I just came back from another skiing trip :D Well, not really. But it involved skiing. Last weekend I was with friends from the GAP church for their winter retreat. So this was more, er, spiritual!
Since I couldn't get off work early like the previous week, and was even held back until about 8pm, I had to rush through dinner and only managed to get the 2nd last bullet train to Karuizawa. I wanted to wait for another grrl, Tomoko so that we could go together as she was also working till that time. But in the end she decided to just leave the next morning. The rest had already met up at church and left together in the Goto's minivan.
A very chilly -11degrees was the coldest I've ever endured. I've never even seen that number before anywhere! I should've taken a picture of the temperature when we passed it on the way to the wooden cabin that was to be our lodgings for the retreat.
Karuizawa is so different from Niigata. It was on a mountainous area, was a bit nearer to Tokyo and therefore was a favourite with the upperclass who built their summer resorts here. There were lots of Western-styled houses, pine trees everywhere and big cars or minivans on the roads. I could have mistaken this place for America (even though I have not been there, but I've been fed enough of American TV).
The snow is also different - it's dryer, due to the elevation and its distance from the sea. Snow in Niigata is wet and is softer, very good for skiing. But when I was skiing in Karuizawa, with the wind blowing in snow on my face, it felt like a million ants were attacking my face at one time. I wish I bought myself a pair of googles! That must have been the reason why I fell so many times.
The water is also different. Compared to treated water in Tokyo, the Karuizawa water is so clean and sweet, you can actually drink it from the tap. Well, water in Japan is generally clean enough to drink without boiling, but those that flow from the taps here must've come from the mountains that it felt so refreshing. Even Tomoko commented that her skin felt different - better.
Skiing was just one of the activity, most of the time we had sessions in the KFBC (Karuizawa Fellowship Bible Camp). We had to make our own breakfasts, but a very delicious dinner was prepared by the caretaker of the camp. And just in case people got hungry, there were lots of snacks and instant soba for the tummy. Needless to say, we were quite well-fed at the camp.
Instead of the hotsprings that I was expecting I had to settle for the ofuro instead. The communal bath which is the Japanese shower. Ofuro is basically soaking in a tub of hot water after cleaning oneself. These are usually found in homes - something I wish I could bring back to Malaysia. They have the technology to keep the water at about 40degrees while you soak away your stress, and some even have jacuzzi effects for the added luxury.
It had been a long time since I went for a church camp proper. Since this was a small group, it felt like I was in a CF camp again. It was pretty much laidback and everyone took turns to volunteer and take initiative. I felt so much at home that I even showed up for breakfast in pajamas. They were surprised and even said their impression of me
Though they were a small group, I was excited and inspired by their zeal for God. There were so many things they wanted to accomplish, but everyone's so busy and had to juggle so many responsiblities in the church. And everyone agreed that we should start with prayer. That without prayer and a strong foundation, it would be quite worthless to do any of the activities they think could make the church grow.
Frankly, I still have not even settled down in any church (and that's another story too), but I really enjoyed the fellowship with this bunch of people. They reminded me of the passion of the group of people I served with back when we were starting the CF in MMU. We were the pioneering batch, and we had to battle with the authorities to legalise our CF, and until today it's still an underground organisation, but we've come through leaps and bounds and God has been faithful.
We talked about why Japanese churches are not growing, why missionaries to Japan have been struggling so much to report back to their home churches about the numbers of Christians, and why the Japanese is considered the toughest group to preach to next to the Jews. I had gained an deeper insight to this land where the culture and its people still baffle me. I will never fully understand the why's of Japanese people, but I know that it's in dire need of a revival.