Monday, December 15, 2008

FYI our newsletters

Just a note to say I will be adding our monthly newsletters here. We cancelled our website since my ability to keep it any kind of up-to-date was missing in action! Don't know if there's anyone who read it on the website that doesn't receive it, but just in case we decided to post it here as well.
We are so blessed and thankful to be His vessels and we cherish every prayer on our behalf.
May God richly bless each of you with His peace. love, joy and grace this Christmas!

News of November

Greetings Dear Loved Ones & Prayer Partners!
YUCK! It’s getting colder! This is probably the time of year that we miss the creature comforts of America the most! Now, don’t get me wrong, Japan is a very modern country, but when it comes to heating and air conditioning they are RIDICULOUS! Usually they heat only the rooms that are being used and now the government is asking everyone to set their thermostats at 18C or 64F. That’s pretty cold, but that’s in the room that you will be using, such as where we teach, but the rest of the building is left completely COLD! Like in our church, soon the water in the toilets will all be FROZEN! Luckily the toilets all have heated seats, but when we wake up in the morning inside our house will be somewhere between 28 and 36 degrees! It takes a little time to get use to it, but after a while, you learn to live with it! Right now we are still in the adjustment period. We use an electric blanket at night, but then there is no other heat, so when you slip out of the covers it is really COLD! Remember that our town was the host city for the 1998 Winter Olympics so yes it does GET COLD! We always feel sorry for the students, the schools are so cold, none of the hallways are temperature controlled and the class room usually has one kerosene heater. It’s not unusual for the teacher to heat the room only to open all the windows shortly after to get in fresh air to get rid of the kerosene smell.
October has just ended, and I always enjoy sharing some of the local culture with you. October is called the ‘Kannazuki’, translated the month of no gods! This is a short story of what happens to the near 800,000 gods that many Japanese people believe dwell in the country. Izumo Taisha, in Shimane-ken on the Sea of Japan, is considered one of the two oldest shrines in Japan. The land of Izumo has a long history and extensive mythology, but there is no definitive date of origin for the shrine. The importance of Izumo as a religio-political center is established by the two main collections of myths, the Kojiki (712) and Nihon Shoki (722), as well as by the Izumo Fudoki (733) an ancient gazetteer and catalogue of resources of the different regions of Izumo mandated in the early Nara period. The shrine now called Izumo Taisha located in Taisha Town is referred to as Kizuki or Kiduki shrine in the Fudoki. Myths describe the land of Izumo as another realm, the underworld, called Yomi and the place to which Susano-no-mikoto, the unruly brother of the sun kami (god), was banished to remove him from the upper land of Yamato ruled by the descendent of the sun kami Amaterasu.
Kami are generally divided into earth kami and sky or heavenly kami. The ceremonial life at Izumo Taisha today includes the annual Kamiari-sai or Kamiari-tsuki, the month (October) when all the kami of Japan come to Izumo to take part in discussions, communion, and planning for the coming year. The Kamiari-sai is thought to be very ancient. It begins with the Kohjin Matsuri that is performed on Inasahama, a beach ten minute’s walk from the shrine. At dusk the 800,000 kami (a totality linked to the special number 8-ya) are led to the shore from the horizon by the Ryujajin, the snake or dragon god who lives in the depths of the sea.
At shrines other than Izumo Taisha, this festival is called “the month of the absence of kami.” Generally, October was referred to as kannazuki (the month when kami are not present).
With all the other troubles missionaries face in this country, we are also facing a belief in 800,000 different gods. They literally have a god for EVERYTHING! Just the other day, November 23rd our city had our annual Ebisu festival. Ebisu is one of the gods of commerce. Here they have a two hour fireworks display from 6 – 8 pm. They have built a large area along the river levees, where people can sit and watch. This year it was 28 degrees, but still over 300,000 people turned out to watch the display. Because our area was originally a farming community, the festival is timed with the harvest of apples, one of our prefectures best crops. Now these are just the Shinto gods, (800,000) then we are also faced with the large Buddhism Temple in our town. I guess it’s not too surprising that only 0.35% of our prefecture are Christians! That’s only 35 people for every 10,000!!!!!
We do have lots going on, especially during the Christmas season. Because of economic reasons, Christmas is everywhere. All of the major stores have Christmas decorations, and you can hear Christmas music often throughout our town. It is one of the few times during the year that it is pretty easy to tell people about Jesus. We will be working with the local churches for two annual events that are held each year. On Nov. 30th the annual Christmas Party and Pagent will be held. It will be at one of the local hotels and will start with a small buffet followed by the Christmas play performed by local Christians. One of our church members will be the narrator and another Joseph. Special music will be provided throughout the evening. On December 23rd we all gather at our main train station and sing Christmas Carols for an hour.
Our church will be co-hosting with Mako and I, the annual Christmas Party for the children. We are anticipating more than 125 people. We will be performing the Christmas play using my(John) students and they have all been practicing singing some English Christmas songs. I’ve enlisted the mom’s of the students to sing as well. It should be a wonderful time. Each family will be receiving a free New Testament in both English and Japanese thanks to our local Gideon group. In total we hope to pass out about 200 bibles to our students, and classmates and parents of Zack’s school. On December 24th Nagano Bible Church will host its annual Christmas Eve program. We usually have a wonderful turnout with 40 or so non-Christians, so please pray for His Spirit to open the hearts of all those in attendance.
Kim is doing really well on the blog, so please check it out to enjoy what’s going on in our lives.

We trust God to equip us for each and every challenge and opportunity that comes our way. Your prayers and support are vital. Please pray with and for us that God will guide us in all we do and that He will lead us to follow His purpose, wherever that may be, and use us as instruments of His love in all we do. Should God ask any of you to partner with us in our outreach for Him, please send any love offerings to: Bethlehem United Methodist Church, for Baranski John Alan Mission Fund, c/o Becky Wack, 1003 Rowan Cove, New Albany, Ms. 38652.
In His love & walking before Him, the Baranski Bunch

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas Story

Today was the Christmas Story play and party for John, and Mako's, English students.
About 100 kids and parents came to hear the story of Jesus' birth,
share time together, and yes, to see Santa.

The story players were English students and church members together.
They all did a wonderful job!

It was the first time for many to see and hear the true story of Christmas.

The local Gideons donated English/Japanese New Testament Bibles and they were given as gifts to each family.

And of course the Jolly Ol' Elf himself showed up to pass out gifts to the kiddies and

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Pink ya think?!

I just couldn't resist!
Ya think pink is her favorite color?!?
Her skirt, tights and shoes were also pink!

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"Rookie Tournament" Nov. 08

Nov. 28 - 30 was the Nagano Prefecture "Rookie Tournament"
meaning that only 1st & 2nd year members played,
remember high school in Japan is 3 years, not 4.

They also recognized and gave awards to the 12 players selected for the prefecture team for the summer tournament.
Teh team is chosen from players in the top 4 teams in the previous tournament.

This year there were 6 players from Zack's team, Tokai Third, 3 from the 2nd place team, 2 from 3rd, and 1 from 4th.
They do the same for the girls teams.

Seems the rookie teams that make the final four are almost always from the same four schools.
Year to year they shuffle position a bit but rarely does another school make it to the finals.

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Thanksgiving time together

The Hefners & Whites managed to get together to share in giving thanks this year.
With our family so spread out it's such a gift to be able to get together to keep our bonds intact.
Those of you who may live close to family and are able to pop in on each other regularly,
Please know what a special blessing that is!
Give thanks!!!!

Looks like Will thought he might do a little "harvesting" of his own.
How that grin fills my heart with joy!

Not sure - maybe Charles is making a list of all he has to be thankful for...

Our sons-in-love, Ben & Bo, obviously were not wanting to pose
as they had their minds on a little Thanksgiving hunting.

While Daeon & Heather seem happy to share their joyful smiles!
Sure do love all of you!!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Not just a basketball player...

This is the 2009 edition of Tokai Third High Schools' new student booklet.
Front cover - recognize anyone?!

We figure they must be looking to promote themselves as more 'international' ;-)

There are pictures of various class scenes, sports activities, the campus, etc.
Lots of articles and photos telling why you would want to choose Tokai for your high school!

(I know - this one is fuzzy - sorry! It's a picture of a picture in the book!)
As most schools in Japan , they do wear uniforms. Still, don't they look happy!?
Naturally, we thought it was pretty impressive that Zack is on the front cover
and in three other shots in the booklet!
Ian couldn't believe they didn't spotlight him in the basketball section showing his dunk!?!
Maybe next year....

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Do you know what this is?

While we were out searching for fall colors on Saturday we stopped by this very popular farm about an hour from our house.
In the shops here you can buy this vegetable in SO MANY forms!!
Fresh - of course!! Oroshi - meaning finely grated. Pickled. As a spice in pickling various other vegetables.
Chocolate! Noodles! Chips! Sake! Ice cream! Beer! Wine! Jelly! Candied! and more!!

Do you know what they plant and grow in these rows of gravel and water?
It's grown here to maturity and then harvested.
Primarily for the root.....
though they do use the leaves as well.

There are 'fields' of this as far as you can see!
And this day there were workers out in many areas tending the plants in all different stages of growth.

Probably most popularly used in sushi!! YES!
It is wasabi! Japanese horseradish.

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Almost too late!

We tried! Really!
The fall colors all around us are so amazing! Yet every time we thought to go for a drive and get some pictures to share there was a thick haze hiding them. :-{

So last Saturday - since there was NO basketball!!! - we headed out.
Where the colors were abundant and bright - the haze was thick....

By the time the haze cleared we were high enough that the colors had already faded and many leaves fallen.

Still some beautiful shades of red and orange here and there,
but not nearly as beautiful in these shots as what our eyes have been blessed to see.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Random musings

Hi there! Been a bit since I updated so thiought I'd better add something...

The snippet of mountain still in our view is rapidly taking on the colors of change in season. When you catch a clear day the trees are so vibrant and gorgeous it really causes you to stop and marvel and say, " WOW! Thanks for the beauty God!"

This is our dear friend Yuki. We met the first time we moved to Japan - 19 years ago!! Her family has lived all over the globe and we are so blessed to count them as friends. Thailand is presently their place of residence and Yuki frequently comes to Nagano for seminars, so whenever possible we meet for a bit of a catch-up. It's wonderful! She was here this weekend -and we were too! No basketball!!

Isn't she beautiful?!! A gift from Yuki's favorite shop and a special addition to my collection! I love it!

After a visit to the vet we tested Onyx without the cone - he failed the test - so this is a quick shot after breakfast before he returned to being the Conehead. We have, however, been able to let Ebony join him again and they both seem quite pleased to be sharing the same space again.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Falling of the Fig

In our "yard" - a strip of ground about a foot wide that runs along side the driveway - we have a fig, a persimmon, a Japanese plum, a mulberry tree and a few ??? bushes. The fig tree has produced abundantly every year we have lived here. Over abundantly! And it had grown so high - taller than a two story house - that it was impossible to reach the figs in over half of the tree. We, along with Pastor, had already determined that when the figs were finished this year it was getting a major and long overdue trim job!
Figs are a wonderful fruit God gave us! So very versatile! We made up new ways every year to try them because there were more than we could use or give away! The birds rather enjoyed the fact that there were so many in the top of the tree that they could feast on since we couldn't get to them to pick.
Figs also make a disgusting mess when they get over ripe and begin to "bleed" their juice on everything in the vicinity!! Then they drop from the tree and splat all over and if you don't get them up right away they stick like glue to wherever they landed as they dry. At this stage the birds have lost interest but the bugs are loving it! YUCK - O!!!!
And to top it off the beetles had decided to infest parts of the tree and were eating it up and weakening the limbs.

So the end of our figs came early this year!
The day of the Halloween party John was so looking forward to getting home and taking a long, well deserved nap!! He was telling me all the way that he would be snoozing by 3. We had to drop by the church on our way home and that's when Pastor told him that our next door neighbors had called to complain about the fig tree. The dripping and falling fruit along with the bugs were bad enough, but now the limbs, weakened by the gnawing beetles, were cracking and falling on their roof. OOOPS!

So instead of a nap we went home and got after the fig tree!
4 plus hours later.... this is what remains.
Still has a couple of branches shooting up and next year there will be many more. And I can reach them even with out a ladder!
We think the neighbors are glad to lose the mess from the tree but a little sad to lose the bit of privacy it supplied between our house and theirs.... the bad with the good!

Hard to believe that huge tree fit into this little pile of branches and limbs and a few bags!!

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More Halloween Cuties

This little guy was so hilarious...
He and his mom came with some of John's students - first time to meet them.
"Rocko Butterfly" walked right up and picked him up out of Mom's arms and this kid is all smiles!!!!
They walk around the room a bit - 3 or 4 times during the course of the party - he loves it!
Never a pout or a tear :0
At lunch tiime, off came the costume, and this child wanted nothing to do with John!!

This little angel (along with her mom) has been coming to John's classes since she was just a few months old. She just had her 2nd birthday and it is amazing to see her with John and how much English she understands just from having been exposed by coming with her mom.

And this little munchkin (her costume is really a 'tanuki'-raccoon dog) will be 3 in January and has also been accompanying her mom to classes since just a few months old. Their moms are thrilled with how they have 'absorbed' English just from coming to their classes with them ;-)

And don't let the look on her face fool you! She was having a great time but this is a normal thing for her to put on her "serious" face when you ask her to smile!

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Happy Halloween!

The Halloween party that John and our friend, Mako, hosted this year was a great success!!
Over 100 people came to enjoy the festivities representing about 40 families.

All these little cuties are English students John teaches.

We were thrilled to see several Dads come with their families this year!

Rocko Butterfly holds the kids attention almost as good as John does ;-}

The parents always act so amazed at how well their kids understand when John talks to them!

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