Friday, March 16, 2012


Sayonara Nihon! This is going to be my last blog entry from Japan. Once I reach American soil and become reintegrated into American society, and have relearned the English language, I will post a new blog about my adventure around Southeast Asia and my transitioning process and future plans, etc.

This final blog entry is the message I gave at Hongo Lutheran Church on March 11th, for my final goodbye and thank you party there. I was asked to give a brief message about my calling or faith, and this is the message I gave. I apologize if some of the references are unfamiliar, because this was given to a specific audience that should have known the locations and rituals and foods I was referring to. These are some of my final thoughts.

On March 21st, I will be departing from Japan to begin a 7 week Asian Adventure, visiting the countries of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and possibly Brunei before returning home to America in early May. I am very excited about this trip, but yet also slightly nervous since I will be traveling alone for the majority of the time, that doesn't scare me as much as coming to the realization that my time in Japan is actually over, and when I finish my travels I will be returning to America and not my home in Tokyo. Although I have begun packing,have most of my final paperwork finished, and have had several goodbye parties already, I'm not quite sure I have come to terms with the fact that I'm not coming back... Processing that alone on my trip is a little more daunting than the thought of eating insects right now. (Not saying I am goign to eat insects...but if the opportunity arising, I'm not saying that I won't either...) But I'm sure everything will be fine and once I am settled (or slightly settled) back in America, I will update everyone again. But until then...I will leave you with these words from my message!


Luke 9: 23-26
23 Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Before I begin my message this morning, would you please join me in prayer.

Dear Heavenly Father:


Usually when we pray we are in the habit of speaking. Listing things we are thankful for, or listing things we would like to God to give us. We do not often pray a prayer of silence, but it is in these types of prayers that we listen to what God is calling us to do. Of course it is good to thank God for the many blessings he has given us, but if we do not pray in silence we will never hear God’s call for our lives, we might not hear his plea for us to take up our cross daily and follow him.

Silence is a difficult thing for many people, if I stood up here silent for too long------------- people would start to get uncomfortable. It is often the same for many people when we pray, talking to God is quite easy but being silent and listening... that is much harder. Maybe during church and worship is the time where we should be listening to God and trying to follow His plan for our lives. This process is called discernment; trying to listen to how we should follow God, trying to hear what job it is He wants us to do next.

In today’s bible verse we heard Jesus telling the crowds around him that if they want to be his disciples, they must take up their cross and follow him. It might have been easier for people in biblical times to listen because Jesus was a human, in the flesh. Now we must listen to God through the Holy Spirit, prayer or by reading our bibles. My discernment process to listen to God was also difficult; because I knew I should follow His plan for my life, but did not want to listen to the answer He was giving me.

Early on in high school I remember wanting to study business when I was in college. I thought this field of study would be fast-paced, interesting, it would allow me to travel and I would make a lot of money. I think those are important aspects of a job to a high school student. However, when I would sit in silence I could hear this voice inside my head telling me, "You’re supposed to work for the church." As a high school student that was the last thing I wanted to be when I grew up, because there is not a lot of money in the church business. I wanted to be a successful business woman and make a lot of money. But every time I tried to ignore this thought of working for the church, God would call out to me and tell me that I was made to work for him.

I went to college and eventually did study International Business, but what I wanted to do with that degree was slowly changing. I began discerning when I was a senior in college, how God wanted me to use this degree after college for his work and his glory. What was it that I was suppose to do, the answer I heard was to become a missionary. I trusted that this was the call on my life, and began to apply for missionary positions within the Lutheran Church. Trusting God’s will while applying for a job was easy, I took up my cross and decided to follow Gods will, and Gods will said you are moving to Tokyo. Once I got the job and moved here, trusting in God’s will became much harder.

This is where the second part of the bible verse came into play; "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it" I would not lose my life in the sense that I would die, but I would lose my life in the sense that everything was new here for me, everything was a challenge, and my life would no longer be easy.

I remember one specific day I was having a rough time in Tokyo. It was during the Christmas season, about three months after I moved to Japan. It was a cold and rainy day much like the days we have been having lately. I did not have any rain boots at this time and was wearing a pair of brown flats. I started my day like any other day in orientation and went to language school in Iidabashi. By the time I reached school my shoes were quite wet. After school I was coming here for the annual Hongo Student Center Christmas party. I took the train to Ochanomizu and began my walk.

My shoes became drenched to the point I could hear the water sloshing around, and my pants were soaked mid-way up my calf. I was getting really aggravated and was wondering what I had done to aggravate God so much that he would make me this miserable. Why did he bring me to Japan if I was just going to be miserable everyday? Did I misinterpret his call; was I not supposed to be here? Every time a taxi drove by I contemplated getting into it and going back home. I was cold, wet, and angry, angry with God. By the time I reached the doors to walk into Hongo I was ready to cry I was so frustrated. Frustrated with the Japanese language, frustrated I didn't understand most of what was going on around me, and frustrated with myself for not wanting to be in Japan.

Upon entering the building I took off my shoes, as you all know is not normally done here. The Student Center staff, who would later become my peers, took one look at me, barefoot with soaking pants and their faces filled with pity. Immediately the woman sitting in front of the heater offered up her seat to me in order to help dry my pants, and then offered me a pair of her slippers to keep my feet warm, another missionary poured me a cup of hot tea, I was given a doughnut, and countless numbers of mikans.

Yasui sensei and Etsuko helped me wipe off my shoes and then they stuffed newspaper into my shoes in order to soak up all the water. As I was sitting there with my pants drying, my shoes beginning to shed the water, and with my hot cup of tea in hand, I thought; Wow these people welcomed me with open arms and took care of me. I felt as if I was able to receive the hospitality and generosity that the church is intended to offer. I had begin to doubt why God called me to be a missionary here in Japan but God showed me his love and care for me through the members of this church that I will never forget. And that act of love and care reminded me that God still loves and cares for everyone, and it was this type of behavior I was supposed to be showing others while working here.

Following God's will does not mean that our lives will be easy all the time. Following Gods will for me to come to Japan was the right thing to do, but yet it hasn't always been easy. In fact, Jesus tells us that we would lose our lives, we will suffer persecution and we will endure many trials and tribulations to daily pick up our cross and follow him. But that is what it means to be a disciple of Christ. We must endure the hardships he places before us and suffer the way he suffered. The bible passage in Luke is not to be discouraging; I see this bible passage as a reminder of what a life with God entails. We must listen to God's calling on our life and once we hear what it is he is calling us to do, we must do it. For if we want to save our own lives, we must first give our lives to Jesus and act out our role in his eternal story,

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

13 Days and Counting

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

My time in Japan is coming to an end…and quite quickly. Although I can give you the exact number of days until I leave Japan and know exactly when I am returning to America, I think part of me is still in shock that I am leaving. Considering the fact that it is Lent, which is a time of reflection, I thought I’d write a blog reflecting on my current thoughts about leaving behind this country and the many people I’ve met and friends I’ve made.

The bible verse from Ecclesiastes I opened with was the bible verse Eric preached at our last Hongo Service this past Friday. He talked about how John and I will both be leaving the Tokyo community but the impression that we made will never leave. Part of us will always be remembered, the students will remember us (hopefully for a long time) and our impact on their faith journey is something that can never be undone. With technology advancing around us all the time it has become easier than ever to stay in touch with people. With Facebook, blogs, e-mails, and skype, if I wanted to talk with everyone I met in Japan on any given day, I could. But is that necessarily a good thing?

I truly believe that everyone comes into your life for a reason. Whether it’s because you need to learn something from them, you need to teach them something, you were meant to love them and be loved by them, or maybe it is something as trivial as a comment you said that ended up changing their whole life… You meet everyone for a reason and when that person has fulfilled their part in your life, it is time for them to step out of your life.

1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,

Maybe this verse applies to friendships being born and dying as well…

I think sometimes we cling onto our past and people from our past because we think they are meant to be in our lives forever. But what if that’s not true? What if I was meant to make a clean break from some of the people I’ve met in Japan? What if some of these relationships have lived out their function and purpose…when I say goodbye, should it be goodbye forever? Sometimes hanging onto people from our pasts is a detriment to our future progress and life ambitions. If we are clinging to people and countries of our past maybe we miss that new opportunity that is waiting in front of us.

I am not saying that I will forget everyone I have met here in Japan, or that their function in my life is over yet… but merely saying that I am okay with some things coming to an end. This chapter in my life will end shortly and then a new one of travel will begin. Some people I have met here in Japan will remain close friends for life, and others that I have met in this big metropolis of a city will become pleasant memories I can think about. The people who served their purpose in my Japan story, and hopefully I served my part in their life story. I think I am coming to terms that I will probably never see most of these people in my life again.

But I ask again, is that necessarily a bad thing?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Making a Difference

The Boy and the Starfish

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.
As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.
The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,"I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. "But", said the man, "You can't possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can't possibly make a difference." The boy smiled, bent down and picked up another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied.

"I made a huge difference to that one!"

~Author Unknown~

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mona Lisa Smile

Out of the thousands of movies I have watched in my life time, no movie inspires me more than Mona Lisa Smile. It is a movie set in the northeastern part of the United States in the 1950’s at Wesley University. For those of you unfamiliar with this University or their heritage it is set in a very traditional time, where gender roles are very important. The women go to university to receive the best education, but are only dreaming of attaining their M.R.S. degree. If you have never seen this movie I HIGHLY recommend it.

If you had asked me in college my thoughts about gender roles, I probably would have told you that I did not care much. I rather enjoyed not having to mow the lawn or fix a car engine. I would not have considered myself a feminist and maybe not even have advocated for COMPLETE equal rights. (I mean who wants to be drafted?) My best friend in college, Valerie, I would say is a feminist in her own wonderful way. There was one afternoon when I was washing the dishes and she was hanging out watching a movie in the living room. I tried to unscrew a lid on a coffee mug, but it was twisted soooooooo tight, I could not get it off. I made a comment under my breath, ‘I need a man here!’. She was surprisingly upset by this comment I had made. Her parents had taught her all along that she didn’t need a man to do things for her, and she should learn to do everything on her own. Thusly she tried to do whatever task it was at hand, when I would make that comment…it was made on several occasions. (Killing bugs, unscrewing things, shoveling out my car…you get the idea.) She was the best ‘man’ I could have asked for, rather the best friend I could have asked for.

I grew up, for the majority of my life, with all men. So its not that I was not taught the same thing, the reality is with two brothers…I never had to mow a lawn or kill a spider. Not because I was unable, but merely because they were always around. Granted they never really vacuumed or did the laundry so it worked out. Our household was not dictated by gender roles, but merely by what we wanted to do for our chores. I still raked leaves and shoveled snow on occasion, and they did help with the dishes. I even had my younger brother watching Oprah with me; our house was rather liberal when it came to gender roles. Maybe that is the reason I never gave them much consideration.

Coming to Japan has opened my eyes to the gender stereotypes that are still ever so pervasive in societies these days. Japan is one among the long list of developed nations but yet ranks last in gender equality for developed nations. (Citation: ) This topic has been on the forefront of my mind since I began my missionary term here in 2009. When one thinks of a ‘missionary’s duties’ you think of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and helping those who are less fortunate than yourself. This is what I originally had in mind when I decided to become a missionary, but like most things I plan in life, God laughed at me and said…not exactly Dana. Upon arrival to this technological, fashion-forward, materialistic mecca of the East, I often wondered what it is that I was actually called here to do. What is my calling and what career path is that leading me to follow.

With that in mind, one of the job placement sites I was assigned to is the Bunkyo-ku Katerina (文京区カテリーナ)dormitory, for high school and college females. After teaching here for almost two years, the opinions and frustrations that my girls have felt in this country astound me. I had one student who grew up in Nagoya, the home of Toyota, and then moved to America for 3 years for high school. Upon her return to Japan she immediately started taking English lessons from me in order to keep her English at a fluent level. The conversation drifted to living in America versus living in Japan, and she said something that I’ll never forget. She said she always thought she had a good life here in Japan, until she went to America and saw how much freedom she could have. She never questioned the gender role she was going to fulfill because all the women in her life had fulfilled the same one, it seemed normal to her. I asked her what her career ambitions were and she had told me that she had never given it much thought before, but now coming back from America she saw a whole plethora of possibilities she could have.

I was simply floored. I began to raise this discussion in my other lessons as well and was no less shocked by the answers I was given. My students were going to some of the best colleges, studying economics, international relations, pre-law but in the end all saw themselves married and with kids a few years out of college. The pressure Japanese culture forces on women to fulfill the stereotypical women roles absolutely shocked me. I began thinking that if Japan is this way, can you image what repressive countries cultures must be like? I never considered myself a feminist…until I came to Japan. I’m all for being taken care of and having a man be the head of the household….but if he can’t step to the plate…I can.

Young females need positive role models in their lives to tell them that they can do anything they want, that they don’t have to conform to a shadow behind their husband, merely propping him up. They too can be in power, empowered to do what they want with their lives and reach their goals beyond marriage. Mona Lisa Smile also has the same message that women don’t have to follow the tradition laid out before them from the generation above but they can forge their own path into uncharted territory.

My sorority’s mission statement is “To inspire the highest type of womanhood” and that is a mission I think is worth carrying out. To be strong independent women and showing others that they too have the same possibilities. The women I met in my sorority Gamma Phi Beta: Zeta Iota are some of the most amazingly strong women I know, and am proud to call them sisters.

I think that my calling might not be to stay and work in Japan forever, but I do think it has to do with gender roles and advocating for women in other countries where they might not have the power to do so themselves. To encourage parents to allow both their sons and daughters to attend school. To teach women how to start up their own businesses and show them how to earn their own income so that they do not have to rely on their husbands. Maybe this is what I was called to Japan to learn…

“Not all who wander are aimless, especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image.” --Mona Lisa Smile

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Trouble with Tradition

I realize its yet again been awhile since I have written a blog entry, so instead of writing an entire blog I thought I would post on here a message I used for our weekly English Service. I gave the message two weeks ago and spoke about traditions in the church because it is something that is held onto a little too strongly in the Japanese culture. So although this entry might not be completely applicable to your church or your life style, it speaks to the people who the message was intended for. I hope you enjoy it!

This past week has got me thinking about traditions and rituals we practice in our lives. Last week there were several national holidays. One of these holidays was the fall equinox, and ohigan days here in Japan. Many people visited their family graves and held memorial services in honor of their loved ones. I found this tradition to be really interested so I asked one of my students, why do you do this? And that student answered “Because we are Japanese, it is tradition”. Which is great, but why this day? Why hold a memorial service? No one in the class could answer me. It’s a Buddhist tradition and everyone followed the practice, but no one could explain to me why.

Later on that day I was talking to another missionary friend and I explained how this bothered me that no one understood their culture enough to be able to answer why they did what they did. As if there was no meaning and no thought process involved, it was simply done because it’s always been done, and somewhere along the line people forgot why they do it. And she pointed out to me, that as Christians we often do things for the sake of “Christian tradition”…this thought bothered me even more. That Christians get caught up in the routine and the rituals of our worship services that we forget the purpose behind the actions.
Anyone who has attended a Lutheran church service can tell you there is a strict order of worship that we follow. For those of you who regularly come to this worship service you’ll notice we usually do the same things, the same pattern. The same song pattern, the same order of worship…but why? What exactly is worship and why do we do this? What’s the reasoning?

Worship is the “thank you” that refuses to be silenced. We have tried to make a science out of worship. We can’t do that. We can’t do that anymore than we can “sell love” or ‘negotiate peace”. Worship is a voluntary act of gratitude offered by the saved to the Savior, by the healed to the Healer, and by the delivered to the Deliverer.

Worship is the act of thanking God for all the wonderful things he has done in our lives. There isn’t a correct way to thank god, and there isn’t a wrong way to thank God either. I remember one time during a service here in Tokyo, when something was done in a slightly different tradition. The candles are usually lit from right to left, and on this particular Sunday the candles were lit from left to right. A church member noticed the difference and was very upset that the candles were not lit in the correct way. God does not care which way the candles are lit, or even if we have candles during a worship service. The only important thing is that we come to God with honest hearts filled with gratitude and thanks for the work he has done.
We all too often get caught in tradition and are afraid to break out form it, we feel if we do something wrong the service is void and God will no longer love us. That is not the case. Traditions are a good thing, but when the tradition of service is more important than the worshiping it self…that is when it becomes a problem. Most liturgy used in Japanese churches comes from Martin Luther himself and the traditions are from the German missionaries that came years and years ago. The integrity of that service has been held onto for so long because the Japanese were afraid that if they didn’t do it right, the service wouldn’t be good enough, they wanted it to be perfect. But I say let there be mistakes, put some Japanese songs into it. Change the tradition.

Psalams 66:3-4 reads “Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you. All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name” All we are asked to do is to sing our praises to God, in no particular order, no particular language…if we are not the best singer…God doesn’t mind.

I was reading a book last night that a supporting church member sent me for my birthday this year, and it talks about worrying about how to do things.
So I want to leave you tonight with this thought, God calls us to WORSHIP him, he doesn’t tell us how, he doesn’t say for how long…he just wants us to worship him. So if come to him with our praise in different ways, it will always be acceptable to him. So whenever you get down and think I don’t know how to pray, or I don’t know how to preach, just remember God isn’t looking for a certain method or order…he just wants you to DO, just do it. Amen

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Importance and Difficulty of Community in Japan

I spent three weeks this summer visiting my home, my country, America. While I was home I visited Arkansas, Valparaiso, Chicago and Milwaukee; meeting up with different friends, family members, and different communities I belonged/belong to back home. I was able to catch up with old friends, make new friends, have relationships and have great conversations about a variety of topics. Some things were trivial, some things were super important such as the Packers fall schedule; we all know that is important. I also had several conversations with people about the programs and initiatives that are being implemented over here in the Japanese churches, and then they asked my opinion of how those programs were going, and what the biggest problem tends to be. Now that is a tricky question. I have only been here a short two years but within those two years I feel I have made many many observations. One of the most important and probably also the biggest hindrance to the Christian church would be community.

Community is a rather important component to ones survival, especially here in Japan. It gives us a group to belong to, giving us our identity. It gives us work and relationships to tend to, giving us a sense of being needed. Our families tend to be there to support and encourage us, giving us a full time cheerleading squad. The communities we belong to play a very important role in our everyday lives. For Americans, these groups or communities may not play as strong of a role. We tend to move around the country, leaving friends and family behind and an occasional email tends to suffice, as we hold ourselves up by our own strength. Or so we think. Japanese people on the other hand know better, they know and value the sense of that community, probably more than anything else in their life. Friendships take a long time to form and cultivate in this culture.

Another important part of the community structure here in Japan is the need to blend in. No one should stand out. In America we all try to stand out, be different and be noticed. In Japan the saying goes, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. This can be attributed to a cultural dimension known as individualism. I book I read in college; Cultures and Organizations by Hofstede discusses many different characteristics/dimensions of culture; things that define different cultures around the world. One of these dimensions is individualism.

Individualism pertains to societies which the ties between individuals are loose; everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family. Collectivism as its opposite pertains to societies in which people from birth onward are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. (76).


American = Score 91 Rank 1
Japan = Score 46 Rank 33-35

These scores reflect how strong one is on the individualism scale, thus showing that Japan tends to fall more into the collectivist society. Those groups they are born into are something that need to remain unwavering, and leaving such a group to join another one…is rather taboo. Be the same, stay loyal to the group you were born into and life will be easy.

In college I had a course on international relations, which is where I read this book, and in this class we discussed many of these topics. One thing we discussed was the ease to make friendships, to join these communities. Japanese people tend to be like coconuts, hard on the outside, layer upon layer of hard exterior, taking forever to crack into. And I have cracked a coconut before…trust me, its hard.

But once you finally get through all the exterior hardness there is a soft fruit and milk on the inside where a friendship can form. Americans on the other hand tend to be like peaches. Soft and easy to penetrate on the outside, but once you get into the core…we get harder to crack. Americans are easy to open up their group and accept you in, instant friends. I have met people on airplanes and heard their lives stories before take off. But Japanese people on the other hand…it takes years to really get to know someone. I knew a student for over a year before she said ANYTHING about her husband…they are guarded and careful with what they share. This sort of self preservation, if you will, is extremely difficult when trying to integrate people into new groups ie: bringing people into the church.

Now, many of you that are reading this, I’m assuming have been Christians your whole life. Your family is Christian. Most of your friends are Christian. Somewhere down the line I’m willing to bet some of you even went to Christian schools. We’ve been surrounded by Christianity our whole life, so for us being a Christian is easy, I didn’t lose anything by being a Christian. My family didn’t disown me, my friends didn’t leave me, I didn’t bring shame upon my ancestors. But for a Japanese person who converts…these are some of the issues that they face. Turning your back on hundreds of years of tradition to become a Christian isn’t an easy thing to do. Leaving the community of your old friends and family to join a new community of Christians is not something that happens over night here. It can take years, even decades before someone feels their ties are strong enough to a new group to commit themselves. This is where the challenges arise.

I will continue to write a few entries about this topic because I feel it is rather important in understanding the Japanese church.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It must be summer....

because my blog entries have been slacking. My apologies. I have been thinking about a new blog to write though and I'm still tossing around some ideas but until I get that one up and going I shall leave you with a picture entry. These are pictures from our last day of kids class at Hongo. It was a great time and the kids all really enjoyed themselves. We played some games...and it turns out they are learning! Pleasant surprise!