26 Nov Tohoku Relief!
Greetings from YWAM Tokyo! Jerome here. Look this way, and I’ll tell you a tale of our latest trip up to the Tohoku region of Japan. Tohoku is the northeastern part of the main island of Japan, the area most heavily damaged by the March 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami.
Who? A team from our base staff here, led by one Derick, members including (alphabetically): Aran, Hege, Jerome, Kyle, Lindsey, Olivier, Peter.
What? Relief work- mainly physical labor involving cleaning out mud that came in with the tsunami tides, house demolition, organizing relief supplies, and ministering to individual family households that had lost much.
When? The dates were November 7th-13th.
Why? Destruction from the quake and tsunami now more than 8 months ago remains quite evidently in cities across the eastern seaboard. Moreover, there has not been sufficient emotional trauma care for the many lives affected by this disaster. We work in these places to serve both a physical need for homes to be reconstructed but also for the opportunity to rebuild the hearts of the people on the only solid foundation, Jesus Christ.
Our first destination: a base of operations for Samaritan’s Purse in Shichigahama, Miyagi Prefecture. We set out in the morning at 10:00A for what was supposed to be a 4.5 hour trip, not including stops. But what ended up happening was a 3 hour detour and turn of events that led to us arriving at nearly 10:00P! When we were about 1 hour away from our destination, the front left tire of our van blew out suddenly!
Pulling over on the busy highway, we were blessed by the lack of other vehicles on the road at that time and the wisdom of our driver Olivier. Within minutes of us stopping on the shoulder of the road, a highway patrol car came out of nowhere (we hadn’t made any calls) to assist us. He ended up changing our busted tire out for the spare and helping us to get out of harm’s way.
We were really blessed because we had no idea what to do with the car and this man came suddenly to help us. When we parted, Kyle gave him an audio bible (the entire Japanese Bible stored in an earpiece) and we thanked him! Thank you Jesus for keeping us safe through a crazy tire blowout!
Hand to the Plow
For two days we worked with Samaritan’s Purse, whom gracefully covered costs of stay and provided meals for the entire duration. I got to work at a house out in the suburbs for a family by the name Ootomo. The family has been farmers living there for many generations and the skeleton of the house was still salvageable.
The work we did there over two days involved tearing it down to those foundations and the joists that the house was built on. We ripped up the floorboards, but we didn’t replace the shutters. There were none, because the tsunami had broken the bamboo/mud walls and created debris all over. There was mud and sediment below the house that needed to be dug up and bagged for disposal. We were told that after we finished, carpenters would be able to come through and start rebuilding once again!
One thing I was particularly blessed by was how hospitable the grandma and grandpa were at the house where we worked. The grandpa gave off a tough-guy attitude and actually did a significant amount of work alongside us! The grandma was very busied making us soups, teas, and buying extra snacks for us. They also participated by praying with us before meals and after workdays ended even though they aren’t Christians. I recall a day after the work was finished and we were cleaning off our scrubs and tools. I walked to the courtyard where we usually pray to close out the day and the grandma was standing there alone with her hands together, ready to pray. That’s fantastic! Really hoping for this family to come to know the Lord after being able to pray with such ease on their heart.
After parting ways with the Ootomo family and Samaritan’s Purse, we drove up a ways to Kurihara, where a local Pastor graciously provided accommodation at his church. Over the next two days our team worked with two amazing families, both whom had undergone immense difficulty due to the tsunami, yet had unique stories to tell. Although we had come to work, and that we did, I came away feeling extremely blessed due to the hospitality of the Tohoku Japanese. In a general sense, Tohoku is to Tokyo as the countryside is to the city. It’s the same country but the feel of the people is different, and we found that the people we met really valued interpersonal relationships. A big change of pace from the hubbub and noise of Tokyo, but a welcome one for that week!
At one home (Yamauchi) we drove to the coast near a collapsed bridge and put up two tents to use for storage, as they were a fisherman’s family. I’d say the total amount of work was something like 30 minutes to unfurl the tents, pitch them, and stake it in. Before we’d even done that we were treated to a lunch at their home minutes from the worksite. And after working on the tents we were invited to the family home for tea. After sipping tea and chatting with the family, we were told about a “soup”.. and well, after that it became a full-blown dinner. We came away jaw-droppingly amazed at how people who had lost so much could bless a crew of strangers with such extravagance.
At the other home (Miura), we worked with a family whom had makeshift housing constructed with wood and tarps, with the rest of the land being cement foundations. The wave had taken the 2nd story of one building further inland, and pulled the 1st story back out to the ocean. Yet through some pretty amazing stories we found out how everyone had lived on, including a wild 3-year old grandson! Our primary task was to destroy the cement foundations where the house has once stood so that we could pitch a large tent there later. A bunch of us got to use sledgehammers! It was pretty tiring, with a side of awesome.
The grandson would run around us even near dangerous broken glass, swinging sledgehammers, and digging. He jumped on us while we were trying to work, but I think I can safely say he just wanted some older brothers to play with! The grandma and grandpa here too were extremely hospitable, opening up their home to serve lunch and snacks, making sure we were hydrated and making friendships.
To me, this and many other experiences during the trip left me coming home feeling refreshed rather than worn out. It’s an odd feeling considering we did hours and hours of hard manual labor. I feel like hospitality is something that speaks volumes of people’s hearts. All the people we met were so open and willing to share what they had. They did not come to the Lord, but did receive prayer and counsel. The harvest is indeed ready, may more workers be called to Tohoku! There is still much to be done in the rebuilding of their homes as well as their hearts. Glory to God!