Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Tokyo Doesn't Make Sense/Santa and Sumo Don't Mix...

i was on Grooveshark, looking at Christmas songs to add to my Christmas playlist (the poor man's way to listen to music) and i came across this random song called "Holding on to Christmas." curious, i hit play and the first lyrics were "Christmas in Tokyo doesn't make sense/Santa and Sumo don't mix..." and i was hooked. it's a pretty entertaining song. and has some truth in it too. Christmas in Japan really isn't, well, Christmas. sure there are a ton of Christmas lights everywhere (called "illuminations" in Japan), there's Christmas music blaring from every store, but they have no idea what the lights represent, they have no idea what the lyrics mean in the Christmas carols...to Japan, Christmas is simply an opportunity to capitalize on the commercialism of the season. they have no idea what the true meaning of Christmas is. and therefore Christmas in Japan really doesn't feel like Christmas. there's no "Christmas spirit" as it were. most people don't celebrate at all. or if they do, it's just an excuse to go out with your boyfriend or girlfriend, hang pretty lights, and eat KFC and "Christmas cake." seriously. some genius at KFC decided to advertise fried chicken as an "American Christmas tradition" and ever since it's been a staple of Japanese Christmas dinners. in fact, i even ate some last night. along with a Christmas cake from 7/11.

last year i spent Christmas with my STINT team. this year, since i had no STINT team, i went to my church's Christmas concert on Christmas Eve day, spent some time catching up with people, did some last minute Christmas shopping, then ate my very Japanese Christmas dinner and watched Elf with my roommate. this morning i went over to my Tokyo director's house and spent the day with his family. we ate french toast, sang Christmas carols, opened presents, skyped with my family, made fajitas and a gingerbread house, and topped it all off with watching It's a Wonderful Life. while it was definitely different than how i normally spend Christmas, it was fun to hang out with my surrogate Tokyo family. it would have been a pretty lonely Christmas without them.

tomorrow i'm taking a much needed day "off" (i still have plenty to do at home) and skyping with my team and probably my family again. i officially have 3 weeks left in Japan, so even taking a day and not spending all of it meeting students is really hard for me- my brain keeps screaming that i'm running out of time, but God is always telling me to rest and trust Him and i never do, so i'm going to do my best. i know God's going to take care of everything, but it's so hard when all i can think of is the billions of things i have to do and the impossibility of it all. but thankfully, we can do all things through Christ, so praise God for His birth!

here are some pictures to show you a bit of Christmas in Tokyo:
2 students after my church's Christmas concert- the girl in the middle, Natsumi, is not Christian yet but comes to my church every week!
Christmas Day with the Caughlans, my adopted Japan family
Mitaka Wish Tree- people write their wishes for Christmas/the New Year...there are a lot more wishes than last year me and my roommates with our Christmas decorations Christmas presents (we actually didn't open presents until December 29th b/c my roommate Christina was in Tohoku from Dec. 21st-28th

Merry Christmas everyone! God bless you!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

HAWAII/JAPAN PROS & CONS

HAWAII:
Hilo Population- 43,263
Average Temperature- 73°F

Pros:
- people speak english
- i know what i'm buying at the grocery store
- no trash sorting
- BEACH/mountains/gorgeous scenery
- relaxed culture
- no exchange rate

Cons:
- new culture
- new lifestyle/ ministry style
- new campuses
- it's not Japan
- needing to start over-- a new campus to learn, new friends to make, a new place to figure out


JAPAN:
Tokyo population: 13,000,000
Average Temperature: depending on season, anywhere from 25°F to 85°F


Pros:
- already established relationships w/ students
- Paddy, Odori Samurai, Diente FC
- amazing food
- amazing people
- amazing culture
- safest place in the world
- people are so helpful and return lost things

Cons:
- exchange rate
- trash sorting
- language barrier
- culture barrier
- trains
- big city-- crowded --too many people
- no dryers
- pollen season (cherry blossom season)
- people never really say what they mean/it's difficult to have deep conversations

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hawaii に行く。。。(日本語で)

For my Japanese friends...hopefully the kanji is correct...

私はスチューデントインパクト(http://www.studentimpact.jp/)という国際的なNPO団体のインターンとして日本に来ています。私以外、八人のインターンが日本に来るはずでしたが、日本の法律が変わったため、彼らのビサ(visa)がとれませんでした。彼らは日本に来れなくなって、その代わりにハワイ(Hawaii)で働くことになりました。月曜日に私のスチューデントインパクトのディレクターと話して、私もハワイで働くことになりました。そこで、私は一月十五日に日本を去らなければなりません。これは私にとって、めちゃショックです。来年の八月まで日本にいると思っていました。日本を離れたくない。。。でも、仕方がない。。。私は日本が大好きです。だから、できるだけ早く戻れるようにがんばります。

Heading to Hawaii

last Friday we learned my team's Certificates of Eligibility, required for Japan visas, were denied by the Japanese government. as soon as i heard "denied" on the conference call, tears just came streaming down my face. i really thought they would be accepted. i cried a lot that day. i cried 5 different times. i don't really cry much. ever. when i did gymnastics growing up, if you cried you got kicked out of the gym. i learned not to cry. but these past few months have been pretty trying, to say the least, and my tear ducts have been much more active as of late. but it was good. it was a release of all the tension and anxiety and everything these past 3 months have built up. at least we finally had an answer and could move forward.

but last weekend, i still wasn't sure what the future held for me. my directors both in the states and Japan discussed possibilities of staying in Japan and finishing my STINT year, but in the end they didn't really see a way that it could work. for one thing, i would have no place to live. i would have no team and it would be extremely difficult to do ministry by myself for the next 7 months. STINT is not designed to do alone. it's centered around the team. so to try and STINT without a team would not really be STINT at all. knowing all of that, i still told my leaders that if there was any way i could possibly stay in Japan, i would take it. but last Monday, December 12th, i received a call from one of my directors in the States that they had decided to send me to Hawaii for the rest of my STINT year. i can't say i was shocked, but it was still disappointing. and somewhat frightening, since they told me i had to leave Japan on January 15th. on the 15th i fly to Thailand for our Midyear Conference, where i'll meet my team and spend the week with them, then we fly to Hawaii on January 22nd. This gives me only one more month in Japan. i thought i had seven more months, so trying to cram all that into one month sent my brain into a chaotic frenzy of planning panic. unfortunately i had really no time to process that i was leaving, because as soon as i finished talking with my director i had to go to a goodbye party for one of the JCCC staff, then go to Samurai practice, where i shared with them that i was leaving. i definitely almost starting crying but i think i didn't because i was speaking in Japanese and so i had to concentrate more. the next day i spent all day on campus, and afterward went to Paddy and announced to THEM that i had to leave. once again, almost started crying but didn't. wednesday, thursday and friday my team was in LA briefing for Hawaii, so i had to skype into a lot of team meetings, while planning for our Student Impact Christmas party, going to Samurai practice and hanging out with my friend brandon who had come to visit Tokyo before going to the States for Christmas. because of the time difference, the team meetings were really tough for me- i had to stay up until 5 am for one meeting. the Christmas party ended up going incredibly well (even though i was one of the coordinators i seriously had no idea what was going on, who was doing what, or really anything....proves how insane these past few weeks have been for me- anyone who knows me knows that i always plan way too much- if i'm coordinating something, i have 5 different backup plans for everything...this is the first time i've been so unorganized and yet God still made it work. He's awesome like that). but the party still took all day/night and the next day was my roommate's birthday so we had a big party for her as well. yesterday i thought would be my processing day but that ended up not happening...

so here i am. over a week since i was told i had to leave Japan, and i'm still feeling as overwhelmed as i did last Monday. this time of year would be the busiest anyway because of Christmas, but to add the fact that i only have 4 more weeks in Japan just raises it to chaotic status. my mom reminded me that God wants me to enjoy my last month in Japan, but at the same time i do have to plan very carefully how i'll spend my time. after 14 months in Japan, i know about 500 people in Tokyo now...that's a lot of people to see in 4 weeks. i don't know how to prioritize people. there's also just a lot last things i'd like to do/need to do such as connecting the JCCC staff to all the students from last year, the summer projects and my own ministry this year. i have to sell 2 bicycles. i want to make presents for certain students/people i've met in Tokyo. plus cleaning my apartment and packing- packing things to ship to Texas (won't be needing winter stuff in Hawaii...), packing things to ship to Hawaii (can't take everything to Thailand) and of course packing for Thailand.

.....see? this is what my brain does. i don't know if it's because the emotions of leaving are too difficult so it's just resorting to planning mode or if that's just its way of processing, but all i can think about is the insane amount of things i have to get done.

i said in a previous post that leaving Japan would be the hardest thing i've ever done. i think it still will be, on more than one level. i'm really really sad to leave. i don't want to leave. i've made so many connections and i can see God working in this country. but i must trust God. i must trust that He wants us in Hawaii more than Japan right now. He doesn't need us here. He doesn't need us in Hawaii. but He chooses to use us.

there are things i'm excited about Hawaii. i mean, it IS Hawaii. there are worse places to be sent. but it's not so much as where i'm going, but what i'm leaving that makes it hard.

Jeremiah 29:11

Saturday, December 10, 2011

DENIED.........

Campus Crusade for Christ (or Cru, as it is now called) will be sending us a more official explanation of the situation soon, but until we receive that I wanted to make all of you fully aware of everything that has happened. For those who have been following the situation closely, you probably already know most of this, but I wanted to write it all down so you know exactly the timeline of events as they have played out these past few months.

In order to receive any time of work visa in Japan, you must submit a great deal of paperwork to the Japanese government, which they then process (usually within 1-3 months) and send you a Certificate of Eligibility (or CoE), which you then take to your nearest Japanese consulate, along with more paperwork, and then you can apply for your Japan visa. Japan is a country of very strict rules and regulations, and everything must be filled out perfectly. Every year, we have filled out the CoE paperwork the same. And every year, the CoEs arrive within 4-6 weeks. It has never taken more than 7 or 8 weeks. Last year we were able to get our CoEs in 4 weeks. Therefore, all of us (my team, our JCCC staff, our Cru leaders/directors in America) all assumed my team would receive their CoEs no later than the end of September or sometime in October. But they never arrived, and there was nothing else we could do but wait. The JCCC staff in Tokyo tried calling the Japanese Immigration office on almost a daily basis, but they were always put on hold and could not get through. So finally, on December 1st, we received an email from our director in California that if the CoEs had not arrived by December 7th, they would assume the door was closed on Japan for this year and would be sending my team to another location. On December 6th, after a 48-Hour Prayer (thank you so much to all of you who joined with us in prayer, not only then but through this whole process) the JCCC staff were able to contact Immigration and learned they had just made a decision that day and would be sending the decision in the mail that day, but would not disclose the information over the phone. This was such a huge answer to prayer just in itself, as we had not heard anything from Immigration in months. We assumed the decision would arrive Wednesday or Thursday, but it did not. Finally, Friday morning, JCCC received the mail, a single piece of paper saying that Japan had denied our request for Certificates of Eligibility. This has never happened in the history of Cru. Our leaders set up an emergency conference call 30 minutes after they received the news, and told us that my team would be sent to Hilo, Hawaii to finish out the remainder of their STINT year, probably by the end of next week.

SO…what does that mean for me? Honestly, I still do not know. While our directors feel that it would be better for me to be with my team, they are still open to discussing the possibility of me staying in Japan. If I end up joining my team in Hawaii, I will most likely wait until after our Midyear Conference in Thailand in the middle of January. It is possible they will give me a bit more time, it is possible they will let me stay in Japan, but right now nothing is certain. I will go where God calls me, but if I have to leave Japan 7 months early, it will be the most difficult thing I have ever done. My heart and ministry are completely rooted in Japan. But I will let you know what happens- hopefully there will be an official decision in the next few days.

I’m sure you have a few questions- I have done my best to answer ones that I myself had, but if you have any other ones feel free to email or Skype me.

Q: Why did Cru wait so long before making a decision?
A: Honestly, because this situation is so unprecedented, no one quite knew what to do. Everyone (including myself and my team) was holding on to the assumption of “maybe tomorrow the CoEs will come…maybe tomorrow, maybe tomorrow…” and a great deal of time can go by when you think like that. Also, if they had decided much earlier to send my team somewhere else, and then the CoEs had arrived but Cru said “No thanks”, it would cause major problems for any STINTer who wanted to re-STINT in Japan next year.

Q: Why was there not more done to get in touch with Japanese Immigration?
A: In America, our natural response to people ignoring us is to push them and pester them until something gets done. In Japan, the squeaky wheel does NOT get the grease. In fact, it would more likely be simply thrown away. It is a country of extremely strict, unyielding rules and regulations. If you push them, you will more likely get a flat refusal than help. Cru did not want to risk the possibilIty of being denied just because we had inquired about it too often. Also, JCCC wants to maintain as good of a relationship with the government as possible, and did not want Japan to feel pressured by us, because otherwise the Japanese government could decide not to allow Cru to function at all in Japan.

Q: What about a tourist visa?
A: After the Korea CCC STINTers’ CoEs were denied, they did go ahead and come on tourist visas; however, once they arrived in Japan they were interrogated for hours about why they were so desperate to come to Japan even after their CoEs were denied, and were told not to do any evangelism. Cru did not want to put my team in the same situation and risk further suspicion from the Japanese government.

Q: Why Hawaii?
A: Hilo, Hawaii has a huge Japanese population. There are only 2 staff in Hilo, and they greatly need assistance. We cannot go to a closed country due to security reasons, nor can we go to any country that has poor English ability since there is not much time to learn a different language. Also, Cru does not want to waste any more time making my team get new visas for a different country, and while Hawaii is still America, it is still an “overseas STINT experience.” Their ministry focus will be pioneering campuses and launching movements, similar to what we do in Japan.

Q: Would you rather be in Hawaii or Japan?
A: Honestly, if Cru gives me the option of staying in Japan, I would take it in a heartbeat. The idea of leaving breaks my heart. It would be extremely challenging without a team, but I know if God wants me here, He will provide everything I need and He will work through me. Granted, I’ve never been to Hawaii. Hawaii would be cool. I have definitely missed having a team for fellowship, accountability, spiritual growth and of course, ministry assistance. But if it came between choosing to work with a team and work with Japanese students in Japan, I would choose Japan. As I said before though, I will go where God calls me.

If you have any other questions, concerns, anything, please do not hesitate to email me at kimiyo.brown@gmail.com or we can set up a Skype call (Skype name: kimiyo629) or I can call you if that is easier.

I truly cannot thank you enough for all your love, support and encouragement through all this.

"'For I know the plans I have for you,'" declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future." ~ Jeremiah 29:11

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CODE RED EMERGENCY PRAYER

The Japanese government still has given us no information about the status of my team's Certificates of Eligibility. Unfortunately in Japan, the squeaky wheel does NOT get the grease- if you pester them about something, they will most likely decide not to deal with you at all. So not only do we not have any information, but we are unable to do much about it. Also, right now the Japanese government is not too happy with Japan Campus Crusade for Christ- after the Korea CCC team's paperwork was denied, they came to Japan on tourist visas, but they were stopped at Immigration and interrogated as to why they still came to Japan after their paperwork was denied. It is not a good situation.

Unfortunately, that is not the worst of it. I just received an email from our director in America, saying that if my team's paperwork is not accounted for by NEXT TUESDAY, December 6th, they will be sending my team to a different location! This also means that I too would probably be sent to whichever country they send my team. This would break my heart- there is no place I would rather be in the world than Japan and working with the amazing students I have grown to know and love. Even though this year has been really difficult without a team, it has also been incredibly rewarding and God is doing amazing things in this country. I submit to His authority and will go wherever He sends me, but my heart will always be in Japan.

PLEASE PRAY FERVENTLY THAT MY TEAM'S PAPERWORK WOULD ARRIVE BY NEXT TUESDAY AND THAT THEY WOULD BE ABLE TO COME TO JAPAN!!!!!

I will keep you all as updated as I can about the situation.

I cannot thank you enough for all of your love, prayers and support, and for joining me on this crazy adventure of STINT. i'm learning every day that I cannot plan anything, and that nothing is certain, but in spite of it all, God is sovereign and His plans are perfect.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Being Samurai

i first saw Waseda's yosakoi soran (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yosakoi) team, Odori Samurai ("Dancing Samurai," or 踊り侍 in Japanese), during Waseda's Welcome Week in May. not gonna lie, i thought they were really cool. and i really wanted to join their group. but i had no idea how. and i couldn't find their booth to ask them. then all the sudden, i saw a girl walk right by me in her Samurai costume. i asked her if she spoke engish and she said "yes!" (that never happens in Japan- they always say "no" or "a little bit" even if they are fluent...) i told her i was interested in Samurai. she took me to the booth and introduced me to one of the leaders and gave me information. the next day they had a party for interested freshman, so myself and Ariel (one of my teammates from last year) went to the party. we met the 2 subleaders (Anzu and Jun) and they spoke some english as well! as they walked us to the party location, Anzu and i talked a lot and i shared with her i was a theatre major, and i did a few student films for my friends. she asked about them, so i told her my last one i played a ninja and someone called the cops on us because i had a katana and was dressed as a ninja. she thought it was really funny and decided then and there to nickname me "Ninja." and from that moment, i was hooked. if i had wanted to join the group before, i REALLY wanted to join then! at the party, they showed past Odori Samurai performances and i was even more hooked. it looked so cool and so much fun! there were about 150 students in the group, mostly from Waseda but from other universities as well, and they were the loudest, most outgoing Japanese students i had ever met. it seemed an ideal place to use dance to meet students and be a light in one of the biggest clubs at Waseda. so i joined.

but ever since i joined, it's been a continual battle with Satan. i'm the only foreigner in the group, and because all the practices are in Japanese, and all the emails are in Japanese, i always need translation and always feel a bit behind and lost. i must completely rely on the english-speaking Samurai to help me out. this is a huge challenge for me, because i have a natural tendency to feel that whenever i have to ask someone for something, it's a huge burden on them and i'm being annoying. which is totally untrue, but it's something i've always struggled with and here i am, placing myself in a group where i must ALWAYS ask for help. therefore, it's a daily battle with Satan, who tells me constantly that i'm a failure for not knowing Japanese well enough, that i don't really belong, that the Samurai think i'm annoying, that i'm "the foreigner," that i'm stupid because i never understand anything...of course, all of these thoughts are untrue, and i know that, but it's a major challenge to fight it all the time. but it's been such a blessing too. the Samurai are so sweet and kind and helpful, and really do make me feel loved. many of them have come up to me and want to practice English. many of them, even though they don't speak english that well, have offered to translate for me. before i left for America, they surprised me with a birthday cake and sang Happy Birthday to me. when i came back to Japan, they were so excited. and they really do make an effort to make me feel included.

one day i was talking with one of the girls, debating whether or not to join in a certain festival because only a few people could go. i said maybe i wouldn't go because i wanted to let other students go. she said, "why do you feel like that? you're a Samurai!"

it was a good feeling. yeah- i AM Samurai! but it's something i have to remind myself. sometimes i really do feel on the outside. on Sunday there was a huge party, mostly a goodbye for the 3rd years who are now having to end their Samurai career and begin their job-hunting. it was fun, but i couldn't understand any of the skits, and i couldn't understand our leaders' final speeches, and it was frustrating. after the party, everyone spent a long time hanging out and talking with the 3rd years, and i couldn't even really do that because there's only so much Japanese i can say/understand...also frustrating. i very much felt like an outsider looking into a special emotional moment that i couldn't really join. on the whole it was a fun night, and it was good to see the 3rd years one more time, but it was also draining and difficult.

today's Samurai practice was near a train station i'd never been to before, Senkawa. let me explain what i go through just to get to Samurai practice. they send an email with the time and place the night before. it's in Japanese, so i have to Google Translate it. 3/4 of the time, Google is unable to translate the train station. so i have to find a Japanese friend who is online who can translate it for me. then i double check it with at least 2 people just to make sure (i've had friends be wrong before). then i look up the train route online, allowing myself at least 15-20 minutes extra so i can get their early and make sure i can meet Samurai at the station. why? because they send directions from the station in Japanese, and i can't read it. a month or so ago, i accidentally took the wrong train and ended up being really late to the station. i asked one of the train workers if they could tell me how to get to the gymnasium. he couldn't speak English or explain the directions, so the guy actually walked with me 15 minutes to the gym. it was beyond kind of him, but i was super embarrassed and really late to practice, so since then i've done my best to allow myself extra time to make sure i don't get left behind again. so once i've figured out the train route (usually the practice locations are random and far away and i have to take at least 3 different trains...) i write it down and the next day i pray like crazy i don't get lost and i would find Samurai at the station.

so today...oh today. today i got to the station, and there were several different exits. i didn't know which one to go to so i sent messages to a few of the Samurai. no one was getting back to me, and i started getting nervous. finally got a response with some landmarks of where i should be, but i didn't see any of them, and started thinking i was at the wrong station. my friend told me to ask someone where the Keio train line was and then go there. i asked. they said there was no Keio line station.....uh oh, i thought. i emailed the new Samurai leader and said i wasn't sure where i was and i'd probably be late. he actually called me to try and help me out, and he said he would send someone to come get me at the Keio line station. i went back to the station and asked one of the train workers how to get to Senkawa station's Keio line. he pulled out a map and pointed to a totally different part of Tokyo! apparently, there are TWO Senkawa stations...and they're about an hour apart from each other. and i'd gone to the wrong one. i had to call my leader and tell him it would take me almost an hour to get to the right station. he was willing to still send someone to get me, but it was a 20 minute walk from the station to the gymnasium, and i didn't want to make someone miss almost an hour of practice just to come get me...i felt like such a pain and a burden. and i felt so stupid for going to the wrong station. and guilty b/c my leader texted me and actually apologized to ME for not being able to help me better, and that made me feel bad. i came home feeling stupid and defeated. i ended up calling my friend brandon and venting, and broke down crying in the middle (this seems to be becoming a habit...need to work on that). he was very sweet but also told me i need to stop over-thinking Samurai so much, that everything they do for me proves how much they care about me, and i can't allow myself to believe the lies. he also said "i don't understand why you have such a difficult time accepting kindness from people and believing that people actually want to help you. you give so much, and yet whenever anyone helps you or is kind to you, you think it's such a burden for them. your friends want to help you. let them. also i don't understand why you don't feel like you're a part of Samurai. they think you are."

so what does it mean for me to be a member of Odori Samurai? well, it means a lot of practices, a lot of brain power, a lot of attempting to speak and listen to Japanese. it means i have a lot of chants and dance moves to memorize. it means going to a lot of places in Tokyo i've never been and sometimes getting lost. it means sometimes feeling out of the loop. but it also means i can wear my Samurai sweatpants and hoodie proudly. it means i introduce myself as Ninja. it means getting the chance to perform at huge festivals all over Japan with tons of other yosakoi teams. (this is a video of my first ever Odori Samurai yosakoi festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ9L5J0jilw) it means when i talk with students, and mention i'm a member of Odori Samurai, their immediate reaction is "WOW!!! that is so cool!" i means i wear crazy awesome costumes and face paint and dye my hair to show "guts and enthusiasm." it means having a camaraderie and community of almost 150 crazy, lovable, wonderful people. here are a few memories of Samurai so far: our 2010-11 leader, nickname:Punk. his hair was really that green Jun, one of the subleaders Anzu, the sub-leader who named me Ninja
Paragon- a 3rd year who worked super hard to improve his english after meeting me Galileo, possibly the best english speaker of the 1st years- SUCH a blessing and help for me my Waseda-sai group- love these people!

we have a chant that roughly translates to "now, together with one heart, Odori Samurai is here" and our theme this year "Samurai for all, all for Samurai." it's so true. we're more than just a university club. we're a family. sometimes i just need a bit of reminding that i too am a part of it.

Thanksgiving

every Thanksgiving, one of the staff, Cam, has the STINTers and sometimes a few of the staff over to his house for Thanksgiving dinner with his family. last year it was a grand affair with tons of home-cooked food and family time, and a chance for us to hang out with Cam's family and the staff in a real house with real chairs and a couch...(couches are a big deal here...definitely wish we had one). it was awesome and chill, and a great memory. this year they waited to have their Thanksgiving celebration until Saturday, November 26th, just in case the rest of my STINT team arrived in time. they didn't, and it was a huge blow to all of our hearts to finally give up and accept the reality that the rest of the STINTers would not be joining us this year, but they kept the date for Saturday.

so, because i had no Thursday Thanksgiving plans, i decided to attempt to make Thanksgiving dinner for some of my student friends who maybe never experienced Thanksgiving. i spent all day Wednesday searching for turkey, cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving staples not native to Japan, and Wednesday night made 2 pumpkin pies and mashed potatoes. Thursday i made the rest- cranberry sauce, creamed corn, glazed carrots, rolls, gravy, and of course the turkey. it was my first time to ever make a turkey, and my wonderful mother (through Skype) talked me through the process (cleaning turkeys is gross, for the record...) and also helped me with the other recipes. i also prepared apples and a cheese/cracker plate for my guests to munch while heating up everything. i actually had no idea how many students would come until right before dinner, but i was praying for 10 and that's how many we had! such a blessing! they were mostly from random encounters on campus so most of them did not know each other (actually 2 girls brought friends so i got to meet 2 new girls as well!), but they all got along so well and had a really great time! i didn't burn down the apartment (or even burn the turkey!) even though i had to use my microwave oven (it has an oven setting but it's rather temperamental), we watched Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving, laughed a lot, ate a lot, it was awesome. and the best part- later that night i received a text from my friend Rebekka who had brought a friend Yuting- on her way home she was able to share her testimony with Yuting agreed to go to church with her! so awesome! it was a ton of work to cook for 10 people but so worth it!

Friday i had a much needed break from all things ministry/Cru. my friend brandon from USC lives in Aichi (a couple hours away) and was in Tokyo for Thanksgiving, so we spent all of Friday hanging out in Tokyo. we wandered around Harajuku and Shibuya, ate lunch at Wolfgang Puck (which he paid for-so sweet) spend the afternoon hanging out in Starbucks, then he cooked dinner for me (steak, veggies and oyakudon) and we watched a Ghibli movie (i highly recommend The Borrower Arietty- super cute). it was just what i needed- a chill, relaxing day with a friend who had no connection to ministry.

Saturday was Thanksgiving with Cam's family- since the other STINTers couldn't come, they invited a lot of the JCCC staff and some other friends. it was awesome hanging out with everyone, relaxing and eating great food. i was supposed to go to Odori Samurai practice that night but decided to skip it and fellowship, which is what i needed most- my balance of ministry responsibilities to fellowship was severely off, so it was good to just spend time with Christians who could pour into me. here are some pictures of both Thanksgivings: enjoy!

Thanksgiving decorations:
pumpkin patch:



Thanksgiving at our apartment! so thankful for these girls and that the turkey didn't burn! the remains of the turkey...for the record, carving a turkey is really hard!
Dinner at the Caughlan's - a bit bigger spread than mine...but they had twice as many people
with Cam's family! love them so much!

i hope you all had an amazing Thanksgiving holiday and God reminds you every day of His amazing blessings! i'm so thankful for you!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Breaking Point

well it finally happened. after 2 months of attempting to do solo campus ministry, 2 months of no direction and very little contact from any of my directors or staff from PSW, Japan Campus Crusade for Christ (JCCC) or even my team leaders, i broke down.

i think the for the past two months i've just been dealing with being alone, i've been holding on to the idea of "maybe tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, maybe tomorrow" - in fact, i think everyone's been thinking that. my team, my leaders, all of us have just been waiting and hoping that my team would receive their CoEs in a day or two and then they'd be on a plane here. but it kept not happening. every day i was thinking "ok if we receive their CoEs today then they can get them this day and get their visas this day and fly out this day" and every day, it didn't happen. and it got draining. fridays became my most dreaded day, because it was the end of another week that my team's paperwork still had not arrived. i realized that while maybe my leaders had not been giving me direction because they thought since i was a 2nd year STINTer i'd be ok on my own, i really wasn't ok. i was not only alone, but i was starting to become lonely. my roommate Christina has been a huge blessing, but she is on Staff and therefore currently doing Japanese language school, so her focus and responsibilities are completely different. every day she is in language school, and in the evenings she is either spending time with her classmates or studying. the JCCC staff have their own campuses and focuses, and therefore i do not do campus ministry with them. i asked Cam, the staff who is kind of in charge of the STINTers, to let the staff know that i'd be interested in working with them since i'm the only STINTer, but no one really got back to me. so i've just been going to Waseda University by myself every day, with one day week working at ICU High School with 1 or 2 of the staff. and meeting with students solo for 2 months, and also being a member of 3 different clubs and pretty much having every night filled with club activities, you get pretty drained. i've been trying to plan things but i can't because i never know when the team's coming, so i have to always make last minute plans with students, which is a bit stressful. i also realized i'd been subconsciously overcompensating for the fact that i'm the only STINTer and i've been trying to do more and work harder to overcompensate for my team- not good or healthy. and i realized that basically everything i do is ministry- even church is ministry because there are non-christian students who come, so i have no place or people to just hang out and relax and take a break from ministry.

all of that, on top of feeling, to be honest, pretty abandoned by all of Cru, was just too much to handle. as i was writing an email to 2 of my directors in the States expressing my need for some sort of direction or contact, i just broke down sobbing for almost an hour. i finally composed myself enough to finish the email, but as i was talking to a friend from USC, i lost it again and cried to him for almost another hour. i felt pretty bad because the reason i'd called him was to ask about his birthday and i just broke down crying to him...after that i emailed my team and stressed the need for all of us to be in constant communication with each other- even if we're separated by distance, we're still a team, and they're still on STINT even if they're not in Japan. the next day we were able to have a team skype, which was helpful, but hopefully we'll be able to talk much more frequently, not just for me, but for all of us to have that fellowship and community of our team.

please continue to pray for my team, not only for their CoEs to come quickly, but that they would have discipline in the States, that God would show them His plans, and that we'd be able to have many times to talk with each other despite all the time differences.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Your Love Never Fails...

yesterday i went to an all-day sports festival with about 150 students, mostly from Waseda University but also a few random ones as well. i was invited by my friend Yuki, who's club WHabitat (Waseda Habitat for Humanity) had parterned with 2 other clubs to put on the sports festival. i had hoped my team would be in Japan by then because it would have been a fantastic place for them to connect with students. but there's still no word on their Certificates of Eligibility, nor why it's taking so long...anyway. since my team couldn't go, i invited some of the people i know working for YWAM (Youth With A Mission) in Tokyo. one of the guys, ryan, replied and said he wanted to join. i couldn't have been more encouraged and thankful. at least, that's what i thought. God knew exactly what i needed yesterday. had a great time at the festival and met a ton of new students, but the best part of the day was after the festival. because ryan and i actually hadn't even seen each other since like february, we decided to go to Starbucks and catch up. during that time, God just totally spoke through him and pretty much said everything i needed to hear. for the past two months i've just been dealing with the fact that my team isn't here and i've had to do ministry by myself. i've done my best not to complain or whine too much, but i think maybe in downplaying it i've tricked myself into thinking i'm ok, because it's the only way i've been able to get through it. but God, speaking through ryan, told me it's ok to recognize that it's not ok. man, seriously, he said everything i needed to hear. that i've been faithful. that i've done the best that i can. that yes, maybe i've made a few mistakes, but God's bigger than them and He still used them for His glory. that He loves me and is with me. but also, ryan acknowledged that my being alone is not ok. he apologized on behalf of YWAM for not recognizing my need for fellowship, community and ministry partners earlier and helping me. he affirmed me in what i'd been doing and rebuked the idea that i'd not been doing enough. i wish i could explain everything. even little things like him buying me a water bottle, giving me a hug and telling me i'm pretty- those little things meant the world to me at that time. after Starbucks he invited me over to the YWAM house where most of the YWAM people were hanging out, just so i could experience some fellowship. i wish i could describe the feeling. sitting on a couch surrounded by people my age...it's the first time in 2 months that i've been around more than 2 people and it hasn't been ministry related. it was amazing.

on the way home i listened to Your Love Never Fails by Jesus Culture ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoezWBPGRAc):

Nothing can separate
Even if I ran away
Your love never fails
I know I still make mistakes
But You have new mercies for me everyday
Your love never fails

You stay the same through the ages
Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning
And when the oceans rage
I don't have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me
Your love never fails

The wind is strong and the water's deep
But I'm not alone in these open seas
Cause Your love never fails
The chasm is far too wide
I never thought I'd reach the other side
But Your love never fails...

the bridge repeats "You make all things work together for my good" over and over. that song was pretty much my STINT anthem last year, and it seems that this year it's even more applicable. i listened to the song on repeat all the way home, because each time the words struck me again and again how true they were. God reminded me that "i'm not alone in these open seas" and that He makes "all things work together for my good."

then this morning at church we sang the songs "Still I Will Praise You," "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and "Lord, I Give You My Heart." such perfect songs for my heart right now. reminders that i can still praise God even during difficult times, that His faithfulness is always great and He always provides. as the song goes, "morning by morning new mercies I see/ all i have needed Thy hand hath provided, great is They faithfulness Lord unto thee."

today's sermon was about what it means to follow Christ, and focused on taking up your cross daily and following Jesus. once again, such a perfectly timed reminder for me. God is so gracious with His reminders.

in other news, the USC Trojans beat Oregon today. IN Oregon. after a ridiculously long streak of never winning a game in Oregon, it seems as if USC football is back! this really doesn't have much to do with this blogpost other than it was a really wonderful way to begin my Sunday. so yeah this whole weekend has pretty much been a huge blessing from God. His love never fails.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

EMERGENCY PRAYER FOR CoEs!

It has been almost two months since I first arrived in Japan, and we still have no news about the rest of my team's paperwork needed to receive their Japan visas. In order to get their visas, they must submit paperwork to the Japanese government. It is processed and they are sent a Certificate of Eligibility (CoEs), which they then take to the Japanese consulate and receive their visa. This paperwork is essential for their visas, and usually takes no more than 3-4 weeks to be processed in Japan; however, due to the aftermath of the earthquake, new codes and new immigration laws (the Japanese government won't really explain more than this), this process is taking a much longer time than usual. They submitted their paperwork in August, so they should have been able to arrive in September. But it's the middle of November, and still nothing. That being said, we just received news that the Certificates of Eligibility for the Korea Campus Crusade STINTers were just denied. My team filled out their paperwork at the same time and in the same way, so there is a definite possibility that their paperwork could also be denied.

That does not mean they cannot come to Japan, but it would delay their arrival even more. We will hopefully find out by Tuesday about their CoEs. PLEASE take a little time to pray today that God would grant them their CoEs and visas this week, and that they would be able to come to Japan as soon as possible! Also please pray for all of us to grow in our faith and trust in God during this time, and we would not become discouraged. Also please pray that the Korea CCC STINTers would be able to arrive soon as well!

Thank you for all of you who have been riding this crazy roller coaster with me- your faith and prayers mean more to me and my team than I could ever express. While I definitely feel alone here in Japan without my team, I know that I have a powerful team of prayer warriors all over the world, lifting me up and supporting me, so thank you so so much!

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'" - Jeremiah 29:11

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Give Thanks in All Circumstances..."

so two weeks ago/last week, i did not have the best outlook on things.

i was annoyed and frustrated with God. i kept thinking, "come ON, God! it's the end of October! how is my team STILL not here? how do we STILL have no word about their CoEs? how? WHY???" i was feeling sorry for myself and my team. i was definitely focusing on my team and myself, not God.

then on November 1st, i helped out with ICU High School ministry. at ICU High School, we have a lunch gathering called Let's Talk once a week where we have snacks with students and talk about a certain topic that relates to their lives as well as God. this whole month we're focusing on Thanksgiving, and giving thanks for certain things in our lives. we talked about 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." ........man, was i convicted. here was a lesson that i was supposed to be teaching to high school students, and yet i had not been doing it at all. and why not? because i had been so focused on what i DIDN'T have, instead of what i did. because i had been more focused on what i wanted, what i thought was right. i was indignant that i didn't understand my circumstances, and of course since i didn't understand them, i thought they were not right. so not true! an ant doesn't understand a human because an ant's perception of a human is the centimeter he sees of our feet. so it is with our perspective of God and His plans. we can't understand them. they are too big. He is too big. it's a choice to trust even when we don't understand. that's why it's called faith. God has blessed me in so many amazing ways since i've been in Japan, and yet i have not been thanking him, i've just been complaining that my team isn't here with me.

for two days, i listened to the song Blessed Be Your Name on repeat. as i biked home, i looked up at the clear night sky and thanked God that even though i'm 1/2 way around the world, the stars are the same as home, that wherever i am in the world, i am home, because God is with me. i have been trying to look at the good in my life, and remember all the blessings God gives me even though i totally don't deserve it. yes i totally still miss my team, but i am going to choose to trust God in this.

God has also been blessing me like crazy through my yosakoi team, Odori Samurai. we've been having a ton of practices to get ready for Waseda University's huge festival, Waseda-sai, but it's been such a blessing to grow relationships with the Samurai and God's been allowing me to meet new people every practice who speak at least a bit of English! sometimes it's easy to feel insecure with the Samurai, mostly b/c of the language barrier, but even little things like one girl telling me that all the Samurai think i'm so kind, or people trying to speak English for me even though they are not confident, make me feel so good and blessed. i was talking to one girl about not doing a performance because i felt like other Samurai should do it instead, and she said "what are you talking about? you are Samurai. you're a part of us." .....man even just that simple statement was so encouraging.

this month of November, i'm going to give thanks to God in all circumstances, i am going to trust Him even when i don't understand, and rely not on myself, but on Him and His goodness.

but please keep praying for my team and that they will get here in the next couple weeks!!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

GRACE

i feel like i haven't been productive this week at all. yes it's only Tuesday afternoon. and yes i am STILL without a team and trying to just rebuild my ministry from last year by myself. but i hate feeling unproductive, and as i read newsletter after newsletter of other STINT friends and i see all the ministry things they are doing in their other countries, i start to judge myself. i start to think, "what am i doing?" and i start feeling guilty and lazy and soon enough Satan's amplified that into lies that i'm not a "good enough missionary" and i'm disappointing God. of course that's not true. it is by GRACE we have been saved (ephesians 2:8), not by works. God doesn't love me less because i watched the Rangers World Series game instead of watching an online sermon. (besides- God's a Rangers fan, right?) so why are we always beating ourselves up? i had an epiphany the other day and realized i try so hard to meet the end result, i focus so much on the the product, but then i'm just thinking of myself, of making myself better, not the relationship with God that leads to that end result. when i just think about my sanctification or improvement, i'm just thinking about myself and not just loving God. and if we just think about the end result, it's just about us, and we'll never truly understand God's love or our relationship with Him.

we talked about the prodigal son at church on Sunday. my pastor pointed out that the son had so many apologies prepared for his father, but his father wouldn't even let him say anything, because it didn't matter anymore. what mattered was that he came back. he came home. his father overwhelmed him with his love and wouldn't even let him apologize for his actions, but immediately called for celebration. and that's what God does for us. He doesn't need our apologies. His grace overwhelms everything we've done and everything we will do in the future.

this is a song we sang and reminded me what my relationship with God really is, entitled You Are My Father:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LplB6L3q3rY


the first verse says:
"It doesn't matter what i've done
Your love's for me
You wipe away my tears, You lift me when i fall
My life is saved by the mercy of Your grace..."

it's so true. and yet so easy to forget in this world of individualism and working hard and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and proving to people that you are worthy. ESPECIALLY in Japan. if you think it's bad in America, Japan is 10x worse. your identity is COMPLETELY based on your works. and if you fail at all, you've dishonored your family. that's why there are over 100 suicides every day in Japan, why there is one suicide every 15 minutes in this broken country. because they are working so hard to achieve impossible goals and if they fail, they feel that their lives are worthless. because of the grace of God, we are NOT failures. we are new creations even on our worst day! even when we've done nothing to deserve it. on Saturday i went to homeless church and gave Tanaka-san (a little old lady who's been homeless over 30 years) a little present from America- some almond hand lotion b/c her hands are always so dry, some chocolate, a little silver "Cross in my Pocket", a card that said "God loves you"...nothing too fancy. but she almost refused to take it, exclaiming, "But i have done nothing to deserve this!" i wanted to yell in exasperation, "that's why it's a PRESENT!" then she forced me to take some chocolate and nori (dried seaweed). she never allows me to give her anything unless i take something in return. it's such a Japanese culture thing to not accept anything for free, to not accept a present unless you can give one in return. it's so aggravating and exasperating. but it hit me- how many times do i do that to God? i beat myself up because i feel unworthy of His love and i try to earn it by doing good things. it's like me telling God his grace isn't good enough to cover my sins and i still have to prove myself.

"All that trying to prove you are enough has already been proven." - John Lynch

this is a video i've posted before, but i watched it again today and, like every time i watch it, it made me cry. if you've got 30 minutes to spare, watch it. it changes your whole perspective of what grace and freedom is:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7azfoonNqpc

may the Lord bless you and overwhelm you with His grace and freedom every day!

PS CoE update: still no CoEs. please please pray God provides them this week so my team can finally get here! but good news- my roommate Christina finally got her cast off her arm, so she's got two arms again! praise God for healing! and selfishly, i'm excited that i no longer have to do all the cleaning and laundry etc. by myself...

Monday, October 17, 2011

3 Weeks Later...

3 weeks ago i left America to begin my 2nd year of STINT. unfortunately, the rest of my STINT team did not leave with me, and thus i began my adventure alone. i thought...well i guess i didn't know what i thought, but i definitely did not think that 3 weeks later i would still be without a STINT team.

and yet that is the case. 3 weeks later, and no word about my team's Certificates of Eligibility needed to get their visas. i'm in Japan for my STINT year, but it doesn't feel like my STINT year has really begun yet because my team isn't with me. it's lonely, to be honest. and it's so different than how i expected my 2nd year to begin. of course, there are very few times in my life when things go exactly the way i think they will. God always reminds me that His plans are better than mine. and yet, during times such as this, it's so hard to understand His plans. i never realized how difficult STINT would be without a team. yes, i have a wonderful roommate (such a blessing that she is here with me) but she's joining JCCC Staff- she's got her own priorities, mainly language school right now. she doesn't go to campus with me. when i go to campus, i'm alone. it's not fun. i've pretty much just been reconnecting w/ students from last year, going to Paddy meetings and Samurai practices, but still, going to campus by yourself all the time is not easy.

i know i sound kind of whiney...i'm so blessed that i actually get to be in Japan. i know the rest of my team is way more frustrated than i am. at least i'm here. i'm able to do ministry in Tokyo. i should be thankful. and i am. i just wish the other members of my team were here as well.

this past week i've been really homesick, which i think may partially be because i'm by myself here. last year i really didn't get homesick until Christmas. but i've been so much more homesick this year. i'm not really a fan. i was sick all last week too so that really didn't help- being sick in a foreign country always makes you appreciate home a lot more.

but in all this i'm reminded that we cannot store up treasures here anyway, that this earth is not our true home, and that wherever i am, God is with me. there's an Owl City song that has been some comfort here. i imagine God singing it to me, and He says:

"Circle me and the needle
Moves gracefully back and forth
If my heart was a compass, you'd be north
Risk it all 'cause I'll catch you if you fall
Wherever you go
If my heart was a house, you'd be home..."

here's the song if you're interested in listening: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXvtuDxEN5M

please please keep praying my team's CoEs will arrive this week and they'll be able to get their visas with miraculous speed and they can get to Tokyo by next week!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Could Have Been...

this post isn't really about Japan. but i guess Japan was an instigator.

some of you know, some of you don't, but i used to be a competitive gymnast. i started gymnastics when i was about 2 1/2 years old, after teaching myself how to do a forward roll while watching the World Championships on TV. after that, i lived and breathed gymnastics. a tape of the World Championships with my idol Kim Zmeskal was labeled "Kimi's Favorite Gymnastics Tape." i got asked to join my first team when i was 4 years old. when i was 5, i moved to World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) where i spent the next 6 years of my life working my butt off with the dream of an Olympic medal. i had 2 mats, a beam, a chin up bar and a trampoline in my room. gymnastics was my identity. i was training Level 9, and in another few years those Olympic dreams might have come true. but i quit. because all the other girls on my team started homeschooling and i didn't want to. i didn't want to completely give up my life for Olympic dreams. because what if they stayed just that- dreams? i didn't want to take the risk.

last night i went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium and saw the US Women's Gymnastics team win the team final at the World Championships. it was so exciting, but i felt almost detached from it all. maybe because deep down i wanted so badly for it to be me on that podium. i looked at those girls, 6-7 years younger than me, and i saw a dream i'd never get. i googled USA Gymnastics tonight and one of the first images to come up was an iconic poster of Kim Zmeskal in a signature pose- a poster i had on my wall for years as a child, a poster i looked at every day and thought "someday, that's going to be me." and it made me look back and wonder what might have happened if i hadn't quit. would i have been on that 2004 or 2008 Olympic team. the past 2 Olympic All-Around gold medalists (Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin) were from my old gym, WOGA. could i have been with them?

it's hard for me to say i regret quitting. because i quit gymnastics, i was able to reclaim my childhood and lead a relatively normal teenage life, i fell in love with dance and theatre, i had friends outside of gymnastics and enjoyed normal middle school and high school activities. i was able to go to USC and discover who i really am and rediscover a relationship with Jesus. i'm in Japan right now because of USC Cru. i wouldn't have had any of those experiences if i'd stayed in gymnastics. and i was still able to do high school gymnastics and became the first girl from my school to ever make the Texas National Team and compete at Nationals. i ended my career on a good note. making the National Team was one of the best moments of my life. but still... it's hard not to wonder, especially when i watch a huge gymnastics competition.

i seem to have this thing where because i enjoy many different things, i never really commit to one thing. i used to think that it made me unique, but i'm not sure if it's actually good. because i think it gives me an excuse to never really take a chance. never really give it my all. i could have been a great gymnast. but i quit. and watching Glee tonight, i realized i never really committed to theatre or dancing either. i didn't really quit those either, but i never put in as much effort as i could because i was doing 20 other different things. and now i'm in Japan, and i love it, and i know God has called me here, but it's hard not to see my friends in LA or New York living their dreams and not wish i was there too. but at the same time, i'm a bit afraid that if i was, would i be good enough?

isn't that what we're always wondering? am i good enough? what if i'm NOT good enough? thankfully we have a God whom we don't have to compete for, we don't have to try for, because He loves us already. He loves us even when we fall, when we fail, when we screw up. and that alone should make us good enough.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

TOKYO STINT: TAKE 2

one week ago i left for Japan for my second year of STINT (Short-Term International Intern) with Campus Crusade for Christ. yesterday i realized that it was my one year anniversary of when i arrived in Tokyo last year. it was weird. and cool. and crazy. and once again, just weird that it's been a year.

when i arrived at my apartment, i was greeted by Jessica, an International Campus Staff (ICS) who lives 2 doors down from me, and my new roommate Christina, who is also an ICS. right before i arrived in Tokyo, Christina broke one arm and sprained the other in a bike accident so she had one arm in a sling when i arrived. we've gotten very close this past week because i've had to help her a lot but her right arm (the sprained one) has gotten so much stronger and she can do a lot more by herself now. Wednesday and Thursday i spent getting paperwork in order to renew my visa, and Friday i submitted all my paperwork.

these past few days i've been feeling the impact of the responsibility of being the only Japan re-stinter. i never really realized how much i relied on the re-stinters last year, to answer questions, to take me places, etc. now i'm the one who has to know where to go, like our other Japan CCC office or the Immigration Office. i've been learning to get to as many places as i can so i can show my team once they arrive. one exciting new place Christina took me to- a soft cream shop in Mitaka! the owner is sooo nice and i got pumpkin soft cream. sounds weird but it was delicious!
i've also been slowly easing back into ministry- Friday night i went to Paddy (Waseda English Club) for the first time and it was such a joy to see old friends and meet new ones! it was a bit bittersweet though- i definitely missed my former teammate Ariel- he was the one who first introduced me to Paddy and brought me up as his Paddy protege. and now he's gone and i'm the one to pass the torch to the new stinters. it's weird. i feel old. and once again, responsible.

Saturday i did some laundry and cleaning and spent several hours sorting through and translating the 180 emails i had on my phone from Odori Samurai, my traditional Japanese dance group- they have a mailing list that they use to send emails to all 150 members, and while many of the emails were about practices or festivals i missed while i was in America, there were about 50 that i had to struggle to translate or have someone else translate for me so i could see if they were important. it was rather tedious to say the least, or as we say in Japan, "mendokusai"(or めんどくさい). missing 3 months of practice and festivals has left me very behind. i'm planning on going to practice at least 3 times this week to try and get caught up a bit. they've learned some new dances that i'm not sure if i'll be able to learn, but i'm hopeful. they are about to transition into new leaders for the year, and the new president/leader is my friend Rock, who speaks English relatively well. i sent him an email saying i was back in Tokyo, and he asked me to call him, so i did, and i realized that he probably hasn't spoken english since i left Japan. he sounded a bit nervous on the phone. but i really appreciated his effort. it is going to be a challenge to catch up though, which makes me nervous since i always feel a bit behind already since i normally don't understand what's going on during practices. i'm going to go to practice tonight for the first time and not gonna lie, i'm nervous. i hope they're excited that i'm back...it's so easy to believe the lies Satan puts in my head that i'm annoying or am a burden to them. i'm excited to see them though- they are such wonderful crazy Japanese people.

Sunday i went back my church, New Hope, and it was such a blessing to see everyone and worship together. the hula praise team performed too which is always a treat-
it's such a blessing that even though i'm halfway around the world, i can still worship God with other brothers and sisters. please please please keep praying that my new team of brothers and sisters can come to Japan by the end of this week! still no word on their CoEs...and 4 of them are still raising support. if you would like to support them, please go to http://give.ccci.org and search either Amanda Sever, Christine Harada, Amy Ledin or Nikki Maldonado. (as of now, Amanda and Christine need the most support)

thank you for your interest in God's work in Japan! God bless!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

D-DAY

Well, it's official.

Friday night I received word from my coordinator that after a long wait, 3 weeks past our original departure date, I am finally returning to Tokyo to begin my STINT Year #2 this Monday, September 26th, aka tomorrow morning. I depart from Dallas/Fort Worth at 9:50 am and arrive in Tokyo approximately 3:15 pm on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, the rest of my team has still had no word regarding their paperwork needed to get their visas (called Certificates of Eligibility), and therefore will be unable to travel with me. It seems unlikely that they will be able to leave before October 1st, and so their support-raising deadline has been pushed back to Thursday. Please continue to pray both for their remaining funds and their Certificates of Eligibility to come in as soon as possible so that they may join me quickly and we can begin our STINT year as a team. Please especially pray for my teammate Amanda Sever, who still needs to raise about $15,000. If you would like to support her financially, you can go to her giving page here: https://give.ccci.org/give/View/0646423.

Once I secure my own visa renewal in Japan and get settled in, I will begin to rebuild connections with students I met this past year and start to rebuild a foundation my team can grow on this year. Hopefully by then my team will have joined me and we can begin ministry together.

This morning at church we sang my favorite song, entitled "Your Love Never Fails." There is a line that says "You make all things work together for my good," based on Romans 8:28. It reminded me that even though my STINT year has not started out as I had planned, God has a plan and purpose in it.

It doesn't feel like I'm leaving tomorrow though. It feels like a normal Sunday evening. I'm sitting on the couch with my grampa watching football highlights. The only differences seem to be that my dad is cooking hamburgers and onion rings in my honor and I can no longer find my bed underneath the mountains of things that should be packed away in my suitcase already. I've made progress though- the mountain used to be in a pile on my floor and big round chair, now it's semi-organized and transferred to my bed. That's progress, right? ........we'll see if I end up sleeping tonight. The one nice thing about a 12 hour flight is that I can sleep a lot. And I'll be flying by myself, so unless my future husband ends up sitting next to me, I don't have any obligation to talk to anyone and can get lots of sleep.

AHHHHHHHHHH I LEAVE TOMORROW! Now it's slowly starting to hit me....after all this anticipation and waiting, it's finally happening, but my brain hasn't processed it yet. Hopefully once I get there it will sink in once I realize no one is speaking English.

Please be praying for my team, for a safe flight and for an easy transition back to Japanese life! God bless!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

DOWN TO THE WIRE

SO
Here's the situation.

1. Our deadline for support is THIS TUESDAY, September 20th. In 3 days, my entire team MUST be at 100%. FIVE of my teammates are still struggling to finish raising their support. Please prayerfully consider investing in God's work in Japan and financially supporting us. Or if there is anyone you know who might be interested in giving, please let me know as soon as possible. All donations are tax-deductible. The easiest way to give is to go to Campus Crusade's giving website: You can either give to me directly at https://give.ccci.org/give/View/0635409 and I will transfer the funds to the person who is most in need, or you can go to http://give.ccci.org and search either Nicole Maldonado, Amy Ledin, Amanda Sever, Christine Harada or Albert Li. If you have any questions please email or call me!

2. It seems unlikely that my team would be able to get their visas by September 26th. The earliest they could receive their Certificates of Eligibility would be Thursday or Friday; however, many of the Japanese consulates will be closed Friday, so they would have to get their visas Monday the 26th. As far as i know, our coordinators are changing our flights to Tuesday, September 27th in the hope that the rest of my team can get their visas by then. I MUST leave by the 27th to renew my visa in Japan. Please be praying that God would work a miracle and that my team and I can all go to Japan together!

3. Due to the falling exchange rate (76 yen to the dollar) Campus Crusade for Christ has actually increased our support goals by about $2,000 in order to prevent us from running out of money this year. This is especially hard on my teammates who are still raising support. Once again, please consider investing in God's work in Japan this year and helping them out.

Even if you cannot support my team financially, please pray for their visas to be expedited and that God would give us patience and protect all of us from discouragement during these next few days.
We feel like Satan is doing everything he can to prevent us from getting to Japan, but we also feel like it's because God has crazy awesome things in store for us this year. Please pray for our protection and for God's provision!

Thank you so much for your commitment to prayer- prayer is so powerful and it is your prayers and support that make all we do in Japan possible! You are the backbone of our ministry, and we are so blessed by your prayers and support!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Anniversaries of Tragedies

i meant to write this on September 11th. but that didn't happen. but i thought i should write anyway.

September 11, 2011. 10 years ago, terrorists thought they could destroy a nation with hate. instead it was unified in love. 6 months ago, a tsunami threatened to destroy another nation with despair. Instead it too was unified. let us never forget these 2 tragedies, never forget the love that binds us together, and the hope that keeps us alive.

it's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since 9/11. it's harder to believe that it's been 6 months since the Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami. seems like both happened yesterday. i'll never forget where i was when both happened. i'll never forget the feeling of my bed shaking just as i lay down to take a nap. last night my dog was lying on my bed and panting, making my bed shake a bit. i still automatically tensed up, even though i knew it was my dog causing the shaking.

but even though it's been such a long time, the pain of those who suffered from both tragedies never really goes away. Japan looks like it's rebuilding, that it's recovering, but it's going to take many, many years for Japan to recover. and even longer for the Japanese people.

even though the news is no longer reporting the tragedy, never forget. never forget to pray for this country that is in such dire need of hope, of love, of a Savior.

i compiled footage taken when we went to do relief work in Tohoku- please feel free to share with others.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71jy-kTVzWQ

Monday, August 22, 2011

SPEED FUN, or Briefing Take 2

so i feel like i have a ton to catch up on- at the same time, if you look at the big picture not a ton has happened. i've been in the states about 2 months, and most of that time has been re-raising support. but God has been working in crazy ways in these past 2 months.

i arrived back in the states assuming i'd have at least 2 months to re-raise my support. CCC raised our support goal to $53,000 for this next year due to the abominable exchange rate, so i knew i'd have my work cut out for me. then on August 1st, i received an email from CCC saying that because i had not met 100% of my goal, i needed to immediately submit a deadline extension request application.

...........................wait.
.............................................what?????

i was at 37% when i received this email. a momentary feeling of panic welled up inside me, but i took a deep breath, filled out the deadline extension request, emailed it back to our coordinator, and then sent an email out to all my supporters with the subject line: EMERGENCY!!!!!!! PLEASE READ!!!! (thank you to all of you who responded to that, by the way- y'all are amazing). i received a 6 day extension, and while i later found out that the August 1st deadline was mostly for first-years so they could get their insurance by September 1st, i did still try and raise as much support as i could- in fact, God provided me with 50% of my support in just those 6 days! i could hardly believe it- God is so good, and has proven over and over how much bigger He is than financial need, and yet for some reason i am always surprised when He comes through like that! why is it so crazy that God would provide that much money in such a short time? our God can do ANYTHING. He's bigger than money, He's bigger than deadlines, and i know that, but i'm still blown away by His grace and goodness every time He provides.

God has since then actually provided me with extra support so that i've been able to help out other teammates who are struggling to finish raising. if you have promised to support me and have not yet done so, i ask that you would consider supporting one of my teammates- you can either still give to my account (go to http://give.ccci.org and search Kimiyo Brown) and i will transfer it to theirs, or i can give you the account number of the teammate who needs it the most.

August 13th-19th i joined over 400 other STINTers for STINT Briefing 2011 in Chicago. it was a bit surreal at first to be honest, mostly because it was in the same location, i was going back to Tokyo, and yet i was with an entirely new team. it was weird. it was strange to be a 2nd year, a re-STINTer. i felt like it was senior year. i felt like the big kid. on my team last year, i was the second youngest (by a month), and to be honest probably acted like it. i asked a million questions every day and followed the re-STINTers around. but this year, it's completely different. i have to be the one who knows what's going on. i have to be the one who knows how to do things and where things are. while there's one other re-STINTer on my team, she STINTed in East Asia last year, and so i'm the only Japan re-STINTer. it's a very different role to be in. i do love my new team though and i'm so excited to work with them this year. here they are:
(from left)
Kylan Schroeder: our last minute recruit when we needed another guy- he was on my Tokyo Summer Project in 2009
Nikki Maldonado: another theater major from Texas who loves to dance. we're basically the same person. it's kind of awesome.
Amy Ledin: she was also on my 2009 Tokyo Summer Project and just graduated from ASU
Amanda Sever: also just graduated from ASU- she's the only one on our team who's never been to Japan but i'm so encouraged by her willingness to serve in a country she's never been to
Katie Dianrich: she actually spent her first 12 years of life in Tokyo while her parents were on staff with Campus Crusade, so it's pretty sweet to have a Tokyo native on our team
Sarah Eudaly: our new girl team leader. last year she stinted in East Asia, so she and i are the 2 re-stinters on the team
Christine Harada: Japanese-American; she just graduated from with an architecture degree from UCSB
Albert Li: our new guy team leader. he just graduated with an engineering degree from UCSB

*** in this picture is also Sam Lee, a KCCC Stinter who will be going to Osaka this year. we fought to get him on our team but God wants him in Osaka. we'll get to see him a few times this year though! ***

right now we're all back in our respective hometowns. we're all still raising support and preparing for Japan, but i'm still not sure when i'll be able to leave. we were supposed to leave September 4th, but at briefing we found out that my team's Certificates of Eligibility weren't turned in until August 15th. it felt very reminiscent of last year. the situation now is that the rest of my team must wait for their Certificates of Eligibility to be processed by the Japanese government before they can get their visas, the exact same position Henry, Michelle and i were in last year. apparently our coordinator has plane tickets for September 26th on hold....i'm desperately hoping and praying we can leave earlier though. there's a slight possibility that i could be allowed to leave earlier if one of the new International Campus Staff (ICS), a girl named Christina Eads, finishes raising her support and leaves in the middle of September. she will actually probably be one of my new apartment-mates.

i know this is all in God's timing, but it IS a bit frustrating to not know when i'm leaving AGAIN, and that there's the possibility of not even being able to go to Japan with my team AGAIN. even though i have my visa and my support, our directors don't want me to leave by myself, which i understand. but i am also anxious to get back to Japan as quickly as possible. there are several students who are leaving to study abroad in the middle of September, so i was so excited to be back by September 4th because i'd be able to see them before they left. i had prayed for humility the day we found out about the delays....learning we would not be leaving when we expected definitely humbled me and reminded me that i can't control anything (especially on STINT). seems to be one of those lessons i need to learn over and over. but i also know that God's got us. that God is bigger than visas, bigger than support raising, and bigger than my own little ministry. He blew our expectations out of the water this year, and i know that He has crazy plans for Japan this year. and it will be in His timing. not mine.

Monday, August 1, 2011

EMERGENCY!!!!

So when I returned to the States 5 weeks ago, I assumed that I would have until September 1st to re-raise all my support in order to return to Japan as a STINTer September 4th.

Apparently, this was not the case. Apparently, I was supposed to have raised all 100% of my support ($53,000) by August 1st, that is, YESTERDAY.

I received an email a couple hours ago saying that because I was not yet at 100%, I needed to immediately fill out a deadline extension request in the hope that Campus Crusade for Christ will give me extra time to raise my support.

I CURRENTLY ONLY AT 37%, AND STILL NEED $33,000 IN ORDER TO RETURN TO JAPAN.
And unfortunately, I need this IMMEDIATELY.


If you are considering supporting me financially this year, or you have promised to give but have not yet pledged a specific amount, please let me know AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. I do NOT have to have this money in hand immediately; however, i DO need it to be pledged. As long as I have the amount pledged, whether it is through a monthly gift or a one-time gift, I will still be allowed to return to Japan.

Tonight I received a message from Yusuke, one of the Japanese students who became a Christian just a couple months ago- he said, "You guys changed my life!! We need stinters!!!" It is for students like Yusuke that I so dearly wish to return to Japan and continue God's work there. The Japanese are desperately crying out for hope and love right now- please consider investing in their eternal salvation.

The easiest way to support God's work in Japan is to go to Campus Crusade's giving website- https://give.ccci.org/give/View/0635409 This link will take you directly to my giving page, where you have the option to support me through a monthly donation or a one-time gift.

I also desperately need prayer right now, that God would provide the $33,000 and that Campus Crusade would give me an extension. I know I am called to return to Japan, and I know that God will provide.


If you have any questions, would like to hear more about my ministry in Japan, or know of anyone who would also be interested in my ministry, please feel free to call me (214.282.3988) or email me anytime at kimiyo.brown@gmail.com

God bless you all,
Kimi Brown

Thursday, June 30, 2011

RE-ENTRY...

"well...i'm back."

that's the last line in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, after the hobbits have traveled all over Middle Earth, been chased by everything under the sun, survived numerous battles, and finally return home.

granted, that's a bit of an overdramatized comparison, but in some ways it does seem similar. they are so changed from who they were before they left home. they know they can never go back to who they were. they know things will never be exactly the same, even if it looks like it.

i arrived back in America around 11:00 am, Saturday, June 25th. the first thing that weirded me out was that people spoke english. even in a city like Tokyo, we're not used to hearing it. the second thing was the diversity of people- everyone wasn't asian! it was so weird! once again, even in a city like Tokyo, the foreigners still really stick out. other than that, the transition wasn't too difficult to be honest. this was possibly mostly due to the fact that i hadn't really slept in like 3 days. i stayed awake all friday and didn't go to bed friday night, was up all day saturday in japan, then awake all day AGAIN since we gained 17 hours coming back to LA...it was a very long day. and i was really out of it. my friend sammy picked me up from the airport and took me to Alpha Delta Chi (ADX), my old sorority house (where i was staying)- we then went to the grocery store where he literally had to tell me what to buy because i was so out of it and disoriented that i couldn't make decisions very well. i went to bed around 5 pm that day and slept until 3 am, then slept again until 7 am. woke up and went to church at my old church Reality LA. ran into a friend (and monthly supporter)- it was totally a divine meeting because she was leaving for South Africa the next day and so that was the only day i could see her. i had my first meal in the States, In'n'Out hamburger, fries and a milkshake (it was so weird ordering food in ENGLISH!) and we caught up on life and she committed to continue supporting me next year (PRAISE GOD!). that afternoon i went to the beach with my friend Tayler- i was going to sit and talk to God and process re-entering/ reverse culture shock, but then our friend Khalia met up with us and we all just talked for hours (which was great) and then went to dinner. afterward i hung out with a few old friends and watched a movie called Beware of Christians(www.bewareofchristians.com)- 2 of my friends actually made it/are in it. it's pretty legit. Monday morning i was going to wake up early, get some support raising things done, then meet with a friend and her husband...definitely woke up around 3 pm. thanks, jetlag. that afternoon i got some Yogurtland with my friend jonathan, then that evening went to dinner over at my friend (and monthly supporter) Ben's house. got to see a lot of people for the first time, met some new people, had some great food. afterward we sang some worship songs...it was so sweet just to hang out with old friends and praise God. Tuesday my friend sean and i hung out. he wasn't able to come celebrate my birthday on Wednesday, so he made Tuesday a day of birthday celebration- i opened the door and there he was leaning against his car with a huge bouquet of flowers and a USC Hello Kitty tshirt (seriously), then he took me to lunch, we walked around campus then he treated me to Starbucks. it was awesome just to hang out with him again- he was one of my very first friends at USC freshman year and we're still close to this day. it's interesting- we were walking around campus like old times and it felt like nothing had changed, and yet at the same time there was a huge new building and other changes to campus and we had to realize that a year had gone by, we were graduated, and so much really had changed. sorry i just used "changes/changed" 3 times in one sentence... blame my poor writing on the jetlag. anyway, afterward i took a little nap because i was exhausted (speaking of jetlag...) then met up with 2 of my old friends/coworkers- eric and jon. it was fun just spending quality time with them and catching up. i love friendships where you can go to another country, not really keep in touch and then come back and resume the friendship where you left off....

there are definitely friendships that have died since i was in Japan though. and it's sad. i didn't make as much of an effort as i could have, but the same time, they made little or no effort. and i couldn't sustain it. it hurts, but i know that's life. i'm a very relational person though- quality time is one of my love languages, and i will do everything in my power to keep in touch with people. but at some point you've got to realize that some relationships just don't last. and i've got to be ok with it. because that's life. that's growing up. that's graduating college and moving to a foreign country that is 17 hours ahead of the rest of the world...as i look back, i think perhaps one of the reasons God called me to Japan (other than the 99.3% of non-Christians...) is to pull me away from the comfort of college friends/relationships. to make me realize that i had put way to much priority on relationships with people, and it was overshadowing the importance i put on my relationship with God. at USC i could rely on my small group, i could rely on my sorority, i could rely on my church and Campus Crusade. in Japan i was stripped of all that, and forced to remember what relationship matters the most, and what relationship took top priority over all- my relationship with my Creator.

they gave us a book on ReEntry before we left Japan. i have yet to read it, as it's currently in my friend Tayler's car since i left it there on Sunday...i need to read it though. i feel like i adapt to things very easily, and i've kind of just coasted through this whole readjustment process. i'm worried it's going to hit me really hard soon. yeah things are weird, but they seem so similar to right after i graduated it almost feels like this past year didn't even happen. i miss my old team and my students so much, but it just hasn't quite registered yet. most of the students i'll see again, but i may not see the majority of my team again for a long, long time. it's a sobering thought. and that's when i remember this past year...and when my brain decides it doesn't want to process and why not focus on something else for now? think about that later. sigh.....maybe i haven't adjusted as quickly as i thought....