We were just about to sing “Amazing Grace” at church Sunday morning when the earth began to tremble. It only lasted a few seconds but my heart raced nonetheless. I’d never felt anything like it. The brief rumble took me by surprise and I had a rush of adrenaline. My first earthquake! To be honest, I was excited. But the excitement was replaced with guilt when I looked across the room at the faces of our Japanese brothers and sisters who, for a moment, had fear in their eyes.
Aftershocks are nothing new to the Japanese. There have been thousands since the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. But with every tremor comes the memory of the devastating wave of destruction that came after the quake and claimed the lives of 15 to 20,000 men, women and children. It was the worst disaster since
And they know it could happen again.
Over the past week, our team has visited and served people in some of the worst affected disaster areas in Otsuchi Town, Tono Town, Oshioka Peninsula and Ishinomaki, the second largest city in the Miyagi prefecture.
Looking out into the sea, it’s difficult to fathom how something so beautiful could wreak such havoc upon a country. The water seems so peaceful.
But the destruction is real. As hard as I try, I can’t imagine what these towns looked like before they were washed away by the tsunami. Today, the coast is desolate. Only slabs of concrete remain—foundations where homes once stood. Everything was washed away.
In Ishinomaki alone, 64,000 homes were damaged and more than 3,400 people lost their lives. So many people were affected. Those who survived are trying to rebuild not just their homes—they’re trying to rebuild their entire lives. Many lost jobs. Most lost at least one person close to them.
I heard a story of a young boy who relives the disaster in his mind every day. After the earthquake, he recalls hearing dogs bark all across town. After the first wave, the barks tapered. When the second wave surged through, there were even fewer. By the third wave, the dogs barked no more. Only waves and debris crashing into homes and ripping them apart could be heard. He knew the dogs had drowned. He knew people had died. To this day, he hears the dogs bark. He was afraid then and like most people affected by the disaster, he is still hurting.
What can we do? How can we help? Our group is only here for seven days. How can we do anything in that amount of time? What good does it do to hand out little “goodie bags” to children in temporary housing? How does going door to door to deliver fruits and vegetables help in any way?
If that’s the only thing we do, it’s all for nothing. If all we do is provide for physical needs and leave, there is no point.
But, that’s not all we’re doing.
We’re here to encourage believers. We’re here to show survivors they haven’t been forgotten. We serve knowing when we leave that Japanese Christians will still be here to minister to the people. The seeds have been planted and will continue to be cultivated far after we’re gone. We will return to the states with stories of how God is working in Japan. Our prayer is that the stories we bring home will awaken the hearts of believers and encourage you to pray for the Japanese people. And if you get a chance, go to Japan to see for yourself what God is doing.
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