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!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

On my way...

I found this on a missionary's blog recently...

This is where I want my desire to be going.  I pray that my desire develops into this, to just be with Him.  I know He is always here; He is always with me; He is always pursuing me.  

Yet, I do not always take time to sit down with Him, to turn a listening ear toward Him, to let my heart beat in time with His.

Before coming to the field we all read the biographies of the 'great' missionaries, Amy Carmichael, Mother Teresa, Hudson Taylor, and many more.  We wanted to do all of the amazing things that they did.  

However, we forget what we also read in those stories, hours spent with Jesus, Sabbath rest days, the desire just to be with Him.

May this become my desire!

Tonight I thought I was going to get all kinds of tasks accomplished after I finished writing my sermon for tomorrow.  As I stood in front of the sink to start washing dishes- keeping it real, several days' worth- I reached for the soap and my back screamed at me.  I very slowly and carefully walked back to the living room and laid back down on my mat.

There went all my projects for the evening.  But, there I was with no where to go, no desire whatsoever to move.  Hmmm, wasn't I just saying that I wanted to learn to desire Him more than doing things for Him?!

And so, right there, in the midst of my back pain, I started praying.  I started listening.  And, He was there.  He is here.  (I have been able to move up to the chair at the table now.)

So, I pray that I may continue on this path, the one in which my desire becomes Him and not activity.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Two Days and the Sunrise

A day of ministry and a day of Sabbath.

Our winter youth gathering last week was amazing!  I loved being part of it and watching the students praising, learning, and fellowshipping.

Chita youth leading the first worship song.
They were followed by the Inokoishi youth leading the next song.

This year the gathering was held in Matsusaka.  The church is next to an adult care center.  After a morning of being reminded of God's love for us, singing praises and having awesome fellowship, we practiced a couple of hymns and talked about what we'd like to learn from these amazing people.

Welcome JBC Youth!

There was an awesome sign to greet us in the room where everyone was waiting.  As we sang "Amazing Grace" and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," several people joined in the singing.  Then we had a time of question and answer with the residents.  We wanted to learn from their life experiences.

The students, and even the adults, were challenged and surprised by the stories of childhood before, during, and after the war.  Or, more precisely, the lack of childhood.  After many questions from our side, one lady decided it was time to ask the students a question!  She asked them about their education.  Several replied that they do not like school or studying, but that they will try harder.

Students at the care center

As a leader, it was wonderful to watch the day unfold, seeing God's fingerprints and guidance at every turn.  Our prayers and persistence are reaping fruit.  Most importantly, God is being glorified!

Since our gathering happened on Monday, Tuesday became my Sabbath.  I was thankful there were no other plans that day.

It was my first winter beach day.  My usual parking lot was closed but there is a park and community center right next to the beach so I parked in that lot and explored the park a bit.

A sculpture in the park surrounded by beautiful trees and plants

Winter colors

God's creation is amazing.  I walked through the park and then down to the end of the sea wall, both places I had not been yet.  It was basically a sunny day, but it was cold and windy!  (Not South Dakota cold, though!)

I know, I look like I am dressed for Alaska winter.
Amazing how the hood made all the difference in keeping me warm!
Where I sat to talk with God,rather than out on the open beach in the wind.

I finished the day at the tea shop in the shopping mall I pass on the way home.  I did, also, pick up some shells, of course.  I found some really beautiful ones when I stopped to bend down and look...

Stopping to pick up shells

Tea and reading time

This has gotten pretty long.  If you have stuck around this long, here are some recent pictures of the sunrise.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

I pray the silence and anticipation in your journey to Christmas has brought joy and peace.

(from Jane Rubietta, Finding the Messiah)

Dear one,
The angels' song 
Is the same today
As in the field
That long-ago dark night.
I still bring peace,
And favor rests upon 
All with whom I am pleased.
And you, you!
With you I am well pleased.
Believe that, please,
And be willing to punch out 
From your day job
And your night shift
And come to Me.
Because I came in Christ,
Through Christ,
Peace, peace and favor,
For you,
For the world.
come, now.
Sing with Me...

Here is a bonus song, for fun!  Merry Christmas!  Click here.