I just talked with Eric – he was teary-eyed in sharing a story of a woman whom they helped today. I will save that for later….
Two of our good friends from L.A., Joseph and Yumiko, came and spent time volunteering up in Ishinomaki. Yumiko was able to stay for nearly a month, which was a wonderful gift as she provided continuity and also is bilingual. Here are some excerpts from an update they recently sent out:
The buildings we saw in the city of Ishinomaki were mostly damaged on the 1st floor because the sea water flooded up to the ceiling of the 1st floor. Many people told us that they ran to the 2nd or upper floors when they saw the water coming. The areas with less or no flood damage seemed to go back to normal life but the areas closer to the ocean or rivers still remain in need of much repair. In the area we were working, there were 4~5 volunteer groups, and there were even town-wide volunteer meetings that tried to organize and coordinate the work of different groups/organizations. We saw many home/store owners trying to have their buildings repaired or cleaned. Since there is a lack of professional constructors/materials, the need for that is great and there are so many volunteer opportunities. There were several local young people who were joining us volunteering.
We drove to other towns where the houses, stores, and other building were severely damaged and there were no people living. We visited the elementary school where a majority of students were killed, and felt heart broken seeing the deserted school building and a little altar with letters from their parents. The government has built temporary housing for those who had lost their houses and we heard that there will be enough housing for everyone, but there are still many people living in shelters.
We joined “Be One Tohoku Aid” which is a house church organization. Several members drove up 1000 miles to help people just four days after the tsunami – when the road was closed, even though it was snowing and temperatures were freezing. There were other mission organizations and churches that have joined Be One, so volunteers are from all over the world but mostly from the US and Japan. Our daily routine started with a short morning worship and prayer, riding vans/trucks to the work sites, working until evening, going to Onsen (public hot spring), eating a late dinner, going back to Dojo (the marshal art house where we stayed) then hitting a sleeping bag around 10 pm or 11 pm.
We had a great time with the volunteers who were mostly really young (Some of them who were in their early 20s called Joseph and I “papa” and “mama”). We dug out the mud in the gutters and under the floor of the houses, tore down the houses, cleaned, picked up debris and trash, played with kids, cooked for outreach events, chased away and swatted at flies, talked to people and prayed for/with them, passed out supplies, translated, etc.
Joseph tried to built friendship with the owner of Dojo, (we called him Sensei— teacher/master in Japanese) reached out to him along with other men. One night, he was talking to Sensei about one lady I met next to the park we were working. She allowed me to pray for her needs…, and one of them was a bicycle for her grandson who now needs to go to farther school because of the disaster. Another volunteer (he is not a believer either, but he said he was touched by believers’ compassion) donated her a bike after he left for home without knowing her story or prayer part. Joseph shared his faith with Sensei that God orchestrated this blessing by using different people in different time…
One of the things I felt was that the local people are vulnerable and open for help and love. There was rather big aftershock followed by a tsunami warning on one Sunday. Our group went up a little hill (actually, the backyard of Buddhist temple) to have Sunday Worship. We saw many cars leaving the town for evacuation while several people climbed up the hill where we gathered. Some of us had the opportunity to listen to their experiences of encountering tsunami and prayed silently that God will give them peace in that moment. They canceled the warning later and I was thankful that the Lord protected us. We’re also so grateful for your prayers.
There were several chances that I was able to pray … out loud. It was amazing that many women shared with me about their pain and relational struggles with their loved ones. It seemed that the event of tsunami brought up things within people’s lives and pain hidden in their hearts. I pray that Jesus’ love heals people’s hearts and relationships and gives them restoration and joy in their lives. There were about 8 neighbors … who joined our Sunday Worship the following Sunday at Be One House (a rental house we repaired).