We were really sad on Sunday to see the eighteen-member Hawaii team leave. They served here so well, so generously, so – full of life. Along with several other great teams, they helped us move– packing, cleaning, boxing, unboxing… they changed 18,000 seaweed plates at the seaweed factory across the street from our old home, they prepared and cleaned up two huge BBQs and a ladies lunch, as well as two or three nights where they prepared food for all of the volunteers and families up here… they cleaned rows of street gutters, all of the tsunami gook under a very long house; raked and leveled several open areas that used to have homes; did a lot of babysitting; visited several temporary housing areas and old folks’ homes, and made a lot of friends. It has been a great partnership that we are very thankful for!
One of the really cool things is that our friend Yousuke from Sanda has come up to work with us for a few weeks. He has recently been thinking about his purpose in life and decided he wants to do something that will make his life count. He has been really enjoying the hard work up here – and has boundless energy in doing it! We loved how he became friends with the Hawaii youth – I think they will miss each other. Yousuke has asked to stay on an extra week. Our kids and our team have really loved him being up with us (below center).
Lots of cool things have been happening with our friends Y. and with Yu. I see both of them almost daily; Y. and her three girls came to the BBQ we had last Friday night at Yu.’s home as well as worship on Sunday. She wants to come weekly. They are both really wonderful. On Wednesday Y. is going to Sendai to meet with her lawyer, as she is still battling over custody of the girls. It has been a very painful and unfair process that we hope is becoming rectified. Her husband had actually “stolen” the older two girls last May and by rights in Japan Y. could not get them back until it went all through the court system. Her husband told lies about her, and after finally hiring a second lawyer Y. got her daughters back ten months later. Imagine not having your two and four year old daughters for ten months… in the midst of grieving the tragic death of your mom and sister. Can’t imagine. We are praying for her lawyer appointment; we are seeking to stand with her and help as we can.
There are days when I listen to stories and do not seem too affected. Today, I was doing ok, until I went to pick up my kids at Yu’s home where they were studying. As she and I were talking, I started crying suddenly- it surprised us both. I was just so SAD-ANGRY. Angry at this tsunami that came and damaged so many people. Took the lives of so many. That is still causing so much pain. As we were crossing over the bridge Olivia asked me today, “Mom, do you think God will stop another tsunami before it comes here?” I couldn’t answer. I don’t have any answers for why he didn’t stop the one a year ago.
Since we moved last week, Olivia has started taking a school bus to her youchien/kindergarten. There is a stop just over five minutes drive from here that saves me taking her the twenty minutes each way. It is just on the edge of this “valley of death” that lies below our community; the bus pulls up next to one of the now-deserted junior high schools that overlooks a very bleak scene.
There is one other sweet girl, M., who gets on the bus at the same place, and I have enjoyed getting to know her mom during drop-offs and pick-ups. She has shared with me bits and pieces of their last year’s journey. The first day that we went, she asked me if I was Owen’s mom – her son R. is also in fourth grade in the same school (also a good distance away from the bus stop). Like us, she drives her son to the old elementary school, about ten minutes by car, where our kids all catch the buses up to their temporary school. The apartments that they are living in now are really in the middle of nowhere- all the homes surrounding the apartments were either washed away or so badly damaged that they have been bulldozed. They are living here just temporarily for a year until they can rebuild their previous home. She shared that her kids don’t know anyone in this neighborhood – it is not surprising as it really feels like there is not much around it.
Today for the first time I took Molly to the bus stop. M. and her mom really loved her… and then the mom told me that they had had a poodle for two years, who was washed away in the tsunami. They have told M. that the dog ran away and is probably being cared for by someone else- they can’t bear her to know the truth. When the tsunami hit, her husband was at work- at the Onagawa nuclear power plant. Onagawa was one of the hardest hit areas – when he didn’t come home the first few days, she feared that he was dead. There was no contact, no word for five days. She had to keep strong for her two children. They went to a relative’s home but put a note on the door that they were fine, and where they were staying. Five days later he appeared. She couldn’t even speak. When I tried to imagine what those five days were like – what they had seen; what they had heard and witnessed out their windows, what she imagined over and over again in her heart for five days – it feels like just too much.
And so, today I just had to cry. For this family. They are just one of many families whose stories I have heard over these months. They didn’t lose any close family members. But they still have had — still have — a lot of pain in their lives. I heard today that R., their son in Owen’s grade, has been getting into trouble for being mean to girls. He’s always been a good kid, but… It’s hard to say how this kind of grief and loss works itself out. I don’t know. I don’t have any answers to those tenacious “why” questions. But I pray that we can keep loving on the people here, helping when and where we can, and being Proclaimers to what I DO know is true: that “God is for them and loves them with a Never Stopping, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” (from the Jesus Storybook Bible – the kids and I have been listening to this daily in the car as we commute to and from. For mom as much as for the kids!) Corrie Ten Boom knew well the valley of death, and she wrote from her experience in the Ravensbruck Concentration camp: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” This deep and unbreaking love, to me, is the kind of theology that we need up here in Tohoku.
(Photos below- before and after pictures of the valley of death – the area where we are living now. In the after photo (taken April 17th 2011), our home is where the red marker is, just above the valley. In the past year, parts of this area have become dumping grounds for tons of refuse and debris and thousands of cars, making the scenery that much worse).