Monday, November 4, 2013

To Blog or not to Blog

                                                             Blog Beginning - August 2008
To blog or not to blog, that is the question”.  I’ve been pondering this question for almost a year now. The short of it is … no more!  This will be a farewell to any who have read this blog over the past five years.

When we came to the Dominican Republic in 2008 to teach in a Christian school, the time frame was two years.  Although we didn’t need financial support we counted on the prayers of many people that knew why we came and wanted to pray for us.  The blog was a practical (albeit impersonal) solution to keep supporters informed.

When the Lord in his mercy resolved our daughter’s situation and an opportunity presented itself to have our daughter-in-law and two grandchildren live with us here in the DR to learn English, we extended our stay one more year and continued our blog for the same reason.  Then a curious thing happened.

As my wife and I prayed and discussed about what to do with the rest of our time on this earth, it occurred to us that, Lord willing, this location may well be the best place for us to accomplish our goals at this time.

                That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men
                but to the will of God.  But the end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober
                and watch unto prayer.                      
                                                                  I Peter 4:2,7

These verses helped me to decide what to do.  I want to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness by taking the greatest opportunity afforded by health and circumstances at the time.  For us it appears that this job is the answer to that.  It gives an income which we can live on in this country, and also a chance to share Christ on a consistent basis in my classroom.

For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, 
which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:
that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be
          born; which should arise and declare them to their children: that they might set their

          hope in God …                                  
                                                               Psalm 78:5,6,7a


These verses continue to be the heart throb of our true ministry ... which has been and always will be our children and grandchildren.  With this in focus, the reason for working at this school has shifted from a temporary status to more of an ongoing-once-a-year decision whether to stay or leave.  Unfortunately, our three children live in three different countries in the world and it takes a bit more creativity and resources than a traditional retirement could give us.  So we currently view it as the best way to be involved in our grandchildren’s lives.  At first this blog was to report on a specific situation … how is our daughter doing?  Now that it is over, our position has taken on a more normal-looking situation which does not seem to justify a blog entry.

A second reason has also been considered.  In this age of internet crime, both of perverted individuals and a snooping  government, my wife and I are no longer comfortable about posting personal stories and pictures for the world to see … especially of the family we love.  Our communication will now have to be on a smaller scale … and, well, more old fashioned.

Scattered throughout the city of Santiago here in the Dominican Republic are many of these piles of rock and rubble.  Usually found near a river or other convenient place to dispose of construction debris, it is one of the more creative ways for city workers to clean up the area.  Each time I see one it reminds me of a sacrificial altar .. and even a Stone of Ebenezer.
May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you as you decide how best to “live the rest of (your) time in the flesh”.  And thank you for your prayers.  This blog will end the way it started five years ago ...  with the lesson which I have learned through experience: God is truly “A Stone of Ebenezer” … a stone of help.

                 The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…  

                                                           Deuteronomy 33:27

Blog Ending - November 2013

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Our World Tour - Peru

Why would a semi-retired married couple decide to endure cruel full-body scans, cramped airline seats, crowded airports, crunched budgets, and crippling demands on aging bodies?  Several reasonable answers could be suggested, but those that know us realize that “a thirst for adventure” is certainly not one of them.  No … only one reason is powerful enough to catapult us into the unknown rigors of visiting three countries in one summer … our grown children and precious granddaughters.
Of the five granddaughters that have blessed our lives, two of them were born in the last year and I had not met them yet.  So our summer plans were sealed, and Peru became the last leg of our summer world tour.

Coming back from Japan we were already feeling the effects of extended travel.  My wife picked up a nasty cold a few days before we left Narito Airport to fly to Texas where we hoped to fly standby to Peru the following day.  However, our plane was blown in two hours late on the winds of a thunderstorm, so the delayed travelers made flying standby a complicated and remote possibility.  We were jet-lagged and sick so we decided to buy plane tickets and leave a few days later.  The extra time to recuperate was greatly appreciated.

Our long-time friends since Bible school days became gracious hosts in their lovely home during this unexpected turn of events.  They gave us natural energy juice drinks, walked with us along winding paths in wooded areas, treated us to old fashioned hamburgers at In-and-Out fast food franchise, and supplied Nyquill to knock out my suffering wife at nighttime.  When loving hospitality is experienced from brothers and sisters in the Lord it helps us appreciate the words in Galatians 6:10

                As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them
who are of the household of faith.
Our destination was Peru … Lima, Peru to be exact.  The reason I mention this is because the entire time we were there (with one exception) we never left the city although we sometimes drove for two hours in one direction.  Lima is a sprawling city approaching 9 million people where some actually move to another part of the city just to have a change in climate!  And, of course, we had to get used to a different culture.  We adjusted to no paper in the toilet, bottled drinking water, and 220-volt outlets.

The culture is uniquely different from the DR.  The people on the average are shorter and lighter skinned than Dominicans.  They walk faster.  The streets in many places were immaculate.  The garbage of the day is set on the curb and a mysterious silent truck picks it up every night.  Street sweepers clothed in bright orange or green uniforms that look like rain suits visibly dot the streets at almost predictable intervals. 

We felt safe almost everywhere we went.  Omnipresent police were visible everywhere.  Even at night there was a special task force of neighborhood police on motorcycles with recognizable uniforms with a fluorescent stripe of yellow down their sleeves and legs.

However, it is still a Latin country having struggles with unpredictability.  They don’t always plan in advance or show up on time as much as I’m comfortable with.  The “squeaky wheel” skill (think ”nagging”) that I’ve honed the last four years in the DR came in handy more than once during our stay in Peru.

As is typical in many families in Latin countries our daughter and son-in-law are living with his parents.  They are gracious people who live by the motto “mi casa tu casa”.  (My house is your house)  Their home was big enough to let us stay in a bedroom with its own bathroom, for which we were very grateful.
While it is summer in the United States, it is winter in Peru.  For a couple coming from a tropical island, visiting Peru in July was quite a shock.  We had little in the way of appropriate clothing, but our daughter had coats and sweaters hanging in our closet when we got there.  She also thoughtfully supplied us with snacks and bottled water in the room with soap and bath talc in the bathroom.  We felt like we were at a hotel.  The houses are not heated in Peru and the temperature drops into the 50’s and 60’s so we revived the old habit of dressing in layers while we were in the house.

In the two and a half weeks we were in Lima we saw and did many things which could fill a medium-sized book.  My blog strategy therefore is to tell a small story about each of the six people that we lived with during this time. 


 Since my daughter’s father-in-law has the same name as her husband, we began referring to him as “Abuelo” which is the Spanish word for Grandpa.  Fortunately, these in-laws were able to speak English well enough for a casual conversation, so we could relate on a minimal level.  Abuelo is a retired naval officer who works for a private security company.  On occasion he visits the officers’ club on base and hangs out with the men.  One night he asked me to accompany him to play “bochas”.  I didn’t know what he meant but I agreed.  For the next couple of hours I watched two teams of dignified older gentlemen officers roll croquet-sized colored balls down a bowling-sized alley trying to get the balls nearest to a golf ball-sized white ball.  Quite fascinating actually!

The man who served the drinks at the club had a heart attack recently.  The Naval heart surgeon, who was playing bochas with us volunteered to do the necessary quadruple bypass surgery and all the officers chipped in to pay the expenses associated with this dramatic event.  He was released coincidently on the day of his birthday.  So Abuelo and the officers met him at his home with a cake and candles.  When it was time to blow out the candles the man removed all but one and blew out a single candle.  He explained that this was only the first year of his life because without them he would have been dead.
This story illustrates the greatest character quality that I observed in Abuelo during this time.  He always wants to help.  Every morning he asked, “How you sleep?’  or “Here, try Mil Hojas … it is good cake.  Peru has best food in whole world.  It is true!”

“Grandma” Abuela teaches English at a private 47-year-old Catholic school with 1800 students.  Each of her classes has 40 students.  As a teacher I get involuntary trembles when I try to picture that situation.  The grandaughters have been a blessing for her as she enjoys playing with and holding them after a long day. 

Anyway, her school sponsors an annual Independence Day parade, so she invited us to see this extravaganza.  My wife and I stood on the street corner for two hours watching 52 classes of students from K – 12 march by.

In Peru there are three geographical regions from which people are identified:  the coast (the Cholos), the jungle (the Silvaticos), and the mountains (the Sierranos).  The people who come from each region have distinctive clothing and customs, so every class was assigned a certain area and dressed accordingly and performed a traditional dance from that region.  Since it was a contest, competition was very high.  The dances were well rehearsed and quite colorful.

As certain classes progressed toward the performing area where the judges and dignitaries sat, they marched.  The marching was curious indeed.  It resembled the Nazi goose-step … stiff legs reaching waist high.  Abuela marched along with all the other teachers as well doing a more modified march step. 

The following Sunday I realized that this unusual march step is a national phenomenon.  On the morning after the official date of independence July 28 the government cancelled all church services and sponsored a military parade broadcast on national television.  I watched for awhile out of deference to my ex-military host.  I’ve never seen so many marching soldiers … most with that goose-step march.  Army, Navy, Air Force, Special Forces, airplanes, helicopters, trucks having soldiers hanging upside down suspended on ropes at 45 degrees on the side.  I’m sure I saw marching soldiers in my sleep that night.

Our daughter’s husband works with a private security company similar to his father.  He doesn’t speak English well enough for us to talk directly to him for any length of time but we’ve observed him over the years.  He is a loving husband and a good father.  One story helped me to understand his personality and character.

During the Independence Day weekend we took a day trip to “the mountains”.  This is the one exception I mentioned earlier when I said we never left Lima.  After several hours of driving we finally arrived.  When I got out of the car and they pointed with pride to the surrounding “mountains” I was speechless.  On both sides of this Naval officer retreat grounds we visited for the day were two towering rock piles.  Seriously, not one green life form existed … only dirt and rocks.  I think it was the word “mountain” that threw me off.

The Navy built this resort for their officers to have a vacation retreat place.  It is called Remanso and indeed is beautiful with grassy expanses, several play grounds for children, a specific woman hired to create games and activities for all ages, swimming pool, an assortment of restaurants, cabins, places for tent camping, fishing pond … even an area to ride horses and play paint ball in an altitude above the grime and overcast of the city.  But please don’t use the word “mountains” to an Idaho man.

Abuelo and Abuela spent their honeymoon there and it has been a big part of the life of their family while their three children were growing up.  Before our son-in-law gave his life to Christ he attended a party at this resort sponsored by his uncle.  Five sons of other officers (one of them was an admiral) crashed the party and were making trouble.  Our son-in-law, who was in high school at this time, told them they had to leave.  Words were exchanged and the five party crashers bragged that he couldn’t make them leave.  When Abuelo heard that they were going to fight he intervened.  He told them that five against one was unfair so he agreed to the fight if they went off the grounds and fought one at a time.  Each of the boys including our son-in-law had been training in karate.  After he cleaned their clocks one at a time, they left the party.
When he became a Christian this strength and intensity was submitted to following Christ and being a good family man.  We certainly didn’t have to worry about safety when we went downtown with him.

What a privilege it was to watch our daughter in action as a young mom.  Her two daughters are 15 months apart and so she has had a traumatic introduction to mommy-hood.  As is customary for many families in Latin countries this family employs a full time maid who lives with them five days a week.  She is single and in her 50’s.  This Sierrana came down from the mountains when she was 18 and has been with the family ever since.  When our daughter was married and began living in her in-laws’ house she inherited a maid to do the cleaning and laundry and cooking.  When the children came she decided she wanted to do everything herself.  So she made arrangements with the family to reorganize the responsibility of the maid.  I find this intriguing that it is important for her to establish her own autonomous family even in a culture where it is not expected.  She has been walking with the Lord only for a few years now, but I see a great deal of wisdom in her insight into Scripture and her responses to difficult situations.

At 21 months this oldest daughter appears to be super-charged.  One night my wife and I volunteered to babysit while the parents went on a rare and well-deserved date alone.  We weren’t ready for what followed.

My wife bought a number of children’s books in English, so her goal was to read Cesia’s favorite book “My New Baby” in one sitting.  Up to this point Cesia had not spent more than 20 seconds on any one activity.  She would go to the Legos, then to the dolls, then want us to play with Lamb Chop the hand puppet, then back to the book.  My wife actually made it through the book before the end of the evening but I noticed she skipped a couple of pages and read really fast.

Disciplining an active child who has a strong personality has proven to be quite a challenge for her parents.  I appreciate their commitment to raising her in a godly way … but she is strong.  One time Cesia was told not to touch the TV knob.  So she went to Papa, dragged him to the TV, and placed his hand on the knob.

One morning she and I were the only ones downstairs.  I was reading my Bible and she was pushing a large plastic tricycle around that had a long handle on the back which made it double as a stroller.  Cesia wanted to move it from the dining room to the living room.  As she pushed, it would encounter various obstacles.  Each time, she grunted with frustration until she overcame the obstacle.  One time the trike tipped over.  She went through so much grunting and yelling  that it sounded like anger.  When she was finally successful she uttered a loud sound of joy and began clapping for herself.  I think she may have inherited a little of her papa.

When God gets a hold of her heart these will be good qualities.  She seems to be happy most of the time … smiling easily, excited shrieks during playtime, no whining or pouting even after a discipline session.  However, I noticed when she falls, or “goes boom” as she calls it, she has to have mama.  The time between the boom and her call for mama is so short that I began referring to this event as the “boom-mama” syndrome.

Fe is only 7 months now but is very different from her sister.  It is amazing that every parent seems to learn this truth afresh with their own children.  At only three months old when we were there she didn’t do much but eat and sleep, but the differences were obvious.  When she drank from her bottle she stared at the bottle holder intently and had a large variety of expressions with her nearly invisible eye brows.  Although the children are half  Peruvian, both children have bright blue eyes because of Swedish ancestory on their side as well.  Fe’s cry is more of a pitiful whimper and she was content to be left alone in the bouncing baby seat.  She didn’t smile much and seemed serious and contemplative. 

One particular Sunday was a special day for us grandparents.  Not only did we have the privilege of visiting the church where out daughter’s family had chosen to worship, we also participated with them in a baby dedication ceremony for Fe.  Both sets of grandparents were there as well as other family.  This little girl was the main reason we came to Peru so this was a meaningful reminder to pray and support our children’s family.  This will be our continuing ministry to our growing family around the world.

It was fitting that our last memory of Peru was of eating food.  They are certainly proud of their food!  On the last afternoon of our visit Abuelo and Abuela prepared a big meal of special Peruvian dishes while we took our daughter’s family to a local park to snap some pictures.

While we were eating later Cesia came to the table and said, “Bah!”  Unless one is around her a lot it is hard to know what she means.  It is her word for binky, ball, bath, balloon, the maid, or goodbye.  In this situation it meant “play with me.”  My wife responded, “Not now, I’m eating.”  Cesia then put the toy into my wife’s hand, pried her finger loose and placed the toy in her hand.  I think she will be a leader of something someday.
While Carol spent part of the evening picking feathers off her socks for the last time (the warm house slippers she borrowed for our stay had goose down in them) I packed and we were ready for the drive to the airport through the Lima rush hour traffic.  When we arrived, the guard at the entrance to the terminal building made it clear that only passengers could enter.  Abuelo showed his magic “I-am-a-retired-Naval- officer” card but the guard held his ground.  Abuelo just smiled and told us to go in.  The next thing we know we see his grinning face at our exit gate.  When I asked him how he did it, he told me that the head of airport security works for his company.  We appreciated that last demonstration of Peruvian hospitality.

By the time we arrived back in the DR it had been nearly two months of traveling on our world tour and we had visited three different countries.  With our tired muscles, stretched ligaments, and jetlagged brains we felt like we had put in a long day of manual labor, but it felt sweet as we thought back on it.  Solomon wrote:
                The sleep of a laboring man is sweet whether he eat little or much …”  Eccl 5:12
May God in his mercy bless our growing family and draw them all to Himself in His time. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Our World Tour - Japan

As our plane climbed into the morning skies over Texas the sun was already down in the land of our destination.  Of the three places that our summer travels would eventually take us, we had finished the first one … the “foreign country” of Texas to see our son and new daughter-in-law.  We were now headed to Japan to visit the home of our second son and his family.

My wife is an insightful lady.  She knew that we would be staying in a small house for three weeks with three active granddaughters at the same time our old bodies were recovering from jetlag as we coped with the loss of 14 hours.  So she arranged to have a hotel room for the first two nights.
Since this plush facility was only a five minute walk from our son’s house we could visit for a while then retire when we felt like it. 

Thanks to our daughter-in-law, our hotel room felt more like a home away from home than a strange room in a foreign country.  In it she placed fresh flowers, familiar snacks and drinks in the small refrigerator, and a couple of large color-pencil drawings from our granddaughters saying things like “I love you so so so so so much.”  On the bathrobes which the hotel carefully laid on the foot of each single bed was a folded origami crane.  Did you catch the words “single beds”?  We felt like Rob and Laura Petrie on their honeymoon.  (For those of you who are culturally deprived, Rob and Laura were the stars of a 1960’s black and white television sit-com called “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and it always showed this married couple in twin beds.)

One of the main reasons we decided to visit Japan this summer was to meet our new granddaughter who was born September of last year.  We met Yulia for the first time the morning after we arrived.  She resembled a porcelain doll with her Japanese style hat strapped on her head.  She smiled when she saw us.  We discovered over the next few weeks that one of her most attractive characteristics is this ready smile combined with one of the most laid back personalities I have ever seen in a baby.

When I wanted to have a fun afternoon I simply placed the baby in a stroller and walked to Socia – the nearby grocery store/mall – and sit under the large clock in the entry way while my wife did some shopping.  For the next hour I would get a kick out of doting grandmothers and young mothers and smiling junior high girls who stopped to ga-ga at the baby. 

After a couple of nights at the hotel we stayed at our son’s house.  They graciously gave us their bedroom and moved into the other bedroom with their girls.  Many houses are small in Japan and usually built up not out.  This house had a small living room, kitchen, and bathroom downstairs … and two bedrooms upstairs.  But our daughter-in-law has a way of organizing every one of those 900 square feet to get maximum use for their family of five.

When we visit our children we are on our summer break and are out of a normal routine.  But they are not.  So we fit in with their schedules.  In Japan the school year begins in April, so the two older girls went to school each day and our son had to work.  This was a good thing.  We were able to see how they live on a day-to-day basis.
It also afforded an unusual opportunity to be an everyday part of a very different culture.  Allow me to describe one experience in detail so you can observe the differences.  Our daughter-in-law talked with the principal of the nearby school where our oldest granddaughter is attending third grade.  She arranged for us to visit a class on three separate days to do a presentation.  In Japan every student takes “English” as a class each year so they are interested to hear from native speakers … especially in the northern island of Hokkaido where fewer “gaijin” travel.  (“Gaijin” – the Japanese equivalent for “gringo”.)

We pieced together an impromptu lesson about the differences between Japanese and American and Dominican culture in food, people, and houses.  Our daughter-in-law put together a quick power point and we took turns presenting.  At the end we showed them how to greet an American if they ever saw one … extend a strong hand shake, make eye contact, and say, “Glad to meet you.”  From all I’ve learned about the Japanese culture, this simple exercise is very difficult to do.  In Japan it is a sign of respect to look down and to bow from a distance rather than touching someone during a greeting
When the third grade students entered the room, all thirty of them sat on the floor in neat rows of five.  At the teacher’s command they stood, bowed, and greeted us with some Japanese phrase in unison, and sat down again facing me.  As I walked from side to side typical of a lecturing teacher, they rotated their bodies and faces to follow me like sun flowers follow the path of the sun.  Combined with the expression of awe on their faces and the elevated stage for the teacher in front of the room, it gave me an interesting illusion of power.

 Many of these children have probably not seen a white foreigner up close before.  In the hallway some stopped to stare and then put their hands to their mouths to giggle as they scampered away.  Just before our presentation I looked for the nearest bathroom.  When I found one I noticed that six boys had filed in behind me in a group as if they had purchased tickets for the matinee feature.
After the presentation we were asked to eat with the class.  They eat together in a classroom rather than in a specific lunch room.  Food and utensils were wheeled in on a cart, and designated students with white sanitary masks over their mouths and scarves on their heads dished out the food to each child.  Children sat six at a table all waiting to eat until everyone was served.  When the teacher clapped her hands, the students put their hands together as if praying, said a small phrase with a dip of the head, and began to eat.  Everyone had their own special apron with a kerchief over the head.  The food on this day was spinach salad, meatballs, sticky rice, and sea food stew with tofu.

My son explained that the Japanese are very formal and traditional when you first meet.  But as you share a social event such as eating, they become more relaxed.  I observed this with these eight-year-old children.  After lunch many of them crowded around me as I tried to type some notes in my IPhone journal.  One small girl ran her fingers through the hair on my arm as she tried to talk with me.  Several hugged me when I tried to leave.  Maybe I missed my calling when I decided to teach high school.

Before we went to the spacious room on the fourth floor to give our presentation (remember – up not out in Japan) we were ushered into the principal’s office.  In front of his large CEO-style desk was a low table surrounded by couches.  A greying distinguished gentleman came from behind the desk and gestured with a bow that we be seated.  A white-haired, meek looking woman quietly placed a small cup of coffee in front of each of us and then disappeared as quickly as she came in.  We then engaged in awkward small talk (translated by my son)as we waited for him to take the first sip of coffee.  This social tradition is so predictable that it has a name and my son studied it before he went to live in Japan the first time.

I hope this detailed description has helped to illustrate some cultural differences.  For those of my readers that have not been to Japan let me add a few more observations that we had during our stay.  This difference in cultures is indeed quite striking.

1.        Many people wear white gauze masks giving them the appearance that they have just finished assisting the doctor in by-pass surgery.  The reason apparently has something to do with allergies or colds at various seasons of the year.

2.       Many people transition from one task to another by running.  For example, from the door of the bakery to their parked bicycle, or from the ticket line to the luggage claim.  This could be partly the reason that we could not find many overweight people except those on television during the sumo wrestling tournament that was going on while we were there.

3.       Layers of privacy to help live in confined spaces is obviously a valued commodity.  So an observer will notice toilet stalls that come all the way to the floor and a toilet that has a sound of running water activated automatically when you sit down assumedly to mask other embarrassing sounds.  When you eat in a public place you see their mouths move in conversation but you can’t hear them.

4.       Bowing people was also a curious sight to us.  They bow low when they meet or say goodbye.  Flight attendants bow to a crowd as they leave the terminal to board a bus which takes them to a waiting plane on the runway.  The bus monitor bows deeply as she delivers our kindergarten granddaughter to us at the bus stop.  While nine-month-old children in the USA are learning to wave good bye with only their hands, our granddaughter in Japan has learned to automatically dip her head at the same time as when she waves.

5.       We stayed in the large city of Sapporo, population of almost two million; and we were there eight days before we heard our first traffic beep … and that was from a bus!  The traffic was orderly and quiet for the most part near where we stayed.  When they stop at a stop light, each car leaves a car length space between them.  The difference between this and the Dominican Republic is actually humorous.

The word “kobito” in Japanese means “little people”.  Supposedly there is folklore of little people who live unseen by humans that are responsible for things hard to understand … such as something missing when you know good and well that you put it in a certain place.  Every culture has something similar, I suppose, such as fairies or leprechauns.  We watched an animated movie called Arrietty which was a pleasant and harmless journey into this fantasy world where a kobito family lived under the house of some “Human Beans”.

Anyway, a clever Japanese entrepreneur picked up this idea and began to list in a book the names of various kobitos and what they look like.  Some live in the forest, some on farms, etc.  He draws a picture of each one.  In the movie, all were cute.  His are all ugly.  He describes what they do and how to trap one if you wanted.  It is a reference book every bit as detailed as the Star Trek encyclopedia.  And, of course, they are marketed as tiny dolls … “Be sure to collect all 150!” … that sort of thing.

My son took some pictures of their family on a recent road trip and through digital magic inserted images of some of these little critters into some of the pictures … such as one peeking in a car window while they were looking the other way.  Such is my middle son’s sense of humor, but I wonder.  In a land that has a religion based on spirits which inhabit inanimate objects in nature, do the girls actually believe they exist?  So every time I saw a small statured Japanese person wearing a mask I exclaimed out loud, “Hey, I just saw a kobito.”  And they would say, “Oh, grandpa!”
                                            (Can you find the Kobito in the potted plant?)
My son has a schedule that gives him Sunday and Monday off from work.  These were the times we scheduled family events during our stay.  One time they took us to the "Surprise Donkey Restaurant" to order a "Happy Frog" meal (huh?).  Another time we visited Odori Park in central Sapporo to take family pictures and look at the breath-taking flowers. On one side of the park a large anti-nuclear demonstration marched by, and on the other side a young woman in a flowered poodle skirt was singing “Do the Locomotion” in English in a talent contest. 

During two of the weekends we had a chance to attend church with them.  We were also privileged to eat at the home of their pastor one evening.

On the weekend of our 39th wedding anniversary they drove us to a nearby volcanic lake called Lake Shikotsu where they had secretly reserved a room for us at a resort hotel for an evening. 
 They wanted us to experience a Japanese anniversary fling.  After walking next to the lake with the family and helping us to register with a man in a suit who knelt before us with juice, they left us alone until the next day.  That evening we had an 8-course Japanese/French dinner with so many silver utensils that the waiter had to explain which to use for what course.  He bowed and served each plate with an elegant grace that made us think we were part of a movie. 

Afterwards we soaked in a private tub filled with natural mineral water from the local hot springs while listening to a symphony of frogs croaking outside the room.  This romantic setting came with a room that had … you guessed it … twin beds!  Maybe it goes back to our discussion about layers of privacy in a crowded country.
The following morning we put on our little dress coats that looked like we were going to a karate tournament, and then walked to a nearby room next to a fluorescently colored Japanese maple tree to have breakfast.  We looked over the well-supplied table of strange looking buffet items.  My wife grabbed a boiled egg only to find out later when she tried to peel it that it was a raw egg.  We ate well that morning, except we found few items that looked familiar.

The family outings were memorable but most of our time was spent blending into their daily routine.  One such activity included a kindergarten program at the school where our granddaughter attends.  Hundreds of children and doting parents dressed in traditional yukatas gathered in the outdoor court yard of the school.  In an organized manner they herded the children together to take class pictures, hear a welcoming speech from the school director, listen to a story enacted by teachers in costumes, and watch the children perform a traditional dance in a circle to the beat of a drum.  Just before going home each child received a bag of treats along with a make-shift yo-yo created from a balloon partly filled with water attached to a rubber band.

                                                         (Can you find Waldo?) 
One afternoon we went shopping at JR Station … an eleven-story mall (think up not out).  Each day we walked our kindergartener granddaughter to the bus for school in the morning and then picked her up in the afternoon.  We went to the grocery store to help shop and get bottled water which is provided for free from a purifier machine.  I learned to love ramen and hate miso soup.  And we played lots of Dominican Republic monopoly (a game we brought with us) and Crazy 8.  These girls would get up early in the morning, knock on our bedroom door, and say, “There is 30 minutes before school, and so can you play Crazy 8 with us?”

My wife reminded me that grand children love to do things with us for only a few short years.  Soon they will be older and it will be different, so we need to enjoy it while we can.  It was this aspect of the trip that we treasured the most but hard to put into words.

On July 9 we said goodbye to the land of musical voices and melodic interludes over airport speakers that sound like the beginning of the hymn “Under His Wings”.  Carol had to say goodbye to the favorite part of her day when the bells of the school sounded all over the whole neighborhood as it plays the song “Going Home” right at 5:00 each evening.  Goodbye to chopsticks, and driving on the left side of the road, and abacas classes.  Goodbye to Lilia and her written five-point schedule on how I should celebrate my birthday.  Goodbye to Amelie and her comments like “Grandpa, why you so funny?  Bananas on cereal is Dominican ‘Public’ not Japanese!”  Goodbye to Yulia and her ability to sleep on her mom’s back anywhere anytime. 

As Lilia observed on that last day, “I don’t like airports … it is where you say goodbye.”

For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.           Psalm  78:5-7


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Our World Tour - Texas

The alarm shattered the plate-glass window of my dreams.  I made sure my wife was upright before I decided that 4:00 AM was too early for me.  The driver from my school was scheduled to take us to the airport at 5:40 and I figured in my dreamy state that I only needed a half hour to get ready.  Never make a decision in a dreamy state!  We barely made it downstairs as the bus rolled up with five other blurry-eyed teachers on it bound for parts unknown to begin summer break.
A lot of this past year was spent preparing for this world tour.  We concocted this bold plan of adventure while watching the animated movie “UP”.  (Just kidding!)  Although it has similar characteristics, our main motivation was certainly not adventure.  It was to visit two new grandbabies which I had not met yet, and to get to know our new daughter-in-law.  Is it our fault that our children live all over the world?  But then I guess we are not exactly at our home in Idaho either. 
June 6th became our personal “D” day.  Just like this infamous date in WWII history, this was the day when we began “Operation World Tour”.  On the same day I turned a year older we began to pack for a whole summer of traveling to three different countries with three different climates.
Has it occurred to anyone else besides us that traveling today seems more stressful than it was, let’s say, twenty years ago?  It’s at the point where, if it weren’t for our family, we probably wouldn’t go much of anywhere.  Let me offer an example of what it took just to leave our airport here in Santiago.  I could write several similar stories from this summer’s travel logs, but this will make my point.
My scissors were in my backpack as part of my ever-present journal supplies that I always carry with me … even when I go shopping with my wife.  I’ve made this mistake before and have lost several pair of quality scissors during the security checks, so I was willing to chalk this up to my senility. This time I also lost a portable and handy umbrella … a new and expensive lesson to learn.  But when the sour-faced agent eyed my harmonica with a puzzled look I couldn’t stand by.  I grabbed it from her, played a small tune while every eye turned in my direction, and said, “Mira!  Musica!”  She actually treated us to a half smile before she returned it to my back pack … thankfully!  A woman in front of me turned and said out loud in English, “I like the way you travel.”  Then she proceeded to intervene in Spanish on my behalf to get my umbrella back.  She wasn’t successful but she told me she enjoys giving them a hard time. 
As we were heading past the last checkpoint before walking into the tunnel that funnels passengers onto the airplane, the lady scrutinized my passport and ticket with a furrowed brow, and then turned to the muscular uniformed man to whisper something.  With a slight nod he turned to approach me.  With practiced politeness and noticeable accent he said in English, “This is entirely routine, sir, and nothing to worry about, but you will need to follow this agent.”  A young uniformed women escorted me downstairs near the place I lost my umbrella.  Another lady who did not know English carefully placed a round foam pad about the size of a silver dollar on the end of a foot-long wand of some sort.  She rubbed the foam on my wrist, the palms of my hands, and near my private parts.  Then she placed the foam head of the wand inside a machine and scanned it. 
While she was doing this I asked what she was looking for (with my great Spanish skills).  She understood enough to reply “Exploseeves and drogas” (explosives and drugs).  The machine pronounced me clean and I was escorted upstairs to a waiting and slightly anxious wife.  We made it on the plane but by this time I was sweating so badly that I stopped at the restroom to wash under my arms so I wouldn’t offend people’s olfactory nerves in the confined space of a pressurized airplane cabin.
This first stop of our world tour was in Texas … the new stomping grounds of our oldest son Jonathan.  He and his new wife Jennifer picked us up at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport within five minutes of our arrival.  They are a young working couple living in their first small apartment (sigh – I remember those days!), so except for one night, we stayed the next two weeks at her parent’s house.
Jonathan has always been a generous person and married one as well.  He drove us straight to the place we were to be staying.  On the kitchen table was a cake and some presents to celebrate my birthday.  Among the several gifts, he gave me the largest bag of peanut M and M’s I have ever seen and a baseball cap with a Texas flag between some longhorns with bold lettering that warns, “Don’t Mess With Texas!”  During our brief introduction to Texas culture I learned what this meant.
Jonathan’s wife’s parents are Texans … born and raised and proud of it.  They are dear Christian people a few years younger than we are.  Their house declares the glory of Texas without saying a word, if you know what I mean.  The tail end of a cleverly decorated chuck wagon is bolted onto the wall of their dining room.  Many pictures of family dressed in Old West garb dotted the walls and were surrounded by bull whips.  Floor lamps, bathroom toilet brushes, fire place screens … all with the lone star symbol or shape of a cowboy hat or boot.  As you enter the home, a sign greets you at the door.  It has the replica of a .45 caliber western peacemaker with wording below which proclaims, “We don’t dial 911.”  You can’t miss the theme of this house … “Don’t mess with Texas.”

Several goals were accomplished during our short stay in this “foreign” country.  We learned some new foreign phrases, such as “You’all remember we’re a’fixin’ to go downtown right soon.”  We also shopped for clothing that we can’t find in our 3rd world tropical island, and we made time for some medical appointments with some local doctors since we weren’t going to be back in Idaho this summer to see our own doctor.
During my appointment an ENT specialist discovered a nodule growing on my vocal cord.  He called it “Preacher’s Voice” … a vocational hazard of people who use their voice to make a living.  And if I didn’t find a solution to my need to project above the unbelievable noise that surrounds my classroom, I might possibly have to find another way to make a living.
After expressing this concern to my school administration, they moved me to a room in a quieter part of campus and gave me a portable microphone and speaker system to use.  It has been only a month of school but it seems to be working.  The students like it because they think I sound more “professional”, and several other teachers are asking for the same provision when they found out what happened.  So it looks like I can teach a few more years.
Like most Christian parents we pray for our children and their families often.  We’ve come to realize over the years that family is the most important (not necessarily the only) ministry a Christian person has.  What happens to and how we treat our wife, children, grandchildren, parents, in-laws, etc. is what matters the most.  So we need time with them to see how we can pray.  This therefore became the driving force behind our world tour and this is how we spent most of our time in Texas.
During these two weeks with Jonathan and Jennifer and her folks we watched “The Iron Chef”, went to Marine Creek Community Church, ate out and shopped, visited the Fort Worth Mint, and enjoyed home cooking with them.  And while this was going on we listened for the beat of their heart.  A parent can be no more blessed than to see his son walking in the truth … and to marry a woman who loves the Lord.  This is what we found in Texas.  We spent much time listening to testimonies of what God is doing in their lives, discussing questions about the Bible, wrestled with practical application about decisions they were facing.
Jonathan is working at two jobs now temporarily as he pieces away at getting his Texas teaching license and finding a teaching job.  Jennifer works at Crème de la Crème, a privately held childcare that promotes early learning programs.  With his recent conversion God has given Jonathan a heart to share the gospel.  On the front of his Home Depot apron he printed five symbols which look like hieroglyphics.  When people ask what they mean, including his bosses, he succinctly shares the gospel.  During his security job where he sits for much of the time, he reads the Bible and shares with homeless people who walk by asking for a handout.

During Father’s Day Jonathan took us to eat at “The Stock Yards”.  This historic part of the city used to be where Texas ranchers drove their long horned cattle to be shipped out by the railroad.  As times changed an entrepreneur seized the opportunity to restore it and use it for business.  Now small curio shops and restaurants occupy the space where the holding pens used to be.  The original train gives rides to the next town and back.  You can even attend a “cowboy church” where the altar at the front is bales of hay.

All the locals recognize it as a tourist trap, but it was a memorable experience.  While we ate at Riscky’s BBQ a rodeo clown made long horn “hats” out of balloons for the children.  Several authentic cowboys drove a herd of long horned cattle up the street.  A little later, a town Marshall had a gun fight with two desperados using blanks in their six-guns.  We bought some matching pink T-shirts for our granddaughters in Peru that said “Texas Princess in Training” and another for me with a picture of John Wayne that says “Old Guys Rule” which I intend to wear in my class one of these days if they start getting out of hand.

This is not unique to us, of course, but in our short visit to Texas to spend time with our son and new wife, we saw in them ourselves not too many years ago … the dreams, the hard work, the beginning of everything we hold dear today.  My prayer for them is that they would grow in their love for each other and the Lord … and they would weather the hard times by being rooted in the faith … so they can experience the fruits of a faithful life. … and that they will have lots of babies!

For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children.  Psalm 78:5,6