Saturday, 14 April 2012

Eastern Japan part 2

As I stated in my last post I spent a week traveling all over Eastern Japan with the Let’s Walk Together Project. Each city where there was damage or where people have been displaced they have a base run by volunteers.

On Saturday afternoon my boss Kay Ikezumi and I left the English Teachers Training in Ofunato early. We left to meet with Bishop Kato in Kamaishi. Kamaishi suffered the most from the tsunami and earthquake. Once we arrived we went straight to the project’s base. We were greeted by some of the local volunteers. The base is filled with donated clothes, a big table full of treats, tea and coffee. Many victims will come to the base for clothes and end up staying for tea and company. After a few minutes of chatting with the volunteers a youth group from Hokaido (the northern island of Japan) returned from visiting the temporary houses. Their bellies were full of tea and sweets that one of the women forced them to eat. It was nice to be around so many youth. They were all laughing and joking with one another. It reminded me of all the mission trips I went on with my youth group in high school and in college. I was so excited when we got to join them for dinner. We traded random facts/stories about our lives. At one point there was a long discussion about how to properly hold chopsticks. I loved hanging out with them. 

After dinner Bishop Kato, Fr. Nobuyuki Tamitsu, Kay and I were invited to participate in their compline and reflections of the day. While the youth were writing down their experiences from the day, Bishop Kato showed me a book of photographs from the disaster. He pointed out a picture where a woman had found her child dead in a car after the tsunami. I can’t even begin to imagine what that woman felt. The picture alone was terrible. He also showed me a picture where people wrote on the ground that they needed a hundred blankets. They were completely secluded. They had to depended on the helicopters to see their message and fulfill their needs. These pictures made me realize the magnitude of what they went through. Once the youth shared their stories of the day they asked for our reflections as well. I was able to share about my time in Ofunato and the impression I had of the area. 

Kamaishi Church. You might not be
able see the giant Pokemon characters
guarding the altar but they are there.
The next day was Palm Sunday. Before taking us to church, Fr. Tamitsu drove us around to look at some of the damage. Our hotel was right on the edge of the destroyed section. I don’t think pictures can even begin to describe the way the place looked. He pointed out places where the water went over houses and wiped out sections of the huge cement walls that were protecting the city. After the brief tour we were taken to the church. It is a very small church that doubles as a kinder school during the week (hence the pokemon monsters guarding the altar). Luckily, the church was in another part of town that did not suffer badly from the disaster. The Hokaido youth group, Kay and I outnumbered the church members by nine. We had a beautiful Palm Sunday service. 

The water was over went over this
two story house.
After church we spoke with two of the members, one of which was the principal of the kinder school. She shared her story of the disaster. She said that after the huge earthquake they took all of the children to another school up the road. There they were to wait for the parents but then the tsunami came. The parents were unable to get to the children. Due to the destruction of the earthquake and tsunami some had to walk for three days before they were able to make it to the school. In the meantime the teachers did their best to take care of the kids and ease their fears. Three days the parents didn’t know about the condition of their children, the teachers didn’t know the condition of the parents, and the children didn’t understand what was going on. As terrible as that experience was, the teacher was able to tell the story with somewhat of a smile. She even laughed when she spoke about the kids running all over the school when the teachers weren’t looking. She is now able to look towards the future. The horrors of last year are mostly behind her.  Soon they will be renovating the building and welcoming new children.

Rows of temporary housing
A little while later, we were taken to lunch and a tour of the city. Our driver showed us about eight different sets of temporary housing, each varying in size. One hosted twelve families while another hosted 85. Since that area is filled with mountains, they have a difficult time finding flat spaces to build the temporary houses. In order for the Let’s Walk Together project to fulfill the needs of the victims they must first build relationships. A woman in Tokyo made many zafutons (big pillows for sitting) for the victims. Volunteers go around to the temporary houses to ask the families if they want one. On the second visit they return with the pillows. They then go back to the houses a third time to see how the families are doing. Each trip they are building a relationship. The donated futons are just scratching the surface to the mission work that is being done. Through the relationships being built they are able to offer support in whatever way is needed. One of the communities is having a cherry blossom festival which the program is helping with.

This area was filled with houses.

front doors of the temporary houses

Please keep Japan in your prayers. There is still a lot of rebuilding to be done not only of the cities but also of people's lives. There are still more stories to come. Stay tuned.

God's Peace,

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