Tuesday, August 21, 2018

In My Experience

I just finished watching a video posted on another social media sight about volunteering while on vacation.  I think they called it voluntourism.  I have heard much about how trips like this hurt those who are visited and pump up those who go.  I suspect this may often be the case.

I have been on two trips to visit sponsor children.  They were expensive and we may have caused some hardship for those involved in the countries we visited.  However, the moment of meeting my children and getting to spend the day with them will live on in my heart forever.  If I go on another trip I will probably do a few things differently, however, I would still consider going on another trip.

Sightseeing in Kyoto
At the end of July through the first week of August we had a short term team visit us here in Japan.  Although it took a lot of planning and hard work, we felt the two weeks were well worth the effort.  Each team is different, each location is different, but I wouldn't rule out the effectiveness of short term missions teams and trips.

One of the biggest reasons we feel this team was successful was because of all the preparation that happened on both sides of the ocean.  First, this was not a random group who just wanted to go to Japan.  A Japanese pastor, his wife, and I bonded with this group through our time at a youth gathering in California.  We formed relationships that caused the team to want to not only visit us in Japan but also to learn about ministry and to do ministry in Japan.
Fellowship with Japanese pastors

Second, as an NAB family we have a wonderful ministry called Gateway that trains and leads short term teams, especially to NAB mission fields.  Randy Schmor not only took time to train the team, he came to Japan to train us on what to expect and what they would be doing to prepare for their trip.

The team not only learned about Japan and our ministry, but also part of their preparation included intensive Bible study and learning more about what they believe.  In their youth group for the past year they have been going through a study on the foundations of faith which has helped give them a more solid foundation.  They, also, each prepared a testimony to share at some point.  I think they all had a chance to share at least twice.

American Culture Day @ Komyo Church
Another reason the team was so effective was their attitude.  They arrived with a willingness to help us out in any way possible and a humility to listen and to learn, to observe and to try to understand.  This willingness and humility are so important.  After 20 years on the field I am still learning new things every day.  If we arrive in a foreign country thinking that we can do ministry without any help because we have read all the books and watched all the videos, then we are not ready to get our passport.  But, if we do our best to educate ourselves and then arrive ready to learn more, we are ready to get on the airplane.

I have wonderful coworkers who were willing to do everything to help make this experience a success for all involved.  We all feel that it was a success.  The team got to stay in Japanese homes both in Osaka and Chita.  They helped with ministry in three churches as well as at a denominational gathering.  They got to experience Japanese history and religion through our sightseeing days.  And, they even got to spend some time at the beach!
The whole group (picture of a picture!)

We feel the biggest reason this team was successful was prayer support.  The missionaries had all asked their supporting churches and prayer warriors to be praying for the team.  But, the team themselves had a strong prayer base at their home churches praying for them as well.  We are so thankful for all God did over the two weeks they were here!  Praise and glory all go to Jesus!

If you are considering a short term mission experience, take some time to consider these things:
*Why do I want to go?
*Do the people on the other end want me to go?
*How have I/can I prepare?
*Am I ready to listen and learn?
*Is God guiding me into this?
*And, be sure to pray, pray, pray!
There are probably hundreds of lists of things to think about when deciding to join a short term team. These are just the thoughts that popped into my mind as I wrote.

Here are a couple of resources:

Gateway Teams - NAB ministry for those interested in serving on short term teams locally and globally
Gateway Ministry

Japan Harvest - a magazine ministry of JEMA (Japan Evangelical Missionary Association)  written, edited, and published by missionaries in Japan
Japan Harvest

Monday, July 23, 2018

Stronger? Softer? Weaker? Wiser?

This morning when I was looking for some clothes to wear, a book in my nightstand caught my attention.  It has a cute bookmark with a little woven doll hanging off the end.  Since I sleep in my tatami room in the summer, I basically go into my bedroom to put away or get clothes.

The book is called "Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief."  I received it as part of a lovely gift when my dad passed away.  I started to read it when I got back to Japan after my dad's funeral.  It was one of the best things I received.

I was just thinking this morning about how grief and other challenges in life change us, challenge us, can make us stronger and wiser.  Then I found this book and started flipping through it reading the pages I had dog-eared.  (Yes, I am one of those people!)  There are so many good things I could share, but with the theme I had already been pondering, this meditation caught my eye- and my heart:

"'I think these difficult times have helped me to understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way and that so many things that one goes around worrying about are of no importance whatsoever.' - Isak Dinesen
It is a costly wisdom, and God knows we would not have asked for it.  But it is also true that coming through a great sorrow can make us stronger, teach us what is really important.
But to survive the death of a loved one is no guarantee of greater wisdom.  We can also become embittered, reclusive, grasping.  That's when we need friends, communities of faith, even professional help.  But if we can weather the storm, we will have a better sense of who we are and what we want most in life.  And we will learn to savor and cherish cool water, sunshine and wind, the smell of roses - and the love and friendship we have now.
I will take time to notice the gifts life gives me, and be thankful."

I am so thankful for my family, friends, and communities of faith that have walked this journey with me.  They have helped me to grow stronger, not bitter, to cling to God more tightly, not to walk away in anger, and to remember who I am, not to give up and live in denial.

Using chopsticks, eating new food, having a daughter
who lives on the other side of the world, all challenging things!
I have learned to stand in God's strength, to listen to others with a softer heart, to accept my weaknesses, and to seek God's wisdom.

This journey is not an easy one, but it can be a sweet one when it is taken walking alongside Jesus, my family, my friends, and my faith community.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


I am out of the practice of writing.  Not only on my blog, but also in other areas of life.  This is a good place for me to return and start up again.  I don't know if anyone will even read this or even remembers that I have a blog.  But, for me, that is not the point.  The point is to write.  Writing helps me reflect on life, thoughts, attitudes, actions.  It gives me a few moments of quiet, keeps me off of social media for a few minutes, keeps me from watching TV for a few minutes.

A lot has happened since my last post.  I won't try to review it all.  One of the biggest life-changing events happened, though, and it has had an incredible impact on my life, my way of life, my attitudes and my actions.  Six months after I took the trip to SD and then to Haiti, my dad graduated from this life and is now living in the presence of Jesus.  This new reality now impacts every part of my life and will probably come up as I write.

I had just turned 47 years old.  My dad has been the man in my life since I was born.  47 was not my favorite year.  It was hard.  It was messy.  I learned more in that year than I wanted to learn.  But, through it all, Jesus stuck with me.  When I was sad, mad, confused, joyful, content, Jesus was there.

I am now approaching 49.  I know we like to say that age is just a number.  Yet, I think there is significance in paying attention to and celebrating the passing of time.  Our lives are but a breath.  Like the lilies of the field, here today and gone tomorrow.  What have these years of my life meant?  What have I learned?  How have I grown?

These are important questions.  I hope they keep coming up in my mind as I reflect on life.  I hope I keep paying attention to the answers and the ponderings that spring up from these questions.

Here we go again!  Where is God going to take me?

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Trip that Changes Lives, Part 3: The BIG Day

Finally, after three and a half days in Haiti, we were able to meet our sponsor children!  Before I went to Peru when I read the schedule I thought, "Why do they make us wait until the end of the week to meet our children!?!"  As one of the men on our trip said at the evening debriefing on the day we met our children, "Thank you for having this be the last thing in the week.  I am emotionally drained and would be of little use tomorrow!"  Obviously, there is wisdom and experience in the schedule making!

The morning we were to meet our children found us finished with breakfast and ready for the day much faster than any other day of the trip.  Even the people who were always the last ones to arrive for anything were ready early!

We were to spend the day at our hotel, enjoying the grounds and pool as we played and chatted together with our children.  So, we all gathered in the area around the pool to wait to meet our children.  We were called one by one to meet our children.  Our beloved Jim and Rita were the first to meet their girl.  (A long and fun story behind the reason we elected for them to be first.  Maybe another time!)

Just Nikki and me left!

As each person/couple was called I felt like the participant on one of those reality shows where someone is voted off the show or chosen as the winner.  Nikki and I were the last two.  Then she was called and there I was waiting while I watched everyone playing with and talking with their children already!

I kinda wanted to hold her hand all day!

But, oh, what a joy awaited me!  I finally got to meet Shnaida.  She is now a beautiful 17 year old.  I started supporting her when she was 6 years old!  There she was in her lovely red t-shirt and denim skirt with her hair braided and piled on her head in an amazing arrangement and gorgeous freckles on her nose.  Her smile melted my heart.

Isn't she lovely?!

She is as shy as I imagined her to be, but friendly and open.  A project worker who knows Shnaida well came with her.  She was also friendly and had a great smile and spirit.

Doing origami together

We sat and chatted for a while, exchanged presents and did some origami.  I had wanted to give her a nice Japanese fan, however, they are very hard to find in the winter, even at the hundred yen store!  But, I did have a bamboo fan kit which could be decorated, so we decorated that together.  I made one side of the big fan for her and she decorated the small one for me.

Our decorated fans

As we played and chatted we talked about many different things, school, family, life.  I encouraged her to be sure to find a husband who loves Jesus.  Because her heart is so kind and beautiful, I know she will be able to do this!  She said that she'd like to find a job where she can help others.

We spent a little time in the pool playing with a beach ball.  It was her first time in a pool.  We didn't swim, just walked in the shallow end and played with some others who were in the pool, too.

Lunch was a little quiet.  We were all focused on eating, processing what had been happening all morning, and maybe our translator was a little tired, too.  After lunch I brought out a few more gifts, including some things others had given me to give to Shnaida.  We tried out the chopsticks without a lot of success!

Quilt from the ladies at West Center!  Don't know if she will
ever need to use it for sleeping...

We finished the day together in prayer.  Shnaida wanted prayer for her family and the project worker for the children at the project.  It was a sweet, holy moment filled with love and joy.

One last selfie

What precious memories!

In the car on the way home.  Wonderful day!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Trip that Changes Lives, Part 2

My procrastination of this post has brought interesting timing.  The next part of the trip I wanted to blog about is the things I take for granted in my life both in Japan and in the US.  A look at the world events of the past weekend brings earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador to the forefront of our thinking.  Many of the things I noticed while in Haiti also apply to those in the disaster areas of Kumamoto, Japan and Ecuador.  Not all, but many.

Things I take for granted:

1. Hot showers.  Every morning in Japan or the US, I go into my bathroom, turn on the tap and hot water comes out, basically for as long as I want to take a shower.  Even at our lovely little hotel in Haiti this was not always true.  Each of us on the trip tried different times of the day for showering thinking we had cornered the magic hot shower hour, yet not always, or rarely, having success.
Those in the earthquake effected areas are mostly without water, making even cold showers impossible.  Today on the news they showed a hot spring in Kumamoto that was able to open it's doors.  The line to get a bath was long!

Elim water purification center
2. Safe drinking water.  Anytime I am thirsty in Japan or the US, I go to the sink, turn on the tap, and water comes out that is drinkable.  (Now, Madison, SD water does not taste good at all, but it is not dangerous to drink.)  In Haiti, as with a few other countries I have visited, we were even advised to use bottled water for brushing our teeth.  Knowing the amount of water we should drink to stay healthy, not having access to safe drinking water helps us understand health challenges in Haiti and other such countries.
Junior telling us about the center's water purification program
One of the child centers we visited has started a ministry of water purification.  They have purchased a purifying machine and sell the water to locals at a very reasonable price, basically making enough money to keep the machine running.  First, it is a way for them to give back to their community.  Second, it is a way to help with community health.  And, third, it is a way to get to know the community and share Jesus, the Living Water.
On the news tonight, one lady who was standing in line waiting for water in Kumamoto said, "Truly, water is necessary for life."

Classroom at one of the centers
3.  Free, stable public schools.  Generally, Compassion child development centers are after-school and weekend programs in which students participate.  However, in a few countries, including Haiti, the centers also have schools.  Not all of the children who attend the school participate in the Compassion program, but all of the children in a particular project go to the school there.  This is because the public school system is unpredictable in Haiti, due to the corrupt government.  I attended public school K-12th grade, taught at a public school in Texas, and have volunteered in a public school here in Japan.  I have great respect for teachers and administrators.  It saddened me to hear that many children do not attend school in Haiti, not because they don't want to but because it is just not available.  The private schools, of course, cost money.  Thankfully, there are many ministries who are helping with education, like Compassion or other church-based schools.  It seems they do all they can to get as many kids educated as possible.  I am grateful Shnaida has had the opportunity to go to school and is learning a trade.
Children in their classroom at one of the centers
Of course, the children of Kumamoto and Ecuador are not able to go to school right now, however, I know the children of Japan have the wonderful opportunity to attend school.  It is ironic that the children who have quality schools available to them do not want to go and sometimes don't even like school; yet those who do not have education or quality education available to them desire to go to school.  We humans sure are fickle.

4.  Variety of foods available.  We ate the same basic foods each day, usually at least twice, sometimes three times.  We know we were served food considered as the best and we appreciated it greatly.  In Japan and the US, even in SD, I am used to going to the store and finding a large variety of items available, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, even different ethnic foods.  More than one person from our trip mentioned not wanting to eat rice again for a while.  Living in Japan, I didn't mind having rice all the time, but sometimes I did want just plain white rice!
The people of Kumamoto and Ecuador who have evacuated are running low on food.  They would like to have food of any kind, I'm sure.

Beans, rice, and plantains at every meal
Often chicken and some kind of pasta, too
Chicken or fish, rice, soup were available at every meal at our hotel
Some other things on my list which I won't take time to elaborate on: communication (I do not speak French or Creole!), smooth and paved roads (I've seen some big potholes in my life, but their's were amazing!), reliable electricity, flushing toilets and being able to put the TP into the toilet.

As I watch the natural disasters effect people's daily routines, I am reminded to pray for my friends in Haiti as I pray for the people of Kumamoto and Ecuador.  Thank you for your prayers for my beloved second country and her beautiful people.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Trip that Changes Lives, Part 1

In 2004 I started my relationship with Compassion International.  In 2011 I participated in my first sponsor tour to visit my sponsor child in Peru.  It was the trip that changed my life.  (If you go back in the history of this blog to October 2011 you can find my thoughts from that trip.)  The experience was more amazing than I could have imagined-I had NO idea what to expect when I signed up for the trip.
Kids are kids!

Last month I participated in my second sponsor tour, another life-changing trip.  This time I went to Haiti, a small island country just south of the US.  I thought I knew what to expect since I had participated in a tour before.  Yes, some things were similar, however, Haiti is different from any country I have ever visited.

This time there were only 18 people on the trip, half the number of my Peru trip.  This provided an intimacy that joined our hearts and souls together quickly.  I am so grateful to have gotten to spend time with these lovely people and to now call them friends.

My family group visiting this family's house
The poverty level of Haiti was astounding to me.  I thought if I waited long enough and tried to form thoughts for a few weeks that I would be able to put into words what I experienced, but I am still having a hard time coming up with words.

When I got back from Peru I had severe wealth guilt.  I don't know if that is a term, but that is how I felt.  For months I couldn't go shopping and took super short showers.  I couldn't justify my 'wealthy' life knowing how the people in Peru were living.

When I got back from Haiti, however, I didn't have that same feeling.  I still can't justify the imbalance in the distribution of wealth in this world.  But, I think the poverty was so deep that I just could not/ cannot even think of comparing the wealth/poverty levels of there and here.

Hanging out with like-minded people who also sponsor children and encountering life in a completely different country are definitely life-changing experiences.  However, the biggest life-changer for me was, again, experiencing Compassion's ministry.

Our group with the office staff at one of the centers we visited
Every person I met who serves at the churches, child development centers, and in the offices has a love for Jesus and children like few others I have met.  These staff and volunteers believe loving children and their families, teaching them, and sharing Jesus' love with them is the most effective way to end the cycle of poverty.

And, walking through the villages, there is an obvious difference that child sponsorship makes in the life of a child and family.  Playing with and sharing time with the children at the centers was an incredible experience.  These faces are imprinted on my heart.

Family who benefits from Compassion sponsorship
Somehow I thought I was going to be able to write one blogpost about this trip.  I just had to add "Part 1" to the title of this post because it is getting too long.  Thank you for sticking around this long.  Please come back for the next parts soon.  I am sure there will be at least two more posts!

Silly selfies

Sunday, January 31, 2016

What's Going On?


2016 has started with some amazing acts of God.  I have been surprised by where He has shown up, how He has encouraged me, what He has provided for me.

When reflecting on last year, I realized one thing God did was teach me, again, how important His word is.  I was reminded of the depth of His word and the love it proclaims, the joy of studying it, and the blessing of teaching and sharing it with others.

As 2016 started, this hunger for God's word did not die out.  However, God has added another layer.  My desire for His word is not just growing, but also my desire for Him.  I have enjoyed the times of togetherness and studying things like spiritual disciplines over the last month.

Somehow I was surprised by the spiritual attacks that would follow such learning.  You'd think by this time in my spiritual walk, by this time in my life, I would not be surprised by such things.

Once I allowed God to start forming my heart to be more like His, He also started working on my character!  (I know, the two can't be separated, but in my neat little world, they were.)  Just like heart work, character formation hurts, especially when I am not paying attention to what is going on and let my flesh side get rattled.

This past week I almost let God's pruning in my life turn into a grudge toward a friend.  It was one of those moments when I literally said out loud, "Oh, good grief!  I get it now.  I am sorry for my inappropriate reaction!"  And, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The hard work of growth

When I stand before God daily, I want to notice where He is at work in my life and listen to what He wants to improve in my character and my heart.  Because, I want to have a heart like His.  I want to become more and more like my Savior Jesus.

Heavenly Father, thank You for teaching me with patience and faithfulness.  May my heart become more like yours today.  Thank you!