Higashi-Matsushima Temporary Housing residents enjoy a day away thanks to your generosity
Mayumi and Toru Amano of Nishikiori with Roberta
Checking on the Oyamas in Kesennuma
November is a month where from beginning to end, I'm reminded to be thankful. I never associated the word "thanks" with the word "courage" but in Acts 28:15 it says that when Paul reach Rome and saw the people who came to meet him after his shipwreck, he thanked God and took courage, or was encouraged. I don't think that thanking God produced courage, but it's a unique idea. When I thank God, it reminds me that He is the designer and in charge of whatever thing I am thanking Him for. Paul was thankful for his dream-come true, making it to Rome, albeit via a shipwreck, and finally able to meet these welcoming Roman Christians whom he'd only heard about. Correctly applied or not, I'd like to THANK GOD for you and TAKE COURAGE in my ministry because you continue to be there for me.
This was similar to the message I had hoped to bring when I stopped at several of our Baptist churches in NE Japan at the end of August who are still involved in their own earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster recovery or the recovery of others.
Serving in Temporary Housing
Matsushima Baptist church was the first stop. I joined their program of "Tea Groups" at one of four temporary housing (TH) complexes. A Tea Group might involve tea but is a monthly program where church-women put on a program or just have chat time with whoever has interest at a particular TH. I was talking to several church women involved and they told me everything has turned into a waiting game for housing to become available or land to rebuild on, and in the meantime, they really have a hard time dealing with the extremes of emotions and bickering that goes on between TH residents. Residents are not used to living in such cramped quarters and in such close proximity. "We really are seeing raw humanity and it reminds us starkly of life without Christ," one church volunteer said. Everyone is comparing themselves to each other as to severity of loss, type of loss, and "luck" in finding a way out. Volunteers must mostly listen, because residents are quick to say, "You don't know what we're going through."
Outreach was not a part of this church's life until the disaster. So I found myself trying to help them cope with these attitudes they observed and give hints about reaching out as they go with the indwelling Spirit of Christ as they enter the TH. They can't counsel these frustrated people openly from a spiritual viewpoint. (If survivors came to a center outside the temporary housing such as a center sponsored by the church, they would be free to give an open witness.) Starting just from a moral viewpoint might be helpful. For example, dealing with the universal claim that all humans deserve to be treated with decent moral behavior and attitude. All people want to be treated fairly, but what makes us want to treat others poorly or what makes someone else treat us poorly? How does it make a person feel? What behavior/reaction would you have preferred? Why is it so difficult to adopt a new attitude? It's like talking in circles, perhaps, but eventually, people begin to realize that all people have a sin-nature. The next step is to share what "hope" there is for us.
A New Idea
As we talked I became aware that this particular TH is far from a regular bus line, and almost no one has a car. I was told that they don't get out and feel trapped. Matsushima church leader, Mrs. Noda commented, if there was just a way that they could take a one-day bus trip to see the fall colors and have a bath at a hot springs, it would relieve a lot of tension, but they don't have money for that. The results of this conversation was that we have been able to arrange for OGHS money from American Baptists like you, to be available to the Matsushima church for programming in four TH groups. November 1st, the first group rented a bus and went to see the fall colors and had a day of fun at the hot springs. Mrs. Noda noted that the laughter and the camaraderie was so refreshing to hear. She told them that American Baptist in the USA have not forgotten them. They are full of thanks for this opportunity to get away. But more than that, from my perspective, another seed has been planted.
I continued on up north to Nishikiori Baptist church where we are able to help repair a big crack in the floor of the very old bath of the parsonage with OGHS money, and then on to Kesennuma to see Pastor and Mrs. Oyama.
In mid- October I had an eye-opener. I went back to NE Japan on some personal business and took part-time teacher with me, Mrs. Y from the kindergarten on my campus. I dropped her off at the volunteer center in Shichigahama and then returned four hours later to pick her up. On the way back, in the bullet train, she excitedly gave me her report of the day, then whispering so that no one in the seats nearby could hear. This short period of service had been healing to her, and she wanted her husband to somehow have a similar experience. The reason? Her husband works high up in the Tokyo Power Company (TPC) "responsible" for the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. The two of them keep this a secret with most people, but have been beside themselves in not being able to help hands-on with the disaster for fear someone will know who they are. Although he personally is not responsible for the disaster, he's taken on the burden of the company and its responsibility. They live with the true and false accusations day in and day out expressed in the press, and deal with frustration of the government not admitting to its part of the responsibility. Mrs. Y sits silently when she hears the bad-mouthing by her colleagues who don't know what her husband does. She doesn't know how to comfort the lonely mother who has moved to Yokohama from Fukushima and put her son in the kindergarten...only to say the empty words "Everything will be alright. I'll pray for you." When I heard all this I turned to her and said, "It sounds like you and your husband are silent victims in this triple disaster." The tears began to flow in relief that someone else understood her secret.
There are many people who are still suffering from the disaster here. Many are suffering in ways that we do not know about. Please continue to remember them and pray for the movement of God in their heart so that one day, they too can thank God and take courage.
In Christ, Roberta