Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Japan Disaster Relief

I (Keith) have written several pages of reflection, and each time I go back to summarize, I end up writing another page. I've decided to make a fresh start and see where it gets me. Celia and I were in Miyako to help with relief work Aug. 5-18. After a month of reflecting back, I still say these were some of the most profound experiences I've ever had. The work there was so meaningful, and more received there than anywhere I've ever ministered. I did not want to leave, and even now I want to go back.

We worked with a couple who had a small child, and the majority of what we did was run a mobile cafe. The Japanese government has been quick to supply the basic needs of food and housing but has done very little for emotional and spiritual needs, so this mobile cafe allowed people to gather for some free iced coffee and sweets, and then talk and share fellowship. Each time we did this even I was able to contribute with the limited Japanese that I had. These people have suffered so much, and they were eager to talk. This eagerness was what really surprised me, and they freely accepted prayer, which is something I've never seen in Japan before.

Temporary housing units (kasetsujutaku) where tsunami survivors are now living
Indoor cafe on a rainy day
Celia was able to play during the mobile cafe while I talked with people and served them drinks and food. Playing music in the middle of the temporary housing units was really all the advertising we needed. As soon as she started, people would come to listen to music, have a drink, and talk. Some people would stay for several hours, and would even help us take down the tents and tables after we finished. This sense of reciprocating is very strong even among these people who have lost everything. Perhaps it is especially strong among them. I have found that to be a gracious receiver of Japanese reciprocating is as important as being a gracious giver. One time, a person stayed inside his temporary housing unit during the whole cafe, and only afterwards, came out to give Celia a melon in thanks for the music that she was playing.

The local chiropractor, also a member of Miyako Community Church, provided massage therapy during one cafe.

Celia with her melon, against the backdrop of our Miyako short-termer apartment's baking station

We also visited a couple of elementary school after-school programs, where we did mini-concerts and games.

Day in and day out there was plenty to do. Short term teams were always coming and going, and the apartment we were renting was in need of constant cleaning and upkeep, and supplies for the cafe were in a constant state of chaos. I felt for Iwatsuka-sensei, the pastor of the local church, who was trying to do follow up with every place that we visited. Some times there were three mobile cafes, and this pastor spent the whole day driving between them. His church (Miyako Community Church) of about 15 members and a small Catholic church nearby are the only churches in about a 90 km radius. We had amazing times of fellowship, praise, and prayer with them.

Hanging out after church... and yes, those are the same cafe tables.

Laura-Jane preaching, upstaged by her son

We did not want to leave. There was so much work to do and we were very eager to do this work. At the same time, we were very much aware of the lack of language skills we had. If we really wanted to be effective, we need to be able to answer a question like, "Why do you Christians come here to do this?" For the first time, I also understand how Christian work can take over a person's life, where the work becomes more important than the source or reason of the work. Even Christian service can become an idol because it does feel good to be needed and to contribute. So after our time was over, we left feeling more changed by Miyako than the changes we had hoped to make there. We need to know Japanese better, and now we have motivation behind our year plus of language learning that we still have to do.

We continue to cherish these experiences in Miyako and to pray for what God is doing there now. Please follow this link to read more from Keith journal; Celia's journal is coming soon. (Keith makes no promises as to correct punctuation or coherent thought; much of it is written in shorthand. ;)