I am going to try something new. My hope in moving newsletters from email to a blog is that I will update more frequently but with smaller stories and experiences. I'll send email reminders about blog updates every once in awhile. The other change that is happening with this blog is that this is my official communication as an ELCA Missionary. My newsletters before were written as a combination Official Newsletter and Mass Email to Friends all in one. This blog is written under the assumption that my readers are interested in hearing about church and God related things. There will be other entries too...I will do my best to share my experience here, so it will also include many cultural entries and other stories. Anyway, welcome to my new blog! I have a lot of older entries that I have moved from another blog and I also included all my old email newsletters here. Welcome to all who join the story now and welcome to those who have been with me much longer! Come and walk with me awhile...
This past fall and Christmas time reached new levels of busyness, though it's been a good kind of busy. In mid-September, Tokyo was invaded by nine new missionaries--five new J3s, two new VYM, and one long-term ELCA couple. I have felt something like a proud aunt watching them from a distance...you know, we really do pick up Japanese pretty quickly. It felt so slow when it was me.
Teaching English this term was much more natural, much less of an experiment. I might be learning how to read Japanese people much better...or at least during one class I explained to them that, when I ask them if they have any questions and they sit without making eye contact and say nothing, I am never sure if it means:
1) They still do not understand the English but don't know what to ask and will wait for me to ask them if they have a question.
2) Really they understand the English perfectly but feel like they must come up with a question because I am asking for one, so I should just move the class on.
3) They *have* a question, but no one else seems to be asking one, so they can't ask theirs either.
My students laughed with me at this and told me I understand Japanese students very well. Which I find slightly amusing.
Christmas this year was a good one. Though it was hard. Many people asked me this year if it was my first Christmas away from home, and when I said 'no', they would say, 'Oh, okay.' But really, the second Christmas away from home is not so different from the first. And the song 'I'll be Home For Christmas' remains on my banned songs list.
That being said, I really love my congregation. We had kid's activities on Christmas Eve and I got to watch Yasui Sensei (the pastor) try to teach origami to four year olds. For once, Japanese preschoolers lived up (er...down) to their American counterparts, and the adults ended up doing a lot of the folding.
Pic: Kids racing around trying to snatch a strip of toilet paper from the backs of their friends.
Kid's activities were followed by a candlelight service with harpsichord. After the service, we hit the streets with candles and carol books! Singing on the streets is definitely not normal Tokyo behavior, and it felt so lovely to be standing on the corners singing 'Joy to the World' in Japanese. One church member made it her personal mission to wish Merry Christmas to everyone we passed. I was so proud of her. Other church members were laughing at her, but she explained that it was the one day she felt free to tell the world around about the joy that she had. She got two people to say 'Merry Christmas' back, and as soon as they were passed she threw her arms up in the air with joy and then would hold up a count. 'Got one! Got two!' It felt so easy to feel God smiling that Christmas night.
This season at Hongo has been one of deepening relationships. Most of my classes have gotten smaller, but more dear at the same time. I find myself really loving them.
My Wednesday Advanced class is perhaps the most fun. It is made up of nine wonderful people. A cram school English teacher with a better hold on idioms than most Americans who speaks up to a mile a minute. A young doctor who has blossomed into a strong, opinionated student. An older woman who goes salsa dancing with Cubans from time to time and often says 'Adios' on her way out the door. A college professor in forestry who vanishes for several weeks at a time and comes back with tales of figuring out how old trees in given areas are. A soft spoken man who has lived abroad in Canada who, when asked what he's confident about, mentions things like having a good family someday. Three lab partner college students who research molecular biology and are able to hold conversations with the aforementioned doctor about lymph nodes which, although English conversations, are completely incomprehensible to me. A shy woman who comes and goes early but knows Japanese sign language and enough about American gestures to teach us why you could get in big trouble speaking Japanese sign language in America.
If I ask this class to introduce themselves, we will talk for forty five minutes. Our end of class Bible studies have taken to going twenty to forty minutes overtime because we get so into our discussions.
My reflection for these past few months has been about time in the middle. I received an encouraging email that had nothing to do with mission work except in my head. It was really about writing. But this was a quote in it:
"A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realize that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It's a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words. The wall-builder erects her wall one rock at a time until she reaches the far end of the field. If she doesn't build it it won't be there. So she looks down at her pile of rocks, picks the one that looks like it will best suit her purpose, and puts it in."
So it is for ministry as well. There is a time when things are starting fresh and new that they seem really adventurous and exciting. Really, they never stop being that way, but the wonder fades to our sinful eyes eventually. G.K. Chesterton says that the amount of time it takes to complete a miracle does not change whether it is a miracle or not. A 3000 year miracle and a 1 second miracle are all God doing the impossible. Here in Japan, we are building a wall that is revival of the church here. We dream of a time when people will look back at the days of "1% Christian" and say, "Look what God has done for the Japanese since then!".
For now, though, the work is often setting down one stone at a time. One prayer for the wall. One word about Christ for the wall. One friendship for the wall. Luckily, we are not building the wall alone. But sometimes we are not starting walls or finishing walls, but just laying down one stone at a time. Each stone is really needed, though.
Recently, it has felt like the time of Middle is coming to an end. Ironically, it hasn't felt like the transition is from middle to ending, but rather from middle to beginning. Time will tell.