Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 Blankets and Rescues and a Garage Worse than Mine

The last group up had brought up a load of bushi (relief supplies) including home-made blankets and hygiene kits, so Abi, Scott and Fumie went shopping to add vegetables to the mix. The rest of us drove to the new house to tackle some mud in the house and glass in the yard. It’s hard to believe this is my last day here.

In casting about for a location to visit today, Chad settles on the 2-story apartments where Peter almost lost his head April 14 from some roofing tin sailing down the alley on a wind gust. The trick is to find the apartments; a lot of cleaning has been accomplished. But Chad says here we are and I look around and gone is the the huge pile of debris and belongings that took up a third of the parking lot, and in the next street over the commercial truck that was crossways blocking the way is gone. It’s hard to see this as the same place we were a month ago. The blue sheet is laid out and I figure out a way to put some spring clothes on a pole supported by the stairs. The handmade quilted blankets are a big hit and John is an enthusiastic clothing salesman.

A 40ish lady named Kaori San hangs around at the end to talk to Chad about her experience. She and her son and the grandmother were in their one-story house when the tsunami came. They all stood on the tallest furniture as the water came up to their necks. She said her husband, being a carpenter was somehow able to break through the wall, drag them all out, and get them onto the roof. They spent the night on the roof in the snow, and the next day there were bodies everywhere. Now she picks up her bags to leave, but not before revealing that her 7-year-old son, who is back in school, whenever there is an aftershock dives under his desk in fear.

While we are cleaning up the tarps and boxes, Mr. Sakai, who has been kind of a neighborhood coordinator, asks if we can give him and his wife a hand. Well, his house faces on the lane where the truck and two cars blocked access a month ago. Now a quick glance reveals few traces of the past. The Sakais were fortunate that their car was not home when the water came in. They’ve started pulling their floor up and found some fish, but funny thing is instead of black mud, the flood left behind fine gravel. Daniel talks to him while we’re working and finds common ground in that they both have two daughters. When we go outside, Maya is having way too much fun cleaning off hardwood floor panels with the pressure washer.
It’s already been a full day, but we have one more stop and it won’t be a fun one. Chihiro’s grandparents have a flower shop downtown with a wood shop in back. They’re in their eighties and he seems to have been saving slabs of nicely grained hardwood and cedar for almost that long. When the water receded the wood came to rest jumbled and leaning on some heavy machinery with a layer of mud under it all. So our job is move all the wood out (I’m guessing some 200 pieces, a couple as heavy as 300 lbs, others little shingle-sized scaps), clean out the mud and then restack it all. Further complications: trying to get power and water for the pressure washer, and adequate lighting. Ojiisan brings a big glass fixture to plug in the ceiling for a light, but I say that’s a disaster waiting with all the wood and pry bars we’re swinging around, so we find a drop light instead. Then we have to move some heavy machinery around to get the mud out from under it.
When the place is finally emptied and cleaned it’s been several hours and it’s getting dark. We’ve got three people outside wielding brooms to dust the boards, with everyone else carrying them inside or stacking, trying to put them back in biggest to smallest. After what seems like forever we close up the side of the shop and clean the tools and the grandparents bring us two bags of drinks and snacks and are truly grateful for our work and I know tonight I really need to hit the onsen.

Tuesday May 17, 2011 Rayguns, Haircuts, and Stumps

New faces that showed up this morning: Daniel R. (Abigail’s father) from Osaka, Joel’s mother Lynn from Ikoma, John from Kyoto, Howard from Tokyo, Eric and Fumie from Kyushu, Ban from CRASH/Singapore, and the Yamaras (family of 3 barbers).
So today we divided into three teams. Ian, Abi, Dan, and I went to sensei’s other dojo that had earthquake damage and needed cleaning. Ian and I put on the full rainsuits, hoods and masks; looked like tall skinny martians, even completing the picture with a “ray gun” (the pressure washer). After cleaning the ceiling (a little too well—one tile fell down), Daniel and Abi mopped the floor, and the sensei showed us some broken glass that could wait until next time. Before we knew it, sensei and his wife brought out a boxed lunch and snacks and we sat on rubber karate mats in the parking lot and talked about the earthquake and about his favorite hot springs resort—well, they talked—everyone there spoke nihongo (Japanese) except me. Abigail was nice enough to translate the gist of the conversation.

Did I mention that coffee flavored ice cream is actually good on a hot day?

Ban and the Yamaras went to the Watana Ho (Yasuhiro’s) neighborhood to provide free haircuts to tsunami victims.

The rest of today’s group (about 10) descended on the neighborhood (near the tunnel exit and the danchi) where Be One’s new rental house is located. They finished shoveling contaminated mud out of the deep gutters opposite the house and fanned out to offer assistance to any neighbors that needed help.
After our lunch we joined that group just in time to tackle our specialty—ripping out floor boards and shoveling mud out from under a floor into sand bags. About three blocks away lives a lady named Kubo San, and she had started ripping up the floor, apparently by herself. Ian shows his ability to lift whole buildings (well, floors). Maya makes us all look bad, actually crawling under the front floor. While we are working, Kubo San tells Dan that she had been visiting her 91-year-old mother in the hospital when the tsunami hit; fortunately, her 92-year-old father was on the second floor of the house so he was ok. She tells us that neighbors in 2 houses nearby did not survive—the single story houses were death traps.
This time when we pray for Kubo and her family in a circle in her front yard, something special happens. Daniel starts and then Abi, and though I can’t really understand a word, the conviction and feeling is so strong that all of our eyes are watering. . . Chad shows up after all the work is done and we find a stump in the yard to rip out and we throw all of our random tools at it and sure enough it finally comes out, so we say goodbye and carry off our trophy. And as we drive away I see the playground they cleaned while I was gone and all across the front of the playground along the curb are boxes and boxes of flowers.

Monday, May 16, 2011 Tears, Pups, and Gobo

This morning we reflected on how the glorious ministry of the Spirit gives us boldness to minister with unveiled faces (2 Cor. 3.9-20). We were about to break up when Ian says I think we need to pray some more—if we pray some more then we’ll have more time to do what God needs us to do today. So we did—for another 15 or 20 minutes we prayed and sang and read. I think sometimes we really do just put in our time—the “minimum requirements.”

The Seelens, Nancy, Matt S., Barbara, Liz, Anson, and Paul left for Kobe. Chad left to take Jennifer to the Sendai Airport. That left me, Ian, Scott, Jackie, and Danica.

The HiAce van still had food that the Orange County group didn’t give out Friday. We added coffee making stuff, stove fuel, toys and books donated from Kojima, personal hygiene kits handmade by a lady in the USA, and bracelets handmade by folks in Osaka. Filled the K truck with the overflow and picked up Maya on the way to the grocery store. To our onions and sweet potatoes, we added 2 grocery carts of produce plus natto (fermented soybeans), tsukemono, and curry stew. Then we headed out to Kitakami Cho, the village by the river. This was the first time to see the devastation along that river for everyone except Maya and me. Since it was also the first time I was the lead vehicle to that area, everyone for some obscure reason chose to let the navi (Garmin GPS) lead us instead. Distinct lack of trust in my opinion.

Did I mention that the K truck has no suspension?
Teruko, Beth’s obachan friend across from the post office, was there to greet us almost as soon as we stopped the cars. We gave her the first vegetables out of the cartons, and some sweets and a stuffed pink bunny for her mago (granddaughter). She asked about Beth, and kept hugging us and crying so that we thought we never would be able to go on to set up the distribution we planned.

Since we went to the bank last time I thought we might set up at the post office this time, but there were cars in that parking lot, and Maya, after talking to Teruko, says there’s a community center that we passed less than a block away. Well we set up and the first thing we notice is that the people are eager, almost desperate for the vegetables stuff we’d bought this morning. Over two months after the tsunami and still no stores nearby and many of them lost their cars. So we set up quickly and everything is disappearing quickly, but I say maybe we have time to get some coffee going. Got the little cookstove going, fill up the teapot with water and get out the cups and the single serve coffee and we wait for it to get hot and people are starting to leave, and we’re waiting, and Maya says there’s coffee, and I say wait it’s not quite hot yet, and finally a few obasans and ojisans that are left get some almost hot coffee.
An older person comes up having walked from the other end of town and we’re out of everything, so I go to the van and check just in case, and sure enough there’s one box we missed—a box of gobo. And everyone still there goes “ohh, gobo” and we give out all the long thin brown dirty roots. Apparently a rare treat.

The community center also houses the village fire truck and sitting in front of it is a little overweight dog. So we ask about the dog and the woman says during the tsunami she floated in the water holding the dog on her back like you would a kid until the water went down. The dog was overweight because with older people were staying at the center for the time being, she couldn’t leave. So Scott and Danica and Jackie took the dog for a walk.

Driving to the bank I’m on a mission to track down a teacher to promote some student to student exchanges with kids outside the affected area. But Sarah wasn’t there anymore, and walking by the house where they met her a few weeks ago, we saw why—it was not really habitable. Heard another dog barking and the five of us walk across a field of dried mud and debris. Maya helps Jackie and Danica ask a woman about the dog. Before the tsunami the dog hated people and barked all the time, but during the flooding it was trapped for 7 days among tools and bales in a garage/ shed and oddly when finally released its temperament had become quiet and friendly.
Finally found a student leader and a principal at the middle school and gave him my sister Sandy’s information (she’s a teacher) for exchanges.

At the rojin home we found Mina the girl who lived on the farm and introduced everyone around. Learned that only about 8 people were still staying there; the rest had found housing. We left them a tin of cookies.

Again this was the first time here for some of our team, so we continued to the river’s mouth to see the destroyed school and city hall and sea wall. We parked and walked across foundations wiped clean of any trace of life over toward the water. Maya retold the stories about the children and added some things I’d missed. The teacher that had tried to drive the children home in the bus was not from the elementary school, but a nearby kindergarten. Maya added that the water had reached the top (third) floor of the elementary school and the 30 something students that had survived from there were those who found floating objects to cling to. Some were found days later, dead, with arms still locked around some scrap of wood.
She remarked that a few days ago a father had come and sat in front of the school on his still-missing son’s birthday with a cake, asking his son, “when will you come back?” Before we finally drove away Maya says there are parents here every weekend poking through the mud and digging, hoping that they still might find their children.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011 Low Tables, White Robes, and Crazy Chains

It’s Sunday morning so we’re all in the living/dining area of the dojo. Charlie gave a devotional thought from Luke 14 about counting the cost, except he took the angle that God is not like the man who started to build but couldn’t finish and was mocked by the neighbors. God has counted the cost of everything from beginning to end, including the biggest cost of all, his Son. Even the disaster in Northeast Japan was in his mind. And we are part of his heart’s response to all the tragedy. And he will not be mocked, because his ways are right and true, and in the end every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord.

(The thought crossed my mind that here we are eating breakfast and then fellowshipping kneeling on mats around low tables, much as Jesus’ disciples and everyone in Bible times “reclined at table.” Funny to find such a connection with the Gospels in a time and place so far removed.)

The rest of the day was planned by Chad and the sensei as a special treat for the dojo students and their families. First the kids had a kind of demonstration/practice, and we were invited to meet and mingle with the parents. Meanwhile the barbecue grills from yesterday came back out and we started cutting up the meat (3 kinds), cabbage, eggplant and mushrooms to grill (poor Danica—all these barbecues, and she’s a vegetarian). By the way Japanese charcoal literally is charred wood—random-sized chunks that come in a box. The Kobe team had brought a couple of gallons of frozen sloppy joe mix which works just as well if not better on hot dog buns.
So the grilled meat (bite sized pieces and thin strips) and vegetables are getting done and 40 kids in their matching white karate robes are lining up and the sun is gloriously shining (perhaps too gloriously for those who chose to wear black).

Ian who is standing next to me and handing out plates loves to get the kids to practice their English, so he’s asking every kid their name, and telling them his name and asking their age and telling them he’s from New Zealand that that my name is Ken. Until someone says “hey, who’s holding up the line?”

So the kids go through the line, then the moms, and a few short speeches and the kids get to each pick a donated book or toy, and then we go inside for games. Some of the team members are playing with the kids too: the number circle game (like musical chairs for a large group), bingo, the balloon stomping game (Matt cheated because at the end we all tried to pop his balloon and it wouldn’t pop), and crazy train with jan ken pon (scissors, paper, rock—which is a little different in Japan). In every game the top 5 or so get a prize; one of the moms is a bingo winner and we have a laugh at her picking a kid’s prize.

Lots of fun, lots of pictures, and if we were tired after the last kids left and cleanup was over, it was the best kind of tired you can be.

Notes: In Japan jan ken pon is a little more complicated than in US. See Yahoo answers: “How to play scissors, paper, rock in Japan.” It is widely used, quite helpfully in school, to settle ties. In the crazy train game, the winner of each jan ken pon becomes the front of a “train” and the loser goes to the back; then for each train the front person from one plays the front person from the other; then the losing train goes to the back of that train, until it’s all one big train with the person in front having never lost.

Saturday May 14, 2011 Reinforcements, Black Mud, and Unusual Skills

Wave of reinforcements. After a long drive and spending the night in Sendai, some old and new faces arrived at the dojo: previous team workers Yasusuke and Marcus, along with Scott, Chiaki, Tomoki, and Joanne.

Arriving in the affected area of Ishinomaki we were greeted by the rest of the caravan from Kobe: the Seelens, Matt S., Liz, Nancy, Barbara, Anson, and Paul
First stop was a house near the tunnel exit that has become available to the team. It is newer and as a bonus there is an adjoining guest house. After doing some brief cleanup, the family that lived there decided to abandon the house, move away, and tear it down. Chad is negotiating rental arrangements, and we’re hoping they might change their mind about tearing it down. (The problem is, there’s a powerful impulse to separate from all the troubled spirits of those who died so shockingly. By leveling the houses, hauling off the cars, moving away.) Anyway, the house has water and mud damage and broken windows, and smells like (well, let’s just say it’s a blessing that I don’t smell so well.) But if we had someone staying there, it would give us a human presence in the community, signal our commitment, and cement relationships.
We saw other people outside their houses, so Chad, Jennifer and Charlie fanned out to see what we might be able to do to help. Several asked if we could clean out the storm drain gutters (the 18-inch-deep concrete trenches under removable concrete slabs) along the street. So we got 4 wheelbarrows, 13 square nose shovels, and about a hundred fifty plastic mesh sandbags off the 1 ton truck. And Chad starts trying to read the directions for putting together the pressure washer.
For three hours we mucked out black mud, old rags, what may at one time have been fish, and broken pieces of decorative block walls. The sandbags were so wet and sloppy, we felt like we were throwing bags of quivering black jelly onto the pile in the vacant lot. The trouble was, once cleaned there was no outflow for the remaining nasty water, so we couldn’t do much with the pressure washer. Meanwhile one vehicle of team members was hitting all the grocery stores that were open, buying every chicken breast in Ishinomaki.
We cleaned up and drove over to a hinanjo (evac center) at a school where the team had served a barbecue during Golden Week. (Based on past experience we had been avoiding the evacuation centers because they had always said they didn’t need anything, but a Mr. Suzuki had invited us to do something special for this particular hinanjo then, and now come back and do it again) So 5 barbecue grill, 500 brat hot dogs and buns, 75 lbs of chicken, 200 bags of chips, 500 cookies, and 200 canned drinks later, we had served over a hundred people, with many taking extra food home with them.
Afterward we talked, passed out toys and hula hoops, and played circle volleyball with the kids, and we found out that guess what Chad AND Charlie AND Collin could all do? Juggle. So they taught a couple guys how.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thursday and Friday, May 12 and 13, 2011 Working Outside the Job Description


Down to four of us for the moment—Ian, Joel, and me plus Maya as our local guide/gung ho worker/cheerleader—so we finished ripping up the floorboards and shoveling the mud from the dirt under the floor at Yukari’s house near the tunnel entrance. Chad and Jennifer arrive late tonight, and another team arrives this afternoon. From Japan: Dan and John, and joining them from Huntington Beach: Joe, Steve, Ryan, Chris and Gary.


At the morning devotional someone asked Chad how he happened to be in Japan. He said when he and Jennifer were first married they took a backpacking trip through Africa. It was on that trip, he explained, that their experience of God became real and their purpose came into focus. It was Africa they fell in love with and where they thought they would end up, but instead they came to Japan as English teachers and stayed.

Steve, Gary, John, and Dan drove to Kesennuma where their group wanted to concentrate efforts. Their evening report described pretty complete devastation. They could see how far the water had come, because only houses on the hillsides survived and even some of those were damaged. They helped some of those people clean up and met a lady whose beauty shop was gone, but what she really missed was her haircutting tools and supplies. Then she says wait, and goes to her house and brings back scissors and cut a couple of the guys’ hair and wouldn’t take anything for it.
We went back to Yukari’s house to put down some temporary plywood flooring, this time with the expert crew of Joe, Chris and Ryan (who knew that church and missions staff could build stuff). Tony and Mary Anne surprised us by dropping by—they were now working with the animal rescue organization Kinship Circle—and they were with a team filming stories of people and their animals and rescues and such. Also with that team were a couple of ladies, Jackie and Danica, who were not doing anything critical for the next few days and asked if they could help us. Well that was a question that needn’t be asked twice, so now we with reinforcements continued boxing dishes and cleaning while the plywood crew did their thing.

We brought our team’s circular saw thinking we could plug it in upstairs seeing as how we were told there was no power to the first floor because of the water damage. Well, the second floor was locked, so we go, “Maya, will you please call the homeowner”? So after talking on her keitai (phone) for a minute she says plug the saw in here, so I did and then I say see it doesn’t work and then she says “breaker” (her English is getting better) and walks into the kitchen and just like that we have lights and power and everything. So I guess they just turn it off when they’re gone for safety. By midafternoon the main room is done and we start ripping out the kitchen floor because the people said we could do that room too if we had time.

Jumping ahead, now it’s getting dark and Chad and Jennifer show up and now we’re really cleaning like practically polishing the one piece of salvageable furniture and mopping the genkan (entrance area) to a spit-shine all because Joe and the crew are absolutely not going home until the kitchen has a new temporary floor and the window ledge is clean to we can put the pots and pans back and a potted geranium they bought as a housewarming gift is prominently placed by the entrance. Well it’s eight o’clock before the tools are cleaned and the door is set (it doesn’t close per se) back over the entrance.

So Joel’s done enough and we deposit him with his J Help group, and the Southern California guys will be taking off in the morning after their much appreciated work.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 Mucking, MRE’s, and the Sermon of the Mount

Early this morning Machiko, Alexis, Monica, Carol, and Marci headed back to Kobe. We took Tony and Mary Anne to the bus station. Joel stayed back at the dojo to clean up and organize our area.

Before dropping Stu off for his bus, he took us on a tour of the Watano Ha neighborhood where they had met some good people. It was a pleasant surprise to find Yasuhiro at home and before we knew it he was bringing us coffee which we drank sitting on stools in his driveway. Twenty years ago Yasu had attended a Christian-run University in Sendai. He told Stu that during the tsunami he remembered the Sermon on the Mount and it gave comfort and hope to know that God cared about him. He said his son was now attending high school at the same place he attended college

Because Stu hadn’t seen the commercial/port district up close I drove the long (but quicker) way around. The giant red tank was still on its side, and the railroad tracks were still hanging in thin air, but the previously flooded street had now been raised with several inches of gravel. It was a good thing we went that way because if we had taken the direct route, Stu would have missed his bus.

Stu had lived in Japan for a number of years, but most recently based in Singapore doing personal and spiritual development of ministers from Viet Nam and Cambodia. So for Stu it was great being back here using his Japanese. His ability to communicate was a real asset to the team.

Getting a late start, we picked up Joel back at the dojo, met Maya, and at the house (Chihiro’s cousin’s) near the tunnel entrance, we first had to finds a place to stack dishes, boxes and clothing. Then we got to pulling up the rotten floor. My technique was prying up the boards by breaking the nails loose board by board. But Ian found the giant digging pole and decided he could do it better by smashing the floor boards to smithereens. I’m sure it was very therapeutic, but we still had to pry the nails loose and now there were dozens of broken pieces and splinters lying in the mud. But did I say anything? Of course not. Ian was having too much fun. So we got half the floor removed and half the mud mucked, and at the end of the day Ian had a pretty good blister on his thumb. Dropped Maya off at her car.

The Jieitai (army) had set up an onsen (public bath) downtown in tents with generators for local residents without water and for cleanup workers. It was pretty basic but hey, it was free, and there was only the three of us so it wasn’t like this huge crew descending on the place. And—we ran into Joel’s real team which was working out of the second floor of a building nearby. The offered us some MRE’s but we passed.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Monday and Tuesday May 9 and 10, 2011 Back to Work: karate and snowsleds


Drove all day from Osaka to the dojo in the HiAce van. Driving with me were Joel from Nara, and Ian from Ishinome (Kobe). Ed. note: that's Ian in a picture from a later workday. About half way there we
passed through Toyama where Joel grew up, so he was pointing out where he went to school and how Toyama is famous for pure mountain snow water, tulips, and squid that glow. Arrived at the dojo at 10:30 pm.

There we met up with the group that were the holdovers from Golden Week: Tony and Mary Anne who arrived just as I was leaving last month. They were glad to have been part of all the work done during Golden Week, but as akido instructors, the chance to be at the dojo and to talk and do karate with the sensei was particularly thrilling. Also Stu who trains ministers in Singapore, and the Kobe ladies: Alexis, Monica, Carol, Marci, and Machiko.


At breakfast Stu shared a devotional thought from Psalm 97.1: “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad.” This was an incredible lead-in to a time of sharing of all the experiences of the previous day or two:

The team had visited Minamisanriku which was almost completely devastated. They did find a barber in a shack and during the time they were in contact with him, they had prayed with him. When they saw him next, his request for a temporary building had been approved, and he felt like things were beginning to fall into place for him.

Mary Anne described Machiko talking and hugging and praying and with this one little woman and sharing a Bible passage with her and she ended up asking for a Bible. Then a little boy ran up and asked in broken English if they were Presbyterian or Catholic.

Then Stu talked about a new neighborhood they had been focusing on east of the train station. Near the river, massive destruction, but on one street they had been able to meet several people while cleaning out the gutter/storm drain ditch in front of a house. In that house was an extended family—brother, sister, baby, father—eight people now living there. Together they had lost seven vehicles, none of which the insurance would be replacing. They had mostly worked at the seaweed factory which was now gone and they were getting no assistance. Tony remarked that God has taken away all the things they depended on; these material things had become idols. All they have left now is the one true God. He added that we’ve been praying that God would break through the strongholds that are keeping people from Him. But referring back to Stu’s verse about the coastlands, maybe there were people along these coastal areas who have been looking for the living, loving God. So we prayed that God would lead us to those whose hearts were prepared to receive him.

So we left with a dual agenda—locate a house that Chihiro told us needed the crawlspace cleared of mud, and then set out food and supplies and children’s books and toys in a parking lot nearby for the neighborhood. So half of us spent three hours crawling under this house scraping dried mud with dust pans and pulling it out on a plastic snow sled with a rope. Gives “sledding” a whole new meaning. So while we got down and dirty, Stu met a thirty-five year old man who came by and Stu asked if he was married. He said he had lost his wife and child and workplace in the tsumani. Later Stu’s took out his camera, and showed me the picture of the man. It wasn’t what I was expecting. In the photo he appeared to be relaxed and happy, but all I could think was how incredibly hard it would be to have the courage to start over if I were him.

Saturday and Sunday May 7 and 8, 2011 Two New Births


Thank you God for the safe birth of baby boy Titus to Paul and Stacey Herrington this morning at 8:30.

I mailed some things home to the US and sent some selected blogs to Dianne at the Martinez church. We cleaned Brent and Sandy’s apartment to get ready for using the oferu tub for a baptism Sunday.


I learned the song Dare Demo “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation” from 2 Cor. 5.17 so I would know it for later. Then re-packed my gear for my return to Tohoku. The Rogers had invited the local missionary workers and all their Japanese Bible study contacts to Tomomi’s special day. Leslie and Sarah and the girls, David, myself, one lady from a Bible study and her little daughter were all there. Kumi came late as she had been at a funeral.

Brent prepared a simple, meaningful service to fit the occasion. We sang songs about the new life and we read from Ac 8 about the Ethiopian and Rom 6 about the meaning of baptism. Brent at Tomomi’s request asked her in English if she believed Jesus was the Son of God and wanted to make him Lord of her life. We set up a cell phone in the bathroom and Skyped it to the computer in the dining room so we could all see, because obviously the bathroom was too small for all of us. Since an oferu tub is kind of small and square and deep, Sandy had done a test run earlier in the day to determine just the right amount of water so it could cover Tomomi, but not overflow. So that was one of the many things that we had to think of ahead of time, that you take for granted in the US. They had even thought about renting the youth hostel so they would a larger bath and more room.

We sang some more while Tomomi changed, and then Leslie read from 1 Corinthians before we shared communion. It was all so low-key, but meaningful. Brent and Sandy had been building a relationship with Tomomi for so long, and she had done so much thinking and asking, and she is a well-respected member of the community, so that this was really a thrilling moment for them.

The thought struck me that we had just watched the royal wedding on TV and you know it’s important because of all the pageantry and finery and ritual and tradition. And even there, what was most important was not what you could see, but the commitment and devotion in the couple’s hearts. Here we had also had a special occasion, but just watching, you might never guess that what had happened was far more important than that wedding, because the amazing transformation and the wonder that God was working were all unseen.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wednesday through Friday, May 4-6, 2011 Packaging, Pictures, Paul and Plans

Blog Update
In Kojima spring is in the air. Thursday is Children’s Day, the end of Golden Week. In their honor, homes fly carp pennants, families go on outings, and a particular variety of purple iris blooms.

The futons are aired out on the balcony, the clothes actually get dry in a day, and offices are closed. Brent and Sandy are introducing me to the special joy that is watching past seasons of The West Wing.

None of Brent and Sandy’s adult students are Christians although several of them join Sandy for weekly Bible studies. Nevertheless their interest and concern about what is going on in the Tohoku area is high. So high that they want to hear my news and stories. They’ve also been bringing small children’s books, toys and clothing to the Logos English School as donations. On Wednesday, Brent, Sandy and I sorted and shipped 8 boxes directly to the dojo for distribution.

In the afternoon I tackled the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken along with more from Paul, Beth, and Hannah Seelen.

Thursday we hit the road—OK, it was our bicycles and what we hit was a trail—the old narrow-gauge route northeast to Chiamachi Station and back—about 15 miles round trip. Sandy had never been that far on the trail, so with a picnic lunch and a rough map we made our way through the hills, bamboo groves, garden plots, pocket suburbs, and highway undercrossings, only having to ask directions a few times. Brent and Sandy plug along; I stop and take a picture, hurry and catch up; stop, take a picture, hurry and catch up; they thought it was funny.

So many beautiful homes and gardens. Our lunch stop is next to the Cha Cha Store. It’s like 4 stores in one and in one corner is the donut shop, except in the USA you normally don’t buy pizza slices at a donut shop¬—I decide to try a purple bean paste sweet potato bread.

Why, you might ask, do you need “donuts” when you have a picnic lunch packed? I say some questions don’t deserve an answer. So as were packing our trash for the return ride, Brent says he has a confession to make. What—he finally feels remorse for his rude remarks? No, it turns out while Sandy and I were in Hiroshima Tuesday, Brent rode here by himself, just to make sure he could (being legally blind, and having a pacemaker and all), and now we find out he was just playing along while we were asking directions.

Jennifer’s 5/6 Osaka Team update is so encouraging. After helping a family clean out their house one day, the next day when the team returned, the trucks were clearing debris fromtheir block-—perfect timing. Better yet, when they asked why we were helping, Chad got to share about Jesus’ love for us. Then as our group was setting up the barbecue, the same family offered to help, and the end result was that 100 people were fed directly, perhaps double that when you consider the food taken home to other family members.

Friday, I meet some of Sandy’s adult students at their studio, and afterward, they serve green tea and sweets, but without the formal ritualized tea ceremony, thank goodness. I wash the windows at the English school, find out that I picked the very worst exchange rate day to cash in the rest of my traveller’s checks, try to label some more pictures, and meet up with our friends Paul and Stacey Herrington for more tea and sweets. We discuss their future plans after the baby and Japan mission work in general. My schedule is Sunday night back to Osaka, Monday morning to Tohoku for 10 more days before returning to the states. They ask me if I’ll be different after I go home, and I hem and haw and say I hope so, but I’m still not praying enough, and I’ll still have to deal with stuff, and projects, and money issues when I return. Learning to make people a priority, and maybe reverse culture shock too.

But my issues have nothing on what the people in Tohoku are facing. What happens when the assistance ends, and the aid groups stop delivering rice, and your relatives get tired of 15 people living in one house, and the building where you used to work and maybe even your boss are still gone, and you can’t rebuild your own house for whatever reason, and the familiar neighbors and shops and schools are gone, and maybe the only jobs are 50 miles away in a strange city. . .and you have no one to talk to? What then? Yes you survived, but now you have to figure out the rest of your life.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 Playing Tourist and Sobering Images

Sandy took me to see 2 of the most visited sites in West Japan—first to Miyajima. Miya means temple and jima means island, so if I’d written Miyajima Island that would have been redundant. Think of images you’ve seen of Japan, and the giant red O torii (Shinto shrine) gate in the water at Miyajima is sure to be one of them.

We left Kojima on the train at 6:30, arriving on the island by 9:30 or 10, early enough that the line for pictures in front of the gate was still fairly short. It’s pretty neat the way it works: when your group reaches the front of the line, you turn around, hand your camera to the person just behind you in line who takes your picture, then they pose and the people behind them take their picture, and so one. However, we chose to avoid the crowds at these most popular spots, which gave us a chance to appreciate the quiet and beauty. And the offbeat paths gave us surprising glimpses around every corner.

At the top of Mt. Misen are several temples, some of which date back hundreds of years. We rode the aerial tramway as far as it went and were treated to views that were impressive through the haze. The visitor center at the upper tram station had a sacred column where couples could pledge their eternal love while having a picture taken—cheesy or charming? You decide. Back at the bottom we needed to buy a few gifts, so had to join the crowds buying souvenirs, tee shirts, and eel or oyster treats (it seems every city in Japan has something it is famous for).

At one nearly empty shop we were waited on by an older woman in a traditional kimono (for tourist consumption?) and her even older father. Sandy thought it was sweet, that when he tried to ring us up she gently helped him with the change. We exited the shopping mob to meet more of the tame deer which will pull your map or your ferry ticket out of your pocket and eat it. Forewarned is forearmed.

What thoughts are stirred by the dramatic temples and their upswept beams? The beauty, or the thought that the apostle Paul said that the living God does not live in temples made by human hands, does not need anything from us, but made us that we might seek and find him?

Back at the Hiroshima main train station, we cram into the streetcars for the atomic bomb memorial museum. With ten stops to go, at each stop people somehow make some standing room for a few more. A young woman starts to give me her seat so I can sit by Sandy, but I decline. Everyone’s jammed in together but no one complains; in fact, oddly enough, no one talks—about sports scores, weather or anything at all. Then I remember, on the ferry, we broke through the natural reserve when we noticed a young couple had 3-year-old twins and we struck up a conversation with them and were silly with the kids.

The first thing you see at the atomic memorial trolley stop is the iconic, stark preserved dome and ruins. If the beauty we saw in the morning was about serenity, the Peace Memorial is about the unthinkable.

Walking first along the river to the south, then across it, we make our way to the memorial park, main museum, and several other sculptures and displays. Unfortunately we chose flower festival day to visit and immediately we found not only crowds, but several stages and international performing groups presumably drawn by this unique place.

As the epicenter of the first wartime use of nuclear weaponry, it has become the epicenter of world peace movements. So it was somewhat jarring that the first sights and sounds were of a hula group with guitars and vocals performing on the bank of the river. Other groups displayed traditional drumming, or baton twirling, all of course for the cause of peace. But the paper cranes (see your library or Wikipedia for the story of Sadako Sasaki and her paper cranes) of all sizes sent in by tens of thousands of children from all over the world begin to focus one’s thoughts.
Eternal flames, soaring sculptures, reflecting pools, people offering prayers, and we’re approaching the main museum.

Once inside, we’re again in a quiet crush of people, but this time it is not reticence, but the somber hush of a thousand minds collectively taking in images of horror.

Feet slowly shifting, gazes moving from one image to another—a watch stopped at 8:15, a movie of the bombing run, a shock of hair from a victim, a diorama of smoking ruins, shredded clothing and personal items whose owners were never found, objects melted into bizarre shapes. I consider myself a well-read, thinking person. I see merit in the arguments that atomic weapons ended World War Two and prevented World War Three (barely) because of their very unthinkableness. But I suppose the victims of an atomic holocaust have a right to set the terms of the debate. Of course when I think of the naïveté of wishing that North Korea and Iran would join the table of rational discourse, I don’t have much hope. But if someone needs to keep mankind pointed toward the dream of peace, why not the children of Japan?

What about the comparisons between Hiroshima and the earthquake/tsunami damage of 3-11-11? Some images are reminiscent: flattened cities, helpless victims gone in a moment (numerous children in both cases—in Hiroshima the children were employed in demolition in the creation of firebreaks), people fending for themselves, years of rebuilding ahead, a radiation involvement. But the contrasts as well: the one manmade, the other from nature; the one fell upon a broken nation, the other to a prosperous; 140,000 lives in one, 25,000 in the other; ultimate radiation effects—yet to be determined. One ushered in a modern era; perhaps the other will usher in an era where Christians regard Japan with new awareness. So where does that leave us? May we be both thoughtful students of history, and faithful servants of His story. . .