March 18th 2012 Touhoku HELP’s First Anniversary Commemoration Service

Report on Sendai Christian Alliance Disaster Relief Network’s (Touhoku Help) first anniversary commemoration event,
which took place on March 18th 2012 at the United Church of Christ in Japan Tohoku Parish Center (Emmaus).
March 18th 2011 was a day exactly a week later, after the Touhoku Earthquake and Tsunami overtook the Tohoku area.
During the first week, there were many incidents. Innumerable aftershocks, the accident of Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant, and the death of Father Lachapelle, who had supported Sendai Christian Alliance for years.
These events gathered us all to Sendai Christian Alliance’s emergency conference. Those that assembled were the ones who understood that something had to be done, since many were injured by the disaster.
In the Conference which was held that day, “Sendai Christian Alliance Disaster Relief Network (Touhoku Help)” was established.
A year has already passed since that day. “Commemoration Service” and the “Report of Appreciation” were held from 2 p.m. March 18th 2012.

The commemoration meeting started with the greeting from Takashi Yoshida, Representative of Tohoku HELP (Pastor of the Reformed Church in Japan placed in Sendai). Representative Yoshida thanked God’s providence and the support of many people which founded Touhoku HELP, yet he stated in the following manner.
Representative Yoshida giving greetings,“A year has already passed. The suffering of the earthquake’s victim has not come to an end yet even though a year has passed.
We would like to walk forward in greater care from now on.” We who heard his greetings, thought the same anew.
Then the commemoration meeting which consisted of two parts was commenced, with the emcee of Hanae Igata, a member of the board of directors of Touhoku HELP (Pastor of Japan Baptist Convention Nankodai Christ’s Church).
The first part of the meeting was the “Report of Appreciation”.
This was started with the prayer by Chihiro Saigusa (Pastor of the United Church of Christ in Japan, Rikuzen Furukawa Church). Secretary General, Naoya Kawakami (Pastor of the United Church of Christ in Japan, Sendai Citizen Church) then reported the activity of Touhoku HELP of the past year. There was a report concerning the aid of evacuation center right after the earthquake, the contribution aid to disaster afflicted churches, building networks between churches, sister church project, work at the temporary housing, and the connection produced with numerous affiliate.
Secretary General Naoya Kawakami giving reports were also displayed in panels.
There were also reports on Foodstuff Radiation Level Measurement Project, and Foreign Disaster Victim Relief Work which we are focusing our efforts at present “at the field”, and the vision hereafter.
Though a year has passed from the earthquake, aid is still in need, or in fact aid is now all the more necessary because a certain amount of time has passed.
Touhoku HELP did not try to appeal our ways from our side till today, but tried to stay close with those who were suffering, waiting till they came to speak from their own. We did this so that we may not apply force our way of doing to them, but if there were anything they needed, we would prepare to grant their wish, each time on each occasion, thus always facing the actual needs in the field. And we confirmed to advance in the same way, and prayed for the blessings on this coming year.

Later we appreciated the work of each other, shared information, and gave thanks. For this, we thought that the most appropriate thing would be for everyone to join in laughter. So for this reason, we took some time to listen to a comic story in Tohoku dialect by Professor Azuma Konnoya who is a member of Sendai Higashi Ichibancho Church (and also a member of the House of Councilors “his real name is Azuma Konno”).
Professor Konno is a native of Shiogama, and had been working as an announcer within Miyagi Prefecture. While he was working as an announcer, he made a discovery through coming into contact with the local people. This discovery was that the Tohoku Dialect contained warmth, but with it persistence through being insulted for its accent, and he started thinking of how to deliver the message and tradition contained in this dialect. This brought him to start the “sit-down comedy” of Kanto area in Edo Dialect, and “a story telling of the Kyoto-Osaka area” in Kansai Dialect, and the “Eastern comic story telling” in Tohoku Dialect.
On this day, Professor Konno told a comic story about a part time worker at the zoo as its theme, and we laughed heartily, and had a sate on Tohoku Dialects “warmth”.

The first part of the meeting ended with a prayer by Yoshihisa Akiyama, a member of the board of directors of Touhoku HELP (Pastor of Japan Alliance Christ Church, Sendai Nozomi Church) After a short break, we had the commemoration service.
This commemoration service also was planned to be different from the regular services. A bible story was told by a professional story teller Nazare Kanda (Rev. Masaya Kitagawa, Pastor of the United Church of Christ in Japan, Komazawa Church).
The passage was from the story of Moses in the Old Testament. Nazare Kanda vividly expressed the heartache and suffering of Moses’ parents, who had to let go Moses in the Nile River, the nobleness and determination of the princess who made decision to take care of Moses, the growing up of Moses, and his failure, the encounter in the country of Midian where he had fled, and what kind of experiences he had, in such a manner, we felt as if we ourselves were in the story.

After we enjoyed the bible story, there was a lecture by Rev. Kitagawa, who gave more than a passing thought on Moses. Moses had an excellent personality as a human. He had a brilliant wit, had a high social standing. He possibly couldn’t have anything he lacked, said Rev. Kitagawa. Yet even Moses had something he didn’t have. What he didn’t have was a neighbor.
So, who was Moses’ neighbor? Moses grew up in a palace as a son of a princess. He was lonely in the palace, though he might have been treated as a prince.
And yet, even his brethren the Israelites, did not see him as one of them. The Israelites regarded him as an alien, who did not understand their suffering, but lived in a palace peacefully.
Moses had almost everything he needed. Yet, he did not have a neighbor. And it so happened, that he kills an Egyptian, and is forced to flee. He might have felt despair, because of the suffering, deprivation, and of broken heart, which was totally different than the glorious life he had till then.
But then for the first time, Moses was given a neighbor, a people living in Midian.
Though he might have once despaired of his life, thus Moses starts living in the land of Midian. This is very miraculous.
Rev. Kitagawa went on. God gave a neighbor to despairing Moses, and shewed himself saying “I AM”. Now, seeing the suffering by the earthquake, many are in despair, saying “there is no God”. That’s why, we need to say, “there is a God”, “There is Hope” and show them their neighbor to those who are despairing.

Rev. Kitagawa still went on. I am asked to tell a story, or to give a lecture in many places, and I tell them these kinds of stories.
In Tokyo, people had much empathy. In Kansai area it was the same. And maybe people in Kyushu and Shikoku might feel the same. But today, on my way to Sendai, I did not know what and how to speak. That’s because I haven’t experienced the disaster of the earthquake.
I wondered what the best way was, to talk to those who have experienced the disaster and are still striving in it. All of you who live together with those who are afflicted by the disaster know best. I don’t. But even if I do not know or understand anything, I would like to walk as a neighbor, with those who are afflicted by disaster, or with those who support them.
Rev. Kitagawa talked to us in this manner.
We all laughed heartily at the time of bible story-telling, and then our hearts were set on fire, and who could have not shed their tears with the humbleness and the tender touch of Rev. Kitagawa? We all shed our tears.
Staffs strain their ears to the bible story and lecture. They are the staffs who support Tohoku HELP.
The service was closed with the benediction of Rev. Akio Sugiyama, who takes charge of the Sendai Christian Alliance, and who has been supporting for the building up of Sendai Christian Alliance.

After a tea party where everyone expressed gratitude to each other, and deepened all of our friendship, the meeting was closed.
This gathering was splendid, as we had time to give our thoughts on the suffering of the past year of those who had been afflicted by disaster, retrospect a year’s walk of Tohoku Help, and to pray for the blessing of this coming year on each other.

As Yoshida representative stated at the opening of his greeting, our work had been “employed greatly by God”.
Many new problems occur in the disaster afflicted area. We are often discouraged, and tend to lose our paths because of many sufferings, but at the same time, by looking intently at the afflicted area, we at times see good things, and joy faintly twinkling.
We never should be overly optimistic, but we would also like to remember also those faint twinkling. And we hope that our posture would testify that “God exists” to them who have no hope, to them who sit in despair.
We greatly appreciate from our hearts to all the supporters, for supporting the walk of Tohoku HELP.
Thank you for your continued support.
(March 23rd, 2012. written by Abe and Kawakami)

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