This has been a very busy month. Since I last wrote we have helped lead an English language Bible camp and visited another island. We have also been amazed and excited about our progress in the Japanese language. Though we have so much more to learn about the culture, and language of Japan I thought I'd take this blog to share some of the joys of the past month.
In the last post I complained about the difficulty of the Japanese language. Well a couple days after posting that blog, I was given a gift that has since helped me get through my Sunday worship services. This next story tells of the hospitality I've received here through the people of Ichigaya Lutheran Church.
After a couple weeks of sitting by myself in church I finally picked a seat next to another person late in October. This woman speaks no English, but every Sunday she arrives about 20 minutes before service and sitting always in the same seat she begins her worship in silent prayer. Well it seems the seat I had chosen that Sunday was right next to her usual seat. I thought for a moment that I may have stolen her seat, but she made no complaint. Instead she helped me through the service, pointing out where we were in the order of service and constantly checking to make sure I was on the right page--ever try following a service that's spoken and written in another language?
Well, as we sang hymns and read prayers my neighbor noticed that I was skipping all the kanji characters in the liturgy. I may have mentioned before that Japanese uses three scripts all of the time: hiragana for Japanese words, katakana for non-Japanese words (for example my name is written using katakana), and kanji (Chinese characters) also used for Japanese words. While we learned hiragana and katakana our first week of Japanese lessons, we did not start learning kanji until this month. So I have been reading what I can of the liturgy each Sunday, always skipping over the kanji. After service my neighbor asked me, by pointing to the different characters if I could read kanji. I told her no and because neither of us could speak the other's language we went our separate ways.
The next week (the Sunday after I posted my last blog) as I prepared for service she called to me with a folder in her hand. Taking me to Megumi, the pastor's wife, she explained through Megumi that the folder in her hand was for me and I should not take the regular worship booklet. Because service was about to begin there was no time to explain what was in the folder, so I took it back to my seat. I immediately opened the folder when I got to my seat. When I saw what was in the folder I cried right there in my seat. I was overwhelmed by the gracious love of God. What I held in my hands was a copy of the worship booklet, but written over all the kanji was hiragana so that I could read through the liturgy without stopping. She later brought me a copy of the prayer of the day with hiragana written over the kanji. Now every week she comes early to copy the prayer and translate it for me.
Over and over again the people of Ichigaya church have gone above and beyond what I expect in order to take care of me. The same can be said of Cindy Otomori and the Japanese Evangelical Lutheran Church who continue to provide what new missionaries need before the missionaries themselves know they need them. This Thanksgiving I give thanks for the people of Ichigaya Church, and the JELC. I give thanks to God for placing me in a beautiful country with beautiful, gentle, hospitable people. I also give thanks for my colleagues who have ministered to me with words of encouragement, laughter, and hugs in my time of need. I give thanks for time away from Tokyo with trips to the mountains outside of Nagano and to the island of Kyushu. In Nagano I saw trees of every shade of autumn--the brightest red, crisp gold, earthy brown, and green. On the island of Kyushu I was given a taste of home with palm tree lined streets and beautiful beaches in Miyazaki prefecture. Also in Kyushu we were surrounded by the colors of fall while visiting the Lutheran schools in Kumamoto where two of us will be placed.
This has been a great month. It seems I have crossed the initial threshold that comes with being in a new place and am beginning to see Japan as my home.
Thank you so much for your continued prayers. I am grateful especially for the encouraging emails you are sending. Your emails and letters guard against feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Please continue to pray that my friendships here go deeper and that I am able to reach out to new friends. Pray also for discernment for Carolyn, Matt, and myself as we have been asked to submit our placement preferences to the JELC. Pray that we are able to see which position would best fit our needs, and gifts. As you are praying for us in this matter please also pray for Pastor Naoki Asano and the other pastors of the JELC who will determine where each of us is placed. Although the JELC's decision is far off, there's no reason we can't begin to pray now for God's will to be done.
I pray that your time of giving thanks and preparing for the celebration of the birth of our Saviour is filled with joy.
Please use the following link to view pictures of my trip to Kyushu (you'll have to cut and paste it into your browser): http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2012137&l=b00b2&id=1201512632