Blessings Dear Loved Ones & Prayer Partners!
Happy New Year! I know it’s a late greeting, but it is our first correspondence this year, so once again, Happy New Year! Our last year ended great with Zack’s team finishing in 5th place in the All Japan tournament! So in the two National tournaments this year we finished 3rd and 5th place in the country!!!! Here there are no Class A or B schools, everyone competes on the same level, so it was so great! The first time any teams from our prefecture finished better than 16th!!!!!! YEAH! Zack will be heading to New Albany on February 8th and stay until the 2nd of March when he has to come back for graduation. His high school studies are now finished, with his official graduation ceremony on March 5th, the following day, March 6th he will check into his dorm at the university to start practice. He is lucky that he will be able to enjoy a few weeks back ‘home’. I wish to thank all of you in advance who may do something special for him to help his time back to be filled with special memories. Once in university, he will be too busy for the next 4 years to even think about a trip home.
All the churches here start the new year with services on the 1st, ours is no exception. So we got to welcome in the new year with other church members! The tradition of service on the 1st is because of the culture where everyone goes to either a temple or shrine for special prayers on the 1st of January. Thousands of people are waiting in line at midnight on the 31st to offer their prayers. The large shrine in Narita, about 30 miles from Tokyo has over 10,000,000 people visit it between the 1st and 3rd of January. Just in case you thought that was a misprint, I said TEN MILLION PEOPLE!!!!!
We do have some very sad news to report, my (John’s) father passed away Friday night, January 28th. He has been sick on and off for quite some time, so we think it is truly a blessing and so thankful that our wonderful Father has called him home. Many of you know the troubles that my Dad and I shared, and so thankful that we have had good communications the last couple of years. We thank-you all for the wonderful prayers that you have always lifted up for us.
We didn’t go back for the funeral services, as the time and cost were prohibitive, but we did have our normal 5th Sunday sing on the 30th and used it for our own memorial service honoring my Dad. I’ve always said I want someone to sing ‘All My Trials’, a song by Peter, Paul and Mary, at my funeral, so last night I sang it for my Dad. We had about 20 people join us, so was a warm feeling for all of us.
We have been very cold here - our water pipes have been frozen in the kitchen for the past 4 days with no idea when they will be thawed! We think they must be frozen in the ground since the entire pipes are outside the house; they run up the exterior walls rather than inside the house and all are insulated with protection, plus wrapped with an electric hot wrap to keep them warm. But still NO WATER!!!! YUCK! Thankfully we can still shower & flush! So far this winter we haven’t had our toilet bowl freeze (the first winter it hasn’t) so maybe it’s not so cold…! Maybe we are getting OLD!!! ha, ha!
Three days a week Kim drives into the mountains for classes and if you have been checking our face book, or soon our blog you will see some of the pictures. Today’s classes were a 30 minute drive from here but they had a 2 foot snow fall Saturday night and probably about 4 feet on the ground, but that isn’t so bad, her Friday class has over SIX!!!!!! Please pray that she can have safe travel each day. She has enjoyed each of the schools and sharing with them many of our customs and cultures. From sharing the true meaning of Christmas to the art of making snow ice cream! All of the mountain schools have ski classes every week for the children, so it is good for them, but COLD for the teachers! Usually schools don’t have heaters here, except for a kerosene heater in the corner of a room, which often isn’t running. All of the schools are built with the classroom windows facing the winter sun. If it is a sunny day, the rooms are usually OK by about 10 or 11 in the morning, but a cloudy day….FORGET IT!!! She is lucky at the farthest school, the town has many natural hot springs (onsens) and they heat the floors of the school with hot water from the springs. It is maybe the most comfortable school in our area!
Although the snow is bad for us, Ian LOVES it. He tries to go snow-boarding as much as he can, which is never enough. He is also singing in a Hip Hop group that is doing really well. Last month they made one of the national magazines and hopefully soon maybe making their first recording! They had a concert last Saturday night here in town. One of the members has a website, he is Brazilian Japanese so lots of Japanese and Portuguese but you can hear some of their songs. They sing in 3 different languages so they are quite interesting. Here is the site: https://www.myspace.com/h2ojapan but remember they are a hip-hop rap group. Truly they are all such wonderful and sweet kids! Remember, don’t judge a book by it’s cover!
This time of year is pretty slow for everyone as the focus is all on the school children. For last year junior high and high school students, it is entrance test time coming up so they and their parents are busy preparing for the next step. Every high school is entered only through passing a test, there is NO such thing as a pure public school where you automatically go. You have to pass a test and each school has a different level of students. The schools are classified by the level of the students. There is so much competition to enter the best high schools! Each school has it’s own test, and if you fail, you have to wait one more year to try again. Most students take a separate test at a private high school, just in case. It is so tough to understand how the children’s future is usually decided by which high school they qualify for. Lots of pressure for a 14 year old child! President Obama talks about how much better Asian schools are, but there are also some really serious draw backs! The poor kids are NEVER KIDS! From junior high their life is ONLY SCHOOL and SCHOOL EVENTS!
By His grace, God continues to equip us for each individual challenge and opportunity that He presents. Your prayers and support are necessary to our being here. We ask you to pray with and for us that we always strive to walk before God, wherever that may be, and be used 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.
We hold you each in our hearts and prayers with praise and thanksgiving.
In His love & walking before Him, the Baranski Bunch