Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year Happenings

New Year is a big holiday in Japan and there are many customs associated with it.  Many here would be at home on New Year's Eve watching a television show called Kohaku (red/white) when two teams (the red team and the white team) made up of different artistes, some modern groups, some individuals who sing more traditional Japanese songs, compete against each other.  After that the television cameras, depending on the channel, either take you to a temple for the ringing of the bell to welcome the new year or to a more lively countdown.  The New Year holiday here is now becoming a little like Christmas in the west.  Even though it was once a holiday marked by most people, now business seems to dictate that some malls and shops need to be open on 1st January.  For many though, it is a rare opportunity for a few days' consecutive holiday often spent with family eating traditional New Year food.

One custom which is marked at this time of year is send a New Year's card to friends and colleagues.  Some send and receive hundreds.  These are delivered on the 1st (though some cards still arrive over the following few days).  This year we had to do this differently.  When there has been a death in the family during the year, the custom is to send special cards earlier in December to advise people of this and to tell them you will not send the normal New Year's card.  They would then not send you a New Year's card.  Some however do still send a card - perhaps those sending for the first time or those who did not receive the special card in December.  In that event, we will send them a special card later in January.  It's quite something to keep up with what is appropriate!  It seems that it can be different for our boys sending cards to their friends.  We are thankful for good Japanese friends to keep us right!

Another custom here is to visit the local shrine either on the 1st or during the first few days of the New Year.  Christians of course do not mark this practice and churches would tend to have a special worship service on the morning of the 1st.  We did that this morning at Hiragishi - just a simple service to allow people to give thanks for the New Year, to spend time in worship and to reflect briefly on God's Word as we go into another year.  We enjoyed having some friends from Otaru days (as well as some of their relatives) join us for this service.

We do not know what this year will bring.  But it was great to ponder Psalm 1 this morning with its encouragement to be people who delight in God's Word and walk in his ways.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Last winter in Hokkaido

As we move ever closer to our move to Tokyo next spring, a lot of things are being done 'for the last time'.  One such experience is our 'last winter in Hokkaido'.  Certainly this year the snow has been full on.  Already it is piled up way higher than it normally is at this time of year (or perhaps it is just that recent years have seen less snow than normal in this part of Sapporo).  And there are still three more months to go.  With Christmas over and all the boys back in one place for now, we thought we would enjoy one of our favourite things to do in Hokkaido.  It is a treat so not often we can do it but we love the experience of spending a night away at a hot spring hotel.  This is one of the first times we have done this in winter.  We had a great drive there along snow-covered (and often icy) roads, passing one of Hokkaido's largest lakes on the way and some majestic scenery as we crossed some tree-lined mountain passes.  Our destination was a place where we had stayed before as a family, but many years ago.  This place has a heated swimming pool inside but also some heated pools and jacuzzis outside where you can both swim and just chill.  It was fun to be outside with the snow falling overhead.  As we moved from one hot pool to another we had to walk over the snow and be fairly swift too as the temperatures were well below freezing.  The trees on the mountains surrounding the outside pool area looked amazing covered in pure white snow.  As well as the pools, there is a whole complex of hot spring baths too.  There is nothing better than sitting outside in a steaming bath with snow gently falling on your head!
The whole experience is one many Japanese enjoy.  Just one night away makes for a really relaxing break.  Outside clothes are swapped for a 'yukata' (a kind of loose-fitting gown) which is worn with slippers around the hotel, not only when going to the baths but when eating and sleeping too.  Dinner is always an amazing selection of all sorts of food and breakfast is great too.  All of us slept in the one room, two beds for Mum and Dad, four futons on the tatami area for the boys (set out for you when you go to eat dinner).  We enjoyed our time away - a great family memory of our last Hokkaido winter.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Church in the Swimming Pool

This blog has been somewhat silent of late.  It's not that nothing has been happening in Hiragishi.  Rather things have been such for us that there has been no time to pen the latest news.  One of the challenges for the church as we look ahead to next year is to find a venue suitable for holding our worship services after we move out of our house in March.  That is easier said than done.  We have shared before that Hiragishi is an area which has many associations with the dead.  There is a very large cemetery opposite our house.  There are a number of temples.  And such halls as there are tend to be used for funerals.  So there are few suitable places to rent as a space for a worship service.  Even the crematorium used to be located in Hiragishi.  And that, believe it or not, has a connection with a place we used for our service the other Sunday. 
What was once the crematorium is now the local swimming pool - a great place, with both a 50m and 25 pool.  When we first moved to Hiragishi we noticed that there were a couple of meeting rooms but at the time we had decided to use our house for the worship service so did not need to investigate using one of these rooms for that purpose.  Also, we were not sure how people would feel meeting at the swimming pool!  But now as we think about next year, we thought it would be good to experiment with some places as a one-off to see how they are.  We rented one of the rooms at the pool.  They had no problems with us having singing.  In fact they were very helpful.  It seemed to work well as a venue (if a little hot inside the room!)  Comments have already been passed that we are well set up for an impromptu baptism were we to meet there.  The room was located quite far away from other parts of the pool complex so we did not feel in any way that we were having a worship service at the pool.  We will try some other possible venues too over coming weeks and trust that in time we will be led to the right place for the church.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Celebrating harvest

As we are still a relatively young church which is still at the planting stage, we are always looking for ways to connect with people we know and find ways to invite people to an event or a worship service.  Certainly it is much easier for people to come to an event like Family Christmas or Easter Festival.  We thought we would try this year to do something a little different to mark harvest time.  It is not something which seems to celebrated much in the churches here but harvest is an important occasion to many in this land whether that be for rice, fruits like apples, or vegetables.  Of course for many city- and town-dwellers, there is little connection today with farming and most probably think very little about harvest.  Yet it is an important time both to commemorate and to give thanks for all that we have.  And it is a festival which is marked in the Bible.  So we rented the place we often do and invited people to come to a simple service celebrating harvest.  We started with a craft together - making something on which we would later write our thanks.  We moved into a time of worship, with some simple songs, a great illustrated kids' talk by one of our talented members and a simple message on what, to whom and why we give thanks based on one of the Psalms.  We also watched a short video made by a Japanese Christian charity which works to provide food and aid for, among others, children in Africa who have little food and little money.  Later we enjoyed some simple food and chat together.  Although we did not have a large number of guests, we were glad to be able to mark this occasion and can see this as something we might repeat in future years. 

Monday, October 8, 2012


Just over three and a half years ago we returned from Scotland and moved into a house in the Hiragishi area of Sapporo.  In our area there was no church for a population of some 30,000.  So we began from zero what came to be known as Hiragishi Izumi Church.  At the same time, we started this blog to describe the journey, but also to highlight some of the cultural and other aspects of Japanese life that we have interacted with along the way.  The church is still small, but it has grown slowly and surely.  We know and have come into contact with a large number of people in the area.  There have been ups and downs, challenges and blessings.  We did not know how long we would be able to devote to this baby church, but hoped that we would be able to serve here for a number of years.  As it turns out, our role has been simply to get things started and lay a foundation.  We will move on to a new role with OMF Japan from next month so the time has come for us to hand on the leadership of the church to our successors. 
It has been a joy to have Richard and Catherine, along with their two young daughters, being part of the team here since earlier in the year.  As of yesterday, Richard became the leader of Izumi Church.  During the service, David shared a little from Deuteronomy (looking at the passage when Moses handed over to Joshua), we thought also about the responsiblity of the folks in the church towards the leader (looking at a couple of verses in the Letter to the Hebrews), then had a time of prayer for Richard and Catherine and their two girls.  It was a special time and in some ways marks a stepping stone in the journey of this young church.  We will still be around in Hiragishi until next March and hope we can continue to reach out to the people we have got to know (and to others we do not yet know) in the hope that some of those people will begin their own journey towards Jesus and be added to Izumi Church.  We look forward to seeing what God will continue to do in this area of Sapporo and have assurance that Jesus is building his church, including this three year old church in Minami Hiragishi.  We will not be able to devote much time to the work of the church here from next month but hope to continue this blog over the coming months to share with you the next chapters in the story of Hiragishi Izumi Church.  In the next post, though, we will share more about our own future.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sharing the news

Recently David has been thinking (and speaking) a lot about someone called Tychicus.  He appears several times in Acts and Paul's letters and at the end of the Letter to the Colossians he is someone who is sent to the church at Colossae to share all the news and to encourage the hearts of the believers there.  It is a great passage at the end of that letter which goes far beyond simply 'final greetings'.  It gives a glimpse of this community we call church across geographical boundaries.  The reason for all of this is that David is back in Scotland for a month, partly catching with family and friends, partly settling Daniel into university life in Glasgow and partly taking time to visit many supporting churches across Scotland.  It's amazing how much you can fit into one month!  Engaging in mission overseas is always a task that integrally involves local churches back home as we live out what Paul refers to in another letter as partnership in the gospel.  Some pray; some give; some go.  But we are all part of a team and each part has a role to play. 
It has been really encouraging to be home and know of many who are praying for Japan and to sense the interest that there has been and continues to be in the work that is going on in Japan.  It has given the opportunity to share about how the new church plant in Hiragishi has developed over the last three and a half years; it has also given opportunity to share, both verbally and graphically, about the recovery and relief efforts in which OMF is involved following the tsunami last year; and it gives the opportunity to share about our future role in Japan as we take up the post of OMF Field Director from November this year.  Hopefully this has not just been a sharing of news but a time when hearts have been mutually encouraged.  David often refers to one of our Japanese colleagues who shared last year that this could be a kairos moment for Japan.  Another way of saying it is to quote the book of Esther and think of these days as a 'for such a time as this' moment for Japan.  We are seeing many new workers come through and many more are in the pipeline.  As we prepare to leave our work in Hiragishi having done not much more than lay the foundation, there are mixed feelings.  Yet we are excited about what is happening both in Hiragishi and more widely in Japan.  Certainly there are many tough challenges and hurdles.  Yet there are also opportunities and signs of God at work in this land.  Thank you to all you who are with us as partners in the gospel.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Another change

Life goes in cycles.  For many families, one of the big changes is when your first child goes off to univeristy.  For most, that can be their first time to stay away from home.  For us, it has of course been somewhat different.  Daniel went to Hebron when he was 12 so we have been used to him coming and going over these past years.  Now though he is returning not to school in India but to Scotland, his 'home' culture.  Or is it?  He has spend most of his 18 years living in places other than Scotland and was last there for a full year when he was 9.  His life over the years has brought him a whole range of experiences which many never have.  Certainly there have been tough times as well as joys.  But now he heads off to Law School, falling in Dad and Mum's footsteps in terms of subject if not location.  We are pleased that he will be based in Glasgow where we know many people and have family members too.  Next week Daniel will attend a camp called ReKonnect which is set up for missionary children and deisgned to help them adjust to life back in their 'home' culture.  It is great to have these opporunities.  We realise that many things will be new for Daniel, even some simple things which others who have grown up there just take for granted.  David will be back in Scotland for the whole of September, partly to help Daniel get set up with all that is needed, and partly to spend time with family, friends and supporting churches as it is around 3 and half years since we last left Scotland to begin this journey to plant a new church in Hiragishi.  It has been quite a journey and David looks forward to sharing about this with many over the coming weeks.