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The Cha Family in Japan


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Through the Words of a 3rd Grade Teacher: Lessons from God

There is now one week left of summer break before the girls return to school. The summer break in Japan is six weeks long, and the students resume the school year in September (the academic year is from April to March).

As the first semester came to a close at the end of July, there were parent-teacher meetings. As the girls are both in elementary school this year (Aliya is in 3rd grade; Mikayla in 1st), I met both of their teachers. I always have the same questions for their teachers:

Regarding Japanese:

  • How is her Japanese?
  • How is she doing with her school work in Japanese?
  • Are there any concerns you have regarding her Japanese?
  • What can I do to help her improve her Japanese?

Regarding friends at school:

  • How is she doing socially at school?
  • Does she have friends?
  • Do you have any concerns?

From my questions you can see my two main concerns for my girls in school are: Japanese and friendships.

And to be frank, of the two girls, I am always a bit more anxious about Aliya, mostly because she had such a difficult time in 1st grade; and though she has done so well since then, the memories of her suffering during that long year have left residual scars in my mind and heart.

As Aliya is in 3rd grade, I can see that by 4th grade, her level of Japanese in the various subjects she will be studying (science, history, etc.) will exceed my level of Japanese; I foresee that day when I won’t be able to help her with her school work anymore.

So I am constantly worried about her level of Japanese at school. As I was talking with her teacher about this, she did mentioned some concerns she had, namely that because Aliya is not a native speaker, her vocabulary isn’t at the same level of her classmates, and she has difficulty understanding spoken instructions. As I heard this, I felt my heart sink, and I remembered something I had seen a few months back at the start of the year in April.

There was a classroom observation day where parents are invited to see one class. In Aliya’s class, each child did a presentation about a place in their neighborhood. When it was Aliya’s turn, she stood in front her her class, with her paper in hand, and as she read her report, her voice was so quiet it was almost inaudible. She stood up there, speaking in her mouse-like voice, shoulders slightly slumped…she looked so tiny.

I remember thinking, “Who is this?”, because the Aliya I know is so loud at home, I’m always having to tell her to be more quiet so we don’t bother our neighbors.

In that moment, I realized that she lacked confidence in her Japanese ability; she felt insecure. In addition, she too probably has residual scars from that first year’s hardships. It made me wonder how she felt every day at school. It broke my heart, and I  stood, fighting back tears, in the back of that classroom, looking at the tiny Aliya.

As I listened to the teacher’s concerns about Aliya’s Japanese, I felt a flood of emotions–and mostly, I felt discouraged. Aliya works so hard during the school year; she studies Japanese with a tutor twice a week, and recently she has had moments when she’s complained about how many lessons she has. Sometimes I too just want her to play like the other kids. “But even with all that, her Japanese isn’t good enough,” I deflatedly thought as I listened to the teacher.

While I sat there, silently spiraling into despair, as if on cue, the teacher looked at me directly in the eye and said, “I often tell Aliya that she is special. She speaks two languages, English and Japanese, which is something that the other kids can’t do. She is a kind-hearted, loving, and caring person. She cares for the other students. She even cares for me, asking me how I am. I am not worried about your daughter; she will be ok.”

At that moment, I saw how much the teacher liked, even favored, Aliya; that moment testified to me about how the Lord answered our prayers for her teacher to “show favor” to Aliya.

Through the teacher’s words, the Lord directed my attention to the blessings Aliya has received, rather than focusing on what I perceived was lacking. This is my consistent perception, as a glass-half-full type of person.

In fact, the Lord used her teacher’s words to help me step back to really see that she will be OK, really, no matter what. The Lord has provided for her in the past, even with the residual scars, and he will surely provide all that she needs for the future, even if her Japanese isn’t on par with native-speakers.

But more than being OK at school, I saw how the Lord has kept Aliya in the palm of his hand and how he will continue to do so. And he showed me this through the words of her 3rd grade teacher in Japanese elementary school (!!!), which reminded me how he is always in control and provides through abundant and various means.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

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Saying Goodbye to Our Mamachari (a bicycle for moms and kids)

Today I sold our mamachari (a bicycle with seats for children), and as I turned to go home after the sale, I found myself suddenly filled with emotion, my eyes tearing up. I felt genuine sorrow. I was caught by surprise by my unexpected reaction.

But as I was going home, I saw that I was responding to a chapter closed, a chapter of our lives in Japan had ended. You see, since coming here about three years ago, this bicycle was our main mode of transportation, for me and the girls. I have ridden it with both girls in our first year, and with only Mikayla thereafter, almost everyday to commute to their youchien (Japanese kindergarten).

The first year, especially, marked a time of new discoveries, uncountable cultural adjustments, and adventures into the unknown. Everything seemed so novel and fascinating. In addition, riding the bicycle with my girls was a special time we shared — numerous conversations had, songs sung, and roads passed. The girls were only 3 and 5 years old, and when I look at photos from that time, they seem so little. And life as we knew it, in the last three years, included this bicycle.

Now that the girls have both entered Japanese elementary school and are too old to ride in the mamachari, I see that we are entering into a new stage in our time in Japan. We are still on an adventure into the unknown, learning to adjust culturally, and discovering new experiences, but we are now in another phase. We have grown accustomed to things that once seemed so foreign. For our girls, memories of America have faded, and Japan has become what is familiar, what is home. And the reality is, our girls are also growing up, as they now ride their own bicycles without needing mama to tow them around. The farewell to the mamachari also reflects their growing independence.

Three years have flashed by so quickly, and yet so much has happened…and most days I’m rushing just to keep up. But today, the sale of our mamachari gave me the opportunity to pause and reflect on this transition, because the mamachari isn’t just a bicycle; it is an artifact that has recorded, with all the kilometers its wheels have turned, our day-to-day life in the last three years in Japan.

And with certainty, I can see the Lord’s good hand guiding and caring for us, with and now without, our beloved mamachari. For that, I am grateful.


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Blessings in Disguise: Aliya’s First Year in Japanese Elementary School

One of the recurring themes for me in the last year has been fear. I wrote in a previous post that I’m a fearful person. Fear invades my perspective of many situations, and it is the root cause of anxiety, stress, and other emotions that consistently impact my thoughts and reactions.

This year, one way my struggle with fear has been exposed repeatedly is through the challenges Aliya faced as she entered Japanese elementary school. I will not downplay these challenges: it has been a stressful and difficult experience…for her and for our family.

For a period of time, I saw my easy-going, happy, positive little girl transform into a lonely, insecure, and at times sad person. She felt very alone at school; largely due to her inability to freely speak Japanese, she became even more shy and unable to make friends. She played by herself each day, taking sideward glances at the other kids playing together during recess, in class, and around the school. She would come home with tests left completely blank, because she was unable to do the work. I know she felt very deflated, and yet she didn’t complain (a testament to her grit and the grace of God in the personality he has given her).

Aliya had to work very hard to learn the language, persevering through hours of study, sometimes in tears, apathy, and arguments.  As Aliya just turned 7 years old shortly after entering first grade, I have learned that it is not true that kids just “somehow pick up” a language; they learn it quickly (much more so than adults) but it still takes a lot of effort to get to the level of fluency that elementary school requires.

If I was the one who was facing these challenges, I could have dealt with it. But because I was in the place of witnessing the struggles of my child, it made the situation exponentially more difficult, often leaving me feeling helpless as a mere observer. While I know that children are resilient — and even from my own experience as a child of immigrants, children will eventually adjust, learn the language, and make friends — these facts did not diminish the actual heartache and difficulties my daughter faced.

During this time, I wish I could say I was the all-embracing supportive and loving mother I should have been, and that I responded in faith when witnessing and directly faced with such adversity. But I admit that most times I responded in sin: in frustration, anger, anxiety, and hopelessness. I pushed my daughter, who was already trying her best, too hard; I was impatient and critical; I lashed out in anger in the midst of frustration; my heart became hardened to her classmates who wouldn’t befriend her; I questioned our call to Japan in light of my daughter’s unhappy circumstances; I stayed up nights worrying and cried a lot after I sent her off to school every morning.

While it was important and necessary to put into place resources and support to help Aliya thrive in her new environment (such as finding a good Japanese tutor for her, working with her daily on her Japanese, etc.), in time I realized that those were not the sole answers to our struggles. Becoming fluent in Japanese doesn’t alone solve the problem, nor does making friends. The truth was, God allowed her to be in that struggle and, through such challenges, he wanted her to know him more. These were opportunities to teach her about God, and his presence became tangible realities to her.

For example, we told her repeatedly, even though mommy and daddy were not at school with her, that even as she played alone at the playground, she was really not alone. In fact, God was sitting right there with her, taking care of her. I remember her eyes widening at this realization. It gave us the chance to tell her why we are living in Japan, that her classmates don’t know the gospel, and that as a child of God, she can show kindness to others regardless of the circumstances. It showed her how she can pray to God about anything, and he will listen. I believe that in this year of struggle, the Lord provided Aliya a great opportunity to know him more…even as a 7 year old can. I am most grateful for that.

It also taught me more about fear. I was afraid for my daughter, and my fears exposed my sins.  And at the root of that pervasive fear is my lack of trust in God, which is, on the flip side of the same coin, my over-dependence on myself. The Lord was asking me, “Do you trust me?”, and he used a very powerful means (my daughter) to show me my heart of distrust. Do I entrust my daughter to God? Do I really believe that he loves her more than me, that he will care for her better than me?

I think, as parents, we all face these questions about our children. We can so easily make them into our idol, and the comfort and ease of their lives our pursuit. But the reality is, they are in God’s good hands, and whatever he brings into their lives, it is always for their best. And when I trust in the One who has given us this truth in Christ, then there is no room for fear; fear is cast out.

What fears dominate your thoughts? About what are you worried and anxious? To what are you holding so tightly with a white-knuckled grip? Remember the love and presence of the God who always cares for us and who has given us this grace and hope in Christ Jesus. I, too, will try to remember this truth. And may God increase our faith and give us the grace to respond in trust when we face various struggles and challenges, big or small, in the moments to come.

Thank you for reading,

-ym 🙂


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The Immigrant Experience…in Japan: Sending Your Child Off to School

birdflyingfromhandA couple of weeks ago, the girls’ youchien (preschool/ kindergarten) had classroom observation day for each class. Parents were invited to watch what the students do during school. I went for two days; one for Aliya’s class and another day for Mikayla’s.

As I arrived with the other parents (mostly moms) shortly after drop off, we went to the main classroom where all the classes play together for the first 15 minutes of school. After a short outdoor exercise time, on the observation day of Aliya’s class, the parents followed Aliya’s class upstairs to their classroom, where they began with a worship time (our girls attend a Christian Japanese youchien). The students sat at their desks in groups of four, while the parents sat around the perimeter of the classroom.

After singing a hymn, each student stood up to say a Bible verse they memorized. As each child stood up to recite a verse, I began to wonder nervously if Aliya knew a Bible verse in Japanese. But then I saw her from the back, and I saw her shoulders noticeably slump and her head bow down in uncertainty when it was her turn. She stood up with hunched shoulders, in silence. I felt like it was minutes but it was only for a few seconds, before the teacher said a verse slowly in Japanese for Aliya to repeat. She sat down, and the next child took his turn. I’m sure no one really thought much of that moment because everyone (teachers, classmates and parents alike) have been very understanding of our being foreigners.

But as I watched my daughter, standing with slouched shoulders, cowering in her awareness of her lack of fluency in Japanese and the insecurity that comes with that awareness, my eyes filled with tears. I just wanted to run to her, hold her in my arms, and carry her home.

At that moment, a memory came to me. While I was born in the States, when I was 2 years old (and my sister, 3), we moved to Korea for 2 years. When we returned, my sister was entering kindergarten, but because we lived in Korea, she was fluent in Korean but couldn’t speak English. We lived in a suburb of Houston at that time when diversity wasn’t common and people’s racial prejudices and ignorance were not concealed by political correctness. I remember that on the first day of school, my mom rode the school bus with my sister to school. I don’t even know how my mom got back home; maybe she walked.

I always just took that memory as a fact, something that my mom did on my sister’s first day of school. But as I sat in Aliya’s classroom, I had a real and tangible understanding of what my mother experienced sending her daughter off to school in a new culture with a new language, in a possibly unfriendly and unkind environment. I saw how my mom, who stood under 5 feet tall, tried her best to protect her daughter, not caring about what others thought of her.

I understood the fears, the anxiety, the tears she must have cried…but I am now finding myself in a similar situation.

Aliya starts Japanese elementary school this April. Just last week, I attended an orientation meeting for parents at the school. My friends who send their children to the same school have told me that many foreigners attend the school. That offers some comfort. God has provided friends to help me to understand the enrollment process and translate documents for me. That offers some comfort. The administration seemed helpful and kind. That offers some comfort.

And yet, my heart is filled with worries and anxiety for my daughter. I don’t want her to be ostracized because she is a foreigner or can’t speak Japanese fluently. I don’t want her to be made fun of or bullied. I don’t want her to feel insecure or inferior. I don’t want her to feel lonely.

But in those moments at night as I lay paralyzed in fear, imagining the worst, I have to remind myself that there is One who loves Aliya more than me; One who is actually in control, while I am not; One who does all things for the good of his children, one of whom is Aliya. I must loosen my white-knuckled grip of control and surrender in faith and trust in God, in whom I can have genuine and complete comfort.

He will provide us the grace to handle whatever situations arise as Aliya enters school. And I hope that God will instill in Aliya greater faith in him to have peace and security beyond the things of this world.

Would you please pray with us for her? Thank you.

(For additional prayer requests, please visit our prayer page.)


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“Boo yah, I did it!”…and all the other things I’ve accomplished

Last Saturday, the girls’ school had its annual Christmas program, which included class performances with the grand finale of a musical rendition of the birth of Jesus. I felt so proud as my girls played their roles. Our girls sang songs in Japanese, and Aliya even nailed her Japanese speaking line.

As I sat in the audience, I remembered that I sat in a similar audience just about a year ago. It was Mikayla’s preschool’s Christmas program. We were in the trenches of moving out of our Irvine, CA condo: packing things to be shipped to Japan; selling most of our possessions; making major decisions like pulling Aliya out of kindergarten at the end of the semester; and the other frenzied tasks that had to be done but have become a blur. And in the midst of that was Mikayla’s performance.

I had pulled out a dress for her to wear and had taken her to school, though she was quite clingy (the process of the move was difficult for her; see this post). And as it was time for her three-year-old class to sing a song on stage, I could hear someone wailing. As the crying became louder and I wondered whose baby was making such a ruckus, I realized…it was Mikayla. She was sobbing, so I ran to the back and took her in my arms. Long story short, we ended up going home and skipping out on the program all together.

I remember that moment so clearly, but it’s hard to believe it was just a year ago…because in some ways, it seems like it was several years ago. It feels like we’ve been living in Japan for much longer than 10 months…and I mean this in a good way. It’s amazing, but we have had such a smooth transition and truly enjoy our life here. So when I remember the things we were doing a year ago (moving out of our home; getting ready to visit my sister’s home for Christmas; taking Aliya to see the Nutcracker; depending on the kindness of many friends to help us move; making last minute, final playdates; etc.), it’s hard to believe that we’ve been living in Japan for less than a year.

And my amazement at this fact, the smoothness of our adjustment in the last 10 months, is really a testimony of God’s goodness, faithfulness, kindness, and graciousness to us – his work in us. He has truly provided all that we’ve needed, from the moment we stepped on the plane with our eight overweight suitcases, to the help we received from team members when settling in, to the friends the Lord has provided, to the youchien where the girls go to school, to learning the language and culture, to the church planting team the Lord has established, to the seminary where Damon will start teaching in April. The list can go on. As I step back and write this all down, it’s clear that it is all God’s work.

But, to be honest, there are many days when I try to claim them as my own.

Let me give you an example: when I took my recent Japanese test and passed, my first thought was “Boo yah, I did it!” But you see, immediately before I took the test, I said to myself, “This test is in God’s hands.” And I meant it because it was a hard class; I was perpetually one of the worst ones in the class, though I studied and prepared. And in the weeks leading up to the test, we were so busy: church planting meetings, sicknesses, preparations for the school’s Christmas program, meeting up with people. I couldn’t study nearly as much as I wanted. So on the morning of the test, I realized very clearly, if I pass, it is up to the Lord. BUT as soon as I learned I passed the test, I thought, “Boy, I rocked it! All my last-minute studying paid off. Young-Mi did it again!”

Instead of thanking God first, I thanked myself. I was humbly dependent on God when I was unsure if I would be able to pass the test, but when I did pass, I became arrogantly independent. These are the thoughts that flow in my mind, my internal conversations that seek to puff myself up in my accomplishments, achievement, and efforts. It is my pride. It’s my desire for autonomy. It’s my lack of dependence on God.

It’s not to say that the Lord does not bless our hard work and efforts. But there is a fine line between claiming those blessings from God and becoming prideful in those blessing by viewing them as the result of our own efforts. Often, this pride is internal and unseen by others, but it spreads rapidly in our thoughts and actions.

So in light of my ever-present pride, I must fight to remember, moment by moment (because this is how easily and often I forget!), that all that I have is the Lord’s. Nothing is because of my work alone, but it’s the Lord’s work in our lives…and I must be watchful for the pride that lurks and seeks to puff myself up. It is very humbling to be reminded of this truth, but it is also very freeing.

In this Christmas season, as we remember the condescension of our Lord Jesus in the form of a helpless, human baby to save us from our sins, let’s remind ourselves that nothing we do is our work alone but the Lord’s work in us. And may this reminder and reality compel us to repent and depend on God, in prayer, in life, and in deed…so that we can truly be set free from ourselves to do God’s work for his glory!

Thanks for reading,

-ym 🙂

See our latest prayer requests here.


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It’s All About Me, People!

ME

A while back, I met someone for the first time at an event. After our initial introductions, we started to have some small talk. He began to tell me about what he does and so on. As the conversation progressed, I became distinctly aware that the man continued to talk and talk and talk about…himself. In our fifteen-minute conversation, I tried a few times but realized quickly that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. And the few opportunities I had to speak, I could see that this man wasn’t listening to what I was saying.

I left the encounter with a negative impression of that person. Well, to be honest, I criticized that person in my heart and made a judgment that he wasn’t someone with whom I wanted to become friends. But I caught myself in my judgmental attitude, and I thought to myself that the Lord is actually trying to teach me something through this negative encounter: When I talk with someone, I shouldn’t be self-centered or self-focused; I shouldn’t just talk and talk about myself. But rather, I should be concerned and interested in the other person. I should focus on the needs of the other person and really listen and care about the other person.

But later that day, I found myself continuing to think about my encounter and was still bothered by it. I realized that what bothered me even more than his self-centeredness, was that under a veil of humility, he was actually boasting about himself as he talked about what he does and has done. I saw his pride, hidden behind a facade of humility. But on top of that, there was a sense of wanting to prove himself, maybe even with a little bit of a competitive spirit. So underlying his pride, I saw his insecurity. I saw that he cared a lot about what others thought about him.

Then I knew why I was still so bothered by my conversation with him. In him I saw myself; rather, God showed me who I am. I am self-centered and self-consumed. I am prideful and boast in my accomplishments. I am competitive. I am insecure. I care too much about what others think about me.

It wasn’t that the Lord was teaching me to be a good listener (though that is a great thing!), but more deeply, he was exposing me to myself. I was quick to judge and criticize that person, because that person is me. It’s the old adage that says that you dislike what you see in another person because that same thing is in you – like what bothers you about your children, or spouse, or parent, or friend. That was why I was so bothered. And I wondered, “When people meet me for the first time or talk with me, am I like that man? Do people feel the same way as I did?” Unfortunately, maybe it is true.

And thus, the Lord humbled me…again.:)

Nothing that I have is mine; nothing I have done is apart from the grace of God. “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows ME, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Are you a good listener or do you mostly talk about yourself? Are you self-consumed? Are your trying to boast about yourself under a veil of humility? Do you seek to prove yourself to others because you are insecure?

Focus on Christ and his saving work on the cross. In him, we are able to turn away from ourselves and focus on God and others; we won’t boast in our abilities because we are reminded that all that we do is through God and his grace alone; we don’t have reason to be insecure in ourselves because our security rests in Christ. Jesus sets us free from ourselves and the sin that bogs us down, so that we are able to boast in Christ and his work alone.

Thanks for reading,

-ym

Prayer Requests:

  • Praise:
    • We praise God for Damon’s continued progress on his dissertation.
    • Praise God for our home church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in LA, that is celebrating their particularization this month.
    • Praise God for opportunities to meet new friends.
  • Relationship building – please pray for continued wisdom and opportunities to meet new people, build deeper relationships, and opportunities to share the gospel.
  • Language Studies & School:
    • Pray for diligence and perseverance in learning and using the language.
    • Pray especially for Aliya to gain some fluency in the next 6 months as she will begin Japanese public school next April.
    • Pray for Aliya as she feels lonely at times because she cannot speak Japanese. She has expressed this about youchien and also about swimming class. She may have some anxiety because she cannot speak or understand Japanese very well. Also, she is still having a difficult time eating the school lunch. In October, the girls will eat school lunch every day (since YM will be gone for about 2 weeks); please pray for Aliya to start liking Japanese school lunch!
  • Health: Please pray for good health, especially as the weather gets colder.
  • Increased faith in God: Please pray for humility and serving hearts. Pray for our girls, that we would instill faith in them and raise them in godly ways. Please pray for good communication in and protection of our marriage.
  • YM’s trip to the US (10/2-14): Pray for a good trip as she helps her sister, who is having a baby, for good health, and for Damon and the girls as they stay in Japan, doing regular life!

 

 

 


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“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”

Osu Chapel, located in a popular market and where a CBS student serves.

In our five months in Japan, the Lord has greatly blessed us, continuously and in various ways – through our families, our faithful supporters, through new Japanese friends, and the CBI community.

One of the biggest blessings in our short time here so far has been visiting various Japanese churches each Sunday. In our first year here, we have committed to do so because our big picture goal in Japan is to help plant churches. In order to do this, we want to know what kinds of churches are in Japan. We have found that visiting existing churches has been invaluable as we learn more about Japanese culture and become better informed about Japanese churches. We hope this experience will help us in the future as we assist and support Japanese church planters.

Before coming to Japan, I heard and knew that Japan is one of the largest unreached people groups in the world. Only 0.5% or less of the population are Christians. I’ve heard how difficult it is to share the gospel and to see people come to believe in Jesus; I’ve heard how missionaries struggle through discouragement and hardship because of the lack of fruit; missions agencies have left this country because of this. I’ve heard of the darkness, hopelessness, and depression that is pervasive.

But each Sunday, as we visit a Japanese church, I see faces of Japanese Christians, young and old, few in number but still faithful; I see pastors preaching Christ and taking care of their sheep; I see Christians in fellowship and community with one another; I see the gospel working in Japan. Yes, no church is perfect; no Christian perfect; flaws and less than ideal circumstances abound, BUT there are Christians in Japan. There are God’s children in Japan. There are evidences of the gospel working in Japan.

These churches are lanterns of hope, specks of light that illuminate a dark sky. When we visit these churches, I am reminded of hope. I am reminded of the power of the gospel for salvation. I am reminded of the presence of the Almighty King, who we serve and who is in control over all things, in Japan.

So please continue to pray for the church in Japan, for Japanese pastors, for Japanese Christians, for seminary students, for ministry workers. It is difficult to be a Christian in this country. Pray for the strengthening of their faith, for the protection of the church, for boldness to share the gospel, for perseverance and steadfastness in living in a culture that counters their faith daily, for the Lord’s continuing work in this country.

Here are photos of some of the churches we’ve visited:

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Thanks for reading,

YM

Prayer Requests

  • Praise! Damon’s dissertation work is progressing very well and is on target for written completion by the end of the year.
  • Building Relationships: please pray for continued wisdom and guidance in meeting new people and building relationships with women, mothers, seminary students, and others with whom the Lord has brought us in contact.
  • Summer: Please pray for good use of our time during our summer break (school starts in September). Aliya has started weekly Japanese lessons; I (YM) needs to homeschool them in English; we hope to spend time with our friends.
  • Language Learning: for all four of us!
  • Faith and Family: For our faith to increase; to spend time daily with the Lord in his word and prayer; protection of our marriage; wisdom and guidance in parenting; the fear of the Lord to be instilled in Aliya and Mikayla; preaching the gospel to ourselves daily.