Ohisashiburi desu ne! (Been a long time, hasn't it!) A warm welcome to Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Covenant Lutheran Church, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, and Grace Lutheran Church! I am very excited to have sponsoring congregations and look forward to hearing more about you!
As someone who has written novels, I've long been aware that it is not only impossible to share every experience, feeling and thought that a character goes through, it is also boring. But if I were writing a book about my life, the time since January would fill at least several chapters. I am about in attempt it in one newsletter. Bear with me.
I think Hongo Lutheran Church is one of the best places to work in Tokyo. The first floor is the office and English school and the second level is the sanctuary. We have two classrooms and I usually teach in the small one. My smallest class has only one student. She prefers just to talk rather than study grammar, so we sit and chat about anything and everything in English. Hongo is about a block away from Tokyo University (which I'm told is the "Harvard" of Japan). This student is fairly typical for Hongo. She's a biological researcher at Tokyo University. One class she tried to explain her research to me...which dropped me mentally right back into my college "Cellular Biology" class, which was the class that officially broke me of my academic perfectionistic tendencies. But when she started talking to me about cells and osmosis, we shared a good laugh at how hard it was to describe it, especially in English.
This student has also asked some of the best questions. During the Bible studies we hold after each class, she has asked things like, "Why do you believe God exists?" and "Do you think everyone should be a Christian? Do you think the world would be better if everyone were a Christian?" Many Japanese students think it is polite just to listen to what I'm saying whenever I'm talking, but I love that this student will stop me when I pause to take a breath and question me about whatever I've just said. I'm not sure if I'll see her again next term or not, but it has been a true blessing to walk alongside her for a few months.
My biggest class is twelve students. They fill every chair around the tables and then scoot folding chairs in between the chairs that are already there. Japanese people are incredibly talented at functioning in close quarters. If American clowns and Japanese clowns all had a competition to see who could fit the most into a car, the American clowns would probably get twelve into the car and the Japanese clowns would manage to squash in twenty four and still have room for everyone to stretch legs from time to time.
My big classes have lots of energy and I love coming up with games and activities for them. I've been sharing American jokes at the beginning of all my intermediate and advanced English classes, and they particularly enjoyed chicken jokes and yo momma jokes. And I am constantly amused and surprised by what they find amusing. For example, they particularly enjoyed, "Yo momma so poor she waves a popsicle stick and calls it air conditioning."
There have definitely been challenges in being a teacher in Japan. When I was still deciding if I would come to Japan, I thought I was going to be teaching junior high and high school students (I teach college students and other adults). I remember one person saying to me, "I think you will find that they are the most serious, dedicated students you could find." This is certainly true...except when it comes to class participation. My students frequently remind me that Japanese classrooms are lecture style and that they are very new to the idea of a "conversation" class. But we have been adapting to that together. It is always my challenge to find new ways to encourage them to talk. Small groups seem to work the best. My Wednesday evening advanced class has come together particularly well. They all talk to each other in addition to talking to me, and are quick to encourage each other and help anyone who hasn't quite understood my sometimes too fast or too colloquial English.
My Wednesday class is also the one that really enjoys deep conversation. Once the English part of class went very quickly and I was rushing through the Bible Study to make sure we could talk about everything. When I finally stopped to ask them if they had any questions, one of the students said, "But...what can we learn from this?" I have very few Christian students and none at all in this class, but we have been able to have some really wonderful discussions about the Bible anyway. It is always a little surprising to remember that they sometimes haven't heard anything about Christianity outside of our classes here. During one discussion, I finally realized that the reason I was having a hard time communicating was that a student did not realize that Christians believe that Jesus is God. I explained that and had another student who had been at Hongo for multiple years say, "I never knew that Christians believed that!" It is very different to talk about faith in Japan than in America. Another thing that I have found is that, while in America the move is usually from not believing in any God to believing in the Christian God, often in Japan it is a move from believing in multiple gods to believing in the one God. But for this reason, discussions about the Trinity become very complicated very quickly. It is extremely difficult to explain exactly why our "three in one" God is not polytheistic. Actually, I'm always looking for new images to help explain that. If you know any, please send them my way!
The other two things I teach at Hongo are a Christianity Today class and an English Bible Study. Both are more than half Christian students, and have been a lot of fun to teach. In Christianity Today, we read a few sections from the book "The Hiding Place" by Corrie ten Boom. English Bible Study is probably my favorite thing that I do. We take one of the readings for the Sunday, spend ten minutes reading and rereading and thinking, and then share what stuck out to us and what the reading teaches us about God. It has been amazingly wonderful to hear different reactions from both Christians and non-Christians and discuss the Bible together.
I was reflecting with a friend today how neat it is that we can pretty much share our faith in Japan. In America, it sometimes feels like one is being pushy just by saying "I believe this", but it's not like that here. I remember how careful we were in outreach ministries in America. Even working in a church-based ESL program there, we had rules about things we weren't allowed to talk about. It is really refreshing to be able to just...say what I believe. At first, I worried a little. But as I have kept going, it's really exciting. I basically get to tell a bunch of people how awesome God is on a daily basis.
The latest Lutheran magazine I got had the headline "A Cure for Lutheran Laryngitis? How to Talk Faith." Talking faith is really different from talking about "God and Politics" or "The Bible and Homosexuality" or "The Exact Right Answer to the Problem of Suffering". I've found here that talking about faith is really addicting. It's not intellectual, but it's sharing one's deepest hopes and fears and then seeing how God is in all of them. It's talking about all the ways that God is answering prayers and moving in our lives.
Speaking of God moving in lives and answered prayers and all that, I overheard a really cool conversation. A new Japanese Christian was asked, "So, what's Christian life like?" And he responded, "It's good. My prayers get answered now." I thought that was possibly the COOLEST thing anyone could possibly come up with on the spot to answer that question.
Anyway, I've been on a break from teaching for a little more than a month now. Summer holidays have been wonderful. I spent one week doing literally nothing just in recovery from classes and all that. Then I traveled to Niigata to see one of my friends from orientation. We had a lovely time that included a seaside picnic, hiking, experiencing a Japanese sports center (the bicycles give you a food quantity to show you how many calories you have burned, so I officially lost two maguro (tuna) sushi while riding the bike), cookie baking, guitar jamming, and a late night Star Wars marathon. In the weeks after that, I have been preparing for various things. I will be leaving for India for about ten days this coming Wednesday, and it took me five trips to the embassy here before I finally had a visa. I'll be volunteering at Mother Teresa's houses in Calcutta. The day after I return, we will start handing out pamphlets for the English Center at Hongo and classes will start up a week later.
The summer also included a prayer retreat with fellow missionaries that was really, really wonderful. I have come to the conclusion recently that, if God gives me a choice, I would most like a job in prayer leadership after Japan. I have no idea if that is really a possibility or not. But it was really fulfilling to be a co-leader of the retreat. Also interesting to learn about myself that I would rather spend two days straight praying through frustrations and inspirations about how to lead a single prayer session than spend half an hour planning the menus for the event. *sheepish grin*
That's pretty much the news from Tokyo! I hope you are all doing well!
There is a new album up at http://picsbypamela.shutterfly
Amusing Gaijin (Foreigner) Moment of the Month (a.k.a. Proof that Culture Shock is Still Alive and Well):
I went to church a couple Sundays ago absolutely exhausted from running around doing various preparations, and I still had a lot more to do. Since I was technically on vacation anyway, I left the morning service after the sermon. I know this makes me sound like a horrible missionary...but really, I thought it was okay. It was the only time I've ever done it and it will be the last pending any major sudden illnesses. It was one of the Sundays where I actually didn't have anything going on, though. What I didn't remember was that I had been helping cut up lettuce before the service and one woman had questioned my selection of which lettuce leaves should be kept and which shouldn't be. I had forgotten about this immediately. The next morning, however, I got a worried call from one of the church ladies. Apparently, the first assumption when I left church early was that I was deeply offended because of the lettuce. *facepalm* As per the normal when such things happened, it was time for much bowing and apologizing on Pamela's part. Which is slightly different over the telephone, but I think it's kind of like hearing if someone is smiling, right? ;-)
Peace and blessings!
p.s. If you are interested in becoming a prayer supporter for me, I have a prayer newsletter that I try to send out once a week...realistically I send it out every few weeks. I always appreciate people who want to become part of my ministry by praying! Let me know if you want to be added.