The last week and a half has been quite full – I still haven’t had a chance to do anything to pick up my bedroom after the quake, but slowly our house is getting put back together. We continue to have regular earthquakes and aftershocks, and they estimate this will continue for another two months. Japan has moved a full 2 meters east – that’s a big shift.
Atsushi and I got a chance to catch up and he has suggested practically dividing our responsibilities in a way that allows things at Mito church to continue running smoothly while also allowing Mito church to be fully involved in the earthquake/tsunami relief. I am so thankful for his partnership. He has a lot on his plate, yet he has also been particularly helpful in trying to shape a direction.
On Monday, the Ibaraki ministers gathered for our monthly meeting – the first since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Including lunch, it lasted 5 hours, but it was good to hear and understand the current situation of each church. A committee was formed to decide how to use the money that Mito church is holding in trust for the funds being received from outside of Japan. Junichi Uzawa and I will go to the Tokyo-West preachers meeting on Monday as representatives of the Ibaraki-North meeting.
Following the meeting, Shiro Obata (minister/planter of the Haruna church in Takasaki, Gunma) met Sasha and me. The three of us traveled to Sendai to see people, to see some of the places most affected by the disaster, and to decide how and where to serve. Obata-sensei was the minister at Ochanomizu church and he organized/led a group that went to Kobe weekly following the major earthquake there sixteen years ago. They continued their work for three years. He has been an invaluable resource and voice of wisdom and experience. He came to the Mito church leadership meeting last Thursday too.
The last two days in Sendai have been packed – filled with meeting people, seeing some of the most affected areas, investigating work being done, and checking into what’s needed, what we can get there, and what’s needed from here (Ibaraki) or from elsewhere (internationally). We stayed with Makoto and Kiyomi Hosoi. They have many contacts, and Makoto’s job as a city government official also has been a good resource for helping to establish a target.
We got to see or talk by phone with several Christians, LST readers, neighbours, friends and missionaries. We also went to see the condition of the church property and the members have agreed to let us use the facilities to house our teams and use it for storage of goods we distribute, but we will have to go to the onsen (public bath) for bathing. Four of the members have also volunteered to help join our work in different ways.
We also saw the house we used to live in. The foundation to the house has significant damage and may have to be torn down. We went to shops (supermarkets, home centers, building supplies, etc) to see what can be purchased there to lessen unnecessary shipping costs as well as to be intentional about supporting the local economy and shops. Some things are readily available, and some supplies are definitely limited or impossible to get.
We went to several locations – visiting the area around Sendai airport, Natori, Arahama, and Watari to the southeast of Sendai on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we went north to Tagajo, Shiogama, Matsushima and Higashi Matsushima, and Ishinomaki. I can’t even begin to put into words yet what we have seen. It doesn’t look like or feel like Japan at all. The best I can do is say that it looks like a bombed, war torn country. It is overwhelming, especially when I know what much of it looked like before the disaster. The needs are even more overwhelming. Emotional needs are even more overwhelming. I just kept thinking our experiences and work in Cambodia will be so helpful for drawing upon in looking at how to approach things.
We visited the CRASH Japan base for Miyagi at Morigo Camp (where we did an LST camp). We also joined Chad Huddleston, a church planter in Osaka and his co-worker Beth, who have been tirelessly working there for three weeks now. Paul Herrington, the HIM missionary apprentice who is working with Obata-sensei, has been working with them for 12 days and just returned with us. His insight, perspective, and experience was helpful.
We joined Chad’s group in taking supplies to one of the drop off points they have established. It was surreal to spread blue tarps with supplies, have people line up, and give them 3 minutes and a 10 item limit (and limited numbers of certain items). Sometimes people were frantic and desperate – and I had several hands pushing against each other to get the last two portable gas stoves (called a konro) that we had. Had I not had similar experiences in Cambodia, I think I would’ve been overloaded emotionally. Yet, most people were polite, appreciative, considerate, and I could see them looking after each other too.
Chihiro, a girl who lives in Ishinomaki on Chad’s work team, told me that the neighbourhood we visited is one of the areas where the most damage occurred and the most people were killed. She said over 2300 people were confirmed dead, and at least another 2500 people are counted as ‘missing’ (Japan is not like most countries who use an estimate for dead; these people will be listed as missing for a certain number of years unless there is some kind of physical confirmation of death). She told me that many people were swept away while trying to escape by foot or in their cars. Only those who ran to the second or third floor (or above) were safe. In several cases, two or three families are sharing an apartment. She said there were dead bodies strewn all over. The neighbors themselves moved the bodies to the road and washed their faces out of respect for the dead and to help with identification. The bodies laid there for a week until the military could get in to remove them all. She said stress and emotional levels are high, especially for the children, but just giving a warm smile or hug or speaking kindly did amazing things for helping to relieve it.
I personally experienced it as I met a boy beginning sixth grade named Yuta. He asked a question and when I looked at him and answered, he said, “Oh, you have a warm, kind face,” and he smiled. We became friends that day (he kept coming back and talking with me) and I told him I would try to come see him again at the end of the month.
Obata-sensei, Sasha and I are of the mind to partner together with Chad and his team for the work in Miyagi, and specifically in Ishinomaki. All three of us felt like what they are doing is what we had envisioned doing, and felt a sense of hope in how God has been using him. His work is currently three-fold: cleaning up, distribution of goods/needs, and being with people to give emotional support and care. They are taxed and overwhelmed. But they have also been extremely successful in relationship building, establishing a system, and keeping a healthy, balanced spiritual outlook on what they are doing.
Ishinomaki is the second largest city in Miyagi, after Sendai. While Sendai was damaged, much of the area affected was rice fields as opposed to the main area where people lived. Sendai has a larger, organized volunteer work force and supplies. But Ishinomaki was greatly devastated and there is a lack of volunteers and supplies. We have several contacts and connections either living in Ishinomaki or relatives/friends of those we know in Sendai.
A team is forming for the end of the month to go to Sendai (probably based there, working in Ishinomaki) for 9 days – 11 people are confirmed (5 foreigners, 6 Japanese), and we are still waiting on confirmation from 4 others (1 foreigner, 3 Japanese). Kendon Murrell and Brett Worsham are the team leaders, doing a fantastic job looking after organizing, coordinating, and preparing the team. Sasha, Gaku and I are all a part of the team. We hope that will become a ‘kick off’ for our work.
Obata-sensei has emphasized to us, and encouraged us to emphasize to all of you, that this is a marathon and not a 100 yard dash. We are hoping groups will go a minimum of once a month, ideally once a week, and ideally within that a group of at least 3-4 people will emerge as ‘regulars’.
We are getting some offers to come as volunteers to work with us. We need your understanding and patience for a while longer before we can begin to accept those offers.
Thanks so much for continuing to pray for us. I can’t tell you how many times on this trip I had a deeply abiding sense of peace from God, and also a keen awareness of His guidance and direction of our steps. I have a deeper respect and appreciation for Obata-sensei, for Sasha, and for Chad and Beth after the past couple of days.
I also feel the need to emphasize our ongoing desperate need for funds. We need people to be intentional and generous about giving. We also need people to help contact others to generate funds. After the devastation I have seen, I know that money will be used quickly even as it is carefully used.
Obata-sensei and Sasha took several pictures. Paul Herrington also said he has taken many from his time of working with Chad’s group. Hopefully we can find a way to get some of those pictures for you to see.