted to offer a solution but……..I realized I didn’t want her HELP, I wanted her SYMPATHY! Believe me, when I get my stuff out of storage I’ll have plenty of pans to bake in, but in the meantime I want to play the poor thing that can’t really be expected to contribute.
As I write this, I have to wonder how often I play that game with God. Reading in Exodus about the Israelites, they seemed to whinge/whine a lot to God via Moses. But did they want to do anything about it? I’m guessing they didn’t. They thought the Mana was boring so he gave them a garnish of Quail, but no………they went right on whinging.
And so I have to ask myself…… Do I want to follow the advice from God about whatever I’m complaining about or am I looking just for Him to say, “Oh your poor thing”, smile down on me and excuse me from pulling my weight?
I’m glad I’ve discovered this…..maybe I can ‘grow up’ a bit eh?
Hope you have the best week of your life, after all, you’ve never been this old! (Was that whinging?)
Our real estate agent sat with the client looking at an offer we had put forward on a house. Apparently there was another offer near the same amount and the owner was having trouble deciding.
“You’re going to have to give me the weekend to decide” he told our agent.
“Okay,” said the agent. As he stood to leave, he remembered something. “By the way, I mentioned to the people making this offer that you’re Dutch and they wanted you to know that their firstborn son was named “Johann” after their dear Dutch friends.
The owner was speechless for a long time. You see, it seemed by Divine Coincidence that his name just happened to be Johann as well. In a moment, he readjusted himself in his seat and told the agent, “Sit down; I’ll sign their contract.”
And so has been our week.
We decided to ‘flip’ the house we bought last year (and haven’t lived in yet as it is tenanted). The market is booming and well……..we just love this house that we found nearby. It’s smaller, and what you might call a “fixer upper”, but it just looks like “us”, complete with a view of the “hinterland” mountains to the west reminiscent of Colorado.
When we got the good news from the agent, we were gathered around the table for Tony’s 68th birthday celebration. When it came time for his speech, he almost choked up when he said, “One year ago today, we were sitting alone in our apartment in Tokyo. That’s when I said, ‘You know what? Next year I want to eat at that great seafood place in Sanctuary Cove, surrounded by our kids and grandkids. And here we are. God is good.”
At home that night, between the two of us we managed to get his 50 page doctoral thesis proposal polished up and sent off to Golden Gate, where I’m sure it will be ripped to shreds. But hey, that’s part of the process, and the next step toward the goal!
Tomorrow we will enter the exciting world of lawyers and contracts, but hopefully everything will go smoothly, and we’ll come to the end of the day a couple of steps closer to finally settling down.
I don’t know when we’re going to actually retire, our schedule seems to be filling up more and more, but that’s a happy thing too because it keeps our minds off the aches and pains……..
And thank you Trevor Johann Woods for inspiring us to name you such a great name that would surface to our advantage 40 years later!!
I know, I haven’t written in a week or two, but mainly it’s because our lives have been just……..well, I’ll get to that.
Our hearts go out to the East coast of the USA, wracked with blizzard. It’s interesting to read about how people are reacting when the ‘systems’ go down. Boy, that Global Warming is a real bear ain’t it?
And so, on that note, and in honor of the blizzard, I have to pass along a cute phrase I came across last summer during our time there in the far north state of Maine. It was a lovely summer, visiting churches all over the area, but I couldn’t help but sense a feeling among the folks that said, “You don’t know Maine until you’ve spent a winter here.” Tony used to get a kick out of remarking to Mainers, “It’s so beautiful! Does it ever snow here?” Then he’d watch as a hollow-eyed expression came over them and they were left with a loss for words.
Seeing what they’re going through this week gives me an appreciation for a phrase we heard several times while we were in Maine: “That guy is about as independent as a hog on ice”.
I googled the meaning of it and realized that it actually refers to the ice sport of curling, but I much prefer the image I hold of a fat ole’ hog trying to navigate his way across a frozen pond.
And that image sorta sums up how we feel these days.
We’ve been ‘home’ in Australia for nearly 3 months. All of our lives, our family (Tony, me and the kids) have had what we call the “three month rule”…….simply stated, it means that we will not make a decision about whether something is good or bad or needs to be changed until we’ve ‘done’ that something for 3 months. It’s never failed.
Well…….we’ve been retired three months now and ……..I still wonder if we’re not more like that hog out on the lake………
Granted, I was born an American, so technically this place I call ‘home’ now is actually a foreign country, as I’m reminded daily in conversation. It’s so true that Americans and Aussies are “divided by a common language.” I mean, both of us think we’re speaking English, but ….. Then pile on a whole lot of special vocabulary as we try and tackle the bureaucratic maze that is taxes, medical care, insurance. My friend tries to encourage me with, “Ah g’wan Mate! She’ll be roite. Yer a banana bender now! Not worth havin a blue and spittin the dummy. Pull up yer daks, yabber bout bein’ a Seppo and write yer name. Done by arvo and Bob’s yer uncle. Then you’ll be happy as Larry. Too right! Hoo roo.” Somehow that doesn’t give me much hope of ‘getting’ this place…
And then I could regale you with our other ups and downs, but suffice it to say, before you read another blog Tony will be 68, he will have hopefully turned in his 50-page proposal for his doctoral thesis (if he can figure out how to get it formatted correctly), we are still finding our places as parents and grandparents, an issue we haven’t had the chance to discover for these last 8 or 9 years. To add to that we’re vacillating about where we will eventually decide to live (here in the Gold Coast, but which area??)
Don’t get me wrong, we’re good. Our overall health is improving as well as our energy. Ministry opportunities are opening up, friends are resurfacing…… It’s just taken more effort than we perhaps naively thought, and we may have to ‘extend’ our ‘we can do this’ attitude for another few months.
This morning’s sermon was taken in part from Exodus 14:14. The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. They’d certainly done the “3 month, let’s see if we like it” thing and found they weren’t liking it at all. They went so far as to suggest to Moses that he’d been part of a plot to get them out of Egypt because there weren’t enough graves for them there.
I like what he said. “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent”.
I think I stand with many freaked out people everywhere. Whether it’s the blizzard of the century, or refugee status or just fitting in and getting comfortable, the Lord is asking us to just be silent and wait………..and trust Him
So I’ll do that. Maybe some of those hogs just sat down and waited till spring or at least till they could work out how to get their 4 legs to work together………who knows.
So let me leave you with one more Aussie truism, especially for our friends up north: “Rug up before you go outside” (self explanatory).
Tony and I were chuckling on the way to church this morning about what Mark Twain once wrote, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” following the mistaken obituary in his local newspaper.
After another pretty normal week, we were saddened to hear of the passing of Japan missionary John Norton, only two years after losing his wife Nancy to cancer. They were both in their early 60’s, an age that Tony and I are now starting to observe through the rear view mirror; so it was a little unnerving for us. Oh how we hate that disease, but are so glad that they’re not suffering any more.
But then, just as I had told my children of John’s death, I noticed while looking through that repository of information, Facebook, that another Japan missionary known by our kids as “Uncle Chuck” Gafford, had also died. This came as a shock, as he has been quite healthy until only recently. He and his wife, Chere worked in a little town north of us, and it was always a delight to visit them. One of my first memories of him was going into his office on some errand and noticing an automobile rearview mirror attached to his computer. Apparently he didn’t want to miss the news on TV……or anything else, as his zeal for life and the Lord exhibited.
He never missed a birthday of my kids, always sending them either money or an American treat, thanks to his retired military status that gave him access to the nearby PX on the American base.
We all moped around til later in the day when passing by the computer I noticed someone’s post, “You might want to check, I think he’s still ALIVE!”
And so he is, at least at the posting of this blog. Granted Uncle Chuck is a pretty sick man, and in fact may be in the Father’s Presence by the time you read this. But knowing him, I can’t help but hear him saying in his strong Southern drawl, “Now just hold on a second, folks. I ain’t gone yet!”
I have to remember an illustration that Tony uses so often in his sermons. He has everyone check their pulse on their neck, and then comments, “If you have a pulse, God is not finished with you!”
That truth has already played out in this old saint’s life. So many people were impacted with the ‘news’ and are now rejoicing that God has given him life, perhaps for a long time or maybe just long enough for us all to praise God for giving him a little longer with us.
As a Southern Baptist, we have always honored a favorite missionary to China back in the 1800. Most of you know her as “Lottie Moon”. She once was noted as saying in a letter home that, “I consider myself immortal until the work God has planned for me is finished.”
May that be the prayer of us all as we forge into the new year.
Happy New Year, or as the Japanese would say, ?????????????????????????????????which means “Congratulations, it has opened” (By the way, if your computer doesn’t want to read the Japanese fonts, my apologies. Just imagine a whole bunch of weird writing).
And ‘opened’ it has.
I was thinking of not sending a blog this week because, to tell the truth, life is settling into a normalcy and dullness that we had once hoped for, giving me little grist for thought.
Of course we celebrated the New Year as you did, only perhaps we were hot while many of you up north were cold. New Years Eve found 6 of us stuffed into our tiny apartment, plates on laps, jockeying for a chance to get a word in edgewise. Later in the evening we wrangled an invite to some lovely church friends of better fortune, and we all strolled over to their place on the 30th floor of the tallest building in the city, relaxing in the warmth of the evening and the beauty of the fireworks.
Tony has picked up a once-a-month “gig” in a wonderful church called Burleigh Waters Bible Church. January 3rd was his day to preach. These are lovely people who love the Lord as well as his sermons, and while rewarding …. again……little to blog about.
After church we headed with a few of them to the nearby aged care facility for the second service.
The residents gathered, mostly in wheelchairs and many of whom I would describe as pretty much “out to lunch”. I had a lovely conversation with a bright eyed and articulate woman, we talked about her daily activities and her position in the community. Then she said she needed to get started walking home, up over the mountain. It was then I realized we were on different planets.
The service proceeded, nothing out of the ordinary.
Then a tiny shriveled old woman was wheeled in. She had her hands up on her cheeks, as if she was trying to hold her head up. She had a blank stare……that is until she bolted us all out of our seats with a very loud wail.
As we settled back, she carried on with this loud wailing “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” thru the sermon. I sat nervously, but Tony, a veteran preacher who’s soldiered on in many unusual circumstances, never missed a beat and finally finished up, occasionally thanking the lady for her heartfelt “Amens”.
Then we sang the old favorite, “How Great Thou Art”. About the second verse, we noticed the wailing had changed pitch.
Discretely at first and then with open gaped stares, the whole congregation turned their heads when they realized the lady was SINGING ALONG!
With her eyes closed and hands still holding her face tightly, she mouthed every word of every verse. Tony stopped the music and said directly to her, “I sense that you’re a Christian!” She nodded with fervor (and another loud wail).
As the service ended, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. It was like an angel had been in our midst.
Before anyone was aware, she’d been whisked away by a nurse and we were left to wipe our eyes and wonder what had just happened.
The chatter with the others revealed that she was a very old Chinese lady who was always vacant, never interacting with anyone or making an intelligent sound of any kind.
But God had pulled back the veil just a little bit to show us a beautiful faithful servant who verified the scripture, “Thy word have I hid in my heart…….”
As we folded chairs and pulled ourselves together someone remarked, “Come to think of it, I’m thinking the wails actually were AMENS!”
My New Year’s cup had been filled and I went away feeling blessed and encouraged. God is indeed faithful to show us a bit of how it’ll be when all the hindrances are gone and we can gather at the throne and shout unashamedly “Hosanna!”.
How Great Thou Art. Even in the midst of the “dull and uneventful”, God can always make it special.
Till next time,
……continued from last week about the “surprise sermon”. You’ll have to read last week’s blog if you missed it.
After Tony came to understand that he was in fact scheduled to preach (in Japanese) that New Years Day morning, he came running back down the aisle and headed out of the church.
Being the supportive wife (‘don’t you dare mess up here’) I also leaped to my feet and followed him.
There in the foyer, I found him banging his head against the wall.
Uncharacteristically feeling some real compassion, I said, “How can I help you?”
With his head still against the wall, he mumbled….“Keep me from running. I don’t even have my Bible!” he groaned.
“There’s Bibles all over’ helpfully gesturing to the stacks behind me.
“They’re all in Japanese!” he snarled.
I left him to work it out and returned to my seat before our five year old noticed I was gone and got creative.
After a few moments he came back in and strode confidently down to the front holding a ‘furoshiki” in his hand.
A furoshiki is a large silk scarf, probably left at the church by mistake by someone long forgotten.
And this was his sermon:
“You know what this is”, he said, holding up the scarf. “We all know it is Japanese custom when you go to visit someone, you take something wrapped in this furoshiki……a cake or a book or some little something. You place it discretely somewhere on the side of the entrance hall as you step up into the house. You don’t point it out as a gift except maybe to say quietly, “Here’s a little something for you.”
The hostess, according to custom, makes no sign of recognition, and leads you into the room for your visit. When you leave, she will bow until you’re out of sight and then and only then, she’ll tear open the scarf with the anticipation of a child, to see what wonderful thing you’ve brought her.
Then, whenever she comes back to visit you, she will bring your scarf, this time with something else that is, again, not mentioned or recognized. She will lay it carefully at the door as she comes in… and so the game continues.”
By this time, Tony had found his feet and the congregation was enthralled, happy to have a sermon so simple that they could understand. I was able to exhale and shift back in my seat. Then he continued…
“Well. We’ve just had Christmas where we celebrate the birth of our Savior…….
“God has left us with the most precious gift ever, wrapped, not in a furoshiki but in swaddling cloths, laid in a manger with not enough fanfare to match the occasion, on Christmas day.
“……….and now our question must be: What will we give Him in return?”
That pretty much nailed it for the “shortest and best New Year’s sermon ever”……given by someone who didn’t have the language but had the Emmanuel Savior to stand with him and help him thru the day.
Here is a little poem I came across just recently, written by a 19th century poet, Christina Georgina Rossetti. I think it says what I feel today after possibly our best Christmas ever!
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part, -
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give Him my heart.
Have a blessed and safe New Year this week! We’ll be in touch
Marsha and Tony