Thursday, July 31, 2008

Week 7 (or part II of the last post)

Actually, I'm a little short on time so the post will be relatively brief. In a couple hours we're headed out of town to participate in an English Camp with the students. It's my understanding that Bible reading will be involved somehow. There is a somewhat small group of sudents going so the hope is that the size of the group will allow everyone to act more like themselves. That's the hope anyway. Prayer for that reality would be greatly appreciated.
Now to fill in some of the blacks from the last post.
The following day after the dinner with the students, Kathryn and I had to prepare for our final wednesday night english class. The plan was to have dinner together at Lighthouse (the name for the house where most of the female staff lives) and then have the lesson about the Prodigal's Son. After a little bit of confusion due to the language barrier we ended up deciding to make hamburgers and tomato soup. We started at BLT's and soup, then make your own pasta was suggested, then another student hadn't had "American" hamburgers yet so it was quite a road to te eventual entree. A couple of the girls from the class pretty much took over the shopping and cooking and did an amazing job. Defintely the best hamburgers I've ever had in Japan. The lesson went really well also, the students acted out how they would have responded if they were one of the characters. They also chose which character they felt the greatest connection to, the overwhelming favorite being the older brother. That really characterizes alot of the feeling I've noticed here in Japan. So many of the students are working really hard, yet it seems that they are still missing that word of confirmation or love that could make all their hard work justified. It's becoming a little bit of an issue in Japanese society because younger generations are looking at the small rewards offered for all the hard work and deciding that it's not worth it. It will be interesting to see how that gets handled.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Week 6 6/7ths Part I

It's pretty late in Shizuoka right now, but I realized it's been awhile since I posted some updates (or called my parents) so I figured I start a post and fill in the empty stuff later.

To begin with, most everything since sports camp has been running really smooth. The students have really responded and have invited us to various dinners and various other smaller group activities. I've found this to be really great for the most part, but because they are smaller group activities a result is that the conversations need to keep moving for a longer time. You can only find out about a students hometown, major, and favorite hobbies once (the hobby question has been an unexpectedly popular question from the Japanese), then you have to move on. An artist of conversation is not a title frequently ascribed to me by those who have spent event the least amount of time with me, so I've been extremely thankful that God put me with teamates that can ably move the discussion along comfortably and get everyone involved. They've been great at filling in the uncomfortable silences (while leaving the comfortable ones), and making sure that our time with students is full of deeper learning about each other than "what kind of music do you enjoy" type stuff.

A quick runover of the events That have taken place since the last post. This is not really a comprehensive list, and as I said earlier will probably be added to later tomorrow.

We went to the nearby city of Shimizu with a few students and explored a festival they were thowing in their downtown area. The festival is called the "Tanabata" festival, the back story on the festivals origins are a little iffy according to wikipedia (by iffy I mean confusing and "I'm not sure why this warrants a festival exactly") but the people downtown all seemed to have a good time. There is a sort of main street where you walk and look at all these amazing paper creations, like the most amazing pinatas you'll ever see hanging from the ceiling on this main street/hallway deal. Along with the amazing pinata/floats there are also many small shops and the usual food being sold, shaved ice, tako yaki (octopus balls), yaki torri (grilled chicken usually on a stick), crepe's (german pancakes wrapped around fruit and ice cream or a similar filling) and other great stuff. Our small group really enjoyed all the paper creations and it gave us something to start conversations with later on with students.

We tried to have english class that Wednesday but because of sports camp, I think some students though maybe the class was over and we only had 2 students RSVP for the class and then only 1 actually showed. So Kathryn had some time 1 on 1 with the student I and left to rehearse some worship stuff with some of the staff for the upcoming sunday's church service. IT was a little disheartening to only have 1 student show to a class that we had been entrusted to keep alive after its primary instructor-Aileen had left. It felt quite a bit like failure, but we decided to redouble our efforts and focus on the final class coming up on the next Wednesday.

One of our Japanese roomates organized a trip to a Shimizu S Pulse J-Leage soccer game for the team and a few students. Soccer is realtively new to Japan but it is already fairly popular. This was confirmed by the charasmatic cheering from the crowd throughout the ENTIRE soccer game. We never sat down, and each section had its own cheer commander type person who made sure that everyone was still actively cheering. Most of the fun from the game was trying to figure out the cheers along with the students and then laughing at ourselves with the students as we basically butchered these cheers or in a best case, were so happy for understanding the cheer cheered embarassingly obnoxiously. The students found both cases pretty funny. The S Pulse unfortunately went on to lose the match, not for a lack of effort or cheering (maybe some shady judging). And our team and others ended up with about 24 new inside jokes that have yet to get old.

following that was another american night on the 13th of July. Gabi headed up the creation of some Sloppy Joe's for dinner, which was a new food for 98% of the students, as well as new vocabulary-Sloppy.It was a good turnout of students, and some of them even tried to sing along with the the worship songs. We again read a verse from the bible (presently it escapes me which one it was that night) and had sharing time with the students where we duscussed the past week and plans for the next week. The students really seem to enjoy most of the American night especially the music and sharing portions (they seem pretty indifferent to the bible part, possibly because its short). That night is usually quite encouraging and leads into our Monday morning bible study quite naturally.

Speaking of the Bible study, we took a break from 1st Peter last week and our leader Mark decided to have us study "Asking God for a Mate". He gave us a comprehensive list of verses to examine and extract truths from to share wth the group. The actual study was pretty fun and a bunch of us completed it together, laughing at the awkwardness of the subject and occasionally the content of the verses (Song of Solomon especially). At the group meeting Mark spent a good chunk of the time explaing how he had met his wife, a Japanese native named Yumiko and their amazing story of how God had brought them together. It was encouraging, yet frustrating as we all arrived at the answer to the question: "Just wait on God".

That Tuesday a small group of us met some students at a local Italian restaurant called Piso Lino's. The group that night was especially loose and talkative and the students talked relatively freely about plans to travel, learning english, the struggles of school, and the exhaustion of speaking english to us. Speaking a 2nd non native language is extremely mentally exhausting for the students, so its really a testament to their dillagence that they hang around us at all, with our constant demands for menu translations, and requsts for Japanes phrases. It was really enjoyable.

I'm going to stop here for a couple hours and fill in the reaming week tomorrow, in the meantime a couple prayer requests for the future:

We are traveling to Takayama early monday morning for a 3 day trip with some students sightseeing. Pray that our time is well spent, we remain safe, and our conversations rich.

We also have an english camp this Friday and Saturday, so please pray for energy and that the students would be curious about the Bible as that is a major topic during english camp.

We are climbing Mt. Fuji on Sunday, please pray for safety and good weather.

And finally our team has been together in a foreign country for over 6 weeks and some small crakcs in our "masks" our starting to show, so prayer for Persistent love in the team and patience with each other.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Week 4 3/4

Hey, I'm back. I seem to have disappeared for a week and a half or so and I was going to post something before Sunday, but I forgot we were going out of town to Sports Camp this weekend and I wouldnt be able to. Sorry about that.

So the relationships with the students have been really growing. Our team is a group of pretty likeable guys and girls (well I like them anyway) so the Japanese students have been hanging out with us more. A couple of big events happened this week.

We celebrated Elberts birthday last Sunday and also had our second "American Night".
Elbert turned 24 and we as a group of guys gave him a towel, and a medicine ball. clearly he was thrilled. The BEST club got together and bought him a couple cake rolls though which we ate alongside a homemade cake by Becky at American Night.
I cant remember if I explained "American Night" before but here's a brief summary. It's basically "church lite'. First we invite Japanese students over for American night and a meal. Then we all have dinner together, last Sunday night it was Hamburgers and Fries which were actually really amazing, (prepared by Masterchef Thomas with the help of Cody and Amanda). We then sing a couple really easy worship songs with the words on showing on the telvision, read a verse and share a thought about it, and have a sharing activity for the groups. I did the verse last week and just read Matthew 7: 3-5 about the logs and specks in eyes. It seemed like a universal truth which is kind of what we're going for with the students. especially when we have such a large group as we did that night (over 16!). It went well but I think I talked to fast which I tend to do in front of groups so I'm not sure how much of the english they all caught. After that we broke up into small groups for the sharing activity which was prepared this week by the youngest member of our group Gabi. In smaller groups of 4-5 each person picked out a subject such as Myself, My friend, a stranger etc and a adjective like suprising, good, bad, encouraging, awkward and had to share a evet that happened that week that fit the 2 slips they pulled. so for example for awkward stranger I could share about how I never know what to say to cashiers after they ask me a question so I just stare at them and smile and wait to pay. The activity went really well and was well thought out. The night overall was a good success.

Tuesday we went to dinner with some of the sophomore students. It was a smaller group than usual which was nice and allowed for the students to really interact

(sometimes when there is too many Americans the students will just listen, probably cause they cant get a word in edgewise).So it was a good time of getting more input from the students.

The following day was our second go at teaching english class. THere seems to be a pretty high turnover rate in this class as we again had a good number of students (4), none of them were repeat students from last week. Hopefully next class we'll see some students return. We went through Luke 12:22-34 where Jesus teaches to not be anxious and rely on God. Then we talked to the students about things that make them anxious and what they do to help with the anxious feeling, and we (when I say we I mean Myself, Kathryn and Becky) shared how we would pray and read the bible when we feel anxious. Hopefully all this and future sharing will at least plant some curiosity in the students about our way of life and maybe they'll ask some questions.

There was NO sports on Thursday as the students were preparing for "Sports Festa" the upcoming weekend. They did however have a farewell party for one of the midtermers, Aileen. Aileen has been here for 2 years I believe and is in charge of the english class that we're filling in for a couple weeks on Wednesdays. It was make your own sushi night which was....interesting. Basically makeing your own sushi is really easy, you take a square of "Nori" or dried seaweed, add a layer of rice, maybe some egg and then the fish dipped in soy sauce. You then roll it all up and go for it. So that's sushi, very different from the "Dragon rolls or California rolls in the states, but a little more on that later.

Overall it was a good time even though it was really sad when Aileen read her goodbye speech in Japanese. Even though I don't exactly know what she said it was still really moving based on the students around me. She will definitely be missed. Becky also gave a quick speech thanking people and saying goodbye as she would be leaving that weekend to go back home to Colorado. So I guess Kathryn and I are on our own now as far as the english class on Wednesdays go. We will really miss her.

Friday we had our last meal with Becky as a team and went to a restaurant called Sushiro.
By the way I'm just guessing at most of these Japanese words spelling as I only hear the word and never actually see it in Romanji or the letters english uses. So Sushiro could be SushiRoll, or SushiRa, etc. It was the 3rd sushi meal in the last 3 days for me and if you know me you'll know I'm not really a seafood aficionado. But Becky really enjoyed it and we got to hear the SushiRo theme song over the loudspeaker (which sounds like the word SushiRo over and over to the William Tell Overture it's hilarious) so it was a good time. That evening we left Shizuoka for Sports Festa.

Sports Festa is a yearly weekend long BEST club event planned by that year's Sophmores and is attended by most of the BEST club in Shiz and some members from surrounding areas, (this year I think Hamamatsu which is a nearby city, had a lot of members join). There was probably a good 150 participatants in the Festa. The Festa works like this, we arrive at a Hostel near Mt.Fuji friday night, and get welcomed by a speech from the Sophmore spokeman and woman (This year it was Waki and Ayako, Waki has been hanging around a lot with the team so it was cool to see him in the leader roll.) We then go to our rooms to sleep. The next morning the teams are posted in the common area and everyone gets ready for breakfast. The teams are your teams for the weekend, you eat together, you compete together, and you really spend a lot of time together. The competition was an array of sports that the teams rotated through thoughout the day. Sports included kickball, basketball, soccer, dodgeball, dodgebee (dodgeball with a soft frsbee) volleyball, ultimate frisbee, and a couple other games. The students take the competition pretty seriously so our whole team was pretty nervous about being the weak member of our teams. The weekend was super exhausting for the team both physically and mentally as we tried to understand the rules of the games and the strategies our team leaders wanted us to employ. I was fortunate though and actuall had Aileen on my team and she was awesome and translated whatever was going on for me and really saved me a lot of the guesswork most of the rest of the team had to do. Also on my team was a student named Akio, who alos sometimes comes to the english class on wednesdays so I had a lot of time to spend developing a better relationship with him which has been great. At the end of the weekend my team ended up tied for the 2nd place slot which was settled using a very popular game in Japan called "Janken".
As you may have guessed Janken is rock paper scissors and in that video our team leader (A young sophmore named Dice-K) just won our team 2nd place! It was really exciting for our team, especialy since we thought maybe we were doing pretty bad throughout the weekend, but apparently other teams had rough weekends also.

The Festa was a great chance to spend time with the students but also extremely exhasuting so we all welcomed the next couple days of rest and regular housekeeping activities.

We did have our weekly Bible study on 1st Peter when we returned though which is always really encouraging. THis week overall has been pretty laid back as the students recover from the Sports Festa and get back to studies (they have Finals in 2 weeks!).

Prayer Items
  • For energy as our team moves into our last month of ministry here in Shizuoka, that we wouldn't start to fade.
  • For the students that they would be curious and maybe ask questions that would lead to deeper conversations.
  • For Aileen and Becky as they head home, especially Aileen having been in Japan for the last 2 years, the adjustments she'll face are beyond my comprehension.
I think that's about it, for now. Sorry for taking so long to update this but it'sbeen busy and the longer I don't update it, the longer it takes to update (cause I keep experiencing more "content" if that makes sense ). I miss you all but am really having an amazing time here in Shizuoka, thanks for your prayers.