Moving toward Uneventful. Kizuna Friends’ Christmas Party

Wow. December just kind of snuck up on us. One of the transitions we are trying to make is a transition away from an event-focused or event-driven ministry. I’ve written about this before. It’s part of the attractional-missional dichotomy. Rather than working so hard to lure people into our assemblies, we should be finding ways of going out into the community around us and joining God in his work there. Events are so labor-intensive and (if you’re an introvert like me) also very exhausting.
And the fruit is debatable. We work hard to attract people with concerts, English, parties, meals, workshops, and so on in order to create spaces to build relationships and share our faith. But often, the people are converted to what they are attracted to–and not necessarily the life of following Jesus. So they need to be re-converted. And there is usually some fall out at this point. Which brings me to really question the actual effectiveness of events. Do they facilitate discipleship more than, say, going out and actually serving the community in visceral and transformative ways?

What if we asked what life in our neighborhoods (as well as in our families, churches, individual lives, etc.) would look like if God’s will were actually being done in them as it is in heaven, and then worked hard to make life conform a little more to that vision? What would our ministry look like then? What if we took all of the man (and woman!) hours devoted to planning and hosting events, and transferred them to service in the community according to Jesus’ example? You think folks might notice? And when some are attracted or want to join in the service, they are attracted to something nearer the heart of Christ, I think, than an exotic international party.

At the same time, I know that God works through a host of our feeble and misguided efforts. Good things happen. Relationships are built. People come to know and follow Christ. I just think we could be more intentional and better stewards in our focus and method.

ALL OF THAT SAID… Christmas is a time when it’s nearly impossible to avoid events–especially if you sing. So we had a blast singing for the neighborhood get together that Kizuna Friends organizes (now about once a month). This is a gathering of our neighbors. I sang Christmas songs for them. We read from the Book of Isaiah. Played BINGO (free) and ate fried Chicken. One of my favorite things is watching my family mix with the crowd. Michiko is great with these folks, many of whom are elderly. And our kids think they are all extended grandpas and grandmas. And you know that just melts the hearts of these tough fishermen.

Andy, Lorna, Jonathan Catharine, Chami, Tsubasa, Stephen, and the rest of the gang from Kizuna Friends and ICC always do a great job with this *event.* :)

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Shiori goes to Pre-K

Since Shiori turned three recently, he is eligible to attend pre-kindergarten at the kindergarten our daughter attends. After much deliberation we decided to go ahead and start him. It’s a good school, Minori is there, and he is SO ready for the social and educational aspects. I think he suffers a bit from cabin fever in the mornings while Hijiri and Minori are gone.

When the day came he was so excited to ride the bus. And Minori was so excited to show off her little brother to everyone. He never looked back. I’m not sure if that made it easier or harder on mama and me. These transitions are very bitter-sweet as parents. As much as I’m glad for the adventure he is beginning, and also glad for focus time for myself and especially Michiko in the mornings, I’ll miss having my little buddy around all the time. No more watching the garbage truck together. And less rides in the blue work truck. Sigh.

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Okay, everyone’s home and we are still alive. Shiori LOVED his first day (and Minori loved Shiori’s first day, too). Life will go on.20131231-223824.jpg

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Return to Ajishima

This morning we drove to nearby Ayukawa and took a 10 minute ferry to the island of Ajishima. We did this for several reasons. First, we were here a number of years ago with some of Michiko’s friends to enjoy some sea kayaking. This was a chance to retrace our steps and see the beautiful island again. Second, there is a young couple on the island–the husband is an American and the wife is Japanese–who are about our age. They are attempting to start a bed and breakfast and an eco-village. We wanted to meet them and learn more about their thinking. Third, one of the small businesses that we interviewed through Nakamadatcha is a hair salon. The owner, her grown son, and their assistant come to the island about once a month to cut the hair of patients in the hospital. So this was a chance for us to tag along with them and see their work while getting to know them a little better.

While waiting for the ferry in Ayukawa, we were hosted by some local shop workers who fed us crab (complete with crab roe–a first for me) and showed us they amazing collection of goods from the whaling industry: bone carvings, teeth, meat, etc.

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Catching up with blogs and friends. The need for honesty and courage.

Time to catch up on this blog. Phew. Lots to share. In the afternoon I attended the monthly area ministry and prayer meeting hosted by ICC. We are blessed with some great friends and partners here. And it’s always interesting to hear what everyone is up to–especially the Japanese ministers.

One thing to pray for: one of the Japanese participants shared about concerns in Fukushima where there is a growing distrust for the government because of dishonesty and cover-ups related to the nuclear spill. This is compounded by a current political crisis in which the government is attempting to pass a bill that would give itself the right to keep anything secret from the public. Pray that those in leadership will have the courage to do what is right for the nation, and not just beneficial for themselves.

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Funadamari a success!

We’re off the ground! Of the 20 organizations we invited, 11 made it—which was just as well because we couldn’t have fit anyone else. 17 folks came, not including our family, and 12 were from the local community. There were 3 Christian groups including us; two ramen shops (yes, the noodles, but probably not like you’ve experienced them unless you’ve been to Japan); two hair salons, an appliance store, a guest house, a florist, a bento (lunch-box) shop, and a café.

Each participant received a handful of Lego blocks to play with as he or she came in. When we started the meeting we asked them to build something individually. Then we talked about how even though each person’s pile of Legos was different (different pieces, different quantities), everyone had something to build with. Then we suggested that if we pooled out building blocks, we could build something bigger or build with more options. This is the essence of asset-focused development. Then we asked everyone to hide their Legos in their hands. This represents our current situation. We all have gifts, but we can’t see many of the gifts. This is where the magic happens. The first thing is to make the invisible visible by sharing what our gifts are. The next piece of magic happens when we connect the various individuals and organizations and their respective assets.

We introduced the concept of an asset map. We talked about connections. And we looked at the overall process moves from identifying assets to networking to brainstorming to implementing ideas. Each person was given 5 cards. On one card they listed their gifts of the head—knowledge and skills they could teach someone else. On another card they listed gifts of the hand—things they could do in service for others. On another they listed gifts of the heart—things they felt strongly about, concerns, interests. On another they listed associations they belong to such as PTA , a martial arts club, sports teams, or neighborhood association. Then we talked about the various gifts represented by the group. On the last card, and based on the discussion about the first four cards, people listed things they would be interested in learning or benefiting from that they didn’t currently know or possess. Great discussion. It was exciting to listen to people share their hopes and concerns. Some of the local friends didn’t know each other, so were able to make some new relationships. It was also exciting when we asked the group if they would like to meet again and they said yes. Here we go!

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Interesting side notes. Our youngest son—still potty training—had an accident all over himself and one of the guests. Our oldest son called us from a pay phone to ask us to come get him. But the phone kept cutting out before he could tell us where he was… (we did get him, eventually).

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More funadamari. Farewell to the Sundes. I FORGOT MY DAUGHTER!

Continued prepping for funadamari. Michiko went to say goodbye to the Sundes. Stayed longer than expected. I was absorped in my work …and forgot to meet Minori when she got off the kindergarten bus. Whoops! Our great friends across the street (where the bus lets off) got her… and fed her… and generally spoiled her…

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Preparing for an Idea Harbor

On Wednesday, we will facilitate the first funadamari. A funadamari is a safe harbor for small boats. We have borrowed the term to describe a meeting for local friends where they can safely share ideas, hopes, and concerns about rebuilding this community. For the last several weeks we have been researching the theory, strategy, and practice of asset-based community development. Thanks to www.abcsinstitute.org, I had a couple thousand pages worth of reading to do. The challenge is to process this information, filter out the stuff that doesn’t apply in our context, adapt the stuff that does, and then reformat it (including translation) into something that can be presented here. Phew. Fortunately (or, rather, providentially), God blessed me with a great teammate in my wife. So we have been working on the format of the meeting.

Wayne Baker, who served as President of York College when I attended in the 90s, was fond of saying “we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us, and we drink from wells we did not dig.” That is certainly true. I am very grateful for the work Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett have done on their excellent book When Helping Hurts, for Bobby Moore of Bread for a Hungry World for introducing the book to me, and Brian Reaser of CAMA and New Life Ishinomaki for helping me understand the basics of ABCD.

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