30 foot High Bonfires

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the local elementary school, the scene of some of my recent posts.  As I prepped with the teacher, she asked me to finish my second class 5 minutes early.  Something about everyone going outside for dondoyaki.

Dondoyaki… hmm… what’s that?? I started processing it to try to figure out the meaning.

Takoyaki- Octopus batter balls

Yakiniku- Grilled meat

Yakitori- Grilled chicken

My best guess: grilled something.  Must be food. Grilled seafood of some sort?

After the first two classes, I came back to the office for my break.  One of the office staff encouraged me to grab my coat and head outside.  “It’s Japanese culture.”

Ok- new piece of the puzzle: it’s related to Japanese culture.  A New Years food perhaps?

In the middle of the schoolyard, there looked to be cherry-shaped bunch of pine-branches standing some 30 feet tall, with ropes holding the top of the “cherry stem” into the air.  Here and there were adornments and also at the bottom there seemed to be many pieces of paper with black calligraphy characters on them.

No sight nor smell of food anywhere.

After all the students gathered in a huge circle, a massive fire was lit and naturally everything was enveloped in flames.  Even from my distance, I could feel the wave of heat. Huge pops and cracks occasionally startled me, which I later found out was the bamboo cracking on the inside of the bonfire.  Clouds of ash rose to the sky and some students and moms collected some of the pieces of bigger ash that fell to the ground.

As I headed back to the office to wait for the students to pick me up for my next class, I knew it was time to do my research.  What was this that I’d just observed?

Dondoyaki is the Japanese tradition of burning all the New Year decorations and the lucky charms bought at the temple that hold the zodiac of the previous year.  Apparently it’s the only way to dispose of these things, as it’s extremely bad luck and bad taste to just throw them away.

Some even say that if you scatter the ash on your crop,that it will be more plentiful or lucky or such. And you’ll grow younger if you warm your hands by the fire.  Some people even roast mikans (mandarin oranges) and mochi by the fire.

So… see!  I was right– it did involve food in some aspect!

Cookie Rewards

This last Christmas, I spent a good portion of time slaving over my tiny oven, baking 8 cookies at a time for my neighbors and other Japanese contacts.  After that came another significant and messy time decorating said cookies for delivery.

It was a lot of work, but fun.

I had been praying a lot about how to make more contact with my neighbors and get to know them more.  I figured the cookies couldn’t hurt and if it was something unexpected for them, we could blame it on being foreigners.

We delivered the cookies together as a family, and some individually as the case led. Of course, we received a lot of gracious thank yous and could tell that the receivers felt genuinely blessed. In many cases we also received gifts back.  But generally that seemed to be the end of the road there.

A couple of weeks later, we happened to go out to the local sushi restaurant for a cheap meal out.  Our neighbors also happened to come in that same evening and sit in the same section as us.  We waved and as we left that evening, they again thanked us for the cookies (per the Japanese etiquette of thanking at least 2+ times for a gift received).  The wife/mother mentioned that her college-age daughter in particular was really enchanted with them. So I offered to show her how to make them.

And so began a series of written notes passed back and forth between our mailboxes, resulting in an afternoon spent making and decorating cookies with a girl I’d never met before.  We had a great time and discovered that the family loves Mexican food in particular (you don’t hear that a lot in Japan!).

We are waiting now to hear back as to a good time to make and eat Mexican food together.  I’m excited about this opportunity to get to know this wonderful family better and share Life with them!

School Part 2

So I recently blogged about my observations while teaching English at a local elementary school here.  As I was there yesterday, I realized that I had only communicated a fraction of my learning experiences. So here are some more.

The first time I went to the school, it was a rainy morning.  I’d never even been inside a public school here and so I had no idea what to expect. I had tried to gather as much information as possible, but of course, people who I asked weren’t quite sure how to answer my unknowns as what I was asking was obvious to them.

Anyway, I entered through the children’s entrance instead of the teacher’s entrance.  Given that I have a white face and was clearly not where I should be must have instantly clued in the teachers that I was indeed the new English teacher.  Did I mention I didn’t have socks that day? I had no idea that I would be taking my shoes off (students/teachers wear separate indoor shoes). I had to regather my shoes and umbrella and make my way to the entrance for adults.  Thankfully the teachers who spotted me were exactly the ones I’d be working with; they were kind to point me to a locker with guest slippers.

Anyway, now that I am educated on which entrance to use and where to store my outdoor shoes, I feel at least somewhat competent.

It’s still quite a site to behold every time I go.  It’s not yet normal to me, though there are many facets of Japanese life that I’m used to that are in place here.  I guess the thing is that it’s all here: all in one place.  It’s so Japanese, I can’t help but gawk.

Everybody saying Good morning to every single person they pass.  The men dressed nicely in blazers or suits while the women are significantly less formal (I still don’t get this? The teachers I met the first morning I originally assumed were parents). Women in aprons serving green tea to me and otherwise catering to the office needs.  I’m not entirely sure what the scope of their job entails, but I’m always thankful for the warm tea.

Kids in their gym shorts in the halls that are open to the outside winter air.

The building that stands high (four stories?) as compared to long and wide two story buildings like elementary schools in my home country.

Students who come to retrieve and escort me to all other classes. The uniformity and conformity expected in responses.  The conscientiousness shown by everyone, the little ones included, for the feelings of others.

But all in all, the students are still children.  Some who are tender-hearted, some who are rambunctious, who love a good game, who enjoy laughter and light competition. Kids.

No matter where you go.


Mobilization Station

Does your heart beat for the worldwide Kingdom of God while remaining in your home country? Do you wish there were more who understood your heart’s cry or do you wish there was more you could do from home? There is—and it’s a vital role!

Become a mobilizer for the global cause of Christ. Be the one who opens eyes to the work going on around the world—be the one who causes movement to happen: people beginning to fulfill not only their local calls, but their global calls as well!

A mobilizer is a person who in essence pours the gasoline of awareness into the lawnmowers that are otherwise resting idly.  They pull the trigger and watch as the natural reactions begin to take place.  And bam: another one has been mobilized.

Here are simple ways that you can begin to awaken people’s interests to what God is doing around the world:

Share why you’ve connected with this vision to others. Your testimony about it will be a powerful influence in others’ motivation to get involved.

Share the documentary “Mission Japan: Mission Impossible?” with others. Tip: to be more influential, like, comment and interact with those who comment! Your audience and impact will grow as a result.

Host a “Japan” night (or another if you like) with food or activities from that culture—as well as updates and prayer for the people– maybe skype us in!

Sign up and read the Alvarados’ newsletters and share info with others. People often forget if the info isn’t there in front of them!

Join a Care Team and encourage others to join a care team. It’s a great way to help a missionary accomplish the work that needs to be done, all from home! It goes a long way to supporting their longevity.  Check out this essential book.

Blog about all of these experiences and watch how God uses you!

Partnership in Prayer

“The battle we face is a spiritual conflict. It must be fought and won by men and women of God who are willing to intercede for missionary families as they invade enemy territory held uncontested for centuries. Satan does not meekly give up his prey. He counterattacks fiercely in many unexpected ways. The missionary must have intercessors who stand alongside, praying on a regular and systematic basis.” – David Wang

Is a physical battle more vital than a spiritual one? Does knowing that our battle is not a physical one but rather a spiritual one make a difference in our preparation?

No, to both. While physical battles may at times be necessary, a spiritual battle is almost always necessary.  Hence we are told to pray at all times; the spirit is often willing but the flesh weak.  So our spirit gives strength to our flesh.

What needs are there in battle? Training, for one. Teamwork. Information. Tactics. If prayer is our means of fighting this spiritual battle, what is our status now?

Here are some ideas to help you as you take part in partnering in prayer to see this world transformed by the love of God:

-Challenge yourself to a prayer workout plan: start 5 minutes a day for a week, then move up to 10, and keep going as you feel the Lord leading. [Training]

-Partner up! Ask a friend to do the challenge with you. [Teamwork]

-Sign up for our monthly prayer newsletter! [Information]

-As you see “Kingdom Vision” in the Scripture (people getting saved, the sick healed, captives set free), take a moment to pray that for Japan! [Tactics]