Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Answered prayer

Christmas program pictures: K-4, Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and 4th grade
This Friday is our school's annual elementary Christmas program, and it is Justin's last year in elementary school, so I've been reflecting a lot... and occasionally, I'm an emotional wreck about the fact that Justin is almost in Middle School, but we'll ignore that for now. ;)

There are many things I love about our school, but every year, I always say that the annual Christmas program is my favorite night of the year.  I love seeing our beautiful community of students share their talents in singing and acting.  And every year, I'm praying through most of the program that the words about our Savior's birth and the life Jesus offers will speak deeply to the hearts of everyone present.  I pray that our students will remember those words no matter how long they are at our school or where they go in life.

I remember the first Christmas program we attended at OCSI.  It was when Justin was 3 years old, so he wasn't a student yet.  Some friends of ours who worked at the school invited our family to attend, and our boys loved every minute of the program.  I remember praying that our boys could attend a school like this.  In ministry and missions, many things are not certain.  At that time, I didn't know if we could afford to send our boys to OCSI, and we never know how long we will live in a certain place.  But I distinctly remember praying that God would give our boys a good school community where they could grow in Him and develop deep friendships and relationships.

And God has answered that prayer.  That's such a simple sentence... God answered the prayer... but every time I think about it I'm overwhelmed with awe at God's faithfulness and blessings.  Justin will be performing on Friday night with friends he has had since preschool.  Many faces have changed, but a number have stayed, and that is such a precious gift. Many of his elementary school teachers are still here and involved in his life.

Our church and school community are marked by people constantly coming and going, and while we're so thankful to have been in this place for nearly 9 years now, sometimes it's not easy being the people who stay.  But this Friday night, we get to celebrate God's incredible goodness to us of continued memories and relationships in a very special place.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Catching up...

Well, it's been a long time since we posted anything on this blog... actually a very long time. :) Life is full, God is working and so faithful, the boys are growing, and the adventures never stop.  But we do want to stay in touch and share what God is doing in our family and Japan. So here is a very quick update of the last 1 1/2 years... Of course many more things have happened than what we will be able to share in this post, but these are just some highlights... just catching up. :)

We returned from Home Assignment in August 2016, and the boys immediately jumped into a new school year.  Noah was in Kindergarten and Justin in 3rd grade.  Last year, I (Julie) also served as the PTF (Parent Teacher Fellowship) Director for their school, and Brian is now serving on the school board. The boys had a wonderful year. We are so thankful for our school - we have deep friendships with people from so many countries, and it is such a blessing to serve in our school community.  

Brian has started meeting with other Nazarene pastors once a year for a prayer retreat.  Here are pictures from 2016 and 2017.  We are so thankful for these friends and the opportunity to serve 
together in Japan! 

When we moved to Okinawa, Brian was so excited to be able to ride his bicycle again.  In the last few years he has started riding with a local team and will compete in his first race this November!  Justin and Noah have also fallen in love with cycling, so they love going on long rides with Brian.

The Japan District Assembly was held in March 2017, and it is always a special time to reconnect with other pastors.  Here are Justin and Noah with some of their fellow 'Pastor Kid' friends. 

After the meetings, we took the boys to Kyoto for the first time!  Brian and I first visited Kyoto in 2004, so it was so fun to go back and show the boys one of our favorite cities in Japan.

In April, my parents came to visit!  We LOVE when family comes to visit and had a wonderful time together over Spring Break and Easter.  It was an extra special Easter because Noah got baptized on Easter Sunday. :) We're also looking forward to Brian's parents coming this Christmas!

In May we were very privileged to have a mission team from our alma mater, SNU (Southern Nazarene University),  come stay with us and minister together with us for 2 weeks.  They helped with Children's ministries at our church and assisted with English programs at daycares and a local public school.  We had an amazing time together and are so thankful for their service and new friendships!

Noah graduated from Kindergarten! We are so proud of the amazing boy he is - he brings such joy to to our family, and we love watching him learn and grow.

Then in June we returned to the Philippines! It was the first time the boys and I had been back in nearly 7 years!  The NYI convention had a regional site in Manila, and we got to help with the event.  Words cannot describe how wonderful it was to be back with our friends. We got to connect with old church friends, seminary friends, and NYI friends from around the Asia-Pacific region.  The APNYI Council also awarded Brian the Timothy Award for his years of serving young people on the Asia-Pacific region- he was incredibly surprised and honored.  The boys fell in love with the Philippines and keep asking when we get to go back again.  We are so thankful for this amazing time with friends and a refreshing time for us personally.

In July, Justin and I joined a group from our church and went to Hokkaido to help with a church camp.  We had an incredible time serving together with the Nazarene church in Asahikawa, and we hope to send a group every summer. Justin also participated in the camp, and we were so proud of him!  He was the only non-Japanese kid, and it was a great opportunity for him to practice his Japanese.  He loved it and keeps asking if he'll get to go back next year and reconnect with the friends he made. :)

In August, Brian climbed Mt. Fuji! He and a good friend had an amazing adventure together... I'll try to get him to write a post about it. ;)

And then it was time for a new school year... and this year, our back to school picture includes me! I'll write the whole story in another post, but God opened a door and I'm now working full-time as the Literacy Support teacher at OCSI.  I'm so happy to be back in the classroom and I love working with elementary and middle school students in their English language development. Noah is now in 1st grade and Justin is in 4th grade.  Time is going by so quickly, but we're so thankful for continued memories in the same communities.

We are still so thankful to be serving at Keystone Nazarene Church here in Okinawa.  Our church family is always changing because of US military moves and transitions, but God always provides friends that become family, and we are blessed to share life in Okinawa together. 
Thank you always for your prayers and support for our family! We also try to post updates on our facebook page, and most 'daily life' pictures can be found on my instagram. And hopefully it won't be so long between blog-posts in the near future. ;)

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The bags are packed...

and we're ready to go!  That's right, it's time to leave in the morning for our 3 months of home assignment speaking in the states. The last few weeks have been filled with preparations, and while it's hard to leave home for 3 months, we are overwhelmed with the amazing ways that God works and the incredible people he has put in our lives.

The boys get to finish school a few weeks before their friends, but they love their friends and teachers so much, they don't even realize that it's a cool thing to miss some school. ;)

We have also been blessed to spend the last few days with Stan and Bev Arnold, who are serving at our church while we are gone.  Stan and Bev are friends of Brian's parents, and Stan recently retired from being an Army Chaplain.  Some of our earlier plans changed last year, and in January and February of this year we were still looking for a volunteer couple to come serve in Okinawa this summer.  Brian's Mom (yay Alice!) talked to Bev about the possibility of Okinawa, and she and Stan immediately knew that this was an adventure God had for them.  It is so amazing to see how God works. All the details were quickly taken care of, and we have had so much fun getting to know the Arnolds and showing them our amazing communities in Okinawa... we even got to have sushi together for Mother's Day. :)

So, we leave in the morning, and after a few days of jet lag recovery in Texas, we'll be off to Colorado for some time with friends and family in the mountains.  Here is our schedule if you'd like to try and see us when we're speaking.  Thank you for your prayers for our church and family during this time... we can't wait to see what God does next!

Monday, May 02, 2016

My neighborhood call to prayer...

Every town in Japan has speaker systems that are in place for emergency broadcasts like tsunami warnings or other announcements... and they play music every day. :) Our town plays music at 7 am, 12 noon, and 5 pm every day.  At first, it's a little annoying, but then you get used to it.  It's funny how quickly things that are different, weird, special, or unique just become a normal part of our routine.  I love our neighborhood.  The houses are close together, but it's not too loud, it's nice for taking walks, it's very close to my favorite vegetable stand and convenience store, and our neighbors are incredibly nice.  But we don't know our neighbors very well.  Most are Japanese families, and because none of us have yards, we only see each other when we are walking to the store or if we happen to walk out the door at the same time.  I want to get to know my neighbors better.  But none of them speak English, and the conversations are pretty short when we're depending on my Japanese. ;)
So life goes on... we're busy with church responsibilities, school volunteering, Bible studies, swim lessons, meetings, etc., etc.  And before you know it, a few years have gone by, and I still don't know my neighbors very well. But I want to... and that's why I'm so thankful about the music that plays at 7 am each morning.  You see, each town plays a different song at the different times throughout the day.  Our town plays 'Greensleeves' at 7 am, or you might know it as 'What Child is This?'.  And every morning, it's my reminder to pray for my neighbors.  Because I want to get to know them more, but more importantly, I want them to know Jesus.  So I pray that God will give us opportunities to talk, and I pray that God will surround them with Christian friends who can show them His love and tell them about the life He offers in a way they can understand.  I want them to know that "This, this is Christ the King..." Our 7 am song has become like a spiritual discipline for me... a normal part of life, but a reminder to pause and pray. :)

(Please excuse the shaky video and low sound quality, but if you turn up the volume, you can hear our neighborhood morning song.)

Sunday, April 03, 2016

2016 Home Assignment Schedule

We can't believe we're only 5 weeks away from our home assignment! Many friends have been asking where we'll be during our time in the states, so here is the schedule... and hopefully there won't be too many more changes. ;) Just a quick reminder, every 3 years we return to the US for 3 months as part of our missionary responsibilities... it's our opportunity to share what God is doing in Japan and how you can be a part.  It's a great time to see family and friends and brag on God. :) But of course we're not always able to see everyone we would like... so we're always thankful for social media that makes it easy to stay in touch.  Here is the schedule of where and when we will be speaking:

May 15 - Hope Springs Community Church- Loveland, CO
May 22 - New Braunfels Nazarene Church - New Braunfels, TX
May 25 - Houston Westside Church of the Nazarene - Katy, TX
June 5 - Community Fellowship Church of the Nazarene - Waco, TX
June 12 - Webster Groves Church of the Nazarene - Webster Groves, MO
June 13-17 - Missouri District Teen Camp
June 19 - Cornerstone Nazarene Church - Alexander, AR
June 20-21 - South Arkansas District NMI Convention - Little Rock, AR
June 26 (AM) - San Angelo First Church of the Nazarene - San Angelo, TX
June 26 (PM) - Odessa 1st Church of the Nazarene - Odessa, TX
June 27 - Cedar Park Hill Country  Nazarene - Cedar Park, TX
June 28 - Killeen 1st Church of the Nazarene - Killeen, TX
June 29 - Copperas Cove Church of the Nazarene - Cove, TX
June 30 - Conroe New Horizon - Conroe, TX
July 1 - Nacogdoches 1st Church of the Nazarene - Nacogdoches, TX
July 3 (AM) - Tezel Oaks Church of the Nazarene - San Antonio, TX
July 3 (PM) - New Life Christian Fellowship - San Antonio, TX
July 4-8 - South Texas District Children's Camp
July 9 - Baytown Church of the Nazarene - Baytown, TX
July 10 (AM) - Celebrate Life - Katy, TX
July 10 (PM) - Lake Houston Church of the Nazarene - Humble, TX
July 17 - Orlando United Church of the Nazarene - Orlando, FL
July 20 - Living Faith Church of the Nazarene - New Port Richey, FL
July 24 (AM) - Winter Haven 1st Church of the Nazarene - Winter Haven, FL
July 24 (PM) - Bartow, FL
July 31 - Tavares Church of the Nazarene - Tavares, FL
August 3 - Archer Church of the Nazarene - Archer, FL
August 7 - Jacksonville International Bible Church - Jacksonville, FL

We'd love to see you at one of these services or maybe at a stop inbetween. :)  Please be praying for us as we continue to prepare for our trip, and pray for the volunteer missionaries who will be serving in Okinawa while we are gone... more about that later. :) Hope to see you soon!  We're ready for an adventure. :)

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Thoughts on home...

I gave up facebook for Lent this year.  And it's been really great.  I love keeping in touch with friends and family through facebook, but unfortunately, I also waste a lot of time on facebook.  So I've been using this gift of time to read more... I actually read a lot already, despite our usual busy schedule.  But now I'm really reading a lot.  This is wonderful, but I tend to be a speed reader and there are certain books that need to be savored instead of raced through.  One of the books I'm trying to savor (and not devour) is 'Simply Tuesday' by Emily Freeman.  It was recommended on a blog about books that I've become obsessed with... Brian thinks I have a problem ;).  I'm just reading a chapter every few days, while I continue to devour other novels, memoirs, etc. :) 

I've only read 3 chapters so far, but she is talking about walking with Jesus in all the ordinary moments of life. "What gives moments meaning is not the moments themselves but the presence of Christ with us in the midst of them."  Such a great reminder!  But what has really struck me about her book is a discussion on home.  She tells the story of passing by a house surrounded by beautiful fields of yellow poppies.  But in a different season the house was surrounded by a dry, brown field.  "Home isn't either beautiful or not, happy or sad, full or empty.  Home is both.  Home is and. Home has good parts, hard parts, marvelous and miracle parts.  Home is where we celebrate and where we grieve, where we are hurt, broken and healed, and made whole again.  And all of these parts are essential as we live in the kingdom of God."

Any discussion on 'home' always evokes a lot of emotions for me.  I grew up in an amazing home filled with loving family and lots of laughter.  I was actually such a homebody I struggled with spending the night at a friends house when I was a kid.... my parents thought I might never leave home. ;)  Then home became college in Oklahoma - another amazing time filled with new friends who became family and life-changing experiences.  Then home became a new family with Brian and over the last 13 years, God led us to Guam, then the Philippines, and now Japan.  Our homes have been so so different from each other.  We moved from a small island with only 150,000 people to sprawling metro Manila with roughly 12 million people.  And now we're back on an island, but we're in Japan, so we can literally touch our neighbor's houses on either side of our house. 

Our community here is always changing, and so we're constantly meeting new people and learning about each other.  And for some reason, over the last 6 months, it feels like I've been getting more questions than normal... How long have you been in Japan?  How long will you be here? You've lived overseas for more than 12 years... how do you deal with missing family? Which country have you liked living in best?  Sometimes it's hard to always be starting over in new relationships, but the questions are good because they help me remember how God has led us and reflect on the amazing home He has given us... everywhere we have been. 
I can honestly say that I have loved EVERY place we've lived, even though they have been drastically different.  And when I say I've loved them, it's not a naive, life was perfect without any troubles kind of love.  Life has been life.  There have been wonderful times and incredibly difficult times.  In each place I have gone through periods of questioning if this is where we were supposed to be.  But every time, God has reminded me that He called us there and until He leads us somewhere else, it is home, because He is there with us, guiding us and giving us grace and peace.  Each place and time has been right because I knew it was where God wanted us... it is so, so good.

Our home right now is surrounded by urban sprawl.  But thankfully Japan values green space and there is a beautiful park just a 10 minute walk from our house.  If you're driving on the road, it's actually easy to miss.  But once you enter the park, you follow a winding path up the side of a hill.  It's amazing how the busy city sounds are instantly muted as you walk in the trees, and you really feel as if you are in a different place.  Once you make it to the top of the park, there is a fantastic view of the city we live in.  It's a great place to pray.  Sometimes it can be overwhelming as I look out over the city and think of how many people are represented, how many people in all those buildings have never heard of Jesus, and how long it takes to learn the language and build meaningful relationships.  But I love that you can see the beautiful trees from the park with the city.  It's like a reminder God gives me that His beauty and presence is there with me even when life is overwhelming.  When there aren't easy answers and sometimes you don't know where to go, He is there... the peace in the park is my reminder that He is home.  "It's good to consider that home is a Person [Jesus] we bring with us rather than a destination we're trying to find." (Emily Freeman, Simply Tuesday)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

And... it's 2016!!!

So the last time we posted a blog was in May... of 2015. And that was quite a while ago.  Needless to say, this last year flew by, and it's already February! I try to update our facebook every now and then with things that are happening and prayer praises and concerns, but I think it's still good for me to look back at life since last May and just share what God has been doing in us and around us... so here we go. :)
at Mark's graduation
Brian and Mark in Kyoto
Last summer we were blessed with opportunities to get out of our daily routine and spend time with friends and family... and it was wonderful. :) Brian actually took two different trips to mainland Japan.  Our dear friend Mark graduated from high school, so he and Brian explored Kyoto for a few days before Mark left for college.

Brian and Junichi - prayer retreat

Then a few weeks later, Brian met our friend from seminary, Junichi, at a friends' cabin and they spent time together praying for each other and what God is doing in the different ministries he has called our families to in Japan. Brian immensely enjoyed both trips and the time in mainland.  While we LOVE Okinawa, it's always fun to explore other parts of Japan, and it's always so good to have time with very special friends.

eating our favorite ice cream in Okinawa
We also got to receive some special visitors at home in Okinawa.  Our friends, the Tsutada family, whom we visited in Tokyo in March, came to Okinawa for the first time!  Mami had just graduated from university (Yay, Mami!), and we had so much fun showing them our favorite parts of Okinawa and talking and laughing together... a lot. :)

having fun at the aquarium
ready to fly across the ocean!
Then in July, we went on a family vacation to Texas! This was not normal for us... we usually go to the states for work responsibilities, but God blessed us with good ticket prices, and we were able to just relax with family for 2 weeks... and it was wonderful. :) Brian's parents came from Florida, and Julie's sister and brother-in-law came from Colorado.  It was so great to just relax together... we will be back in 2016 for our home assignment, but since we are traveling and speaking most of the time, we decided to take advantage of this opportunity to simply have vacation with family.
with Aunt Jessie and Uncle Andy
with all the grandparents at the Farmer's Market

first day of school

This has been a big year for Noah because he started school at OCSI!  He was very ready to join his brother every day, and Justin was excited to have him there.  The boys continue to grow in so many ways - academically, spiritually, and physically.  They both have a huge love for each other, school, teachers, friends, family time, and Jesus - we are all very blessed. :) 
performing in the school Christmas play together

Brian and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary in October.  It is always so fun to look back and see the amazing adventures God has taken us on in our marriage.  I can't believe we have been overseas almost that whole time... we are so blessed and can't wait to see what happens next. :)

We also got to take another trip in October! Our region held an event for cross-cultural ministry workers, and it was such a huge blessing that our whole family got to go together.  We reconnected with many friends (who got to spend time with the boys for the first time), met many new friends, and enjoyed some time with God, away from normal routine.  Again, simply wonderful. :)
 So, what's been happening in our normal routine that we've been taking vacations from? ;) Well, like I said, both boys are in school full time now, so that was a big adjustment for our whole family... but it was a good adjustment. :)  We all have continued in our Japanese language study (even Justin and Noah!), and things at our church are going well.  It's hard to believe we've been in Okinawa 6 years!  One of the hardest parts about our current ministry assignment is how often we have to say goodbye to people.  Since a lot of the families in our church are in the military, we are rarely together for more than 3 years at a time.  While it's hard to say goodbye, God is so faithful in always bringing new people. Even though things are constantly changing (and I do mean constantly), God continues to give us his vision for our church and how we can show God's love to the people of Okinawa, no matter how long (or short) we have time together. :)
annual Trunk or Treat on Halloween

annual women's Christmas progressive dinner

Father/child park day
Our church also did something new at Thanksgiving this year.  Many Japanese people are very curious about Thanksgiving, so we hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for our Japanese friends.  It was a wonderful time of fellowship and an opportunity to share interesting parts of American culture and the hope and life we have in Jesus.
LOTS of great food!

fun conversations in English and Japanese

God also continues to provide opportunities for relationships outside of our church activities.  For the last few years, Brian has attended the OCSI high school camp as a sponsor, and he loves the chance to interact with the students and teachers.

I was also able to teach another Motheread class to parents at OCSI this last fall.  We had a wonderful time building relationships, working on English skills, and just sharing life together.

We have also started to have monthly gatherings at our house for young adults from our church and the other Nazarene churches on Okinawa.  We have prayer and Bible study (sometimes in Japanese, sometimes in English, and sometimes in both languages) and eat and play games together.  It's a great chance for us to support and encourage our Japanese Christian friends, and it's a good venue for them to invite other friends to who want to practice English. :)

Well, even though this is insanely long, this was actually just a brief recap. :)  I'll try to be better this year about posting more regular updates.  But we are very thankful for the amazing and abundant life God continues to give our family. While things are busy and we are always learning, God reminds us of his love in so many ways... thank you for all of you who pray for us!  You are a BIG part of what God is doing in Japan... we're just privileged to be along for the ride. :)