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. http://theraven4god.blogspot.com/
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