Last Wednesday, the Mie University Bible study held a Christmas party here at the Center. Ron Stoller came to speak, which was really great! We played games, sang songs, ate together, and generally kind of hung out. There were probably around 12 of us, 4 of which were nonbelievers. Very cool! It was a lot of fun getting to know the group better, and I got to practice my Japanese quite a bit.
This may not look like a huge group to you, but it is for us!
Cake, decorated, I believe, by Juri-chan.
Joan's awesome chocolate cupcakes!
This day was mainly spent baking Christmas gifts for some of our friends and neighbors. Becky and I got up in the morning to make brownies. In the afternoon, we went with Carol to church for one last choir practice before Christmas Eve. After that, Becky went to go to dinner with some friends, and Carol and I went to Casa Mia. (Well, technically it was Rotonodo (?), the restaurant next door owned by the same people, but.)
Salad with cheese!
Amazing four-cheese pizza!
"Inferno" pizza that totally wasn't spicy at all!
After we ate, Carol and I went to Daiso (the hundred yen store) to pick up some Christmas stuff and stopped at 7-11 on our way back for a snack. After that, we worked on baking banana bread, persimmon bread, and apple pies. We then worked on arranging these treats into leftover bento boxes in order to make nice gifts. It was...let's just say it was very late when we finished.
I was feeling very, very accomplished when we took this picture. We did tons of work!
The finished product!
Christmas Eve! After a late night of baking, we dragged ourselves out of bed to finish getting everything together and deliver the gifts.
All three of us, ready to go!
After spending some time delivering gifts, I had a little bit of down time, so I talked to my family on Skype. I then got ready for church and headed out with Becky, Carol, Nao-chan, Alicia, and her family, who had just arrived from Malaysia to visit her for the holidays. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures, but it was a very nice service.
SATURDAY - CHRISTMAS!
Christmas is wonderful in the States, but this Christmas was really special for me. I got to spend it with some of my new family and friends here in Japan, and I was able to serve by helping plan and run Christmas at the Center, which Carol, Becky and I put countless hours of work into, but which went wonderfully. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Carol invited Becky, me, Alicia, her family, our friend Julia (an exchange student from Germany), and Jun (who is Japanese-Canadian, who I met at Inspa a couple weeks ago) over for Christmas lunch, and I really, really had a good time. Some of the people there were already like family to me, and some of them I got to know a little better. We sang Christmas carols together, which ended up being really fun. Carol gave us all stockings filled (as best as she could) with things from our home countries. It really must have been a challenge, because we had people from Canada, Malaysia, Germany, and America there, but she did a great job! Jun was so excited about his Tim Horton travel coffee mug (I guess it's famous in Canada?) that he wanted to give Carol a hug. I got stuff like M&M's and Oreos, which was really great! And, of course, we ate the wonderful food that Carol prepared for us, and had some really nice conversation around the table. I don't have the words to describe it, but the whole time at Carol's was really great.
Jun, Alicia's brother, dad, and mom, Becky, Carol, Julia, Alicia, and me.
Look at this food! The beef was so good. And we had raw vegetables! With ranch! So Western! Everything was fantastic.
Dessert! I'm a coffee drinker now, guys...provided I have enough cream and sugar...
Julia brought these awesome German cookies!
The rest of the day was really a blur of activity. We had to get ready for Christmas at the Center, which we'd basically been planning for a month, but of course, once something like that finally is coming to fruition, there are a lot of last-minute details that need to be addressed. We had some great help from Alicia's family, Julia and Jun (although Julia and Jun had other plans and couldn't stay for the actual event). I ran upstairs to decorate the traditional Happy Birthday Jesus cake I'd baked the night before (seriously, I've never baked so much in my life as I did for Christmas this year), got things together for the games, and did various other things. Carol was setting up snacks, Becky was working on other details, and finally, only fifteen minutes after the time the event was supposed to start, we started it.
The cake! Everything on it has symbolism.
Unfortunately, I was too busy throughout the night to take any pictures. But it went something like this:
☆ Games: The first was a game where everyone was given a piece of paper with a Christmas item on it, like angel, snow, Santa, etc. I then gave them either a gesture or sound effect to represent their item, and then, doing this gesture or sound effect, they had to find others with that same item. It was really fun to watch this room full of people walking around, making weird noises and doing funny hand motions, trying to find their teammates. Once everyone found their team, we moved on to the next game, in which each team member took a turn putting on a pair of oven mitts and, while wearing them, unwrapping a Hershey Kiss. Some people were pretty fast at it, and others...not so much. But everyone seemed to have a great time! I was pretty relieved, since both games were my idea.
☆ Christmas Story: This was the Main Event, as it were, that we had spent the most time working on. The pictures we took last weekend were put up on the screen one by one via Power Point as two narrators, one in English (Carol) and one in Japanese (Hashimoto-sensei, a friend of ours) read the Christmas story that corresponded with each picture. Intermixed into this were songs played by me on guitar, Nao-chan on flute, and Shouko on the keyboard, as well as one sung by Becky. At the end of this presentation, Nao-chan gave her testimony to show how, although Jesus was born so long ago, He was born in order to help us today, and how He has helped her throughout her life.
☆ We then did a short candlelight service while singing Silent Night. After that, Carol brought in the cake, and Becky explained its symbolism. Then we had a few announcements and sang one last song before moving into tea time.
☆ We call it tea time, but it was really cake time. Everyone ate cake and snacks while chatting with each other. This lasted pretty long, especially since there were so many people.
A few cool things to mention. God was obviously at work that night!
☆ There were probably around 60 people that came. The Center was packed out!
☆ The people who run the donburi place near us, one of our regular restaurants, came, thanks to our invitation! They even brought us a cute little Christmas tree.
☆ A group of maybe five or six non-Christians from gospel choir came! They seemed to have a good time, and we even got up in front of everyone during tea time to sing a couple of our songs. It was pretty cool!
☆ Lots of other people came, including some of Becky's high school friends, and people who evidently hadn't been to the Center in a while. Becky could name more of these than I could.
Things could not have run as well as they did without God's help, and He obviously brought some of these people there. We're hoping that seeds were planted, and that these seeds would soon come to fruition! It'd be great if some of the people who came would continue to come to events at the Center.
Oh wait, I do have one picture. One of the gospel choir girls had a KoRilakkuma thing, which was being passed around. Of course I had to try it on, so I figured I might as well get a picture!
I think I totally need one of these.
As unbelievable as it seemed to us, Sunday was normal church. Somehow, this picture ended up happening: Alicia's family; Carol, Becky and I; and Pastor Hattori.
After church, Carol and I went with Komada-san from church to shop at the Aeon mall. While there, we found macaroni and cheese at a store that sells lots of imported food. Um, yeah. For 288 yen, which would probably end up being more than three bucks. I didn't want any that bad. (So send me some? :D?)
Look at the tiny thing of parmesan cheese next to it for 348 yen...
A piece of real cheddar cheese for 350 yen. Probably close to four dollars.
For perspective on the size of these pieces of cheese. My heart, it breaks. It's enough for like two sandwiches...
After shopping, we went back to Komada-san's house for tea and cake, and to chat. She's a really neat lady, and it was interesting to hear about what she's been through as the only Christian in her family, especially as a Japanese woman, who has to follow what her husband tells her to do. Thank goodness he lets her go to church!
This was all part of the tea. It comes with dried fruit! How cool is that??
It ends up looking like this~
But we couldn't stay for too long because I had plans with Becky to go see her friend Yukari's concert in Ise! So we caught the train and traveled about an hour to the venue. It was a 140-year-old factory or something? It was a really cool place! It was a very indie event. We got free yakisoba and drinks, haha. It was pretty awesome.
I really liked the setup!
The first guy. He was super cute and had tons of enthusiasm! Which made him fun to watch, which is good, because his singing was a little...yeah.
The other two members of Yukari's band, Hug, came out together and ad libbed a couple of songs, which was really fun. After that, this guy, Junnosuke, played a few songs. I thought he was pretty decent! And after that was Hug.
She's not holding it in this picture, but Yukari played the ukulele for a lot of the songs. That, along with the guitar and harmonica (the guy on the left), was a pretty cool combination! She has a nice voice, and I think she writes all the songs herself. They're hoping to win some kind of band competition so they can get money to record an album!
The last couple of songs were jug band style! There's a guy with a washboard, as you can see, and you can't see very well, but there's a guy with a bass made of a bucket, a stick, and a string. There are two guys you can't really see playing guitar too. It was really cool!
We wanted to stay afterwards to hang out with Yukari and the other musicians, but it was getting late and we had to catch a train back to Tsu before they stopped running. But while everything was getting cleaned up, Junnosuke, one of the musicians, was determined to pronounce my name properly after Becky introduced me to him. Note: It's almost impossible for Japanese people to pronounce my name properly, with the hard A sound and the R at the end. So he kept trying and trying. He got...about as close as he can probably get, haha. It was pretty funny.
So the train ride home was nice. Becky and I had canned coffee from a vending machine and sweet bread that one of the girls had given us a snack while we waited for our ride, and we chatted most of the way home. At one of the stops, we saw that it was snowing outside! It was short-lived, sure, but I saw snow! Living in California, I don't see snow too often, so it was pretty exciting.
This day...doesn't seem as long ago as it actually is, for some reason. Time is passing so fast! On Monday, Becky and I went to Saty to buy ingredients for our food for missionary Christmas, as well as birthday presents for Yuri, our fellow NAB missionary who was coming to Tsu for missionary Christmas early so that Carol could throw a birthday party for her. I found a gift for her pretty quickly, so I wandered around and bought some cd's while Becky shopped for her gift for Yuri.
Around 6:30, we headed over to Carol's, where Shan was already waiting. We had a great time chatting, playing games, and of course, eating!
Corn soup! And you can't see them, but there were Triscuits, which are one of my favorite crackers ever and probably are very difficult to find in Japan. She brought them from Canada. I was pretty excited, haha.
An awesome salad. Do you see the Cheez-Its? My other favorite cracker ever.
Lasagna! Another thing you don't get often in Japan.
Chocolate truffle cheesecake. One word: amazing.
It was probably around 1am when I got home, which normally would be fine, but missionary Christmas was the next day, and I signed up for sweet potatoes. Those of you who know me know that cooking is not exactly my strong suit, so I was a bit nervous. I got a little guidance from a few people though, and I have to say, they came out really awesome. (Thanks for the recipe, Mom!)
I was very proud of myself. But let's not talk about what time it was when I took this picture...
All of our fellow NAB missionaries in Japan came to the Center for Missionary Christmas part one! Which started out with a meeting, haha. The meeting was good though, particularly when we talked about our goals for next year. After the meeting was lunch. Here's how my plate looked:
Everything was awesome! I'm so glad for these holiday gatherings, so that we can have Western-style holiday meals!
After lunch, we chatted for a while, some of us went for a walk, then we had a short Christmas service with some songs and a short devotional led by Paul Ewing. Later, we sort of had dinner, aka we ate more of the food from earlier. We also played an epic game of dominoes, a variation I haven't played before called Chicken Feet, I think, which I actually liked a lot. I say it was epic because we played it through all the way to the end with about nine people, I think. It took about four hours. Yeah. I got second place though!
A couple of the Ewing boys were playing with us. I really like those kids. :D
Am I finally on today?? We had breakfast together at 8:30, then around 10 we gathered together for Prayer and Praise, where everyone shared a little bit about what's going on in their ministry. It was both exciting and challenging to hear about all of the different things going on. We then broke off into smaller groups to pray together, which was a really cool time. There's really nothing like praying together with these other missionaries, because we all have the same passion for this country and these people.
After that was lunch, where, guess what we ate? Yesterday's food again. Which was still excellent. After that, everyone helped take down the Center's Christmas decorations, which I know us Center staff were extremely grateful for. Everyone except Yuri, who's staying for a couple more days, slowly but surely headed home after that. Since then, Carol came over and had dinner with us (and we ate...guess what...more leftovers, which, even on the fourth time, were still delicious) and talked over some work that we'd been putting off in the busyness of Christmas. We worked on some other various things too, and I finally decided to take the opportunity to update my blog!
And I'm glad I finally found time to update my blog, because I'm leaving for Tokyo tomorrow night! My plan for tomorrow is to get a little more work done that needs to be finished before the New Year, pack, and then tomorrow night my bus leaves. I'll be gone for about five days, and I'm really excited to see my friends and experience some of what Tokyo has to offer! So my next blog post should be a pretty cool one. :D