Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Noteworthy November

And another month has flown by, leaving me with a newsletter to write!

Especially noteworthy this month was KIU's school festival! School festivals in Japan are a special time of year when students get to show their parents, relatives and community what they are able to do. Here's an interesting and informative article on school festivals in Japan.

All of the classes ran booths for the school festival. The high school classes ran food booths, while the middle school classes had activity booths. The activities included sports, like a basketball shootout and batting cage, as well as nail painting. My sixth grade homeroom students ran two booths! The boys had a air gun shooting range and the girls ran a accessory shop. All the students worked hard on their booths and actually made a profit, which was then donated to charity!

The school festival theme.
All in all, the school festival was very enjoyable; the food was delicious and the students all seemed to enjoy themselves. The school festival theme "One for all, all for one" was proudly displayed as the high school and middle school worked together to help everyone have an enjoyable time.

In between another round of TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) tests and wrapping up the trimester, I was also able to take a group of high school students to help with a community service event for the Osaka Marathon. All of the high students are required to complete a certain amount of community service before graduating. At the marathon, we checked in runners on Saturday and handed out snacks to them on Sunday! It was a difficult two days, with ten hours volunteering each day, but we pulled through and it was good to see that most of the students have caring hearts and are giving with their time and energy.
Runners at the marathon as our students cheer for them!
Also of note:
-Caitlin came and visited during my birthday weekend! We had a wonderful, enjoyable time getting my apartment ready for the cold Japanese winter.

Please keep the following in your prayers:
  • Energy to finish grading strong and begin planning for next semester.
  • Pray that the students' behavior and that they will see the benefit in living for Christ
  • As the weather is cold, please continue to pray for everyone's health.
Thank you for your support of God's work in Japan!

Friday, November 23, 2012

An Outstanding October

October has come to a close and the harvest is over! The days are ever shortening and the nights and mornings are chillier.
Some of the fields near my apartment after the rice harvest.
While school is not over yet, finals are the first week of December and the end of the year is swiftly approaching!

This month Caitlin came and visited and we had the opportunity to go hiking! We went with some of the college and young adult members of our church and another church body, Ikoma chapel. It was a wonderful hike, with the warm sun complimenting the somewhat cooler air.

I'm just about two-thirds done with my first year of teacher and I have to ask myself: Am I finally getting the hang of things? Probably not, but it is getting easier. My fellow teachers at school have been especially helpful and I am learning a lot of new things every week. Plus, Caitlin is especially helpful when she helps me with my grading during her visits.

Please keep the following in your prayers:
  • Energy and initiative to finish grading strong.
  • Patience and wisdom as I interact with my students, especially as we are all very tired.
  • As the weather gets colder, please continue to pray for everyone's health.

Thank you for your support of God's work in Japan!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Swift September

September is over and gone and harvest time is upon us!

The sunset over the rice fields in my neighborhood.

Classes are moving quickly along and I am starting to feel like I'm finally getting the hang of teaching. While teaching full time is demanding, I am finally able to keep up with weekly schedules and tasks.

On September 30th I went to a teacher's conference in Osaka, about an hour away by train. The conference was encouraging, and provided great resources and teaching ideas. It was unfortunately very rainy as a typhoon passed through the whole day and I got quite wet going to and from the conference.

And now a bit of culinary culture. What kind of candy do you think this is?

If you're like me, you probably thought that this would be some kind of sweet candy. However, due to both my lack of language and of cultural prowess, I chose a candy that was incredibly salty and bitter! The candy is in fact flavored like seaweed.

Sounds strange I know, but in the western world we also have our rather odd flavored jelly beans.

The brand responsible for these seaweed candies, Ninja Meshi Candy, makes chewy snacks for the 'modern ninja.' Earlier this summer I tried the energy drink flavor, which I enjoyed. This prompted me to try out the ninja candy again, with very different results, as the two were not quite the same.

And so ends my small tale of branching out to try foods in a foreign land. I will keep trying them of course, but don't be surprised if you see another lighthearted diatribe on something I just can't wrap my mind around. I also still have the rest of the candy in my desk if you want to try it and find out what ninja cats eat...

Please keep the following in your prayers:
  • Physical health as I deal with stress and try to get back into exercising daily.
  • Patience and wisdom as I interact with my students.
  • Praise God that the weather has cooled down, but please pray as colds come with the cold!

Thank you for your support of God's work in Japan!

Friday, September 7, 2012

An Amazing August

It turns out I ended up in one of the hottest spots in Japan! Even though Kyoto is at about the same latitude as other, cooler, cities, the mountains surrounding it collect the heat that falls into the valley we live in, keeping us sweating from May to October. And compared to the temperate climate of Portland, it's a sauna. So, when classes ended for summer vacation, there was no hesitation on taking the 12 hour bus ride up to Sendai. Caitlin, my fiance, and her family stay at Takayama, a group of cabins owned by missionaries in the north of mainland Japan. I had a wonderful time hiking (see photo), swimming, and partaking in various Japanese summer traditions. 

Taking a break on a mountain hike at a Shinto shrine.

One of my favorite Japanese summer traditions is watermelon flavored treats (see photos). Although actual watermelons in Japan are only about the size of a soccer ball, they are delicious. Summer sees convenience stores across the country carrying everything from watermelon Pepsi to watermelon popsicles--with chocolate seeds, awesome!

Caitlin's mom showing us this summer's limited edition Pepsi flavor: Salty Watermelon

One of the fail-safe ways to cool off in the Japanese heat: ice cream!
I was also able to spend time with my fiance and her family in their home in Tokyo. There I prepared for the coming school term, planned lessons, researched textbooks and classroom exercises, and visited the dentist and optometrist for check-ups.

Last week, it was time to head back down to Kyoto for teacher meetings and lesson planning in preparation for the fall term starting on September 5. Although it's never fun to have vacation end, I'm looking forward to seeing my students again--and teaching classes that I've had a chance to plan for!

This month, please remember these prayer requests:
  • Praise God for safe travels and a relaxing vacation! Pray for energy and health in the continued heat.
  • Praise God for good preparation for the upcoming term. Pray that I will get everything that needs to be done in the next couple of days (and for the rest of the trimester) so that I can help my students fulfill their academic potential.
  • Pray for Luke Nagai and his family, the two-year old boy in my fiance's house church ministry who was diagnosed with Leukemia this month. He is now 1 week into a 6 week session of chemotherapy.

Thank you for your support of God's work in Japan!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Jammed July

July has come and come and gone and passed us by. Finals have been completed, and students and teachers are enjoying vacation.

Finals went well. This was my first time to create and grade exams -- quite a challenge, but my time at Wheaton prepared me well and I was able to complete everything in time. Between proctoring other exams, and planning and grading my exams, finals week was packed!

The world's largest suspension bridge, which leads to Awaji Island!

After finals, the school summer camp was a welcome relief. The middle and high school students, along with most of the secondary teachers, went to Awaji Island. We stayed at a local youth camp, which had guidelines for everything, down to the folding of the sheets when we left! All in all, everyone seemed to have a great time, enjoying the beach, swimming, smashing a watermelon (a Japanese summer tradition) and relaxing after a long semester of classes.

Catching umi-hotaru (sea fireflies) with the middle school students at night.

Breaking a watermelon at the beach. (Yes, they ate it afterwards!)

What else has been happening?
  • A week after we returned from the summer camp, I led a camp to prepare students for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). I learned a lot more about the test as I helped prepare my students with strategies, advanced planning and lots of practice.
  • I rode the night bus up to Sendai, in the northern part of Japan to spend some vacation time with Caitlin and her family. We are staying in a cabin on a cliff next to the sea, in Takayama, where missionaries have stayed for over a hundred years!

Please pray for the following, both for myself and Japan:
  • Praise God that my first trimester teaching went well! I was able to keep up with new experiences in grading, planning and teaching to help my students progress in their English studies.
  • Praise God for protection during KIUA's summer camp as well as traveling to Takayama.
  • Please pray for wisdom and knowledge for my summer projects, including planning for classes this fall, researching new textbooks for my classes and writing up a new scope and sequence for my classes from the previous program.
  • Please continue to pray for the Japanese affected by the tsunami. While it has been a year since the disaster and much progress has been made, the scars remain. Pray for the people who have been affected and lost family members, pray for the environmental impact and above all, please pray for the healing work of the gospel to be furthered in Japan.

Thank you for your support of God's work in Japan!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Jumbled June

June in Kyotanabe has brought with it true Japanese summer weather: rain, heat, and bugs. It has also brought other Japanese traditions with it, like Sports Day.

Sports Day (Undoukai) is a major event in the Japanese school year. The students are divided into teams, each led by a teacher, who then complete in various athletic events. At KIUA, our Sports Day included the entirety of the middle and high school. We all took the bus and some vans (one of them broke down) to the local gym where we spent the day competing in events such as tug of war, relays, beach flag and dodgeball. I was the teacher/"supervisor" of the Black team (see photo). It was a great day of connecting with my students, encouraging them to not give up and cheering them on. And to top it all off, we won!

We won!

What else has been happening?
  • I took the bullet train up to Tokyo two weeks ago and got to spend the weekend getting to know Caitlin's family (see photo) a little bit better.
  • With the help of my gracious Japanese friends, I finally got the internet in my apartment and automatic bill paying set up.
  • I administered one part of the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) to my EFL students on June 26th. All of the high school and middle school ESL students at KIUA are required to take this test, unless they have received a high score previously. This is n important test for my students, as the results determine what English class they will be placed in and affect future college entry scores.
  • I am now preparing for the end of the semester. My exams are on July 11th. All of them!

Meet my fiance's family (from left to right): Kim, Michael, and Anneke.

Please remember these requests in your prayers:
  • Praise God for a good experience connecting with my students during Sports Day! Pray that I will be able to connect with and serve my more challenging students.
  • Praise God that I have almost made it through my first semester at KIUA! Pray for energy for me and concentration for my students as we face exams and near summer vacation (July 16-September 5).
  • Pray for safe travels for staff and students over the summer vacation, including my trip to northern Japan (in the tsunami-affected region) with Caitlin's family. 
Thank you for your support of God's work in Japan!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Merry Month of May

KIU Academy is now in full swing! My classes are going well, and I am slowly but surely getting the hang of planning and grading (making the switch from learning the concepts behind teaching to putting them into practice on a full-time basis). Not to mention getting used to lesson planning and grading on a regular basis. KIU Academy is an exciting ministry to be a part of, and I strive to carry our missional vision out in my classroom.

Adjusting to life in Kyotanabe is proving to be both a joy and a challenge. I have moved into my Japanese-style apartment, and have found a grocery store on my way to work where I do most of my shopping. It's very convenient to live so close to work and have easy access to all the necessities! I love Japanese culture, food and the people; all of them have been a blessing in my time here so far. However, some of the differences between the US and Japan are still hard to get used to, especially not being able to read labels.

What else has been going on?
  • I have enjoyed getting to know my fellow teachers and my students, and I'm beginning to feel like a part of the community. The students have settled down from the excitement of beginning a new school year, and now the challenge is to keep them motivated. 
  • I got engaged on May 17! My fantastic fiance, Caitlin Essenburg (see sidebar), graduated from Redeemer University College this spring with a degree in social work and theology. She will be spending the next year living with her parents in Tokyo while she serves with CRASH Japan, a Christian earthquake relief organization ministering to those affected by the May 11 triple disaster. We plan to get married in the summer of 2013, after which she will join me in Kyotonabe. 
  • May has come and gone and preparations are in full swing for Sports Day on June 23rd and the TOEFL Test (Test of English as a Foreign Language) on June 26th. Please keep my students in your prayers as they will be very busy this next month. 
This month, please keep these prayer requests in mind:
  • Praise God for the kindness of my fellow teachers a successful first month at KIU Academy! Pray that I will be able to reach my students and be a positive influence in their lives. 
  • Pray that I will continue to adjust to life in Japan and to full-time teaching. 
  • Praise God for my engagement! Pray that wedding plans will go smoothly and that our long-distance engagement doesn't add complications. 

Starting things off in April

Hello friends and family,

Greetings from Kyotanabe, Japan! It has been really busy here with classes starting up, so I have waited till now to post this. God blessed me with a ticket and a visa so that I was able to make it in time before the school year started!

Things have been going well. I have moved into my new apartment and have started to get acquainted with the city. Teaching is challenging, but I have been enjoying it.

Right when I got here I suffered from hay fever. In Japan, many people have to deal with allergies around this time of year. Another unfortunate health problem I have had to deal with is that of my back deciding to spasm. I had to go to the local clinic to receive electroshock therapy in order for my muscles to relax. I also got stretches that will allow my back to relax after sitting and working on lesson plans for long periods, and am doing much better.

I also had the opportunity to go and listen to Akira Sato, a pastor from Fukushima, the area with the nuclear reactor that was hit by the earthquake and tsunami. His church was within the evacuation zone, meaning none of the members of his church are able to return home. Please remember to keep those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in your prayers, since the disaster still affects many of the Japanese people.

Thank you all for your prayer and support and if you ever want to drop me a line, I would be more than happy to hear from you!