Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Saying Sayonara, Part I

not gonna lie, i've been avoiding writing this blogpost. because writing it means that i have to come face-to-face with the reality that i did say "sayonara" to Japan, that i did actually leave, and that i don't know when i'm going back.

my past year and a half in Japan was the most amazing, challenging, growing, breaking, wonderful, unforgettable time i've ever had. i met some amazing people and saw God do some amazing things. and 2 weeks ago i had to say goodbye, not knowing when i would be able to return. but i want to share all that happened my last month in Japan, even though it makes me miss Japan so much. i've never missed a place or people so much, so it is definitely a testament to how much God grew my heart for Japan and Japanese people. it's hard to believe that 4 years ago i argued with my friend Gen, not wanting to go to Japan. i thank God that He used Gen to push me to go on my first short mission trip to Japan, which led to my 2nd mission trip, which led to 1 1/2 years of STINT in Tokyo with Cru. ok, here's a recap of the last 2 weeks of December:

on December 13th, i learned i would have to leave Japan, and that i had one more month to finish up everything i thought i had 7 more months to do. i barely had time to process it at all, but my way of processing became making lists of everything i had to do and all the people i had to see. that next week, i met with several students, learned a new dance with Odori Samurai, planned Student Impact's Christmas event, met up with my friend brandon who was visiting, and skyped into several team meetings prepping us for Hawaii. i got very little sleep that week. at the end of that week, i realized i hadn't gone to bed before 3:30 am in at least 3 weeks. the week of Christmas was busy, but fun. on the 20th, Paddy held their annual Christmas party, where we all dressed up and went to a nice restaurant and exchanged presents. we also had a "Rock-Paper-Scissors" tournament. no joke. and guess what? i won! it was kind of awesome. i learned that Japanese people always do scissors first. not sure why. but i won like 7 rounds of rock-paper-scissors just with rock. anyway, i won 5 free gift certificates to Sweets Paradise, an all-you-can-eat desserts buffet. it made my day. i love Sweets Paradise, and it was one of the places i wanted to go before i left Japan so it was perfect. on the 21st i went to Waseda and met a student for lunch, then went to my last futsal practice with my futsal team Diente FC. it was sad. when i told the guys it was my last practice one of them said "awww now we don't have any girls!" at least they appreciated that i was a girl...afterward i went to Odori Samurai practice to prepare for our festival in Itoh (a couple hours from Tokyo by the beach). the 22nd was our festival- we all met in Itoh and went to our ryokkan (traditional Japanese-style hotel), changed and warmed up by the beach. it was really cold. they actually had huge heaters set up near the stage to keep us warm before we performed. it was really fun to perform though, and afterward there was a huge fireworks show and we danced with at least a couple hundred other yosakoi dancers from other places in Japan. afterward, we went back to the hotel and changed, then we had an all night party. it was an experience. i've never been to an all-night Japanese party before. we had trivia games, tons of snacks and drinks, and many, many performances that had been prepared by members of Odori Samurai. most of them i didn't understand, but it was still fun to watch. the problem was that the later the hours got, the more tired we all became and the less they could speak english and the less i could speak japanese. but it was still pretty entertaining. i stayed up until about 5 am and then fell asleep- got about 2 hours of sleep before breakfast. i could have skipped it, but wanted to be awake for breakfast because ryokkans do really traditional Japanese breakfasts and while they are a bit strange (no Poptarts, sadly) i didn't know when i might have another one. after breakfast we all played on the beach a bit and then headed home.
that afternoon i had coffee with my friend Nagisa and got to share my testimony with her which was cool, then i came home and slept a lot. December 24th i went to New Hope Church's Christmas Eve service, which was good but lonely without a team. that night i did some last minute Christmas shopping and then had KFC and Christmas cake with my roommate Anita, and we watched Elf. Christmas Day i spent with my boss and his family and got to skype with my family.

the 26th i took a day off, and the 27th i met with my friend Sara for the last time and then met with another girl named Miriam after that. the next day i had lunch with a girl from ICU High School named Nobuko, then had some catch up time with my friend Tomo from church. the next day i had coffee with my friend Aya, then coffee again with my friend Kaori and got to share the Gospel and my testimony with her. so sweet. the next day i got coffee with two friends, Tamami and Takako- it was actually my first time to meet up with Takako since meeting her in May. that evening i went over to Cam's house with my roommate and a few other people and we celebrated an early New Year's together. it was my last time to hang out with his family before i left Japan. December 31st i went to homeless church, then got lunch with my friend Mai for the last time, then had New Year's Eve dinner with my roomies. after that i went to my friend Takehiro's house and several Paddy members got together for a New Year's Eve party. we made sukiyaki and udon, watched the Japanese New Year's Eve program, and played video games until midnight. after midnight we went to a shrine and did "Hatsumoude" or the "first going to the shrine of the New Year." ironically, i knew more about the custom than the Japanese students. growing up, they are never taught why they observe the traditions that they do, they just do them. Wikipedia provided all my Japanese New Year knowledge. even though we arrived at the shrine around 12:45 am, there was already a HUGE line of people. while we waited in line, i was able to share with some of the students why i was in Japan, why i believed God brought me there and my heart for the Japanese people. it was pretty sweet. once we arrived at the shrine, we threw in 5 yen, rang bells (to announce our presence to the god), clapped our hands twice (to wake up the god if he's asleep) and prayed. i prayed that every person at the shrine would learn about the true God, the one who is always awake, the one whom we do not need to ring bells or clap our hands to wake up, the one who always hears our prayers. after we finished at the shrine, we went back to Takehiro's house and played video games until the first train at 4:15 am. i scurried back home as fast as i could to collect my roommates so we could go watch "Hatsuhinode," the first sunrise of the new year. we biked to Gaidai University and climbed a hill to see the sunrise- it took awhile and was super cold, but we finally saw it. apparently we were lucky, because most of my friends were unable to see it in other places in Tokyo. once we got back home, i slept the rest of the day.

last two weeks of Japan in the next blog post...

Monday, January 30, 2012

We Fight Together

when i was in Japan, my friend brandon started sending me Japanese pop songs to help me practice listening to Japanese as well as to educate me in Japanese pop culture.

a couple months ago he sent me a song called Fight Together. it is actually the new theme song for a really famous anime/manga called One Piece. i don't really know much about One Piece, but i really like this song. not only is it catchy, but i love the lyrics (even if they're a bit cheesy). the song is in Japanese, but this is the best translation i could find:

Let's leave before the dawn shows
Let's go meet a tomorrow we haven't seen yet
There's no regret about this decision
(Oh I know what I'm supposed to do)
What kind of trial awaits ahead?
My heart just can't stop beating fast
The place I want to reach is just one
(Fly to the light)

The bonds I got at the end of the fight
I won't let anyone broke them
If I just open the fists I grasped
I find my strength lying there

So let's start
A new world is calling
Hey, look there
No matter how many seas will separate us
I'll always be there for you
Without any fear, heading straight
Don't ever forget
We fight together

I never compromised
On that day, wherever I looked up
I saw an high endless sky
I came this far
And the several oaths in my heart
Are not hesitating now

I'm carrying them on my back
The sun rises and lightens my sadness up
I do believe it
One day we'll go find together
The future that connect us as one
There's no one who can substitute you
Don't ever forget
We fight together

when i first heard it a few months ago, it reminded me of my team- no matter how many seas separated us, we were still fighting together. we were still one STINT team, even though i was in Japan and they were still in the States.

also it reminded me that God is constantly telling me the same thing- we fight TOGETHER. He's not above me somewhere telling me "ok you have to be alone this is My plan go do your best" but He's saying "hey I know this is really hard- but i'll always be with you, don't ever forget, we fight together."

now that i'm in Hawaii, God's still telling me that message. we're fighting TOGETHER. God's still in Japan even though i'm not. God's everywhere in the world, and God's got His workers in every country. we're ALL fighting together.

may i awake every morning excited for the new adventure God has, not just for me, but for US. together.

here's the song if you want to listen to it- it's pretty catchy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HThv92Ilmw

Friday, January 6, 2012

Reflections of 2011...

2011 was probably the biggest rollercoaster year of my life. it had so many ups and downs and loops and arounds and every which ways.

my sense of time is kind of skewed since a STINT "year" is usually is from August- July, so i almost feel like 2011 began in August 2010.

August 2010: i went to my first STINT briefing in Chicago (also my first time to Chicago) and met the people i'd be working with/living with/ becoming a family with for the next 10 months
September 2010: lots of support raising, waiting, and trusting God as we anxiously awaited our Japan visas
October 2010: we finally arrived in Japan and started ministry as a STINT team. i started going to homeless ministry in Yoyogi Park and met Yusuke. i joined Paddy (Waseda's English club).
November 2010:
December 2010: Christmas concert and Christmas outreach party
January 2011: went to Midyear conference in Thailand
February 2011: i decided to re-STINT
March 2011: survived the worst earthquake in Japan's history, Change conference, got evacuated to Kyoto for two weeks
April 2011: came back to Tokyo, started planning for the start of the new year, went to Tohoku to do relief work
May 2011: came back to Tokyo from Tohoku, went to Waseda University Welcome Week and met at least 100 students, joined Diente FC (my soccer circle) and Odori Samurai (my Japanese dance circle), met with students and shared the Gospel with many of them
June 2011: met with students for the last time before leaving Japan, went to Hokkaido and performed with Odori Samurai for the first time, went to Nikko for debriefing, left Japan and went back to Los Angeles for 2 weeks
July 2011: came back to Dallas, raised support to go back to Japan
August 2011: found out my support deadline was August 1st- sent out emergency email and God blessed me with 50% of my support in 1 week, then the rest of it and over in the next 2 weeks, went to STINT briefing in Chicago and met my new team
September 2011: 6 month anniversary of the Tohoku Earthquake and 10 year anniversary of Sept. 11, started reconnecting with students from Japan via email and Facebook, worked on raising support for my teammates, was humbled in waiting to leave for Japan until the end of September; arrived back in Japan on September 27, 2011
October 2011: settled back into life in Japan, reconnected with students, started going back to Paddy and Odori Samurai, started going to ICU High School, went to the World Gymnastics Championships, helped out with Student Impact's 2-day festival to raise money for Tohoku, went to Paddy's Halloween party, my friend from high school (Matt) visited Tokyo and we went to the Ghibli Museum
November 2011: performed at Waseda-sai for the first time, got to take several students to church, went to a Sports Festival 3 clubs from Waseda U. hosted, met a lot of new students, hung out w/ YWAM Tokyo, hit the 2 month mark of being in Japan by myself, had a breakdown from feeling alone and abandoned, was reminded of God's grace and love after my breakdown, celebrated Thanksgiving 3 times, my friend brandon came to visit Tokyo, USC beat UCLA 50-0
December 2011: went to Nagano for 2 days with Paddy, Cru decreed if the rest of my team's CoEs didn't arrive by December 7th they were sending them somewhere else, held a 48 hour prayer for the CoEs, found out Japan immigration had finally, after 4 months, made a decision, found out the CoEs were denied, found out i had to leave Japan 7 months earlier than i had planned and had to go to Hawaii to finish my STINT year, shared the Gospel with new friends, co-organized Student Impact's Christmas outreach event, celebrated Christmas twice- once with Cam's family and once with my roommates, met with as many students as i possibly could...

needless to say, 2011 was a busy year. i felt so run down by the end that i made one of my 2012 Resolutions that i would rest more. i'm now learning that i don't really know how to rest. so my new resolution is to learn how.

but in spite of everything, i grew so much, i learned so much, God showed me His love in every way possible and showed me that no matter what happens, He is ALWAYS with me and always loves me. He showed me that HIS plans are ALWAYS better, and that i can trust Him in every situation. it's not always easy, but i know i can hold on to His promises and trust him, remembering that "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." ~ Romans 8:28

may your 2012 be blessed with joy, love and hope, and may the Lord remind you every day that "He knows the plans He has for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." ~ Jeremiah 29:11

some of my favorite photos from 2011:
January: my STINT team in Thailand at our Midyear Conference
February: snow on Valentine's Day
March: before our Japanese dance performance at Student Impact's Change Conference, 3 days after the Tohoku earthquake
April: under the cherry blossoms with Paddy English Club
May: one of the girls from the evacuation center we stayed at in Tohoku while we did relief work
June: my 2010-11 STINT team at debriefing
July: getting to go to my old Artists in Action Bible study in LA
August: my new STINT Team
September:first glimpse of Japan from the airplane, 9.27.11
October: some Waseda friends at Student Impact's festival to raise money for Tohoku relief
November: my Waseda-sai Odori Samurai Group (#11)
December: Paddy Christmas Party 2011