Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friday April 29, 2011 Praise and Pizza

Rode the train with Brent and Sandy to Okayama for an area-wide praise service. Rare treat since Christians are so few and far between. Groups from several churches shared praise songs in a variety of styles in a very nice community center/theater. The entire sloping array of stairs and 500 seats was built to retract against the wall. I wonder what my son Daniel (box office manager) would think about that. I kept asking if I could push the button. After a break we had congregational praise time, with songs all in Japanese of course. Some I’d heard in English such as “Your Love Makes Me Sing,” and “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”
But one song, about the woman at the well, which Brent translated a bit of for me, was especially moving. “I was tired of life, but you waited for me as long as it took for me to find you,” or something like that.

Then the speaker was a minister, but was nationally known as the developer of a suicide helpline network, where they would actually go to be with people considering suicide. It was a challenge to hear that if you’re waiting for a way to serve, there are people all around you in despair that you may be put there to help.

Dinner with Scott and Maki Morishita-Chadwick in Kurashiki with American-style pizza and soggy fries and tiny brownies the size of your thumb joint
(but all very moishi—yummy). Their home was next to the recreation trail lined with Sakura (cherry blossoms) that had bloomed two weeks ago here even though they are just now blooming in the north.

Read Jennifer Huddleston’s news about the Be One Team. They had helped a 76-year-old woman who had been trying to clean out her house my herself and then they prayed with her. I really missed being there.

Did I mention that there are no stalled cars on the highways here (extensive and expensive bi-annual inspections)?

Did I mention that I never saw an accident on the highways (except for possibly one single car accident—it's very difficult to get a driver’s liscense)?

Almost no private airplanes at all.

Read a blog thread I found on my son-in-law Joel’s buzz. It was all from 2 days after the quake and the responses carried a variety of strong viewpoints, but two things stood out:
1) The arguments mostly missed the real-life stories of needs and workers on the ground, and
2) Some people have way too much time on their hands.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011 Impressions of destruction, cycling, and recycling

Blog update: Thursday, April 28, 2011

Settling into Sandy (my sister) and Brent’s apartment in Kojima, Okayama Prefecture. It’s the last day of English classes for their school before Golden Week. Sandy invites me to share my experiences with her 6:30pm Bible study, and Brent with his 7:30 and 8:30 English classes. Someone asks me how what I saw, compared with what I expected to see—assuming I had watched all the coverage on the news. However since I don’t watch TV or Youtube, I’m probably the only person on the globe that didn’t see extensive coverage of the tsunami. For me, the most striking things were the houses that were jammed into each other and the cars in bizarre places and crazy angles.

So I took dozens of pictures of those things, but I fear in an abstract mode with something akin to curiosity—“Oh, I’ve got to get this cool shot.” But actually walking through the houses, seeing small personal items, and then hearing the stories are what made the suffering real. You see the incredible force of the water in the massive damage, and the items high in the trees or on the bluffs, but it’s something that you still can’t really get your mind around. A few things stand out like the clock on the school stopped at 2:46 or the pots and pans in the cabinet looking over the missing dining room. . .so I guess I just return to the faces of all the people we served.
Dorky bikes, part 2. I’ve now been properly informed: they look like American girls’ bikes from the 60’s. But they’re not girls’ bikes; they’re what everyone rides. The brand new, off the shelf bikes are the same basic model. They are called mamachari(nko), so technically they are “mommy bikes,” but nobody thinks of them that way.

Did I mention there are no trash cans in public buildings? Or gas stations? Or anywhere? You’re expected to carry home whatever you brought. But the social engineering backfires because since that’s such a hassle, in some places people just drop trash on the ground.

No dumpsters at the apartment complex. The enclosure is unlocked between 6 and 9 am on Monday and Thursday for you to place whatever can’t be recycled in a clear plastic bag and set it on the ground. If you miss these time slots, you have to wait until the next time. In some cities you have to buy special plastic bags and put your name on them.

Recycle day is once a month. You and your neighbors each take their monthly turn standing by the recycle bins while everyone brings their recyclables and compostables out and you make sure they go in the right bins. There’s another day of the month when odd things like broken plates and cloth and steel are picked up. There’s a poster to help you keep track.

If you want to dispose of a TV or monitor or bicycle or furniture, you go to the Post Office and look through a book for the listing of your model of TV which gives the disposal fee. You pay the fee, get the form in triplicate, and take the item to the recycle/disposal center with your paperwork to show that you paid and then turn it in. So can you guess what people do instead? Each morning you see that mysteriously, TVs and bicycles with missing license stickers have appeared in the drainage and irrigation ditches. Oh well, when it works, it works.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wednesday April 27, 2011 Mountain Views, Ocean Views, and Legally? Driving at 120

Blog update Wednesday, April 27, 2011 Mountain Views, Ocean Views, and Legally? Driving at 120

It feels like I’m deserting the team but there are so many people coming up for Golden Week that I won’t be needed. Riding with Aki and Yoshi back to Osaka in the empty Toyota Hi Ace (full size van), I see the countryside I’d been missing since I’ve been doing so much driving myself. Mild, misty morning and I see a house that is just perfect with the layered architecture, in a setting of tall trees and the just-so garden but neither I nor my camera are fast enough to snap.

Now I know it's kph instead of mph, but 120 still seems fast (especially when the posted limit is 80--but no one seems to care about that). Southbound on the Tohoku (East-north) Expressway to Fukushima (the city, not the power plant which is almost 50 km east on the coast), then west on the Ban-etsu expressway through the mountains, taking a break at the rest/gas stop with a view of the Bandai Mountain ski area.

Then at Niigata, south along the west coast gazing at the “Japanese Alps” off our left. A glimpse of a bullet train between the rice fields and the snowy peaks. After Joetsu where the expressway to Nagano takes off to our left, the coast becomes steeper and we pass through a series of tunnels, then on a section where the road is on causeways built over the water. Aki and Yoshi say the English translation of this famous scenic view is “mother and father don’t know.” So figure that one out. A 25-variety talking video screen coffee dispensing machine. Starbucks--look out!

As we approach Kyoto and Osaka it’s dark and pouring rain and it doesn’t seem like the guys are slowing down much. I get nervous but it’s interesting to note the way the Japanese have focused on highway safety: Two-lane highways have curb blocks and plastic stanchions dividing the lanes. Here on the multilane expressways, lots of reflectors, blinking LED lights, and the high curving sound walls with strobe lights make it seem like a video game.

Makes me wonder which came first—the highway design or the video game design. Into Osaka and what seems like an unusually winding route to the Huddlestons’. Now 11:00 pm, rain a little lighter, and a typical Japanese scene: people riding bicycles with umbrellas in the rain. Gavin picks me up and the guys take off for the train station after last minute hugs.

I hope the rain hasn’t dampened the spirits of the team back at the dojo. What will I put in my blogs now? About how believers from all over Japan and the USA have been coming to work with the team because they hear how we’re touching lives with a headquarters staff of only one—Jennifer? About how we’re establishing relationships with key people in the neighborhoods? About how we’re brainstorming how to give “heart care” after the physical care is not so much needed? About how God has kept us from injuries and flat tires?

What does God have in mind for these people who have gone through so much? For their communities? For this country? Can God turn tragedy into an opportunity for believers to break through deeply rooted cultural barriers and share God’s love?

I know that just as the victims will never forget the horror they witnessed, I will never forget their faces. I hope you will never forget that this country that appears to have no hunger for the “good news,” needs it as much as any place on earth.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 Ready or Not with a Lot to Think About

I made an early morning run to Sendai to check on Samaritan’s Purse. Almost down to the walls and floors prior to their relocation, but did get blankets, cook kits, hygiene kits, and water jugs. Potential good news: they’re opening a branch warehouse in Tome which is quite close to the dojo. New crew last night brought a refrigerator to supplement the small one at the dojo. Yea!

In the loaded van from just in from Osaka, the freshly loaded K truck, and Maya in her own car, we headed for Kitikamigawa, once again with a special cargo, this time of milk, yogurt and eggs for the obasan across the street from the post office. Instead of setting up at the post office in the middle of the village, we went to the bank at the northeast end, which was operating out of the second floor. It took longer to set everything out on the tarp than it did for the people to pick it up, that’s how fast it went. Then the people in the bank invited us in for coffee so how could we leave? Beth and some of the ladies on our team had actually just been across the street where they’d seen a gaijin (foreigner), rare in these parts; her name was Sarah and she was from Australia. Her house was behind the one across from the bank.

Sarah was a school teacher at the school at the mouth of the river, and she told them that out of 100 students only 22 survived, and out of the school teachers, two or three. She said that the water came up to her head and she prepared herself to die.

Next stop the rojin home, with milk and meat and MELONS (special request), and a nice long visit to hug and talk and listen. In my charming way (why did they keep laughing?), I practiced my fractured Nihongo and asked everyone how many kids they had and they asked the same of me.
One last stop on our tour of the river past where I’d been, but I first got to take a picture of a house I’d seen earlier where the tsunami had left half the house untouched but swept through the other half, basically sucking out the living area and just leaving beams and cabinets overhanging. . .nothing. And the first time I saw the kitchen wall it took my breath away because I caught a glimpse of shiny pots and pans sitting in those cabinets. Carefully stacked and put away for the next meal maybe soon to start preparation, for a family where routine met oblivion in an instant. And those pans, forever frozen, forever waiting, brightly polished for a family they would never see again. Except when I finally took the picture today it looked like the pans were gone—maybe someone had taken them—possibly the only clean pots for miles.
But what Beth really wanted us to see (and before leaving to pray for the people they represent) were the school and city hall at the mouth of the river. It must have been a strong, modern, and proud city hall, constructed of reinforced concrete, reduced to a skeleton from a post-nuclear movie. The sight of the school with its clock still frozen at 2:46 that made us fall silent in a vain attempt to grasp the horror of the insatiable wall of water cruelly taking the children first. So we got out to meditate and to take pictures and to watch the heavy equipment rebuilding the sea wall.
As we gathered to pray Maya wanted us to know that the people we had given food to earlier knew that our group was special because we took time to actually talk to them and also because we were the only group that passed out things like tsukemeno (salt-pickled fruit and vegetables because these were the things they used to season their rice, and these were the flavors of their lives.

Then Maya told us the rest of the story of the school. After the earthquake the children were so scared that one teacher volunteered to drive them to their homes and parents where they could be safe and comforted. No one expected a tsunami to breach the sea wall or reach the coastal villages, but it came while the bus was driving up the river and the whole busload was swept away, no one surviving except the teacher driving it. That’s why so many of the children died. And all the parents demanded to know why did you take our children away. They cried to the bus driver, give us our children back. Finally just in the last few days, the driver couldn’t take anymore and committed suicide. And Maya told us there were many instances of good people doing what they thought was the right thing, doing what they knew best, but guessing wrong, and turned into pariahs, instead of being recognized for their good intentions. What a fine line it is that separates the living from the dead, the heroes from the hapless. Which of these people were ready for what came—physically or spiritually?

Monday, April 25, 2011 Thunder, Toys, and Little Boys

Last night Beth was thinking since it’s only her and me (Ken) and Mama and Papa Kitani (in the picture from a day later Mama and Papa Kitani are on the far right), that today we’ll tighten up our space in the dojo to make room for team members arriving soon.
But this morning she sees clear bright sunshine so we're thinking let’s make a run to give out the produce the Kitanis brought and throw in whatever else we can fit in the little K truck and their Odyssey (suv wagon, not van). We’ll lay out the blue sheet in a parking lot, so no need to bag vegetables, just halve the big ones. Papa lays out the tarps in the field to dry, Mama cuts the cabbages and pumpkins and Beth and I start putting water jugs and underwear, and toys and toilet paper on the truck (plus some wheelbarrows and shovels for cleaning up or giving away).

We’re loading the last of the food in the Odyssey as well as several boxes of clothes to fill up the truck and then CRACK! splits the air and we look up to see angry shades of gray. A flash and another crack echoes around us and I trot across the street to get the two tarps folded up so we won’t have soggy blue sheets. Beth says no, we need to tarp the boxes on the truck first. I’ll fold these up first I say (being the weather expert and all—I know it’s lightning, then thunder, then a few drops, then a gust of wind, and then the downpour—and we’re only at the few drops stage)—and I say then I’ll get the truck, but Beth not appreciating my vast base of knowledge thinks I’m an idiot and starts covering the truck.

So everything’s finally covered, then sure enough the downpour, so we pray for clearing skies for our distribution point and take a moment to eat a quick lunch. Sheets of rain. Prairie dwellers know it. Not so much Californians.

Looking from the dojo porch across the little valley of rice fields, I could track each curtain in the downpour as it marched from right to left. I tried to take a picture of it, but of course you have to take it in with all the senses.

We left in faith in the rain for Ishinomaki carrying a special cargo of rainsuits and tools for the ojisan (man) and obasan (aunty) whose house we helped clean out Saturday, ‘cause Beth first saw her carrying muddy gomi (trash) out into the rain wearing a white sweater bless her heart. Regrettably they were not home, but we saw where they’d cleaned some more, and we showed the Kitanis what we’d done, and we’ll be back on Wednesday.

Beth says you know where we haven’t been in a while, is the Watano ha train station, do you remember, where we met the deaf people. I didn’t remember because I hadn’t arrived in Japan yet. (Of course Chad and Beth arrived 4 days after the tsunami when the roads were impassable and everything was shambles and no one knew anything and no one had water and the team slept in vans and washed with soap and snow.) But when we get to the train station, another group is there so we drive around the block, and there’s the funeral home, it’s like across the tracks from the train station, which I didn’t notice the first time I was there. The rain was
gone, the parking lot was almost dry, everything went like clockwork, toys went quickly, and we saw some friends, like the kids that played in the
wheelchair at the grass field which Beth says is actually just a few blocks away (ed. note: these kids are the the Tomita family I described in the April 14 blog who after the tsunami floated with their mother on the tire for 18 hours. In one picture you see the kid with the dad whom they had no word of for 2 days. The cute boy making the peace sign in the other picture is their cousin).

And then Beth describes that first time at the train station people couldn’t say thank you enough, because we were one of the first groups to reach them, except for the one guy when Chad asked what he needed, he said you don’t have what I want, I want my son back—his three-year-old had been taken by the tsunami.
Karate classes have resumed at the dojo, so out of caution for contagion and polluted mud we’re scrubbing tires and boots and rainsuits with disinfectant and wearing masks when we’re out of the cars, and washing hands after every stop. New group from Osaka arrived with supplies at midnight—Akihiro Shona, Yoshiuki Shiroya, Fifi (missionary kid from Pasadena when she’s in the states), Abigail, and Sachiko.

Did I mention that in Japan, running down the centerline of every sidewalk are tiles embossed with ridges and at the intersections bumpy patterns so blind people can safely navigate?

Did I mention that the K truck has no suspension?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday April 24, 2011 A Rare Experience and a New Crew

Visited a church in Sendai for services. It was on the Clarks’ and Gibsons’ way out of town, so I followed them in the K truck. The songs were in Japanese, but mostly translations of American hymns, so I hummed along. Since I didn’t understand the sermon, I just read my Bible until

the next song. Then there were two baptisms. You have to understand, in Japan, you can go years without someone making the leap of faith from their family’s traditions to Christianity, so this was a rare blessing indeed. Many times families will put intense pressure on converts to continue their traditional obligations, or even shun family members who are Christians.

Afterward I was invited to stay for a meal and sharing time. I told a little about what we did in Ishinomaki yesterday. The man across from me was the vice president of his company. The quake hit their office building in Sendai while they were in a meeting on the sixth floor, and since all the office chairs were on casters, everyone was rolling back and forth. He said after a big quake about 20 years ago, their building was reinforced, so thankfully they come through ok, including their offices in several other cities, except that one is in the radiation caution area.

A woman told how after the quake, she ran to the nearest school only to see her house in Sendai swept away. She spent the night on the roof of the school, surrounded by water, but remembers how beautiful the sky was. She has been a Christian for three years, and because of that, she says though she lost everything, she is even now able to say, “I have everything.”

Rounded out the day by picking up a heavy metal prybar at the DIY store, along with umbrellas and slippers (special requests), a tub for washing muddy boots, and a bigger mirror for the bathroom. While I was at church, Mama and Papa Kitani arrived at the dojo to be our cooks for the next few weeks. Got back all ready to scrub boots, but Beth had already done most of them. Rats!

Saturday April 23, 2011 Portable Toilet, Fish Stew, Tatami Mats, and Drowned Rats

Well, the 98 percent chance of rain from yesterday finally arrived. So we put assorted yasai (vegetables) in bags along with two or three other items such as juice or sugar, while we prayed that the rain might let up enough that we could at least pass them out from the back of the van. Today there are six of us: Paul and Ricki Clark, Glen Gibson and his daughter Julie, Beth and Ken. Two cars: the Gibson’s van and the K truck. We won’t be able to lay a blue sheet out, so we set aside a limited assortment of cookstoves, gas canisters, toys, tissues, water jugs, socks, and underwear, for those that might need that sort of thing. As we get it all loaded, including some special request items for specific people, the rain is letting up a bit, so we think, “great!” Plus Maya shows up to help, full of energy.

First stop: delivering the portable toilet with a collapsible tent to cover it and the user. They were so excited—grandpa told us his age—he’s
87—and he lived in Hiroshima during World War II. Anyway, we asked them again if there was anything they needed (8-10 people living on the second floor of the house), and they said maybe if we had some water, and Paul thought we put some on, and Glen says he doesn’t think so, so I’m doubtfully pulling the tarp back, and a truck out of nowhere pulls into this godforsaken parking lot and the guy gets out and says something in Japanese and I say I don’t understand, and then I look at the collapsible water jug that I just pulled out of the K truck and realize that what just pulled up was the local drinking water truck. I carry my jug over and Glen grabs another and the friendly guys fill them for us, and guess what, instead of hoping we might find a couple of two liter bottles of water, now the family gets four gallons. So we’re the heroes for doing essentially nothing, and we say goodbye and walk back to the cars, and the water truck has vanished as mysteriously as it arrived.

Took the charcoal to the temporary shelter in the former JA Bank building, and got a list of some other things they could use. Took blankets and gas stove cartridges to the house where we extricated the shed, then we started driving toward the houses where they told Chad they usually get missed in the distributions. A block away some NPO (non-profit) has set up, but the people told us they only give out emergency supplies, like food rations, etc. As I’m turning right (I couldn’t turn left because a semi trailer was crossways in the street against buildings on both sides), someone in our van behind me yells wait. I pull off, and Beth had just caught a glimpse of a grandma in a back yard carrying something across the yard in the mud. Well, the rain has started up again, and it seems that Yoshiko Chiba and her husband and their grandson Takahiro Oyama had picked this soggy day to start mucking out their house. Wrecked furniture and TVs were piled up against the back wall of the house and mud-soaked tatami mats were sticking out from under everything. The driveway was covered with mud and there was no way the 3 of them were going to be able to carry the dripping, heavy mats by themselves, much less all the big TVs and furniture. I think we worked there for an hour and a half, shoveling the driveway and dragging out all the large stuff.
We’re about done and Julie says, “come look, there’s a dead fish in the washing machine.” Well I pull out my camera, ‘cause that’s a picture you know I’ve got to have, but the fish was not very photogenic, even almost unrecognizable, in kind of a pale bluish soup, so I’ll just have to title the picture “fish stew.”

Now it’s really raining, but we’ve got all this food. So I go, “I’m going to drive about four blocks and pull into the first gravel parking lot I see.” So we do, and we open the hatch and look around and there’s nobody. It’s like apocalyptic or war zone or something, but I finally see a head and shoulders peek out a back porch so I yell at the top of my lungs, “borantia, bushi” (volunteer, relief supplies). And this person just freezes and stares. So somebody says, “take her a bag of food.” So I do and she’s thrilled when she sees the vegetables, and I yell some more, but nobody else comes out. “So let’s break up in twos and just go a block in each direction and call out, I suggest.” And without complaining, our sorry, soggy crew starts out, and pretty soon people start trickling in, some with umbrellas, some without. Along with the food bags, we pull out a

couple of brooms and some socks and cookstoves and amazingly the people keep coming and pretty soon most of the food is gone, and the people must have thought we were crazy or some kind of apparition, and sure enough if you look at the pictures, we all look like drowned rats.
We drop off the rest of the food at the rest home by the drowned rice fields. We reach the dojo and Maya won’t stop; she says, “let’s go” (she’s teaching me Japanese and we’re teaching her English), she’s carrying in boxes and then when that’s done, flattening them, I finally we convince her we’re done. Even the sensei helped carry boxes in; what a great guy!
And we’re sad because this is the Clarks’ and Gibsons’ last night. And now the wind is really whipping and storming outside.

Did I mention the K truck has no suspension?

Did I mention they have heated toilet seats here?

Did I mention my quest to find diet Mountain Dew is surely doomed?

Did I mention the next time somebody suggests I put on rubber boots to work in the mud I think I’ll take their advice?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011 Of Dog Food, Garbage Bags, and Bodies

Ninety-eight percent chance of rain, for the next two days is the forecast. Otani san, Hiroshi Sato, and Bob left for the long drive home. Because of the expected rain, Chad asked for suggestions on an alternate strategy to get things out. Well, first, we got everything out of the vehicles, so we wouldn’t have to do it in the rain. So someone came up with the idea making family size bags of fruit and vegetables, and family size bags of dry food and household items. Quickly there's a long row of
low tables, and all the different produce, and bags, and like 4 people carrying the bags down the line and five people dropping stuff into them, and three people tying and boxing the finished bags; and then the same thing with the dry goods; and pretty soon we had filled three vans with boxes of large bags of stuff. Also boxes of cookstoves and gas cartridges and underwear and collapsible water jugs, etc. We left the clothes behind because of the rain.

Ed and Nan left at mid-morning, as did Joey. Tony and Marsha Woods, from a Baptist church in Sendai stopped by briefly to see what we were doing and how we were doing it.

Here are the teams from the base here in the dojo, where they went, and what they shared at the end of the day:

Beth, Paul, and Ricki went to the rojin home on the Kitikami River to visit the old people and to drop off baked goods the Kansai Christian School kids had made to share with the children that are temporarily staying at that rest home. In the evening, Chad’s father-in-law Paul told about how Chad and Jennifer were newly arrived English teachers when the Kobe quake hit. The rest of the story tells a lot about how and why they responded immediately to the tsunami when everyone advised it was too unsure and risky. Fifteen years ago, when they went to Kobe to volunteer, they were given brooms to sweep around the city hall. After realizing that he was not doing anything for people with real needs, Chad went and got his scooter and brought tools and supplies into the city to help people on his own. This picture is of Chad about to leave four days after the Tohoku quake before Chad and Jennifer's house was taken over by relief supplies and workers.
So when this quake hit, he was ready to bypass the official channels and just pack tents and generator and shovels and lanterns, and food and water and find those areas the news media indicated might need help the most. The problem was they knew there was no gas in Sendai to come home, and there were no metal gas cans left to buy in Japan. Someone in the team hit the wrecking yard and found 8. But it finally came down to steel drums (which are supposed to be legally registered) or plastic jugs which were
clearly illegal. So they took plastic jugs, knowing that if they went through police checkpoints, they would be taken, and they knew they would be going by police checkpoints, and they did, and somehow they got through anyway.

Liz’ group went first to shop for specific needs that people had requested: meat, milk, and yogurt. Chihiro’s friend gave them some dog food. Next a special side trip to visit the parents of Liz’ friend Yuko san. For two weeks Yuko san heard nothing from her parents until they were finally able to tell here they were safe. Liz played a video message that Yuko san had made for them and they were really touched. A son and his family are also living with the parents; the place where he worked had been washed away as had some of his friends.

Chihiro took the team to some people that had asked for dog food and then they saw someone else walking a dog, and they offered them some too. Then Liz’ group went to the Post Office in Kitakamigawa, where they were joined by Beth’s group after their visit to the rojin home. There were people inside the Post Office, but it was closed and no one was in the streets, so Beth took a bag of milk and meat and went to the Obaasan Oikawa's house and knocked on the door and she meant to yell “here’s milk and meat for you,” but what she really said was, “I have my milk and meat.” (We all laughed at that.) And then soon people started coming out after all.

Matt and Chad were in our group of three vans, where we planned to go door to door in the neighborhood bordering the apartments with our food and household bags. Matt and their van set up a couple of blocks away and started knocking door to door with the bags. The good thing was that all that had come of the rain was a fine mist. The bad thing was that no one is living in their first floors, which either need to be gutted or have been gutted, so you kind of have to yell up to the second floor. But even worse, was that from their perspective, what do you make of strange foreigners, carrying garbage bags, yelling and banging on your door. Well, once somebody saw one family get groceries, they got the idea, and they started coming out of their houses. Then they complained that aid groups drop stuff off, but never make it to their houses; so they go when they hear the aid trucks but when they reach the lines everything is gone.

One thing that Matt said that really struck him was seeing a really nice house with a Mercedes in the car port and bars on the windows--the car was

hemmed in so it couldn't float away--"drowned" instead in the muddy water. He reflected on the lengths people had gone to protect their possessions, but how unimportant all those things must seem now that you’re thankful just to be alive and just having your daily needs met. How ones’ perspective changes!

Julie and Hannah were with me in the van below the danchi (the government housing mentioned in previous blogs) and we planned to go door to door, but no sooner had we opened the hatch than people were already lining up. Here after dinner they shared how we ran out of food, with people still in line, so they were giving out toys and books and bubbles, and how amazing that there were so many people in that small area.

We're in the middle of the debriefs in the dojo family area and Maya showed up with homemade pizza and salad her mom had made from scratch.
(In the picture taken a few days later, Maya's mother is talking to Teresa.) Maya shared that that she and the sensei who were not Christians and did not know our God, could see that we did know God, and they could see the powerful way that God was working through us.
Chihiro leaves for architectural school in a day or two. So Beth made us pull out the Kleenexes as she told Chihiro that God had led us to her and her to us, in order to find the people we needed to find and do the things we needed to do. And that she was part of our team and part of our family. Chihiro said that we had given so much to her city even as many other foreigners had evacuated from Japan. That she would never forget the faces of all the various team members who had come up and given so much. And not to forget those who couldn’t come, but were helping pack and plan and support the work in the sending cities: Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Tokyo. Chihiro hopes to come back and help rebuild the city after her studies. She told us that people in Ishinomaki have been deeply damaged, but that they won’t talk about it, and that their needs will be for heart help after the physical needs are met. That the important thing is to continue to support them so that they won’t feel alone.

Then Chihiro talked about Aoki san. Remember the guy who wished he had a bicycle so he could bring more things to more people, and we surprised him with one? And every time we show up he’s there to help? That’s Aoki san. Weeks ago Chihiro first saw him methodically walking around with a kind of a stick and a bag and bending over every so often, and they couldn’t figure out what he was doing. Well, on the block facing the main street had been the home improvement store, and when the tsunami washed through it and brought all the other debris through as well, nails, and boards
with nails, littered the area, and Aoki san would spend most of the early days walking around and picking up nails so no one would get hurt and the cars wouldn’t get flats. So Chihiro knew here was a special man with a special heart. (The picture is of Aoki San and Maya.)

This is the story that Aoki san told Chihiro about the day of the Tsunami. Aoki san watched the tsunami come in from his apartment balcony.
And people on roofs and flotsam kept floating by and so many were crying out, “please throw us a rope,” but he had nothing; there was nothing he could do except watch helplessly. And then finally the water receded and the bodies appeared, here and there in the streets, the yards, the playgrounds. And he thought what can I do, and all he could think to do was to take a towel and wipe their faces clean of the mud, and so he did. And for a week the bodies rested there, just where the inrushing sea had left them until a week later the army finally came—and you see, that was the point that Chihiro was trying make that “for a week the old people and the children and all of us had to see those bodies lying there with no one able to attend to them and that’s why we’ll need help for our hearts for a long time.”

Thursday April 21, 2011 Cow Barns and Railroad Tracks

We spent about 45 minutes unloading and reloading the vans to balance the variety of supplies so that we could go to two completely separate areas.
Glenn and his daughter Julie from California have great energy and joy; they're here for a week after their other mission trip got cancelled.
Three vans (team B) set out for the Rojin home at the Kitakami River and I drove one of the 5 team A vans to the East Ishinomaki Area. We began at a small rest home there by the rice fields and Chad went in to see what they needed there. They asked for some specific clothing items. We saw a teenage guy in a crew shoveling mud off the walkways. They all had pointed
nose shovels and we had several square nose shovels. So we brought our shovels and started pitching in helping shovel sand and mud while the ladies carried clothes inside. We left the guys a square nose shovel to finish the job.
Chad scouted for an area east than where we had been, especially where the army and other relief organizations such as Peace Boat might have missed. We found a gravel parking lot along the frontage road to the railroad tracks. Chad talked to a woman who came out of the house by the parking lot, and they decided this would be a good place. We hadn’t been to this exact neighborhood before, and looking around it was hard to believe anyone was living nearby. And who should come walking down the lane with a bullhorn, but the Peace Boat guy announcing they were setting up a station for a hot lunch (takidashi) nearby.

No danger of a train coming by and disturbing our operation—a stone’s throw away were a house and a car sitting on the railroad tracks.
I manned the clothing tarp, and as the team set up the food across the lane, people started appearing—like out of nowhere. After we had been there half an hour, a girl came up and introduced herself as Haruna. She asked my age and I asked hers—she was 15 and proudly introduced her mom.
I was happy to let her practice her very excellent English on me. I forgot to mention one of the first people to come over to the clothing area was an older woman who saw on display a new very luxurious blanket someone had donated. She could hardly believe her eyes—it was like Publisher’s Clearing House showing up at her door.
Earlier, entering the housing area the first thing we noticed was the junior high kids walking down the street in uniforms. We remembered then that although the rest of the country had started the new school term on April 8, the schools in the northeast area had been delayed by the effects of the disasters. From our view there is still nothing normal about life in these areas, but the authorities had decided that it was safe enough to set for today the opening ceremonies of the new term. The brightly decorated school opening sign and the clean, neat-as-a-pin uniforms of the kids in groups of three or four were in jarring contrast to the downed power lines, jumbled houses, cars, and unrecognizable debris and belongings. How in the world were these students with no power or water or bathroom or front door or kitchen or paper or pencils able to prepare for school?

We're almost cleaned up and some of the school kids walk by after opening day and Chad asks them how they feel about school starting and they say we're glad to be going back to school.

Beth and I had thrown our dirty clothes in the van this morning, so instead of going straight back, I went to find a coin laundry I’d seen earlier. Unfortunately, when I found it something didn’t look right. I called Chad on the cell and said “I think these are all dryers.” He said, “Hmm, look for somebody and ask, “sentaki?” So I converse with this guy in some kind of Englanese and he says drive that way two lights and turn left. I go “at McDonalds?” and he goes, “eh?” and then he says “oh, Makudonarudo.” Anyway I finally find the coin laundry and figure out which are the washers and dryers and the change machine (the soap dispenses into the washer automatically) and go get gas while the clothes are in the dryer.

In the meantime, three new arrivals: Joey Millard of Yokohama dropped by to spend the night. He has made 18 trips into the affected area over the month’s time, staying with contacts he has. And Paul and Ricky Clark, Chad’s inlaws, from Osaka arrived.

After we finally got back to the dojo and had dinner, we again shared our day’s highlights. At the Kitakamigawa post office parking lot, obaasan (grandma) Oikawa San had come up thrilled that we had come back since she had run out of rice (the village is getting their water and power back, but everyone’s cars had washed away). The people there told them they wished they could get meat, milk and yogurt, which no one had had in a long time. And Ricki told how she was shown the cows that that remained in the community near the rojin home.

And then Collin told this story which was actually from the previous day. While we had been walking around offering our help, Collin saw a 14 year-old boy playing basketball, so he walked up and joined in. His name was Yuusuke and he was actually from an area in the mountains but he was here staying with his grandparents. When Collin told him we were Christian volunteers, Yuusuke says, “I learned about God in school.” And Collin asks him, “really, how?” and he says, “my friend was a Christian and he died in the tsunami.” Then he says to Collin, very serious-like, he says, “I believe he saved my life, like he was watching over me.” And then he doesn’t really want to talk about that any more.

And then Collin says how good he is and Yuusuke says his goal is to get real good, and somehow make enough money to send some home to help people here. He says that’s my hope, but my friends don’t have much hope—but it’s really good for school to start, it’s good for all of us, like because now when we go to school we feel like life may actually go on.