Friday, March 30, 2012

God Works through People

God chooses to work through people - here are some of the people he's using in Japan.

^Field Council,  in front of Lake Yamanaka (LtoR) 
Caleb, Jeff, Barb, Anna, MaryLou, Tom, Nate, Dave, Lori (me), Chloe, Jane, Duane (Dad), 
(Photos taken by Carol (Mom)(aka "the shadow")
^Eating breakfast 

^Lunch: My favorite noodle soup with kabocha (Pumpkin)
This noodle, called Hoto, is flat and thick. It is a specialty of this area of Japan.
And has an interesting history read here to find out more. 

^Elaine & John joined us via Skype for their ministry report. 
 They are on home assignment in the States now. 

^Short-term missionaries & the kids went out for ice cream while others were in meetings.

^Chloe enjoyed her Sweet Potato Ice Cream cone.

^Family Fun night - after a day of intense meetings and ministry reports we enjoyed some Silliness - playing Cranium.  

^MaryLou, Jane & I - talking about teaching ideas, before they headed to Tokyo and I joined the van for the 7 hour ride back to Nara.

Nate & I. 
 Amazing to think this tall short-term missionary 
was once a student of mine when he was in 5 and 6 grade! 
Twelve years later - he is now working in Tohoku
 leading other short-termers and doing disaster relief work. 

This is how I remember Nate - "Nature Boy" 
who often came to school with his latest catch. 
(Here holding a lizard.)

 The other student in the photo - Sarah - was in my class when she was in 4th & 5th grade. 
More Good news- I just learned she has just been offered a position to teach 1st grade at Okinawa Christian School International, Japan.

God is Good!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mountain Morning & Vote to Return

My parents and I woke up early and took a 7AM walk from our lodge to the lake (Yamanaka Ko is one of the main lakes around Mt. Fuji).  We had clear skies and an AWESOME view of Mt. Fuji.

^This is the lowest down I've ever seen the snow on the mountain. They've had heavy snowfalls!

^Torchbearers is the place where we're staying. This morning with 0C/32F it was a bit chilly - just right for a snowball fight.

^Here's a glimpse of breakfast, cheese, ham, tomato, cucumbers, cereal with fruit and various kinds of bread (toast, french toast, cinnamon mochi rolls) 

Vote to Return
As for the highlights of business meeting with Converge Worldwide missionaries in Japan- today was my Pre-Home Assignment Report and Vote to return to the field.  Basically every time I leave Japan to visit churches in the states (called Home-Assignment) I fill out various evaluations on my term (2010-2012), have co-workers and nationals fill out evaluations/reference for me, and have an interview with the field coordinator.  Today I presented my part of the report to all the missionaries on the field, and heard comments and questions from the other career missionaries. Then I left the room and they had some discussion and then voted whether or not they would like to ask me to return to the field after home assignment. 

It may seem a bit extreme - How many of you - readers - have your co-workers vote every 3 or 4 years about whether or not you should stay employed at the company?

But I think it is set up to be very encouraging if things are going well and if there are issues it is a great format for accountability and intervention/coaching where needed.  

Thankfully, I received an affirmative vote from my co-workers inviting me back to the field after home-assignment.  I'll be stateside from July - December.  Praise God a teacher has been found to teach 1st and 2nd grade at Kansai Christian School for the 1st semester in my place.  She taught KCS in that position from 2005-2008 so is an awesome fit for the position! I'm really excited that she has applied and been approved by the school board! God answers prayer!

While the career missionaries were in deep discussion the kids, short-termers, and my parents were out enjoying the sunshine, riding the swan boats on the lake.  Anna & Chloe are in the photo above.  Chloe is blogging at Out of Dust (linked here).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


We have all arrived safely at Yamanakako for Field Council.  (7 and 1/2 hour drive)
There are:
6 Career Missionaries
2 Short-term missionaries
2 Kids
2 Workers for the Kids program (my parents)
1 Representative from the Home Office (Regional Director)

(2 career missionaries on home assignment)

We are staying close to Mt. Fuji and this was our view of the mountain today.
Today we went bowling and then began meetings in the evening by hearing updates from the Regional Director.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Field Council

For 3 days this week, Converge World Wide missionaries in Japan will gather to discuss business, spend time in fellowship, retreat from the daily grind of ministries and pray for the spread of the gospel in Japan.  We would appreciate your prayers for us.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Welcome to KANSAI

Glad to have my parents here! 
Tomorrow is the Spring Festival at school.
- I'm looking forward to introducing them to my students, co-workers and well, "my tribe".

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I'm anticipating the arrival of my parents today. 
They'll be visiting Japan during my spring break and I've just heard they're on the plane bound for Osaka.
Above is the view they had from the plane in the Seattle area. 

Teach a child. Reach a parent.

Photo taken in Tokyo
of school girls in uniform. 
1 week = how many days?

According to one of my students,
 1 week = 365 days.
Sometimes if feels that way.  Today is Wednesday and it feels like we should be at Friday by now!

I've had much opportunity for learning this week. Not all lessons I want to repeat.  I'm refining my classroom management skills and had almost daily parent/teacher conversations regarding behavior issues.  Sometimes I feel like my expectations are realistic and then I realize my philosophy of  parenting or my philosophy of education are stretched like a rubber band only to snap back with a "TWANG" when contrasted with another's view.  Frustrations come with cultural differences, personality differences, language differences, as well as differences in religious beliefs.

I've learned a lot about some parenting ideas in this culture. While there are many Japanese parents that I've seen with similar ideas to what I grew up with, this week was a lesson in learning by contrast.  Sometimes one needs to dig and realize some of the ideas behind behaviors.  (Please note I'm not saying all Japanese society agrees with everyone of these ideas but I have seen some parents who believe one or more of these.)

Such as:

  • The child should not be disciplined or punished at home until at least 4th grade.
  • The child should be spoiled at home and disciplined at school.
  • The father - if relocated to another country for work  - is expected to leave his wife and children in Japan. The idea is that this allows for him to focus on work and not be distracted by family.  If he wants to have his family make the move with him, relocation costs are most likely not going to be covered by the company but by the family. 
  • The Japanese mother should not be seen as strong or controlling, if a father is overseas the eldest male child should be given control (even if he is 7 years old). 
  • There is no problem with a child (age 6 or 7) being home alone from 3:30-8pm. Babysitters are unheard of in this country.
  • Most students travel, without a parent to accompany them, by train and/or bus from first grade.  Some commute as long as 1 hour.
  • Some parents would rather tell the student the answer on their homework than let them struggle alone to find the answer or risk getting it wrong.  
  • Some parents think "free time" is not a good idea for students. Their after school hours should be structured and organized with things such as sports clubs, cram schools, extra math lessons, or music lessons.  
I've had the opportunity this week to realize some parents are searching for help to know how to parent. I've found as I interact with families regarding behavior and homework there are many opportunities to introduce a Christian worldview.  Students are natural evangelists as they learn new Bible stories and go home to share it with a parent.  Teachers also have the opportunity to suggest strategies for various topics.

Often its in the midst of the frustration of behavior issues, the communication AND miscommunication with parents that I'm reminded of the importance of prayer.  The fact that for some of these parents and children KCS staff members are the only people in their lives praying for them.  I never know how long a child will be in my class - but for the time that he or she is there I have a chance to pour out God's love.  I need all the grace, love and wisdom that He gives to handle each moment.

1 Peter 4:7-11 7-11Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.

1 Peter 5: 1-3I have a special concern for you church leaders.I know what it's like to be a leader, in on Christ's sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here's my concern: that you care for God's flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way.

Learning to stay wide-awake in prayer
 with passionate patience
 tenderly showing the way,

Oh, and for those of you still trying to figure it out. . .
1 week = 7 days

Monday, March 19, 2012


Crazy day.
Crazy Week.
One of my churches asked me for a report.
"Perhaps like a 'Day in the life'," they said.
Causing me to think - this would NOT be a good week for that!
Things are crazy. busy.
Then I thought - if they know what I'm doing they'll know better how to pray!
Thankfully I serve a God who gives enough energy to meet the needs of each day.
One. Day. At. A. Time.
After you look at this schedule you'll know I need all the prayer I can get!

Last week . . . 
Monday - 3/12
6am Skype call to two college roommates and their families in Mississppi
7:15am Dead battery in car- took the train
Arrived 15 min. late to school
Taught from 8:45-3:30 with no prep time.
PTA Meeting (I'm the secretary)
5pm Corrected students papers.
6:30 took the train home
7:30 pm at home worked on paperwork
8pm Called Automobile service to jump car
9pm Car is running - and hopefully will be ok in the morning.
9:30 pm Tried to type minutes for PTA.

Tuesday 3/13
6 am tested - yep car is working today.
 8:30-2:00 Taught students
12:20 parent phone call at lunch  (leaving me 5 minutes to eat)
4 students with minor injuries today, spent the day trying to facilitate apologies to "fix relationships"
Unexpected 20 minute parent visit after school.
Drama Practice 3:30-5
7-9pm Flower Basket (singing group) practice
Stayed up late working on taxes and  PTA minutes

Wednesday 3/14
up extra early worked on taxes
taught from 8:30 - 2pm
10:15-10:30am interacted with parent concern
Lunch - led worship team bible study
2-3 pm interacted with another parent letter
3:30-5 English Department meeting after school
Stayed after to correct papers and plan lessons
7:30pm left school home by 8pm.

Thursday 3/15
8:30 -at school teaching
2pm went to the bank/post office to pay taxes
3:30-5:00 Social Studies department meeting
(co-worker covered for me by leading worship team practice)
5-6 Parent called to discuss the my classroom discipline
7-9:30 Flower Basket singing practice
Typed up behavior report for student file.

Friday 3/16
Worship team practice 8:10
8:30-3:30 at school teaching
taught chapel (1-4 grade) lesson on the Armor of God
3:30-5:30 Facilitated movie at school as drama fundraiser
4-5 met with principal while kids watched the movie
6:30-10 Missionary Fellowship: Dinner & prayer meeting

Saturday 3/17
 slept in, cleaned house, grocery shopped, paid bills, visited bank
5-9pm Girl's Night @ my house:
 2011 KCS Alumna talking about her year of ministry & learning

Sunday - SABBATH!- try to slow down & focus on HIM!
Take time to smell the tulips!
Skype with a friend in the states
Worship with the church (try to comprehend the Japanese)
run errands
make lunches to last all week
take a nap
start a rough draft of prayer newsletter
Send out PTA minutes

Here's the schedule for this week . . .
Mon: School, Drama practice, Flower Basket singing group practice
Tues:  Parent/teacher/principal meeting, School, Drama Practice
Wed: School, Staff meeting, Flower Basket singing practice
Thurs: School, 3:30 my parents arrive from USA (Insert shouts of joy here.)
Fri: Spring festival at school, Last day of quarter


Saturday: Flower Basket practice
Sunday: Church Service, Sing in the Flower Basket Concert @ 2:30pm,
 then dinner with Flower Basket group

Learn how to slow down while introducing parents to people and places in Kansai. Between  my "just-make-it-to-spring-break-one-day- at-a-time-schedule" and their jet lag I think we'll find a happy medium pace.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

White Day: Valentine's Day in Reverse

In Japan, Valentine's Day (February 14) is when Girl's give gifts (usually chocolate) to the boys in their lives. There are two types of chocolates (store bought or homemade) given either out of love for someone (called honmei-choco) like for a boyfriend or out of obligation (giri-choco) for a boss or co-worker.

On White Day (March 14) the reverse happens: boys are expected to return the favor by giving gifts to the ladies. Typically gifts include cookies, white chocolate, or jewelry.  Some say the White Day gifts should be 2 to 3 times the cost of the Valentine's Day gift.

I received two White Day gifts from students. One in the form of a cake, the other chocolate wafers. Sorry no photos of these.

Since I didn't post photos of Valentine's Day here's the update: 

As a school we did a fundraiser for Drama Club on Valentine's Day : selling Kisses and Cookies.

^ Chocolate Kisses in bags with labels made by Elementary Drama students 

Chris & I made about 10 dozen sugar cookies.

^Chris is mixing the frosting. 

Ms. Harms (me) (Elementary Drama Director) and Ms. Z (High School Drama Director) frosting the cookies.

^Elementary students adding the sprinkles.

^Cookies were packaged, labeled, and prepared for delivery. 

Finished product.

At the end of the day students were actually asking with cheerful anticipation, 
"Did we break any hearts? We get to eat the broken ones, right?!?"

*A big thanks to the photographer - a 5th grade student who is taking a sabbatical this spring from his roll as Drama King, who took all but 3 of the photos above. 

***** Next Drama fundraisers:
Movie Night, Friday, March 16, KCS HALL, 3:30-5:30pm. Movie is free: Bake goods for sale.
Monday, March 19 - Green Thai Curry Lunch (Happy St. Patrick's Day!)

Monday, March 12, 2012

What are you reading?

Just before my birthday I was at home, sick.  Missed one day of school and basically stayed in bed for 3 days.  During which time I filled my non-napping hours with books. I've been working my way through various books and even finished a few during my 3 days being homebound.  The last 2 years I've stuck to mainly non-fiction books. I've been on a huge biography kick focusing on courageous women (Founding Mothers, Left to Tell, In My Hands, etc.) but recently I've dipped back into some fiction and new releases thanks to some great recommendations from friends.

Wonderstruck  This is a great young adult novel. Words and drawings combine to tell the story of Rose and Ben in a unique and exhilarating way. I knew it was going to be a meaningful book when I saw the setting was Gunflint Lake, MN! Now am looking forward to reading more by this author.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Loved rereading one of my favorite Christian fiction writers. This book retells the biblical love story of Gomer and Hosea.

Over Christmas vacation I read, Divergent, a young adult novel about a dystopian society.  Such a thrilling story by Veronica Roth about how one choice can transform you. Reminded me of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  Both series were introduced to me by my friend Lisa, who is a great source for recommendations of YA Fiction.

At school we're reading Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  (In case you've seen the movie -  the book is very different!) We're also laughing at the  humor in Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books. This author "gets" kids!

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
This is one I've heard a lot of buzz on the web about.  It is a book about which my sister Jennifer says, "One of the best I have ever read.  It is still changing my approach to life situations."

Since Nobody's Perfect . . . . How Good is Good Enough? by Andy Stanley
The new book the KCS Worship Team is studying, looking at the statement,"Good people go to heaven."

Day by Day Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice
Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz. I'm reading this book for some new ideas on how to teach writing. I've only just begun to dig into this resource - can't wait to try some ideas out in the classroom.

Tim Keller's King's Cross. This was on my Christmas wish list.  Reading a chapter a day, I'm chewing on the material which delves into the gospel of Mark. I'm fascinated by the way Keller clearly explains the biblical truths so that all readers from atheist to Christians are left grappling with the implications of understanding who Jesus is.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Author of Emotionally Healthy Church)
This book was a Christmas gift from one of my supporting churches.  This book has been speaking deeply to me during the last three months which have been an emotional roller coaster.

On my "To-Be-Read" List are:
Bloomability by Sharon Creech
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (Another biography!)
Unwind by Neal Shusterman

 What are you reading? Any recommendations?

Sunday, March 11, 2012


One year ago March 11 at 2:46 
this was my story.

August 11 I was in Tohoku as a volunteer with some KCS students and other Christian workers.

Today: I went to church. We prayed for Japan and those directly affected by the triple disaster.

I joined some church members in going to a Memorial Concert at a Boy's Catholic high school, where my friend Ibaraki-san teaches.

 ^Students talked about their trips volunteering in Tohoku. Church leaders talked about their volunteer work.
^About how overwhelming the clean-up efforts were - and how reality hits when you see a toy and realize this belonged to a child that is now homeless, or perhaps an orphan or no longer living. 

^ After the reports given today we heard a video message from the governor of Iwate prefecture, a graduate of the school where the concert was held.  He thanked people for volunteering and invited more volunteers to come.

^ During the second part of the program  four school bands gave a concert. Donations from today's event go to the relief work in Tohoku.

There is still work to be done rebuilding homes, restoring lives, and renewing spiritual hope.  Volunteers are still needed.  Prayer is always needed.  Here is a video from CRASH.

Here is an article reflecting on the year after 3.11 from Christianity Today (written by someone who attended Christian Academy of Japan in Tokyo).

And here is a website of a fellow missionary (who stayed with me for 2 weeks after the earthquake) as he looks back over the year seeing the missiological impact of the disasters.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Girl's Day

March 3rd is Hinna Matsuri - also known as Girl's Day in Japan
I celebrated it with my host family in 2008 (here).

This year 2012 - I celebrated the day with the Ibaraki family. Grandma Ibaraki was there too!

^Chirashizushi  (shrimp and eel, eggs and vegetables over rice)

^Sweet potatoes and tempura vegetables

^ A special peach tree (gift from Grandma Ibaraki to the family)

Megu's Girl's Day decoration - made out of wood. 
This style of princess dolls are made in Nara Prefecture where Megu was born. 
(top level are the highest ranking)

Megu is holding diamond shaped mochi (pounded rice) - which if you look at the second step from the bottom on the doll set above you'll see the orange, green and white (wooden) versions.
This is the hand painted doll set that Grandma Ibaraki made.  

This is Jun-kun's craft project from school a mix of origami and cut paper.  

^Sakuramochi -  the leaf is edible pickled sakura (cherry) leaf. 
The pounded rice is "domyoji-ko, a kind of glutinous rice flour that is steamed and filled with azuki". 

^Special snacks for Hina Matsuri  (with a few random chocolate hearts mixed in the bowl.)

^ Yo and Sachiko are dishing out some fresh bread - from their new bread machine.  
This is not typical food for Girl's Day but it tasted GREAT!

Megu made some yogurt pudding and we added some fresh strawberries from Grandma.
This was a day filled with yummy treats!

^Yo set up the tripod and captured the celebration. I took a photo of his creative tripod location (above the kitchen sink) and realized later it gives you a great view of the "wallpaper" made from Megu & Jun's artwork. 

After our main meal, Yo & Grandma napped
 while Sachiko & I played multiple games of "Sorry" with the kiddos.

It was a fun family day!