God’s Blessings to you Dear Loved Ones & Prayer Partners!
WOW! The first month of the new year is almost passed! Is it just me or does the time go by faster as we age? With winter here we are thankful that it is going by fast. As it is so cold here, inside and outside, we are thankful that the time is going quickly! We are a little thankful because the dollar has recently gotten stronger (up over 10%) which helps when we get money from the states, but with it also goes up the price of all of the imports….which are MANY!!!! Meat has gone up over 20%, gas 10%, kerosene is up over 25% and our only source of heat comes from kerosene heaters. It costs about $4.00 per gallon and it takes almost 20 gallons a week to heat only 3 rooms in our house! So it is a huge expense to us, but our hallways, bedrooms and other areas have no heat! It isn’t unusual to get out from the covers in the middle of the night, and be frozen by the time you walk the short distance through the hall, into the kitchen then to the bathroom! The average temperature in the night in those rooms is under 40!!!!! So we have to be fast! Ha, ha! Last week the water pipe in the ladies room at our church froze and broke! That is the flex pipe that goes from the water supply to the tank! INSIDE! FROZEN! BROKEN! There is no such thing as central heat, and only areas being used are kept warm! Same for the schools, they are ALL built with the windows facing the winter sun, and that is their MAIN source of heat! Most have kerosene heaters, but the smell is so bad, that as soon as the rooms are comfortable, the teacher opens up the windows for fresh air! CRAZY!
December is our busiest month, as you could see from our last newsletter, but after Christmas until around April is our SLOWEST time of the year! We go several weeks around New Years with out any classes, then January is entrance test time, so the high schools don’t have classes for a week, then in February the schools are getting ready for the end of year ceremonies so many classes are canceled! So we enjoy the slow down time, but it sure hurts with the loss of revenue! Luckily there are very few activities scheduled in the winter, so our expenses are probably at a minimum!
We have told you before about the lack of religion in the Japanese people. Christians represent well under 1% of the population, and although most people will tell you they are Buddhist, or follow Shinto, or a combination of both, they are unfortunately used only to carry out customs and traditions, rather than any religious meaning. Never is this more evident than at New Years! Most Japanese people will visit both a temple (Buddhist) and shrine (Shinto) during the first couple of days of the New Year. When you ask them why they go, they undoubtedly say to pray, the follow up questions is almost never answered, “Who do you pray to?” Yup, that question goes unanswered, but gives us a wonderful door to open to tell about who we pray to.
One of the main traditions at New Years outside of the temple visits is in food. They have several different foods that are traditional, but the biggest one is called ‘Osechi’. It is made up of many different small dishes that are all pickled, so they don’t need refrigeration or special care and can easily last over 1 week. When we first moved here in 1989 the stores were all closed from 5 to 7 days, so having food on hand was necessary. It wasn’t until the early 1960’s that most houses had actual refrigerators, (most then only ice boxes) so the mom wasn’t required to go shopping daily. With each one of the foods that make up the ‘Osechi’ comes a special meaning, I will give you several examples:
1) Daidai (Japanese bitter orange) Daidai means “from generation to generation” so it is a wish for children in the New Year.
2) Datemaki (sweet rolled omelet mixed with fish paste or mashed shrimp. It is a wish for many prosperous days.
3) Kamaboko (broiled fish cake, which are red and white color) They are symbols of the Japanese flag (rising sun) and have a celebratory, festive meaning.
4) Kazunoko (herring fish eggs) Kazu means “number” and ko means “child,” so it is a wish for numerous children.
5) Konbu (type of seaweed) is a symbol for joy.
6) Kuro-mame (black soybeans) is a wish for good health.
7) Tazukuri (Dried sardines cooked in soy sauce) in the old days fish were used to fertilize the rice fields, so it is a symbol of an abundant harvest.
These are only a few examples, in total there are around 15 special foods, they are usually stored and served in special boxes, that are usually stacked in three’s with each layer having an assortment of dishes.
The next month leaves us in some amount of uncertainty as the schools don’t make their decisions about next years English programs until 2 weeks before school starts! So for Kim, she doesn’t know what her schedule will be until the end of March, with school starting the beginning of April, so we only pray that God will work it out to make enough classes that it will allow us to meet our financial needs. John’s classes are almost all ongoing, so his don’t change so much, but April is always a change time, so usually he loses a few, but fortunately always gains students at that time of year.
In the past Japanese children had to take 6 years of English, but the focus is totally on grammar as a testing tool. Starting last year that number was raised to 8 years, with 5th and 6th grade elementary students required to take English once a week. Starting this coming April (supposedly) English only will be spoken in the high school classes, by both teachers and students. We say supposedly, because the goal of English is to pass entrance tests to the university, not to communicate, so we think the teachers will continue with Japanese in order to prepare their students for the exams. We get that impression, since history is not a testing subject for the entrance exams, most high schools (even though required) won’t waste class time teaching either Japanese or World history. It is kind of sad, and leaves the graduates really uneducated about the world!
By His grace, God continues to equip us for every challenge and opportunity that He presents. 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, , Ms. 38652. In addition to our needs, if your heart leads you to send us financial aid for the 3/11/11 victims please make a note with your love offering that it is for the on-going disaster relief. Thank-you all so much for your prayers and giving hearts. New Albany
We hold you always in our hearts and prayers with praise and thanksgiving.
In His love & always walking before Him, the Baranski Bunch