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

Angels Unaware

We had a blessed weekend in our ‘home town’ of Sendai last week, where we lived and loved and labored back in the 80’s and 90’s.  Of course a trip there is always nostalgic.

As we visited our former home (now owned by a pastor) I remembered with thanks my kids and their happy childhoods, and the many adventures they had there.

In the midst of all the nostalgia, up popped a scene from a funny incident I had with a man named Kato san.

Kato san was what we might call “a few cards short of a full deck”.  Some people suggested it was a war injury, but no one could figure out which war since he kinda fell between the wars age-wise.  Others said he had too many falls from his bike.  That was easy to believe, because he was spotted daily careening all over town, sun, rain or snow, on a rickety old bicycle, never looking left or right, and with not even a nod to traffic laws. Someone knew he lived in a storage shed with his mother……but that’s about all.

Somewhere along the line, Kato san had become a Christian.  Again, no one knew for sure when or where or even why.  What we did know was that if he got even a ’sniff’ of a Bible study, he’d be there, near or far.  It wasn’t just the Baptists, but other missionaries admitted to hosting him, especially if there were snacks.

Then one day at a prayer meeting, Kato san arrived, and everyone began juxtapositioning in order to avoid sitting too close (he never bathed and his clothes consisted of the same tattered suit coat and pants). Things got started, and quite unexpectedly, our dear pastor Noguchi Sensei called on Kato san to pray.

The sharp intake of surprise from the prim and proper ladies was audible. You could almost hear their disbelief that one so crazy and dirty should be allowed to approach the throne of God.

But their faces, at first screwed in disgust, turned to wonder and then to shame as this child of God began to speak. I wasn’t there but the older missionary said, “It was the voice of an angel……talking to his Master as one who knew Him. After that, Kato san earned the affectionate nickname, “the Angel”.

But now let me get to the funny bit.

Our son Nathan had decided that he wanted to ride his bike to school every day.  It was 16 KM, (10 miles) but he was full of pre-adolescent energy and so we finally agreed, if reluctantly.  I decked him out in helmet and neon rain poncho.  You’d have to be blind to hit him, but still I worried……. and worried.  Another child at the school had been caught removing his helmet when out of sight, so naturally I suspected that Nathan would do this as well.

Time passed without incident and then one morning I was driving into town in the morning rush, crazy as usual with a ramped up danger due to drizzling rain and low visibility.  I prayed out loud, “Lord, let me just SEE Nathan, and if he has his helmet off, let me CATCH him as well!”  My worried heart continued down the road to the next intersection.

Suddenly there was a flash of movement and I almost hit a bicycle careening across my path, out of the crosswalk and against the light!  ”Whaaaaa!! You’re KIDDING, that guy could have been KILLED”, I screamed in my mind.

Then something seemed familiar as I focused on the tattered sleeve, inches from my front bumper……..  Kato San.

I laughed out loud as God spoke to my heart.  He seemed to be saying, “Look sister, if I can keep Kato alive, you shouldn’t worry about Nathan!”

Not three seconds later, I caught a glimpse of my yellow slickered helmeted boy laboring along on the correct side of traffic, safely making his way to school to live another day.

A few years ago Kato San went missing.  Nobody knows what happened to him, but we all recalled his comings and goings, ’safe in the arms of Jesus”.  It’ll be fun to catch up with him someday in Heaven and know the peace and happiness that he experienced even while he lived with all of us here on earth.

Praying that you’ll be protected by the One who sees all the sparrows and Kato Sans and keeps them in His Hand!

Marsha

Got Passion?

I had a funny experience a few days ago that got me thinking.
I’m doing a ‘pre-marriage’ counseling thing with a beautiful young Japanese girl named Miki.    She’s become engaged to one of our short term missionaries, so we’re looking forward to this ultimate cultural exchange! Jose, the boy in the drama, is back in the States now, but will be returning to Tokyo in a few weeks. In the meantime, he’s busy preparing the thousand and one things necessary, and talking “man” stuff with Tony on Skype. Miki and I have been going through a great little book together, covering everything from “finances for two” to “rules for fighting.” As part of preparations, we had to put together a package to send to Jose so he would be on the same page, literally. In addition to all the “let’s get ready” materials, Miki included a few of the special items Jose had requested, like dried squid, cup noodle, etc which are hard to come by in his home town of San Antonio.
On the way to the post office, I remembered a letter in my purse I wanted to mail. It’s to my new pen friend in Sendai, a sweet girl named Sakura. She’s in a mental institution (another story altogether), and so doesn’t have access to internet, which means I have write her by “snail mail.” That’s been a whole new re-training process, trying to remember those things called “envelopes” and “stamps.” The last time, in fact, I hadn’t put enough postage on the letter and it had been returned. This time, I wanted to make sure it made it to the destination, so I’d stuck on every stamp in the desk drawer I could find.
That’s where is the adventure began.  As Miki stepped up to the counter at the post office, I handed her my letter, asking her to give it to the guy along with the package to Jose. Well, he took one look at the letter, took a second look, then exclaimed (loosely translated), “Oh my goodness! This has too much postage! 92 yen too much!” It was just a few cents over, so I stepped up to the counter to take charge.
“That’s okay,” I assured him. “Just send it like it is.” But the unfortunate man already had his hand on the file cabinet drawer, insisting that he, the humble post office could never be guilty of overcharging me, the honorable customer. Before we could protest any more, he already had my letter in the copy machine, gathering evidence of the infringement.
Miki didn’t do much better, since she felt like she had to mention the dried squid in her package. The clerk went into apoplexy, one hand on the package, one hand on my letter. This was going to be bad. Miki and I were each given forms to fill out, detailing our many sins. As we sat writing at our respective desks, we laughed quietly and suggested that ‘dropping and running’ might have been the better option.
It didn’t get much better when we rejoined him at the desk.  He had to work furiously to figure out which arrangement of stamps he might best create in order to refund my 92yen!
When it was all done and dusted, we thanked him and walked away quickly, hoping he wouldn’t call us back on some additional infraction.  As we rounded the corner out of his sight, we looked at each other and then guffawed at the whole experience.
But as I was recappng this to Tony this morning, it dawned on me.  This guy had PASSION about his job.  Yes, we think he was a bit over the top about something that really mattered so little to us ………..but to him this was the stuff of life.  The 15 minutes and 4 pieces of paper that it took to resolve everything convinced me that this guy knows his job. I would likely ‘trust’ him with other more complex postal matters in the future, provided I had the time or energy.
And then I had to ask myself, isn’t this what “passion” is all about? Whether we’re talking about proper postage, squid-laced packages, successful marriages and yes, winning the lost, we need to remember the words of Solomon, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). I could take a lesson from the man at the post office; Do I give 100% to my job, my being, my PASSION? God made us for a purpose, and once that God-given purpose has been defined, we owe Him nothing less than everything; whatever it takes to get the job done.
The last few weeks have been tough on a lot of us as we’ve said goodbye to two dear friends: Babs Christy, and Naoki Noguchi.  Both of them served the Lord and loved life with the passion only a few of us can aspire to.    I’m guessing that every day they, like the postman, jumped up and did what they did with a zeal that we could all stand to emulate.
Please pray for us as we look for stamina in doing the things we see laid out before us for in the next few months of our career.  Today we are sending this from the northern disaster area.  It is always an inspiration to see God still at work here.  Tony was able to introduce the Anagion Discipleship course to some of the pastors……… We’re passionate about that!
We have been sharing our experience this weekend with a new missionary couple, and watching their delight in the Lord and the work is refreshing to us tired ol’ hacks.
I pray that you LOVE the thing you do and do it to the GLORY of God!
Marsha

A Really Big Scarf

I had to chuckle to myself this morning as I was reading my Bible. I noticed a couple of times in 2 Kings the admonition to, “Tuck your cloak into your belt”.

That’s was us this last Wed morning.  Our dear mentor and friend Naoki Noguchi went home to be with the Lord Tuesday afternoon. Kamikaze, devoted Christian, precious pastor. He was all of those to us, and more. By the time we got the word, the wake was scheduled for that same evening ………..a mere 1200 kms (800 miles) away.

While Tony was on Skype in a doctoral seminar, and then rearranging our Tokyo commitments, I high-tailed it to the train station and bought tickets leaving in 90 minutes.  We grabbed toothbrushes and all things black and literally ran out the door, heading for the Bullet train, 45 minutes and 2 transfers away from our house.  We slid into our seats, panting and wiping sweat and settled in for the 5 hour ride at 270 km/167 miles an hour to the southernmost island of Kyushu.

We arrived at the funeral home to a crowd of over 500 people.  We were the only foreigners, but did fine if you don’t count standing up with the family and joining the receiving line by mistake……..(you’d have had to been there to understand our addled brains at this point).  Finally, a kindly usher with an ear phone and white gloves practically belly crawled over and whispered in Tony’s ear, something to the effect of, “Excuse me for mentioning this, but I’m guessing you’re not family, am I right?”  Well, Hey, we FELT like family but took the clue and slunk murmuring “sorry sorry” back to our seats.

The next day was the funeral. Even more people, better sermon and telegraphed wishes from around the world.  We were content to hide in the back after last night’s display. Thankfully because of our obvious foreignness , every person who knew us was able to find us afterward.  A true reunion of great joy amongst the ‘bewildering feeling of sadness’ at losing a friend, mentor and pastor.

Ok.  Our hearts are full, but I want to summarize what was said, as it applies to all of us.

As you may know already from my comments on Facebook.  Noguchi Sensei preached 17 times in the last 4 months of his life.  Number 18 was scheduled for last Sunday, August 17, but the church surprised him by coming to the hospice, suggesting that he might like to preach from his bed. He did.

These were his four points:

1.  Thank you

2.  Excuse Me

3.  It’s been fun

4.  See you again.

Let me extrapolate.

1:  ”Thank you”. What a blessed life he had.  He was ALWAYS talking about how blessed he was.  What a JOY he felt to be part of the ministry of telling others about Jesus and what He’d done for him. To the people gathered around his bed, he expressed again his gratitude to them.

2: “Excuse me”. Noguchi Sensei taught me the euphemism “Oh Boroshiki” or “BIG Scarf”.  Japanese used to, and to some degree even now, carry a whole host of ’stuff’ around wrapped in a scarf.  When it’s all tied up, the four corners make a knot  and that makes a great handle. The best part comes when you’re done, because it folds up to fit into your pocket.  Having a “big scarf” means you go through life always leaving room for and expecting the best. Like dreaming you can build a church with no money and no people… yet. Or that you can get that hardened ol’ sinner to accept Christ….soon.  He was ALWAYS thinking big, even when those around him insisted on looking at reality, much to their shame afterwards. It might be hard to believe, but we’ve got the records to prove it: since the big earthquake and tsunami, over 3500 volunteers from all over the world were able to share his tiny church floor……because he thought they should. Even while saying the words, ‘excuse me’,  Noguchi made no apologies for having expected only the best for everyone.  We were all a little disappointed that he couldn’t make it to his first anniversary, Sept 1st, with his new bride Yumiko, but she understood.  From the sermonette she preached at the door of the funeral home as we left for the crematory, we feel confident that she’ll carry on his legacy.

3: “It’s been fun”.  That was so typical of him. As we talked on the phone last Saturday, Tony said, “I know this sounds strange, Sensei, but as much as possible, try to enjoy this time. In a little while, we’ll all be looking back on this day, remembering God’s goodness, and rejoicing.” Noguchi quipped back weakly what would be his last words to us, “This is….. fun”.

4:  ”See you again”.  Gathering his family close to the bed, he gave them each a blessing, then told the grandchild who had not yet become a Christian, “Don’t wait any longer. I want to see you again.”

After this special bedside worship session, he played his Shakuhachi (Japanese flute), ate some sushi and asked for singing.  His favorite was the Japanese version of the old hymn, “I Hear Thy Welcome Voice”.

Gathered around the bed, they sang all 4 verses, and then Noguchi Sensei continued to repeat the last line over and over, “Sin has left its crimson stain, He washed me white as snow…….He washed me white as snow……….He washed me white as snow.”

We’re back home now, feeling sad and hoping there’ll be no more parting with loved ones for a long time.  Definitely ready to get on with ministry, starting with church today and then at the end of this week a trip back to the north and the disaster area.  We’re taking along a fresh keen new missionary couple. They’ll make the trip ‘fun’…….mainly because they too have really Big Scarfs!

Keeping our eyes on the goal,

Marsha (and always Tony)