Our Challenges

The past two weeks’ return to life in Ishinomaki following my dad’s death has felt rather complex and challenging. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad, but we hit the ground running, with me starting back at Nozomi Project the morning after we returned.

It has been a different working and home environment upon coming back.  I realized that THREE (3!) of my coworkers from the fall are not working side by side with me, and I feel that loss sorely. (Lora, Hannah, Ayami — I miss you each!! And Beth too!)  I don’t like doing work and ministry alone, and much of the past two weeks has felt like that. How thankful I am for the team that remains and how they are juggling a lot to help out! Yet I have felt a much greater spiritual weight in my daily work without my co-workers’ daily presence. (Please pray with us for more help at Nozomi Project and a teacher to  help with our home schooling kids!)

Yesterday morning I had our weekly bible study with two of our Nozomi staff.  I wasn’t excited about needing to do this alone (Lora and Ayami used to co-lead with me).  But God surprised me!  My two Nozomi friends, T and C, ended up ministering to me.

As we were starting our study, C. began to reflect on how she has changed so much through our study together the past two years.  She has a junior high son with autism.  He was mainstreamed through elementary school (in my son’s class), but now in junior high he is going to a special needs school.

C. said that throughout her son’s life she has felt embarrassed and worried that her son’s condition has bothered people or put them out.  She loves him dearly, but didn’t really know how what to think about his autism and special needs.

Over the past two years, however, her thinking has changed 180 degrees.  She said she now realizes that her son is a special gift from God.  D. and his autism are gifts from God to her and to others as well.  She no longer resents his autism but she is able to embrace it.  His innocence, his unconditional love, his smile (Oh, I wish you could see his warm smile when I come to his house!) are all part of the special package God has given  her – and our community –  in her son. Her experiences with God as a young believer have changed how she views the challenges in her life.

These words touched me so deeply.  God IS at work in our midst.  He can change how we view challenges, and show us his workings in the midst of them.  We can better value the parts of our lives that may feel like a handicap but which God wants to use to bless us and others.  A message I need to hear!

I’m praying for the daily grace to embrace what is before me.  I’m thankful for C. and T. and God’s sweet reminder of His work in our lives.

 

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Bi-Annual Reviews; and Reviews that Last

Tomorrow and Friday we will be conducting individual reviews with all of our Nozomi staff.  AARGGH!  We started this for the first time in the spring, and it is something we are committed to doing bi-annually.  The whole process is laborious, quite honestly.  But we are convinced it is the most helpful way to receive and provide feedback, and to encourage each of our staff to grow professionally and personally.

We have spent a lot of hours already meeting as a leadership team to discuss each individual and choose our priorities in sharing areas of strength that we have seen and (an) area where they can grow.  It has been especially encouraging the past two months to see several of our staff really rise and shine to our hopeful expectations since our last reviews. One of my favorite maxims from my leadership studies is Goodwin’s Principle of Expectation:  “Emerging leaders tend to live up to the genuine expectations of leaders they respect.”  I have found this really true at Nozomi Project.

But it also hard to share areas needing growth.  Some people are very aware of their challenges;  others have very little self-awareness and communicating that can be really difficult.

One of the things i”m so excited about this time are special gifts we will give each woman at the end of each review.  A friend and mentor in Nishinomiya is an amazing artist.  Every Christmas eve she paints individual water color Bible verse cards with all different verses on them for all the visitors who come to their annual Christmas eve services (and they have a lot of people come;  some who attend especially because they want one of her cards!)

Megumi has prayed, prepared, and painted individual Bible verse cards to give to each of our staff tomorrow at the end of their review.  Isn’t that so beautiful?  I had started praying about choosing verses for each staff to give at the end of the reviews — because God’s word is much more powerful, true, and eternal than whatever words we tell them during the review!  But Megumi-san has taken it many levels up by painting these beautiful cards.

They arrived today – each card sealed in a beautiful envelope.  I had to open just one to see.  Isn’t it lovely?

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Please pray with us tomorrow and Friday as we seek to encourage each of our staff and help them to grow!  Pray too for God to encourage each woman with the Word that he has chosen for them in this season of their lives.

Do you have anything you do to help conduct reviews?  We continue to learn and grow in this area…

The Spaghetti and Marshmallow Game

This morning for our Nozomi Project staff meeting, we divided into three working groups.  Each group was given a handful of raw spaghetti, a roll of tape, and a marshmallow.  Each team had 18 minutes to build the tallest free-standing structure they could, with the marshmallow at the end as the tallest part.

It was great fun to watch the women start.

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What I loved was how each team worked hard on making a strong foundation.  One team tested three different foundations and finally went with the strongest.  Several times the teams readjusted their strategies.  Near the end, all three were working with tall towers.

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At the last minute, they put the marshmallows up.  And suddenly the tall and straight structures began swaying…. One of the teams couldn’t let go for the final measuring… and the marshmallow swayed its way down.

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Here are the teams with their final projects:

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We had a good debrief after this.  The foundation really is important!  Nozomi Project’s three key words are community, restoration, and hope.  The community part is so important for who we are.  Each piece of jewelry that we sell has been handled by about eight different staff, from start to finish.  We are moving more towards a team approach in our larger projects, as well.  We need to be a team – a community — that works together and supports each other.  That allows for mistakes midway through and re-focusing efforts.  For this to happen, our foundation is important.

We also talked about what happens as we grow taller and get more stiff, and then add the marshmallow on top. The formation becomes at risk.  It’s a lot harder to introduce new ideas, new staff as teams become comfortable and get into patterns. As we continue to introduce new ways of doing things and bring new staff into Nozomi Project, we will have to all be more intentional. But we need the perspectives that new people bring.

And… of course, there has to be room for having some fun.

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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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Giving

Today we had the wonderfully difficult staff meeting of explaining to a room full of mystified women the whole idea of tithing… or blessed to be a blessing.  We are still pinching ourselves a bit, but God has blessed us with a healthy profit.  We don’t have the final numbers, but we really do thank God for how He has blessed the Nozomi Project.

Our Be One/Nozomi team has decide that we want to tithe 20% of our first year profits… 10% to local Tohoku needs, and 10% to those with great needs overseas.  We don’t know how orthodox this is, but it has felt like the right decision.  We are setting aside 10% or so to bless our staff as well, and the rest will be invested back into our company.

Chad came to the meeting and helped to shared the vision and our desire to be a blessing just as God has blessed us so much.  What we have is all a result of God blessing us — it is all His! — and we want to share from the first of that.  We gave out a sheet I had prepared with possible agencies and ideas for local and overseas giving.

I shared with the staff the lesson that Eric and I learned a few years after our marriage.  We were both seminary students, and we had started using our credit cards to get from month to month… and the debt starting adding up.  We didn’t share about it with others.  Then one night we attended our hope group — a weekly fellowship from our church.  I can’t remember the topic, but we ended up sharing with our friends there about our debt.  As they gathered around to pray for us, one of the older members wisely asked, “Are you tithing?”  We realized that we had both tithed before marriage but it had somehow slipped away as a priority the past year or two.  We kneeled there and surrendered all of our finances to God.  It was a major turning point for us in many ways.  WIthin a year of taking our tithe out first from our monthly pay, our debt was manageable and nearly gone.  It has been a foundational principle of our lives since;  both with income as well as gifts that we have received.

This morning I called my dad, and told him about the talk we were about to have.  He has been one of the models of generous living to me — even at 85 he continues trying to outgive what he gave the previous year.  He won’t tell me how me the percentage because he doesn’t want to boast.

He told me about a Christian great who he met one time while flying in a small plane back from Peru… R.G. LeTourneau.  This Christian man made his money from inventing heavy machinery… I read that 70% of the machinery used in World War II had been invented by R.G.  As he and his wife began the practice of tithing, they inverted the normal Christian way of doing things – they lived on 10% and gave away 90%.  Even still, they prospered and were able to make a great impact.

My desire is that Nozomi Project will be known for being generous — to our staff, to those starting new things;  to those in need.  And that God will continue to work in my own life to love being generous more and more.  This is the way of Christmas.

Getting Down to Business

The past two weeks we have witnessed the Nozomi Project leap ahead into a new unfamiliar world of becoming a real day-to-day operation.  It is amazing to see this -and sometimes scares me to death!  –But mostly amazing.  Tuesday through Friday eleven ladies are gathering in our Be One guest house, which for now has become the workshop for making jewelry out of shards of broken pottery.  I love to watch these ladies at work!  One of the women, Tomoko, said yesterday, “I used to hate waking up in the morning and thinking about my life.  Now I wake up and think, ‘I can’t wait to see what necklaces I get to make today!'”  I feel the same way — at the end of the day, I can’t wait to see the combinations of necklace styles, beads, leather, and — pieces of broken pottery that have become beautiful.

On Tuesday morning we had our first business meeting.  I’ve never led a business meeting before in my life — in English — let alone for a new organization in Japanese!  Lots of firsts for me.  We prayed a lot, and God so faithfully met us there.  We passed out a two page summary (in Japanese, thanks to the translation of Yumiko Chapin!!) – of our guiding principles and our business practices.  I asked each lady to sign it if they agreed.  The pdf file below has a whole overview of the Nozomi project, but here are a few of the guiding principles:

  • We are committed to excellence in our work and our transactions.
  • Developing a sense of trust, openness, and honesty is integral to finding wholeness in our work community.  We are committed to confidentiality, restricting gossip, and working with an attitude of encouragement and respect for one another. 
  • There must be transparency in all of our activities, behavior, and finances.
  • We don’t mind making mistakes; we are committed to an environment of learning, laughing, crying and growing together.
  • We are a group formed around the idea of hope; it is something God is giving us here and we believe God will use Nozomi Project to spread hope to many others.

And a few of the business practices:

  • We believe God wants to use the Nozomi Project for more than just a business; also to create a community for making friendships, encouragement, learning together, and healing.  During our time of working together, let’s listen to each other with respect, allow each other privacy when it is needed, and not share what we hear with others (i.e. not gossip). We want this to be a “safe” place to be. Let’s practice the Golden Rule from Jesus, “Do to others what you would want them to do to you.”
  • We want to accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses and be open to accepting new people who might come in so that we can carry hope to others as well.
  • Because we want to understand and depend upon God, each day we will have a short time to read a part of the Bible and pray together. We have seen how God has already answered many prayers in our lives and in the Nozomi project; we are excited to see Him answer many more prayers.

Nozomi’s Overview-short

One of the amazing things that God has brought to us is a manager.  My friend Yuko has taken on this job as though she was made for it.  She practiced with us for two months, then trained intensively with Lisa and Rebecca, learning how to make each accessory item. Now she is patiently teaching all of this daily to eleven women who come at different times with different abilities and skills.  We have all been amazed — maybe even stunned — to see her abilities shine so beautifully.

On the day that I shared our business plan, I began by sharing with them an important story about me — that of my mom’s death twenty-three years ago. Near the end I shared that there are still times when I wish I could call my mom and ask her advice on raising kids;  or if when I was little I ever did such and such….  (This is the part when I started to cry).

And I told them about a time several months after her death when the shock and numbness had begun to wear off and I could no longer pray.  It worried me a lot.  I had lunch with my friend Karen Longman, and I always remember her calm assurance as she recounted to me the story of the paralytic man who couldn’t get to Jesus on his own, so his four friends made a cot, put a hole in the roof, and carried him to Jesus.  She said that there are times when we ourselves maybe can’t get to Jesus for different reasons, and that’s when our friends need to carry us there.

I shared with my Nozomi friends that there will be times in all of our lives when it might seem hard to pray;  perhaps impossible to come to Jesus.  But we are a community, and so at those hard times we come together and bring the weak or the grieving or the paralyzed to Jesus.  That’s what community does for each other.  And then my friend Y. started crying, and sharing how hard it is without her mom.  We prayed for her, and prayed as we start this new thing.

Then we had birthday cake for Yuri, and gave her flowers and a card.  She was so happy.

There was a sense of something special.  We were all so glad to be a part of it.

That night I received a text message from Yuri.  She wrote (this is translated):  “Ever since Kousei was washed away [her three year old son], I couldn’t believe in God or Buddha.  But after today, I could feel myself beginning to believe…”

The Lord is good.

I love sharing the artwork of the Nozomi ladies!  here are two sneak peeks –  some accessories and necklaces we are working on.  And I kind of wonder if God likes to give us sneak peaks as well to what He is up to –like the text message above, for example…