Monday, September 23, 2013

I survived teen camp... in Japanese!

[If you follow this blog with any regularity, you know by now that most posts are written by Julie... but this is a story from Brian!!!!  Please send him lots of encouraging messages so he'll continue to post. ;)]

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Osaka area teens camp.   I was really excited about this for many reasons.  First, I don’t get many opportunities to meet and build relationships with people from mainland Japan.  Second, this would be a great opportunity for me to thoroughly embarrass myself by being immersed in Japanese.  When I found out that a new Japan budget airline was practically giving seats away it was set, I would spend three days at camp!

Our church secretary, Mutsuki, has been more than an answer to prayer for so many reasons.  When I looked at the camp registration and information form, I was only able to read “…… in the….. from…. so (or maybe that’s because)…. Camp.”    Mutsuki was there to help out.  Then I began to send emails to Shinozawa-san, my pastor-friend from Kyoto who offered to pick me up from the airport.  Other than perhaps calling myself a goat in my Japanese emails, we worked out the arrangements and I couldn’t wait to go!

During our time in the States for home assignment we felt strongly that God was saying it was time to hunker down (again) with Japanese.  We live in Japan not merely to pastor an English-speaking church, but to support the Japanese church, and seek to reach the millions of Japanese who have never understood the good news of what Jesus can do with their lives.  We were blessed with some additional financial resources to help in language study, so Julie and the boys let me go for three days to jump into whatever God has in store.

When I got to the camp I was surprised about a number of things. First there were only 4 campers.  Second, there were 16 adult sponsors.  Third, it still all worked!  In Japan the reality is that youth (even the 40 and below age of the sponsors) have largely disappeared from Japanese Christianity.  But here I was singing songs I didn’t quite understand around the campfire with middle schoolers, high schoolers, and young adults who did want to be like Jesus. 

My Japanese has (by God’s great help) come a long way in the years we’ve lived here.  I can maintain simple but lengthy conversations.  But here I was linguistically out of my league.  But it’s amazing how much people can still communicate without words; with a smile, a pat on the back (perhaps culturally inappropriate, but I did it anyway), or in laughing together as I blundered through many things. 

So I did get some tremendous Japanese practice.  It has launched me into a new season of high-Japanese-language-motivation.  But far more importantly, I got to see God is still active in Japan.  He is working in the hearts of people.  I get to be a part.  So thank you thank you Shinozawa-san, thank you Kouki-kun, Mai-chan, Fumi-chan, and Ri-kun, and all the others at the camp.  And thank you, all the churches and supporters who have by prayers, donations, or both, enabled this time.  God uses it all.  

Friday, September 06, 2013

Be still... as the storm passes by....

 Well, it's been one of those weeks... the kind where you feel like nothing has really gone right, and now you're behind on the things you were supposed to do, so next week already feels not that great.  Actually, it's kind of been that way this whole last month.  Whenever we get away (vacation, home assignment, even a date night) for any amount of time, I have a habit of assessing my life and making plans of how things can change so they can be better.  So... being 'away' for 3 months meant I came back with lots of plans to make my life better... intense Scripture study, daily journaling and prayer time, more activities with the boys, consistent dates with Brian, more time with friends, new ideas for church, studying Japanese every day... and of course, the majority of those have not happened. :)
So after a few weeks of Brian working extra long hours away from home, car troubles, new busier schedules with school starting, etc.,  it's easy to look back on those 'plans' and feel like a complete failure.  But last Monday, God gave me an incredible gift.  I was letting the stress of the last few weeks get to me a little too much, and my wonderful husband recognized this and kicked me out of the house for a few hours... isn't he great? ;)
I had a few errands to run and then I wanted to just spend some time alone with God... it was a desperate hunger for His peace and understanding in the midst of just normal, crazy life.  So after my errands were finished, I went to a favorite coffee shop but it was closed. :(  Plan B led me to get coffee to-go and walk across the street to sit on the beach for a while.  We've had an unusually dry summer, so my heart sank as I walked closer to the beach and saw rain storms approaching.  I almost cried... I thought, 'God, you know I need time to sit, pray, read my Bible... even though I know we need rain, why does it have to rain right now?!?'  But it wasn't raining yet, so I found a covered bench, pulled out my Bible and sat down with my coffee.  And the most amazing thing happened... I literally watched rain storms blow by for over an hour... and they never came inland.  It was definitely raining on the ocean, and I never felt one drop.  First of all, this meant the old hymn 'Til the storm passes by' was running through my head the entire time... I mean, how can you sit and watch storms literally pass by and not sing that song? But in addition to that, I had a wonderful hour of being still with God, listening, praying, reading Scripture, and coming away very refreshed... it was absolutely amazing.  And when I got back to my car, it started raining. :)

But of course, real life started again the next day, and it's been a week of continued car problems, more long hours of work for Brian, a cultural blunder for me, frustrating language lessons, and the list goes on.   But God continues to remind me of that hour on the beach, when the storms were literally passing by.  So many times I am frustrated because MY plans don't go the way I think they should... but when I give everything to God - my plans, my time, my family, everything - he amazes me every time.  If I give him time every day to be still and listen, to pray for the people He has put in my life, to study Scripture, He will help me get everything done that needs to be done.  When my focus is on Him, I won't feel guilty or defeated about stupid things I said or did or what I think others think of me.  Even though it's been a crazy week, God has given me reminders each day of His love for me, how He's working around us, and how He can make the storms pass by.  We'll continue to make mistakes as foreigners and feel frustration in language lessons... but He's right there with us, providing peace, granting wisdom, and giving us exactly what we need at the moment... like amazing boys who make us smile and exquisite flowers on the walk to the bus stop. :)

'Be still, and know that I am God.' Psalm 46:10

'The Lord sits enthroned over the flood.' Psalm 29:10