Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sayonara Soon

I've been avoiding this blog. Our time in Japan has been winding down and writing about it made it seem too real. It's silly, I know. Time marches on whether or not I process. There is an end date to this chapter and, whether or not I write about it, it's happening.

We've lived here for the past 3 years and 2 months. If you break it down, we've been married in Japan longer than we've been married in the States. That's a crazy thought. Japan: our time here; our friends here; our work here has made it's mark on how we think, live, serve. I'm sure we'll never fully know, this side of Heaven, how big of an impact our time as missionaries in Japan has had on us. One this is for certain though: Japan will always hold a large chunk of our hearts.

A fellow A2 missionary mentioned off hand when we first arrived about how they are never really fully in one place: they are always missing someone. In Japan, they miss their US family. In the US, they miss their Japan friends. It's hard to come to grips with. I'm increasingly thankful for Facebook, Skype, and other wonders of the digital age that allow me to say "goodbye", without saying "goodbye forever."

And as for Jillian, she'll be a few weeks shy of two when we leave the country she was born in. She most likely won't remember anything of her life in Japan. And that breaks my heart. There will be this whole world that will only exist for her in our stories and pictures. Here, she was Chiyo-chan, who loved mashed red-bean more than chocolate, who could polish off a whole rice-ball with dried fish and seaweed, who would rather say "abunai" and "wan-wan" than "dangerous" and "doggie," who was loved so well and so dearly by so many in our mission, church, and neighborhood. Those pieces of her will be absorbed by and exchanged with new experiences and friends. I'm starting to become crushed by the weight of the thought that Stephen and I alone will carry these memories for her.

There is still a week and a bit left of our time in Japan. Even though it's hard saying goodbye, I'm honored that God chose us to be here in this place for this time. We don't know what the future holds, but perhaps one day He'll bring us back. For now, we trust that He's calling us back to California for an extended time, and hope that eventually we'll make our way back to this land and these people who hold our hearts.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Oyako Eigo (Mommy-Baby English)

Timing is a funny thing. Often when something doesn't work out, it's as much to do with the timing as the idea itself. When I tried to start an English class for moms and babies at our church two years ago it fell flat on its face. I was beyond bummed. I put so much effort into planning and advertising, yet no one came. I didn't have the connections into the mom-community to get it off the ground. In fact, that's why I wanted to start it: to make mom-friends. At the time I was pregnant and trying to find other moms in my neighborhood. (I didn't yet know about the importance of routine in making friends in Japan.)

This year, however, after months and months of slowly building relationships in a variety of contexts, I felt it was time to dust off my curriculum and get back in to the teaching game.

The moms I met through swim class and the neighborhood park were eager to join. I was blown away when at out first class, two weeks ago, 4 mom's showed up with their children: two park moms; two swim moms. Woot Woot!

The lesson for the day was colors. We sang songs, played games, made a craft all using our new English words for the colors of the rainbow.
Practicing our new color words while we draw together

Today was the second Oyako Eigo class. 6 Moms came: 3 park moms; 3 swim moms. The new "park-mom" hadn't yet met the other "park-moms," so I had the pleasure of introducing them. They live less than a block away from each other and they met for the first time at church while singing silly songs. The moms are slowly gelling. You can definitely see the two group from how they sit on different side of the circle. But, as with all relationships in Japan, slowly but surely, they'll get to know each other and soon this new group will be a common connection point. Not only that, but these 6 moms have now been inside of a Christian church. Twice! That's huge!

Today's lesson was body parts. We sang the ubiquitous "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" and played Simon Says. The craft for today was making Funny Felt Faces.

For fun, I thought I'd write out instructions for today's craft, incase any of you want to play along at home. :)
For the record: it's not too clear from the picture, but
I used tan felt for the faces, not white,since the kids are Japanese. 
Felt Funny Faces
Felt (various colors)

Cut out large-ish circles for heads out of felt.
Draw and cut out a set of
in different colors. (I made a variety of shapes as well. Ears were a bit of a pain. Mine all looked like kidney beans.)
Seperate parts by kind.

Pass out faces
Let kids/ parents choose one of each for their face. They can mix and match colors or go monochomatic.
The beauty of felt is the kids can reposition and change out the parts as they wish. After a bit it all starts looking like a Picasso, but that's fine. ;)

*** Pro-Tip: to get the felt to stick to itself, scratch it up with your nails. The rougher the felt is, the better.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Operation Old-Faithful

I've had to reevaluate my methods for starting and building relationships since moving to Japan. In the States, as with everything, we use a more direct method to starting friendships. "Hey, we have something in common, let's hang out some time." It's not always quite THAT simple, but at its root, befriending people in the States can be done relatively simply. Not so in Japan. Here it's all about taking it slow, building trust, establishing routine. It's taken me a while to get this new model through my head. It's still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that meeting someone once at the mall then asking them to come to English class just doesn't work. My American gut tells me if you want to make friends, just get out there. Go. Do. Win. But like I've said, that just doesn't work here. In fact, trying to make friends that way is more likely to alienate people that endear them to me.

This past summer, during a training session on cross-cultural communication, it clicked for me: consistency and routine. I could meet a lot of people by doing different activities each week, but in order to turn those relationships into friendships, I was going to need to see them on a regular basis.
Enter, Operation Old-Faithful:

Stage one:
Join a mommy-baby swim class at the gym near the mall. See the same moms and babies two to three times, every week.
--Success! Not only have we had a really fun time swimming (splashing and playing with rubber duckies, more like) but I would now consider us officially in the group (Being in the group is HUGE in Japan. Once you're in, you are in! It's when people begin to open up and trust you). Moms from the class have started coming to Oyako Eigo (Parent-Child English) at our church and wanting to spend time with us outside of swimming as well.

Stage two:
Follow up swim class with lunch and grocery shopping Aeon (the mall).  Go to the same shops. Make sure to go the the same Onigiri shop every time.
--Success! We are a fixture at Aeon now. Shop ladies poke their heads out when they hear Jill's squeaky shoes coming down the road. The Onigiri (rice ball) ladies know our order by heart and all come to the register to hand us our lunch.
Bonus: We've befriended a gaggle of Obaachans (Old Grannies) who congregate outside the food court. After we eat, and walk out to do our grocery shopping, they call and wave to "Chiyo-chan" (Jillian) and she shows off the new words she has learned or gives them all high-fives.
Photo: Jill made friends with this group of Obaachans (old grannies) at the mall. Each week she comes to say hi when we walk past. Happy to spread joy while we do our grocery shopping. :)

Stage three:
Same old park, every single day(-ish). The park across the street from our apartment isn't the most exciting park I've every been to. Just a patch of grass with swings and monkey bars. But, it's where the moms gather, so it's where we go.
--Success! We've had a few really interesting conversations with the neighborhood moms. A few have joined the swim class moms at Oyako Eigo.
Bonus: Jillian LOVES  the swings.

The part of me that wants to explore the other shopping centers and parks around town has been slowly quieted by the response we're receiving.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hope for Hokkaido

Tonight I went with our church to the kick-off event for the 2014 Hokkaido Hope Festival

The event tonight was for participating churches to come together to worship God and pray for the upcoming festival, which takes place on May, 9-11. 

Our church, along with many others on the island of Hokkaido, are working together with Franklin Graham Festival, to put on the first ever "Hope Festival" on Hokkaido. Our pastor is one of the leaders among the participating pastors. I'm so proud to be partnering with a church that understands the importance of cooperating within the larger body of Christ, rather than hunkering down within our 4 church walls. 

Pastor Kaji introducing the other Hokkaido pastors and the roles they will be playing.
We were blessed to be lead in worship by two women with voices as beautiful as their hearts; Lena Maria, and Alfie Silas. The later of whom touched my heart, and I'm sure those of the Japanese as well, when she sang a medley of traditional Japanese songs. The whole auditorium sang along with the songs of their childhood directed towards Jesus. 

I was encouraged that the main purpose of the festival is to build a bridge between the local church and people who don't know Jesus. If you've followed this blog or our newsletters, you'll remember that that is my heart as well. They used the image of an iceberg to drive home the point to the church leaders sitting in the crowd. The 3 day festival itself is only 10% of the focus. The other 90% is the work that is done within local churches before and after May 9-11th. 

Even though the event itself is taking place after our terms ends, I feel like the timing is really good. I'm glad we can take part in the preparation before hand and help this event through our church's partnership. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

World Travelers: Wrap-up

I just want to start off by thanking all the families who participated in the homestay trip for my English class. It's something we always talk about over tea time these days and I cherish the memories that we got to build during this experience.

The English trip was an amazing combination of English practice, learning about culture, and experiencing Christian family.

The trip was definitely a whirlwind experience as we only had about 7 days. All were jammed packed with field trips and conversation practice, and fun! I wanted to be sure that they not only experienced the popular sights and sounds of California but that they also experience the more subtle things of American culture.

We were ale to visit the hot spots like Yosemite, Pismo beach, and Pier 39 in San francisco, but we also did some little American things like mini golfing, shopping at target, and dinner at home with the host families.

The host families did a phenomenal job of letting my students get a taste of American culture. Some of my students were able to go to a baseball game, ride in a fire truck, and enjoy the simple pleasure of root beer floats. The host families also coordinated a trip to a wild life preserve on their free day.

I think however, the most important thing that the students took back with them was not necessarily the English practice they recieved, or the fun places they went to, but the personal time with their families.

Each family member was a member of SOMA Christian Church and they really outdid themselves in serving their students. My students talked nonstop on the plane ride home about how loving the families were, and how surprised they were a about how gentle the husbands were especially. One student in particular, "Michi" as her host family nicknamed her, was in tears over how nice her family was.

To be honest my first expectations of the trip was really low. I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility and was very stressed that maybe the students wouldn't like it, or that something would go wrong. But God totally blew my expectations away, He totally amazed me. I have to give Him the credit.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

World Travelers

With an increasingly active one year-old, time to blog has a way of slipping away from you. When you offer to organize your church's US home-stay/ English language program, any and all time to blog goes flying out the window. All that to say, I've been a bit busy over the last months to get much of any writing done. Sorry.

I've been so focused on this program because I am genuinely excited to be assisting in it's creation. Our church, Sapporo EV Free, has done short term US trips in the past, but this will be the first, to my limited knowledge, that will be home-stay and language based. Tourism will definitely play it's part. But if I've learned anything from teaching, it's the power of integration. I want our students to get first hand language experiences in America and to have a great time while doing it. The home-stay component as well excites me. I'm so excited to hear stories of new relationships that develop!

The trip is coming up faster than I realize. The group, lead by my dear hubs and the Pastor's wife, Y, will leave Japan on the 29th and stay until August 5th. While they're in California they'll be staying with members of Soma Christian Church and taking daily trips to see not only touristy places like Yosemite or the beach, but also daily life things like the grocery store and mall.

I'm almost done with the daily lesson plans, but I have a few questions for you before I press "print."

If you were traveling to a foreign country, what would you like to see? What questions would you like to ask? 

If you have traveled to a foreign country, or hosted an international student, what are some tips you'd like to share with our Japanese English-students? Any blunders?

Leave a comment below.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

K-chan and the Japan-able Lasagna

"Suddenly, I'm a vegetarian," our friend K-chan announced in English class one night. We were planning having her and our other student S-kun over for dinner and a movie and when I heard her proclamation, I knew at once I should make the Japan-able cheese lasagna a fellow missionary taught me to make. Why "Japan-able"? Well, because there is one kind of cheese available in every grocery store and it isn't ricotta so westerners craving Italian food need to get creative. I"ll leave the recipe below for anyone who wants it. I promise it's fabulous! I think I might continue to make it with the clever substitution even once I'm back in the States.

That evening was months ago, but the meal must have left an impression on K-chan because Friday I got a request to teach her how to make it.

I was delighted to have her over and cook with her. The recipe was simple enough, so instructing her in Japanese didn't stretch me too far. She even got to do most of the work while I fed Jillian her dinner.

After dinner K-chan got to play with Jilly and even read her a few of her Japanese bed-time books. I'm sure it was nice for Jillian to have the Japanese books read to her by a native speaker for a change.

I really hope K-chan enjoys making the lasagna herself and that we have more chances to cook and hang out together.

Sue's Japan-able Lasagna
(Sue, if there is a real name for this dish, please let me know and I'll edit as needed :) )
*Lasagna noodles (cooked)
      -2 eggs
      -1 brick of tofu (This is the magic substitution. It is creamy like cheese, has a lot of protein, but is available in Japan!)
      -2 cups(?) shredded generic white cheese ( I use most of the bag and reserve a bit to use as a topping. If you have access to better cheese than "generic white" use it!)
       -Various seasonings to taste (Salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, basil, parsley, etc...)
*Pasta sauce

1- Layer sauce, noodles, and fillings until you've filled your pan.
2- Top with extra cheese 
3- Bake 30 Minutes at 180C (350F) or until cheese is bubbly.

Ta-da! The easiest Japan-able Lasagna Ev-ah
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