Snow Camp!

We are still recovering from snow camp – but in a good kind of way.  Our two nights/three days were SO MUCH FUN – i think for everyone.  We had about fifty attend, and it was a wonderful blend of ages, from very little to high schoolers to  parents in different life stages.  It was unusual in some ways to have afternoons completely free for playing in the snow, going to the onsen, sitting around and talking, playing games…. My prayer for this camp was that participants would:  a) have the funnest time they’ve had in a LONG LONG time, and b) that all would have chances to experience more of the love of Jesus.  I think God answered!

Rather than lots of words, this blog is going to be — lots of pictures.  You can see the snow fun…. One of our staff said on the last day that it was worth it to see the faces of sheer joy as they went down the hill on the intertubes.  I screamed every time – it was as fun as any of my childhood memories.

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It was really fun to do lots of games and skits that participants would NEVER expect!  And what I loved was no matter how crazy they were — everyone was a great sport and willing to do what it took.  Once again– I love seeing the faces of glee…

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The camp staff were so awesome… it is run by two families, and all of the kids in the families are part of the serving staff.  They touched us so much!  They did whatever they could to make sure that everyone had a great time.  Thanks to a scholarship fund that the camp had set up, all of our local Ishinomaki residents/survivors were able to go for an incredibly cheap price, allowing whole families to attend.

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And I think… that in various ways– through the fun, the worship, the times of sharing about God’s immense and gracious love for us… that people experienced God in a new way.   Getting away can be so, so good for the soul.

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Waiting to be invited…

We are in the countdown leading up to the third anniversary of the triple disaster.  Two days away now.  We are struck every year with the enormity of the task of how best to walk through these days with our friends who are still grieving.  It is not easy.  For some, gathering together is cathartic;  for others, being with a group of people reminds them of their pain and loneliness.

This year our Be One team has decided to focus on going out in twos and threes over these few days to visit our friends across this city.  Today we had an awesome team come to our home after lunch and make about 280 Russian tea cake cookies and packets of notes, origami cranes, and snacks that we can use to give out to individuals, families, school children friends.

IMG_9686While they were doing that, a few different groups went out to visit our friends across town.  My coworkers and I had a chance to visit three families related to the Nozomi Project.  We visited one of our Nozomi friends who’s mom is going in for a brain procedure tomorrow.  We had a sweet time of praying for her mom and the family while we were there.

We then went to visit one of the families who had lost a mother and a sister in the tsunami.  It had been such a hard day for them;  they had been to the different gravesites of both of their lost loved ones that day.  When we dropped by, we weren’t sure how it would feel.  But it was such a special time.  Y.’s father — who we have barely met before –was so warm to us!  He rarely leaves the house, but seemed genuinely interested in hearing about his daughter’s work, her friends (at one point he said, “Oh!  So you really do have friends!), and coming one day soon to the Nozomi House to see where she is working.  Here is one of his granddaughters, in front of the family altar, modeling a Nozomi necklace tonight:

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After my coworker prayed a very inspired prayer over the family, we each shook his hand to say goodbye. He gripped each of our hands so tightly, barely able to let go. We realized that he probably never gets hugs or hand squeezes from people these days…. And even just when he mentioned the name of his wife and daughter he teared up and couldn’t speak.  It has been three years but the pain is still so great.  Our little visit — that we were scared to make — seemed somehow so significant.

We also had the chance to visit the grandmother of one of our Nozomi coworkers, T.  She had told me a long time ago that sometime she wanted us to go with her to meet her grandmother and to pray with her.  She said she was afraid her grandmother, Tomi-san, would die before she had a chance to hear about the “real God.”  Today was that chance!

When we walked into the hospital room and I saw her grandmother, I was struck with how very tiny and frail she was.  She couldn’t weigh more than eighty pounds;  her ninety-four year old body looked tiny in the large bed.  But her eyes lit up as she saw her beloved granddaughter standing over her;  she became alert and talkative and we loved her instantly.

We talked and shared together.  T. told her grandmother that she wanted us to tell her grandmother about God – the God of Jesus.  Tomi-san responded, “Oh yes!  He’s the God of the world, isn’t he?”  T. said, “Yes, he is, grandma, but He also loves each one of us so much.”

Tomi-san told us several touching stories.  She had married and had four children.  Two of them died when they were infants.  Then her husband went off to the Philippines to fight in WWII against the Americans, and he never came home.  Tomi’s one son got mixed up in the wrong crowd, ended up joining a gang, and has never been heard from since.  Her remaining child, T’s father, died of cancer at the age of 60.  T. has told me previously that on his deathbed he had asked his daughter T. to take care of his mother.  T. has faithfully visited her day after day, despite being a single mom with two children and working at the Nozomi Project.

She also told us an amazing story of her childhood.  There had been a small church in Watanoha (our neighborhood) when she was a little girl – some eighty-some years ago!! They had a gathering on Saturday or Sunday — she couldn’t remember which she said– where they sang hymns and learned about Jesus.  She wanted so much to go!  But as a girl she had one leg shorter than the other and walked with a limp;  as a result she was bullied and didn’t have friends.  She kept waiting for someone to invite her to the Christian gathering but no one did, and she was too afraid to go alone.  So she missed the opportunity, she said.

We told her she needn’t miss it now.  We played for her a short segment of our morning worship time, and shared more with her about the Savior of the World.  His love for her;  His desire for her to believe in Him;  His promise that He has gone ahead for all who believe and is preparing a place in heaven.  She said she wanted to pray with us.

I prayed for Tomi-san, and in the middle of the prayer asked Tomi-san if she is ready to believe in Jesus.  She belted out a strong “YES!”  And so, we believe, in that somewhat-smelly old people’s hospital, a darling darling 94 year old woman said yes to Jesus.  I think He has been waiting such a long time, and He didn’t want her to miss another opportunity because no one would bring her.  Her granddaughter T. made sure of that.  She brought Jesus to her grandmother.

Going home in the car, we asked T. more about her mother’s childhood experience in not going to church because she was never invited.  And she said, “I think there are so many people today like that.  They want to know about Jesus — but they are afraid to go unless they are invited.  Lots of people are just waiting to be invited.”

How often we shrink back from asking people because of OUR own insecurities or our own preconceived ideas of who should or shouldn’t come.  Who in our everyday world may need a visit because they are waiting to hear, or needing a prayer, or wanting to grasp a hand?  Who needs to be invited to a place where people gather to celebrate the hope of Jesus?  My heart has been convicted and touched so much today.

Below is one of the most beautiful photos my iPhone has ever taken.  Tomi-san is reading the Bible verse, “I will never forget you!  I have written you on the palm of my hands.”  Now she nows, for sure, that she is not forgotten.

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