Friday, November 27, 2009

Come Emmanuel

The Christmas season is upon us though Thanksgiving is barely past in the States. Yet, with no Thanksgiving to celebrate, Christmas lights have been up since early November in Japan. Rob and I are doing well although I was not able to escape the cold and flu season without catching cold myself. Rob on the other hand has an immune system that is iron strong.

Well this one is for all you sports fans out there. After years of defeat our high school soccer team finally beat its rival Ozu this past week to win the prefectural title. Our principal was so excited he announced in our morning staff meeting that we had won the national title. Apparently there were no dry eyes on the Luther side of the stadium. Unfortunately, I was unable to see the game in Kumamoto, because I was in Fukuoka for Rob's first Sumo match.

Filled with the exciting news of Luther's first win against Ozu we climbed the steps of the arena to find our seats and watch some huge men wearing only a well wrapped piece of cloth around their loins push each other out of a ring made of sand. The first few matches were of lower level wrestlers, but in the evening the better stronger wrestlers competed. This was my second time watching Sumo and let me tell you it was even better the second time around. The best matches of course are the ones with the yokozuna--the champion or strongest Sumo. The current yokozuna is Asashyoryu, a Mongolian. His strongest competitor is Hakuho, also Mongolian. My favorite wrestler (or at least for the moment) is a huge Bulgarian (I think) named Baluto. Well, I was in for a treat because the final bout was between Asashyoryu and Baluto. Baluto looked to be twice the size of Asashyoryu. They pushed and held each other for a good several minutes (it seemed) until finally Asashyoryu grabbed hold of Baluto's belt and lifted him to the ground out of the ring. It was a glorious round. I don't think I calmed down for at least an hour after.

I'll end with a short message prepared for Oe church. May you experience the nearness of God in this Advent season. Please pray for all of us here that we be in good health and for safe travels for all who travel to be with family both in the missionary community here in Japan and for our students who will travel back home to be with their families over the new year holiday and also for our teachers and students who will travel to Tokyo to cheer on our soccer team as they compete in the national tournament.
The Lord be with you all

Isaiah 45: 22 "Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other."
This week Luther Gakuin had its annual tree lighting and candle light vigil. The lights around the campus are beautiful and singing songs really led me into the Christmas spirit. It was really a holy moment standing in the cold among students and friends as the choir sang "O Come Emmanuel." Really that's what Christmas is about: all the world waiting and crying out for a savior.
As we approach Advent and begin our time of reflection, may our hearts be filled with cries of "Come Emmanuel." I pray that we will all experience God with us as we come near the celebration of Jesus' birth. May our every prayer be "Come Lord Jesus, come."
Let us pray: Holy God, in your love for us you put on human flesh. As we approach Christmas let our minds and hearts be on the miracle of that moment and not on the things we must buy. So that we will experience closeness with you this Christmas. Come Emmanuel.

Isaiah 45:”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pray for Japan

What's your most important thing? For one of our students it's his Bible. In a country where Christians number less than 1% of the population, this is SUPER cool to hear. Unfortunately, I was not the one to hear the student talk about his Bible, but I was able to rejoice with his teacher Carolyn. We don't know who of our students is Christian or even interested in Christianity. It's easy to assume that none of them are, but this is just me being pessimistic and not believing that God can do big things. Recently I watched a video made by some friends and fellow missionaries from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). They are the LCMS equivalent of the ELCA's J3 program. They are called VYM(ers)--Voluntary Youth Missionaries. I got to know them during my 6 month orientation. Their video reminded me that God is bigger than I give God credit for and is capable of and already busy doing work that I think is impossible. As I was reminded to pray more fervantly for Japan and for the people I see everyday, I wanted to invite you to do the same. Please watch the video and pray! Here are some specific ways you can pray for the people of Luther Gakuin.
--Students and Teachers: That they would be changed by the teachings they hear every morning in chapel. For the Christian teachers to live infectious lives worthy of the Gospel and for them to dream and pray big things for this school.
--Missionaries: Please pray that we do not lose sight of why we are here, but instead that we take delight in not only sharing our faith through our interactions with others, but that we pray without ceasing.

The video also encouraged me to rejoice in what I've already seen God doing in Japan. As I complete my first full year in Japan here's a look back on what I've seen of God in this country:
1. The history of Christianity in Japan started LONG before I got here, even before my beloved country (the United States) was settled by Europeans. I'm joining a league of missionaries stretching back to the 1500's.
2. The church that began in the 1500's survived years of persecution, exclusion and war. There are relics of the hidden church in some Buddhist temples in Japan (since this is where persecuted Christians were hidden). There are even some people who still practice Christian worship the way people did when the church was hidden. With as much religious hostility as there is in the world, it always brings tears to my eyes to think that when Christians were being executed in Japan, it was Buddhist monks who protected them. If that isn't God at work, I don't know what is.
3. Today there are many churches in Japan. In my town of Kumamoto there are 5 Lutheran churches alone. It is easy to think that the Church is failing in Japan because only 1% of its people are Christian, but in fact the Church is strong in ministry though it lacks in numbers. I once heard a pastor here say that most of the social services done in Japan are conducted by the Church. Christians in Japan are very active and everyone knows it. The JELC/JELA (Japan Evangelical Lutherans) have two social services centers here in Kumamoto alone. These centers care for people at every stage of life from newborn to elders needing hospice care.
4. Youth ministry is small, but also very strong. Every year a small group of (what we in the States would consider) young adults goes on a mission trip. One of the young ladies who went to India this year on mission was baptized this April and I was there to see her join the community of Christian believers.

These are just a few ways God is and has been working through the Church in Japan. Yet, God was being revealed in Japan long before the first missionaries came, even before there was a Church. So, let us all continue to pray for this country. First giving thanks for what God has done and is still doing. Then asking God to continue to move in this country, to continue to strengthen the Church and answer the call of all who search for God. Please, pray for the missionaries, pray for the church, and pray for the people of Japan.
In the joy of service--Jen

Monday, June 22, 2009

I (heart) Kumamoto

It's been about two months since I started teaching at Luther Jr. High and High School. I really enjoy teaching. I also love my new home of Kumamoto. I've been here now three months and couldn't have asked for a better place to live or work...because I can't imagine either.
Luther Gakuin is an institution that holds a kindergarten, junior high, high School, and university. I teach English Communication to 1st & 2nd year high school students and 1st year middle school students. All my classes are team taught alongside a Japanese English teacher. I have three partner teachers who are all very professional and very good teachers. Japanese children spend 3 years in middle school and 3 years in high school. First year high school students in Japan would be sophomores in the U.S. Luther offers its high school students 4 tracks or course foci: Art course, English course/college prep (Eigo Tokshin), Math & Science College Prep (RiSu Tokshin), Sports, and General course (Sogo). I teach English to English Course 2nd year students, and 1st year Art Course, Sports, and (RiSu)Tokshin students. My classes range in size from 17 to 28 students.
The cutest kids are the 1st year middle schoolers (U.S. 6th graders). These are my largest and lowest level English classes. Most of them have just learned how to spell their names using roman characters. In fact, my first day in their class they were given strips of paper with their names written in roman characters so that they could learn and practice writing their names in English. The junior high has two classes in each year of middle school so there is 1st year class 1 (1-1) and 1st year class 2 (1-2). These students will stay together as a class there whole time in middle school; when they are second years 1-1 will become 2-1 and so on through year 3. I teach both 1st year classes. 1-1 is very cute and pretty quiet. 1-2 is cute, but not quiet. I see these students once a week for one hour.

Now for a brief Japanese lesson.
High School in Japanese is Ko Ko 高校 literally translated: high school.
Middle School in Japanese is Chugako 中学校 literal translation same as English.
Year in Japanese is Nen 年
1, ichi 2, ni (nee) 3, san (sahn)
When refering to students of a certain year we often say Ko-ichi (1st year high schoolers) or Chu-ni (2nd year middle schoolers). I teach Chu-ichi nen sei's (students), Ko-ichi and Ko-ni.

My most challenging class is the Sports class. They are known as having the worst behavior and lowest high school educational level. For this reason, and others, they have their own curriculum. The class of 41 students is split between myself and another missionary teacher. My Japanese teaching partner and I currently have a class of 21 15 year old boys, most of whom are not interested in English (by most I mean probably none). Needless to say, we've had some behavior problems. For the most part they're just talkative. These kids spend all day together and still find things to talk about, it amazes me. Of course when they're talking they aren't paying attention to the lesson and are not doing their work. Thanks to some great advice from Mary Johnson, the ELCA's ESL/EFL supervisor and trainer, and a couple helpful books I've started to get the talking under control. However, quietness in the classroom doesn't mean students are paying attention. I've found that if they aren't talking they're usually sleeping. The result was that coming toward midterms 25 of the 41 students were failing. Now, the percentage mark for failing in Japan is set really low. Students only need 30% to pass a course, so one must be intent on not producing in a course in order to fail. Students in this class seem to be just that. Unfortunately, there are no immediate negative repercussions for failing a subject; students aren't put on academic probation here. So, the week of our midterm examination the four teachers held mandatory study sessions after school for the 25 failing students. It was exhausting, and the students were not happy to receive extra help. We spent two hours after school on Monday, and two and a half hours on Tuesday helping students with their pronunciation and preparing them with the correct answers for their Thursday test--it was an interview exam so where students would be graded not only on their answers, but on pronunciation. The result: for the first time every student passed an exam and our 25 failing students was decreased to 4. Thanks be to God! Students did not only study during their extra study sessions, but were studying on their own. When we walked into their classroom the afternoon of the test every student was sitting with their study sheets in hand practicing their answers. One girl (there are about 6 girls in the class) scored 100%. I don't know that I've ever been more proud. Even their homeroom teacher, who also has been getting on their case about their grades, gasped to see the score of one student who is infamous for having a bad attitude (he scored 67 out of 100, and had previously scored a total of 2 points in the 5 quizzes leading up to this exam). It was indeed a great end to a very busy week.
We are now closing in on summer break. My health has been okay. My feet have not bothered me since leaving Tokyo. Actually, everything has been better since leaving Tokyo. I haven't had any haunting dreams, or strange ailments. Thank you for your prayers. Language continues to be a struggle. I'm forced to speak more Japanese in Kumamoto than I was in Tokyo. On the other hand without being in language school and with being required to speak English on the job I feel like I'm not making much progress in speaking Japanese. I might be getting better at understanding the language. I find myself often frustrated, because not having the language has been an invisible divide between me and my Japanese colleagues. I want so much to be able to talk with them, but everyone knows that the conversation will only go so far so neither party tries. Every now and then I or they will reach out, but I feel very isolated even though I have three other missionary teachers at school with me (as well as Japanese English teachers who are pretty fluent in English). I like to be able to mix and mingle with many different people. Language has really limited my ability to get to know new people. Please pray for me in this area: that I would be courageous in speaking and diligent in studying.

Thanks again for your many prayers and inquiries into my life here in Japan. I pray the peace of Christ keep you until we meet again.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Leaving Tokyo

Well, we have finished our six months of orientation and language training and are now each moving into new apartments. I mentioned in the December blog that there were two assignment locations. One at the Hongo Student Center in Tokyo working with college students and general members of the surrounding community. The other in Kumamoto at Kyushu Luther Gakuin. Carolyn and I will be heading south to Kumamoto this weekend. We will be teaching junior high and high school students English conversation. While we are both very excited it has been tough saying goodbye to our friends and churches here in Tokyo. Even Matt has found it difficult leaving his orientation church though he'll be able to visit them again and again. We are all so grateful to our respective orientation church communities. 

Now the "real" work begins (I say "real" because as long as we are in Japan as missionaries we are working, but now we have institutions and people depending on us to show up and teach). Carolyn and I will have 4-5 classes each week and with the exception of a brief orientation for new teachers, will have little to draw from since this will be our first time teaching in a classroom. We will be assigned Japanese teachers to work with so we won't have to teach on our own (thankfully).

Of course the other exciting thing is moving into new apartments. For the past 6 months we've been neighbors in small one room apartments. These Leo Palace apartments are built for temporary living so we were never fully able to stretch out (both because they're not built for comfort and because as such there wasn't much room for stretching out). We are each moving into fully furnished one bedroom apartments. What's great about the Kumamoto apartments is that they are owned by JELA (Japanese Evangelical Lutheran Association) the outreach organization of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church. JELA is responsible for Japanese missionaries to other countries and their programs. What's exciting about that is that the entire building was built to house J3's. Carolyn and I get to move into a building with people like ourselves. It's great. 

The other fun fact is that this will be the first apartment I've ever lived in on my own (except of course for the temporary residence I'm leaving behind in Tokyo). It will be exciting to hang my own photos, have the refrigerator to myself, lay out on the couch and not worry about anyone else wanting to sit there. The restroom will be available when I want to use it. I won't have to worry about anyone's mess, but my own. I have to say, however, that this independence will be short-lived.

I mentioned in my last post a change in my personal life. Well, on January 1st of this year I got engaged. The two of us plan to marry this summer and he will come live with me in Japan through the duration of my term. 

These are exciting times indeed. Please pray for Carolyn, Matt, and I as we make this transition into teaching. Pray also for me and my fiancé Rob as we prayerfully prepare for this major change in our lives and our relationship.

Thank you for your prayers concerning language, my dreams, and my health. After months of not being sure I wanted to leave my room so I wouldn't have to speak Japanese, I thank God that for the past several weeks I've wanted only to speak Japanese and have fallen in love with my host country and its people all over again. Please continue to pray that God open my heart to the people here and that I continue to make strides in Japanese. I will not be able to speak as much English in Kumamoto as I do in Tokyo, so please pray that God loosens my tongue more and that I would speak without fear of making a mistake. I have been in fairly good health except for occasional swelling and pain in the ball and toes of my right foot brought on by a mysterious ailment therein. Please continue to pray for my health as my schedule will become more rigorous in less than one month. And praise God my sleep has been sweet. I have been disciplined about regular reflection so that I don't go to sleep bothered by the issues of the day. This has caused a deepening in my relationship with God so thank you for your prayers.

My address is changing. If you have not received the new one from me and would like it please email me.