Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas In Japan

My dear friends,

So many different things have happened since last I wrote: the school's Living Nativity, non-stop Christmas shopping (or that's how it felt,) being asked to face-paint for a kids' event at church, a big earthquake that happened while teaching an English class, one of my very good Japanese friends getting engaged(!), getting to go to the Tokyo church's first service in their new (bigger) location, finishing school for the semester, saying goodbye to two interns, a spontaneous chance to sing in front of the church here, Christmas Eve services, Christmas day, and traveling to the mountains.

There was a lot of work and preparation that went into the Living Nativity. It was a lot of fun getting prepared, though. After each performance of the Nativity, we had a coffee shop set up at school where people could have a cup of coffee, a slice of cheesecake, and enjoy live entertainment. I had told my 7th grade students that we should do something for the coffee house, and we all agreed to sing “White Christmas” together. (Other students ended up participating, too.) It was a complete blast! I had so much fun practicing and performing with them.

A couple of weeks after the Nativity, everyone began preparing for the last week of school before winter break. On the last day of school, the day was split up so that the first half of the day we had normal classes, but for the second half we had Christmas parties in our classrooms. I created a scavenger hunt for my 7th grade students to find their Christmas presents that I had hidden. It was hilarious watching them run around the school and outside looking for them. Apparently they had fun, so that’s good! After that, we opened presents and watched a movie together.

7th Grade class watching Elf

The whole class with Bob-Scott (our plant)
BACK: Kenta, Gloria, Bianca
FRONT: Kei, Me, Megumi

Bianca, Gloria, and me

I got a very sweet card in my Christmas stocking at school that almost made me cry. It was from one of my 7th graders who had marked the letter as “anonymous,” but they knew I would be able to recognize their handwriting. They had written so many kind things to me, thanking me for being their teacher and friend. These students are such a blessing to me. They are so much fun to teach, and it’s always the highlight of my day to do so!

One thing that always impresses me is how sure they are of the fact that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. Their faith and relationship with Him is so important to them, and I always learn so much from them. I am so honored that God would choose to work through me to help them grow in their education and their walk with Christ. At the end of every school day, our class comes together after they clean and we pray together. It’s a very important part of the day for them, and it’s always hilarious if I ever forget to come up and pray with them right at 3:30. One (or more) of them will come hunt me down and literally drag me to the classroom saying, “You’re late, Melanie! We need to PRAY!” It’s an important part of my day as well.

It was kind of sad saying goodbye to my students after school on the last day. Breaks and vacations are really good, but I always miss everyone so much after just a few days. But I am so thankful to God for this chance to rest and gain back energy. After school on the last day, the teachers and I went out to dinner at a very nice French restaurant to celebrate together. The restaurant had unlimited bread they would bring to your table, and there was someone playing some music from my favorite Japanese movies on the piano, so I was having the time of my life!

Dinner with the teachers

After dinner, we all went to see Les Miserables together. (It came out in Japan a week before it did in the States, so I had some friends who were a wee bit jealous about that fact.) It was so good, and it was a lot of fun seeing it with everyone. We (meaning me, while everyone else laughed) were singing it in the parking lot afterward, and my friend Mary Beth and I have had the soundtrack stuck in our heads ever since then.

The day after we all saw the movie together, I was supposed to be joining a team that was going up north to the disaster area that was hit by the tsunami, but unfortunately the trip was cancelled. (The driver’s wife was 8 months pregnant, and she had to go to the hospital due to high blood pressure. She was induced a few days ago, and both she and the baby seem to be doing very well, praise God!) But, because that trip was cancelled, that meant I was able to go to the airport to say goodbye to two of my friends, Emily and Heather, who were going back to the States. Heather is back home after completing her 3 month internship here in Japan, but Emily is just home for the holidays and will return to Japan the first week back at school in January. I’m so glad I was able to go to the airport to see them off with everyone. We were also able to squeeze in one final Bible study at Starbucks together before they left!

As we were sitting in the airport, I became so relieved and overjoyed that I wasn’t the one getting on a plane to go back to the States. I am so thankful that God has given me a heart for this country, and He has given me such a love for what I am doing here and who I am spending time with. Obviously I miss people back home, but for now I am so content and full of joy about where God has put me. I so look forward to the months ahead and how He will use me and grow me in that time!

This past Sunday, Honda Chapel (the church I attend here) had a Christmas party after the service. It was a lot of fun! I just recently taught Mary Beth how to play a few songs on the piano after she informed me that she was “musically challenged.” Obviously that isn’t the case, because she’s been practice these songs so much and has been doing so well! So, on the way to church on Sunday, I jokingly told her that she and I should play/sing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” for the church party. Well… we ended up doing just that. Mary Beth played the piano so well, and I fumbled through the Japanese lyrics of the song. Despite my mistakes in the song, I had a lot of fun doing it!
On Christmas Eve, I attended two candlelit services. At one, Mary Beth and I were asked to shoot off party poppers from the balcony as the choir finished singing the “Alleluia Chorus.” It gave it just a bit more dramatic flair!

On Christmas day, there were some people in the house who hadn’t done any Christmas shopping yet, so they went shopping while the rest of us prepared Christmas dinner. We had some friends over for dinner, and then we all opened presents together.

Mary Beth and me staying warm in front of the heater on Christmas morning

Iverson family Christmas tradition - picture on the stairs

A couple of days after Christmas, the Iverson family, their nephew and his family, Mary Beth, and I all drove up to the snowy mountains of Nojiri (where we visited in October) to spend time in the Iverson’s cabin, and to ski and snowboard in the Japanese Alps. I sit in the Iverson’s cabin now as I type this. I’m passing up skiing and snowboarding to respond to emails that I have been longing to respond to for so long, and to update you all on my life over the past month.

Thank you all so much for praying for me. Like I was talking about above, I am so full of an inexpressible joy for the opportunity I have to be here! God continues speaking to me through His Word and is showing me His goodness in all things.

Recently I’ve become more aware of the importance of memorizing scripture. A challenge within my Bible study a while back was to memorize Psalm 148. (“Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights.”) I knew the first few verses thanks to a song sung by my church back in the States, but it has been so exciting memorizing the parts I don’t know! A part from Sunday schools and Bible camps, I’ve never really set aside my own personal time to memorize scripture. Now it’s one of my favorite parts of the day! I plop myself on the counter at home at the end of the day with my Bible and a pen while I wait for the kettle to finish boiling water for the hot water bottle I put in my bed, and I recite the verses to myself, writing the difficult ones on my hand. I love having this routine, and two nights ago as I was writing a new verse on my hand, Deuteronomy 6:8 popped into my head, where it says, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” It made me laugh remembering that.

Thank you for reading this update! I’m sorry, as always, that it’s so long! God bless you all, and have a fantastic New Year!


Iverson's and interns
L to R: BACK - Seth, Carol, Dan
FRONT - Me, Mary Beth, Emily, Heather

Shopping in Harajuku

Emily and I found slurpees at a 7-11 in Harajuku!
Japanese Domino's :)
Face painting for a kids' event
Visiting some friends' home

Celebrating three teachers' birthdays

I find it hard to believe that NONE of these bicycle riders noticed the "no parking" sign...
Christmas sandwich!
Decorating the Iverson's Christmas tree

The interns

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