A Chain of Encounters

Looking back the latter half of the year 2012 and onto 2013
We are bringing you the first article of 2013. This article has turned out to be a long one to symbolize our activities for the past several months.

We will renew the article in four times to make it our new year’s greeting. We hope for your continued support this year.

Each of the following articles can be read from the top by clicking their links:

1. A Charity Concert by Emiko Suga
2. Deok-sin Choe, a goodwill ambassador of the Touhoku Help
3. The Sendai Citizens Christmas and Deok-sin Choe Christmas Concert
4. December 14, 2012

(Written by Abe on January 7, 2013)


The year 2013 has come.
We are looking back our steps so far at the beginning of the new year.

The Touhoku Help was started to aim for ending its operations in one month. It is a wonder that we have been still continuing the operations until 2013. We think that the steps can be reviewed as a story of “a chain of encounters”.

In the Winter of 2012, the Touhoku Help sponsored the Charity Concert by Emiko Suga on November 24 and Christmas Concert by Deok-sin Choe. Behind these was the Sendai Citizens Christmas that was sponsored by the Sendai Christian Alliance that was revived in 40 years. It was a series of “a chain of encounters” that developed from the summer to winter of 2012.

Here is a report to you on these developments with many thanks:

1.A Charity Concert by Emiko Suga

The Touhoku Help is starting to restructure. This is based on the approval by the General Assembly on November 1, and it is aimed to shift gradually from the present system primarily as a foundation into a system mainly as a nonprofit corporation to continue its long, frugal operations.

The operations will begin by recruiting supporters with paid membership. A nonprofit corporation with 100 supporters with paid membership can apply for a status as a certified nonprofit corporation. A certified nonprofit corporation can obtain benefits such as tax exemption for donors and gain social trust.

Emiko Suga, a world-famous opera singer, offered to lend a helping hand for the operations at the beginning. In the late summer last year, Ms. Suga offered to hold a charity concert for the Touhoku Help. We were truly grateful from the bottom of our hearts to her unexpected great offer. As we will explain later, Ms. Suga had been deeply involved in the Touhoku Help (officially known as the “Sendai Christian Alliance Disaster Relief Network”).

And then on November 24, 2012, the concert was held. And on that day, the supporters with paid membership were recruited for the first time at the concert. A new step of the Touhoku Help was taken.

We the Touhoku Help have been “invited” to charity concerts for many times so far. But we had never carried out any event from its beginning to the end by ourselves, apart from events of the Sendai Christian Alliance. We had many shortcomings. But the concert turned out to be very wonderful. It drew the largest number of audience ever as an event related to the Sendai Christian Alliance, and the venue was filled with a warm atmosphere.

2.Deok-sin Choe, a goodwill ambassador of the Touhoku Help

In parallel with the event of our encounter with Ms. Suga that resulted in the charity concert in November, the Touhoku Help were blessed with an encounter with another artist. The artist is Mr. Deok-sin Choe. And these two encounters were combined as one in December. One encounter led to another encounter, resulting in a chain of blessings.

At a temporary housing in Miyagi Prefecture. Deok-sin Choe is at the far right.

The Christian music in South Korea was at a major turning point in the 80s. At that time, there were those, mainly the young people, who wanted to sing hymns by using the kinds of music that is familiar to them, such as pops, folk music, and rockn’ roll. Before long, the trend grew major, and brand new types of hymns were created. The new types of hymns came to be known as CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). This new type of hymns gave comforts to many people, empowered them, or gave them opportunities to rise and devote themselves as ministers.

This trend was created by an artist. That artist was Deok-sin Choe. Choe is known for widely expanding the potentials of Korean hymns through songs such as “The Name”, “I” and “I love you”.

We the Touhoku Help held the Second Touhoku Japan-Korea Christain Revival Meeting in Sendai on September 17, 2012, together with the Christian Council of Korea in Japan, with the help of all those related to us such as the Korean Christian Church in Japan and invited those from the National Council of Churches of Christ in Korea (NCCK). This event, as we already informed of on our website, was held following the first Meeting in November 2011, and we could successfully complete the meeting.

Choe kindly came to Japan as an artist to perform at this meeting that featured powerful messages and music. Moreover, Choe and other artists visited many temporary housings in the affected areas following the meeting and encouraged people who were hurt and in difficulties through their music and prayers, (as already reported on our website).

The temporary housing in the affected areas has no stage that comes into the spotlight. But they kindly shared their sincere messages of music to the affected areas. It became a great encouragement to us who continue our relief in Touhoku. Their enthusiasm was an eloquent proof that there are still many people who are praying for us in almost two years since the disaster.

At the end of the meeting and the visit to the temporary housings, Choe and other artists and we opened up to each other to ensure our relationship of mutual trust. And in that process, we asked them about many things. They included the reason why Choe participated in our meeting despite us being almost unknown.

Choe said that he spent his four years from his junior high school to high school in Japan. His father studied at the Asian Rural Institute in Tochigi Prefecture and served in the studies and work on agriculture in Hokkaido Prefecture. As he spent his impressionable years in Japan because of that, he said that his life and music has been greatly influenced by Japanese culture.

Meanwhile, the East Japan Disaster occurred. The fields and houses were shaken by the huge earthquake, swallowed by the tsunami and not a trace remained. The people had to spend many days, shivering with cold in the snow. Choe said that the scene shown through the TV screen was so shocking.

Since then, Choe often came to Japan and began relief operations in South Korea. In that process, he came to know our meeting and hurried here.

We were touched by Choe’s warm heart for Japan.

We are still standing as if rooted to the spot before the huge problem of the affected areas. And last September Choe tried to support us in the affected areas through music. When he completed all of his schedule to go back home, we asked him a favor. It was to ask him to become a goodwill ambassador of the Touhoku Help. We were afraid that it was too much to ask. But Choe accepted it with a firm smile.

3.The Sendai Citizens Christmas and Deok-sin Choe Christmas Concert

The above-mentioned encounter happened in parallel with the process of our preparation for Suga’s concert. And moreover, Suga’s concert created a new event (which reminded us of very fond memories), and Choe joined that event.

The fact that Suga kindly offered to “hold a charity concert in November” seemed so significant to us. The history of the Sendai Christian Alliance reminded us of that significance.

The Touhoku Help is a division of the Sendai Christian Alliance to respond to the disaster. The predecessor of the Sendai Christian Alliance was a group of pastors of the United Church of Christ in Japan. In the 1970s, the Sendai Christian Alliance slowly began as the group of pastors in the Sendai and Shiogama District of the United Church of Christ in Japan invited pastors of other denominations. At that time, the ecumenical pastors who were invited to gather together worked together to hold the Sendai Citiziens Christmas.

In 1988, Pastor Takashi Suga who headed the group of pastors suddenly passed away. This pastor Suga was the father of Emiko Suga. Then, for the first time, a pastor outside the United Church of Christ in Japan became the leader of the Sendai Christian Alliance. And the Daijo-sai, the government’s religious festival to celebrate the succession of a Japanese emperor occurred in the following year, which brought the churches in the Sendai area into a situation in which they had to express their position on that festival through its statement. Thus, the Sendai Christian Alliance was born in name and in reality.

Looking back, Pastor Takashi Suga is an important name for the Sendai Christian Alliance to be always remembered to mark the phase of its establishment. We were deeply moved by the wondrous linkage between us and Emiko who is the beloved daughter of Pastor Suga and kindly offered to support the Touhoku Help.

Kawakami, secretary general of the Touhoku Help, told Emiko Suga about this with many thanks in the middle of the preparation for the charity concert. Then, Suga was reminded of her fond memories of the Sendai Citizens Christmas that was held by the Sendai Christian Alliance when his father was alive and well. And Kawakami and Emiko talked about their dream to revive it.

Then, in some days later, Suga gave us a call to suggest that we do it as a venue was booked at an appropriate time and an appropriate place for having the Sendai Citizens Christmas.

And from 7 p.m. on December 14, 2012, the Sendai Citizens Christmas was held by the Sendai Christian Alliance for the first time in about 30 years. It was sponsored by the Sendai Christian Alliance that organized a choir of about 40 pastors and lay persons. The preparation was started from September with an emphasis on a message, “Come to church on Christmas”.

A scene of the choir practicing for the Citizens Christmas

And after Deok-sin Choe learned about this event, he offered to join it. It showed Choe’s continuous feeling about the affected areas. It made us so happy.

So, we thought that we would hold a ceremony to ask him officially to become our ‘goodwill ambassador’. And then, as an additional project for the Sendai Citizens Christmas on the night of December 14, the Christmas Concert with Deok-sin Choe was planned from 2:30 p.m. on the same day, with this ceremony as a surprise event at the end of the concert.

4.December 14, 2012

Through the process mentioned above, the two events were combined as one. That is to say, the Touhoku Help held the Christmas Concert with Deok-sin Choe from 2:30 p.m. on December 14, 2012, and the Sendai Christian Alliance held the Sendai Citizens Christmas from 7:30 p.m. on the same day, respectively.

Toward the Sendai Citizens Christmas, Suga joined the choir practices almost every week to sing together on Sundays from 5 p.m. And Suga kindly made attentive arrangements for the choir to have very abundant time by asking Eri Takahashi, a professional vocalist, to lead the choir. Furthermore, she took on work such as designing handouts and pamphlets for the concert and preparing for the list of participants in the choir to contact them, and she literally played a central role from the preparation to the beginning of their performance.

Choe came to Japan on December 13, one day before the Christmas Concert, and went first to the Town of Minami Sanriku. He watched the town of Minami Sanriku that was all lost by the tsunami, and volunteered to help the local children’s group to distribute handouts for its event that was held on December 16, not because he was not requested to do so by anyone.

Then the day came on December 14
During the Christmas Concert, Choe sent his heartfelt message of music together with his co-performer, Yoonji.

He sang songs including his masterpieces “I” and “The Name”, as well as “O, Holy Night” in a bold arrangement in rock music from Christmas songs, and a Japanese hymn “My Beloved Friends” that he composed to support Japan with the help of artists in the United States where he was recording his tunes when the disaster occurred.

The beautiful melodies with praises and prayers certainly healed our hearts, lifted up our praise to God and our hearts, and renewed our joy of Christmas.
After the wonderful time of praise that we shared together, a ceremony was held to present the Letter to Appoint Chae as the Goodwill Ambassador of the Touhoku Help to him from Takashi Yoshida, who heads the Touhoku Help.

Chae singing a hymn. Then from 7 o’clock in the evening, the Sendai Citizens Christmas began. It started with a solo singing by Eri Takahashi. And between the prayer, Bible readings, and sermon, Christmas hymns were sung to God by the choir. Both Suga and Chae joined this choir. Takashi Yoshida gave his sermon between Chae’s solo singing, ‘Immanuel’, and Suga’s solo singing, ‘O Holy Night’. “God was not present either in the disaster or in the horror of the radioactivity or anywhere else we went. God is always near,” he said.

And the venue was literally filled with much feelings of happiness, when the concert was concluded with a song in the style of the Taizé Community which goes like this:

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!

The Citizens Christmas Choir
As we have entered the New Year, the Touhoku Help intends to move forward in two directions for its width and depth.

One is with each of the local congregations, groups and communities. No relief would be in vain if it were out of touch with them on the spot. The spot is found in the local areas that are close to us. In pursuit of unity among the local congregations, we would like to seek their understandings and solidarity as part of the Sendai Christian Alliance. In the meantime, the fact that Emiko Suga worked together with us was truly encouraging to us.

The other is that the Touhoku Help would like to deepen our cooperation with the rest of the world. At this time, we wish to strengthen our cooperation with churches in South Korea in particular. Because the people in South Korea have continued to pray for and support us in the affected areas with ardent sincerity, despite political difficulties facing us and them. This has been an indispensable support to us who see our operations in two to three years beyond. The linkage made by Chae between the two countries as our goodwill ambassador in the cooperation has been truly encouraging.

There remains a sad truth of problems between Japan and South Korea such as the history of war and territorial issues. And the aging local congregations have worn out and become out of breath to live their daily lives after the disaster.

In such a context, we can be easily divided. But division creates nothing. Our goal should be to appeal for reconciliation for each other, pray for it, and dedicate ourselves to it, in the unavoidable divisions being created.

A person named Paul left behind famous words in the Bible. They are words to compare a human group called the church as one body. Paul paid attention to its weaker parts. He said that the very weaker parts unite many members of the one body, and so they should not be thought of as less respectable (1 Cor 12.20-26).

The reality may be that the world in which we live cannot avoid divisions. In addition, the disaster has led many people into difficulties until now. But there may be a clue for the solution. If we remain together with those who suffer from the disaster, we will surely have a potential to be united as one through prayers, no matter how many times they are.

Through being used together by the Lord in such a way, we are sincerely praying and working hard for each and every one of the victims of the disaster to get out of despair and find out hope. We are watching from afar our work becoming “a lamp on the lamp stand” (Matthew 5:15) to show reconciliation in the world in confusion. We are watching from afar a vision that small local events will lead directly to world peace.

As we look back the latter half of 2012 and think of the chain of encounters, I feel that we can make firm steps one by one and move forward with an ambition.

We humbly ask you for your continuous support this new year.

(Written by Shoei Abe and Naoya Kawakami on January 1, 2013)

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