Saturday, June 21, 2008

Week 3

Things have definitely been picking up since my last check-in. I still haven't located "my guy" but the more time we spend with the students the more apparent the curious ones become. So hopefully I'll be able to discern a student that I can develop a friendship with soon as we are almost near the halfway mark of our time and relationships in Japanese culture take a very long time to cultivate but they also last an extremely long time.

The students of BEST club have had quite a few events lately so that has been a huge help in getting some time with them and it relieves both sides of the stress of trying to create a meeting. It also allows the Japanese students to relax and be themselves with their friends. Spending time with Gaijin (GUY-jeen, or foreigners) is pretty tiring for the students as they try to communicate using the textbook english they learned at school or one of the classes they took. Also the students usually will compase an entire thought in their head in Japanese, translate it in their head and then deliver the message, so fir them it makes commincation a real exercise and eventually tiring. You can almost see the relief when they go back to speaking Japanese with thier friends so it's nice for them to have that option at these events and break up the "English Time".

So every Thursday we have "SPORTS" and basically it serves a similar purpose to ultimate frisbee for the ASU navs (which is to have fun and serve as an entry activity to the club). After SPORTS usually we will go get something to eat and then have "Creative Time", which is a different evening activity every week. The 1st week it was the trip to the mountaintop、and last week we were supposed to take a trip to the country to look at fireflies, but due to some complications with the transportation had to "settle" for setting off fireworks at the local beach.
Being from AZ where this is illegal, this was a huge treat for me, but probably just so-so for the rest of the club.

Anyways it gave me a good chance to talk to a few of the students as we just sat on the beach. I spent some time talking to a student named Toshi who is a sophomore at ShizDi (the local university) and we talked about some school, hometowns, and music. A lot of the Japanese really like American music so it provides a good conversation starter, Toshi is a fan of Muse, and Green Day (those are pretty popular american and british rock groups for the older folks). Really when talking to the students you make a lot of small talk because that is all they have learned so far, but hopefully the student becomes comfortable and breaks off script at some point. I also talked to a freshman named Vido who is studying economics at the university. Apperently he attend Elbert's (the mid term staff we are living with)
class regularly and understood a lot of English. We talked about baseball in America and Japan and living far from his hometown. Like a said a lot of small talk.

So after that we decided we were hungry so a smaller group of us rode to Gusto which is a late night restaurant similar to IHOP or Dennys。 It was another good chance to relate to students mostly by just making the effort to spend time with them.

Friday Kanako took us to Karaoke with a bunch of Japanese students. Karaoke is a little bit different than I guessed, its not a large room full of strangers with someone on a stage crooning some 80s song while the rest of us look on. Insted you get a small room with a booth and a large tv and so you and about 6 or 7 of your friends take turns singing songs. It was cool cause then your not singing for a room full of strangers but you ARE going to sing. you cant avoid it in that small a room. S o I went ahead and butchered some songs from the Beatles, Red Hot CHili Peppers, Toshi sang a Muse song with me,

and a couple others. We started at about 9p and finished at around 4am which is typical for a night of Karaoke.

That Saturday BEST had a BBQ at the beach where we ate Yakisoba (grilled noodles with vegetables and beef) and played some games. One of the neat aspects about the game portion of the BEST activities and even the SPORTS activities is that the guys make sure the girls are always included. So we played some dodgeball, had a wheelbarrow race, and a foot race. My team did pretty good at dodgeball and wheelbarrows but I and the rest of the americans got wasted in the foot race.

On Sunday we attended Joy Fellowship which is the local Christian church attended by most of the staff and a grand total of about a dozen other people. It was pretty small but the message was encouraging (he talked about the background people in Jesus life and how even they were part of God's plan) and I played along with the worship team on an instrument called a Cajon, which is kind of like a box with guitar cords and jingle bells inside.
Later that night we had the first weekly "American Night" meeting, which is basically a very quick worship service for our team and whatever students we can drag along. We ate dinner together, sang a couple songs, Cody read a verse and shared a thought, then we had a quick sharing time. The evening is mostly geared towards our team but the 2 students who we dragged into it seemed to like it. Last week we had M&M cookies and tomorrow we're supposed to try and make hamburgers and french fries.

On Monday we had our Bible Study on 1st Peter, and our meetings about general housekeeping stuff. Myself, Kathryn and Becky also had a meeting with Nagai-San to discuss curriculum for the Wednesday night english class we are taking over. Nagai-san gave us some good direction and really tried to explain to us that we need to start from square zero on every part of the Bible portion of the class as students have no experience whatsoever with the bible or jewish culture. He tried to explain that for years missionaries had been trying to reach the Japanese and had failed because they did not adjust to the Japanese culture and had instead tried to force the idea to a people that were far from understanding.

Tuesday Nagai-san and Brian Van Zante took our team hiking to Umegashima (Plum Island). It was about 2 hours away, but the drive was really beautiful
The countryside was full of small rivers and green mountains and fields of tea. We packed a lunch and headed out on the 1km hike which took about 20 minutes. At the end of trail is a 40-50 foot waterfall where we ate our lunch and just spent a little time reflecting.

Wednesday was the day of the English Class. SO we met together and ran through what was going on, I volunteered to lead this first class and then we'd rotate leaders from there. The class went pretty well we talked about the parable in Luke 12 with the rich man who stored up all his goods in bigger barns but then died soon afterwards and how then all his stuff did him no good. Only we didn't quite pull off the message. For the 1st class it went pretty well, there were 6 students there and everyone seemed to have fun, but even with Nagai-San's worning I think we still did not provide enough background information on the story and as a result the students ended up thinking that the rich man did a good job by building extra barns to store his extra crop, which then provided him with wealth to live and relax off of. So this next class our team will definitely try and be more deliberate about some of the activities and thought questions we use as we go over the latter half of that chapter about how "where your treasure is there your heart will be also" and not worrying about tomorrow as God takes care of birds and flowers and people are much more important to him than they are. So hopefully this week we can provide a much more focused and clearer message about the passage while still keeping it fun for the students. One of the students that has startted coming is actually one of the leaders of BEST club named Koturo, so he and I had a good chance to talk afterwards about school, mosquitoes and other things. I also helped him with some stuff for Thursdays creative time, a photo scavenger hunt, and tried to give him some ideas for the list of photos that people had to take (E.g. scene from a movie, spell out Japan with people, I cant believe we all fit in here etc..)

Thursday was SPORTS again (badminton) and for Creative Time we did the photo scavenger hunt. It went well and the students had a great time trying to get the americans to understand what they needed to do for the photos. Later we returned to JoyHouse and everybody presented their photos for the rest of the group. The results for most groups ranged from highly entertaining and creative to ......Ok .

Friday is our teams day off but we did split shifts babysitting one of the staffs baby boy, while he took Elbert, and Mandy to take the Japanese driving test which is an all day affair. Outside of that we just relaxed, I went to the beach and read some of Mere Christianity and tried to memorize more of 1st Peter.

Saturday our team had dinner at the house of the Leases. Mark and Yumiko Lease run the elementary and junior high ministry in the area and attend Joy fellowship so we just spent some quality time in fellowship.

Prayer requests

Health for the team
-the team has been passing around various colds and flu for a couple weeks now, so health would be a huge blessing

Clarity in locating my student

Dealing with homesickness
-the whole team has just started to talk about some of the things they miss from home and its really beginning to show that we miss our families.

Continued Harmony on the team
-So far our team has gotten along great but as we approach this 4th week people usually start to be less polite and a little more forward, so prayer for paitience and Godly attitudes toward each other.

I miss you all and want to thank you for your prayers, they are definitely being felt. I look forward to hearing from you soon, sorry about the length and dryness of this post hopefully in the future I'll be able to add more details.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Week 1 3/4

Hey its good to hear from you all in the comments and email, so keep that coming if you have time. It's been pretty slow since that first week. We're not yet comfortable enough with the students to call them up and make plans, and so we end up just spending time together as a team. Which is a good thing. Just not exactly why we're here. Things are looking like they are going to start picking up though, in fact tonight I and a couple of the female members of the team, Kathryn and Becky are going to sit in on one of the midterm staffs "english class". I put english class in quotes because while the idea is for the students attending to learn how to speak english it sounds like the way they are taught in this particular class is by reading bible stories that the midterm staffer (Aileen) has transcribed to a readable level. The scary thing about it is that Aileen will be leaving early next month and so for a couple weeks it's just going to be Kathryn and I running that show. So hopefully I'll learn alot tonight and be able to keep these kids interested enough in the class that they don't all bail when Aileen hands it over to the scrubs.

The other thing I'll be working on is trying to find "My Guy". That is the one or two guys that I will invest most of my time and effort this summer into creating a relationship with. There are a couple dozen guys so they advise us to just spend some time in prayer to find the guy that God leads you to and you can have the most impact on. I'm naturally impatient and wish that God would just throw a guy in my lap or give me an outright obvious sign of who he would like me to focus on so that will be a little difficult. The whole team is going through it together though soat least we have camaraderie.

Speaking of the team, every Monday morning (That's Sunday about noon to most of you folks) we get together and have a team bible study. This year they decided to go through 1st Peter and our leader here Brian VanZante has challenged us to memorize it before the end of the summer. I enjoy reading 1st Peter and looking at all the nuances of the letter but memorizing is a real weakness for me. I'm usually lucky if I can remember what I did yesterday much less a 13,000 word book. So if you're feeling particularly bored this summer you could memorize along at home and feel like your part of the action over here.

So the prayer things today would be:
Effectively lead the english class of 7 or 8 students that Aileen is handing over to Kathryn and myself, and be able to use it to also familiarize the students with Jesus.

That I would be able to locate the student that I could most effectivel minister to through a relationship.

and that I would be diligent about the memorizing of 1st Peter (if you have time).

Outside of that I guess a couple fun things

the exchange rate is pretty much 1 yen to one cent, so a meal usually costs about 600yen and its pretty easy to do the math from there.

Along with that a movie ticket cost 2000yen and no student discounts going on here either. Also movies here are about 2 months behind America, so the most popular movie at the theatres last week was 21 (about the MIT guy and blackjack) so theres a little bit of lag.

KFC here is a Christmas meal, and actually it sounds like a traditional present. So for Christmas to give your girlfriend KFC makes you basically a stud.

We did have a movie night here as a team and watched this movie called "Always- Sunset on Third Street" and it was pretty much the best movie I saw all year, but I can't seem to find it in the US, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Myself and the other 3 guys here are discovering that we know very little about cooking and have been making alot of Ramen, Cereal, and sandwiches, so if you have any easy quick recipes PLEASE email them to me.

I think thats about it, look forward to hearing from you and thanks for all your prayers.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Week 1

Sorry it took so long to get this thing up and truly rolling, things in Japan have just started to settle into the groove for the summer. Let me start at the begining with the flight.

The flight over wasn't as bad as I expected. It took just under 13 hrs, but the weird thing was that because we were chasing the sun, it never got dark. For the people in the plane it was something like a 36 hour day. It was hard to nap on the plane mostly due to lack of room. You could however watch movies until you passed out, so I tried that a couple times.

Thankfully when I and the rest of the people from the Sunland area arrived in Tokyo the SIJ team kept us moving so we could avoid jet lag for the most part. They immediately herded us to a train where we started our journey to the Olympic center where we would be staying. The Olympic center I believe was created for the Nagano Olympics a couple years back and has dorm like facilities and a couple classrooms. We slept in one person rooms a little bigger than a closet but overall the place was
amazing. It had its own convenience store, 3 restaurants and a whole bunch of sports areas. Mostly we just woke up early, headed to breakfast- let's talk about breakfast for a second. The Japanese have a very different idea of breakfast it seems. They go ahead and use lunch and dinner food for breakfast for the most part with no distinction. SO for my first breakfast in Japan it was Miso soup, spaghetti, Nato (fermented beans-I had to try it once) , and a whole lot of white rice. White rice is pretty much available at every meal. IT was different but not bad. typically after breakfast we would break into our teams for the previously assigned devotion of the day. This was awesome as it gave me some opportunity to learn more about my team and spend some time in the word together.

A quick rundown of the team-
Konoko is a young Japanese woman who travels between Shizuoka and Penn state recruiting people to come to minister in Japan. She always has an amazing attitude and even though she's very young she has that "wise beyond her years thing" going for her. She has acted as our primary liaison for the most part in Japan, and elps hold the Shiz BEST club together.
Mandy is what they call a "midtermer" in the ministry in Japan. which means she signed up for a 2 year term and for the most part is a fulltime in the ministy here. She is a great encourager, has a great sense of humor and is is actively seeking God while in Japan.
Elbert is the other midtermer in Shiz. He rarely runs out of energy, loves the Japanese people and culture and has been awesome showing us the ropes the first couple days. He did the SIJ thing a couple years ago and then finished up at Penn state and came back to minister more.
Thomas is from Oregon and would probably be considered the comic relief of the group. He sees things a little bit differently than everyone else and has a great attitude and optimism in every sitiuation.
Kevin and Cody are from Iowa state and went to high school together. They both shared a similar interest in all things Japan and so it seems natural that they would pick that as a summer mission. Kevin is a musician and plays an awesome guitar, Cody likes computers and both have been very quick to adapt to Japan.
Kathryn is from all over and previously served in Japan with her church. SHe also spent some time in the military so she often gets the team moving in the right direction by setting a great example.
Johanna is from Penn state and is the only extrovert in the group. She's going to be a teacher and already has that great teacher attitude where everything is fixable and new experiences are exciting.
Amanda is from Louisville and her father grew up in Japan. So it's been her goal for the last 2 years to come and minister to the people she has heard so much about. She is quick to laugh and very encouraging to the rest of the team. ]
Gaby is....well I don't know yet. Gaby just got out of school and will arrive at Shiz a little bit later.

So after devotions we would attend some orientation workshops helping us to adjust to the new country, what to expect ministry wise, and how to work as a good team. After a couple days together our team really clicked and so far has gotten along great. I think the most surprising thing from the orientation is much they stress patience in ministering to Japan. The Japanese people do not jump into life changing decisions quickly and really having not grown up in a "Christian" culture like the US have only a vague idea about the bible and Jesus, and for the most part that view is that the Bible is good literature and Jesus had some good insights for a fictional character. Mark told us all that we only have 2 months, and the most effective way to minister to the Japanese in those 2 months would be to love them, and show them a great example of Christian life. He said the the Japanese would not forget that and that is really all we have time for. Japanese culture and really Asian culture in general is constantly looking at the big picture and take life decisions very serious and take a very long time making them. For example one of the staff members here in Japan has been meeting with 3 or 4 guys in a bible discussion group for a few YEARS, and even though they faithfully keep coming back none have professed faith. They are very reluctant understandably and so our ministry will just be to shine a light on Jesus and the Bible to give them a picture of what Christians our. No small task.

Along with the orientation we also had some time to go to Shin-Juku (one of the burroughs in Tokyo) which is one of the busier down town areas and have dinner and get a look around. Konoko led the group on a quick tour of the area and through super busy train terminals. It was pretty amazing. She also took us to a shrine built to honor one of the previous emperors and is a huge forest looking area ion the middle of Tokyo where people come to pray.

After the orientation Nagai-San (one of the long term staff in Shiz) came and picked us up in an awesome older bus and took us to our new place. THe first night here we met the staff which consists of-

The Brians, Brian VanZante and Brian O'Donnell. Both have wives and kids and speak fluent Japanese. Brian O'Donnell did SIJ 4 years agoo or so and is noow back for a long term, and Brian VanZantehas been here for I believe over 4 years working with the students at the local unic\versity.
Nagai-san is the owner of the house where the guys in the team are staying. He was also the creator of the BEST club, the SIJ program and I beleive that's probably just scratching the surface of what he's done. He calls himself the last samurai and is a very strong Christian, he wakes up at 3am every morning to study a subject he's not yet mastered (currently its math) and keeps super busy throughout the day. He's done pretty much everything and been most everywhere, I would have to say Nagai-san is probably one of the most interesting men in the world.
Mark Rood is not part of the Shizuoka team but leads the SIJ program in Japan. He took all the "Summer Friends" (that's what they call SIJ participants like myself) through orientation and has been here in Japan for the last several years working in Tokyo.

This post was a lot longer than I initially intended, I guess I'll have tummarize better next time I'll end with a could of cool things,
This video was of the beach about a 5 min bike ride from the house that we're staying at. You can see most of the team in it and Ryosuke one of the Japanese students also staying at Joyhouse (the name of the place I'm staying) THe Ocean is very active and they told us not to go swimming for fear of riptides, but its an awesome place for quiet times.

THis video is of Shizuoka at night from a nearby mountaintop. A graduate BEST club member came back to visit so we went up there that night and just enjoyed the view. It was much better in person, that little camera doesnt really do it justice.

Real quick a couple of things that God has been showing me. I read through 2nd Corinthians 7 where Paul talks about how encouraging Titus was to the believers there and realized that that is really one of the main reasons I'm here. To encourage the staff here and revitalize them as they are pretty much on an island here by themselves. Also we went through the passage in John where he talks about the dying seed so I'm getting just a vague idea of what dying to yourself means.

A Couple things you could pray for
-Patience ministering to the students. There isn't going to be a whole rash of conversions this summer, in fact the possibilty of even one seemed pretty slim.
-Also patience with the language barrier, many of the students speak passable english and talking to them is doable but is very tiring.
-That Me and my team (my team and I :) ) will be able to be great examples of Christians and Christ's love and grace to the people here Japan at all times as they are watching us closely.
-That God would help me be more outgoing and approach the students aggressively, something I'm naturally comfortable doing.

I think that's it for now hopefully I'll be back soon to update in shorter and more frequent sessions.