“Those who sow with tears will …” Christmas Report from the Disaster Area. Part 1

The Christmas season is now upon us.
Just as in all previous years, this is a season where the nights are long yet our hopes are high. However this year marks the end of one in which we experienced disasters on an almost unprecedented scale.
Since that day on March 11, many have cried tears of grief. Yet it has been a year in which many volunteers united in a common purpose have come together. Winter has arrived with the shedding of much sweat and tears.
Without doubt the scale of the damage resulting from these disasters has been huge. While we feel that our efforts are just a drop in the ocean in assisting the ongoing recovery, Tohoku HELP supported by the hopes and actions of the entire Christian Church network has been able to continue to assist in the recovery and reconstruction efforts. Tohoku HELP, in cooperation with pastors of all faiths, Buddhist, Shinto and Christian with a shared vision of hope, has continued to search for the best way to move forward from these disasters.
As we approach the end of the year, while this is a time where we shed tears of sorrow it is also time where the seeds of hope are being sown.
So at this time of year I would like to report on a number of these joyous events.
On December 16, Friday, a Christmas celebration was held at the temporary housing complex in Otsuchi Town, Iwate prefecture.


It started with a phone call from an extremely passionate man from Otsuchi Town, who first called the Tohoku HELP Administrative Office in mid-November.

Rev. Saegusa, a Director of Tohoku HELP received the call. The caller said “I hope to even in a small way allow the residents living in the temporary housing complex to enter into the New Year with a spirit of hope and for that reason I would like you to send a Pastor.”

Tohoku HELP’s Administrative Office is located in Sendai.

Otsuchi is located in Iwate prefecture in the middle of the Sanriku coast line. Even by expressway, from Sendai this is a 4-hour one-way trip. Nevertheless in that area our network was already in place.

We contacted the United Church of Christ in Japan, Ou District, who put us in touch with Rev. Yanagiya of the Shinsei Kamaishi Church. He wrote on the “USK yori Ai” blog that, “While at first I was taken aback by the sudden request, in the end a successful Christmas celebration was able to be held based upon the cooperation of a number of churches, Christian organizations and groups, principally the United Church of Christ in Japan Relief Measures Headquarters and its affiliates, as well as Evangelical organizations including “CRASH Japan” and the “3.11 Iwate Network”.

On that day, Dec. 16, together with Rev. Akiyama from the Japan Alliance Christ Church and a congregation member of the United Church of Christ in Japan, I as the head of Tohoku HELP’s Administrative Office traveled by car to Otsuchi to participate in this Christmas celebration. Mr. Maekita as the representative for the United Church of Christ in Japan Relief Measures Headquarters was busy as the host of this celebration. He was well supported by the pastors and congregation members in Ou District and as a result this event was a great blessed success.

At the end of the day I had the opportunity to speak with the man who made the initial phone call.

We talked about how although he wasn’t Christian he was well-educated and had read and greatly respected the teachings in the Bible. How he was a young man who had witnessed the activities of many Christian volunteer workers and was impressed by their works and how as we reach the end of the year many people are suffering from heart breaking memories that make this normally festive season particularly sad. His suggestion was that for these people “Prayers are necessary.”

He asked “Why the Church was acting with such reserve?” He pointed out that he wanted the Church to be more proactive in its activities and that spiritual care was necessary.

We completely understood where he was coming from. His opinions made both us and other pastors realize the need to deeply and attentively listen to the problems that the people affected by these disasters were confronting. We recognized that those suffering wanted to talk. However while many listeners were able to sympathize with the feeling of hopelessness of those suffering, we came to understand that what is also required is to provide them with at least glimmer of hope and that perhaps this in addition to spiritual care is the role of pastors.

Over time missionary works have become to be seen as intrusive and forceful, giving their mission a “Bad Name.” In other words the “Missionary Tradition” is seen to package religious conversion with support and is perceived to be “Taking advantage of people’s weakness.” Many pastors of religion (including Christians) experienced this in the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

However on the other hand, maybe we as pastors have become like “A child that once burnt dreads fire.” Maybe we see this problem “as something too large to confront.”

However there are things that we can do to rectify this situation. I am reminded of the “Parable of the Talents (an ancient unit of Greek currency)”. Maybe we have not been given enough talents to be a great missionary. However, maybe God gave us “1 Talent” or so, but we don’t know it, have forgotten about it or are hiding it.

I deeply felt the final words in the “Parable of the Talents” in which the admonishment “You wicked and slothful servant!” was delivered.

Maybe it will be over the Christmas period that the eyes of us in the disaster affected areas are truly opened. Believing in the “Holy Christian Church”, in cooperation with other believers perhaps we can unearth just “1 Talent”. Through using this Talent, we may be able to deliver hope to those feeling hopeless.
Countless Christians have shed tears and sweat in the disaster affected areas. However these drops of sweat have sown the seeds for an abundant harvest. This “Harvest” will be our courage and our hope.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. (Psalter 126:5). .
At this time let us sing Christmas hymns with a spirit of joy and a sense of rebirth.

(Report by Naoya Kawakami. December 22, 2011)

May 2012 be good year !!

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