Indigenize

Yesterday [at the time of my writing] was our Christmas party.  It was an incredible amount of fun, planning and coordination (think 40 people, different types of activities and rearranging tables in a Japanese sized space).  There were moments of chaos and afterward I wanted to collapse on the ground.  Fortunately, I waited until I got home on my couch to completely pass out for 45 minutes or so.

We started talking about this party (in theory) in September.  We started putting it into form at the beginning of November.  And slowly but surely the plans came together in the last few weeks.

It came at the end of a study we’d been doing on prayer.  It was a goal to be praying for, reaching out, and had a prayer challenge at the end (which is still ongoing). It was also one of my first real involvements in working with the new church we’re now serving here in Japan.

One of the things we discussed amongst ourselves (my husband and I) when we were planning on moving to this church was that our goal was not to become the great leaders ourselves but to raise up leaders and to equip the people that we’re serving.  However, being in a small church and especially having serving as a full time job– it’s really easy to become the front leader in many things.

We’re also part of an organization called World Indigenous Missions.  Indigenous is a word that sometimes throws people– but it means native to that land (essentially that’s my definition).  WIM believes that the church established ought to be self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating (runs and organizes itself; financially supports itself and does the outreach itself).  That’s not to say there’s no room for a national organization or denomination or anything like that– just that it ought to be a reflection of a mature, healthy church representing that culture and not the foreign culture of the missionary.  I think someone once said that a true indigenous church sometimes makes the foreign missionary uncomfortable with the way they do things and deal with them.

A church and a people that does these things must depend on the Lord– and not the missionary.  Though of course, advice and guidance can be given by the missionary.   There’s a progression in the relationship of the missionary with the believers, much as there is between a parent and children.  But I don’t want to get that much into that.

Our question and journey so far has been how to use these principles in an existing framework.  And that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong at all with the place that we’re serving, so please don’t interpret it that way– just how do we best serve and equip the people and the church, to bless and strengthen it and not usurp any place that ought to belong to the Japanese members of the church.

So, the Christmas party was one way that I could put some principles into practice. I am a natural admin kinda person (though you might not believe it right now with my prego brain)… and while we’d love to sponsor the party ourselves, we felt that it would be good for people to invest in it themselves (though we did everything to keep it on the cheaper side) and of course, the invites came from the people involved.

It was very tempting for me to take over the planning.  But I had a partner in it (having a partner- not always possible at the beginning- is a good way to help things be “indigenous”), and so I tried to always defer to her.  At times, people would come to me for decisions but I tried to always point them to the leader.  OF COURSE I had my own opinions.  When I had ideas or suggestions, I tried to always submit them to the leader in the form of a question, to avoid pressure.  When decisions or suggestions were decided on that weren’t what I expected or thought, I deferred to them.  And then I always asked, would you like me to do such and such or what can I help you with? Many times I had a good idea of what needed to be done, but my goal was not to take the initiative but to give leadership to the native leader. In fact, many times, my partner was willing to defer to me to lead a discussion or meeting but I always pushed it back on her.

We also looked at delegating responsibilities and asking for volunteers in areas and everyone really came together at the end.  We had WAY more guests than we expected (though I kept saying, this is a good problem!!) but they were able to share with people and connect with new moms and we have another low-key event next month that we’ve already invited all the other ladies to. There were moments of chaos, especially during the sharing of the Gospel, but we all noticed how, despite the kids, the moms were hanging on the words of my partner giving a wonderful Gospel explanation.  Decisions aren’t typically made in a moment in Japan, but we already have relationships with the people who came, so it’s a seed that can be continuously watered.

One of the sweetest moments (for me) was at the end when all the guests had gone.  We inadvertently ended up around one of the tables and we were saying wow, that was great and thanking everyone for their hard work– and all the ladies clapped in the cute Japanese way and smiled a victorious smile together.

Later, my partner sent me a message at night, “I am amazed at how God brought so many people to the party today!  I never thought it would be this much people. I had little faith. The Lord is teaching me in so many ways, and I am learning to trust in Him more. Thank you for all your help and support!  I am learning a lot from you!”

While me being in the forefront, doing everything and organizing and exhausting myself to pieces makes for better newsletter pictures and stories and perhaps adds to my self-importance, this is far more effective long-term.  It’s far more healthy for their growth and I look forward to seeing what God does through this.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. I suppose the same could be said in church planting and serving overseas.  Plan it all for the people and do all the work for them and great– you’ve had an event.  But teach them to do it for themselves, work alongside them and prompt them when you can while encouraging them to depend on the Lord, and you’ve taught them something that will surely lead to more.

 

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Oh the Holidays

This year Christmas falls on a Sunday (so does New Years, for that matter).  I love the idea of going to church on Christmas morning, and I also really enjoy when I get to go to church on my birthday (not for the congrats, I’m not that vain).

This year though, contrary to every American feeling, we are going to the church Christmas potluck dinner and party on December 25th (and service too in the morning).

That’s because Christmas here is not a family holiday.  New Years is the family holiday. Christmas is for couples and for friends.

Christmas is never the same when you’re not with your family, but it’s even weirder when you’re in a place where it’s an adopted foreign custom.

It’s strange though– there are beautiful lights (called “Illumination”) here and there, Santas and Christmas trees and the decorated gift boxes all throughout stores.  It feels like America– often even Christmas music playing… I’ve always thought it ironic that there’s beautiful Christian music with the Gospel message playing throughout malls– what an odd feeling to hear the most precious salvation message being broadcast throughout the store in English while no understanding, no comprehension is making it close to the ears and hearts of the hearers.

Somewhere along the lines, by means of some ingenious marketing ploy, the Japanese honestly think that we celebrate Christmas by eating KFC and “Christmas cakes”.  You literally have to order these things weeks in advance. They are astounded when I tell them that we’d never do that.  And that most stores are closed on Christmas Day.

On the other hand, during New Years, most places are closed here, and especially small businesses are closed for the first 5 or so days of the year. It used to be that ATMs were all closed too, but I’m pretty sure you can use them at convenience marts now– those stay open. It’s a family time– many people go back to their home towns and eat their traditional New Years meal of sushi and hot mochi.  They typically hang out and relax and most people will visit the local (or famous) temples to buy their charms and trinkets and pray.  I want to say 2-3 million people will pass through the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine (not too far from us) during the first few days of the year.

The other notable thing on New Years is that people typically send “Nengajo”, New Years postcards.  You send them to all you know with a greeting/wish for the new year and say “kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu”– please have favor on me this year as well. (You actually say that to every person you meet for the first time in the new year- so you get lots of practice). They are delivered on New Years Day, which to me is very interesting.  The only exception would be if you had a death in your family that year, in which case you’d send a postcard either a month early or late (I don’t remember which) to explain why you’re not sending it on New Years.

The holidays on the exterior feel normal to me.  But when it comes down to the actual week, it feels backwards.  Christmas is like a normal day– a party day if you want or a good excuse to have a romantic date, while New Years is not the big party night like it is in America (though they do seem to have typical New Years Eve tv shows).

But as Christmas is an excellent opportunity to talk about the real meaning of Christmas and to invite people to things, that’s why we’ll be going to a potluck instead of sitting down to a special family dinner and hot cocoa. It goes sorely against my cultural grain, but if it’s really all about Jesus anyway, I suppose we should take the opportunity to tell people about what’s important to Him– His great gift of salvation that was set into motion on Christmas morn.  What better message of joy to mankind than actually sharing that message with them?

The Mountain

Imagine yourself in the middle of a beautiful field full of flowers (your preference), a lovely partly cloudy day with a gentle breeze and whispering trees in the distance.  Your tour guide leads you down an unmarked path and as you go conversing, you realize that you’re slowly making a giant circle.  Soon, you will be approaching the spot you just stood in to take the scenic selfie a few moments ago.

Welcome to the cultural dynamic that I’ll call the invisible mountain.

Note that to your tour guide, this mountain is very real, very steep and full of rocks. But to you, it’s just a field a beautiful flowers.

When maneuvering through a different culture, you will eventually and inevitably  recognize that this seemingly peaceful terrain has mountains scattered here and there and… well… everywhere.

So what do you do? Well, step one (which would be good to do before making the trip in the first place) is reading up on cultural dynamics and communication patterns of the people you are with.  That way, you’ll have a general layout of the land.

The next tip (and I’m no expert, but this is my tip from having run into a few mountains myself) is to not approach things directly.

DON’T DO IT.

Stop.  Don’t be too anxious to give your opinions or views of the matter.  Listen. Listen some more. Watch intensely. Pay attention to what’s said, the way it’s said and don’t forget about what wasn’t said.

Wait, that sounds complicated. I told you– the mountain is invisible.

One of the things that makes this more challenging is that when you are in another language, you automatically say things more directly no matter what.  Things are more cut and dry in the first few chapters you’re mastering while language learning.  It’s only later that you realize people typically have many ways to say the same thing and they get longer and longer.  Or as we used to say about Spanish, they get more and more flowery.

And when you’ve mastered the flower decor, you’re getting a good handle on the language.

I’ll give you a simple example that everyone learns on page 1:

Where’s the bathroom?

We all learn that phrase.  But let’s face it, if you as an American went into a store and just walked up and asked, “Where’s the bathroom”, it would come across as rather blunt.  Wouldn’t you usually say, “Excuse me, but is there a restroom here?” “Excuse me, where is the ladies’ room??

It’s just a little more finessed.  Not a big difference, but it’s there.

In English, Spanish and Japanese (that’s all I can speak for), there is more than one way to say bathroom or restroom, but you don’t learn that until later.

One mountain we’re still learning to identify here is honne and tatemae. Honne is one’s true feelings while tatemae is, gently put, pretense. Here you do not usually express your true feelings; you say what you need to say to keep the harmony (and there are other layers of factors to consider here too).

There was one time where I was in a group situation in which a foreigner called out a Japanese, expressing their true feelings about a situation.  Let me tell you, it immediately got awkward. For my part, I froze.  I waited.  Many awkward pauses as only the foreigner spoke. I listened as eventually all the other Japanese all diplomatically expressed their understanding of both parts of the situation without ever really addressing the core issue. Meanwhile, we had a foreigner who was convinced they were right and valid in their point, while the Japanese was mortified.

Afterward, another in the group came up to me, gave an exhausted sigh and said, “Wow, that conversation was way too frank.”

Whether the foreigner was justified in their perspective on the situation, it should not have been handled in the way that it was.

There’s a Japanese expression which always gets some titters from Americans. It’s called “kooki yomenai” people, or KY for short. But it refers to people who can’t read the air. And that’s important here.

Someone this summer, as we were discussing the difficulty in knowing how to interpret these situations, asked us, “So, what do you do?”

Good question, we answered. Indeed.

We’re still learning.  But opening your mouth is not the first solution (even if you are correct and have the answer).  You watch for the minutest of expressions (I’m talking about a momentary twitch, a change of sheen of the eye, a thoughtful pause), you listen.  You pay attention to what’s not said and what’s hinted at. Ask open-ended questions, not hinting at what you think or how you interpret things.  That’s one of my preferred mistakes: to explain what I understood and my perspective and then ask if I was correct/etc.

Not the smartest approach.

Eventually the mountain will begin to take shape in your mind. And someday… someday, you might end up with a map of your own making of the terrain.

Big in Japan

With this pregnancy, I’ve gone pretty much according to the books.  Or the pregnancy apps.

For example, the update for the day I turned 16 weeks alerted me that I could start feeling the baby move anytime from 16-21 weeks usually.  That day, I felt the baby move.

I turned 28 weeks and it seems like I expanded a foot in a day and moving, bending over to pick up tiny dropped things and otherwise carrying things became a lot more work. Welcome to the third trimester!

Apparently I’m way ahead of schedule according to the average woman here.  If I hear, “Wow, I was having a baby when I was your size… you still have 2 more months???” one more time….

My neighbor is like 5 or so months pregnant with her second one and I can’t even tell she’s pregnant!

I’m not really bothered.  I know us Westerners tend to be bigger in general than our Asian counterparts.

I’ve run into some interesting situations though lately that are different in America and Japan.

For one, I was in a shop (like a shop, not a department store), and I had to turn sideways to cut through an aisle, my back running into the boxes behind me and my gigantuous belly rubbing against shelf in front of me.

I thought to myself, give me a couple more weeks and I won’t be able to visit this shop anymore.  Better stock up on anything I need now.

Another humorous but rather uncomfortable situation… The other day, I ran by McDonalds during a full-day of errands.  It was the lunch rush, so I prayed and God provided a seat.  I sat my tray and bags down and edged sideways to sit on the bench side (verses the chair side).

People came and began their lunches and I suddenly realized… I’m stuck– there’s no way I can get out of here without clearing a few tables with my baby bump. How am I gonna get out?

I really should have sat on the other side of the table with the chair that I could back out of. But hindsight only gets you so far– I played the waiting game.

I took my time eating, pulled out a book, updated my calendar… and still they were casually chatting with their table partners along. Go on people, don’t you have things to do?? I looked at my phone and realized the tax office would be opening after their lunch break and I’d better hightail it if I wanted to beat the crowd.

Oh well.  Here we go.

I finally had to push my table to join another one and the people on the other side of me kindly adjusted their table to give me maximum space… which wasn’t much.  It was an awkward moment full of “sumimasen”s (excuse me) as I shimmied through.

Apparently there are some places that just aren’t made for pregnant foreigners.

Pardon the belly, guys! I’m about to give birth any day now…

…and by that, I mean two months from now.

A Little Trivia for You…

Did you know….

There are 12 different classifications of income in Japan.

My source: A Japanese accountant whose goal it was to determine what type of income we have since it’s US based (and I’m using the American definition of that term, no the Japanese idea of what that means).

Guess what’s right around the corneeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrr…..

TAX SEASON guys.  Grab your party hats!

I think we have a good idea of what’s going on (thank you to a certain supporter who vetted an English-speaking accountant and helped us afford the consultation of our tax affairs here in Japan!)– way better than the curve ball we were thrown at the beginning of this year. But do pray for us- I’m scheduled to have a baby 6 days before the one month tax-filing window happens here in Japan.

At least we will have a little extra time to file in the US.

We appreciate your prayers as we prepare to close out the year and get things in order for next year!

 

All About Communication

During the marathon that was November, we decided it was finally time to get my husband a new phone.  Our contract was coming to an end and his phone was already at its end. It froze, it typed its own words, it opened its own apps 5 minutes later… you get the idea.

So, our quest for the best plan began. I believe it would be appropriate to imagine us with safari hats, binoculars, water bottles and heavy duty boots as you read through this post.

Thankfully, we had the pastor of the church here to help us navigate the terms and badger the salesmen to get a little more out of the deal. We learned a lot with so much LESS stress.

There are three major cell phone companies here– Docomo (which used to monopolize the market), AU and Softbank (the new-thinker of the companies and the first one to bring iPhones to Japan). Docomo we ruled out because their plans were the most expensive, no matter what we tried.

We went to Softbank, a company I was prone to prefer as I used it when I was here before.

After about 2 hours of making deals with the manager, I had to call a phone number from AU (our current company) to get a code to switch the ownership of our phone number over to Softbank.  It was a tedious phone call (do you know how I feel about phone calls in another language??) since AU wanted to keep our business, but too bad people.

We then applied for something like a credit check with the company.  We have no idea what it’s based on– it’s not connected to the US credit rates, etc.  It’s all very vague.  We put in our work information and what we “make” annually, etc.

Not approved.  We tried it via my husband’s information.

Nope.

At that point, there was nothing that could be done, because they wouldn’t give us the contract unless we wanted to pay for the phones in full at the moment.  Even the store manager wasn’t sure why we weren’t approved– he said that it’s really up to the person who reviews the application.  Very likely though, it had to do with the fact that we’re foreigners.

Sigh.  A wasted 3 hours.  (Or, as the pastor says- it wasn’t wasted time, we just gathered more information about how things work).

But I like results, so for me….

Vicente and him went another day to investigate options at an electronics store that carries our company’s phones.  They got all the quotes and promotion information for a few different ways and what our monthly bills would end up being.

Then the next week, we took that information back to AU’s main store.  We tried the same deals mentioned in the quotes we had from the electronics store.  The thing was that we wouldn’t get the same promotions that the electronics store was offering for the same deal.

So guess where we went next.

Back at the electronics store, we went back to the basics with the representative for AU at the store.

Ok, we’ll turn our current phones in AND get new phones AND we will switch our home internet service AND provider (they are different companies here). Everything was going well– only we had to call to cancel that number switch we made a few weeks back when we thought we were gonna get the Softbank deal.

A few hours later, the deal was done and we had new phones and no desire to do this again for another 2 years at least.

Now, I just had to wait for a phone call from the home internet company to come set it up.  Once that’s done (Thursday this week), we’ll cancel our current internet service AND provider.  And then I fill out something outline for one of the promotion campaigns, something will arrive in the mail and I take it to the post office to collect money.  For another promotion we are able to claim, I have to make a trip the store next month with a few different pieces of paper I have to gather from sources in order to collect the money. (worth the effort though)

I think that’s why they make it so complicated: so you won’t remember what all you have to do to collect your money.

Nonetheless, the moral of the story is:

-It’s WONDERFUL to have someone who knows the ropes help you out (because you can get deals you wouldn’t have imagined!).

Also, never underestimate how long it takes to get things done in another country.