Our family returned very late last night from five days on Etajima Island, near Hiroshima. We had an Asian Access church planting conference, and went to this small island by car ferry,
While the idea of “island” might conjure up romantic images, it really – wasn’t! We were staying in a government-run facility costing a whopping $12/day per person, including three meals a day (featuring raw shredded cabbage every time!). It was spartan, strict (we had to take all of our trash home with us!), and routine-driven.
Every morning at 6:40 am a loud-speaker blasted us out of bed, reminding us that morning flag-raising and exercises would begin in twenty minutes. We scrambled to get us and our kids dressed and to the bathroom, and then all of us from Asian Access, kids and all, in three straight lines five minutes before flag-raising began. We were surrounded by other groups who were also using the same facility.
Following the flag-raising ceremony, we were led in the traditional Japanese morning exercises, performed daily across the country at schools, camps, and office places (really).
Here’s a glimpse of what we looked like (I’m behind the camera; at the end of the clip you can see how thrilled our friend Nozomi is!).
Of course, the day would not be complete without a flag-lowering ceremony at the end of the day. Eric was a participant one day; Annie helped me do it another day. Both morning and night, the Japanese national anthem played in the background.
As much as we rolled our eyes every time the loud speaker came on informing us of some place we were supposed to be or something we were supposed to do, the routine of it all was strangely comforting. By the second or third day, we knew what to do. There was something a bit nice about greeting the morning all together; about beckoning our bodies to wake up and join the day even before caffeine had a chance to enter in. To start, and end, the day, in such solidarity had a peculiar sweetness about it.
Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers. (I Timothy 4:6, the Message).
In between, and after, these physical routines our Asian Access church-planting family met together for some mental and spiritual disciplining — training in coaching and various seminars relevant to our ministries. As we spent the days learning, playing, and worshipping together, I thought about how cool it is to be teamed up with this group. Just as we often hear what a strange group Jesus aligned himself with,several times I looked around the room and wondered what on earth all of us are doing here together. Not much in common, if you were to look at our professions before coming to Japan: botanist; teacher; lawyer; interpreter…or at our hobbies, or our personalities (Whew! are we different!). But what we have in common — we’ve all thrown ourselves into this venture completely. We’ve planted ourselves at different places in Japan in order to make more worshippers here. We’re banking on the Living God. And this solidarity, whether engaged in conference calls from far-away places… or exercising shoulder-to-shoulder…or laughing over cabbage at breakfast– is, wonderfully, peculiarly, sweet.
(All of the professional-looking photos above are thanks to Craig Chapin!)