On the Street Where You Lived

Hi! Just checking in.

We finally have internet after a three day fast!  Maybe it was a good thing.  I looked at Facebook and was reminded of the two years I spent in Africa without seeing my favorite soap opera (yes, I was sucked into one in my college days).  When I got back to it after missing 100+ episodes and realized that the very same ‘dramas’ were going……. I gave it up! Ha.

The trip up here to Japan was a non-event which is always my favorite way to go in airplanes.

We just spent a wonderful two days in our home town of Sendai…….what can I say, old friends are the best! They took great care of us and we talked, laughed, read Scripture, teased each other and drug up old memories and photos.  We are happy to report that everyone is doing great and we’re the only ones who seem to be gaining weight (always a fascination for Japanese to observe). There was one interesting surprise: the streets in our neighborhood where we used to live don’t have proper names; instead they just go by the house and section number. But “unofficially” every street has a name that the whole city refers to. The street that goes by our old house is called … wait for it…. Nathan Road. Some newcomers think it’s a reference to the famous street of the same name in Hong Kong, but those in the know tell them that in fact it’s named after a blond kid who used to live here. What a legacy!

Now we’ve done half of the trip up to see our almost son in Sapporo. This afternoon we spent about 30 minutes zooming under the ocean separating the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido in the newly opened 30-mile Seikan tunnel.  It’s 140 metres (400ft) below the sea bed .  All I can say is, it was dark……..

Now we’ve checked into an ‘onsen’ (hotel centered around hot springs) and are headed to the bath…….life is good!

Tony preached this morning, and by next week he will be deep into the reason for this trip; the evangelism team and many services that he’s leading, so keep up the good prayin!

Love you all, Marsha

Whistling While We Pack

Long ago I remember hearing some wise words from a military man. Because of his job, he had to be away from his home often. One day he was reminded by his commander, “I know it’s hard to be leaving your family, but try to remember that as you pack, try not to whistle”.

That’s what we’re doing (whistling) as we begin the week before we leave for Japan.  We’ve been back from Tony’s graduation and home here in Australia long enough to catch colds and get over of them, pay the bills, cut the grass, and basically catch up with life.  Now it looks like we’re taking off again this Friday.  While it’s great to be ‘settled’ at home, the rush of being able to reach out again to our beloved Japanese is a strong one, even after (or maybe especially) being away from them these two years.

But as I stand over our suitcase whistling, I notice it’s a tenuous one.

We will have so much responsibility, not only to ourselves and others, but to the Japanese we know and love, not to mention the Texas team we’ll be helping facilitate.

So this week, could we ask for an extra measure of “preparation” prayer, and then for the next three weeks for daily “lift ups”? How’s that for greedy.

We have SO many friends and acquaintances that we need to touch base with before the team actually arrives and begins working on the 6th of July. Japanese hold their relationships dear and to ‘forget’ someone is quite a blow, so we need to be alert.

There are the families at the apartments where we used to live.  A few of them once said that they were ‘thinking of Jesus’.  We have a responsibility to touch base with them and see if they’re progressing, but that’ll take some effort and coordinating to catch up with them all.

Then there are the people we mentioned before.  We’ll be able to meet up with Gabe from last week’s blog, as well as put in an appearance at the Bible study Tony started years ago.

On Sunday the 2nd of July, Tony will be preaching at our church that we started almost 30 years ago in Sendai.  Before that, we’ll visit another church that has Trevor’s ashes as well as so many of our old and faithful friends. Pray that we have the stamina to keep on being there for everyone.

And then, please don’t forget our friends from the last 5 years, Mr. and Mrs. Kawana.  They’re retired and moved out of the apartment building that we all shared back then, moving to their old home place about an hour away.

He’s a scientist and she’s a housewife.  They don’t speak a word of English and don’t want to, but we’ve always appreciated them because they have let us into their hearts and lives without ever even insinuating that we might not fully understand everything we were discussing.  Maybe I need to explain, but when someone is constantly speaking “special Japanese” to you, it can be a little off-putting … a not so gentle reminder that you’re not really as good as you thought you were! The Kawanas don’t do that.  They’re just happy to sit down and talk with us, about everything from pottery making to Bible reading. They lost a son in a motorcycle accident about the time our Trevor died, and so we refer to each other as “Itami no Kyoudai”, which means “Brothers in Pain”.  Recently she told me she’s “studying the Bible, but it’s hard”.  We hope to have a fruitful visit with them…….according to your prayers.

So that’s a pretty big assignment for you all.  Next Sunday when you may or may not receive the blog, depending on internet; we’ll have (as I said) put in a long day at two churches and then ridden the bullet train for 5 hours in route to see our ‘almost’ son and family in Sapporo the next day.  I’ll try to give you an update if I can…..  I DO know the hostel where we’re staying in has an “Ofuro” so if you don’t hear from me, it’s because I’m up to my neck in lovely hot spring water.  I can’t wait!!

All the best and thanks for your support, Marsha

Gabe San

I had my 67th birthday this week.  By now, I’ve succeeded my mother, who died at 48, I’m right up there with my mother-in-law who passed away at 67, but I’ve still got a ways to go before challenging the record set by my step mom who lived to the ripe old (and completely cognizant) age of 87.

In the “dynamic duo” department, Tony and I have nearly passed our 48-year mark of wedded bliss, all the while reminding our kids that no one on the Smith or the Woods side of the family has made it to their 50th anniversary, so therefore we’re expecting them to pull out the stops for us. I’m thinking cruise.

But these ‘milestones’ do give us pause to thank the Lord for His mercies, don’t they?  To my knowledge, I’m fit and hale, at least enough so that we’re excitedly planning not only a mission trip to Japan in a couple of weeks, but that will be followed a few short weeks later by another trip over the Pond to visit the ‘relies’ (as the Australians call family) and then attend a reunion of ALL the IMB missionaries who have retired and can still stagger to South Carolina for 4 days of fun and fellowship.  Obviously we’re excited!!

Now as the days draw near to our departure for Japan, I’m bolstered up by the fact that you’ll be praying for us, both here as we prepare and while we’re there as well.  Thank you!

Today I’d like to tell you about a guy named Masatomo Gabe.  We all call him “Gabe” (pronounced Gah-bae) because his last name is easier to remember.

Gabe runs a printing company.  His entire office (with several staff) is about the size of most of your kitchens.

He’s been a Christian since his high school days, but his faith seems to grow every time we see him.  A few years ago he married (when they were in their mid forties) a lovely lady by the name of Mariko.

Trouble is, she’s not a professing Christian.  We’re pretty sure that she believes, but she’s shy and just won’t come out and say that Christ is her Lord, at least publicly. Actually this is a common problem in Japan, due mostly to the fact that going public with your faith can lead to all kinds of persecution.

Anyway, Gabe and Mariko have helped us a LOT over the last few years.  First, they were instrumental in starting a weekly Bible study in his kitchen-size office.  At 7PM on Thursdays the shutters go down, the folding stools come out and about 10 or 15 (mostly businessmen) guys show up to pour over the scriptures. Tony has taken them through a variety of English and Japanese Bible classes and then just before we retired, got them started in his “Anagaion” discipleship course. That’s still going strong today, due in large part to Gabe’s enthusiasm in using his printing business to churn out everything from Anagaion books, study guides, book bags, pins, and yes, even an Anagaion coffee mug complete with the official logo!

You can see some of his creations on the Anagaion website: www.anagaion.com and the English version of the book can now be found on Amazon. Just search for “Anagaion, Tony Woods”. Yes, it’s shameless advertising, but for a heavenly cause!

Gabe wrote us last week to say, “I need to have 2 hours of your time while you’re in Japan, I’m going to show you something amazing ……… you will be so happy.”

We can only imagine what it may be. I can picture “Anagaion: Hard Cover Version”, or maybe a new improved coffee mug. What would really thrill us though would be Mariko’s profession faith. Please pray with us for that miracle, regardless of what Gabe may have in store for us!

I’m adding a link that will enlighten you about our love/call to Japan.  If you can just put your cursor over the link, it might open, otherwise copy the address to your internet page and watch the three minute video.  Very accurate and compelling

https://vimeo.com/92343293

Have a happy Fathers Day, you Northern Hemispherers!  Australia celebrates Fathers Day in September.  I think it has something to do with the coming of spring and power tools.

Blessings till later, Marsha

Katsuya

Thanks to so many of you who have agreed to “pray forward” some of the encounters we hope to have in a few weeks when we arrive in Japan.

Today I’d like to talk to you about a ‘son’ we haven’t seen in about 15 or 16 years. The reason is that he lives in Hokkaido, the far northern island of the Japanese archipelago.

Because of the expense of traveling within Japan, we were never able to get up there to see them, but this next trip, we’ll be “tourists” instead of residents, and that means we can buy a Train Pass, giving us unlimited travel on Japan’s rail system. And THAT means we can afford to make the 8 hour (each way) trip to Hokkaido.  Not only will we be meeting his wife and two daughters for the first time, we’ll be having a “sleep over” at their house!! We’re excited.

Let me tell you about him.  His name is Katsuya, and he was probably the closest of the three friends whom my son Trevor grew up with and loved like brothers.

The three boys (pardon me if you’ve heard these stories before) started coming to my house in Sendai, Japan when they were about 7 years old ( 33 years ago).  They had met at Sunday School, and soon friendship turned into sleepovers, and before long it was just a given that they’d all be at my house from Saturday afternoon when the school bell rang till Sunday after church when the parents (two of the boys with non-Christian families) started wondering where they were.

They were such good friends that when they reached puberty, they moved from sitting in front of endless (and wordless) cartoons to the movie “Stand by Me” which they seemed to watch over and over.  Recently I watched that old movie again and was shocked at the themes and the language.  I can’t imagine what went thru those 12 yr old heads, Trevor no doubt having to translate everything and (hopefully) himself not even knowing what all the trash talk was alluding to.

A few years later, Trevor contracted leukemia while we were just finishing our furlough, far far away in the US.  We cancelled our trip back to Japan and for 8 months we all fought the disease tooth and nail. All the while Trevor was saying, “I’m not afraid of death, but I want to be ‘home’ in Japan.”  Finally the terrible nightmare got the best of him; he slipped into a coma, death was imminent, and traveling anywhere was out of the question.  He remained there for several days, just hanging to life. Finally I asked the doctor what was going on.  She replied, “I don’t know; it’s like he’s waiting for something”.

I knew exactly what it was, and I made the long distance phone call to one of the boys’ homes in Japan. I told him, “Get the guys together and we’ll call back to say goodbye”.

Thirty minutes later when I called again and finally got past the mother who was screaming in her grief, I held the phone down to Trevor’s comatose ear and half listened to the one way conversation.

“Trevor, Hey it’s been great!”  they hollered into the phone in the dialect of the northeast that I could barely understand myself.  “Ganbatte!! (hang in there) we’ll see you in Heaven, We’ll miss you, but hasn’t it been a great time together!”

Thirty minutes later his heart slowed and he was gone.

At his funeral back in Japan, these three boys, all quite musical, struggled thru the memorized song (in a modicum of English), “Stand By Me”.

Just typing these words makes me cry.  Lost boys, just 15 and 16 but knowing the love of the Savior and that they’d be together getting up to who knows what in heaven.

After the funeral, as the crowd was thinning, they popped up their heads from packing their instruments and said, “So, what time Saturday do you want to pick us up?”

I stammered and started to say, “What did you miss here, boys?” but I saw the look of relief on my 11-yr-old Nathan’s face, who frankly wasn’t thrilled about being the oldest and only child, and we made arrangements for the weekend.

Looking back, it was such a beautiful transition for us…….. God really knew what we all needed.  Nathan stepped into the role as the oldest and responsible, but every weekend he was allowed to be the pesky little brother…..

That arrangement lasted about 3 more years until they all went off to college:  Katsuya to the USA where he would spend the next 5 years trying to concentrate on his studies but instead following his passion of winning the lost Japanese to Christ.

He married a lovely girl (whom he met in Colorado where she actually WAS studying and going to Japanese church in that order instead of the reverse).  They now have two little girls.  His passion remains sharing Christ with his music.

We can’t wait to see them all………

Please pray for vision on the part of us all.  Encouragement for them in the ministry they’re doing and maybe a bit of a rejoicing for us to find them following the Lord into the next generation.

Pray that we can say with Paul to the Corinthians,

“I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ.”  (I Corinthians 1:4)

Because it’s so true here. It’s such a blessing to be able to be proud of someone.

Marsha

PS.  Most of you know, Trevor’s ashes now rest in the Japanese church mausoleum, and now the PASTOR of the church is one of the three boys who were his brothers……..God makes everything beautiful!

From Dark and Stormy Nights…

It was a dark and stormy night………

And our train traveling across Tokyo stopped running.  Apparently there’d been a car vs train accident up the line and the train was forced to suspend services. Hundreds of us stumbled out of the station wondering what to do now.

We saw the line for the taxi thru the freezing rain and realized that we’d be popsicles by the time we were awarded a very expensive ride the few miles to home, so we headed to the buses.

Some time later we found ourselves jammed on, ‘cheek to cheek; literally (at least we were getting warm now), when a man sharing Tony’s personal space spoke to him.

“What brings you to this neck of the woods” he said in colloquial and very friendly Japanese. In a country where strangers rarely strike up conversations in public, this was noteworthy, so I made it my business to eavesdrop from my crowded space a few feet away.

Other than their voices, it’s typically very quite on a bus. I was able to hear Tony and his new friend go on and on about most everything as we made our 5 mile, one-hour long journey to an active train line where we could go our separate ways again.

The friendly fellow’s name was Shuichi and he works for a Finnish company.  They import much needed lumber into Japan. Ironically he spoke no Finnish and little English, but he knew his lumber.

One thing led to another and soon we were dining in their home (rather rarity for normally shy Japanese). A friendship blossomed and we found ourselves enjoying this middle-aged childless couple’s life.  They lived near us and almost without hesitation, Shuichi began coming to a businessman’s Bible study that Tony was running. I would meet his wife often for coffee. (This was in 2015, while we were living in Tokyo and continuing to direct disaster relief efforts up in the tsunami zone).

We bid them farewell, but not before Shuichi said, “I think I agree with everything you say about Christ”.  His wife smiled demurely but said nothing.

He continued going to the Bible study but we heard nothing more after retiring and moving to Australia.

Then last week when we got a note from the leader of the Bible Study.

“Shuichi’s wife is having surgery for cancer.  Please pray for them.

As you may know, after a whirlwind trip to America, we’re now back in the saddle here in Australia. But now, thanks to an unexpected invitation to lead an outreach team, we’re already packing to go BACK in Japan in less than a month.   Tony won’t come out of his office until he has NINE sermons ready!  What can I say…….

I’ll try to get you ‘up to speed’ about the Japan I remember and ask you to pray for someone or something specific these few weeks before we go.

So please pray for Shuichi and Naomi Houki (Yes, Naomi is a common Japanese name, nothing to do with the Bible).  Isn’t it amazing that circumstances put us together those years ago and they’re still hanging around ‘thinking’ about Christianity.  Now they need to take the next step.  Of course we hope to see them while we’re there. Please pray for a miracle that will show them that God is in their lives.

And what a joy to know He’s in yours as well.

Marsha

All God’s Children

Good morning friends,

We arrived back home last Wednesday after 30-hours on the road and in the air. Thanks to your prayers, the trip was nearly seamless, and we were quite comfortable with our ’Staff Travel’ designation.  Gracious friends picked us up at the last airport; we stumbled into our bed and slept for 10 hours almost straight. As I cracked an eye the next morning and tried to catch up with everyone, I came across an article in Facebook.  I’ll paste it at the bottom in case you’re interested.

It relates to all that’s been going on in my head the past couple of years since retirement. Things have seemed to focus around getting settled in our new home, getting reacquainted with our kids and grandkids, and getting that shiny new Doctorate on Tony’s wall. But as I read the article, I was reminded (again!) that we’re just regular folk.

Don’t get me wrong.  Tony’s great.  Always has been.  He worked hard for the degree and hung in there when the going got tough. I guess that’s why they call it a Doctorate.  But I can say without a doubt that he’s still what he’s always been: an ordinary guy whom I love and (yippee!) who loves me.

And yes, I was a little embarrassed to receive the seminary’s Joy Ballet Nash Award with all the flattering words that went with it.  Apparently out of 40+ graduates, I was picked as the “most supportive” wife, working to insure that he saw the task through to the end. My sister, as sisters do, reminded me that it was mostly because I was the oldest wife in the bunch.

Nope; in spite of all the great words that were spoken of and about us, we’re nobody’s hero, not responsible for anything all that spectacular.  I remember years ago speaking as a missionary wife to a group of pastor’s wives.  I told them that they were the real heroes because they stay home and put up with all the crazy people you find in ministry. (not in your church of course).  We are “missionaries” and yes, we make sacrifices, but I countered that those ladies’ careers were much harder.

Surprisingly, I don’t believe my words were well received. Perhaps I should have cried a lot and said how hard it was…… that’s what they wanted in their “missionary”, but the fact was that at that moment, what I was feeling was really too horrible to share with strangers. That night as I spoke, our son was dying in a hospital miles away and the last thing I wanted to do was go and ‘be Holy’ for this group.  That night, it was hard for me to leave his bedside, but even more than that, I discovered that I was in the process of developing an idea about God that was not all that pleasant. I wasn’t ready to be that honest with those ladies then, and in fact it’s only recently that I feel healed enough to be able to share those feelings with friends like you

And now we’re back home.  On this trip, catching up with old missionary friends, most of whom are now retired like us, I began to see us for what we really are. We RELATE to our fellow missionaries, because after 40 years, we’ve become a ‘band of brothers’ so to speak.  Yeah, it was exhausting visiting with them, talking about ornery people, some sitting across from us! Some we had discipled, some had been our bosses, some had been precious colleagues without whose help we would never have finished the tasks set before us. We talked about unexpected adventures (think earthquakes and tsunamis).  We cried for the losses and then turned around and cried for the victories.  At one point I felt so BLESSED that I thought we must surely be ready to be taken to heaven.

And then we came back home, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Coming “home”, hearing our grandchildren’s Aussie accents, enjoying autumn “Down Under”, where the worst we can expect this winter will be something close but not quite a frosty morning or two, I was reminded that we have become “true blue Aussies” ourselves. Apologies to our friends here who still have to work hard to ‘get us’.

But “get us” they do, and with it comes a sense of mateship that is nothing at all like the “missionary worship” we’ve experienced on several levels for the last 40 years. And that’s a good feeling. Because you see, we’re ALL children of God, doing our ’thing’ whatever that is…..to the best of our abilities.

Hope you have a great week.  Here’s the article I promised:

I had the perfect picture of the missionary painted in my head. Growing up in Sunday school, I saw their slide shows, read about their heroism, and listened to their stories. They told me of their great adventures, showed me their cool cultural artifacts, allowed me to play dress-up with their native clothes, and even let me taste their food.  The ones I read about in books inspired movements, sacrificed greatly, and were the perfect picture of service—giving their very lives for the mission. There were offerings and church buildings named after them. The ones who were still alive would come and speak to us in person. They were the nicest people I had ever met. They were Superman, Indiana Jones, Inspector Gadget, a Good Samaritan, and Grandma all wrapped into one. They were out saving the day, venturing into unknown lands, always prepared, incredibly generous, overly hospitable, and always ready to be a friend. I wanted to be like them.  Spiritually, they could do no wrong. They read their Bibles, depended on God, and showed love to everyone. They were kind, committed, always knew what to say, and showed no fear. They were deeply devoted followers of Christ. They were perfect and blameless in my sight.  Then I moved overseas.  5 Lies People Believe About Missionaries. I found those deeply devoted followers of Christ full of adventure and hospitality. They were passionately pursuing Christ just as I had expected. They found joy in service and worked hard to share the gospel with everyone around them.  But as I got to know my missionary teammates, my perspective shifted. I realized it wasn’t their perfection that enamored me, but the working out of grace in their lives. It wasn’t their heroism, but their tenacity to press forward in the toughest situations and their faith that God would provide. It wasn’t their sense of adventure, but their willingness to try anything for the sake of getting the gospel to unreached peoples. It wasn’t their natural tendency to be nice, but it was the fruit of the Spirit on display. It was not their strength, but His.  I found completely normal people.  These were people subjected to the sins of the world, part of fallen humanity. There were moments when they made mistakes, struggled, doubted, spoke harshly, and wronged other people. They were tempted to sin in every conceivable way. But, being committed and disciplined people of the Word, they understood confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Watching them work out their salvation, I learned the significance of the gospel in each of our lives. I saw a picture of faith and grace.  A Life of Obedience.  To my surprise, they didn’t have linguistic superpowers or the ability to immediately adapt to every situation. They worked tirelessly to sound out words in a foreign tongue, spending days confused and unsure of the cultural traditions around them. But I realized that their desire to understand and communicate created a strong work ethic and I watched them labor in love.  I was shocked when I realized they didn’t have the entire Bible memorized. But because they had experienced God’s faithfulness over and over again, they sought to know him more. This disciplined faithfulness taught me to abide in the Word and to follow him with my whole life.  Amazingly, I witnessed missionaries joking, laughing, and having fun. They watched movies, had friendly competitions, took vacations, and wanted cool stuff. It was in these moments of joy and laughter around real people that I understood what it meant to live in a loving community and to be a part of the family of God.  I’m Not a Superhero, but I am a Missionary.  I don’t know why I thought I could move overseas to live among superheroes when I was not one myself, but I had high aspirations to earn my cape and join the ranks. I quickly learned that there were no accolades, no recognition, and no statuses to achieve. The missionary life is a daily journey to obediently follow Christ and sacrifice for the sake of others experiencing his faithfulness.  The missionary life is a daily journey to obediently follow Christ and sacrifice for the sake of others experiencing his faithfulness.  It’s not an easy life, but it’s a joyful life. It’s a life for normal people. There are no heroes among them. Missionaries are pretty ordinary people, but they are doing extraordinary things by God’s Spirit. Those completely normal missionaries I know are living life to the fullest. It’s not what I expected, but I still want to be like them.  (Stefani Varner serves on the church initiatives team at IMB. She previously served as a missionary in South Asia and is passionate about discipling people toward global engagement.)

Changes

Good morning friends,

Well, the journey that we started almost 4 years ago has finally reached its culmination. Last Friday in San Francisco Tony stood on stage while his seminary professors placed the Doctor of Ministry hood on his shoulders. It was a great evening, chocked full of exciting stories of graduates from all over the world.   Now we can close this chapter and look ahead to see what happens next.

From the time we landed in Los Angeles 3 weeks ago, we’ve put about 3000 miles on the rental car, visiting family and friends from Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho and back to California.

A lot of time in the car driving across those vast plains was spent listening to the audio book, “Walking From East to West” by Ravi Zacharias. It’s a fascinating autobiography of the man who gave up his Hindu roots to become one of the world’s greatest Christian apologists.

He talks about going back to the place of his birth and finding everything changed after so many years.  But then he came to realize after much analyzing that it’s not so much the place or the people that had changed, but rather he himself.

That’s true of us as well, but nevertheless we saw a lot of changes around our old haunts of 42 years ago. We were able to visit the Seminary campus where we first went as young newlyweds in 1975.  This beautiful 25 acre campus was bought in the early 40’s when the United Nations decided to locate in New York instead of San Francisco, leaving the property available for sale to the seminary.  Sadly the economy and the world crowded in and last year the property had to be sold. Our hearts grieved for bygone days as we walked around the dilapidated campus.

It almost made us cry following the steps we had taken with our newborn son, stopping to reminisce at the spot where we decided to head off to Liberia, planning that our 2nd child would be born while we were there. Life didn’t work out that way, and the story involved much more than we could have imagined, complete with terrorists, emergency surgery after a miscarriage in a hospital with no screens on the windows and the realization that any future children in our lives would be adopted ….. but that’s another (beautiful) story.

We even passed under the walk bridge where one morning Tony, in a rare moment of depression, (probably involving a difficult Greek class if memory serves,) contemplated jumping off, only changing his mind when he realized the bridge was not that high and he’d probably only end up embarrassed and very uncomfortable!

But thankfully, God also showed us a lot of the good changes that found their beginnings on that seminary campus so many years ago.  It was there that our little Trevor, the child who would give us so much joy for the next 15 years, was born.

It was there that we learned so much about God and His mysterious ways, experiencing the heart-wrenching news that I had only two years to live, followed by the inexplicable test result that showed no cancer anywhere.

It was there that we got on our knees to commit our lives to Him and in His service wherever that may lead, unaware of the beautifully bittersweet path that lay before us and now thankful for it all.

Tonight we sat around the table of our friends from our first church, reminiscing with them as well as Bob and Gail Gierhart, our long time friends and Tony’s doctoral mentor who flew in from Hawaii to be with us.  The talk turned to a time when we felt (Gierharts and us) God’s call on our lives to move to Australia and work with the Japanese there.  It was so sweet to remember and recognize God has always had amazing plans for of our lives.  We are filled to the brim with happiness.

And so on that note with all of your prayers and encouragement.  We’ll be starting home on Monday the 22nd, experiencing for the first time flying stand-by with our daughter’s status as a Qantas air hostess.  If we make it onto the plane, it will give us to a significant break in the price.  Thanks Nicki, I hope it works!

As soon as we hit the ground, we’ll begin preparing for an evangelistic trip back to Japan in July.  Life is good and God is faithful!

Love you all, Marsha

Saint in a Glacier

Good morning all,

Hope this finds you well and happy and enjoying Spring (you northerners at least).

We’ve had a good week with family, and today we’re with old friends from our days in Japan, now living here in Idaho.  It’s been a great visit, the only problems being aging memories and vying for a chance to talk.

I want to tell you about a poignant visit to my Uncle back in Wyoming.  He’s been in the Grand Tetons since I was a baby.

When I say ‘in’ the Grand Tetons, I mean literally, EMBEDDED in the largest glacier of the most famous mountain, Mt. Moran.  I’ll enclose a picture so you can remember with me. It’s often referred to as the “Skillet Glacier”.

When I was just one year old, Uncle Bob went with 24 other missionaries to begin his career in South America.  I’m guessing he was in his twenties, I know he was unmarried.

They left in a smallish plane, bound for the west coast where they would meet up with the others in the group.  They took off without any dramas, but a sudden mountain storm sprung up and apparently in the ensuing confusion they slammed into the 12,000 foot (2800 m) cliff face, never to be seen again..

A rescue party reached the wreckage after 4 days of perilous climbing and retrieved what few articles they could find to carry down. The crash site was pretty much in a crevasse, so not much was accessible.

Miraculously, Uncle Bob’s Bible was among the things brought down from the mountain. It has remained a treasure of the family.

With that Bible are copies of letters my mother wrote to a radio preacher demanding an explanation.  Why did God allow such a tragedy?

The preacher was… how shall I say it?….a bit quirky. We also have a copy of the man’s best selling book, “Bobbed Hair and Bossy Women”. Be that as it may, he was spot on with his reply, even though nobody really liked the answer.

Each time he patiently answered my mother, it was four words: The Sovereignty of God.

“Why?” she would ask again and again, “Why her only God fearing brother and why was he taken without even taking a first step into mission field he’d given his life to?  Why? Why? Why?”……

In the course of our visit to the Grand Tetons, we spoke to rangers, historians and several locals.  They all knew about the wreck, and had a look of awe when we mentioned that we were relatives, reverently expressing their condolences.  I was impressed with the almost spiritual quality of their reactions, in spite of the fact that most of them were typically UN-spiritual.

My mother was told that in 100 years or so, that particular section of the glacier will reach the lake, bringing with it it’s mass of wreckage, including the frozen bodies.

As family, we’re supposed to pass down the story to our kids and grandkids, so that when it happens, they will be able to explain the event and perhaps claim the uncle.  No news yet, although we’re thinking that with all this so called “global warming” talk, he may make his appearance sooner!

My mother went to her grave asking all her questions. She died 13 years after the event and I’m confident she’s with her favorite brother now and her questions have been answered.  I’ve had the opportunity for the last 50 years to ask “why” my mother died so soon (I was just 14) as well.

And then this last week, I’ve had to ask “why” my young friend (OK she’s my age, but that is young isn’t it?) died, after you and everyone prayed so earnestly that she’d stay.

Sovereignty of God.  Okay, it’s not always easy to hear or accept, but because God is sovereign, He holds our hearts, our hopes and aspirations in His hands.

HOPEFULLY next week Tony will have his diploma in his hands.  We’ve been told to ‘drop by’ the seminary and gather his ‘regalia’ to be ironed.

I’m guessing they’re assuming that I, the winner of the esteemed Joy Nash Award for outstanding support of the soon to be Doctor, will be doing the ironing.

Wouldn’t ya know it!………..

Till next time,  Marsha

From the Road

Good Morning all

What a week.  This will read more like a travel log than a blog, so you can stop reading here if you want.

We arrived safe and sound in LA after only 14 hours on an A380, which is the largest commercial passenger plane in the sky. But you don’t really know that until you board or disembark and see all your fellow passengers (between 500 and 800 in all).  The flight over the Pacific was incredibly smooth, except for that one MEMORABLE air pocket around Hawaii. No one saw it coming, including the pilot, and we must have fallen several thousand feet in two gut-wrenching drops. People were in tears, but other than that, there were no dramas.

Arriving in LA we picked up a rental car and headed to Las Vegas, first of only two or three wide spots on the way to Rawlins, Wyoming. Las Vegas, with all its casinos and night life, still holds little appeal for us, but we will always be grateful for a kind and resourceful Staples employee who managed to find the proper paper, figure out which one of our two flash drives worked in order to print off 3 copies of Tony’s 167-page dissertation and get it successfully on the road to the seminary where they were waiting to have them bound. We couldn’t get this done in Australia because they have different sized paper.  Who knew…….

Back on the road, we drove north thru some beautiful scenery, especially Bryce Canyon National Park. What a testimony to God’s handiwork, altered by the awesome power of a global flood carving the earth into unbelievable patterns.

After Bryce, we headed into some of the most remote roads in America, reminding us of the Australian Outback. We finally arrived in Rawlins, Wyoming, where we’ve been having a wonderful reunion with family and a great opportunity to get “down and dirty” with some much needed repair work on a house there.

We’ve had a lot of fun, got some sun (thankfully not the snow that covered the ground last week), used a few muscles and renewed ties with our little grand nephews and all the family.

Today we’re going to attend a church we found as we were trying to locate the city offices for a building permit.  When I say “City” I need to tell you that the town of Sinclair where the house in question is located boasts a population of 433.  The church is the biggest building in town and they’re running 150 on Sunday mornings…..Of course they’re Baptists!

After church we’re having a ‘Vow renewal’ for my nephew and his wife, whom Tony married on an Australian beach 10 years ago.  Should be fun….and of course there’ll be a lot of food, including a hand carried and a bit smashed Pavolova that I brought from home.

Then next week we’re westward-bound, catching up with friends along the way and finally arriving in San Francisco, California and Tony’s graduation ceremony the 19th.

Just a little prayer request.  I graduated from High school 48 years ago and two of my friends who eventually married each other have been chatting back and forth with me thru FaceBook over the last several years.  Today I heard that she has just hours to live with a very aggressive brain tumor that was only discovered in January.  He, apparently, is also sick.  It hurts to remember that we’re mortal.  They are both wonderful children of God and they’re ready for the journey, but still it’s very sad.  Please pray for Galen and Esther and their kids and grandkids.  I’m sure when we see Heaven we’ll wonder why we were sad, but still…..

Till next week, or maybe the next…….Marsha

Two Sees and a Shout

Recently I read a blog by a friend and former leader of the International Mission Board, Tom Elliff.

He talked about his time in Zimbabwe and one time getting directions from his village to a friend’s house.  He was happily instructed, as they pointed to a particular part of the horizon, to go ‘two sees and a shout”.

What the instructor actually meant was you go “to the edge of where you can see from here, then look as far as you can see and repeat the process.  After that, shout out and your friend will appear”

Tom goes on to tell us about his perspective on Paul’s famous verse, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s statement gives me some good parameters for thinking through the manner in which I will spend the rest of my life. I should be…

1              Following (After all, “I’m not there yet!).

2              Focused (Keeping my eyes riveted on the “one thing”).

3              Forgetful (Possessing a wise forgetfulness of my past failures and successes).

4              Forward Looking (Reaching hard after what is ahead).

5              Fervent (Pressing toward the mark…the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus”).

If you’re reading this blog, we have made it to the ‘first see’, Sydney.  Tomorrow we’ll take a LONG “see” over the LONG sea of the Pacific.  We’re flying in an A380, the largest commercial plane in the air with almost 500 souls on board.  Even at that great size, we’re so far from the USA that it will take almost 14 hours to arrive in Los Angeles, and yes, even though some radio preachers recently reported that they ’ need’ to sit in first class so they can ’talk with God’, we’ll be sitting cheek to cheek with the other cattle…….

From there, we’ll make our way over to Wyoming to be with my nephew and family, as well as my sister and husband, for a week of work (on the house) and fun.  Then we’ll turn back west to see some old missionary friends, then some other long standing missionary friends and FINALLY attend Tony’s graduation May 19th.

We’re excited, Paul has given us some good advice and we’re hopefully focused and looking forward to what is ahead with our ministry and our lives.  We hope you are too!

Love ya,

Marsha