29 August, 2016

Supporting the missionary who comes from your church

It occurred to me over the weekend that we write a lot of prayer letters but rarely hear back from churches who support us. It's not easy to know how to support a missionary beyond giving them money and praying for them, so I did some searching to refresh my memory on this topic. 

You may find this useful information to apply in your own church. 

I wrote an article about this about four years ago and put it on my blog back then. I'm reposting it:

How churches can support their missionaries
By Wendy Marshall
There are many ways you can support missionaries. Different people feel comfortable with different ways of doing it. Here's a grab bag of ideas you might like to consider.

Let them know they are remembered
Missionaries love to know that they’re remembered. And because they aren’t with you, it is hard for them to know unless they’re told or shown. Emails, letters, postcards, Facebook messages etc., are always welcome. Phone calls or Skype calls are sometimes difficult to fit into busy lives, but they can be especially encouraging. Paul models this in his first letter to the Thessalonians, telling the church, not only that he was praying for them, but what he was praying. Hearing someone pray for you or about their prayers for you is a wonderful blessing — pass it on to your missionaries.

If your missionary is working in a limited access country, it would be wise to check with them or their mission’s home office about what guidelines they have for safe communication. You don’t want to cause them difficulties and different countries have different limitations.

Keep them informed
It is helpful to keep missionaries informed of changes in the church, especially if you are their home or one of their main supporting churches. This includes leadership changes, a change in the church’s name, or mission contact change, as well as more basic contact detail changes. When sending out prayer letters each month, it can be a drag to find that many emails are returned. Including the missionaries in the church directory and ensuring that they get a copy is one way to help keep them informed.

Many missionaries like to know what is happening in their home church; so let them know about significant events like church camps, baptisms, births, deaths and marriages. These things can help a missionary feel included and also make it less of a shock to transition back into the church when they’re home.

Include them
Including your missionary when they are out of the country takes creativity but can range from being included in email conversations, to being asked for input in a Bible study via email. You could also ask your missionaries for photos to show at church during a missionary spot or prayer time.

Visit them
Have you considered whether your missionaries would enjoy a pastoral visit? Think about sending one or more members of your church or leadership team to visit a missionary your church supports, particularly if they are members of your church. 

But do consult first with the missionaries. Different people have different coping thresholds when it comes to houseguests. It can be easy to become overwhelmed with visitors, and some missionaries seem to get more than others. Be aware that they have busy ministries to attend to, as well as potential limitations in providing you with accommodation. Ask them when a good time would be for you to visit, and be sensitive about the length of your visit. Be considerate about their finances too. You don’t want to cause the missionary distress by cleaning out their pantry without helping out with the expense. You also might consider taking a suitcase full of goodies from home; it could be a huge blessing for them.

Care for them with gifts 
Different people feel loved in different ways (as in The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman). Love can come in care packages too, especially ones that have been thoughtfully put together. A surprise is good, but a care package is even better if it contains items that your missionary especially wants, so it is good to ask them what they’d like.

Show loving concern for their family
Caring for missionaries’ families at home can be a way that churches can show their love and support. We have a colleague whose father became a Christian after their home church showed care for him, drawing him to church, and eventually he commited his life to the Lord.

When they are in your country
Missionaries appreciate practical care when they’re transitioning in and out of the country. A full pantry speaks volumes when you’ve just landed back in your home country and cannot face grocery shopping yet. Finding accommodation and transport, setting up telecommunications, and finding local services are ways that you can help your missionary when they’re coming back from overseas.

Coming back to a church you’ve been absent from for a long time can be scary. It is nice if missionaries are welcomed back as if they are locals who’ve been away for a while.

Missionaries love it when they’re given a reasonable amount of time to talk about what they’ve been doing in front of the whole church. It is fine to give a firm limit on how long they can talk, but consider how difficult it is to summarise years of ministry in only a couple of minutes.

Most missionaries love to have one-on-one conversations with you. This can be difficult to achieve on a Sunday morning, so think of creative ways that you can get to know your missionaries better when they are home.

Missionaries especially enjoy it when you ask thoughtful questions and stick around for the answer, even if it is a bit lengthy. They love it when they find out people actually read and remember their prayer letters. There’s a joke in missionary circles about the people who enquire about the wrong country; for example China, when we’re actually serving in Japan. Missionaries joke about it, but it really isn’t funny. Missionaries love it when you remember to enquire about the smaller details they’ve mentioned in their recent prayer letters, for example, “How’s Mr. Suzuki going?” if Mr. Suzuki is someone they’ve been meeting for Bible Study.

It's up to you
How you manage all this as a church is up to you. You can have a missionary committee; you can have one person dedicated to missionary care. You can have a mission-minded pastor who promotes mission as a matter of course. You can have, as we do, a small group dedicated especially to help, advocate, and pray for each missionary family. You can have regular missionary “Spots”, a mission’s night, weekend, or month. You can have mission displays around the church. You can distribute literature or summaries of prayer letters, and hold regular missions prayer meetings.

There are many ways to go about it and different people are comfortable with supporting missionaries in different ways. However, we've found that it really needs to come from the top. Unless the leadership of a church is mission-minded, it is difficult for a church to be mission-minded. We ourselves have lots of individual supporters, but not so many mission-minded churches.

But you needn’t be discouraged if your church isn’t mission-focussed. There's nothing to stop you from taking a step and doing just one thing from this list. You may never know until heaven the difference it might make to someone having a tough time.

It is easy for missionaries to feel that we're out of sight, out of mind. But missionaries are still a part of the body of Christ — we're the hands that are overseas. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:25 "There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other" (NIV)

Other articles
Other people have written on this topic too. Here are three helpful articles I found:

This article amazed me. It is the first time I've ever heard anyone say this: the best way a church can be an encouragement to its missionaries is to maintain a strong base. "There's nothing more discouraging to those on the field than to hear of difficulties in their sending church." We can testify to the truth of this after having heard significant bad news more than once from our first sending church. The whole article is excellent, however.

This is from the Gospel Coalition is written by a missionary I've met.  She has some excellent things to say too.

Finally a pdf that covers a life-time of supporting a missionary (from the start tot the end). This author also has some great points you may not have thought of before. 

27 August, 2016

Overloaded bike now normal

I reposted this post about shopping on a bike from 2010. It caught my eye this morning on FB's "On The Day" today because I said my bike was overloaded at the time, but these days my bike usually looks as the photo appears in the post. Sometimes parenting is like the proverbial frog in the water that's boiling. You simply don't notice the changes because they happen so gradually. 

With a 11 ½ year old, nearly 14 y.o. and 17 ½ y.o., we're rapidly heading towards maximum family eating capacity. Once we manage to get our eldest to leave home, then it will be downhill again. The next 1 ½ to 2 ½ years will be huge, food-wise! But I'm not complaining. Cooking for them is one aspect of being a mum that I happen to love.

Here's another post about a hunt on our bikes for lasagne sheets. It shows just how conveniently located we are: at least a dozen grocery stores within easy riding distance (under 2.5km with almost no hills).

26 August, 2016

Lots happening today

Today the new school year started. My guys are in grades 6 and 8 (both middle school); and 12 (last year of high school). Wow! As compared to first days of school a few years ago it was relatively calm. No one got up early or danced in the hall. But they were all positive about it and came home happy too. 

It was a bit of a hodgepodge day, though. School finished at 12 (usual soft start for the first day of school) and then the first cross country training of the season. 

We'll soon be watching races like this again.
All my boys have joined the team! In fact they are all intending to do the same sports all year: wrestling in the winter and athletics in the summer. I'm glad because that simplifies thing for us in many ways. Both cross country and athletics have some meets that include both middle and high school. That is, just one place for us all to be! Wrestling is another story.
So the boys dribbled in between 1.30 and 2.30 looking for lunch. Then two left again, going to hang out with friends. In fact our eldest has hardly been here today at all. He came home for dinner then rushed off to his wrestling club training and will stop back at about 10pm for a bike and a change of clothes before going to a friend's birthday-sleepover. 

I can already tell it's going to be an interesting year. Different to what's gone before. Not having a primary schooler will be a big change. Having a senior will also be a change. 

On top of all this I had my own agenda. I met a friend for coffee this morning downtown. Her family's been having a tough time recently, but I think we were an encouragement for each other. I can't really speak for her but I certainly felt encouraged and refreshed. 

Then this afternoon, while the boys popped in and out, I had a time-sensitive newsletter to format for my mission leaders, urgent emails to write and answer, and some article acquisition for the magazine to attend to. Then a trip to the Post Office with presents for Father's Day and another birthday plus Friday's usual grocery shopping. Thankfully it was leftovers for dinner this evening. 

The context of all this was a pretty hot day. 34C in our bedroom at one point this afternoon with the humidity up around 70/80%! Warm.

So now I'm relaxing in our air conditioned lounge room. 

Tomorrow is Saturday thankfully. Agenda? A bit of a sleep in. Shoe- and a little bit of remaining school-shopping. And a baking-date with my youngest, who, through our cooking-dinner policy over the summer, has discovered a renewed interest in the kitchen. He wants to learn how to make my popular chocolate cheesecake (but doesn't want to share it with anyone so no one think about calling over unexpectedly, will you!?). That might be enough for tomorrow, although some lunchbox snacks might need to be manufactured too. 

25 August, 2016

Photos from our summer in Tokyo #4

My last summer-photo post. While we're still in for a bit of summer yet, the holidays are officially over tomorrow and life gets back to a more steady routine. 

Here's where I've worked the few times I went to the coffee shop. The view is out over the turn-around area on our side of the local train station. 
This is from the other side of the turn-around area at the station, looking towards the coffee shop on the 1st floor (2nd floor if you are Japanese or American). 

A closer view where you can see "Tully's Coffee". 

Oh, it did rain! This is a screen shot from a radar app on my phone that is generally very helpful in keeping an eye on potential local rain. We found it useful when camping too.  

This was the typhoon that came through on Monday. Not a lot of wind here (we're a bit inland) but a lot of rain. The road outside our house turned into a river, a dirty river. The light brown here is soil washed out of the kindergarten down the road. 

And the front of our car, where you can't see the gutter at all. The water was right back into our carport. 

This is a little random. One day on the way to the grocery store on my bike I spotted this guy mowing the grass in this park. It's hard to see but it's a ride-on mower of the likes I've never seen before. There are two parts, the mower and towed behind the mower is a seat for the driver!

We did watch a bit of Olympic wrestling. I was interested to find this on the website. Why should you watch wrestling?

Another reason to watch it might have been to see a tough wrestling coach protest with a plush toy wearing, no less, a wrestling "singlet" of the appropriate colour (red or blue)!

We continued with the boys each cooking a main meal once a week. This is a rare roast chicken (you can't buy whole chicken in any usual Japan store) made by a reluctant boy. 

And Slow Cooker BBQ ribs, also cooked by a boy, but one who was more enthusiastic. 

A clean boy-room. This was my brainwave this week. I insisted that both rooms were tidied and vacuumed by the residents before school began. 

Today I went into the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association office and helped pack the summer magazine, actually in summer! So satisfying. 
And a glimpse of the inside of the mag. 

24 August, 2016

Working through the summer

This is the simple sewing project that I mentioned as a
pie-in-the-sky idea. A table runner. It's a little bit too long,
but we're coping with that.
I'm feeling pretty pleased with what I've -achieved in the last month. On 21st July I wrote this post when we'd been back from camping only a few days and I was trying to get back into working amidst a sea of holidayers i.e. everyone else in my family. 

Below is the list that sat beside my computer all summer and been helping me stay focused. As you can see almost everything is crossed off. 

One of the two that aren't is an ongoing professional development project, but I've already made significant progress on that. 

The other should be finished soon. I just need to get motivated to sort out an assignment I'm writing about conflict. Then I need to sort out some organisation things  to get it submitted (I'm supposed to share the three assignments I've written with colleagues or line managers, but so many of the relevant people seem to be on home assignment or otherwise engaged).
It wasn't easy, but I managed. Whenever the pressure built up and I felt like I was running on the spot I spent a morning or afternoon a coffee shop and always came away feeling re-energised (and it wasn't just the coffee). That only happened one or two times a week. Mind you, I haven't been working at 100%. Sleep-ins have been the norm (sorry if that makes you feel jealous). So despite working through the summer I'm feeling relatively rested.  
We also did some family outings: Odaiba (man-made island in the bay), Costco, and a few meals with other families. We didn't get to the Japanese Sword Museum. Maybe another time.

Now school is starting the day after tomorrow and I'm in a good spot in terms of stuff achieved! Maybe I'll have some more holidays after they've gone back to school? (Shhhh, don't tell them.) I've even got a coffee date organised to start off my "holiday from boys" i.e. school.

23 August, 2016

Prime Minister Mario?

It was a surprise to see Japan's Prime minister participating in the closing ceremony in Rio posing as Mario. I didn't actually see the closing ceremony till hours after it happened, so I had some warning via social media. But I wasn't the only one surprised:

Japan on Monday reacted with a mix of surprise, delight and cynicism at the sight of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dressed up as video game icon Super Mario in a comical cameo at the close of the Rio Olympics.
Social media immediately lit up as scenes of Abe wearing a Super Mario costume proved jaw-dropping to Japanese watching the spectacle on television half a world away.
“I was impressed to see a national leader sacrificing his reputation and showing up in cosplay at this world event,” posted a Japanese-language Twitter user. “He is great.”
Most had apparently never conceived of the normally blue-suited and politically conservative Abe and the moustachioed Mario merging into one. 
“I never thought of having Prime Minister Abe play Mario, let alone him emerging from plumbing,” another Twitter user said. (see the rest of the article here)
Another article by the BBC gives various other perspectives, including Twitter requests for Pokemon to be a sport in 2020! But this article does highlight the clues we got as to how Japan might approach hosting the next Olympics. "full and shameless advantage of Japan's pop culture icons". 

But there was also an emphasis on technology, with the appearance of robot-dressed actors. Just like most well-known countries, Japan is known by various stereotypes, including robots, technology, anime, manga, and not to forget sushi. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it is these that are used to promote the country.

Surfing the net doing a little bit of research for this post, I came across a quote about Tokyo2020 from Hikariko Ono, a spokesperson from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Committee:
"Everybody can experience hypermodern living and respect for historic values in Tokyo" (from here).
Well, I don't know about hypermodern living. Perhaps some visitors in down-town hotels will see that. That wouldn't be typical Japan, though it is the image that they want to project to the world, but I guess the Olympics generally aren't about giving visitors a typical experience of the host country. 

From the same article it does sound like they have very grand, futuristic plans. We'll see how much of that actually happens:
"Japan is known internationally for its technological innovations, so Tokyo 2020 organizers are aiming to launch ambitious tech projects that will boost the economy and wow crowds."
In writing this, I found the Tokyo2020 website. Interesting, including where venues are planned. Many of them around the bay near and even on the artificial island we visited a few weeks ago. I've never been living in a city that has the Olympics coming. It will be an interesting four years! Already we're seeing lots of train stations undergoing renovation and renewal. I imagine we'll see a lot more of that in the coming years. 

We've enjoyed the Olympics for the most part. Though we did see some lamentable behaviour from coaches and athletes. (A bizarre one that I don't think has received much air time was a bronze medal wresting match where a Mongolian wrestler didn't wrestle to the end and was penalised so that he ended up losing. His coaches stripped to their underwear in protest. Hmmm. Bad sports!)

We enjoyed the wrestling generally, though. Did you see the plush toy that the coaches were using for signalling they wanted to protest a decision? 

I'm glad to have my life simplified again so that I'm not fighting between the desire to watch more Olympics and get work done. Though I must say I'm looking forward to seeing a bit of the Paralympics, I hope that Japan's national broadcaster is as liberal in their coverage of it as they were the Olympics.

22 August, 2016

Application for permission

This afternoon we filled out an 
Seriously, that's what the name of the form is in English. 

Our eldest son has been working at school for the maintenance department in the last week preparing the campus for the return of students on Friday. He's enjoyed a great variety of tasks, from changing batteries in clocks, to inventorying the numbers of chairs and tables in rooms, to pressure-cleaning walkways. He's not under contract, just casual, working the number of hours he wants to work. 

Because he's on a dependent's visa and being paid to do all this, we need to tell the Immigration Department. It's a little strange that you don't fill this form out until you have an employer. They don't ask anything about when you start or how much you're paid, so the fact that he's already been working prior to putting the form in doesn't seem to be an issue. As far as we know, the only restriction is on how much you can work (maximum of 28 hours per week). 

I guess when I go down there next week I'll find out if I need to do anything else other than just hand the form in.

Another reminder that we are but guests in this country.