It was supposed to rain for today’s ocean baptism, so we had different kinds of contingency plans … A group of us gathered last night to pray and asked God for weather mercies. When we woke up this morning, it was amazing weather – overcast most of the time – not a drop of rain. So awesome!
We gathered first for a time of worship, testimonies, and gleaning from the word…. then moved into our friend Yuko’s baptism… then a bbq… then a farewell party for our dear friend Tobi. It was a lot — a lot of planning, thought, prayer, emotions. It has been really great to plan this day with some of our amazing team, and I felt so proud of Eric as he led throughout this day. This was his first ocean baptism…. his first one in Japanese….. and he did amazing– really guided, I believe, by God.
But it was so not about us- it was about a really special community that God has been weaving together. We often experience the amazing qualities of God-ordained community when there are tragedies and sorrow. In many ways this group was formed as a result of the awfulness of the disasters two years ago. But today was a chance to see a community in full blossom – celebrating with joy what God is doing in our midst. I have never been part of – or even attended — a baptism with so much joy!
When I talked with Yuko tonight after we had all returned home, she mentioned the special perspective Eric, she and I had as we walked out into the ocean and looked back at the beachside. What an amazing sight! What an amazing community all gathered to witness God’s work in the life of someone we have all come to love! As Eric brought her out of the water, we all popped streamers as a tangible way of showing our joy at what God has done.
As Yuko shared her story before we went down to the beach, I was stunned. There were no details that I did not know, but the sum total of her life before this past year is pretty horrible. Numerous times when she had wished her life to end.
And she talked about the day that she and I met one year ago, on May 19th. We were at a festival – Be One was there with numerous other organizations. (She and Eric corrected one part of the story I have gotten wrong – she and her three daughters were standing in line waiting for popcorn, not shave ice!)
As she shared today, she looked into my eyes and said I was the first person she met who really cared about her and her story. I still remember how my heart ached that hot morning as she told me of her many losses. I cried a lot that day. Tonight I went back and read the blog post I had written that night — having little idea what God would do over the course of one year. At the end of the blog post, I wrote,
She had to leave with her fussy little one, and I had to attend to mine. She started to walk away, and then ran back again for a hug. I whispered in her ear, “You are not alone. There is hope.” Pray that I/we are able to back this up with real actions, real love, real opportunities to bring hope.
It was a good reminder of the continual need to listen to God’s promptings. I feel so busy, so often. Many times I am trying to check off a long list of to dos and sometimes I am afraid that I miss the nudging of the Holy Spirit to really see the silent pleas of those around me. I don’t want to miss those who are around me so are so in need of hope.
After Yuko’s testimony, I shared that last week we had a volunteer here from Singapore. She had come last fall, as well, and spent some time with Yuko. She didn’t recognize Yuko this time – she is so glowing and hope-filled now. God has done an amazing transforming work over this past year. It has not been an easy process. And it has very much been a two-way street of receiving and giving love. I remember the hot summer days before the Nozomi Project started when Yuko would come over and hang laundry for me. And the times when I was sick and this single mom with three little ones brought meals over me. God has knitted us together and grown us both up in love. Her growth has also come from many in the community who have loved on her and received love from her. Thank you to so many who have prayed, written, and loved on her!
I have been reminded this past week that discipleship is a process. It did not begin today, nor did it end today. The process of transformation will continue – in all of our lives. But today was one amazing step forward for Living Hope in Ishinomaki, the very kind that does not disappoint.