I don’t know how to rest.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Shame on me, I know. I’ve said it before that I’m not one of those natural bloggers. It just doesn’t show up on my daily radar. And since I got back from traveling for all of July, life just got ridiculous. All of the yearly stickers that I need for my car were expired. I had a bajillion emails and a pile of regular mail that had to be sorted. And….oh yeah, I had to hit the ground running, before I was even over my severe jet lag, and start my support raising.

And it’s been encouraging. Because there are some day when raising thousands of dollars to go live in Japan and do missions and church planting just sounds crazy. But I haven’t had any one say it to my face yet. Everyone has been so supportive even if they can’t help financially. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to simply not feel crazy because the people I meet with can see what I see; the vision for what I want to happen in my two years in Japan.

So August was full of emails, meetings, phone calls, more emails, driving, smoothies, granola bars, and not enough naps. But I felt so productive even if a bit overwhelmed. Go me! I only had a few melt downs and only one or two violent mood swings. Success! I’m currently just below 50% of my monthly needs. Woohoo!

And then I had to stop for a retreat/conference with my missions organization . And I felt like the timing was AWFUL. I was going to lose all this momentum just to hike it out to the boondocks of North Carolina where the cell phone service was spotty at best. I love to travel and I’ve never been to North Carolina but how was I going to do what needed to be done?!

But then I met up with one of my fellow missionary couples in the Charlotte airport. Amber and Tony are on their way to Nicaragua with their precious daughters. Check them out here at http://teamelswick.com/. I had forgotten how much I love spending time with other missionaries. We got into camp and I saw a lot of familiar faces and met some new ones. It was like a family reunion and, honestly, some of these people know me better than most of my extended family. That’s because you have to vulnerable. No one puts up with facades in this arena. And I’ve noticed that North Carolina is the state of rocking chairs; in the airport, at the bar, and every available porch. We would spend most evenings yelling over the crickets and cicadas (they are seriously loud) trying to tell stories and talk about the lectures from the day. And each day was like drinking from a fireman’s hose.

The whole week, we talked about things I don’t normally talk about; Things like surrender, humility, repentance, the Holy Spirit, prayer, loving others and loving God. But shouldn’t these be the conversations worth having? We also spent a lot of time in smaller groups. I was with 3 other young, single women en route to the field and and we laughed and cried more in a few days than I had in the past month.

It’s because I didn’t realized how stressed I was. I didn’t want to admit that I feel so inadequate for this task. I didn’t want to tell anyone about the fears gnawing on my heart. I didn’t want to show everyone that I have no idea what I’m doing. Simply put, I do not rest and so I’m emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted. And when I’m exhausted, I can’t handle anything. It all becomes unbearable.

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that it finally dawned on me that I’ve been Martha for all of August, and most of my life, instead of Mary. For those of you who are new to the analogy, there were two sisters that invited Jesus over for dinner. Martha was bustling about making food, attending to guests, cleaning, and whatever else one does for a dinner party in New Testament times. Mary, her sister, rather than helping with all of the logistical particulars, was simply sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him as he spoke and taught the other guests and His disciples. Martha was frustrated that Mary ignored the tasks that “needed” to be done in order to lolligag in the living room with Jesus. And yet Jesus praised Mary for her devotion. Please note that this is the biggest paraphrase of that story ever and it’s worth a read/reread.

Growing up, we were taught not to be a Martha. We should all be focused on Jesus and not the other stuff, yada yada yada. I’ve heard it a million times. But this week I had the breakthrough moment that I AM MARTHA!!!! I don’t even consider myself a very type A personality! I’m also completely disorganized physically and mentally. It’s pretty amazing how efficient I am considering the state of craziness in which I constantly seem to dwell. How did this happen?!?! How did I become so caught up in the work instead of the person for whom I am working?

Because it’s easier. Doing is so much easier than resting, than praying, than meditating on the Bible. I LOVE DOING! I’ll even show you how much I care for you by doing! It is far more likely for me to help you paint you house than bring over a bottle of wine for a house warming gift. I assure you that many people can attest to this fact. And for all of August, I was completely wrapped up in myself instead of God. But it seems that God was set on reminding me of my purpose and focus by shoving me out to North Carolina. I was able to spend a lot of time walking and hiking the paths of our retreat center. I got to take a nap in the hammock down by the lake. I even had time to get lost in the woods!

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But even when completely turned around on the paths and covered in icky spider webs, I felt more calm then than I have in the last month. And it’s because I rested, refocused and re-centered. It’s very hard for me to rest. I seem to thrive on work and progress. But that’s not a life I want to live. I can’t find identity in my work because I will lose myself and drown in my failures to accomplish “the work”.

It’s such an easy thing to slip into. I know I’m not the only person who tends to find identity in work, but the moment you’re forced to rest, the question must be answered, “Who am I now?”

I think more people need to be shoved out to North Carolina to rest. I’ll gladly sign up now.

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Ishinomaki Arts Festival

I was very grateful to have time on the shinkansen, Japanese bullet train, to reflect on the day’s events. On Saturday was the big music and arts festival everyone in Tokyo and Ishinomaki has been working towards for many months. Gospel music is very popular in Japan and there are many gospel choirs all over Japan connected with the churches. The Grace City Tokyo Gospel Choir drove up and the students with Liberty Music Program sang as well as the new Ishinomaki Gospel Choir. They even had a guest singer, John Lucus, who tours all over Japan. He was amazing and the Japanese LOVED him. Especially the little, old ladies. There was a set with the MTW interns performing praise songs and then a set with these two awesome older Japanese men. I actually grabbed one of the Canadian short-term team members for a quick swing dance. We both had massive cameras and so we just twirled around which had one Japanese man in stitches with laughter. I didn’t think we were half bad considering the circumstances.

The festival was held at Saint Jaun Baustista Park. It is so named because a ship of Portuguese missionaries and tradesmen were asked to come to Japan over 400 years ago when there was another massive tsunami that rocked the region. And in memorial to that, there’s a large Portuguese galleon in on of the port along the ocean with a park built up around it. Thus, our setting was beautiful with mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. The music must have carried for miles. Along with all the music, there were booths with people from the affected community. My favorite is the Nozomi Project. They collect the broken ceramic material from the tsunami, clean and cut the them into pendants, and make lovely necklaces. They’re motto is to create beauty from brokenness. I love that.

The finale with all the different gospel choirs joining together and singing “O Happy Day” together….I can barely articulate how full my heart was. The sun was shining and the breeze was blowing in from the sea. I saw middle school students with the Liberty Music Program walk into the festival nervous and huddled together. By the finale, they were laughing, singing, waving their hands and completely changed. You could see the joy in their eyes. Ishinomaki Christian Center and Liberty Music tell the community that their goal is to get kids to dream again. But I think it goes beyond the youth of Tohoku. Everyone was on their feet and clapping, singing, and laughing. And I like to think that in that moment, they could push aside the painful past and embrace the hope of a brighter future, full of music, beauty, and dreams.

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This was the last major performance of the trip aside from church the next morning. The majority of the Juilliard team leaves this Monday while I and 3 others stay behind for an extra week to work the Tokyo Arts Conference happening in a few days. I’m going to miss everyone. I wasn’t sure I’d fit in with the team from Juilliard. Honestly, I was expecting some diva, but everyone was so humble and grateful to God for the talents and opportunities provided to them. They have all become very dear to me and I can’t wait to go visit them in New York someday.

By now, Ishinomaki is hundreds of miles away and yet, it will always be close to my heart. God is moving there.

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Ishinomaki

I am currently writing this from the shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train. It runs roughly 200 mph and it’s only 2.5 hours back to Tokyo from Ishinomaki. I tried to do a panoramic shot on my iPhone and it freaked out, asking me to slow down. Ishinomaki is a fishing city that was severely damaged by the tsunami. The Juilliard team has been coming to here for the last three years, the first time being only a few months after the it hit. As we drove in, memories flooded out of them. “Didn’t there used to be a boat in that store?” “Oh! That’s the grocery store where 30 people died. They only just reopened it?” “Was that cemetery there before? It’s been over 2 years since 3.11 and there are still mangled fences, twisted, garage doors, and gutted buildings.
However, there is a ton of rebuilding happening. I saw dozens of houses being constructed and lots of stores draped in tarp and scaffolding, waiting to be renovated. But Virginia, our missionary liaison, pointed out details no one would notice unless they lived there. Apparently, Ishinomaki sunk 1-3 meters. It’s such that it floods terribly and they had to raise the roads. Pretty white guard rails, rather than removed and re installed, were simply half way buried. There were so many empty lots, full of weeds and waiting.

Don’t get me wrong. The government is moving as efficiently as they can, trying to get the large business back on their feet and thus, affecting more people. But what can anyone do when the damage is so wide spread and the majority of the victims are small family businesses? How can the government get to everyone? But more than that, how will everyone’s story be heard and their grief relieved?

What started as Grace Mission Tohoku, the relief organization, has now become the permanently established Ishinomaki Christian Center and Liberty Music Program. They’re goal is promote healing and encourage people to dream once again.

Juilliard’s first gig was to divide and go out to the temporary housing projects on Thursday. Yes, you read that right. There are still thousands people in temporary housing two years after the tsunami. The audiences were comprised mostly of the elderly. I’m guessing because everyone else is in school or at work during the day. I can also assume it’s because the young people moved away.

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They played a wonderful selection of classical pieces: pieces from Saint-Saens, Brahms, Paganini. Doori, an amazing violinist plays 9 minutes of selections from Carmen completely memorized. I’m completely floored every time I hear it (I’m up to 3 performances). Grace, a stunning dancer, performs with some of the pieces. She is the loveliest creature I have ever met, inside and out. For a few women, it was their first time hearing cello live. But my favorite part of the the performances are when the musicians play traditional Japanese songs. The older women’s eyes light up and they’re transported back to their childhood. Some will sing the words with tears in their eyes, completely overcome with emotion and memories of the past.

On Friday morning we were able to sit with the interns from Mission to the World and share our stories and experiences from our time in Ishinomaki. It became with deep conversation about missions as community building and art as a tool for healing and ministry. Juilliard team members shared how they love coming to Japan and performing in the cramp temporary housing or hot, sticky restaurants. They love the “less-than-ideal” conditions because of the bigger picture of which they’re a part. We had a few keyboards with persnickety keys and open windows that blew pages of music about. But I asked what they meant by “less-than-ideal”. Christ calls us to be light to a dark world. Thus, the ideal condition for Christian musicians is to be in the muddy, black, hopeless night over the bright lights of Carnegie Hall. Just a Christ didn’t come to heal the healthy but the sick, so we are to go out to those who need us. And I think every one, in the very least, needs more live cello in his or her life.

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The City of Iwaki

The last few days have been so full; full in so many ways. The schedule, the teaching, the relationship building, the caliber of music, the stories have almost overwhelmed me. However, it’s amazing how spiritual peace overcomes my physical weariness. My heart is very full right now.
On Tuesday we began our trek up north and stoppedk in the city of Iwaki. This is a city in the region of Tohoku where the 3.11 tsunami hit. Iwaki suffered damage in areas closest to the sea but it was also flooded with tens of thousands of refugees from neighboring towns and villages. We partnered with Global Mission Center to do a classical concert for the community. This was the first full set concert that I heard the Juilliard team perform and it was wonderful. My favorite part was when a couple of the musicians played traditional Japanese songs. Spontaneously, the older women started singing and you could see them transported back to their childhood. It brought tears to my eyes, I was so touched.
The following morning, we were able to interview the pastor of the Global Mission Center, Mori Shou Sensei about his tsunami experience.
I cannot even recount what he told us in this post. I’m still processing, trying to find the right words. He walked us through that first week, month, and then year. The stories he told were completely heartbreaking and never ending. I was dumbfounded the entire 2 hours he talked to us. I had never heard anything like it.
But it made me realized how much the world never knew about how much damage the 3.11 tsunami did and how much the world has forgotten how wounded and scarred the Japanese are. The first year after the tsunami, the people were stunned and numb. The second year, they were coping with daily life. Now, in the third year, I think healing can begin. Now, more than ever, people need to come to Japan.

I will be writing about Mori Shou Sensai’s interview later on. Believe me, this man of God is amazing and so is his story.

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Sunday at Grace City Church

The last few days have been so great, even with my wonky sleep schedule. For all who don’t know, the sun rises here around 4 am and the curtains in my hostel room are terrible. I’ve always been one to rise with the sun and I would definitely call myself a morning person, but this is getting ridiculous. My eyes water all day long.
Yesterday was a recovery day so not much went on except for a lovely 2 hour nap and an epic game of Bananagrams. I lost miserably, never getting that perfect balance of vowels and consonants. One round I only had a Y to go with my 12 other consonants. Yeesh.
However, Sunday was wonderful. Roger and Abbie Lowther, along with their 4 energetic boys, lead the Community Arts Tokyo team and we first met at their beautiful apartment to rehearse and prep food for an ever later that night. They also just shared story after story about the work that is going on in Japan. God’s providence is breathtaking.
We went to Grace City Church in downtown Tokyo lead by Pastor Fukuda. The Juilliard team joined the praise team which also drew in some new visitors, both Japanese and foreign. The pictures mask how small this room is and how expensive it is: $2,000 for 4 hours! It’s even painful to type it. But the worship was wonderful. I get teary-eyed every time I hear the Bible preached in another language.
That evening, Community Arts Tokyo hosted an Artist Party where all kinds of musicians, film makers, and other artists took to the mic. There was amazing jazz, classical pieces, funky free-form stuff. My friend, Doori, performed selections from Carmen on his violin and it was AWESOME! I loved it! Such a great atmosphere and everyone had a great time.
Today, we head up north to the huge art festival going on in Tohoku, an area hit hard by the tsunami in 2011. I will also get to connect with my friends that I’ve met on my prior trips to Japan. Pray for travel mercies as it is a 6 hour drive and the vans here are not engineered for leggy blondes 🙂

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2 Weeks in Japan

This is officially my first post from my Iphone. Curse my artists thumbs! This is going to take forever to type. Anyways, greetings from Tokyo! I landed yesterday and am still adjusting to the time change. I woke up with the sun this morning at 4:45 am and an just killing a bit of time until the rest of my team wakes up. At least the hostel where I’m staying offers good people watching. The coffee is somewhat drinkable.
This is my first time going over solo; normally there’s someone coordinating and navigating for me so thank you to everyone who prayed for me to arrive safely. Everything went very smoothly. I was a bit nervous when the taxi driver kept asking me all sorts of questions in Japanese about the address I provided. But we made it! I had to chuckle when I mentioned I was from Dallas, Texas and the first thing he says is “Kennedy”. At least it wasn’t that ridiculous tv show.

These next 16 days are going to be crazy busy. There is so much going on and I get to be staff photographer for it all! Thankfully, I was clever and bought a really nice backpack for all my camera gear; still heavy but far more manageable. I will take more time to explain each event in subsequent posts but here’s the basic rundown.
> Meet up with the team from Juilliard who will be performing various concerts during our time here. We had dinner last night and I can already tell that we’re all going to get along swimmingly. They’re all so awesome and amazingly talented.

> We all head out to an area called Tohoku on the 2nd; this is an area the 2011 tsunami hit hard and the churches have been sending teams up there constantly. We’re going to be a part of an arts festival for several days. There will concerts, art, crafts, ministry, and tons of relationship building. I can’t wait.
> We’ll have a few small events when we get back to Tokyo but I will also be meeting with some of my Japanese friends as well as the missionaries and church planters. I’m pumped to talk about the vision they have for Japan.
> Arts conference in Tokyo hosted by Community Arts Tokyo. Lots of speakers and performances. Lots of relationship building.
Those are the main bullet points. Today I head to church at Grace City Tokyo in downtown. I’ve never been to worship there, but I hear wonderful things.
I appreciate all the prayers for my time here. Both for confirming my call to move here for two years and to foster the relationships I have here currently. Love you all!

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I Miss My Name

School has been out a week. Freedom has never tasted so sweet. I know I’m more productive in the mornings but sleeping in to 6:45 is wonderful. I get to make a real breakfast and have coffee out on the balcony. The kitchen is clean and I can choose to go outside my apartment without makeup. If I wear little to no eye makeup to school, I never hear the end of it from my students.

“Ms. Schoon, why do you look so tired?”

“Ms. Schoon, you need some mascara.”

“Ms. Schoon, you look like you just rolled out of bed.”

Oh, wait. They’re not my students anymore. Remember that part where my position got cut and then I chose to be a missionary on the other side of the world?  I suppose, in a way, they’ll always be mine. And I know the strangeness of my situation will hit me more fully in the fall when I’m not prepping to go back. I’m not one to linger on what’s past but teaching has become a huge part of me. I’ll be teaching and learning all the time in Japan but in a completely different way than my crazy, messy, loud art room here in Texas.

One of my teachers had her students write me good-bye cards on the last day of school. They’re pretty amazing with the drawings and notes inside.  I’ll admit that my favorite is the one where I’m praying with a red paper lantern/hat on my head. Even though I’m a bit of a grammar freak in the classroom, even the art classroom, and the spelling is generally horrendous, I don’t even care because they are that sweet.

Goodbye cards from my 2nd graders. That's me with a red, paper lantern on my head, me as the Cat in the Hat, and me with a dragon.

Goodbye cards from my 2nd graders. That’s me with a red, paper lantern on my head, me as the Cat in the Hat, and me with a dragon. I am a little offended that Taylor Swift’s name gets spelled correctly and mine gets botched.

I don’t miss a lot of things about school. But I already miss the “Ms. Schoon’s” coming from every corner of the room. Walking into the cafeteria was being accosted by tons of pint-sized fans with sticky fingers, waving and shouting my name. I’ll miss the way the faces of my little kinders would light up when I walked past them in the hall and we’d waved and smile. Because even though I’m not in their daily lives, they still love me and I’m so humbled by that. Kids I only see 50 minutes a week love coming to my class, even when I lose my patience, even when I feel terrible and my teaching is completely off. They often don’t remember my mistakes by the next class a week later. They just smile and hug me like we hadn’t seen each other in forever. When I really think about it, I don’t deserved to be loved like that. And it’s through my students that I begin to understand what it means to have faith like a child.

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