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... :)