Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

As usual, I can't believe how quickly this last year has gone by.  When I look back over the year, I am simply in awe of God's faithfulness and grace in our lives.  It was not an easy year, but through the challenges, we have seen God work in incredible ways.  God has brought healing this last year, healing from unexpected places, and healing that we didn't even know we needed. He has provided grace for the journey, so we are able to look back, not with bitterness or regret, but simple thankfulness for His presence and guidance and anticipation of new and exciting adventures in the future. As our boys continue to grow and develop, I am also in awe that God gifted them to us... they are so full of life and pure joy, and I am so thankful that we get to share this journey together.

The scripture that carried me through this last year and continues to challenge me in this new year is Deuteronomy 30:19-20 - "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." 
God continues to teach me what it means to choose life, His life, every day.  To everyone who prays for us and supports us - thank you so much!  We are so thankful to share this journey with you.  May God continue to show us how He is working around us and how we can join Him in His work wherever He places us.  Happy New Year from Okinawa!

Motheread follow-up

It's New Year's Eve in Okinawa, so it's a good time to catch up on a couple overdue blog posts. :)  Thank you for your prayers for my Motheread class this last fall! I wanted to share some of the pictures from our final party. We had our last class on a Saturday morning, and spouses and kids were also invited.  We read a book together, acted it out, did a craft, and had lunch together... it was wonderful! I am so thankful for the time I got to spend with my new friends over the 8 weeks we met for the class.  Once again, I witnessed God's amazing miracles of language -  even though we didn't always have perfect communication and understanding, God blessed us with new friendships, meaningful discussions, and excitement about how we can continue to work and meet together after Christmas.  Please continue to pray for these special relationships, continued opportunities to meet together, and, of course, my Japanese language skills. :)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

24 Hour Vacation

As usual, I can't believe it's already December!  The summer flew by and it seems this fall went by even more quickly.  Life has been busy but full of amazing friendships and memories.  God continues to teach us so many things and we are in constant awe of His grace and working in our lives.  Our summer was wonderful, but as it came to a close, we realized we never had any time away just for our family and we could tell we needed it. :)  But the fall calendar was busy and it's difficult for us to get away on weekends.  So we came up with a new idea that we all fell in love with and can't wait to repeat... the 24 hour vacation!

We picked up the boys early from school on a Friday and informed them we were going on vacation... for 24 hours. :)  Thanks to Brian's jar of change, some leftover birthday gift money, and support from our LINKS churches, we were able to have a short but very meaningful and fun get away. :)
So we checked in to our hotel and immediately went to the pool.  It was a little cool outside but we had just enough sun to still enjoy ourselves. 
We had a wonderful dinner and evening walk on the beach. 

The next morning we greatly enjoyed the hotel breakfast buffet (always our favorite part of staying at Japanese hotels... and we were way too busy eating to take any pictures) and spent our last hour in the pool again.

After we checked out we enjoyed a special treat for lunch and then went to a fun nature park we hadn't been to before. Then we made it home in time for supper and church the next day. :)



 A few years ago, I probably would have never been okay with us doing something like this... we should have had more time away, the hotel was too expensive, we missed an event and had stuff we should be doing, etc., etc.  But thankfully God is so patient with me and is teaching me to look at things differently.  There are always things that need to be done, and He is teaching me to not be so concerned with all those things... every day we have together is precious and wonderful.  It's important to work at what He has called us to, but it's also extremely important to obey His Sabbath commands and rest, get away, and play together... even if it's just for 24 hours.  :)

Monday, October 20, 2014

The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these...

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:13-14

  Since I became a parent, and a parent in full-time ministry, these verses have started to mean something new and different to me.  I've heard them discussed countless times in my life and have always found deep meaning, challenge, and motivation in how I treat and love all children, and how 'child-like' my own faith is.  And while all of those thoughts still hold very true, God is helping me see them in a new light.

Our life is busy, like most people.  But sometimes being in the ministry is a different kind of busy, and it can have great impacts (positive and negative) on our children.  While we don't feel obligated to be at every single event that happens at our church, we're involved in most of them.  And while we try to protect our family time and our boys' needs, our boys end up being at church and church events a lot.  For the most part, they love it... and we're very thankful for that. :) But this last Sunday was one of those days where there were many things going on.  And honestly, I wished that only Brian had committed to go to our evening activity.  But we rsvp-ed for the whole family, so I put on smile, told the boys how much fun we would have, and we got in the car, even though they would get to bed late, it was a school night, I still needed to go shopping for school lunches the next day, etc. etc. :)

There are five other Japanese Nazarene churches on Okinawa (ours is the only English-speaking), and a few times a year they host events for people from the different churches to have fellowship together.  This Sunday night was one of my favorites - a really delicious bbq on the beach... yes, why in the world did I have any hesitation to attend? ;)  We have attended almost every year since we moved to Okinawa, and it's usually the same small group of young adults from three or four churches.  So we know each other, but we only see each other a few times a year.  But our friends have watched the boys grow up over the last 4 1/2 years of occasional interaction.  Some speak English, but most of the conversations are in Japanese (sometimes the conversations are very short when we are a part ;) ).

So, on the way to the park, we had the usual talk in the car... 'Boys, our friends are going to be at the beach tonight.  Please say hello or konnichiwa when someone says hello to you.  This is a good time to practice your Japanese.  These are our friends.  It's okay if you don't talk a long time, just smile and be friendly....' etc., etc.  Our boys love being with friends, but they can also be shy in new or different situations.  So they stuck pretty close to us for the first 30 minutes as we started eating and saying hello.  After a while, they were getting restless, so I encouraged them to go watch the food being cooked, and they decided to watch a nearby soccer game instead.  I was talking to a friend and didn't notice that some of our friends from the other churches were sitting and talking with the boys.  And my boys were beaming. They kept talking, occasionally coming to me for more food or drink, but then eagerly returning to the steps where they were hanging out with 'their friends'.  

And then I watched them all go down to the beach and play soccer together... soccer the way our boys like to play it.  And I remembered Jesus' words in Matthew... and I realized I was watching it happen right in front of me..."Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."  Our friends welcomed, loved, and 'received' our children, and I was a witness to the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
As we said our goodbyes later, the boys didn't want to leave.  The whole way home they kept talking about 'their friends' and asking when we would see them again.  Thank you, Jesus, for giving us glimpses of your kingdom here on earth.  Thank you for giving us friends who love our children in small ways that have very big meaning.  And please help me to do the same.

Saturday, October 04, 2014


So now that I'm not on the board at OCSI anymore (see previous post), I'm able to be more involved with the Parent Teacher Fellowship (PTF).  Many of the families at the school are Japanese or don't speak English at home, even though everything at school is in English.  So sometimes the parents struggle with understanding things and being able to help with their children's education.  As I continued to hear about this the last few years, it kept reminding me of a program I was involved with when we lived in Guam - Motheread!  Motheread is a literacy program for adults that uses children's books.  Each week you study a different book together and then the parents get to take the book home and read and do the activities with their kids.  It's a wonderful program and has always been one of my most favorite things I've been able to be a part of.  So I talked with the administration and other PTF members about starting a class here at OCSI... and we did.... and we're having SO much fun.  :)
1st Motheread Class at OCSI - September, 2014
When I started looking back through the curriculum, I came across some material when I first got trained in the program, and it was 10 years ago! I immediately started thinking of my friend Beth in Guam.  Beth was part of our church and also worked for the Guam Humanities Council.  The Humanities Council sponsored the Motheread program on Guam, and since I was working for the Salvation Army, Beth encouraged me to get trained and use it with some of our clients.  I taught the program 2 different times with other teacher friends and it was simply amazing... we were able to develop very close relationships with the Moms that participated, and it helped them with their children and living as immigrants in a place very different than where they were originally from.

Guam Motheread class - 2004

It was also an emotional time as I started making lesson plans for Motheread again.  Beth was one of our closest friends in Guam.  And she stayed in touch with us after we moved to the Philippines and she later moved to Florida.  Two years ago she died unexpectedly, and sometimes it's still hard to think about the world without Beth.  She was an incredibly generous person who supported us in many ways ever since we first met.  She is the reason I was involved in Motheread in Guam, and she is the reason I'm able to use it again to connect with other parents here in Okinawa.  I am forever thankful for Beth's friendship and the way she influenced my life.  Please pray for our Motheread class and the opportunities God has given us to build relationships with new friends.  And thank the people who have made a difference in your life... God used Beth to make a difference in my life 10 years ago, and he continues to bless that influence even now. :)
with Char and Beth in Manila - 2006

Daily living

Well our summer was busy, and apparently September was too, because I can't believe it's already October and our calendar is filling up with activities from now until the end of the year.  But school is going well for both boys and we're excited for new opportunities and friendships God continues to bring us.  Recently I've had a few friends ask what a typical day is like for us.  And it made me realize that sometimes things become so normal to me that I forget to share with our friends and family around the world what we're involved in and what God is doing... so this post is about one of those things that has been a part of my daily life. 

Some of you know that Justin attends Okinawa Christian School International (OCSI) and Noah will start there next year.  We heard of the school as soon as we moved to Okinawa and have been so blessed to be part of the school community as parents, and our church also partners with OCSI in many things.  But when we had been in Okinawa about 1 1/2 years, I (Julie) was asked to join the school board.  I also grew up at a private school and was excited about the chance to serve the school and expand our involvement in Okinawa.  The school is set up so that local missionaries and pastors make up the board, and you are asked to serve for 3 years. 

When I first joined the board, I only knew a few teachers, and I didn't even know the other board members much.  I had no idea how God would use that experience to change me and give me incredible friendships.  I learned a lot while serving on the board... my Mom was previously a school principal and teacher, so I knew that working at a private school was very stressful at times.  But I really had no idea. ;) Yes, sometimes it was really hard and we had to deal with very difficult things.  But it was such a privilege to deal with those difficult things together, with amazing brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are blessed with an incredible community of churches and missionaries on Okinawa.  We are all from different backgrounds, denominations, and organizations, but God has blessed our relationships with unity, encouragement, prayer support, and incredible friendships. 
I learned so much from the other board members and school administrators, faculty, and staff I got to work with.  God stretched me and challenged me in ways I hadn't experienced before... it was hard, but so good.  And now that my 3 year commitment is finished, I know how to pray for the school in a different and deeper way.  We are still very involved in the school as parents and through church partnerships, and sometimes I do miss that tangible way of serving, but God is opening new doors and opportunities.  It's actually really cool that we've been here long enough to go through 'seasons' of serving in different ways.  I am so thankful for my time on the board, and now I'm thankful to get serve God at the school in other ways.  But my life has been changed by the incredible people I got to serve with and their love for God and dedication to him.  And if you ever want to serve at a great school on a beautiful island in Japan, just let me know and I'll send you an application... :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer 2014

So, the last time we wrote a blog was a few months ago, and there are quite a few reasons for that... we have enjoyed a wonderful but incredibly busy summer, and I can't believe it's over, and we fit so much fun into such a short period of time!  Here's a brief recap of the highlights, and we hope that as we get back into a regular routine, it will also include regular blogging. :)

Julie's parents arrived the first week of June right in time for Justin's kindergarten graduation!

 We are so proud of Justin as he continues to grow in so many ways, and it was so special to have family here to celebrate together.  Justin was also a ringbearer in a wedding!  Some dear friends got married and we had a wonderful time celebrating their marriage... and I think our boys are pretty handsome when they get dressed up. :)

Next we celebrated Noah's 4th birthday!  Noah continues to become such a fun and creative boy... we are so thankful for the constant smiles and laughter he brings to our family. 
A few days after Julie's parents left, we reconnected with a very special friend from our time in the Philippines!  We were very close friends with Mami and her family, and she was one of Justin's first babysitters. :)  Mami is now about to graduate from college in Tokyo, and she came to Okinawa with a mutual missionary friend, Andrea, who lives in Osaka.  We had an amazing time showing them Okinawa and reconnecting.

 And then a few days after Mami and Andrea left, I (Julie) flew to Denver for a week! My sister, Jessica, got married, and it was such an incredible blessing to be with them. I know I'm biased because she's my sister, but it really was the most beautiful and meaningful wedding I have ever been to.  It was such a gift to spend time with family and friends in the beautiful mountains, and we're so excited for Jessica and Andy and their future adventures together!

The same day I left for Denver more of our dear friends from the Philippines came to Okinawa... but not just to visit - to stay! Jana has been a close friend ever since we moved to the Philippines in 2006.  We traveled to South Africa together, were Seminary students together, and worked together on different NYI projects.  Last year she married Anderson (who of course is our friend because he married Jana) and as they were looking at where God wanted them after seminary, we suggested they apply to become teachers at OCSI.  After months of praying (well, years really, but that's another story), the school hired them, their visas were approved, and they arrived in Japan! Their apartment wasn't ready when they got here, so they got to stay with us for 2 weeks.  We had a wonderful time showing them some of the island and reconnecting.  But we're even more excited that we get to live in the same place!  Even though they are working full-time at OCSI, they will also be involved in our church, and we will meet regularly to pray together about what God is doing around us. 
And next... a week after Jana and Anderson moved into their apartment, Brian's parents and brother came for a visit!  It was so great for the boys (and us!) to see both grandparents in the same summer.  It was also Justin's (Brian's brother) first time to come to Okinawa, so again we had a great time showing him the island and spending time together. 
Oh yeah, and we had Vacation Bible School at church while they were here... never a dull moment in the Woolery house! 

So, after 2 months of guests, emotions of reconnecting and saying goodbye, keeping up with church responsibilities, and LOTS of eating out and being tourists, Brian and I are ready to get back into our crazy, but normal, routine.  But after we said goodbye to Brian's family, Noah's first question was, "Who's coming next?".  I'm so thankful that God gives our children flexibility and perspective... the gifts of a guest room and time with family and friends are MUCH more important than routine and schedules... every day is a gift, and we're thankful for the days of this summer. :)