Four Years Later…

***3/10.  She sat across from me at the table.  “Tomorrow I have to go with my family to the temple.  We still don’t have a gravesite for my mom and dad, so we just go to the temple instead.” C.’s parents had both been killed in the tsunami.  She hasn’t talked about it much.  I asked why they don’t have a gravesite yet.  One of the other women sitting nearby made the money sign with her hands.  It costs too much.

I asked C. if it feels hard to be the fourth anniversary.  She said, “It’s easier than it was last year.  I’ve sort of gotten used to them not being here, and so I just sort of talk to them.  When I leave in the morning to come here, I go over to their picture and tell them I’m leaving.  When I return home, I tell them I’m back.  I like knowing that they are somehow still with me.”

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During lunch today, some of us were at our gathering place.  We had about six or eight local friends come by.  One of our dear friends, Mrs. K., told me again different parts of her tsunami story. Telling the story is still important, even four years later.  It was snowing and cold that day four years ago, a lot like today.  I am so amazed that she survived, because she had run from her home to her son and family’s home – found the door locked, and had run home and then up the mountain just as the waters started crashing in.  Her son’s home was virtually destroyed.  I’m so glad the door had been locked so she didn’t stay there.  I can’t imagine life without Mrs. K.

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Mr. A held him close.  He made a funny face. Everyone laughed.  There is so much healing that comes from babies.

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Eric was at the store today buying gifts for some local friends.  He didn’t have much time.  But there were a lot of people he wanted to see.  So he prayed, “God, who is hurting the most now?  Who do you want me to visit?”  Immediately he thought of the dad of our friend Y.  He had lost his wife and oldest pregnant daughter in the tsunami.

He drove over there with sushi and grapes.  The two previous times that he has visited, he handed the food gifts, talked briefly in the genkan and left.  This time, though, Y’s dad invited Eric in.  Eric sat with him for about two hours, listening to many stories about his deceased wife, and looking at photos.  This tough dad cried. Things have not always been smooth with Y and her dad.  Eric suggested that sometime soon he sit with his daughter and together they look at one of these albums.

Tonight I got a text from Y. about how happy her dad was for the visit.  Y. was thrilled.  Her dad never shares with anyone.  This was a special gift to both her dad and to Eric.

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Tonight before our final gathering time, E. sat across from me and a friend and said, “Things are a lot harder now than they were four years ago.  The tsunami was terrible, but I’m able to see good in it because God let me meet you and the others who have moved here.  So I’m finally able to see some good. ”

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Child 1: “Mommy, why do you think God made the tsunami?”

Child 2:  “God didn’t make the tsunami!  Did He, mom?”

Wow.  I can’t answer those questions (and that’s what I told our kids.  But I am completely convinced that God wants to work through and in spite of the terrible destruction;  that God wants to walk with people through their pain and the challenges that have come over the last four years, and I see it happening.

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She said she wanted our prayers.  She didn’t have a specific area needing prayer tonight, so I suggested that we just listen and hear what God might want to share with her.  My friend V. read Psalm 23 in Japanese to her.  And as she was reading, I pictured Jesus the Shepherd scooping up E. and holding her close to his heart.  I told E about this image, and that God wanted her to just lay down all of our responsibilities and heavy burdens and just experience his love and care for her.  God was inviting her to come.  Just come. After this prayer time, E. couldn’t believe how light she felt.  It was so so good to see her letting go of some of the heaviness that she had come with.

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We had a wonderful final gathering, with 40 or 50 adults gathered together to remember, to promise again to walk together, to invite the presence of Jesus into those places in our lives.  It was such a bonding time.  At the end we gathered in small groups and some shared, some prayed, some listened.  We stood in a big circle and held hands as a symbol of our desire to walk together towards Jesus, whatever the future may bring.  No one can do it alone.

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I was thinking today about our work at the Nozomi Project.  There are five or so staff who have left for various reasons – some on good terms with other staff, and some not.  But I thought about it tonight and realized that all five of them are still connecting with our Be One team, and coming to us to help them in their various stages of life currently.  They are coming to those with Hope for continuing healing.  I am so thankful for that.

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After I got home and was trying to get all our kids into showers and then pajamas, I got a call from N.  I haven’t seen her in quite a while.  Her three year old son had been killed in the tsunami.  Today she and her family went to the area right near our home where he had died.  She said she had wanted to come by our gathering place, but it just felt too hard.  She said, “I could laugh yesterday, and I am sure that I will laugh again tomorrow, but I couldn’t laugh today.”  When I prayed for her over the phone, I prayed for her mother’s heart.  A mother can love so wide, and so deep;  but when that child is gone it means the pain is so wide, and so deep.

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I don’t have all the answers, but in the beginning and in the end, I believe in a God who hears, and a God who heals, and in a God who walks with us along the way.

Reflections from our Recent Tohoku Visit

It has been a full full week!  I came home from our trip with strep throat, which sort of zapped two days from me..  We have felt the Lord’s graciousness in continuing to answer our prayers for future guidance.  We will write more very soon about that – I promise! – but in the meantime here are a few random reflections/thoughts from our family’s trip up to Sendai/Ishinomaki.

1.  The Tohoku region is entering a new season of recovery with new needs.  Now that most people have been removed from the evacuation centers and placed into longer-term temporary shelters, there is a new sense of despair and despondency among some who now have to deal with realities of these new, compact apartments in which they are somewhat randomly placed, without their previous communities.  We heard last week of a middle-aged woman who committed suicide a week after moving into one of these with her husband;  she could no longer bear it.  After the Kobe earthquake, the greatest number of suicides occurred six months and later.

Here is our friend Kazue’s daughter standing with her baby boy near her new temporary home.  She is doing alright there, but after a (very short) tour of her little place it was obvious that she is right:  they are cold, you really can hear everything, and they would be quite small for the families of three, four and five members living in them.  It was encouraging to see Red Cross funds at work — most of the homes have new appliances all with the Red Cross sticker on them.

2.  Seven months later, the miles and miles of neighborhoods hit by the tsunami still look war-ravaged.  As we drove through many towns, it was still hard to believe…

3.  The worst scene that we have witnessed that attested to the fierceness and strength of the tsunami was in a small town north of Ishinomaki called Onogawa.  Right along the coast, it was hard to see much left of the fishing town.  This four-story concrete apartment building was actually pushed completely over by the force of the wave.  The green on the right side is really the roof of the building.

4.  There are some really wonderful people in place who God is using to bring hope and recovery across Tohoku.  We had a chance to meet a number of these men and women while we were there.  It was great meeting with one of these, Matsuda Sensei, who pastors a growing church in northern Sendai.  He has done some remarkable things with his church, stemming from a remarkable vision.  It is clear that God has is using him for such a time as this.

4.  There are many things that I still don’t “get” about what happened on 3/11.  All of those why questions.  But I do believe that God was very present on that day.  On Monday, our family joined the other volunteers in offering to clean up the elementary school that had been housing hundreds of homeless people for the past seven months.  The previous week, they had all been required to leave, most of them going to the temporary apartments pictured above.  Here is Owen, taking apart some of the cardboard that had been used to separate sleeping areas.

The main coordinator of the school throughout these months was Mr. Tak.  Back in May, he was wandering by an area where Be One was doing a barbecue, and came and sought out some of the leaders.  He wanted to know who they were… He said that many different volunteer groups had come through their evacuation center, but there was something different about this barbecue and the staff… and could they come and do a barbecue the next night?  This began a great relationship with Mr. Tak and Be One folks.  And through these relationships, he opened up and shared his story of the tsunami.  He was swept up by the tsunami and was sucked under the water.  “Suddenly, I felt like someone was pulling me out and rescuing me, bringing my head above the water.  It was God.  It was this God.”  And he pulled out a necklace underneath his shirt- with a cross pendant.  It was this God.  He knew Who saved him.  We pray that through developing friendships he will continue to grow closer to the One who saved his life and loves him dearly.

5.  God is at work still.  One of the highlights of our time in Ishinomaki was the informal worship service at the Be One house.  It was a wonderful mix of volunteers, Japanese and North American Be One members, and friends from the Ishinomaki community.  During part of the service, we had a commissioning time for the Huddleston family, who have at least temporarily moved up to Ishinomaki.

It was so touching to see Mr. T., one of the community leaders of the nearby apartment building, not only join in but also boldly and lovingly lay both hands on Chad and Jennifer during the prayer time.  There is something contagious about this hope, faith, and courage.   It is, we believe, more powerful than the strongest wave.