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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Week 1

This blog post will be much less about contemplative observations than about what I do as a teacher and how I survived the first week of classes. It’s really kind of a big deal for me if I’m going to be teaching beyond Meysen. And I think I will. So really I survived the first week of my new career.

I teach five different grades which equals out to 14 English classes a week. They are only about an hour each with some playtime before each day. So there isn’t a lot of time spent in the classroom. But there’s lots of time spent getting ready for it.

1st, 3rd, 4th, and 6th grade are the normal classes and I teach a 7th grade class twice a week. 1st and 6th are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; 3rd and 4th are on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Last week was full of opening ceremonies, going over rules, learning kids’ names and faces, and showing them where their new shoeboxes and attendance charts and classrooms are. For me being new, that meant long work hours, lots of questions asked, and lots of stress. I’m a hard-working perfectionist living in a perfectionist-no-mistakes-whatsoever kind of country so there’s a little pressure to not mess up.

I have around 20 students in each class. And Japanese kids are especially cute, so sometimes my heart just melts when one of them does something adorable or smart. And I love it when they think I’m fun or funny. I’m working hard to be firm, but fun. I think I’ve most succeeded with the younger grades. The 6th graders are another story for another time.

I’m already in love with my kids, and I already take pride in the work that they do. Not because it reflects on me, but I just love to know what they know. I love it when we are all practicing English together and everyone seems to understand what is going on. I love when they lean forward in their seats because they want to know what’s coming next. I love when we all get to laugh together as a class because Ms. Beth is the funniest person in the world to them. They really make me happy and fill my heart up. I’ll be praying for opportunities to show them Jesus, too, and remind them about him.

My 7th grade class isn’t “normal” because it will only last until July when they leave for my homeland because the class is all about prepping them for their big America trip. That class isn’t stressful at all and I get to tell the kids about Disneyland and American candy. Who could hate doing that?

The 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 6th grade classes aren’t even the grades I was originally expecting (Meysen crams flexibility and last-minute changes down its employees’ throats), but God gave me what I needed to have and I am so so thankful for that.

Teachers mix the curriculum with real life props and activities and workbooks along with whatever else they can think of to demonstrate what these new foreign words and sentences mean to the kids. It can be a blast. The curriculum is made up of songs, chants, poems, stories, shared readers, vocab picture cards, and word cards with sight words and many you sound out. The word cards are the 500 most commonly used English words. Super cool. All the curriculum is developed by Grapeseed which stemmed from Meysen itself. (You catch that accidental pun there?)

Friends Club does lots of other activities, too, which is a big reason parents and kids love Meysen. We go on really cool field trips and have super cool parties for holidays and other occasions. We get to do way more than stay in the classroom. Meysen is really good at making each kid feel special…something that the Japanese who aren’t Christians may not be so good at. For each kids’ birthday we send them a card with a picture of the teacher and the student. We sing in class for them, light up a fake birthday cake, and just make them feel very special. We celebrate when the kids do extra work in English with t-shirts and wristbands. And we try to focus on praising good behavior rather than just scolding bad. I’m perfecting this last one slowly. Meysen loves its students, and I’m glad I’m learning how to do that here.

To sum up: I have tons and tons to learn about being a good teacher. I love love love my kids. I’m exhausted from all the work. I fail at something every single day. (No lie.) But I feel very rewarded in simply having a good class with my kids. It’s all worth it.

Here’s to one week I’m still employed and hopefully many more to come.

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Tsunami Part 4

I don’t know if the owners’ faith was ever tested or if they ever wondered why God would let their house church be destroyed. But I admire them so much for continuing down the road they were already on, even after something wiped it out. They could have easily given up on their church starting passion after their other one was taken, especially if God didn’t want them to see the why. And He often doesn’t want us to know why. It makes us depend on our faith and not reason or what we know. But it can be a struggle to live without knowing the whys. Especially when normality goes awry.

;

Right now, the tsunami and the devastated church and the rebuild is all a beautiful symbol for what I understand is happening in my life. This is my Japan story so far; it’s my life here.

I’m the home. And sometimes I can be the homeowner.

“Japan: The Experience of a Lifetime” is my tsunami. I have felt torn down and disappointed so often here I consider it normal for circumstances to vary wildly from what I think I want. And that’s ok.

So the house is stuck where it was put and so must endure whatever happens there. Running away is very difficult for a house.

I am in Japan 6,000 miles from people who know me the way I want to be known. And if things happen to go bad here it’s way too difficult to run into safety’s arms. So I can’t run either.

Sometimes I’m the homeowner and I wonder if I should be wondering about my faith. Am I suppose to be shaken right now? Because I’m just not. I’m not worried. I’m ok with being torn up a little because I know I should be more like Him after I grow from it. But I can’t see the end product yet. It’s unknown. I had my life going normally for awhile and it was tracking along its path ok. Then “life storm Japan” happened and I don’t know what I look like anymore. But I should have faith that I’ll be rebuilt and used again for God’s glory, and like the house, have a deeper meaning in that use. I have to be reminded about that last part fairly often.

Tomorrow I have my first real classes of the year. My own students in my classroom and my rules and my Ms. title. And tomorrow will be an easy day. But I am anxious and nervous to see if I’m even half the teacher I hope to be. My first rule for myself is to love my students first and then go from there. God give me love to share like Yours.
Even when it’s hard, God is using the struggle to take away something I don’t need and replace it with something better. In teaching I will definitely struggle, but I am the house that is being rebuilt. I am a work in progress and I can withstand any storm because Christ is my center, the base and foundation, the frame of me. Circumstance nor storm can ruin that.

Tsunami Part 3

Volunteering at Shichigahama is building related manual labor. That’s something I haven’t done in a long time, though I’ve definitely gotten some good workouts helping the ol’ dad with stuff like that. (Don’t tell him I actually enjoy it…)

The project is termed “mud-out” and it means what it sounds like. Get the mud out of the house. But it’s not as simple as finding some scattered mud and carrying it out. Once things inside the house are taken out, there’s room to tear down the drywall and insulation. Inside the walls, under the floors, and, in some cases, on top of the ceilings there is a layer of dried mud. The thickest I saw was about 2-3 inches. At first I didn’t even realize what it was…I just thought it was wall junk that was supposed to be there. But it was the watered and dried up dirt left by the tsunami. Someone I talked to said that they were in a home where the mud was around 6 inches thick…in the ceiling. To get the mud out from under the floor, I think they make holes in the floor, which can be fixed later, making it a little tricky to walk around. Then they grab the shovels and fill bags and bags and bags of mud.

Our day consisted of us tearing down drywall and pulling out insulation. It was muscle work, but so much fun. I learned the most efficient way to get drywall down without a huge crumbly mess, and I got to do it by swinging a crowbar like a baseball bat as hard as I wanted. I couldn’t help but think of some frustrations I’ve had as I took it out on that helpless drywall. It was a release for me, and I earned every bruise and sore muscle I had the next few days.

Once the drywall was down, it was either carried out (if you were skilled enough to get it down in big chunks…and I must say the two ladies I worked with kicked the men’s butts in this area) or put into bags and taken out. The pile of debri was surprising. Our team of maybe 20 people were able to do so much work!

We also cut out the insulation and started pulling out nails and screws that were sticking out of the wood frame that we were whittling the bottom floor down to.

Toward the beginning of the day we were told that this particular house was extra special. And it was.

This house was going to be a church one day. In Japan, that’s quite a surprise.

Pre-tsunami, this home was being used as a house church, too. The owners, whom I hadn’t seen and was genuinely concerned if they had made it through last March or not, were Christians. Praise God! And they were going to see the place turned back into what it was before. What a blessing it is to say that the home I worked on in Japan is a church!

Eventually, the owners did come. Thank you, Jesus. And they were so grateful for the help, and served us even as we were serving. They made sure we were fed and they helped us with our work, too. At one point we were told we were moving to another house to work because the wind was so terrible (drywall and foundation in the eyeballs…ow). And I really just needed to hug the wife. I don’t think I can explain it, but I needed her to know that I cared and just working hard didn’t feel like enough. And I don’t speak Japanese. But I think hugs are understood in both Japanese and English. I hope that it said what I couldn’t.

The home is still not finished, and I don’t even know when it will be. But when it is, the building will be used as a church building and Samaritan’s Purse may even use it sometimes. But eventually, people will move back into the Shichigahama area, and there will be plenty of people around ready to be invited to this little house church and so so ready to hear about Jesus.

At the beginning of the day, the sun was out. It seemed like it was going to be one of the first warm days. But the Japanese weather did its thing as usual, and the temperature cooled down, snowing two different times. And the wind was insane; There were very few structures to block it. In the end the sun came out again as it was getting closer to sunset. The whole team felt exhausted and full in our hearts and joyful and bonded even if we couldn’t all communicate. We had given ourselves to something significant together and that definitely meant something to us. I love our “Team picture.” And, oh my goodness, I loved that day.

Only one more part left.

 

This is the larger pile of stuff we were able to get out of the home.

 

Tsunami Part 2

And now, I just want to talk about the day we volunteered, what I learned about the tsunami, and how recovery is going…

 

Photos:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/pictures/110315-nuclear-reactor-japan-tsunami-earthquake-world-photos-meltdown/

 

Shichigahama isn’t the only place that is still rebuilding, but I think it’s the closest to me right now. It’s a coastal area that juts out into the Pacific a little. And the tsunami hit it hard.

The specific area we worked in was residential, though you couldn’t really tell because so many houses had been torn down completely (by the tsunami or by workers post-tsunami). Before there were over 100 homes in the area. Now only about 10 want to return. People moved elsewhere, maybe they’re fearful of a similar experience happening again, or maybe, God forbid, they didn’t make it.

Someone told me that this area would have had at least a 30 minute warning before the water started to really come ashore. For those who were home, there was some time to get out and get on the highway. I was also told that once the water came ashore, it traveled much faster than a car could on a highway. It sounded like the water caught up to many people trying to escape.

The earthquake had a magnitude of 9.0. The strongest I’ve felt since being here was a 6.4. That was scary enough. The waves reached 40.5 meters in height and came up to 10 kilometers inland in Sendai. Someone told me it stopped just 6 miles away from Meysen. This is the most powerful earthquake recorded to ever hit Japan.

Wikipedia says (and their info is from “Damage Situation and Police Countermeasures… March 12, 2012” National Police Agency of Japan. Retrieved 12 March 2012.):

On 12 March 2012, a Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,854 deaths, 26,992 injured, and 3,155 people missing[26] across twenty prefectures, as well as 129,225 buildings totally collapsed, with a further 254,204 buildings ‘half collapsed’, and another 691,766 buildings partially damaged.

Here’s the full wikipedia article (yes, I trust it): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_T%C5%8Dhoku_earthquake_and_tsunami#cite_note-npajproperty-27

 

I cannot fathom what any of that must have been like… What it must have felt like when the earth was shaking so much that things around you were crashing and breaking. What it must have felt like to watch the powerful water flow wherever it could. What it must have felt like for a home full of memories and possessions to be wiped out. What it must have felt like to lose someone.

My new friend Bethany was just starting her first year in Japan when it all happened, and she was able to write about it on her Kindle while things were really out of the ordinary here. Her blog is a beautiful testimony to how God was always present and active…if you want a first hand account of what life was like for a Meysen teacher post-tsunami, check this out:

http://senseibethany.blogspot.jp/2011_03_01_archive.html

 

And here is a video of how Meysen was able to to help:

 

I remember watching the tsunami explode in the media online. It was my last semester of college, and I’m sure I was in the midst of 136 projects and papers, but it kept my attention and I prayed for Japan a lot. My school is great… I think every professor prayed for it in their classes, too, and that helped keep it in my head that there was something bigger than a busy final semester happening out there. We all cared. And though I prayed, I never once thought I’d ever be able to do anything more than that to help. Fast forward one year.

 

One of the first things I thought when we arrived at Shichigahama was how open it was, and that the reason it was so open was because something hugely overpowering…something much stronger than a large well-built house… just kicked its butt. And then all I could think about was how forceful that earthquake must have been. How powerful all of that water was. How quickly people can be knocked down on the ladder of who or what’s in control. And sometimes we have some control over how nature affects us, but really it can take on and demolish anything that man can make. Just ask the Titanic. Nature is a force to respect.

However, nature’s power can be measured. At least humans have come with up with systems they use to measure it. Maybe that’s why we sometimes think we’re above it…but I digress. I looked up synonyms for unfathomable and realized that that isn’t the right word to describe nature at all. Sometimes we don’t grasp all it is or does, but we can measure it. On the other hand, we could never ever put God’s power on a scale. So God’s power IS unfathomable.

So God is unfathomably more powerful than (seemingly) unfathomably powerful nature. I’m not getting into a discussion about why bad things happen if God is good and in control… I was completely focused on God’s character: He is immeasurable, eternal, boundless, and incomprehensible; He is almighty and omnipotent.

 

And that’s what I learned first.