Five Years

Today marks the five year anniversary of the Tohoku triple disaster. As we remember the thousands who lost their lives in the earthquake and resulting tsunami, as well as the dedicated workers of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant who gave their lives to prevent an even greater nuclear disaster, we also remember  and pray for the many more who survived, but still live with their wounds from that terrible day.

The wounds of losing loved ones, some who are statistically still counted as missing.

The wounds of losing their homes and belongings. Hundreds of thousands still live in “temporary housing”, which looks less and less temporary with each passing day. Many cannot rebuild on the land they own and can’t afford to buy land elsewhere.

The wounds of being traumatized whenever a sizeable earthquake hits their area, which is a common occurrence in Japan.

The wounds of a local economy that still struggles to recover and provide enough jobs for those who choose to stay in their towns or do not have the means to move elsewhere.

Lord God, these are your precious people. You’ve felt every tear shed by them, heard every cry in the darkness. You are their Healer and we ask you to heal them from the things that have wounded them. We pray they would experience your peace, the peace that can only come from knowing Jesus. Lord, would they receive the vastness of your love and mercy. Would you use their trials to help lift others out of despair. Would you restore to them hope for the future.

Beauty from Ashes, Hope from Despair

Note: While trying to stay as factual as possible, the details of this story were conveyed to us only in Japanese and I cannot confirm everything is absolutely correct. The great news is that with the help of filmmaker Matthew Burns, my friend Paul Nethercott will be releasing a video of Mrs. Fukuoka’s story in the near future. This story only scratches the surface of the story the video will help tell about her. I will link to the video when it is completed.

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Standing on the porch of the new Fukuoka house, now elevated a few feet from its original foundation, one can hear the quiet roar of the ocean beyond the fifteen foot tall cement barrier built to protect the neighborhood from a tsunami. Assuming, of course, the tsunami in question is less than fifteen feet high itself and not the terrifying wave of destruction that occurred in March 2011, which was in many areas of the coast, far greater. Alongside the road running parallel with the coast, a grotesquely twisted guard rail remains where it lay after being manhandled by the power of the water.

We are greeted at the door by Kai-kun, the Shiba dog whose amazing story plays an role in Mrs. Fukuoka’s emotional recovery from the tsunami. Inside the Fukuoka house, Mrs. Fukuoka shows us a few of the many crafts she has been working on lately. Besides the lovely seaglass necklaces that my friend Paul Nethercott has been selling to help raise support for the 2 Criminals film project, she shows us adorable things she has been sewing: purses and bags. And with the seaglass, she has moved beyond just necklaces, now making earrings and candle holders.

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Soon, we are walking down toward the beach, along a road that was once lined by the houses of Mrs. Fukuoka’s neighbors. Most have gone now, some taken by the surging sea, some moved on to other areas, some still stuck in temporary housing. Mrs. Fukuoka reckons all the neighbors who intend to return have already come back, a few family homes scattered around the desolation now overgrown with weeds and littered with debris. But for the ones who have chosen to return, they are very close, sharing a bond only those who survived such a traumatic event could share.

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On the hill behind the Fukuoka house is the building where Mrs. Fukuoka watched the waters sweep over her neighborhood and eventually over her house. The presence of the hill and her instinct to run up it probably saved her life, but from that view, she watched the horror of the power of the tsunami unfold. The family dog, Kai-kun, was tied up at the house when the tsunami came. It wasn’t until the following day that she learned he had gotten free and somehow managed to swim to safety. Miracle number one.

Weeks later, as Mrs. Fukuoka struggled with the emotional weight of the disaster, she began to take Kai-kun for walks on the beach. The beach made Kai-kun happy and his happiness in turn made her happy. It was on one of those walks when Mrs. Fukuoka first saw the glimmer in the sand of a smoothly polished piece of seaglass. Garbage and other debris were constantly washing up on local beaches for months after the tsunami, but this seaglass, there was a beauty in it. Sure, most of it had probably gone into the ocean as a result of the tsunami but the sea had returned it in a new shape, as something beautiful. Miracle number two.

On her daily walks on the beach with Kai-kun, Mrs. Fukuoka would find many pieces of seaglass of all shapes and sizes. Using fine wire and nimble fingers, she creates unique necklace pendants and earrings. Many of her creations end up being given away to friends and other people she meets. Paul has purchased hundreds of her pieces to sell, helping raise awareness and funding for the movie project.  But for her, it is part of her healing process, to take back from the sea something of beauty and use it to bless someone else.

Indeed, there is no better word to describe this woman than “blessing”. Instead of choosing hopelessness, bitterness or despair, she chooses to infuse beauty and love into the lives of others. As we sat around her table listening to her and her husband talk about their lives and family, it was obvious that they, like Kai-kun, were meant to live, meant to bring hope to the people around them.

The upcoming video was meant to be a blessing to Mrs. Fukuoka, to aid in her emotional healing by giving her an audience to hear her story. As we reluctantly said our goodbyes to her, it was less clear whether the blessing was on her or more so on us that day.

Reflecting on 3/11 – Hope for Japan

 

In the winter of 2011, nine months after the tsunami changed everything in Japan, I sat with Pastor Jonathan Wilson at a Christian conference in Southern California. While Jonathan Wilson may not be a household name here in America, he is destined to become one in Japan and possibly throughout Asia. As Executive Director of CRASH Japan, it was Jonathan’s team that coordinated the relief efforts of thousands of volunteers from hundreds of Christian organizations coming into Japan to serve after the devastation of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster. Literally days before Typhoon Haiyan took an equally heavy toll on the Philippines, Jonathan Wilson was there, training local Christians on large scale disaster response. But I digress.

The point of this story is how the experience Pastor Jonathan shared with me about Japan changed my perspective of serving there. Until I heard from Pastor Jonathan, I felt, as many American Christians do, that the Japanese people need the message of salvation, that they needed to be saved, one by one, from the error of their beliefs. It was a Western-centric perspective that though well-intended is wrought with judgment and condescension.  On the other hand, Pastor Jonathan served many years in Japan before the 2011 triple disaster. He preached the same message to the Japanese people the whole time, but it wasn’t until disaster struck that the message really sunk in for many. What was the message he was preaching? Hope.

If you ask a person who lived through the tsunami what hope means to them, the answers are pretty concrete. Moving out of temporary housing and back into their family home. A community of friends and family who can support them emotionally. Rebuilding a life that was literally swept away from them one horrific day in March 2011.

Apart from those who lived through a tragedy like this one, however, the idea of hope becomes more vague. Japan is, in its own eyes and the eyes of much of the world, a successful country.

Though Japan puts on a facade of a country that has it all together, some serious cracks are appearing in it. The suicide rate in Japan continues to be an epidemic and train service on lines in the Tokyo area are halted daily by suicide attempts on the tracks. Social issues like hikikomori, shut-ins who live in their parents’ home and refuse human interaction with anyone, number in the hundreds of thousands. And problems the world assumed Japan did not have like homelessness, child abuse, and violent crime, have become more visible to the general public. And what can prevent and/or relieve social issues on a scale this large? Only one thing: Hope.

When we view Japan with the lens of our American context, we assume Japan can handle its own problems. After all, that’s how we do it in the West. What we forget is that Japan doesn’t have the infrastructure of churches and social services that America has. For whatever negative things can be said about the churches in America, there are a multitude of positive things that can be said about them. Churches and other religious organizations are the primary providers in America for counseling, serving the poor, and defending the helpless, like the elderly and the orphaned. The same cannot be said of Japan, where the responsibility lies chiefly with the government, a government hopelessly overwhelmed with other issues that demand its attention.

Simply put, it is the church’s responsibility to bring hope to Japan. It’s not something they can manufacture for themselves, nor are we exporting it from America to them. Our hope is in the gospel. It is in the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. We will go to Japan with that message and to partner with Japanese Christians to encourage them to share hope with their communities. Because it’s going to involve every Christian in Japan to get this message out to the people.

And hope is a message that can’t simply be shouted from the rooftops or handed out in tracts at Shinjuku station. It’s a message that requires the messengers to get their hands dirty, to go into the dark places where hope is needed most and to WORK out the message in love and deed. Bringing hope to the homeless means spending time with them, giving them back their dignity, meeting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs simultaneously. Bringing hope to the abused means being a person who is trustworthy and kind, a person who rebuilds the self-esteem that someone else destroyed in them. These are not places we would go by ourselves, but Jesus himself leads us there.

There are a growing number of Christians in Japan who realize the urgency of sharing the gospel in their communities and are finding creative ways to communicate the gospel. These are the people we are seeking as partners. It isn’t our intention to convince those who think otherwise that they need to change what they are doing, but we are happy to work with those whose hearts, like our own, have already been changed by God. They see Japan not as a nation needing to be saved from itself, but a people who need hope in Jesus.

If this message strikes a chord with you, I challenge you to do something about it. Pray with us regularly for hope to come to Japan. Whether in a sentence before eating a meal or on your knees before dawn every morning, every word prayed in earnest is like a fragrant offering to God (Psalm 141:1). Prayer is pleasing worship to God and when He is pleased, He will answer. Join us in this critical activity for bringing the hope of Christ to the many Japanese who need to hear about it.