Grief Work

This last week I found my head and heart bursting with what we refer to as “Grief Work”.  We did a lot of this when our son died some 20 years ago, but I guess I thought I’d moved on and was galvanized against it happening again, so you can imagine my surprise when I found myself wallowing again at the bottom of the pit.  It involves two different stories, so I hope I can communicate them in a way for you to understand.

A few weeks ago, someone recommended a book called “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripkin.  I don’t usually go looking for quirky reads, but since I respect the friend who recommended it, I got the book and started reading.   It said in the first few pages it was written using a pseudonym for ’security reasons’ to which I clucked to myself, “yeah, sure.” What can I say? I tend to be a cynic.

Anyway, as I expected, it was AWFUL.  Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t poorly written, in fact quite the opposite. But what it said, and the fact that it’s a true story, was beyond awful. As it proceeded to chronicle the mess in one of those mostly forgotten countries we Westerners like to ignore, tears begin to blur my vision.  As I continued to plough thru it, something began to go off in my mind, just a nagging little ’something’ like a piano tuner working in the next room, insidiously creeping into my consciousness.   I kept feeling a ‘familiarity’ with this story.

The next morning as I lay in my pre-dawn stupor, a name popped into my head.  This, I was certain, was the author of the book.  I flipped to the table of contents and saw Chapter 16, “Death follows me home” and I knew I had my answer.  I contacted some people and verified my suspicion.

Why was I so alarmed you say?  Well…..we used to know these folks!  I’d like to say we were friends……… but then we drifted apart.  Now comes the ‘Grief Work’ stuff.  This week I began to realize that Tony and I had not drifted, but actually stepped away, fooling ourselves into thinking we were too busy, too important maybe, to give them much thought. Why, you ask? I’m not sure, but I suspect that because here and there when we’d touch base, we began to sense that where they’d been fun to be around in the ‘good ol’ days’, what they had going on in their lives was just too hard for us to take time to process.  For the first time this last week, I began to realize that we had truly abandoned them.

When Trevor died, only a couple of our ‘friends’ really abandoned us.  I forgave them almost immediately, because I understood that they were just too weak, or maybe too trivial, to want to walk with us thru our valley. Some people said to our faces that our ’story’ was hard for them and they didn’t want to be involved. I could see others step to the farther side of the room.  When we wrote our book, “Looking for a Lamb” chronicling Trevor’s death, they dropped their heads and said they just couldn’t read it.   Now I realized for the first time we’d done the same thing. If that didn’t hurt enough, I came to the horrible realization was that these folks’ valley was infinitely deeper than ours.  They almost lost their faith.  I remember what C.S Lewis said in “A Grief Observed”,  “It’s not so much that I didn’t believe in God, I just began to believe terrible things about Him”.   These people suffered beyond imagination only to have that exacerbated, maybe in part because of people like us……..
When I realized who this was, I wanted to jump back away again as if touching a hot stove because somehow knowing who it was made it all too real.   But I was already half way thru the book and somehow I knew I needed to give them some respect this time.  Besides, I’m cheap and had paid good money, so I soldiered on.

I won’t say it’s an easy read.  With every page I felt more and more unworthy.  I have long realized that I am terribly shallow, but now I had to add feelings of being unworthy of their friendship or forgiveness as well. And not just them and their story, but I felt unworthy as a Christian.   By the author’s reckoning, 70% of Christians worldwide take up their crosses daily, almost without a second thought. Some of the people he interviewed had no idea that there were Christians in the rest of the world: Christians who had it so much better (at least in our minds; although they might beg to differ).    I came to realize that my faith is “Western” and all about “God’s goodies” that He lavishes on me.  I don’t want to associate with any other ‘icky’ stuff that might occur in God’s world.  You who are reading this, know: the coffee lattes in the church foyer with the ‘welcome committee’, the ‘pleasing and trendy’ songs we pay professionals to present us with week after week, the myriad different translations of Bibles that grace our shelves back home…….We wouldn’t for a minute want to waltz into worship and face gunfire or torture!

Now that I’ve got you in a bad mood and are possibly thinking of ‘unfriending’ me because I’m stepping where I shouldn’t, here’s the second story I was confronted with this week.

A man who’s been our mentor and friend for almost 40 years, Naoki Noguchi Sensei, is our lifelong pastor and whom we wrote the book “Sacrificed” about.  Last year at 84, he got married to a lovely widow. And now, this last week, he’s been given a death sentence of advanced cancer.  Even as I spoke with him on the phone, he was so upbeat and strong that I mistakenly thought that the diagnosis was for his new bride.  Once reality sank in, I fell into a deep despair, as I’m sure those of you who know this guy are doing right now as you read this. The doctors, who don’t know God, have told him not to plan for a whole year.   Of course, we pray for a miracle, but we know God will do what He’s going to do, and while we accept that, we see that valley of grief looming ahead.

But wait.  Did I learn anything from reading this book, “The Insanity of God”?  MOST of our world’s great Christians live a day at a time, with hearts full of gratitude for the mercy of God.  They don’t think about what might have been, or what might happen next week.  They just worship and share with others a SOVEREIGN and loving God who will ordain every day of their lives.  When the author of this book asked some of the ’survivors’ to write down and publish the details of how they had suffered for Christ, the response was quick and searing.  “When did you stop reading your Bible?  Those stories are OUR stories!  Nothing’s changed, who would we be to think we’re special?”

Yes, there were miraculous healings in the Bible, and we pray that for Noguchi Sensei. But then there were also terrible persecutions as well as heart wrenching deaths in the Bible.  Thru it all, those early believers as well as believers today, faced every day with grace and courage.  They didn’t abandon their friends to turn on the TV or escape to Facebook, as it is so easy to do these days.

My prayer is that I’ll be available. Already Noguchi Sensei has inspired me with his easy going confidence, that every day that he’s alive he’ll do ‘dendo’ (evangelism) because that’s what makes him happy. He refuses to let us cancel a large team of volunteers that’s coming in May to help him with his church plant.   Please pray with me for Noguchi and his wife Yumiko that they won’t feel ‘abandoned’ by anyone…..and that the Lord will send workers for the harvest!

For the friends we all have who face perishing deep waters, and the people we love who get what we feel are unfair and terrible diagnosis’s, we thank you Lord and pledge to try and stay tuned to Your ’story’.

Till next time, Marsha

Mending Nets

Dear all,
Well, I’ve been talking about other things for several weeks now, so you might not know what’s been going on in OUR lives and ministry!
As I sit here in a Tokyo Blizzard, I’ve been an ‘education widow’ for a week now.  Tony’s in San Francisco at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary beginning a Doctor of Ministry degree.  Hopefully he’ll tick all his p’s and q’s right and be back in Japan in 10 days, poised to start the ‘real work’. Of course I miss him, I’ve been feeding myself out of a can….(soup, not dog food yet).
There hasn’t been a whole lot going on in our lives since it’s deep winter here.  The Japanese tend to sorta ‘hole up’ during January, after having their big New Year’s celebrations and all…..We used to have some missionary friends that referred to this time of year as a time to “mend their nets”…..that’s so true.  Most of the refugee work we do in the north is battened down waiting for the spring thaw…..Add to that it’s almost the end of the school year, so there’s that ‘last push’ academically with lots and lots of kids testing for the new year/new school issues. True to Asian culture, many mothers are way more concerned about all this than the kids, but it still cuts down on our daily contacts for the time being.
After Tony left for the states last week, a friend from the neighborhood and I jumped on a ‘Jalpac” tour (imagine us following a flag) and went to the far north island of Hokkaido for 2 days for their annual “Snow Festival”.  Google it,http://www.snowfes.com/english/place/oodori/index.html it’s quite an event.  The main reason I went was to spend some quality time with this non believer who’s a good friend.  I prayed constantly, as did many of you, that we’d have the ‘right’ conversations about God.
I’m pleased to say that (for those of you who know me) we talked nonstop for 3 days.  When I came home and unpacked, I was still THINKING in Japanese.  Needless to say it exhausted me and who (God?) knows if our time was effective evangelically.  We did talk at length about how important relationships are with the Japanese, and after all the struggles of buffeting snow, finding directions and food,all while trying not to slip and break a hip etc. I definitely feel that we’ve bonded!  She and her husband were all excited about coming to church today (as they sometimes do) but because of the blizzard, we had to cancel. Maybe next time. You are welcome to continue to pray that the time spent will reap some real God things..her name is Sachiko.
So there you are.  Not much happening around here.  We DID finally sell Buddy’s house, which is a huge relief.  Fortunately it went to some friends who we know will treat it kindly.
It means so much to both of us that you care about us and pray for us constantly.  Stay tuned for something more interesting next week!

All my love, Marsha

A Two-Edged Sword

A couple of months ago, I was trying to cut an avocado in half.  The Japanese tend to marvel at the fact that we foreigners know how to cut with a small paring knife, often pulling it toward us instead of away.  They prefer to cut with a giant Chinese meat cleaver, holding the object with their fist, knuckles near the blade, chopping away as hard as they can with fast strong strokes.  We often laugh about eating what we call (when they’re not listening) “chainsaw chicken”.

On this particular day I was feeling very deft with my fancy German forged steel paring knife as I pulled it toward me, struggling to get thru a somewhat unripe avocado.  Then, suddenly, it got thru the tough skin and flew thru the soft meat of the avocado right into and thru the soft meat of my thumb.  I felt it hit bone.

I guess I’d never make it in battle, because oh my goodness, that HURT!  I danced around making the kitchen look like a crime scene till I could elbow the water on and shove my hand under the stream.  Then it hurt MORE!  Fortunately the husband was handy (upside of living in a tiny apartment) and he came running.

Cleaned up and bandaged, comforted with acclamations of “Oh you’re so brave!” etc, I settled down to collect myself and then the REAL PAIN began…….

For a week my thumb throbbed. Some of you can relate, and some of you are probably saying “oh PALLEZE! GET a LIFE!”  Seriously, this was pain that I’d never felt before and you can call me a wimp, but it really hurt! Yes, I suppose I have given birth, but I saw that one coming!

Finally the day came and the bandage came off.  Then another kind of pain began.  Anything hot or cold would set it off, and just the pressure of using it involved  another trigger.  As I’m typing this, it STILL hurts.

What I noticed the most thru all this, was that every time I hit the space bar (since I type properly, not like my two-finger hunt and peck husband), pain SHOT up my arm.  Who ever noticed this repetitive movement of hitting my thumb over and over at 40WPM?

This blog does have a point, bear with me…….

This thumb thing reminded me of an ‘adventure’ I had few years ago.  I was feeling especially righteous I guess; anyway, I asked God to “show me my sin”.  I was pretty sure He’d have to look around a bit for anything.

That night I had a dream.  I was at a newly arrived fellow missionary’s house.  It was a mansion.  I was being toured thru all the bedrooms with baths attached, enclosed foyers and sun rooms, separate areas for laundry, and to top it off, the huge living room…….it was all so glorious.  Surprisingly, I felt ANGRY and didn’t know (in the dream) why.  Then I woke up, still a bit disturbed.  As I lay there wondering what it was all about, I felt a nudge in my spirit.  ”You ARE angry”.  I immediately countered, “Why would I be angry?  I’m so happy for their good fortune!”.

Silence….. then God really DID show me my sin.  I was angry.  And why? The house these innocent people had been assigned to upon arriving on the field wasn’t like the house in the dream, actually it was very similar to the house we were currently living in…….adequate but nothing special at all.  Then I realized the source of my ‘irritation’.  You see, when we arrived in Japan, we had a much more humble and confusing place for 10 years. (When I say ‘confusing’ I mean, our toilet was just that, a toilet only in sort of a separate closet just to the right of our front door, making for all sorts of awkward situations regarding various entrances and exits. The bath was attached to the kitchen, the heaters were in the ceiling so the heat was just a draft by the time it got down to where we were, and the living room was graced by a huge hole in the wall left unfinished and gaping in order to accommodate the placement of a god shelf……that kind of ‘confusing’ house)

It finally dawned on me that I felt these folks, as innocent and well meaning as they were, hadn’t ‘earned the right’ to a nice, understandable house and I was JEALOUS of their good fortune! This reality I SAW, to my horror, for the first time!

Back to the thumb.  Until I cut it wide open, I had no idea what it was doing over and over every day……..I could ignore that insidious pounding on the keyboard that it did without noticing, because God hadn’t laid it bare for me to see.

Sin can be that way too, I believe.  Unless it is somehow revealed, we never notice it.  It takes a child’s observation, or maybe a paring knife or heaven forbid, a gentle nudge from God to point out a place we’re letting get by…….

Needless to say, after that experience I haven’t asked any more to ’show me my sin’ …….and I’m cutting away from myself now.

Have a safe and insightful week!  Marsha

A Different Kind of Love

Today I’d like to tell you a story that has touched my heart recently.  It’s true and it happened to a young missionary nurse we were appointed with years ago.  Her name is Becky, and she served in Africa; in fact in the very hospital I visited as a young 22 yr old and fainted when I saw the horrible  things she dealt with every day.  So I guess I could say she’s tough. So tough that after her time was finished in Africa she married and had TEN kids!  Home schooled them all……..really a ‘hero mom’.
Several years ago, they finally had all the kids up and running. The youngest was three, and they decided to take the family on a ski trip. That’s where it all began.  Becky’s husband Vince, fell and broke his neck, surviving but paralyzed from the neck down. The family all pitched in to help, but it was a huge task as he needed 24 hour care.
When word got out about the accident, one of Vince’s old buddys from high school days surfaced.  Vince had kept up with him thru the years, always sparring with him about why he (Vince) had chosen Christ and this guy (Geoff) hadn’t.  Anyway, Geoff stepped in and volunteered to be with Vince on Wednesday nights.  It was a generous thing to do; he came every week for  several years, always enjoying the conversations. They kept a clear understanding that Vince’s life centered around Christ, while Geoff’s did not, but the bond was there.  Finally, after 13 years, Vince went home to be with the Lord.
This is where it gets weird: just a few months after Vince died, Geoff was hit by a truck while bicycling and ended up in exactly the same situation, paralyzed from the neck down! What could our widow friend do except to offer Geoff the same kindness? Even though she still had a number of children at home, she volunteered her nursing skills every Wednesday.  Goeff’s wife especially appreciated Becky’s expertise and experience, as well as her friendship.
And so ‘chapter two’ began.  At first she didn’t feel that she had the same rapport with Goeff as Vince had, but he seemed to want to talk. Well, maybe it would be better if I print it below, just as Becky said it:
Geoff never forbade me to discuss religion. In fact, I was surprised at his willingness to listen, and God gave me a boldness to share like I had never known. Early on, Geoff said, “I don’t know why I’m alive.” I responded with, “I don’t         know either, but let’s try to figure it out.” Later I was able to say, “Geoff, did you ever think God kept you alive so that you could know Him?” It was around that time that he asked me start reading the Bible.
“Where would you like me to start” she asked,
“Oh, I guess the beginning would be good!”
When Tony and I visited with her about a year or so ago they were ploughing thru Genesis, making little progress because Geoff seemed to have so many questions.  However as slow they went, he seemed to love it.  Time passed.
Then Geoff had a near death stint in the hospital, and on recovery, they both seemed to agree that they should skip on to the New Testament.   After just a few weeks, Geoff was able to say he truly believed the words of John 3:16, giving his life along with his wife, to Christ.  This came as a joy to all the prayer warriors that had been attracted to this situation.  Not a week later, he and a pastor met to plan what would soon be his funeral.
A few weeks ago, Geoff went to be with the Lord, a believer at long last.  I’m sure Vince was there to welcome him home. I’m also sure that Vince was very proud and thankful for Becky, who didn’t puddle down and call herself the ‘poor widow with 10 children’, but saw herself as God had created her, a beautiful vessel made to share the Love of Jesus wherever she could.
I can’t think about this without thinking of the verse “In as much as you have done it to these you have done it to Me”…………….Thank you, Becky for this incredible picture of how Jesus wants us to spend our time here on earth!
In the process of confirming the facts of this story with Becky, she has said the whole ‘incident’  of Vince and Geoff is best summed up in the words of Elisabeth Elliot in her series of “Passion and Purity”.  This is pretty heavy stuff for such a simple blogger as me, but do read thru:
“Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering. The love of God is of a different nature altogether. It does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands in the very teeth of     suffering. The love of God did not protect His own Son. That was the proof of His love – that He gave that Son, that He let Him go to Calvary’s cross, though “legions of angels” might have rescued Him. He will not necessarily protect us     - not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.” (Elliot, Passion and Purity, 84)
My prayer for us all this week is that we can truly understand this life of sometimes suffering but never being alone in His love.
Till next time, Marsha

Traditions

Today I hope to find you all well and surviving winter or summer wherever you are. That’s the funny thing about the equator: today I’m about as high above the equator as our friends and family in Australia are below. That means we’re freezing here while they’re trying to keep cool. Lately Tony’s been doing a Bible study, get this, based on Norman Rockwell’s famous paintings. Most of you Christian friends might think this is weird, but this particular group has absolutely no concept of the Bible, or even Christianity, so rather than start there, he begins by looking at a painting, talking about it, then tying it into Biblical truth. Rockwell’s pictures have a lot to say about family values, love, integrity and all those other ideals we call Christian. Last week they looked at the picture of a grandmother serving tea to her granddaughter (You’ve probably seen it). She is, we assume teaching the young lady the womanly art of tea. At least we girls probably remember doing something like this with our mothers or big sisters, perhaps joined by a recalcitrant doll or two. Of course you know that Japan prides themselves in what they call ‘”Chado”, “The way of tea”, so the group quickly understood what was happening. Traditions were being handed down from one generation to the next. They began to talk about things that they had learned from their elders. One student mentioned the tea ceremony. Another lady said that her grandmother taught her how to wear a kimono (Where was that grandma last week when I needed her?). One of the guys told of a “coming of age” experience when his grandfather let him participate in the “Otoso”, drinking spiced sake to cast out evil spirits. Traditions. I once heard that if you know someone who has good morality and integrity, chances are he’s only 2 or 3 generations from a Christian family. Of course I can hear you screaming from clear over here, “We’ve met nice natives from Africa or how about the primitives in the jungles of Borneo who two or three generations ago were busy eating each other!” ………..but think with me a bit. The Bible says the Lord puts Himself in the heart of man. Even the heathens have a sense of right and wrong. Most cultures have honor, and I’m willing to say a respect for the creator God, even if they don’t know His Name. I think Romans 1:20 will back me up on this. Atheists, I believe, have stepped out (in some sort of desperate faith?) to say there is no god (Ps 14:1), leaving themselves in the words of Thomas Aquinas with “both feet firmly planted in thin air.” Pagans, (or Heathens) on the other hand, know innately that there IS a god even if they’re chasing after a false one…..and quite often have a strong sense of what they believe to be right behaviour. Now don’t call me a heretic. I firmly believe that God sent his Only Son Jesus to ‘bridge the gap’ and show these people the One True Living God. I’m just saying that People innately want the truth. This is what I believe to be the truth: 1 Timothy 2:3-6, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.” That’s why we’re missionaries. This week I want you to think about this ‘three generation” thing. Does this apply to your own family history? Let’s think about what we hope to see two or three generations down the road (assuming the Lord hasn’t returned by then, which of course we all hope for!). Will our grandchildren and great grandchildren still participate and honor, that hope that we showed them in Jesus Christ? We’ve mentioned our friend Mr. Kawana here that is now TWO generations separated from a great grandfather Buddhist Monk. We pray earnestly for his salvation and hope you’re joining us as well, but he still has a lot of Buddhist tradition in him, even though he says he ignores it. What about asking your kids what they see as traditions that you have already passed on to them? I tried that this morning on Skype with the kids and got a few surprising answers. I’ll have to say they weren’t as inspirational as I’d hoped, more like “eat a good breakfast” and “never blow your nose at the table” but they’re young………maybe as they go along more will seep out of me and into them! Traditions……are they real? Are they important? Do they show the Truth of Christ? Do we realize how much power they will have for generations to come? Stay warm or cool, as the case may be. I’ll see you next week. As you are reading this, we’re sitting in an exceptionally cold city caught both in the grip of Satan as well as winter! We keep praying for the Sun of the Son to penetrate the darkness. Marsha

The Right Questions

Hope you’ve all had a great New Years season.  Let me tell you about ours. Because Japanese recognize the Gregorian calendar, unlike the rest of Asia who usually celebrate what we refer to as “Chinese New Year” in February, Japan celebrates Jan1st as New Years Day.
It’s practiced by Buddhists with lots of noise at midnight, followed with a trip to the temple to get a white arrow and pray for a good new year.  Along the way there will be a lot of eating, some special games and visiting with family. Then of course there are all the New Year’s sales!  It’s sort of “Thanksgiving, Black Friday and New Years” all rolled into one.
At church, most Christians in Japan observe a very solemn New Years Service.  No festivities here until the pastor says “amen” and then the food breaks out!  Lots of pounded rice (o-mochi)…..you can even help make it with a wooden mallet and pestle if you’re lucky. And there’s lots of what we might call “weird”, but very special seasonal foods.
These events are often attended in full regalia: a very beautiful KIMONO. This year I persuaded a new missionary lady to give it a go… I’d dress us both in kimonos for the church service.  The pastor’s wife was skeptical, asking if I knew how to tie the Obi (belt)? “Of course!” I assured her. After all, I’m a veteran missionary, and certainly knew my kimono wearing.
Two days before New Years, Tony and I were watching You Tube tutorials.  The “Obi” is 18 feet (5 meters) long and the tying of it is not for the timid. I began to panic, but pride would not let me call the whole thing off.
New Years Day dawned beautiful and we set out to our friends’ house to dress, but on the way they called to say that the husband might be experiencing a heart attack or something………could we take him instead to the hospital?  Because it was New Years Day, the traffic was light and it only took us an hour to get to their apartment (about 15 miles from our place).  Before you ask about ambulance, don’t get me started. Suffice it to say that we are less than impressed with the service! By the time we got there, they had located a hospital on the map that seemed to be open. It was listed as a ‘neurological’ hospital, but hey, we all figured they’d treat a heart attack if they saw one.
We were wrong.  Pulling up to the curb, I went in to pave the way.
Me (in Japanese of course):  “I have a friend who may need to see someone as he thinks his heart is acting up”
Receptionist: Blank stare as if I’d ordered a hamburger.
Me:  (trying not to raise my voice), “He needs to see a doctor.”
Receptionist: Continued stare with now a bit of sweat glistening on his forehead, even though it’s only about 35F degrees in the foyer where I’m standing looking thru the glass at him.
Me:  Trying another tack, “Is this the emergency ward?”
Receptionist: Almost imperceptible nod, as if he’s very far away.
Me:  “His chest hurts.”
Receptionist: More sweat.
Me:   (trying not to show my frustration) “I’m going to bring him in now, and you WILL see him.”
I went to the car and got the patient.  Tony decided this might be interesting and offered to park the car and come in. Jack, who is the patient, is a new missionary and doesn’t speak much Japanese.  Just to add to the fun, he’s actually THAI by birth, so he looks like he should speak Japanese, further confusing the locals.
Receptionist:  When he sees Jack, offers up a relieved barrage of Japanese including “What is your birthday? Do you have insurance? Why did you come here instead of somewhere where they could help you?” etc.
Jack fell to his knees with his chin on the counter, looking like a wounded puppy.
Enter Tony.
Tony:  “Sir, this man is not Japanese and he is in pain and just needs to see a doctor.”
Receptionist: More sucking teeth and sweating, finally offering, “It might be a long wait.”
Me: Jumping in from behind, “Define Long! Hours? Days???”
Receptionist: Silence, accompanied by a look that says he wishes he was in Tahiti.
Tony: Sir, “I repeat this man is in pain, can’t you help us?”
Receptionist: “You said his chest hurts.”
Tony: “Yes that’s right.
Receptionist: “But his is a neurological hospital. We treat head conditions.”
Tony: “As a matter of fact, his head hurts too” (Turning to Jack) “Your head hurts, right?”
Jack: “Yes, I hurt all over.”
Receptionist: “OH!!!  Right this way!!!”
Within minutes Jack was with a doctor who spoke a modicum of English, was immediately escorted to an MRI, read the results and announced that both his heart and his head were fine. The whole ‘ordeal’, after the receptionist, took less than an hour.
We returned laughing and praising God that the big issues were at least OK.  He’ll find out this week at another more ‘user friendly’ hospital what the real problem is.  You’re welcome to pray for him.
Of course by now, we’d totally missed church but I offered to dress up the wife anyway, just for the fun of it.  Jack felt so relieved, he decided to cook us lunch, which is always a treat because we love Thai food more than almost anything.
Now about the Kimono,
Oh my goodness.  How much I’d forgotten……….at the point of no return, I called in Tony for back up but he was no help whatsoever.  After 30 minutes we could smell the curry so we gave up on the finer points and paraded her out in front of her husband with a ball of about 10 feet of ‘leftover’  belt all squished up and tied behind her back……….
God saved us TWO dramas, one serious and one funny.  It was not a heart attack for which we are immensely grateful.  On a finer lever, we were spared the huge embarrassment of what we shall further refer to as the disaster of the Obi.   Looking back, I see two crucial questions that turned the tide:
“Does your head hurt?”
“Can you tie an obi?”
Asking the right questions means so much.  I wonder as we continue to figure out how to reach the Japanese if we’re indeed asking the right questions. We might ask, “Do you want to burn in Hell?” and most Japanese would have no opinion. But if we say, “Do you wonder why you’re alive?” that usually hits a nerve that haunts us all. We instantly are on the same page and can proceed from there. Likewise, if we say, “Can you manage your own destiny?” many answer like I did about the Obi, “Of course, who do you think I am, I’m no idiot” and then sadly, later they realize like I did, they have NO IDEA how to proceed.
Please pray with us that we’ll have wisdom and be “Shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”  (Matthew 10:16), in whatever situation the Lord leads into this year.
Blessings,
Marsha

A Wonderful Life

Well, did you hear the collective sigh all the way from Japan, as Tony and I finally finished up all the festivities, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s?
I think I miss all the sales that usually follow Christmas in the Western countries. We do have special sale days in Japan, but I think I’ll give them a pass. Usually they consist of “Happy Bags”, where you buy something sight unseen. The only guarantee is that the product in the bag is worth more than you pay for it. But you may be blessed with anything from a wooden spoon to a new refrigerator. Happy? Maybe. Maybe not.
But before you get me wrong,  I have to say that we really did enjoy Christmas this year, (including a short Thanksgiving trip to the States and lots of Skype conversations with the grandkids in Australia, so we can say we’re thankful for that), but back to Japan.
One evening as we were tying candy to a thousand fliers announcing one of our special Christmas services, we decided to treat ourselves to another viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Remember that classic black and white movie starring Jimmy Stewart?  At one point in the movie, poor Jimmy’s feeling down and wishing he’d never been born. That’s when Clarence the angel shows him what the world would have looked like if he’d gotten his wish. I remember another unfortunate in the Bible who made the same complaint. “May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’ (Job 3:3)
I don’t think I’ve ever been that down, but sometimes (especially when looking back over 37 years in Japan) I can’t help but imagine what the world would have looked like without me.  Just like Jimmy Stewart, I’m guessing I’d just have NO IDEA.
I DO think about a young high school student who found Christ in our living room, then went on to lead her whole family, including Mother, Father and Sister. Then she raised four wonderful children, all of whom love the Lord, and one who is serving in the ministry today. One can just wonder how that will continue to play out in the future.
Then there were those three stretch-my-patience boys who were dear friends or our firstborn, Trevor. They ran in and out of our house as if it was their own, and continued to spend every weekend with us even after their best friend had gone to Heaven at 16.  I’m happy to say they’re all in the ministry today….. I’d like to think it had something to do with all those years we spent together.
And there was a neighbor who I can hardly remember, but moved from tea around our table to a deep abiding fellowship in a local church. Three years ago when the tsunami swept away part of her family, she was able to keep her faith and be a real lighthouse of strength to everyone around her.
I know there must be thousands of other things that I have no idea how they turned out. What a day, when we get to Heaven and hear all those  ‘the rest of the stories’!
Who (but God)  KNOWS what you’re doing for others?  HOW you’re influencing the lives around you just by being Salt and Light in this fallen world. Perhaps one of my all time favorite books is “The Good Life” by the late Charles Colson.  It starts with a scene from the movie, “Saving Private Ryan”. The old soldier, standing over the grave of one of the fallen who had rescued him, turns to his wife and asks, “Am I a good man?  Has my life been worth the price that was paid?”
I was young when my mother died, but I’ll never forget a phrase from one of the songs she loved. It’s called “I Am Satisfied” and it was played at her funeral.  It goes like this: “I am satisfied with Jesus….But the question comes to me, as I think of Calvary, is my Master satisfied with me?”
None of us are “worth” what it took for Jesus to save us, but I wonder as we turn our hearts and minds toward the new year if we shouldn’t say to ourselves and God, “What can I do to make a difference?”
Happy New Year,
Marsha

Have Mug Will Travel

Dear Loved ones,
Hope your Christmas was everything you hoped for!  While we were a bit sad not to be with our kids, or our extended families, it was nice to gather with our short termers and another brand new missionary couple for Christmas lunch.  I felt very old when I swatted one of the running screaming darlings on the back side (without any authority given me by the parents)…….what can I say, I’m a Grandma and sometimes ‘things’ happen.  Anyway, I’m hoping they’ll all forgive me as we look forward to a new year working together.
Today I’d like to tell you a story about Mugs.  Yes, you heard me right, but I’ll have to explain.
I think Tony’s folks started it. Back in the 60’s and 70’s a lot of people had mugs hanging on their walls. You could buy those expandable mug racks and you were in business.  I think it was some sort of ‘kitsch’ decoration.
Eventually it became a “Mugs we love” wall, with every size and shape imaginable, each one calling to mind a special place or time. Some people collect magnets (or they used to till that also went ‘out of style’);  I’m not sure what you’re supposed to collect now.
Now, don’t let me be misunderstood, I’m not still decorating from the 60’s, but somehow our ‘mug display’ has remained a focus in our house.  We decided to have a little fun and began having each guest PICK the mug they wanted to drink from.  This sends the Japanese into ecstatic giggles because they are given so few personal choices in their daily lives!   We tell them teasingly that whatever mug they pick will tell us a lot about them….. and then we enjoy watching them squirm and giggle more.  I found out after the fact that my daughter-in-law to be, on her maiden voyage to ‘meet the parents’  almost fainted  with fear, knowing she would be subjected to this ritual.
I think the cutest story about our mug wall comes from a little friend of my sons when they were about 6 or 7.  To get the full benefit, you have to speak Japanese, understanding that their grammar is completely front-to-back of English. This makes some sentences difficult to understand before the whole thing is out.  For example, instead of saying, “I didn’t go to town” they say  “Town, go, (+ past tense suffix), I, (not spoken but understood), not”. All very confusing and easy to jump to conclusions if you aren’t patient to wait till the end of the sentence.
The conversation (in Japanese) went like this,
The 6 year old, Koki: “Auntie, why cups so many have you?
Me: “Well, Koki, (“we” understood) money, have none when travel …………….”
At this point I was poised to say: “so cups, as  travel souvenir,  good cheap being , buy (“we” understood).”
But before I could say this, his face lit up and he said, “Oh! Understand I.   money none, your own cup take!”
So cute, so confused.
I will always remember what he said, though.  Just like Jesus told his disciples as they started out to work,  “Take nothing with you, no money, no cup” (loose translation)……….(Luke 9:3)
We feel so poorly equipped to reach the lost. Even after all these years, we hit and miss with evangelism.  We don’t always understand the people, not their nuances nor their needs.
But God will always provides ALL the things we need, including the ‘right mug’ for us to travel with, and the right mug to cherish and bring home and hang on the wall.
May your new year be completely blessed and all of your needs be met!
Happy New Year, see you again in 2014!

Marsha

“Home” is the Journey

Well, this is the ‘run up’ to Christmas week isn’t it?
We were reminded of that fact recently as we stood in line alongside an elderly Japanese gentleman. We got to talking, mentioned that we were Christian missionaries to which he commented happily, “So this is your busiest time of year isn’t it!”
The comment impressed me, especially because it came from a man who comes from a country who for the most part, have very little understanding about what Christmas really means. Oh, they do know it’s a holiday (although not for the school children or just about any other work place in Japan).  But somehow the Christmas traditions we see mostly around here involve special fast food meals, like KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN, followed by a slice of Christmas cake, garishly decorated with a Santa or some such.
I have included in this blog a link to a new movie that’s coming out about what might be called our “Patron saint” (that is if Baptists had them). Her name is Lottie Moon and she lived in the 1800’s; a tough little single lady who left the Antebellum life of the deep south and sailed off to China.  It was a hard life, and after more than forty years the mission finally persuaded her to come home and retire at the age of 72.  Unfortunately she died aboard ship, mostly from malnutrition, as it was anchored for supplies in a Japanese harbor not far from here.
You’ll have to agree, she was quite a woman.  As you watch the movie you need NOT compare our lives with hers, except that some of the ‘challenges’ she faced remain unchanged to this day.  Missionaries still feel lonely  sometimes, simply because we usually work in places where the vast majority of people around us share neither our faith nor our culture. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed at times.  Like Lottie’s Chinese, we’re surrounded by MILLIONS of Japanese who barely know the name of Jesus and certainly wouldn’t associate the name with a real person, let alone the Son of God.  But… at this time of year at least, the Word is going out in every direction. That’s why the old gentleman was exactly right in saying this is our “busiest time of year”, as we try and take every opportunity to evangelize.
Tonight we just got home from a full day of Christmas celebrations, beginning at a small church across town. Then in the afternoon we crammed in with 25 others at the home of our short term couple, Adam and Hannah Sharick.  As uncountable kids ran around the room wreaking havoc, Adam had the chance to tell the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ in his newly acquired Japanese.  Tony came as Santa and stole the show, explaining that he was just so happy at Christmas because this is the time of year we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
It is true that we’re far away from home this Christmas, and like Lottie Moon can’t help but feel a little lonely. But we can’t feel too sorry for ourselves when we remember that Lottie never had to chance to go back and visit family once in awhile like we can. And what would she have done with Skype?!
Tom Elliff, the president of our mission, made an interesting comment in his Christmas letter to our 5000 IMB missionaries scattered all over the world. He said,  “As you serve out there on the field far away from your family, just remember that Joseph and Mary were away from home that first Christmas too!”
Guess I’d never thought of that!  He also suggested that we think of the “journey” we’re on as home. I can think back to a lot of Christmases around the globe, some good, some just ‘interesting”, like the one in South Africa where thru a set of circumstances we found ourselves stuck with no place to stay. I was so sick I thought……..well, you know.  We contacted a ‘friend of a friend’ who was away on holidays and we were able to stay in his flat. Then Tony and his dad, by God’s richest provisions, found an Indian man who’s store was open even though it was Christmas. All he had for sale was tomato soup, but what a grand Christmas dinner it made!
It’s really true isn’t it…. If “home” is the journey we’re on, then we’re never far away. We don’t travel alone, and there’s a light in the window right around the corner.
Our prayer for you now is that you also have the best Christmas ever!
Talk to you next week, Marsha
…. and don’t forget to have a look at the link below!  If it won’t open, just type in “lottiemoonfilm.com” in your browser.
lottiemoonfilm.com

Learning to Listen

As most of you know, we’ve been traveling these last two weeks, but are happy to report that we have safely returned home to Japan. Imagine my surprise when we got home to discover that a pack of rats had moved into our attic!
Well, I may need remind you that yes, while we are missionaries, and as such have had our share of rats, spiders and snakes in our room, those days are hopefully over.  Now we live in downtown Tokyo on a 6th floor (out of 13)  apartment.  There ARE no rats……..it just sounds that way.  Actually I believe the problem is some sort of lead-footed family of small children who have moved in above us while we were gone.  I’m thanking my lucky stars that none of them play the tuba!
You may laugh at my angst of having a new constant noise invade my life, but it’s real.  For almost a year we’ve enjoyed life with NO UPSTAIRS neighbors ……….. now it’s a constant din punctuated by dropped objects and occasional squeals of delight.
This seemingly ‘unfair invasion of my space’ got me to thinking.  It’s the ‘little things’ of life that may be what you hear the most, isn’t it?  My son just sent us a blank dark video recording of the night sounds emanating from his front yard in Australia.  Tony texted back that depending on your perspective, they could be either beautiful or rather frightening.
“…….depending on your perspective”.  What do you hear?  Is it the happy pitter patter of little feet, or the invading doom of uncertainty?  Some of you folks our age can probably relate to the gentle (mostly) reminders of our coming mortality, in the form of aches, pains, and that occasional feeling that you find yourself too shy or too busy to see the doctor about. And perhaps the most irritating thing about this is that intrinsically I know I should follow up on these things, especially in light of the fact that so many of my friends seem to be falling ill these days
But even more important are those gentle (mostly) whispers we hear chiding me to reach out and act even when I don’t particularly feel like it. Things like being more patient when things press in. Or how about that nagging thought that I should be taking a fruitcake to that particularly irritable neighbor? I need to remember to listen to what may well be the still small Voice of the Holy Spirit directing me to new places.
As we pick up speed for the Christmas season, may we all learn to listen with His ears and see through His eyes.
We have some exciting days coming up, marked with a nearly constant series of parties, outreach events, music and games. Japanese don’t really celebrate Christmas, and it’s not a holiday, but they do understand that ‘Santa Claus is coming to town”, at least materialistically.  Unfortunately very few know even what the holiday really celebrates.  Pray for us as we continue to be ’salt and light’ in our world over here.
Here’s a little sample: The picture below is being made into 1000 cards which we’re going to distribute all over the neighborhood next week. It’s an invitation to meet at a nearby park on Christmas Eve, sing carols, then come back to our place for hot chocolate. The church member who put it together thought it would be a nice touch to put Tony in a Santa suit! Please pray that those shy Japanese who find the courage to accept our invitation will find something even better than Santa, as we share with them the REAL STORY OF CHRISTMAS!
Stay tuned and don’t forget to stir the hot chocolate………and pay attention to the little pitter patter sounds that push into your lives!
Marsha

Christmas Card