Sunday, January 30, 2011

Staying in Japan Vs. Returning to the U.S

You are probably wondering why I haven`t posted in awhile. One reason is because I`ve been focusing on my fiction and teaching. Also, the Pakistan trip had to get nixed, at least for now. I got an email for Rev. Shafiq that read like this:

On 27th Jan 2011 at 3:00 pm

A person named, Ramond Davis who is the technical Advisor in American Consellate in Lahore , Pakistan, was going through Mazang Chungi , Lahore. Two Unknown Person who was with their weapons, stopped his car and tried to attack him. then Mr. Ramond used his weapon for self defence. and they got killed by Mr. Ramond Davis.
Now extremist muslims of Pakistan are angry becouse of this incident, and they are protesting on roads.
i hope that u should have seen this in the current news.
and i feel it as important to inform you about this.

your brother in Christ
Rev. Shafiq

Besides that, all those who originally took interest in the trip have backed down, and no one new has signed up to replace them. I think that is a pretty clear sign from God. Rev. Shafiq was disapointed, but understood. I`ve tried to make it up to him by putting him in contact with some other Christian organizations that might be able to help him with funding and advice on making his ministry a registered NGO/NPO. Plus, you can still donate to his ministry! (See my blog post entitled "Upcoming Pakistan Trip Details.")

But also for the past week, something very heavy has weighed on my mind. God sent me to Japan to tell people about God`s love through Jesus. I was pretty sure when I went, I was supposed to stay about two years, like Paul in Rome at the end of Acts. But now that those two years will be done in six months and I must make a decision whether or not to recontract for another year, over the past few weeks I`ve constantly thought "the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few." As a child, my favorite hymn was when God asks and Isaiah answers in Isaiah 6:8 " `Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?` Then I said, `Here I am. Send me!`" I used to sing that hymn with such enthusiasm, even as an eight-year-old, knowing God had called me to be a missionary in some capacity.

The pastor at the church where I serve has assured me that if I leave, he can take over my duties for me, but I know it will be hard for him. He just lost his father, and he and his family are very poor, receiving no money from the church, so he has to work on the side. Students may be less willing to come for someone who is a non-native speaker and very clearly a pastor. There is a chance that my successor at the high school where I work will be Christian because of all the prayers we have lifted up for it, but even if God chooses to answer those prayers, I would be taking that person away from another part of Japan that also needs witnessing Christians.

Some days I feel it is really time for me to leave Japan for home. I`ve had my fill, seen everything I wanted to see, grown as a person, and seen God do some truly amazing things. I miss my family and want to "move on with my life." Responses to my discussions with students, Christian cultural events, etc have been minimal. Plus, I still have six months even if I don`t recontact! My parents think that is enough and I should come home on in late August/early September 2011 as we originally planned. I want to come home to publish my young adult Christian fantasy novels and get a job with International students, like I had before. There are many opportunities for serving there too. As you can see, I am fighting God really hard on this. But those are hardly reasons to resist God`s call, whatever it may be. He can always change our hearts. Some moments I really feel He wants me to stay, that there really is no other option for me if I`m really serious about the Great Commission to "Go into all the world and preach my Gospel to every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you, even to the end of the age." I can`t help but notice the promise at the end of that. Christ will be with me, so why am I so scared? My Christian friends seem to think that God will bless whatever decision I make. But if the most important thing is preaching the Gospel in largely unreached lands, then would I be turning my back on my most important duty as a Christian? I literally weep when I think of all the Japanese people who have never heard about Jesus. Despite all the brick walls, despite all the people who smile and say they want to learn and then never show up to events or hurry away/shut down when I start speaking of spiritual matters even in the most casual manner, I know that the Holy Spirit can work. Is working.

I always felt my most important calling was writing and publishing my books. But in the Bible, the most important thing is preaching the gospel "to the ends of the Earth." That`s what I`m doing now. Maybe God wants me to do it for another year and a half (as it is, my contract ends in six months but I can recontract for another year). I want to act in faith. I want to serve God. Then why am I so afraid? Why do I have this sick feeling in my stomach? Why do I think about staying in Japan for another year I feel so...depressed? I want God to change me, but it is so hard to change.

The sermon this week was about letting go and trusting God even when the future is unstable and unsure. One of my Japanese Christian friends thought that was a very clear sign for me to go home. I wasn`t so sure.

One song that keeps running through my head is Isaiah 43:

"When you walk through the waters, I will be with you.
And the waves will not overcome you.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name. You are mine.
For I am the Lord your God.
I am the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

When you walk through the fire, you`ll not be burned.
And the flames will not consume you.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name. You are mine.
For I am the Lord your God.
I am the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I am the Lord."

I have never taken this passage of scripture literally. In the context of the larger story, God was promising through Isaiah that despite all the horrible things to come, (Israel was about to be conquered), God would be with them through it all, and as a whole, they would make it through. I think the same context applies to our lives today. The waters will come. The fires too. Notice it doesn`t say you won`t be burned. It says you won`t be consumed. That`s what I have to keep reminding myself through all of this. Whatever decision I make will be hard, but I`ll make it through.

I have to give my school my decision by Wednesday. Any thoughts?

Until next time, keep praying and loving, no matter what the cost,

L.J. Popp

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Japanese Illuminations!

January 15th, I went to the famous "illuminations" at Nabanano Sato flower gardens! Fortunately, most illuminations in Japan don`t end with New Year`s, but last all winter. The Nabanano Sato displays are reportedly the best in Mie Prefecture, and it`s no wonder. First we (one of my high school students, another American English teacher and me) walked through a long tunnel of golden light:



We emerged into an ocean of blue lights, designed to ripple like waves:



In the background of the waves you can see the virtual mountain. One moment it seemed to have a rising sun reflecting off its icy slopes, and the next appeared to be erupting like a volcano. Lights like dolphins leaped in front of it, and we could almost smell salt in the air. Here's a picture of the "rising sun" mountain:



We stood and gazed for awhile, then left through a rainbow tunnel of light:



Near the exit of the park, there was a huge "UFO" to greet us.



Actually, that's the observation platform modeled after Mt. Fuji. It has a mechanical arm that the operator can use to lift it high into the sky, and at least 50 people can ride.

Two countries, two amazing displays. I feel truly blessed to be able to travel between them so easily.

Prayer Requests: Please pray for the new English test-prep and Evangelism classes for Junior High and High School students I`ll be starting soon, and preparations for my mission trip to Pakistan.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Christmas in America

Time to catch up on some posting! This year, I went home for Christmas for two glorious weeks. Went to church Christmas Eve, opened presents with the family on Christmas morning, and Christmas afternoon had the most delicious dinner imaginable at my brother`s wife`s parent`s house. It was so nice to talk to some good old-fashioned Okies again. I never really recognized the Oklahoma charm as charm before I left. It`s funny the sort of things you miss. Cats. Big houses. Wide open spaces. Central heating. And French silk pies cooked in the old Southern style.

I don`t have a lot of exciting things to report, so I`ll just post some pictures.

After Christmas Eve service, we drove around the nice houses in Tulsa to look at neighborhood lights. Here`s my favorite:



Here`s my cat Kyra under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. You can see the little model shinkansen bullet train from Japan that I got my father as an early present. He`s always wanted a little model train set to put under the tree:



Here`s my family on Christmas morning, Mom playing with our dog, Holly:



I love my little nephew Hayden, my brother Tony`s son. He just turned one. Just like his daddy used to (and maybe still does), he likes to bang his head against the wall. Not sure why.



A few days later, we went out to dinner at pizza hut with Tony and his wife Emily. It`s funny how silly people can act when they`re trying to get a baby to do something. Of course, I was doing it too!



After that we went over to Tony and Emily`s house. They raise miniature Dachshund puppies to sell:



And here`s Mom and me holding them:



The following week, after eating at the famous Cheese Cake factory, Mom, Dad, and I visited Rima Bible college`s famous light display, or "illumination" as they call it in Japanese. Here`s some pictures:

Jesus sign:



Nativity:



Noah`s arc:











And some videos of the synchronized lights and music:

Amazing Grace:



Peanuts:



In the next video we`re talking about fireworks for some reason. I think DOD (Dear old Dad) was talking about some lights that looked like fireworks. I wasn`t really paying attention.









Last of all, a little Holiday message to my friends in Nabari, Japan:



After that, I got terribly sick with a double hitter: flu and bronchidis. Not fun. I was stuck in the country for an extra three days. Not that I was upset about that. I would much rather be sick in America surrounded by my family instead of in Japan...by myself...miserable. The journey back also proved exhausting, with my plane delayed three times and changing gates three times. Then I made the dumb mistake of confusing Southwest airlines with Skywest airlines, a Delta connection, and when I asked the Southwest ticket people where I should go when the gate changed for the third time, I guess they missed the Delta information on my ticket and directed me to the wrong flight, which happened to be leaving for the exact same place (Seatle) as the flight listed on my ticket, at the same time the announcers said the delayed flight would leave. Thus I learned that inexplicable coincidences are not always pleasant. I almost got on it...only at the last minute they realized their mistake (and mine) and told me to get off, thus making me miss the flight I was actually supposed to be on. Well, now I know. Southwest airlines is not the same as Skywest. It wasn`t so bad; I just had to spend the night in Seatle, at a hotel run by a rather funny Hindi manager who seemed bent on getting me to drink the night away with him like the previous lady JET (Japanese Exchange Teacher) who came through before me. Better luck next time.

Fortunately, the long flight was much more relaxing. I ran into Nate Townsend again, another JET in the Christian fellowship with whom I had also had the surprise of sharing the plane to Japan. He`s crazy. Crazy people make for very interesting conversation partners on long, boring flights overseas. I would rather sit next to a crazy person on a plane than a sane one any day.

Oddly enough, I was not happy to be back in Japan. I found myself alone on the bus, listening to all the babble in Japanese and I wanted nothing more than to go back home to America. On the train, I had to sit next to a really stinky drunk guy with a huge fresh scar on his forehead and face, and he kept grabbing my bag while muttering "gomen, gomen" "sorry, sorry" and trying to talk to me incomprehensibly with his breath that smelled like vomit and beer. I was a bit worried about him and thought maybe I should ask what happened to his head and if he needed help, but he got off the train and seemed to know where he was going, so I left him alone. There was another drunk dude pestering four of my high school students, asking if they were going to Ise shrine. I tried to tell the guy "Kono densha wa chigau des yo" "Look, this is the wrong train." But he just kept smiling at me and saying, "Yasashi gaijinchan desu ne?" (What a cute little foreigner, isn`t she?) My students and I had a good laugh at the drunk duo when they finally stumbled off the train. I showed them pictures of my trip to America and they were impressed by all the lights.

One thing I`m already missing about America is the no public drunkeness and open alcoholic containers laws. Public drunkeness is such a nuisance, not to mention dangerous, and reminded me with avengance that this is not my country. I really want to go home. It`s so cold here. And lonely. I`m still not fully back to health. I can`t shake the cold-like symptoms, the headaches, this exhaustion or the soreness in my joints. But all this will probably ware off in a few days. I DO love Japan, or I wouldn`t have already spent a year and a half here.

I should stop whining about myself. Pastor Toshi just lost his father. That`s why I can`t spend time with them now, since they`re in mourning. And Rev. Shafiq in Pakistan just informed me about the terrible things happening. I`m really worried about the March trip there, though I called three Pakistani embassies and they all said it`s perfectly safe, oh, yes, please come, there won`t be any trouble for you or your Christian group, no trouble at all. One guy even said he was Christian and from that area and promised there would be no problems. So, the best thing to do when you`re worried about something is pray about it.

Prayer Requests: For my health, that I`ll be able to shake these sicknesses for good so I won`t relapse again. For Pastor Toshi and his family as they mourn the loss of his dad but rejoice that he is with the Lord. For Pastor Shafiq and the Christians in Pakistan, along with the upcoming March mission trip there: health and safety and discernment. That I will be able to finish my tenure in Japan with strength, and find a job/agent/publisher when I get back to the poor U.S. economy with nothing but a bachelor`s degree in film studies. That God will bless my writing and my work here in Japan and all over the world.

Until next time, keep praying and keep loving, no matter what the cost,
L. J. Popp