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.

Participating from Near and Far

One of the things that has been so life-giving has been the many people from all around who have been a part of relief efforts up in Tohoku — even those who have not been able to come themselves to Japan.  It continues to touch us to see how people have found ways of joining in.  We’re thankful for those who have prayed regularly; who have sent financial gifts to tsunami relief, helped to send teams, and those who have shown tangible ways to support our family these last five months.  THANK YOU!

When the team from Hawaii came, they brought some gifts that touched me so much:  75 hand-made baby dresses (we gave them away at barbeques in Tohoku); some amazing homemade Hawaiian jams, and several ziplocs full of energy bars.  These were a huge hit among the volunteers up in Ishinomaki!  And a personal favorite of mine.  They were made by a friend of the team, named Jan T.  She had made a double-batch, cut them into squares, and wrapped each in a piece of wax paper.  And lots of love.  It is a great recipe, that reminds me of how God is using so many to do His work in so many ways up in Tohoku.

2 cups oats
1 cup peanuts
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup dried apricots (diced)
1 cup cranberries and raisins
Sesame seeds
5 cups rice krispies
Melt the following on the stove in a large pot.
2 (10 oz.) miniature marshmallows
1 cup peanut butter
1 block butter or margarine
Add dry ingredients to marshmallow mixture and put in a 9X13″ pan.
If God has given you a heart to be part of what God is doing in Tohoku, don’t let it go!  Dr. Sharon from the Hawaii team just sent out this update to her support team:
 I’ve helped in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, in Thailand after the terrible 2004 tsunami, in Indonesia after seasonal flooding, but I’ve never known the kind of intensive and extensive devastation that I witnessed with the GoHawaii team in Japan last month.  The need for volunteers and donations will no doubt outlast the media’s focus and popular interest.  But God’s stubborn love will continue to draw us to help and draw them to Him.

Five Months

Today is five months since the disaster.  I have been watching a news program that shows various aspects of how the tsunami has changed the lives of so many.  As of late July, there are still 80,000 or more people  still in shelters because their homes were destroyed by the tsunami/earthquake or because of the nuclear disaster.  One man just interviewed said, “It’s pretty hard being in an evacuation center like this.  In fact, it’s quite awful.”  The government has been building more mass temporary housing that will at least give some privacy.  In memory of the 20,000 some who died, and the upcoming obon holidays this weekend, eight regions across Tohoku are having fireworks tonight.   Eric and others are up in Ishinomaki are hosting a barbeque, giving away supplies that are still in scarce supply, and ministering to many in the region who may be especially struggling this weekend.  They gave away several bicycles as prizes, which are a huge hit!

One of the many unexpected ways that we have seen God at work in Ishinomaki is through our son Owen.  We wrote in a recent entry about Owen’s trip up with Eric.  We had met with his third grade teacher beforehand to get permission, since he would be missing two days of school.  T. Sensei (teacher) thought it would be a good experience for Owen and was fine with his absences.

His return to school was a bit strange- he went back for a half day on Tuesday, and then Wednesday, which was to be the last day, was cancelled because of a typhoon that came through.  But he said on Tuesday he shared a little about his trip (hard to know with boys details of any kind of sharing!).

We left the day after the typhoon for our vacation at a lake in Nagano prefecture.  I got a phone call on my cell from his teacher – my immediate thought was – oh no- what did I forget to do  now?  But he said he wanted to talk about something personal – and that hearing Owen share about his volunteering made him want to go too, and would it be possible to join my husband on his next trip?  The next trip (now) that we were planning for Eric fell perfectly in line with his vacation days (though Eric cut his trip a day short)- and now they are up there together.  We love how God used the simple sharing of a third-grader to recruit more volunteers… and I love it that T. Sensei will experience Christian fellowship in such a meaningful way.  Here they are at departure time yesterday.  Our friends Ray and Lora also did the drive up with them.

Of course today’s lows at our family dinner table was all about Daddy being gone (I actually was chastised by Annie when I said my low was when I yelled at the kids after lunch.  She said, “your low should be that Daddy’s gone.  He’s your husband after all.”  Yes, I explained, that very reason probably contributed to my yelling after lunch.

So you can pray for those up north, and for us.  I think I have not recovered emotionally/physically from the activities of the past weeks, as good as they have been.  We had an amazing two-day English camp, cooking class, coffee house, homestays with the Cerritos team… but I am tired, and trying to get caught up on life in general.  Hoping for a fun and creative day full of patience and joy with our children tomorrow.