There is simply too much to say, and even after writing it all it won’t do justice to what God allowed me to experience, see, hear, and more in 東北 (Northern Japan). Alas, I will try my best to convey those 5, very short yet very long, days. (My pictures were taken with my iPhone.. so they’re not the best quality.)
New Hope, the church that I attend in Tokyo, partnered up with several other churches in Japan to form a group called Hope Japan. They’ve been sending teams to Miyagi Prefecture where the damage from the earthquake and tsunami are the greatest. I had the privilege of staying in the city of 気仙沼 (Kesennuma), where I, along with 19 other people, stayed in a house that belonged to a church member of the Pastor we were collaborating with and helping. Pastor Minegishi greeted us as soon as my New Hope team (9 members) got to the house with an energetic and heartfelt “Hallelujah!” I believe that simple word set the tone for the next 5 days (at least, for me), and he was unfaltering in his joy. Pastor Minegishi lost his house and his church, was staying at an evacuation center with 700 other people, yet his strength and unchanging hope in the Lord would have led anyone to believe he was the happiest, most blessed man on earth.
We spent 2 days at different evacuation centers, one in 山田町 (Yamada-Chou) and the other in 大船渡 (Oufunato), serving lunch to the survivors. The first day was slightly hectic because our truck with all the food and supplies came a bit later than expected, but we made the udon as quickly as possible! I think we served about 300 people?
The evacuation center in Yamada-Chou was in this elementary school.
We gave away 2 bikes: one was given to the person who needed it the most by vote of the evacuees while the other was one in a simple game of ジャンケンポン (rock, papers, scissors).
At Yamada-Chou, I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to any of the evacuees. I was under the impression that we were going to have much more interaction with the survivors and chances to really love and serve them directly. The other half of our team stayed at an evacuation center 4 hours away in 石巻 (Ishinomaki), and as a result, got to build relationships with the evacuees. I felt limited and almost suffocated by my inability to speak to the locals and wished there was more that I could do. One of my STINTer sisters asked another teammate and myself what the difference was between volunteers and us as Christian workers. That made me re-think and re-focus my intentions in coming to 東北. I thought going in as a servant would be enough to prepare my heart, but I realized there was really nothing I could do without God just doing it through me.
Lo and behold, the second day we went to serve food at 大船渡, and I had a chance to play with a bunch of middle school kids! We expected to feed about 350 people, but not that many came. That gave me ample time to take a break from cooking/prepping, and with my limited Japanese I tried to talk to a group of middle schoolers. It turned out that one of the kids was pretty good at English, and we ended up playing a game of sharks & minnows. I’m usually not the best with kids, but God gave me a huge heart to just love them by playing with them. Although we weren’t able to talk about much besides their names, ages, favorite sports, etc., I hope they felt the presence and hope of God’s love. They made it hard to leave 大船渡 that day. May God bless them wherever they are.
Another unexpected blessing came in the form of my family/team. There were a total of 20 people in the house we stayed in 気仙沼! Nine of us were from New Hope Tokyo, 5 from Living Water Church in Shizuoka, and 6 from Yokohama Grace Bible Church. We were such a diverse group of brothers and sisters, coming from places like Peru, Argentina, U.S., and obviously Japan. Our levels of Japanese and English were all different, which proved interesting, to say the least. However, despite the language barrier, man, that was such a special time of fellowship. I’ve never experienced family like that before in the body of Christ. It gave me such a beautiful vision of what heaven would be like. I realized that this is a glimpse of what God wants His family, Christ’s body, the church, to look like. We loved each other, encouraged one another, laughed, sang praise in both Japanese and English, danced, played UNO (lol), and caught frogs and bugs. I felt like I was in a story. The only regret I have is not taking the time to get to know my brothers and sisters better, hearing their stories. A sobering yet joyful thought is that I might not see some of these people until we get to heaven. Soon and very soon.
The last day of work was spent at a printing shop/home owned by a man named Abe-san, which is also where Pastor Minegishi’s church service took place after the tsunami. The water, mud, and debris had filled many homes and work places, leaving thousands and thousands of people displaced. A lot of survivors have been staying at the evacuation centers while going back and forth to their homes to clean out the mud and debris. Abe-san is a grandfather, and many other people in the area are generally of older age. Thus, it’s extremely difficult for them to clean out their homes on their own, sometimes leaving them with no choice but to wait for volunteers. I don’t have any pictures as of now of the place we cleaned, but Abe-san said that he had given up at one point. He didn’t think he could go on, but after we cleaned the place up by God’s strength he said he had much more hope for the future. Half of the printing shop would be used for the chapel of the church while the other half would be for his printing shop purposes!
This is the remains of Pastor Minegishi’s church, and his house was connected but also wiped away.
This gate is RIGHT by Pastor Minegishi’s church and house, and is the only division between the sea and the rest of the town. An amazing story I have to share involves this gate right here. After the earthquake, Pastor Minegishi ran to this gate to check the water for oncoming tsunamis (which must be common if you live right by the shore and when earthquakes happen all the time). The earthquake was so bad that it broke the gate, which was nonexistent from what I saw, and he saw the ocean receding very far back. He knew this meant that there’d probably be a big tsunami coming, so he warned everyone in the area. They all fled to the mountains where it’d be safer, all because of Pastor Minegishi. God appointed this man to be the salt and light to the people of 気仙沼, to share the truth and love of Christ. Not only that, God used him in this critical time to bring many people to safety. Praise the Lord!!!! May many many people come to Christ because of God and His favor upon Pastor Minegishi and the survivors in this area.
Although there’s so much more I want to share, the most important thing I want to say in this entry is that God is good and ALIVE in Japan. He is certainly working whether in the hearts of the people in 東北 or through the workers and volunteers that go up for relief efforts. One thing I couldn’t get away from was the joy of the Lord, although with my eyes I could only see destruction. I don’t know why I was so joyful in that place, but God’s supernatural love just covered every piece of rubble or field of trash. I am an optimistic person, but this was not optimism. It couldn’t be. In the face of hundreds of miles of damage and ruins of homes and buildings, how could one’s optimism be enough to have hope? To see the light? I know it was God’s presence telling me that He intensely loved the people of Northern Japan and that only His love and truth could bring complete restoration and joy to a place that was once filled with homes, cars, shops, businesses… STUFF. Things are easily wiped away but eternal things, the things of the Lord, are not. He will bring this foundation of truth and joy so that no tsunami can wipe it away, no earthquake can cause it to shake and crumble. God loves fiercely, and we can’t understand everything that happened. We can’t give a reason for all the terrible things that had to occur, but I can still only see God’s love. It will only be a matter of God’s timing before many in Japan can as well. Praise the Lord whether the earth is calm or raging because He is still, always the Great I AM.