Like A Skunk

A few weeks ago I got an interesting update from my niece in Wyoming.  Her husband had just left to go hunting and she was home alone with two little boys and two big dogs.
I’ll paraphrase all that went on that night, but suffice it to say, it sorta reads like James Thurber’s famous short story “The night the bed fell”. Her story went something like this:
While she was putting the boys to bed, she noticed a rather large rat scurrying down the hallway (It’s Wyoming, think ‘Little House on the Prairie”). Quietly so as not to unsettle the boys, yet quickly so as to find and evict the unwelcome creature, she started down the hall, but was stopped in her tracks when the dogs outside started barking as if Armageddon has already begun. Being a mother, her first concern was that the boys would wake up, but at the same time just a little concerned about what was causing such a commotion outside. Opening the door just a crack, she saw both dogs in the middle of being sprayed by a pretty impressive skunk.
Now, you people in the southern hemisphere may not have experienced “Pepi la Phew” up close and personal (remember that cartoon?), but I can guarantee, the skunk is one of the most efficiently armed creatures that God has ever made!  In the best of times, he smells awful enough to clear any room, but get him upset, and lookout!!
Back to my niece, realizing at once the gravity of the situation, she closed the door in a millisecond …. but by then the dogs had somehow made it onto the porch and through their dog door into the house before the latch clicked. It didn’t take long before the sight of an angry Mom trumped the skunk outside, so they turned tail and headed back out the dog door, only to be sprayed again. Reversing again, this time they came back into the house to find ‘Really Angry Mom’ who had realized this could go on all night; caught them, and locked them IN to stay.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I might add that the offending rat decided he could find quieter cupboards to raid somewhere else and took to the dog door as well, escaping the craziness unharmed and unsprayed!
This tale reminded me of once when I was a little girl.  I was awakened from a deep predawn sleep by my mother running down the hall screaming, “Grab the clothes, grab the clothes!!”
I’m a pretty heavy sleeper, and my mother could be dramatic at times, but this really sounded like an emergency.  All I could imagine was that the house was on fire, and as I stumbled out of my room, foggily wondered why she wasn’t saying “Grab Marsha!”… I was hit with that unmistakable signature smell, and was bumped aside as my family was emptying closets and running out doors.
It seems that our cat had chased a skunk into the basement and cornered it right at the base of our large furnace. In some sort of design flaw (as least against skunks) the base housed the main grate that vented up through two floors and into all parts of our house.  Yep, it was memorable.  People who had shunned me at school before now had reason.
Fragrances …. Smells …. Words that may seem a lot alike, but oh what a difference!  The Apostle Paul wrote about being permeated with the “fragrance of life” through Christ, but went on to say that for the unsaved, it was the “smell of death” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
As you’re reading this, we’re spreading some fragrance up in our “home town” of Sendai where we lived the best years of our life.   Nathan, Kylie and the grandkids are with us, and it’s such a joy. The little boy’s ‘fragrance’ is not their smell, but their bright red hair in a land of monotone black. I think they’re enjoying the attention.  Nathan has already spoken once in Tokyo and now has a chance to share his testimony (in a language he seldom uses but never loses) with old friends at our church. He’ll be talking about his life as a Christian policeman, then Tony’s preaching, then giving a presentation of the Anagaion program to area pastors. I’ll be catching up with dear friends and introducing my daughter-in-love to some of the aromas of our past.
I do hope we’ll be a good influence as we try to point to God, and my prayer goes for each of you as well. When you walk into a room, do people turn their heads and say, “What’s that fragrance?” I hope so!  But in a good way, of course. I remember some Dutch friends saying years ago, “Your lives are so full of Jesus”.  That’d be my continual prayer.
Remember, if God could create a skunk, He should be able to do something at the other end of the spectrum with us.
Keep smelling,
Marsha

No Left Turns

Dear Friends,

I hope you’ll forgive me for passing something that I received in a forward.I think it’s worth a read, because I’m going to be writing a few blogs on ‘getting lost’ in our old age, and this is certainly about one of those issues….driving

Oh, I forgot to mention, my two grandboys are here in Japan for the next few days, and we’re just having WAYYYY too much fun (their parents were kind enough to accompany them). We’ll be doubling our ministry while they’re here because they’re such a draw. Today we celebrated 3 yr old Ezekiel’s birthday, combining it with a pre-planned “child blessing” ceremony for our little Bible Study group. A little over 50 showed up (twice the normal attendance) so it was CRAZY but fun.  Several new people were in the crowd, including a couple of new dads. Praise God with us, and pray for these young families, won’t you?

Following is a story of an aging couple told by their son who was President of NBC NEWS:

My father never drove a car. Well, that’s not quite right. I should say I never saw him drive a car. He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

“In those days,” he told me when he was in his 90s, “to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it.”

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in:  “Oh, fiddle sticks!” she said. “He hit a horse.”

“Well,” my father said, “there was that, too.”

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars — the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford — but we had none.

My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we’d ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. “No one in the family drives,” my mother would explain, and that was that.

But, sometimes, my father would say, “But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we’ll get one.” It was as if he wasn’t sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown.

It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn’t drive, it more or less became my brother’s car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn’t bother my father, but it didn’t make sense to my mother.

So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father’s idea. “Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?” I remember him saying more than once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps — though they seldom left the city limits — and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin’s Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish’s two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home.

If it was the assistant pastor, he’d take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests “Father Fast” and “Father Slow.”

If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out — and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, “Do you want to know the secret of a long life?”

“I guess so,” I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

“No left turns,” he said.

“What?” I asked

“No left turns,” he repeated. “Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic..

As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn.”

“What?” I said again.

“No left turns,” he said. “Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that’s a lot safer.  So we always make three rights.”

“You’re kidding!” I said, and I turned to my mother for support.

“No,” she said, “your father is right. We make three rights. It works.”  But then she added: “Except when your father loses count.”

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing.

“Loses count?” I asked.

“Yes,” my father admitted, “that sometimes happens. But it’s not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you’re okay again.”

I couldn’t resist. “Do you ever go for 11?” I asked.

“No,” he said ” If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day.  Besides, nothing in life is so important it can’t be put off another day or another week.”

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90.

She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102.

They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom — the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news.

A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, “You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred.”

At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, “You know, I’m probably not going to live much longer.”

“You’re probably right,” I said.

“Why would you say that?” He countered, somewhat irritated.

“Because you’re 102 years old,” I said..

“Yes,” he said, “you’re right.” He stayed in bed all the next day.

That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night

He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said:  “I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet.”

An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

“I want you to know,” he said, clearly and lucidly, “that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have.”

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I’ve wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can’t figure out if it was because he walked through life, Or because he quit taking left turns. “

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.  So love the people who treat you right.  Forget about the ones who don’t.  Believe everything happens for a reason.  If you get a chance, take it & if it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.”

ENJOY LIFE NOW – IT HAS AN EXPIRATION DATE!

Till next time, Marsha

Play Ball!

As many of you know, my husband is studying for a doctorate in mission leadership. To that end he spends much of his time with his nose buried in a book reading about various ‘methods’ of missions. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Tony is expecting to find the Holy Grail of missiology, but still, he’s trying.  It’s hard work and he enjoys it.

I’ve mentioned this before, but as part of his study, he’s crafting a discipleship course called “Anagion” (That’s Greek for “upper room”, and I think you know where that’s going).   At first glance, it doesn’t look like, well, rocket science. There’s a little church history, some basic Bible skills, and a look at what it means to live a Christian life every day. But we’ve been amazed at how many people have told us this is exactly what their church needs.  Simple as it may sound, learning the ABCs of faith is a multi-faceted process that can take a lifetime (or more; just look at me!).

Maybe it was beginning to get to Tony as well, when he had this dream the other night ……. Honestly he’s not on medication! Here’s how he described it:

“I found myself playing for a professional baseball team. It was somewhere in South America, on the edge of a jungle. When you hit the ball, it would have to go up and over vine-covered trees, then over a river to the other side. Anything short of that would be an automatic out. There was no pitcher, but instead you had to toss the ball up and hit it yourself.

“To make matters worse, the home plate was back inside a cave, with a narrow opening out front, mostly covered in vines. The ceiling was low, so I couldn’t stand up straight, and the cave was narrow, so that my bat would scrape the opposite wall when I swung. And, oh yes, the bat was a rolled up piece of newspaper.

“Needless to say, my first attempt was a total failure, and I wondered if I should consider a new career. But instead, the rest of my dream was figuring out ways to overcome the handicaps. I started with a pair of clippers, trimming away the vines from the cave opening. Then I found a real bat, and cut a few inches off the end, so I could get a good swing.

“I’ll never know if the effort was worth it though, because somebody woke me up before the next game!”

I wonder if he realizes that he was living out, in his dream, the challenge of evangelizing the Japanese?  He may be on the ‘professional team’ but he’s playing in a jungle.  There are cultural barriers and boundaries that, believe me, he may NEVER hack thru. There’s no pitcher, or at least one we can identify. At least it’s not often that a person will come to us on the street and say, “Hey! I want to be a Christian. Tell me how!” (The pitch)  The playing field, that is, the place where we do our work, is pretty overgrown with some formidable obstacles everywhere we turn.

Take our little Sunday meeting here, for example. We’re only allowed to use the meeting room in our apartment building twice a month for worship services. It would only be once, but a kind neighbor lady uses her once-a-month option to make the 2nd time available.

Once in awhile, we do manage to get a good swing in, like the other day when two of our folks actually prayed to receive Christ! But then on the way out they said they would never be able to share their decision with anyone, especially their families.

Another lady, hearing a lesson on prayer, told us proudly that she prays every single day. Tony, sensing something, asked her, “Who do you pray to?”

“My ancestors!” she exclaimed.

You could almost hear the scrape of the bat on the far wall. Tony was gentle as he told her, “That’s good to respect your family; but just remember that your ancestors can’t offer the forgiveness and mercy that Jesus can.” She promised us that this week, she was going to direct at least one prayer straight to Jesus. That’s when we have to remind ourselves that this is God’s work, and not our own. Let’s all pray together and see what He does in her heart, shall we?

Yeah, there’s lots of stuff growing over everything. The trees are tall, the river is wide, and somebody tell me WHY we can’t move the base out into the open? But then I think I get it: just like our precious ancestor-praying friend, we’re not the pinch hitters around here. The playing field stinks, but this way, we’re not even tempted to claim credit for anything God does in people’s hearts all around us. It’s His game, His rules, and guess what? The outcome is already decided. Let’s play ball!

Pray for us today and as always, Thank you!!

Marsha

PS: You may notice you’re getting this blog about 18 hours early this week.  That’s because we have a ‘really big game’ today and would appreciate your prayers.  First, Tony is teaching Anagion to our favorite class, about 20 older Christians who even do their homework!  Then we race to another church where Tony again is giving a section of the service, again about Anagion.  Then we jump on a bus for an overnight retreat a few hours out from Tokyo, you guessed it……Anagion again.

Today’s calendar also reminds us that our particular involvement in the ball game here in Japan will end in exactly 6 months, but who’s countin?

Experiences

If you know me very well, then you can understand that it’s not very often that I meet someone who has the courage or the ability to shoot me down mid conversation, but believe it or not, that happened to me this last week, and it left me thinking.

You see, I had buttonholed a fellow missionary who has some amount of authority over our new folks. I was going on and on about the women’s meeting I’d gone to and what a great opportunity it had been (Check my Oct 12 blog for details). Surely, we need to encourage the new missionaries to get involved in this. What a blessing! What a chance for language immersion! What a boost for future relations with our Japanese churches!

Then, as I was taking a breath and garnering more steam, he smiled and said, “I’m sure that was a good experience for you.  However, it was your experience and I’m not going to push it on them” (read, ‘end of discussion’).

Stunned, I smiled, did a little self-conscious bow and stumbled away, scratching my head.

While still processing that interchange a few days later, I listened to a sermon by our new mission board president.  He’s only 36, so I have a world of issues right there, to think we’re being led by such a child!  But I’ll have to say, I was quite impressed with what he had to share.

He got on my good side right from the start, by affirming what I knew already: that he is young and inexperienced. But then he went on to say that you don’t necessarily HAVE to experience something to appreciate it, and learn from it. Just consider alcohol and drug abuse for example. We don’t have to go through all the pain and suffering those victims have endured; seeing their experiences is enough to show us the danger.

By the same token, he went on, all those who have gone before us have left us a world of experience, good AND bad, from which we learn and grow and set our paths accordingly. Even more important than that, we can go to the scriptures and find all the help we need.

I had to stop and think about my own motives…. Why am I so desperate to see to it that those newbys have the same experiences I’ve had? Of course, it should go without saying, that MY experiences are the best! I want everyone to follow EXACTLY in my footsteps and be a part of the history that’s made me what I am.

But they can’t do that, can they?  My experience will never be theirs. I hope by God’s Grace they do find that path made just for them, one that will take them to the kind of place where I am now: looking back with real gratitude for the journey, and looking ahead with more joy than ever, knowing that every step of the way has been carefully and Divinely directed by the One who set me on the path. With that accomplished, I look forward to the time when we’ll all gather at the Feet of Jesus and rejoice over the tapestry of experiences that brought us to the goal.

I hope, Dear Reader, that you can see a bit of my heart here. For the last several years now, I’ve tried to express to you the things that have made up my life as a missionary, as a mother, a wife, a child of God.

But I haven’t done this to make you envy my journey, or wish you could experience first hand some of the things I’ve written about. These are after all, MY experiences; a record of the journey God is giving me. I hope this accounting has been a blessing to you, and I really do appreciate your faithfulness in listening to me go on and on…… And most of all I appreciate your prayers for me and for my family. Without them, it would have been a different and not so wonderful road altogether.

I’m excited to hear your stories, if not in a blog, then as part of a feast of testimonies when we’re finally all together with Him and have that unique privilege of looking back and seeing what brought us all together with Him in Glory.

Until then, be assured of my prayers and thoughts for you. May all your experiences be uniquely yours and mold you into the beautiful person God created you to be.

Till next time, Marsha

Forever Friends

A while ago my daughter called to say she’d had a ‘problem with a friend’.  OK she’s 25, but we can still take joy in occasionally being her sounding board.

Afterwards, Tony and I were going back over the conversation, feeling her pain, and remembering a few bumps of our own on that fickle road through friendships. The amusing thing was that we can both remember with a visceral sting those encounters, usually concluding with the firm declaration, “That’s it!  NO MORE FRIENDS!” But then as we talked about those times, neither one of us could remember the details: who exactly offended us or why. We just remember the vow to give up friendship! Men especially I think, must have a big ‘reboot’ button that helps them move on more quickly, but these altercations hurt me from time to time.

There was that one time we COULD remember, probably owning to the fact that, as we reflect back about it, the biggest problem was us! We thought we were BEST friends with another couple but as it turned out, there were parameters on that friendship that I was too shallow to pick up on. Maybe if we had given them more space when they needed it, things would have worked out better, but…. Isn’t growing up fun? I have to add that we did learn from that experience, applied it to the next friends who came along, and are now moving into our 4th decade of happy times with them.

Back to Nicki.  All we could finally suggest to her is that maintaining friendships is hard. I heard someone say when I was young that if you can die having had 5 really good friends, you are truly blessed.  I thought back then that number was ludicrous, but now that I’m older, I’m wondering if that number isn’t a bit too ambitious.

Now I have to pause and praise my best friend here on earth. Tony sang me a song the other day that cracked us both up. It’s a nice tune by Andrew Peterson, and it’s called “Dancing in the Minefields”. Part of it goes like this: “We went dancin’ in the minefields, sailin’ through the storms; and it was harder than we dreamed, but that’s what the promise is for.” I almost laugh when I remember that day a little over 45 years ago, when we vowed to stand by each other “through better or worse”. What were we THINKING? But yeah, that’s what the promise is for, and it’s made the friendship we have stand the test of time.

And then there’s GOD.  He created us to love and worship Him, but as our kids were told repeatedly growing up, “He also gave us the free will to take options”.  If God had smothered us, or made us into robots that HAD to love Him, well, it wouldn’t be the same, would it? But He gives us space………..and respect…….and waits for us to realize He’s all we ever needed.  Isn’t that just a beautiful image?

On a sad note this week, we just caught up with some ‘long lost friends’ (we seem to have a lot of those…..) and were so happy to hear that they’re healthy in their golden years.  But the next sentence made us cry as he described how the love of his life, his best friend, has slipped away from the land of reality and now finds herself in constant confusion.  So sad. I can’t imagine living with and caring for a friend who now sees you as a stranger or worse yet, as an enemy. How precious to remember that God DOES know us, and still loves us, even when the lines are tangled and we can’t understand.

Remembering that gives me hope for all the friends in my life: the ones who have been “closer than a brother” and the ones I’ve let slip away. There will come a time, I’m convinced, when we “will know, even as we are known”, and it will be a time of no more tears, no more misunderstandings, no more emptiness. Until then, let’s enjoy our friends as best we can. Give them a break when they need it, love them unconditionally, remembering that you too are loved like that.

Speaking of songs (was I?), let me leave you with one of my favorites, by Michael W. Smith, called “Friends”: I remember writing this out mingled with tears when some very dear friends left us in Japan years ago.

Friends are friends forever

If the Lord’s the Lord of them

And a friend will not say never

‘Cause the welcome will not end

Though it’s hard to let you go

In the Father’s Hands we know

That a lifetime’s not too long

To live as friends…..

Blessings on you my friends.

Bowled Over By Blessings

Last night I dragged myself through the door, kissed Tony, handed him a can of soup I’d bought on the way home and said, “Fix this.”  By the time he’d done that, I was in bed where I slept for the next 10 hours straight!

No, I’m not a total degenerate (most of the time, anyway), and I’m not sick. I had just survived 73 hours of, if your computer can read Japanese characters, ????????????42???????. If instead all you see is a bunch of squiggles, the event was called in English, “The All Japan Baptist Young Ladies Union’s 42nd General Assembly and Convention.”

Let me explain.  Last Sunday at church I read in the bulletin that the ????????????42??????? (see above) was to be held this week. Traditionally for the last fifty years or so (give or take), it’s always been held at our Baptist Camp, Amagi Sanso.   Back in the old days, our mission would gather there once or twice a year, so naturally I wanted to go…. not only for the meeting but also for the nostalgia of the place.  This year’s event, being organized by, how shall I put this? somewhat pedantic Japanese ladies, it took me till just hours before departure to jump thru all the hoops. But finally, with the kind help of others at the church, I got ‘invited’ to come as an observer. I wouldn’t be allowed to vote because I wouldn’t be there as a church delegate, but that suited me fine, since it’s been at least 18 years or so since I last attended.  Suffice it to say, a LOT of water has passed under the bridge since then, both with me and our mission’s relationship with the Baptist convention of Japan.

I went with notebook in hand, happy to be a ’spy’ and see for myself what events would unfold while I sat quietly in the ‘non voting’ section.

I was bowled over in my mis-expectations (is that a word?).

I was surprised to find that they were still able to  (as they say in America) ‘bless my socks off!”

Honestly, I was expecting to find several hundred commie-hippie-types sitting in a circle chanting some mumbo jumbo and weaving daisy chains.  ”Why?” you ask.  Because unfortunately some of our Japanese Baptist convention churches have taken a rather extreme liberal left turn over the years.  What we enjoyed back in the day working together with folks who shared our heart for the Lord and evangelism reportedly no longer existed.  For example, they changed the name a few years ago from (approximate translation) “Housewives Annual Meeting” to the “Young Women’s Annual Meeting”. You see where this is going, right? Then they changed the title from “Pastors wife” to “Partner”, in deference to the fact that more and more women are becoming pastors themselves. Again this was just another liberal move and hard for us oldies to comprehend.

I’ve always held out the hope that the whole organization hadn’t gone to the dogs; and indeed I was pleasantly surprised.  I found that very few of those new “Liberal Women Pastors” even attended the meeting, because say what you may, even “liberated” women are still women, and the pastors among them probably figured that a meeting like this simply wasn’t worth their time. I’m guessing again that they’d rather be in with the big boys and their meetings, but what do I know. Forgive me, I digress.

Back to MY experience.  What can I say?  From the first two hour session (no break, no cookies), I sat enraptured at the SPIRIT of evangelism that these 200+ women still have!  The hour-long sermons pointed to Christ alone as our salvation and motivation.  Standing with 200+ women and belting out “Great is Thy Faithfulness” was exhilarating, as well as the commissioning of two missionary families with a total of 8 children, sent from our Japanese churches to Southeast Asia.  That service was every bit as exciting as the missionary commissionings we have in the States. The prayer times were Holy, the Fellowship sublime.

Maybe best of all was reconnecting with the bunch of people from EVERY sphere of my life spanning from Language school almost 40 years ago till now. SO SO much hugging and crying with joy!  So much lack of sleep because we sat up remembering the good old days and postulating about the future.

I also heard both from the pulpit on several occasions and again personally of the thankful hearts they have for the missionaries and the message and influence that they have had over the years. Also comforting to my issues about my questionable worth were all the women who, without hesitation, called up names of old or gone on to glory missionaries whom even I had  forgotten but had played vital parts in their lives. Those names included people like the Gullatts, both Emmanuels, Deckerts, both Clark families (Gene and C.F), Garrotts, Mercers, Sherers (both generations), Highfill, Cambell, Connells, Moorehead, Calcote and Culpepper…..and on and on. Japanese people who stood there and said they don’t think they would be Christians today but for those people and their lives given.  On top of that, several people, when they realized who I was commented “Oh, your baby died!”  to which I could laugh and say, yes, he was my baby, but he was 16! ”  Nevertheless, they hadn’t even forgotten me……..

The 3-hour train ride home was again non stop talking, interspersed with shrieks of laughter and wiping of tears with a bunch of my old cronies from Sendai.  Again, it was beautiful to sit with a friend who took 20 years and everyone’s prayers and prodding before the message sank in and she came to Christ.  She has grown SO much in these 10 years since she’s been a Christian, it was so much fun to talk to her now as a co-laborer.

As I recover from the high, my prayer is that this tradition will continue amongst our young missionaries.  The ladies said over and over, “We miss the missionaries so much, they brought such a bright perspective to our meetings, and besides that, they were fun!”  As I hobble toward the door of our closing time here in Japan, I yearn that the new little ones will have a ‘family’ such as I’ve had to love and be nurtured by.  If you’re a young missionary and are reading this, start a little savings box and BE THERE for next year’s meeting!  You’ll be blessed!

In a little less that 7 months we will retire and leave Japan, at least temporarily, but I will be leaving with a heart full of hope for the future in the hands of these “young ladies”.

Blessings,

Marsha

The Art of Flirting

Okay, so maybe some of my ‘evangelistic’ methods may seem a little strange, but I just couldn’t help flirting with a little boy this week.

When Tony and I walked into a coffee shop the other day, it was soon obvious that we were the only “gaijin” (foreigners) in the place. We’re used to it by now, and most days we even enjoy the attention. Taking a booth near the window, an older gentleman nearby punched his grandson and said (in Japanese), “Say Hello!”

I turned in my seat to see his beaming face.  He said ‘Hey’ in such a natural way I thought maybe he was a native speaker, so I said “Hey!” back.  That’s when his attack plan crumbled. His face froze in terror, realizing he’d caught a live one, and he ducked down out of sight.  I waited a minute then whispered kindly to him in Japanese over the top of the booth, “Your English is really good!”

That pulled him back up, and for the next 20 minutes we had a little back and forth.  I found out he’s 7, his name is Mi-ya-beh (which I always thought was a girl’s name, shows what I know)………His grand daddy and he were having some special time……. and yes, he was playing hookey…….

When they got up to leave, my missionary conscience kicked in. I had said very little about ‘who’ we are, perhaps in part because they didn’t ask.  But something in me said he should leave with something, so I whipped out my calling card and in solemn Japanese tradition presented it to little Miyabe.

He skipped off with the card in one hand, Grandpa’s hand in the other, wearing a big grin of triumph.

I should tell you, my card merely says (in Japanese), Marsha Woods; Christian, teacher, wife, mother and grandmother…..  and my email address.  We’ve learned the hard way not to include our phone number unless we’re sure it won’t result in late night “dare ya to prank the gaijin” calls. I should point out that the first batch of cards Tony made up for me included a tiny little mistake with the kanji (Japanese character) for “wife”. What ended up in print was not “wife” but instead the word for “prostitute”. Thank GOODNESS a good friend caught the mistake before I had a chance to circulate it….. On the other hand, the friend also added that if I left it like it was, I might get more response!

But I was encouraged that day, when little Miyabe raced back into the coffee shop, card in hand, screeching to a stop at our table long enough to shout out in his best English, “Goo bye, Kuri-su-chan (Christian)!

It’ll be worth it if only he remembers some day a fun interchange he once had with a Christian while playing hookey with his granddad. Pray that he keeps the card someplace safe, until he learns how to do email.

This morning at church, Tony was teaching an Anagaion lesson and asked everyone to think back to their ‘call to Christ’.  A couple of people said it was the Christmas parties and the candy that ’set’ Christianity in their hearts when they were little kids… memories that brought them back when they reached adulthood. Another lady said she went to church to spite her mother who said she’d never find a husband if she became a Christian (She’s been happily married to the head deacon for decades). Several people shared that they had had a dream that eventually brought them to faith.

One lady, a newcomer to the class, shared that her adult daughter had committed suicide 3 months ago and she was now coming to church in search of something ….. exactly what, she didn’t know, but as I watched the Christians in the room reach out to comfort her, I knew she had come to the right place. Her name is Mrs. Northbeach (KitaHama in Japanese) and I hope you’ll pray with us for her salvation.

It’s the ‘little things’, isn’t it? God seems to be showing me lately that He works best with those insignificant moments when we least expect something “Holy” to take place.

Hope you have a blessed, and Holy week!

Marsha

Cheap Shots

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. Things kicked off with a pretty good earthquake; not big enough to do much damage, but still enough to roll me across the room in my desk chair. Then yesterday (perhaps related) the nearby volcano known as Ontake surprised everyone by blowing up. Reports are still sketchy, but at last count at least 30 dead hikers have been recovered and 45 more are still missing.

Then as if trying to keep up with everything this morning, I hit the (proverbial) wall.

Let me explain.  Years ago, I learned that if it looked like a Sunday where God would be at work, I could COUNT on Satan crashing the party. Asking around, I don’t think I’m alone, but does this sound familiar? I can remember some of the most epic battles with my kids taking place on the way to church. Also some of the most debilitating headaches, or the most disastrous spills of everything from casseroles to coffee. Then there were the unkind (and at least a few times undeserved) feelings directed at my preacher-husband just before he was to deliver God’s message. Often we would arrive at the church with our teeth clenched.  I think our kids learned to step lightly on Sunday mornings.

Fortunately over the years, we began to recognize the pattern and finally were able to laugh and joke about “Satan’s cheap shots”, moving on without getting too upset.

But then this morning happened. I will say that I was having an OK morning, it’s easier when there’s just two of you. But sadly I just wasn’t all that thrilled about church today. The people we can count on coming, as nice as they are, simply refuse to see the need for Christ in their lives. We’re wondering if we should just give up.

The phone rang.  I could have guessed the message before I even picked up. Earlier in the week I had left a couple of ’suggestions’ asking for special help today, and they had gone unanswered. Sure enough, the help would not be coming, and I now had 30 minutes to regroup.

Before I could catch them, my feelings went crashing to the floor and I wanted to throw in the towel, pack my bags and leave this missionary graveyard they call Japan. Earthquakes, volcanoes and now this! I walked down the hall counting on my fingers the months before we retire.

I realized that counting the days wouldn’t stop THIS day from being played out… and somehow Googling exotic tropical travel destinations on a Sunday morning didn’t seem right either.  So instead I sent Tony off early to prepare for the service and plopped down on the couch to read my Bible for a few minutes.

Now this is the part you’re not going to believe.  Before I opened my Bible I prayed…but with my lip stuck out… “Lord, I’ve had it!  WHY do we keep having to fail at this thing?  We’ve NEVER had a church plant this hard, and I’m wondering why.  How can I make it any further? I’m OVER IT!”.

Then I turned to the bookmark I’d placed yesterday and started reading.  Look it up if you don’t believe it, II Corinthians 8:10 and following, Paul’s talking to the Corinthians.  Remember with me that we’ve been toiling away ‘at’ this particular church plant for about 15 months and even though people keep coming, the lights have not clicked on for them. Try as we might, there just seems to be no future for this group.

Now I know that Paul is talking here about an offering that he was to pick up for the work in Jerusalem, so technically it’s not what I’m dealing with. But in a sense, it’s EXACTLY what I’m dealing with. Listen to what I read this morning with dropped jaw: “And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter.  Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.  Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.  For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.”

Honestly, most days I feel that I’ve had nothing to offer here but “willingness”. But that’s what God is finding acceptable, right? Not according to what I have to show for the efforts these last 15 months, but according to what I DON’T have. And what I DON’T have today is a sense of defeat. Cheap shots or not, Satan’s still batting zero. And I’m still loved by the One Who counts. And that goes for you, too.

Pray that we will all finish well, whenever and wherever the end may be. Stay willing, stay focused, and stay eager to serve.

As always, Marsha

PS: We had a good turnout at church and I enjoyed having 6 lovely if wiggly kids to corral while the adults had a profitable discussion.  I would call it a success.

Enough

Even after so many years here, I still love learning new Japanese words. The challenge is often not just the sound of the word, but the pictograph (called “kanji”) that goes with it. Maybe you’ve heard Tony’s sermon using three kanji. Depending on how you arrange them, they make up the words, “Danger”, “Crisis”, and “Opportunity”…. well, it practically preaches itself. Today I learned a new word for “contentment”, and it’s pronounced “Michi-Tariru”. I knew that “tariru” is what we say when there’s “enough” of something, and mistakenly thought that “michi” meant “road”, since that’s what it sounds like. If you know me very well, then you know how I like to travel; having “enough road” would certainly spell contentment to me! I tested it out on our son Nathan without showing him the kanji, and he came up with the same meaning: “lots of road ahead!”

You may also know that we are getting ready to retire, and I’ve been struggling lately with the ‘What I want to do and what I can imagine we’ll be able to do,’ issues. Somehow having ‘plenty of road’ ahead seemed to give me great comfort. The verse the pastor was mentioning in this context of Michi-Tariru was from Phillipians 4:11, where Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Naturally my somewhat more intelligent husband (at least in this one instance!) had to shoot me down by pointing out that the correct kanji spelling in this word does not mean “road” but rather “full”. He knew that kanji because every time we try to park the car in Tokyo, we see nothing but “Full” signs in the parking lots. So it looks like I don’t need “enough road” to be content; I just have to be “full-enough”.

That’s good, and I can accept that. I just wanted my contentment to include roads! This week some of your prayer letters included articles about the ISIS crisis, not just in the Middle East, but even affecting our home in Australia, and even more so because our son is a policeman there, and working very close to one of the places where some horrific acts of terror were being planned. It’s made me pause and think… Here I am worrying if I’ll be Content in retirement, and I need to be reminded that people the world over wonder if they’ll be ALIVE in retirement…..or even most poignant, will those adorable grandchildren find a safe and contented life? Please pray with us as we ponder the world situation. Tony says it’s just another indication that the end is near, but nevertheless, I want to remember in prayer some of the people who need the Savior’s love and care as they are living in the reality.

We’ve had a good Sunday, visiting a new church and then old friends. We’re trying to get the ‘old friends’ to have the courage to set foot in the ‘new church’. We laughed with them about ‘contentment in retirement’ and encouraged them to give God a chance to fulfill their needs.

See ya next week, and God Bless,

Marsha

A Simple Enzyme

I realize that lately I’ve been pontificating a bit about vague philosophical issues like trust, stamina and the like.  I haven’t been telling you too much about our work around here.

Perhaps that’s because an average week around here (at least for me) is a bit, how shall we say……….”quiet”?

I remember my father-in-law Buddy saying awhile back, “You need to write more about the earthquake!”………well, that’s been 3 1/2 years now, and the survivors have found their ‘new normal’. For the most part the victims have “buttoned up” as far as us helping them or exercising a great deal of influence over them.  Of course we still visit when we can and minister, but it’s a whole different thing from shoveling mud and crying together like we used to.

This week has seen one girl accept Christ as her Savior, which is always encouraging.  I wish I could claim the credit, but she was led by a sweet young short termer across town.  I guess we could say we’ve fed the short termer and that’s given her the energy to ‘get things done’.  I might add that today two lovely ladies from our Sunday bunch prayed to receive Christ … but then reminded us that they wouldn’t be telling a soul, for fear of retribution. Pray that they continue to grow in the Lord. On that same note, Tony’s been having some epic Bible Studies, using the discipleship course he’s called “Anagion”, which is Greek for the ‘upper room’ where Christ taught his disciples.  There is now a website getting organized that we’ll announce soon.  I’m encouraged that already some lives seem to be affected by this. Maybe it will also impact your lives, who knows!  Perhaps I can claim some credit again for keeping Tony alive and on his diet……but that doesn’t give me much satisfaction…..

But before you think I’m depressed, I’m not.  These last few weeks in my Bible reading I keep hitting on the themes of the New Testament that talk about being a PART of the body.  Do you suppose the disciples ever got confused and discouraged?  “Does the ear say to the eye”…… these things resonate with me.  Who knows but what I’m an enzyme in the stomach or maybe a toenail?  What I do know is that I AM God’s and whatever I DO is God’s business, not mine.  So no talk of worthlessness around here.

Moving on, let me say we ARE excited about what we do, don’t get me wrong.  As you’re reading this, Tony and I have just arrived at a retreat center about 2 hours north of Tokyo where we’ll be leading an overnight conference with some church young people, who are anxious to grow in their faith.  That’s rewarding! I can’t wait to get started!

It was exciting this morning, talking with the ladies who ended up praying with us. It’s a holiday weekend, so the group was small, but that allowed us the opportunity to get “up close and personal” with them. And that’s really the point, isn’t it? It’s not the masses who we are sent to, but the individuals. Each one of them is loved by God, and no matter how much they may try to fit into the Big Picture, at the end of the day they think they are all alone with their thoughts … but really they’re alone with God, Who’s waiting patiently to step in and heal, and save.

Next week I’ll probably go back to sharing some insights that I come across in daily life, but remember we’re here to share the Gospel and thankfully that’s happening all the time!

Love ya,

Marsha

PS: For those who want to catch up with these blogs, check the archives at www.mywoods.net