How do you do.
watashi wa rachel desu.
My name is Rachel.
No, we weren’t there for personal holiday! We arrived at Tokyo Narita Airport with a team of 8 from English Japan Presbytery Missions (EPJM) to reach out to post-2011 tsunami Japanese survivors in Tohoku region (Iwate Prefecture – Morioka and Miyako).
Many people wondered and asked us what help is there for us to extend since Japan is a well developed nation with substantial help from the government. I hope the sharing of our stories paint a better picture.
This is our full team of 8!!! A good combination of the young and the young at heart!!!
This is how the kasetsus (temporary housing for post-2011 tsunami survivors) in Miyako, Iwate look like. Very limited living space, but not the poorest living conditions.
Our beloved team leader Heaza-san (Heather) sang a Taiwanese Hokkien song 甲你攬牢牢 by 江蕙 (I want to hug you tightly) to share how whenever she feels down, a great saviour Jesus Christ wants to embrace her tightly in His arms to comfort her. Japanese are culturally not accustomed to physical contact between strangers such as hugs and we wanted to bring that unexplainable emotional comfort to them. We also did crafts with them – no surprise that the Japanese have great and nimble hands for doing crafts even obaachans (grandmothers)! We shared the love of God through these simple crafts.
Many of them really enjoyed the Sakura craft (using coca cola bottles dipped into paint) to achieve the sakuras on paper!
Our humble, hardworking and dedicated team of masseurs massaging to soothe the aches on the arms and legs of obaachans.
Paper hat craft with these cute little children! Spot the boy in the middle of the picture with a red marker? He was actually colouring very hard and in a messy manner using a red marker. Though we don’t know what is happening in his life, art is a form of releasing emotions and we know he must have been keeping pent-up emotions in him. Some of these children could have lost their loved ones to 2011 tsunami.
I was actually down with very bad cough and sore throat a week before I left for Japan and lost my voice eventually. I told Jesus that I really wanted my voice back so that I could sing during worship and karaoke sessions at the kasetsus. My care group leaders, members and EPJM team mates also prayed for me and declared healing over me but nothing happened… till the 4th day in Japan. Praise Jesus that my voice was restored JUST IN TIME! In the morning when I woke up to restored voice, I did not know that there would be a home visit that day. In the afternoon, when my team leader asked for two volunteers to go along, I decided to volunteer. Our team leader sang the hokkien song for this 90+ year old obaachan. After she had finished singing, obaachan pointed at me and asked if I can sing. So I suggested to sing the japanese Christian songs we had been singing at kasetsus. Though she has accepted Lord Jesus as her saviour, she mentioned that she hardly has chance to listen to Christian music as she only has a radio in her kasetsu (no Christian radio stations broadcasted in Japan). I was so amazed by how much Jesus loves her that my voice had to be restored for her to hear Christian songs and be reminded of God’s love for her! Indeed, we are just vessels for the Lord to use in reaching out to His people – not by our smarts, great intellects or careful planning.
On our rest day, this was what we saw while we were on the road. Many people feel that Japan is an expensive place to do missions – moreoever, the people are not in the most dire state like people in 3rd world countries where help is much needed. During the trip, I also wondered and asked God why I did not see miracles, signs and wonders happening, as compared to mission trips to countries like Cambodia. And then God reminded me of Matthew 5:3 –
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom in heaven. “
I used to misinterpret this verse and thought that those who are poor in wealth would gain the riches of heaven as they did not go after money. However, God taught me during this trip that the work of the Church in developed countries are often more difficult than in poor countries where the needs of the people are reduced to the clothes needed to ward off the cold, or a dish of rice to curb their hunger. Because of the condition they were living in, they were desperate and hungered so much for a saviour. On the contrary, Japan has world-class systems in place in terms of disaster management, environmental practices and people live in such disciplined and orderly manners. Yet their problems go much deeper – the problems are in the depths of their hearts. In their daily lives, they could lead a comfortable life, and their spirits did not require them to hunger for a God.
I observed the dedication and hard work put in by Pastor Iwatsuka and his team in simply caring for these people over the past 2 over years after 2011 tsunami. It then dawned on me that though the ground/soil is hard in Japan and labourers are few, every effort put in by every passing member has cumulatively sowed seeds and though slowly, but surely, one day they will harvest.
Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. When we lose hope, He graciously sends us double rainbows – as if to assure us doubly of His unfailing promise.
I remember this obaachan in pink during one of the first few visits to kasetsus. We were helping them work on sakura craft and as I passed by her, I noticed her hands were shaking very badly. I then offered to hold her hand to steady it as she dipped the bottle into paint and stamped it onto the paper. I do not understand Japanese, but as I was doing so, she was talking to me and from the body language, I felt she was telling me that she was sorry that her hands were shaking and that she could not speak properly (she was stuttering as she spoke). I was in a panic and desperately called out to Sulin (who knows a little Japanese) and asked her what happened. True enough, obaachan was telling us about her health condition. I then asked Sulin if we could pray for her and she help to translate the prayer in Japanese. In my human mind, I wanted for her to hear what I had to pray. Sulin then said it’s ok and I can go ahead and pray in English. She asked obaachan if she was willing to let us pray for her and obacchan said yes. I started praying in English and then stopped, waiting and still expecting Sulin to translate hahaha. Silence…. So I had no choice but to go on praying in English. Later on, during meal time, we saw that obaachan was tearing and she was commenting about how grateful she was for what we have done. It then dawned on me that it wasn’t bombastic words of prayer I gave and for her to hear that mattered. The simple act of caring and loving was sufficient.
Heidi Baker is one of my favourite missionary and in her book “Compelled by Love”, she said this:
So, this sums up our trip. And here’s a final photo of the team having yakitori at a restaurant – oiishi desu!!
If you are keen to find out more about doing mission in Japan with EPJM, you can visit their Facebook page here or visit their website here.