Til We Meet

I’m happy to report that yesterday we had a “most excellent” all-day seminar to kick off the Anagion Bible Study course that Tony’s been working on for the last couple of years.  We were excited to see 7 churches represented and about 25 lay leaders and pastors.  As I’m writing this, Tony’s at his computer whipping off a “Where do we go from here?” letter to send out to all the participants.

The day before, Tony also celebrated his 67th birthday, accompanied by Tokyo’s first real snowfall of winter.  This made the Texan happy……..what can I say?

But I have to add that the euphoria of yesterday was subdued by this morning’s news announcement that Kenji Goto may have been beheaded by ISIS.  I know many of you may have been following this story.

What the news agencies fail to mention is that Kenji was a native of our beloved town of Sendai, and a devoted Christian, along with his whole family.  He was over there in part to “change the world for Christ”, forming his own NGO and ministering where he could to children and victims.  His martyrdom has rocked the Christian Community here and we spent the morning’s Sunday school time trying to see the good in this tragedy.

I was reminded of the funeral last week of Tsubasa, age 13, who drowned in the bath.  Keep praying, will you? Especially for his mother who is struggling with feelings of guilt.  When Minoru, (the husband and father) got up to speak, he quoted from John, Chapter 1, where Jesus was asked if it was the sins of the parents that resulted in the man being born blind and lame. “No,” Jesus answered, “it was so that God’s power might be seen at work in him.”

Then Minoru said through tears, “God has been manifested in Tsubasa’s life”.

There was not a dry eye in the room and it’s good to hear already of some of the fruit coming out from the death of this boy.

As with all tragedy, we look for redemption, and I believe Tsubasa’s death will have that, but it’s still hard on all of us.

One of the songs at Tsubasa’s funeral was the old familiar and emotive, “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”.

And I can never sing that song without thinking back to a story that came to me through an older missionary who is now with the Lord. In fact, all those  involved are now rejoicing in Heaven, so I think I can share the story with you now.

At the missionary’s church one evening, they were saying good bye to a fellow member and his family. They were being transferred far away, and everyone was looking for the redemption at losing such a faithful family from their tiny congregation.

At the close of the service, they all sang, “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”.  Only a few people noticed an elderly gentleman who had come in and sat at the back.  By the time the prayer was finished, he was gone.  No one could imagine who he was or what he’d wanted.

But the next week he was back.  Still arriving after the service started and leaving before it ended. This continued weekly until finally after about a month, he stood, and in a very quiet voice, asked if he could address the audience.

After years in the ministry, I’m familiar with the nervousness in the pit of your stomach as you give the pulpit to a stranger, but something in the old man persuaded the pastor to say yes. It was 1983, about 40 years after World War II.

No one was prepared for what the gentleman had to say.

“I was walking by your church one night and I heard a familiar song.  I hadn’t heard it for a long time, but it’s a tune that has haunted me for most of my life.”  The stranger stopped for a long time and then cleared his throat before he continued.

“You see, 40 years ago, I was in a small church in Korea. There were several people gathered around an organ at the front. They were holding hands in a circle and asked me if they could sing this song.”

He paused again, this time for longer, while he seemed far away, gathering his thoughts.

“I gave them permission and when they finished, the leader nodded at me … and I shot them all”.

An audible gasp went thru the congregation as he took a long breath, wiped a tear and continued.

“They were so calm and confident as they sang …. it impressed me, even tho I couldn’t understand their words. Then the other night, I heard you sing, and for the first time, I understand what they were saying.”

And then he added slowly, in a barely audible voice with his head hung low,  ”I don’t know if God would even let me but … if it’s possible… I want to be a part of that circle.”

People rushed to him, openly crying now, as he prayed to his new found Savior.  The ‘redemption’ of the tragedy had come and he was able to live in sweet fellowship with those forgiving folks for many years before going on to meet those he’d killed.

God be with you till we meet again,

By His counsels guide, uphold you,

With His sheep securely fold you,

God be with you till we meet again.


Till we meet, till we meet,

Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;

Till we meet, till we meet,

God be with you till we meet again.

Even non-Christian Japanese have been commenting all week that Kenji had a ‘look of peace’ in all the videos. It is our prayer that his life and death will somehow be redeemed in the manifestation of God’s love to the nation of Japan.

On a somewhat related note, so many of you who are reading this will be especially remembering our friend Jan, who’s undergoing some dramatic and unusual treatment. We pray and yearn that God will heal her, and even though she’s isolated these next few weeks, that she won’t feel alone.   We KNOW God will be there for her, “With His arms unfailing round her”; but we still pray for her, along with Minoru and his wife and the Goto family as these folks walk thru deep valleys.

Till we meet again…..Marsha


A few months ago my grandson Isaac graduated……..from Preschool!

Now a lot of you who are reading this are around my age, and you’re thinking, “seriously?”  I mean, our generation didn’t even know what preschool was!  And you younger folks are thinking, “Yep, and it shows, too!”  But be that as it may, we were positively “over the moon” with Isaac’s achievement, and believe me, it was a big deal!

Now this next week, he’ll be moving on into Big Boy 5-day-a-week Grade School.  He’s been sporting his school uniform the last several times we’ve Skyped, and you can just see the joy and anticipation in his eyes!  In some ways, I guess, his graduation from preschool was a passage of no return. After all, he’s moved on from being a baby to being a young boy, with all the rights and responsibilities that go with it.

As you know, we’re looking down the barrel of our own “passage” soon, as every day brings us closer to retirement. I confess that I’m experiencing both the joys and the terrors appropriate with what seems like such a final season of life.  I’m just a little bit worried that it may be time for me to ‘grow up’…….but I’m glad to say my brain has accepted it enough so that I’ve quit accidentally referring to it as “graduation”!

BUT… sadly, today I want to tell you about another ‘passage’ we had this week.

We were awakened to a pre dawn phone call, and as we fumbled with the phone, we heard a garbled message that left us in tears.

Our Japanese partner in the Tokyo mission office is a wonderful guy who left a career in law to help us blumbering foreigners muddle thru the bureaucratic nightmares of life in Japan. He and his wife and children are key members in a church we work in. Minoru-san always has a smile on his face, even though he recently had a tough but successful battle with Cancer.

Monday night, Minoru returned home from a long trip out to do some legal work regarding one of the mission’s properties.  After he greeted his wife and daughter, he headed into the bath to say hello to his son.

Tsubasa was born with some sort of severe Autism, but his folks, along with the extended family and church, had gone the extra miles required to love and support him.  Now, at 13, he was a happy fixture every Sunday on the front row, singing from the heart and showing by his expressions that he was finally coming “in tune” with the world. The last time I saw him, he obviously recognized me and we shared a “high five” together.

When Minoru opened the door to the bath, Tsubasa was face down in the water.  Mom had been taking care of the younger sister who was sick with the flu, but since bath time was sort of Tsubasa’s “my time”, she didn’t think the silence was odd.

They say he probably had a cerebral aneurysm and went instantly.

Graduation – Retirement – Death.  When you think of it, for the children of God, it’s all just another passage in life.  I’ve teared up several times this week, thinking that now, Tsubasa is finally communicating, finally truly FREE and enjoying the Savior he’s always loved.  The Japanese word for “autism”, “jiheishou”, is spelled by a pictograph that shows the concept of “personally trapped sickness”. Well, now he’s trapped no longer, and I praise God for that assurance.

Please pray with us for the Hayakawa family.  They will be feeling lost without him, even knowing he’s in a better place.  When our son died, I knew he was safe and happy and cancer free, but I didn’t feel at all safe or free and certainly not happy.  Now 20 years later, I still ache for his presence but I’m comforted to know we’ll all meet him again one day.

The funeral today was a blessing to all.  There were no less than 500 people, crammed into every space, with many of us standing to watch from video screens in anterooms.   A lot of the attendees were from Tsubasa’s “special” school and I whispered to Tony as we were heading outside after passing by the casket that the ’students’ were easy to spot because they were the only ones who weren’t crying.

But it was a good funeral. Our hearts swelled to see what a witness both the church and the family were able to share. We sang songs that Tsubasa particularly loved like, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.    The pastor did the funeral, carefully explaining every custom of a Christian funeral and why we do it that way.  He mentioned the irony that in the Japanese culture, the number of flowers, the amount of food and the depth of the inebriation are the marks of a ‘good funeral’; but for the Christian, it’s different. Instead for us, a funeral is a celebration of the life and HOPE that we have that makes us able to get thru the sadness.

Then at the end, Minoru got up to talk about the simple faith little Tsubasa enjoyed, and how he’d just started praying together with the family.  He went on to share a few things about all the joys they had known together, and that on the morning of the death, he was as happy and healthy as ever, looking forward to another week at school.  It seemed, and we all agreed, that the young man had simply been enjoying his bath when the lights went out and he woke up in the arms of Jesus. With just a slight tremor in his voice betraying the grief in his heart, Minoru finished by challenging us all to make sure we could face tomorrow with that kind of assurance.

I hope we will. I know I am, and I pray that everyone at the funeral today as well as everyone at the other end of this blog will know the kind of peace and joy Minoru and his family have tonight.

With a tear in my eye, Marsha

Take It Off

When I was a pre-teen, we used to play a game in my Baptist Church youth group.  Now that I think back, it may have been a bit risqué.  It was called, “Take something off”.

Hold that thought for awhile…..

Tonight, we’ve just gotten home from an exhilarating worship service in a church across town (translate 50 minutes on the train, one transfer, another 10 minute ride and a 10 minute walk in sub freezing wind, but who’s complaining?).  The reason we were so blessed today is that this church was absolutely packed with intelligent and vivacious young professionals.  Many spoke a modicum of English, and the pastor himself, although he is Japanese, was raised in the US.

The reason we did this, was because three weeks ago we sent our little two-year ’short term missionary mentees’ (is that a word?) home to the States and welcomed two more.  These ‘kids’ are just 25, newlywed and raring to go, so we thought we’d take them to a place that’s on fire and introduce them around.

It was so refreshing to see so many young committed folks, loving God and bringing their non-Christian friends to be welcomed into the fellowship. Picture it with me: it was obvious these people didn’t come to be entertained. They walked in, Bibles in hand, notebooks open for a ONE HOUR sermon! Not only that, it was actually a good sermon, full of great challenges and “one liners” I wanted to take home with me. So who says today’s youth just wanta have fun?

On the ride home, I was thinking what a contrast today was to the overall week we’ve had.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a good week mostly, as we started gearing up for that long and exciting process of re-tooling our lives for upcoming retirement. But the week was also strewn with plenty of the drama of late night phone calls and ‘what do I do’ pleas from one of our biggest ministry challenges ……those of you who have been following this blog for these last three years might remember this person, so desperate and so needy, but still unwilling to give it all to God.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and I’m sad to say she’s much worse off now than she was.  She has plenty of medical and mental issues and to make a long dark story short, she’s now with another man, (not her husband and not a Christian) and she now has a baby.  Her former husband has had plenty of struggles as well, but he’s making it one day at a time. He told us once, “I don’t blame God for the dark path I’m on; it would have come anyway. But at least now, thanks to Jesus, I have a flashlight.”

As I mentioned above, our “mentees” have now returned to the States. They were such a help for this poor needy soul, and now that they’re gone, we seem to be the only people she has left to turn to. One day we spent hours with her going back over the basics like, “God is the answer” and “You can’t expect any human being to be totally dependable and able to meet all your needs, including us”. She let us pray for the baby…….please join us, will you? I cry when I think of the future that poor child faces, unless God steps in with a miracle.

As I look back over what I’ve written, I’m afraid you may not be quite as impressed with us as before! This is not one of my more glorious stories, as I share with you vignettes of our 40-year career here, but I’m not going to dress it up. Truth be known, she is not the first of our “so far failures”, and if we’re granted even a few more years, she probably won’t be our last.

But ….. I’m not alone, after all. Looking back over other people’s accounts, even to those of Jesus Himself, there have always been people who WANT what God has to offer, but also want to hold other things more. Like their possessions, or their pride or in this case their paranoia. So many times, in the face of what might have been one of those great “missionary moments”, the story ends in sadness. I hesitate to share those stories with you. It would be so much easier to just sweep them away, and if they ever come to mind again, I would only see them as so much wasted time.

But let’s go back to the game I started with.  The pre-teen selected to be “IT” would sit in the middle of the circle of kids, and the leader would cover him/her with a blanket.  Then the leader would say, “Take something off”!

Obviously anyone with more than 12 years of life experience would make short work of this exercise, but no…….the person under the blanket would invariably sit quietly for awhile considering the dilemma.  Maybe after a long pause you’d see a shoe tentatively pushed out, as if the person was wondering if that would suffice for the offering. But then there’d be more cheering and more deliberating silence from under the blanket until a corner was lifted and from within a sock appeared……

This would go on with shrieks of laughter , dares and catcalls, until finally, before the group could possibly be too shocked, the leader would shout out, “TAKE OFF THE BLANKET SILLY!”

That’s what I want to do some days with some of these folks!  It’s patently obvious what needs to be done.  GET RID of the BLANKET that is smothering you!  Come out to the light!  In the words of the absolutely most popular song of this age, just “LET IT GO!”  Let Jesus save you from yourself………..

Do we cower under a blanket wondering what appropriate behavior will save us from ourselves?  On this dark and cold (at least north of equator) January night, ponder with me this question we ask ourselves.  Is God cheering me on to just TAKE OFF THE BLANKET of worry or despair or unbelief?  Can we pray together that the Japanese will assert themselves to think outside of their own skewed world and ask God to lift the blanket?

Love ya, stay warm, but without the blanket!


What’s in a Word?

Welcome to this, the second in a series of “What has helped make us what we are over the past 40 years.” Looking back, Tony and I have discovered several milestones that have been etched into our memories, making up a veritable tapestry that only God could have put together. I think most of you could look back over your own lives as well and see many things that have made you who you are, right?

The thing has struck me this week has been the role that language has played in defining our lives. It began quite early for us, as I, a native-born Colorado girl, took up with Tony, a Texas transplant. I won’t do a lot of complaining, since I know many of you faithful readers out there hail from the Lone Star State, but suffice it to say that in many ways he and I have found ourselves from time to time truly divided by a common language.  Take for example, “Toboggan”.  In Colorado you slide down the ski slope on it.  In Texas you wear it on your head (perhaps while sliding on the Colorado one).

But that was just the beginning. This morning I rolled over and checked the clock. It said 5:55.  I smiled to myself as I remembered the common Thai phone text for “LOL”(Laugh Out Loud).  You see, the word “Five” in Thai sounds like “ha”, so three 5s in a text or message means…… HaHaHa…..

Moving farther back in history, our family often refers to “Dead Body Business”, a Liberian word for funeral. And then there’s  ”Titty Business”, but I won’t go into that except to say that I worked in a ‘well baby clinic’ in Monrovia, and there were certain things we needed to discuss.  Liberia, if you remember, was founded by freed slaves from the Confederate states right after the Civil War, so their English is pretty, well … frank.

In Zambia, we had an elderly house worker named Wilson, who spoke not a word of English, except to occasionally say the word, “Eeaae”, with different intonations to indicate either shock or resignation.  On occasion however, he used to fold his right hand in a fist, release his pinky and put his thumbnail on the middle joint.  He would then proffer the fist and say, with just a slight whiff of disgust, something that sounded like …..”Feliki-so”.  We never knew what it meant, but we’ve used it in our family ever since to indicate our feelings of, “What-E’-ver,” (as a teenager might express it). Incidentally, we don’t say it around our African friends, just in case it’s referring to their mother or something.

Did you know that the word “OK” is from the Choctaw Indian language?  That word might fit in the category of universal words like “coke” and “taxi” because we’ve used it successfully in every country from Africa to Asia and all points in between.

And speaking of Asia, you’ve probably heard the expression,  ”Aie-yaa”, said with a shrug and a helpless descending tone. That was a daily favorite when we lived in Hong Kong, especially when we were exasperated about something.

Another statement of exasperation with a twist of shock is, “PAING!”, (rhymes with Dang!), which says it all……(It’s Thai for “expensive!”).

When we went to Russia to adopt our Nicki, we immediately heard the word “Baka”.  That means “goodbye” in Russian, but we were delighted because the same word in Japanese means “Idiot!”. Many was the occasion, after endless hours spent in one bureaucratic office after another, when we would head out the door, turn and offer a heartfelt  “BAKA BAKA BAKA!!!” as great therapy. And while we’re in Russia, let’s not forget the word our sweet Nicki taught us at the age of three: “Caca”……….You can guess what that means in Russian as well as about 5 or 6 other languages!

Of course there’s a whole plethora of Japanese words that just say it perfectly. Nicki was the master of mix, throwing in Japanese, English and Russian, quickly gaining her the prize for speaking what everyone called, “casserole”. Missionaries here are not much better, though, as we were reminded today when we tried to have a conversation with a couple of young men who had just arrived from America. I said something like, “You guys look really genki, in spite of being “jisa bokei.” Their lack of response reminded me that after so many years here, a lot of words have crept into my English, but hey! sometimes the Japanese word communicates it best!  (In case you’re wondering, “genki” means to be healthy in mind, body and soul, and “jisa bokei” is ‘time crazy person’…….or  jet lag)

So I expect most of us use the words that communicate best, wherever they came from. As part of his doctoral studies, Tony came across a quote the other day that said, “Every culture has at least 10 systems for communicating, of which one of those is words.” Definitely something to think about when I’m standing in line somewhere!  Am I communicating Christ’s love without using words?

Make a mental list sometime of the words you use that might not communicate to someone from a different country, or different state, or different family. You might be surprised, and maybe a little relieved, like I am, that in the beginning there was only one Word. “…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

So as we enter the third week of this New Year, may God keep you ‘genki’ and in His perfect Will.

So I say to you, “Baka”…….in Russian only!


A Good Read

Happy New Year!  Hope yours was as ‘happy’ as ours.  We got the chance to show around a newly-arrived missionary couple!  It’s a good feeling to know that as we leave Japan (in just FOUR months!), that someone here will be starting their own journey.

Thinking back to the “thrills and spills” of the last 40 years, I’d love to share with you over the next 14 weeks or so before we retire, some of the highlights that have helped make us what we’ve become. In the process, maybe you will remember some of your own refining moments, and get a better look at the tapestry as it unfolds.

A friend sent me a cute forward with some ’slogans to live by’ and this one caught my attention:   “Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of reading it”. That caught my eye, because it reminded me of an event that happened long ago when we lived in Sydney.

Believe it or not, Tony pastored a Chinese church in western Sydney for a number of years.  I know it’s possible for some of you to think the Chinese and Japanese languages are alike, but they’re not.  They’re about as alike as English and uhm, let’s say, Russian!

This unlikely ministry originated with Danny, a Chinese man who had married another Chinese lady. (He spoke Cantonese Chinese and she spoke Mandarin Chinese, which are also quite dissimilar, so their common language was Japanese, as they had both studied in Japan before they met.). As one of those incredible “non” coincidences, we had known Danny’s brother Bob in Sendai, Japan, when he was a medical student.  Bob was one of our first church youth, helping start the ministry there. (in Japanese of course).

Years later, Bob mentioned to Danny, his brother, who did not know us, that we had moved to Sydney. So one day Danny showed up at our Japanese Church and began attending with his wife. They were happy there for some time, and then God called them to start a Chinese (Mandarin speaking) church. The first thing they needed was a pastor, so they thought immediately of Tony! When Tony casually mentioned that he didn’t speak Chinese, they said, “No problem! Just speak English and we’ll translate for you!”

You’re beginning to wonder where this is going………….we were too from time to time as the congregation grew and prospered, in spite of the fact that everything out of Tony’s mouth was in English, translated to Mandarin. Not the best arrangement for a pastor! In spite of the challenges, the church did well (It’s still doing well today, in fact) and we baptized several new believers while we worked there.

One day we got a call from Danny.  They’d come across a Chinese student who seemed receptive to the Gospel. Could Tony come and visit with her?  She was from mainland China, didn’t speak a word of English or Japanese, and yet somehow, with all of us working together, we managed to explain the simple message of Christianity. Tony gave her a Mandarin Bible and marked some important verses.

Two weeks later she went swimming in the ocean………….

Like most mainland Chinese, she had no clue about the hazards of Australia’s beautiful but potentially deadly beaches. She got caught in a rip tide and drowned……..just like that…….all alone in a foreign land.

When her family arrived in Sydney, several church folks were there to greet and comfort them. They went together to her room to pack her things up, and there by her bedside was the Bible, opened to an underlined passage.

The family deduced immediately that she had become a Christian. They would arrange for a Christian funeral back home. They also declared that they would become Christians as well, following her example. They left Sydney determined to find an underground church group and join in.

…. And that’s the end of the story, at least as far as we know. But we take great hope in the assurance that God knows the rest of the story, even as it continues to unfold. And we look forward to hearing it someday from the lips of those who are part of the story now, in places where we will never see.

Let’s all remember to take note what you’re found reading…………

Till next week!  Marsha

“We’ve Been Fortunate”

I remember several years ago back in the States where we were doing our “missionary thing” as part of what is now called Stateside Assignment. I guess the old name, “furlough” sounded too much like vacation, which of course it wasn’t.

One of our jobs was to visit churches and share with them what the Lord was doing in our part of the mission world. That was truly a wonderful time, especially to be able to say a big “thank you” to all those folks who by way of our Southern Baptist Cooperative Program were making it possible for us to be in Japan. Churches, big and small alike, contribute to the care and feeding of over 9000 missionaries around the world, and while we may miss some of the personal touch of a smaller support base, not a day goes by but what we remember what God is doing in so many lives to bring all this together.

There was one church in particular that year which I’ll never forget, even though I may have forgotten its name. It was in Louisiana, and it was BIG and it was BEAUTIFUL. I stumbled in disbelief as I came through a side door on Sunday morning onto a basketball court-size platform from where I was supposed to speak. I had to squeeze my eyes tight and imagine that the thousands of people sitting in the congregation were pumpkins before I could find the nerve to even open my mouth.

After the service, we were escorted to the home of some church members where we would be staying overnight. Once again I was gobsmackered (to use an Aussie phrase) at the size of the house. From the massive front door, we were led up a grand staircase and shown to where we’d be staying in their daughter’s SUITE, which encompassed one whole end of the mansion.  That area alone was bigger than our house in Japan.

The key word of that weekend seemed to be a casual and mellifluous drawl,  ”We’ve been fortunate,” said smilingly by well coiffed, perfectly made up women and their Ken-doll like husbands.  I think I heard the words ‘oil’ and “pork bellies” more than once.

Don’t get me wrong, the folks were just that: folks.  Mega rich folks, to be sure, but still as nice as any.  I think the ‘bonding’ point came later that evening as we sat under the chandelier in the massive living room talking about our work.

Suddenly there was a movement to my left. The hostess jumped to her feet, grabbed a priceless designer pillow and whopped a cockroach that was crawling across the floor!  It occurred to me that the poor fellow was rather humble by comparison; no diamonds gracing his shell, and yet he was clever enough to make a quick and tactical escape to safety behind the crown molding, there to live and haunt even the rich another day. We all had a good laugh and somehow seemed to have found a common ground as helpless children of God, no matter what the setting.

……..”We’ve been fortunate”.  What does that mean to you?  Can you say that as 2014 draws to a close?  I was just reading in Philippians 4:11where Paul says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

We’ve had a wonderful Christmas here in Japan, the land of our lives.  This will be our last Japanese Christmas for a long time, maybe even until Heaven. I think we gave it our best shot, celebrating again and again with wonderful friends from all over the world.  The New Year celebrations look to be exciting as well, with us co-hosting a big dinner and evening of prayer in one of our main churches.  We look forward to welcoming in 2015 with all the hope and anticipation that you can have when you’re living a ‘fortunate life’.

It’s such a blessing to pray together with friends and family like you. Please continue to let us know how we can remember you in our hearts and before the Father in the coming months.

I know that many of you have agonized with us over our ongoing property issue back in Australia, where work to repair a landslide in our back yard could well end up costing as much as the house itself is worth. At the same time, we’re looking for a place for us to live when we retire, (since my son is buying our house) but depending on the outcome of the aforementioned mess, we may have to forego the chandelier in the foyer, mainly because we won’t have a foyer, or a house, for that matter! The city council will meet this week to decide how much of the cost will be our responsibility, so we’re a little nervous. Thanks again for your prayers. We’ll keep you posted.

But regardless of the outcome, Tony and I can still look around this past year and say from the heart, “We’ve been fortunate.” As we enter 2015 with the confidence of God’s providence, we pray that all your troubles be little ones, all your blessings be big ones, and all your days be filled with the knowledge of His Presence.

Happy New Year,


Diving Into The Deep End

Zeke and Isaac - Diving into the Deep End

It’s a busy time here, as I’m sure it is where you are too. Christmas is such a special season, and we’re trying our best to make it the “best Christmas ever” here in Japan, since starting next year, we’ll be in Australia where December is always hot.

We were reminded of that fact last week, when we took a quick trip Down Under to watch our Nicki graduate from University. She came through with grace and style, and made us all prouder than kangaroos in a hopscotch tournament (sorry for the corny pun, I’ve been in Australia….where we even saw a wild kangaroo near the house, which is rare in the heat….he wasn’t playing hopscotch though).

We took advantage of the summer swelter while we were there to spend a day at the pool, where Tony insisted I open my Christmas present early so we could enjoy taking pictures with my new camera that is guaranteed to work up to 50 feet underwater. There’s no way, I can work 50 feet under water, so I figure it’s a good deal.

The kids had a ball, posing and cutting up. After we got back, I was looking over the pictures we’d all taken, and one really caught my eye (I’ll try to include it here in the blog if I can). Our grandboys are sitting together in a rare moment of contemplation, smiling and having a good time. The only thing unusual about the picture is that they happen to be sitting on the swimming pool steps, under water.

It’s typical of Aussies that swimming would come as natural as, well, as breathing. And as I look at their picture, I’m reminded of my own life. Swimming does not come naturally for me. In fact the Japanese have a saying for people like me: “When it comes to water, I swim like a hammer”. Life underwater can be full of excitement and fun, I suppose, but for me it’s an experiment in terror. But then, that’s what life is all about, anywhere you go, right? Every day we’re surrounded by an environment that can be fun or deadly, and often it’s never really clear about which it is.

Nicki’s moved into a ‘new environment’ as a university graduate.  We pray for her to find a place to serve and practice what she’s learned and is passionate about. It’s an exciting time.

Next year, Tony and I will “dive into the deep end”. As we say good bye to nearly 40 years of full time ministry and see what life is like in that thing they call retirement. I expect it to be fun on a lot of levels… enjoying the freedom, having the kids closer, looking around to consider things we’ve never had the time or opportunity to think about. But I have to admit there’s a lot of uncertainty in the deep end, and I think a lot of you out there know what I’m talking about. Our kids and grandkids have a lot of fun in the water, but they know their environment. They know what they can and can’t do when surrounded by wet. Unlike me, they don’t seem to panic when water gets up their nose!

For all of us, each day can be a day at the beach, whether we’re splashing around the tidal pools or exploring the depths. Yeah, there’s a lot around us we don’t understand, and frankly, a lot that can be downright hazardous. But let’s not forget Who swims with us, and especially during this Christmas season, may we find joy in knowing that our Savior has come.

So kick off your shoes, take a deep breath, and plunge in!

Merry Christmas,


Pondering These Things

Hi, (imagine me whispering) I’m writing this in the bedroom because it’s (happy) bedlam out there.  With two Ninja Turtle Grandboys, it’s a dangerous noisy world around the home place this week. Hoping for a little more wide open space, we booked a couple of days into a local waterpark/cheap hotel to give them a chance to run off their energy, but unfortunately it rained most of the time, leaving us trapped into an even smaller living room riding out the storm. It did eventually pass, however, and a good time was had by all. As you may recall, Tony and I are down here in Australia for the week in order to observe our daughter Nicki’s graduation from university!  Besides the obvious reason for celebration, this also marks the occasion of our son-in-love Chris having fulfilled the promises he made in order to get our blessing for their wedding. “She must graduate, even if you have to support her while she finishes,” we said sternly. There was another promise he was faithful to fulfill, but I’ll save that for another time ;-) . Anyway, if you’d like to see some of the celebrations that have gone on this week, I’m sure Nicki will have posted it all on her Facebook page.

It’s been a crazy week, starting with Nicki having a fender bender on the way to greet us at the airport.  Everyone’s fine but the car is out of commission, throwing a real wrench in the flow of things.  We got to revert back to our parent role of shuttling kids to work here and there  (it’s their only car).

Also this week we have run ourselves ragged trying to ‘prepare’ for retirement, and after a few glances at exorbitant properties, a talk to the banker, and everyone else right down to the candlestick maker…..we’ve decided we need more prayin’ and savin’!  But we should have known that.

By the time you read this, we’ll have been to two churches and all the associated thrills and encouragement attached to showing up after an 8 month absence.  Please continue to pray with us as we sort out our future about our continued service both to the Japanese and Australians.

Now the graduation and celebration tomorrow and return to sanity, back in Japan mid week to look forward to a cold, dark and beautiful Christmas…. our last (at least for awhile), since Christmas in Australia is traditionally hot and bright until at least bedtime. Candle services, carols sung out on freezing streets, sparkling icicles, hot chocolate and the like will be a thing of Christmases past for us.

I found myself thinking of Mary and Joseph.  Who can imagine what they were thinking as they anticipated the very first Christmas, starting with a change of travel plans, reservation issues and an HMO that wasn’t recognized ………and yet, in their hearts they must have been as full as ours and even more as we anticipate the birth of our Savior.  I’m reminded in Luke chapter 2 that Mary didn’t freak out with all the uncertainties, but ‘regarded all these things in her heart’.

We must remember to also ‘regard these things in our hearts’ …. both the wonderful things, as well as the uncertainties.

Noel, Marsha

Go With The Flow

Dear Friends,

Today marks the second Sunday of Advent.  We dusted off our candles and tried to light them, to little avail.  I guess they just tuckered out last year, and we need to buy new candles but can’t be bothered because as you read this, we’ll be on the plane to Australia for just a week to hug the grands again and see our little girl graduate from University!  We have almost every minute planned as we need to begin to set up a retirement strategy for just a YEAR from NOW!

We’ll be back in the saddle the 18th, because as this will be our last Christmas in Japan, at least for awhile, we’ve got more celebrations and opportunities to share Christ than you can shake a stick at.  I HOPE I can get out a blog next week, but if you don’t get one, just lean back and enjoy the flurry of Christmas that you’re involved in and know that we are too.

As I was scurrying around packing and thinking about our schedule, all the while entertaining some drop in guests, an amusing memory popped into my head.

We lived in Bangkok for two years awhile back.  I learned many things there, but perhaps one of the most important lessons was how to cross the street.

You see, there are literally millions of drivers, lots and lots of (albeit it sometimes corrupt) policemen and even more motorbikes sifting thru the melee like sand among boulders.

Of course there are traffic lights aplenty, and people try mostly to obey them, at least in spirit, but still, sometimes you just have to take a ‘leap of faith’ and jump out into the roadway.

I was about to get the hang of it and….. then we visited Vietnam. They have it all plus thousands of bicycles mixed in as well!  Forever embossed on my memory was a scene that unfolded while we were looking out of the hotel lobby. On the curb stood a lovely older gentleman and his wife. It wasn’t hard to imagine that he was probably a decorated veteran bringing his sweetheart back to try to relive the sights and sounds of his youth…. a time when his physical life as a soldier was a question of survival almost every day.

“Not much has changed”, they seemed to be thinking, and yet in some ways, everything was different. Both had canes and were leaning out from the sidewalk like an action freeze frame, tottering with uncertainty.  They’d been standing at this perilous angle for several minutes, both looking frantically back and forth with growing concern.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “He may have been a hero in his day, storming the hill while leading a battalion,  but I don’t think they had traffic like this in the 60’s.”

Finally, a hotel clerk saw their predicament and stepped out to the sidewalk. Without a word, he put a hand on each of their arms and gently, as if testing the temperature of the water, stuck his foot out into the traffic.  Then like a graceful ballet move, the three of them segued into the raging stream, never missing a beat as the traffic simply flowed around them like vapor over an airplane wing.  Depositing them safely to the sidewalk on the other side, the clerk gave a smile with a crisp click of his heels, and spun around to return to his duty.

I think life is like that.  Sometimes life leaves us tottering on the side of the road, leaning on our cane.  But there comes a time when you just have to take a breath, hold somebody’s hand, and  ’jump in’ to get it done. Otherwise you’ll waffle on the edge of things and never accomplish the goal.

But as you step out there, I must remind you of the Asian maxim: Look neither right nor left; show no fear and NEVER break your stride……. I did that once not only at my own peril but also to the peril of the poor motorcycle driver who was coming full bore and headlong straight at me. He had already made the nanosecond maneuvers necessary to avoid a collision, aiming at the hole that would open up as I passed thru, but that was all thrown out the window when the reality of the moment hit me like a deer in the headlights. I did the unthinkable; I stopped, then started to run. It was almost a disaster, prevented only by the fact that the motorcycle driver was even a better driver than I had given him credit for.

I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions about taking the Master’s Hand and trusting Him to get us across the stream without considering reality and freaking out……. even when it seems suicidal.

As the excitement speeds up for Christmas, it is our prayer for you that this ‘SEASON” will be the best ever, as you keep the pace and enjoy the journey! I leave you with some great words from Joshua 1:7, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”

Merry Christmas!


Generational Thankfulness

Good morning, hope you all had a great week and my American friends had a nice Thanksgiving.

This week in lieu of a real Thanksgiving we had a team meeting instead.

Sounds a bit boring, but our leader dispensed with business and instead asked us to go around the room and tell everyone HOW and WHEN we had become a Christian, noting other significant moments along the way.

Well, I’ve known some of these people for 40 years, and yet I was surprised by the details.

However, in the telling, two things seemed to emerge as the norm.

1) Each of us, although mostly reared in Christian homes and saved at an early age, had a ‘crisis of faith’ that brought us to real commitment somewhere in our teens.

2) We all remember someone who was responsible for initiating this commitment.

Now that leads me to conclude many things, as I’m sure you are at this moment as well.  Along the lines of hiring better youth workers, planning more youth events, etc.

But that’s not it.  I received my call to missions in an extremely dull Wednesday night Bible study when the idea just popped into my head.  I knew it didn’t come from an earthly source, since it had absolutely nothing to do with whatever the teacher was saying, of which I have no recollection of both then and now.   But the idea of full time Christian service was not there one minute and confirmed the next.   After the Bible study when I confided to my boyfriend my doubts, he chimed in with the encouraging words, “You like to sew, you could be a missionary and sew dresses for naked Africans!”

That, for me was all it took, (OK maybe I worshipped the boy as much as God at that time), but unwittingly his comment set me on my way, knowing from the start that it was real.

Now let’s talk about a couple we know named Yukiko and Tak.  You may have noticed on Facebook that we visited with them this last weekend.  Yukiko was a young student who had a habit of listening to radio English lessons the first year we arrived in Japan.  She had just learned the phrase “What brings you to Japan?” One morning Yukiko (a high school girl at the time) saw Tony sitting at a coffee shop at her school, so she thought she’d try it out.  He answered, the relationship continued, and eventually she became the first person we baptized in Japan.

30 years later with 4 grown kids, all of whom became flourishing and now in full-time ministry themselves, her husband Tak, prayed to receive Christ.  Now their marriage has taken on a whole new chapter as a family of believers.

A few weeks ago we got a letter from one of her 2 ordained minister sons who asked Tony to tell him about who had led him to the Lord.  He explained that he was doing a series of sermons about the process of becoming a Christian. His mother, he knew, had been led to the Lord by a missionary some 30 years ago.  He knew the details of her conversion, but wanted to know about the person or persons responsible. “How did you become a Christian?” he asked.

In this season of thankfulness, I challenge you to think of that person who led you to Christ.  Does he/she know that they did?  Have you told them and thanked them?

As we visited with Tak and Yukiko, we were able to say, “You are our greatest treasure.” I didn’t saying ‘accomplishment’ because that would mean that we had done something, which we didn’t. It was all the Holy Spirit, doing what He does best, and most of the time not even in obvious ways at the moment. It’s not until you back away, say 40 years or so, that the beauty and mystery of His work come into focus. Believe me, after 40 years of ups and downs in a ministry generally short of instant feedback, it’s a real encouragement to see the joy and salvation that’s come to that family, and to know that God in His mysterious mercy allowed us to be a small part of it. By the way, Yukiko’s sister and their parents have also become Christians but, that…. Well, that’s another story!

I hope you all have had a blessed week chock full of things to be thankful for. Now let’s get back in the saddle and back on the scales!  Bring on Christmas!