The City No Longer Forsaken

"They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted." ~Isaiah 62:12

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kids Camps at Inawashiro

Two girls, hand in hand with each other, were stopped outside the tatami room with their moms, where the five of us would be sleeping that night. "I'm sleeping together with you! That's great!" I exclaimed to them. A girl I'll call Nora had been in the same room as me for our Kids' Camp in May, and I was very excited about getting to continue a relationship. The other girl was new to me--I'll call her Hana. But she lit up even more than Nora at my words. Hana, I soon learned, was very affectionate. She wore a pink shirt most of the first day that said, "I'm cute, make me happy", which I have to admit it was nearly impossible not to want to do.

We had just arrived at the third kids' camp I've been able to participate in. I've watched these camps come together from the beginning of an idea, when we couldn't quite tell if it was coming from God, an overseas church connected with us, or our Japanese synod . . . and all my best guesses to try to figure out which Fukushima church was running it came out clueless. The general vision behind it hasn't changed while many of these structural things seem to be fluctuating all the time. We take families out of Fukushima and go to a location with lower radiation for a weekend, or a few days over a long holiday. Then the kids play outside without fear. Whether there are any real physical benefits to doing this or not is a controversial question. But as I talked it over with one of the other Christian volunteers on the bus on the way there, we came to the same conclusion I always reach. Whether the danger of radiation in Fukushima is real, or whether taking people out of it for such a short time does any physical good or not, the fear is real, and the stress relief from taking people out of their lives to relax and play seems to me to be real too. It is a wonderful chance to talk to and love on Fukushima families.

Nora, Hana and I spent much of Sunday and Monday arm in arm. I usually have a little more of a slope to climb when earning the affections of Japanese children, but Hana seemed totally unafraid. From the moment we were together, she shamelessly questioned me and noticed things outloud. "You have a long nose." "That's true. Do you think it's weird?" "Nope! It's beautiful." Later in the evening, she sat down across from me and pulled her cheeks down so I could get a good look at her eyes. "Can you see black?" she asked me. "Yep!" I said. She responded, "Your eyes are blue." Once her mom told her there were lots of colors of eyes other than black, she questioned me thoroughly about all the different options. "Green? Purple? Brown? Orange?"

Having known me for all of 15 minutes, right from the get go she seemed just as disappointed if I sat out of one game of tag as if her dad skipped the final championship of an important sports tournament. She and Nora spent the two days teaching me card games, and how you play dodge ball the Japanese way. We hid out together in the futon closet while Nora's mom rescued us from large flying insects . . . okay, it was actually one medium sized flying insect (I swear I'll grow up about being afraid of crawly things . . . sometime soon! ;-) ). On the last day, I spotted the girls through a somewhat intense ground level ropes course--and had fun encouraging them not to be afraid and to try (safe) things without holding onto my hand. I really am an introvert, and cherish these opportunities in the middle of a big group to get to pour out a lot of love on a few people I can get to know more intimately.

One of the things I love about working at the kids' camps, is that we've had whole teams of Japanese Christians come in to help. Eric and I do some of the games and English activities, and they do some. Last time, it was a whole group from the "Domei" Church. They'll be with us again for later camps too. This time, CRASH--the Christian organization formed to respond to disasters in Japan--sent a team of people. I like teams coming in because they bring a certain Christian environment with them. When prayer and conversations about God are springing up in Japanese in the free time, I always feel like we're being more natural when we have our structured Bible time later on. I also continue to be a lover of interdenominational Christian activity, and these camps have always been a good example of the way we are strengthened by working together.

Even so, we are definitely coming in as strangers! Hana asked me why I came to Japan, and I told her I came here for Jesus. Her mother (a non-Christian, to my knowledge) tried to help me out by explaining to her daughter that I was here for God. Hana was obviously confused. I keep thinking about that conversation and wondering, as I always do doing mission work in Japan, if there's any way to make the gap easier. But it always seems to come to the same thing--pray, follow God's leading, and if anything is in the way of God's Spirit, make sure it's gone. Because it's only His Spirit that leads people to himself. Every time a Japanese person begins following Jesus, I am amazed at God, because none of the conversations ever make it seem humanly possible. There aren't any working formulas that I know of--every solid convert to Christianity that I know of moves because they've had an encounter with God Himself. So, we keep praying, and keep loving, and keep speaking--and wait for the Spirit to move.

We circled with the other Christian volunteers in our church parking lot after waving goodbye to the last bus, and the Baptist pastor lead us in prayer. My eyes filled as he asked God to do so much more to protect the kids' bodies from radiation, but to lead all who didn't know Him to the Lord. It was a good reminder that this is why I came back, and that this is why I stay: to be down on my knees before the Father for these people, to tell them about Him, and to love on them for Him. Some days it costs more than others, and sometimes the way to do all that seems so foggy it's impossible to imagine HOW one prays and tells and loves. But moments like that, it seems as simple as can be.

Just keep following. Just keep praying. Just keep listening. Just keep speaking. Just keep loving.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." ~Galations 6:9

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