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Japan Trip Update 5/21/2011
Hi All, This week's update is kind of ginormous because there are just so many things to talk about. I broke it down into the following sections:
  • Sunday 5/15 - Morioka
  • Monday 5/16 - Miyako
  • Tuesday 5/17 - Yamada
  • Wednesday 5/18 - Otsuchi
  • Thursday 5/19 - Ofunato, Kesennuma, Ishinomaki
  • Personal Reflections
  • The Story of the Ryokan
  • Prayer Requests

Sunday 5/15 - Morioka
Sunday, John and I met up with four pastors and a couple from some local churches. After the earthquake, many roads were damaged but now, two months after the disaster, the vast majority have been fixed and you can travel at full speed on the highway.

After eight hours, we arrived at a church in Morioka, 2 hours inland from the coast. We met with volunteers from another church and a seminary. After an overview and slideshow of the local effects of the disaster, the 20 of us slept on the floor of the church.

Monday 5/16 - Miyako
Monday we drove east to Miyako on the coast. The Tsunami was reported to be 30 meters tall here, but the area we stayed in did not receive the full force. The downtown area saw 10 feet of water and primarily suffered water damage instead of destruction. Areas closer to the sea saw significant destruction, primarily to the first floor, though many buildings had to be condemned completely.

My team's job was to clean up of the kitchen in the ryokan where we stayed. We removed all debris and cleaned up any salvageable dishes, flatware and cookware. We pulled up damaged linoleum, cleaned the floor, laid down tarps and boarded up windows so the kitchen could be used until it was ready for full renovations. More details on the ryokan are available below.

Finally we hauled the debris to the temporary dump. There was a constant flow of trucks dropping off trash, rubble, cars, along with things you wouldn't think of, like an entire car wash machine! The debris at the dump gave just a glimpse of the immensity of destruction that the Japanese are facing.

Tuesday 5/17 - Yamada
Tuesday our team drove south to the next town, Yamada, which was hit much harder. Sections of the tide wall were pushed aside, over turned or sunk into the ground by the power of the tsunami. Whole blocks of buildings were swept away leaving crumbling concrete foundations and rubble. Boats of varying sizes were strewn on the side of the road or in the middle of a block. In one case, both a boat and a Porsche had been lifted up and left teetering precariously on the roof of a two story retirement home. Throughout the area, the pungent smell of rotting fish permeated the air.

We reported to the local government volunteer center where they assigned us to a destroyed hospital. For safety we wore water proof armored boots, work gloves and breathing masks. We met two women at the hospital. One woman's father was the hospital administrator and the other woman's husband was a doctor. Our job was to salvage their furniture and books from the second floor.

Most of the first floor was completely ruined. We walked past a file room filled with papers and x-rays. A door had been ripped off its hinges but was lodged in the ceiling, hanging on by the auto-closing arm. On the second floor the water had come up to waist level. Debris, office furniture and medical supplies were tossed throughout the hallway.

We hauled a couch and some book shelves downstairs to a waiting truck, then about 300 books and magazines (including three complete sets of encyclopaedias) from the administrator and doctor offices. The furniture was dropped off at one of the women's homes and the books were brought to another hospital where we carried them up another flight of stairs to their new home.

We said goodbye to the women, who were extremely thankful and on the brink of tears as we left. Meanwhile, other teams set up a free concert in the ryokan in Miyako. There they cooked dinner and handed out basic supplies for the community.

Wednesday 5/18 - Otsuchi
Wednesday we headed farther south to Otsuchi, another city that was hit very hard. Otsuchi has a large river that feeds into the ocean and the tsunami followed this river inland. Our primary task was to provide food and services to an entire community that lived on the side of the river.

By the river you could see the side of the road piled high with trash, debris and bags of mud. The water level reached the top of the first floor and even two months later, many people are just returning to their homes to begin the clean-up. We set up at a small convenience store that had just finished cleaning inside.

The team broke up and canvased the neighborhood, inviting everyone to come for a free spaghetti lunch and food, clothing and other supplies. We asked if anyone had any additional needs. One woman needed help removing floor boards so they could be cleaned and her foundation could be cleared of mud. John and I were given a pry bar and assigned this task while the rest of the team helped cook lunch.

The people in this neighborhood were extremely grateful and everyone we contacted showed up. Providing a free lunch doesn't sound like much, but when you have an endless list of things to do to return to normalcy, one less thing to worry about goes a long way. After handing out a couple dozen boxes of supplies, we told them to contact their local church if they had any additional needs.

Thursday 5/19 - Ofunato, Kesennuma, Ishinomaki
Thursday was our day to travel back to Tokyo. Instead of heading straight for the highway, we followed the coast south, passing through town after town that had been destroyed by the tsunami, each with its own unique story. Some towns dealt with huge fires that broke out from liquid propane tanks that ruptured. Some towns were partially protected by their sea walls but some towns had sea walls that were destroyed. Some towns lost roads and train lines.

Seeing the destruction from city to city gave us a chance to pray for the Japanese and reflect on all that we had seen. But there were also times that the shock was overwhelming and we rode in silence. The latest estimates say rebuilding these areas will take at least 6 years.

Personal Reflections
For me, the biggest impression was how fragile our lives are and how quickly our earthly posessions can be destroyed by the power of this Earth that God created. It reminds me of the parable from Luke 12:16-21 (NIV)
And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
"This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God."
We often live in this world gathering money and stuff and building walls to protect it. Yet it can all be taken from us, in a single moment. Can you imagine that? Your home, your school, your work, your car, your grocery store, your favorite restaurant: gone in an instant. What do you do when that happens? What can you count on?

Are we rich toward God? Are we building up treasures in heaven? Are we working for the Kingdom of God? Are we serving and building relationships with the lost? Are we sharing the Truth with those who have not found it? Or are we pursuing earthly things that do not last?

Those are questions that I know I need to pray and meditate on. How about you?

The Story of the Ryokan
During our travels, we stayed at a ryokan, a Japanese style inn. How this ryokan became a place for volunteers is an interesting story of God's divine provision.

The three story ryokan is located across the street from the sea wall. It is owned by the Abe's, a couple in their 70's. The tsunami came over the wall and heavily damaged the first floor and basement, destroying windows, doors and an entire interior wall. The husband was swept out of a second story window but was miraculously saved when his cell phone strap caught on something. His wife pulled him back into the building, breaking her leg in the process.

Weeks later, a team of American volunteers came to help clean up. It took them some time to find the building where Mr. Abe was waiting for them but by the end of the day they had boarded up the first floor and made significant progress cleaning it. It was at that time that the team discovered they had been working at the wrong building!

However, Mr. Abe was so appreciative of the help fromt he volunteers that he invited the team to stay at his ryokan which had a dozen usable rooms on the upper floors. After discussions with local church leaders, he opened up his ryokan to all volunteers from the church who in turn pay a reasonable amount to provide the Abe's with some much needed income.

Thus, a divinely blessed mix-up brought volunteers to the Abe's which in turn became a resource that allowed volunteers to stay in a better location in better conditions, saving precious travel time and allowing the volunteers to be better immersed in the community. I'm certain that God has and will continue to use this location to touch many more lives.

Prayer Requests
  • Pray for the emotional, physical and spiritual health of the Japanese. Many people have lost not only things, but family, friends and careers: literally their entire lives.
  • Pray that the hearts of the Japanese may be filled with love and hope from the volunteers serving them.
  • Pray for the volunteer teams coming from all over Japan and the world to serve
  • Pray that the Abe's would be blessed for opening up their home and business to volunteers
  • Pray for the governments, organizations, churches and individuals that have an immense amount of work to do to restore

Posted 05/22/2011 10:19 PM in Christianity, Japan, Travel | Total Comments: (1)
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Finally read through this entry (& watched the videos)!
Took me a while to get to it, I know. =) All right, on to the typos! ;-) "fromt he volunteers" "work to do to restore [something?]" Thanks for the report(s).
Submitted by Dan on 07/24/2011 10:05 PM

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