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This report is from Pastor Akira Sato, who is the pastor for the Fukushima First Baptist Church, near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. He is the pastor of the church . Please pray for this congregation.
(Translated and posted with permission)
What I saw through the earthquake
Rev Akira Sato, Pastor, Fukushima First Bible Baptist church
My name is Akira Sato and I am the Pastor of Fukushima First Bible Baptist church. My church has three chapels within a 5km radius of Fukushima First Nuclear Power Plant, and a fourth one within the 20km radius that was flooded due to the tsunami. Railways were swept away by the 15m high waves, road levels were raised and man holes lifted. Old houses near the church were crushed. An earthquake as strong as this only happens once in 1000 years.
Our church was started by American missionaries over 60 years ago, right after World War II, in these unreached country towns. The missionary wife died in Japan. For the next 30 years the church was kept going by a Japanese pastor. It was a time of great poverty. Sometimes there were only three people at worship services. However, as the Lord led her and used her for His kingdom, the church was kept through many trials and hardships. I arrived nearly 30 years ago at the age of 25.
I am grateful for all your support since March 11 2011. The north coast of this part of Japan along the Pacific Ocean has few churches and average membership is 15 people. The earthquake and tsunami hit these churches very hard and they have kept going through much difficulty. Some pastors have left the ministry. Some churches have closed. One pastor cried out, “Lord, are you trying to destroy our churches that came this far through so many trials?” I never imagined there would be so much attention on us in the northern part of Japan from around the world, or so much prayer for us. I believe that God is doing something new.
[From 1 Peter] Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. I Peter 4:12-13
On March 11, the day that unbelievably strong earthquake struck, I was in tears trying to call my church members on the phone, although the connection was very poor. First 10 were found to be alive, then 30, 70, and 150. My wife and I wondered why none of them blamed God or asked what they had done to deserve this.
If the accidents at the nuclear power plant hadn’t happened we would have been back home restoring our houses and our towns. We could have saved victims from under the rubble after the earthquake. However, the next day sirens went off just like during air raids and the authorities ordered an evacuation. 70,000 people evacuated that day from 20,000 homes. Even now a total of 150,000 people (90,000 within Fukushima prefecture, and 60,000 outside it) live in temporary accommodation unable to return to their own homes.
My church members testified. “I was swept away by the tsunami.” “I was driving and the tsunami waves followed me.” “An ambulance took me to hospital where I had an emergency operation on my heart. Then the accidents at the nuclear power plant happened. I escaped with my life.” Everyone added that God had saved them.
As a pastor I wanted to address them as “dearly beloved” like Peter, but I realized that God loved them before, during and after the disaster. I remembered deep within my heart that we are loved by God. These words from scripture seeped through my heart.
1 But now, this is what the
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze. Is.43:1-2, 4
[How one can think of the disaster]
What should we think about the disaster? Peter tells us not to “be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you.” No one ever imagined that tsunami waves would come and destroy our towns. In my area women drivers were all driving in tears. It was surreal. But we found many blessings in it.
Our Lord stood on the shores of Galilee and commanded the waves to be silent. He told the people not to be afraid because He was with them. This world, with all creation, awaits the coming of our Creator and Saviour.
[Rm. 8 ….] 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. Rm. 8:18-29
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. Rm. 8:22-23
I would like to share with you some of the blessings we have experienced.
As we lost all material things - our houses, money, home towns and churches - we were grateful for everything that was given to us. After lying on a cardboard sheet in a gym that was being used as an evacuation centre, it was wonderful to be able to sleep on futon. We were happy to have hot soup instead of untoasted bread every day. I can’t forget how excited we were to take a shower after 5 days. There were church members who went without food for 3 days.
Jesus told his disciples not to have money or purse when they went on a mission. We also left home with nothing. Looking back over the past two and a half years, all we have needed was supplied, and we are here today. About 60 members of my church moved together as a group, staying for a year at a retreat centre run by German missionaries.
During that time we learnt that we don’t need much in order to live. Our God who takes care of the birds in the sky and the lilies in the field looks after us as well. I feel that we came back to where we ought to be, stopping complaining that we didn’t have this or that.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Mt. 6:25-26
[Where we ought to start]
My home town still has restricted access because of radiation contamination, and is lying there like a ghost town. One month after the disaster I obtained permission and was able to go home for two hours dressed in radiation protection gear. It was an eerie scene. Dogs had turned wild and wouldn’t give way even when cars approached. Cows roamed freely and looked at us strangely. It reminded me of Is. 11 where it prophesies that lions, lambs, vipers and babies would lie peacefully together when our Lord Jesus would come as the Saviour of the world, born in the line of King David.
In Genesis Adam and Eve sinned. They were driven out of Eden. Cain killed his brother Abel. They lived east of Eden. The scene I saw reminded me of that place. People built the tower of Babel. I asked myself what does it take for me to be satisfied? It seemed as if my home town of Fukushima was sending a non-verbal message to the world. Men are not allowed in and are ordered to think again with clear heads. It is like a warning to the modern world.
[Bible Land of Today]
I never dreamt that 60 of us including babies and the elderly would drive 700km in 15 cars without petrol or food. We crossed a mountain in snow 1m deep, and lived on canned food. We felt like the believers in the early church recorded in Acts 8 who were without possessions or privacy as they escaped persecution. We worshipped every day and had Bible classes. Nine people were baptized along the way. It was like a mobile church, open 24-7, 365 days.
The early church of Acts 8 was a mobile church that was on the move due to persecution. The Israelites after the Exodus went on a journey for 40 years. Those in exile looked for home for 70 years, longing for Zion. As we were unable to go home and our church was closed, we continued to journey and were forced to think of ourselves as sojourners on this earth.
Is it a Diaspora or a Remnant? I suppose that many of the Psalms and Lamentations were written from the perspective of longing for home. The Bible is not a philosophy book. It is life itself. Being on this journey I feel much closer to the world of the Bible.
During the first year of life on the road four church members died, and nine were baptized. In the same week that a 50-year-old church member died a sister from the same area was baptized. I think that she began to question what she believed as she experienced the earth shaking, when all of life was on emergency alert and people were losing their jobs. A family of six were baptized at the same time. It had been planned for summer but they felt so pressed that they had it sooner than planned.
A church member who worked in the nuclear power plant feared for his life as he was about to go to work. We prayed in tears and sent him off. On a road filled with sadness and pain I witnessed prayers like profession of faith or giving birth.
These days, when results are expected of us I have come to realize that the process is more important than the result. We fall down but get up and walk again. We wipe away our tears. When we feel weak and on our own, others are supporting us. God is watching over us at all times.
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. Ps. 119:71
[Church is full of wonder]
In the quote from 1 Peter we were encouraged to rejoice in suffering because as we suffer, we enter into Christ’s suffering. My church members were scattered all over Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. Many companies stopped business. Schools and hospitals closed.
As a pastor, I was in distress because both my church and my home town disappeared. But yet, my church was alive. I wanted to rescue those who were in evacuation centres after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant accidents. When I went to the meeting point after it happened, I found about 60 people. Our journey began at a time when there was no petrol available, no shops open, no food and no change of clothes. But the church was alive. Church buildings were gone. The structure of my church and church programs were gone. But we kept on having worship services. We continued on our journey, huddled together with one another. We were nearly dead but not completely.
The Church was indeed Christ’s body, as Paul says. Churches in Japan look small. They may seem to have disappeared as a result of the disaster. But they live on in the resurrected life of Jesus.
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way, Eph. 1-22-23
I have also learnt that churches are the salt of the earth in Japan even when they are small and numbers are so few. Many churches all over Japan stood up and worked together to help those in the disaster areas and it was well received. I believe this is because of biblical hospitality.
It was surprising to see non-Christians come to the retreat centre to help. I suppose the disaster linked Christians to non-Christians.
Barriers between denominations also came down. Baptists and Episcopals worked together in relief work.
Lastly I must mention help from overseas. We survived at first on canned food. My blog on the church website (f1church.com) was read in six languages and at one point had 200,000 hits a day. The press came to interview us from overseas as well as from within Japan. I hope that many more people will visit my blog.
I am grateful for all the support and prayers from brothers and sisters around the world. I felt I was in the modern-day Kingdom of God, on an Ark in the internet.
Early on I would find myself thinking, ‘Why do I have to go through this hardship? Is my church going to end in this way?’ I couldn’t understand it at all. But then because we were the nearest church to the nuclear power plant, I began to think that God was maybe giving us a mission. I heard that in the foreign media Japanese people were reported as being patient and graceful and I believe this to be true. My church was chosen to be one that would go through this and be resurrected.
It was started 65 years ago by a young American missionary couple. The wife died and turned into Japanese soil. Then a nuclear power plant with a very similar name to ours (Fukushima First) was built. Was that just a coincidence?
After the disaster my wife lost her sense of taste and colour. But she had been having the same dream for 30 years. The church members were travelling on a bus. This came true. Was it God’s déjà vu? Was He trying to prepare us through her dream?
I believe that we are walking on the path that God prepared for us, a historical path after the disaster.
I’d like to finish with my own testimony. After the nuclear power plant disaster, at midnight on March 15 2011, my wife and I started driving our car loaded with relief goods. We drove through the night towards Fukushima carefully trying to avoid cracks and bumps on the road. I feared that we might never return alive. At dawn my daughter sent an email. She said, “Dad, the nuclear power plant has had an accident. Be careful when you drive in to Fukushima. Encourage your people. I believe that you became a pastor for such a time as this.”
I wept. So did my wife. I decided to stop questioning why this had happened to me. I was born for this, born for this March 11. The journey was like a roller coaster. It wasn’t good for my heart. As I escaped I talked with those in local authority as well as national. I tackled building projects for my church and an apartment block for church members. I did job hunting for them, and looked for places for them to live. I remembered the words of Esther who rose up to save her people. (Esther 4:14)
God has certainly led us by pillars of fire and by clouds as He did with His people after the Exodus. I have no regrets. The last two and a half years have felt like ten. I am very grateful for all your support.
Thanks to all the help, our new church building, designed like a bird about to fly home, was completed in May It is 60km south of my home town which is still off limits. Please pray that we won’t give up. The following scripture is true.
LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever. Ps. 23:1-6
After the Dedication Service, 13 March 2013, on a bullet train bound for Hamamatsu.
The Dedication Service is over. Preparation for it began just five days earlier. It turned out to be a fitting service for all of us who had been plunged suddenly into a wandering journey. We expected more than 400 guests which was beyond our capacity, so we had to figure out how we would do the service. The programme ran into three hours – one hour over what had originally been planned. I found it all overwhelming, partly because of what we had been through in the last two years. I tried convincing myself that it was worth it when I heard guests comment that they had never experienced such a moving service. I felt very tired right after it. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who walked with us with warmth and kindness. As I conducted the service I was very aware of those who were not present.
I would like to end this part of my diary for now. After 11 March 2011 something drove me to write my blog and I wondered when I should stop. The Dedication Service seems to be a good point. I am very grateful for my readers. At the beginning I simply had to let it all out by writing this and I was pleasantly surprised by so many followers. It was a blessing to be placed in such a warm network.
If there is one regret it is that I forgot to mention all my translators. At the service we stood at 2:46pm, the time the earthquake hit just two years and two month before, and observed silence together. Then I was to express my thanks to Pastor Sai who translated my blog into Korean, to Claudia into German, Pastor Daniel into French, Mrs. Yokoyama into English, dear sisters in Taiwan into Chinese, and those in Peru into Spanish. Here, I would like to say a big thank you to all of them.
Due to their work my blog has been widely read across continents and oceans resulting in a beautiful tapestry of stories. We have received much encouragement and blessing from our international readers. Although our paths have been difficult the network created from this blog has given us many blessings. Was it from across the seas or from heaven? Having been beaten by the challenges, I churned out words that sometimes sounded like poems. These people patiently and sacrificially kept on translating them, perhaps out of a sense of mission. I thank the translators, and the readers, from the bottom of my heart. Your support meant so much to us who initially felt so alone.
I realise just now that you have walked with us with tears and laughter throughout the journey. I mistakenly felt that I was alone. But witnesses like clouds have surrounded us all through the journey. Above all, our Lord has been with us without fail. He has been the casting director. Perhaps we all – you and me - have been playing roles that He gave us.
Lord, is it time for me to stop? Have we come to the end of the journey together that started on 11th March 2011? You are not telling me that it’s only the beginning.
One and a half years before the earthquake struck I told myself that it was the last time I was going to build a chapel. Lord, you knew how hard I worked for that but yet you allowed us to go through that difficult journey and led us to build another chapel. Three times lucky, it is said. I feel I have done my share. Please let someone else do it next time, for the sake of fairness. I am stepping down.
God be with you and keep you well. Lord, I thank you.
Note: A serial of my book recording the journey as an evacuee is going to be published. Another project, a children’s book called “Great East Japan Earthquake from the eyes of Papi” is ongoing.
The Dedication Service is available on Ustream.
Report 65, 30th April, on board a bullet train.
It’s April 11th today, two years and one month since the disaster, and I am on a bullet train heading home from Osaka. There is one month to go until the dedication service of the new chapel. We have already had two weddings there, two memorial services, and a concert with an audience of 300. We are expecting 400 guests for the dedication. I wonder if we can accommodate so many people. I feel that this chapel which was born out of disaster has already put in 6 month’s worth of work.
I got the idea of writing a children’s book about our new chapel. The book about Papi, our pet dog, will be published first. New Beginning, the new book about our church is almost ready to come out.
The dedication service on 11th May will be two years and two months after the disaster. It will serve as a mile stone.
I started writing this update to my blog on 11th April on the bullet train from Osaka, but now it is April 30th and I’m on another bullet train from Nagoya so I’ll keep it short. I suppose tiredness is catching up with me in this way.
Wednesday 13th March,
Last night I spoke at a meeting in Ochanomizu and am now on my way back home. It was a concert given by 40 musicians in aid of the disaster victims which will be repeated in our new church building in three days time for the people in the area.
I feel as if I am surfing on waves. Four days ago we had a wedding in the church although the building work is not finished yet. Later this month we’ll have a baptism, and next month, another wedding. It will be alright, as it has always been so far. It draws out energy when I think of things that are coming and start worrying. I am going to leave all my concerns to God and keep on moving.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. ... Peace to all of you who are in Christ. 1 Peter 5:7, 14
Our church was broadcast on the news last evening. I wasn’t able to watch it as I was speaking. The TV station phoned to say they had been editing it right up to the broadcast. Just as with the three programs last year, the TV crews filmed us with tears in their eyes. This time also I heard that some of them were in tears.
There were several stories at the wedding. The bride had a new home and started teaching English there. She moved to the next prefecture after the earthquake so had to stop her English class. I can only imagine the sense of loss she felt. She had lost her sister in a traffic accident. Then her mother was hit by a drunk driver and lost her life. She started to come out of those losses and rebuild her life. Then the earthquake happened. Back to square one again. Then she met her partner at the place she moved to. She introduced him to the Bible and he got baptized. God has prepared a new tomorrow for her even in the loss. Let’s believe in God’s provision and turn the next page.
The TV crew also filmed the 3.11 prayer meeting. At 2:46 on 11 March we all stood, holding hands, facing in the direction of our home in Fukushima, and prayed in silence. As we looked at photos and videos we shared memories and remembered our home, reflecting on our pathway over these last two years.
Every time I look back I feel that my heart is almost crushed. I can’t see blue sky. It looks foggy ahead. How long will it last?
My train has
arrived. I must go. Camellias are in bloom. I picture them in my hometown and
wonder if they are also in bloom there, even though no-one is at home.
Report 63, Inauguration of our Church Hall
Although our church hall is still under construction we conducted our first service there yesterday. This is mainly because the wedding hall we rent was not available, and also because a TV crew had come to film us.
We had severe cold weather, something that only happens once in several years. Perhaps this was fitting for a church that was born out of the natural disasters of earthquake and tsunami. The prophet Elijah heard God’s still small voice after being unable to hear Him in the strong wind, earthquake and lightning that preceded it. Elijah was tired even of living.
There was an earthquake during our Inauguration and after the service, there were strong winds. I heard on the news that it was quite unusual to have that kind of severe weather. Some guests who came from Tokyo told us that trains weren’t moving for a while, and they had to switch to driving themselves to Haneda airport.
The Inauguration of our unfinished church hall might have signified the path we’ve travelled and also our way forward. It was not as unbearable as the service we had at the end of last year when the doors weren’t in place yet and we had to avoid the rain dripping from the ceiling as it was raining outside. We didn’t have lights either, so it was dark. We should have learnt to count the blessings we had instead of grumbling at what was missing.
Through the ceremony we have learned to be thankful for what the Lord has provided and to walk this path till the end. Life itself is a journey heading for the Heavenly City. Everything on earth is a process. I had hoped that at the inauguration we would have outer walls, decoration that was finished, and scaffolding that had been taken down. But the reality was different. This is how life is in a disaster affected area.
70,000 people lost their homes because of the disaster, 25,000 people moved to the city where we are now, where a construction rush has been happening. It is very difficult to acquire land, second-hand homes and carpenters. This is the main reason why the completion of our church building is delayed. We shouldn’t complain, but trust in God.
We have decided to have the Dedication Service on Saturday, 11 May, starting at 13:30. I’ve had trouble deciding who to announce this to, and how, as so many people have been praying for us. I will have to do it via my blog. I hope you will forgive me for taking this route.
It is a relief that the inauguration is over. It will be broadcast on TV Asahi in the middle of March, going out after midnight as a half hour programme called Tele-mentary. Some of you might like to record it and watch it later at your convenience.
They filmed a view of top of the church using a crane. My assistant pastor accompanied the camera man. He was impressed to see that the new church building really did look like a bird with open wings facing towards our church in Fukushima and the four other chapels. I imagine how the new building yearns to meet his older brother, and how the older brother longs to see the newly added younger brother. Joseph met his estranged older brothers after 13 years of separation, as well as his younger brother, Benjamin, whom he had never met. Joseph was 30 years old. This is how the scripture tells the story:
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. Gen. 45:1-5
Our new church spreads its wings as if it was about to fly and as if it was encouraging us to rise upward taking one or two steps, counting our blessings, and never giving up, even when things don’t turn out the way we expect.
My assistant pastor risked his life as he was lifted up in the crane to see the view. We ought to overcome the difficulties in front of us as we are carried on God’s wings. When we get tired we shall snuggle under His warm down feathers.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Ps. 91:4
But those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. Is. 40:31
25 Dec., at an accommodation for evacuees in Fukushima
This is the second Christmas following the disaster in March 2011. I have been meditating on Jesus, “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Is. 53:5), who came into this world of darkness and sorrow. Our church still doesn’t have a sanctuary. We weren’t able to have a Christmas Eve service and only had our Christmas Concert in a wedding hall.
On 25th Dec it was painful to hear that graffiti with the words “evacuees go home” had been painted in three places including a city hall. In the city where I live now 23,000 evacuees from the same area have temporary accommodation during this second winter season. Roads and restaurants are busy because of the sudden increase in population and rented accommodation is full, which explains such graffiti. I heard of an evacuee who kills his time at a pinball centre, as he was given money from charity funds but has nothing to do. I also hear of others who hardly ever go out. The situation is not getting any easier. It is harder for the elderly. I even feel as if I don’t know where I am when I wake up in the morning. It’s not surprising that the elderly tend to be more forgetful and don’t want to go out. I try my best to greet them when I see them.
Every evacuee is psychologically wounded, worried and angry. Darkness comes to them one after another. We desperately need some light; some home in the midst of the darkness. I do hope that our new chapel will become a home to them functioning as a bridge between our home in Fukushima and where we are now.
The other day in Tokushima, where I spoke at their Christmas event, I visited the Toyohiko Kagawa Museum. I was overwhelmed by his activities such as the cooperative for labourers, and by over 300 books which he wrote such as Crossing the Deathline. He was very active at the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, raising as much as 60,000,000 yen. I discovered that he suffered from various illnesses which made me wonder how he managed to do so much with his ill health. At the same time I came to understand that because of his illhealth he felt close to those who suffered and this drove him to Aid work. This resonates with what Jesus did. It warmed my heart to think of those who have walked alongside people who are suffering.
I went into the Naruto German House (the
Das Deutsche Haus) standing next to it which tells the story of PoWs during WW1.
The camp manager was Toyohisa Matsue, from Fukushima. He stood firm in his
convictions, succeeded in negotiations with the Japanese government at the
time, and took good care of his PoWs, respecting their dignity. They played
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the first time in the whole of Asia. I felt
proud sharing Fukushima with Matsue. I learnt that this story has been made
into a film. I went to the site that was used for filming. Matsue grew up in
Lord, you are in our midst in the land of Fukushima with its deep scars and cracks, and in the hearts of people who bear deep wounds. Come and stand in this land. Take away the many layers of darkness with your Christmas light and lead us into hope for the New Year.
New Year’s Day, 2013
After the second Christmas since the disaster, we had a Thanksgiving Service for the final Sunday of 2012, and then a New Year’s Day service. The wedding hall we had been renting was closed over New Year so we worshipped in our chapel which is still under construction. We had to use plastic sheets to protect us from wind and rain which made us feel like believers in the early church. They turned out to be memorable services. I was encouraged by the friendly response of our new neighbours as we visited them beforehand.
Like the passengers on board the Titanic, as
depicted in the film, we were struck by a sudden turn of events. Some of us
held on to pieces of wood. Others drifted. The journey brought us back to
8th December (on board a train from Kofu to Shiojiri)
After a Christmas meeting in Yamanashi I am on a train bound for Nagoya. It’s snowing. Many people gathered for the meeting last night maybe because of the title ‘Christmas after the Great East Japan Earthquake’. I am grateful for those people who remember the victims. It’s my second time speaking in Yamanashi since the disaster. In this one year and nine months I have spoken in many places and met many people whom I usually would just have met over a five to ten year period. My train has entered Nagao prefecture where some of my church members moved after the disaster.
My pet dog is unwell and is receiving drips at an animal hospital today. Life after the disaster must have taken its toll on him. Some of my church members are unwell now as we are in the second winter after the disaster.
It’s still snowing. I wonder how other church members are, scattered throughout Japan.
13th December (3 days after my pet dog Papi died, on my way to Tokushima)
Papi has died. I told him that we would live together. I am sorry Papi. Did you think we had abandoned you after the disaster? We didn’t abandon you. I’m sorry Papi. On the day of the disaster you were at my daughter’s in Chiba. You must have felt scared. But there was a baby in the house so you were told to bear it. Were you shaken? Did you want a cuddle? I’m sorry Papi.
Did you feel you were getting old? Were you worried? I saw you literally shaken at times. My wife and I didn’t think you understood what was going on, but you were trying. You did well, fit for a dog from Tohoku. I was proud of you. If I had known that that was going to be our last time together, I would have wanted to be with you longer. I never thought that I would lose you. Have I been cold to you? I always said sorry to you in my head.
On Monday when I heard that your condition had turned for the worse I wanted to be with you as soon as I could. The train journey felt very long. I prayed that I would be back in time to hold you. Were you lonely in the hospital on your own? Did you want us by your side? When I arrived at the hospital, you were lying on the treatment table. When your mom and dad arrived you let out a little cry which was your last. We were surprised to hear it. Did you cry for your mom and dad? Did you believe Papi that your mom and dad would come? Had you been waiting for us before you left us? Was it your goodbye or were you angry that we were late? Was it a cry out of your suffering? Whatever it was, please say something again Papi, my dear Papi.
It would make me very happy if I knew you were trying to say that you were glad to see us for the last time, that you had had a happy life with us. But looking back over this one year and nine months this could not be so. I’m sorry Papi.
The vet told us that you had several convulsions. You were resuscitated and had equipment to help you breathe, and drips. You did well and waited for us. Thank you, Papi. After you’d gone I cried again, thinking how you had been hours before you died. You were so fragile but we took you home. Ten minutes later you took your last breath. It was too soon.
Arriving at the hospital, the vet asked us whether we wanted to take you home to which I said yes. Were you glad when you heard that? You are our fourth child. I had to bring you home. Your mom and dad had decided that we would watch over you throughout the night. We had had to ask other people to look after you so I wanted to make up for that. I wanted to be with you all through the night making you my top priority. But ten minutes after coming home you were gone in my hands, as if you were so glad to come home.
Fifteen years ago your former owner in Shizuoka handed you to us asking us to take care of you. We should have treated you better. We are bad owners. At the hospital when I said to you that we would go home I was crying in my heart. Were you crying too? Papi please let us look after you for one last night. You have brought much happiness to our home. I haven’t said thank you to you. You were wise and handsome and very popular among your peers, smart, well groomed, and a dog of character. You were so considerate of people. When my children got into a fight you barked as if you wanted them to stop it. In fact, we did it intentionally just to see you do that. You were the pacifist in our family, and our guard dog. Well done.
It must have been hard for you leaving our home in Fukushima, never to come back. Well done, Papi. Was it difficult for you watching us look so sad? Was it difficult having to live at different homes after the disaster? Did you feel abandoned? Did the disaster shorten your life? I’ve heard somewhere that evacuee dogs are under ten times more stress and some even lose their coats. They get unusually sensitive to little noises and vibrations. You’ve done so well.
Papi, do you remember when you were little? You were so cute. You became our fourth child and were called Papi Sato. When people said that I looked like you, I was glad. The rest of the family said that I was odd but I was glad. Because you have a pedigree, you are funny and charming. Then our grandchildren came. You had less opportunity to be photographed, sometimes being told to get out of the way for the babies. Did you feel the passing of time then?
When the vet told us your days were numbered your mom and dad were speechless and felt what a large place you had in our hearts. On reflection I can see that you had been losing your hearing and eye sight and had started to have more grey hair. Were you feeling old and lonely? I am sorry I could not be with you when you were feeling like that. When I was with you the other day you put your head on my hand. Did you want to snuggle?
I am grateful, Papi. You watched our children grow. When they grew up and left home your mom and dad were on their own but you were with us. You were so considerate. You didn’t even let us look after you, leaving us after three days in hospital. Did you want to save money?
Mr. Nakamura, whose home was your last, said to us that that you were a missionary. When he took you on a walk he got talking to so many people. Some of them came to the concert at church. You certainly were a pastor’s kid. When we said grace before a meal you barked at our Amen. I always thought that you were keen to start to eat but now I see that it was your Amen. I’m sorry I didn’t understand dog language. Thinking back I see that you always barked when we said Amen whenever we prayed. Were you a Christian, too?
At the crematorium, I held your ashes and realized how small you were. You thought well with your little head and jumped around on legs like chopsticks. You lived your little life to the full. We all received much happiness from you. People smiled commenting how cute you were on our walks. Thank you, Papi, for bringing warmth to our lives.
After you were gone I said to your mom how happy I felt being married to her. At first she felt strange as I said something unusual like that but she returned the same to me. Your death taught us that we never know when we will lose one another. Your little life meant so much to us. Nothing can take its place. I thought I learned that through the disaster. But no. You are telling us to care for each other through your death.
We watched a video taken fourteen years ago. There you were on our hands jumping like a rabbit and running like mouse. Your mom and dad had been guarding against pet loss but in vain. We’ve lost so much through the disaster. Papi, come back and show us that you are alive. You can snuggle up to me. We’ll go for a walk or a drive. Papi. thankyou for many days of happiness. You were a good dog indeed. Goodbye, Papi.
Will the passing of time fill the void in
my heart? All that I see has lost its colour. Will there be a day when colour
will come back?
Nov 1st - How to enjoy life three times over
After my visit to Taiwan last month I watched a film on the life of Sun Yat-sen made in China in 2006. It depicts his life in Malaysia. Sun was a Christian doctor and a revolutionary. His wife was one of the Soong sisters, Soong Ching-ling. Her older sister married H. H. Kung, the richest man and finance minister of China. Her younger sister was a political leader herself, and was the wife of Chiang Kai-shek. Their father was Charles Soong, who became a Christian and a pastor when he was studying in the USA. I got interested in the lives of these three sisters when I visited the official residence of Chiang Kai-shek who lost the battle with Mao Ze Dong, moved to Taiwan and founded the Republic of China. As a result of his wife’s prayers and keeping the promise he made to her mother at his marriage, he got baptized at the age of 44. After that he started reading the Bible and praying with his wife every morning. I never thought that his story of becoming a Christian would be featured so much there. The chapel where Chiang worshiped stood nearby. I wondered how he spent his life in that house, and imagined it to be calm and peaceful. It’s been one year and eight months since the Tohoku disaster. I hope that similar days lie ahead for us.
I pondered on the fact that Chiang’s conversion, a turning point in his life, is told repeatedly to visitors from all over the world. I reflected on the experiences of the three sisters who must have experienced God’s hand in their lives. Our God is in control of history. I want to believe that His eyes are upon us as we have gone through much turmoil after 11 March 2011.
I heard someone say that we can enjoy a trip three times over – in the preparation, in the trip itself, and afterwards while organizing the photos taken. I feel I am missing out on this as I hardly do any preparation before I go away and I don’t do any sorting out afterwards. So to reflect like this following my trip to Taiwan is quite unusual. It would be good if one was able to look forward to an upcoming event and then after it to stop, look back and smile on the good time shared. God has given me life. I am alive today. I hope I will be able to enjoy life another three times.
Sat 10th Nov, flying from Haneda to Hiroshima
Last week our church had a concert in aid of the disaster victims. We invited the gospel singer Alfie Cyrus and used a hall at the wedding ceremony centre in our area. A local newspaper wrote about it and many people came. I hope just as many people will come to our new chapel once it is completed. The building process is slow, which is to be expected in areas affected by the disaster. Many say that they have to wait a year or even two for a building project to start.
Last week I watched the iron framework of our church building being erected. Just as it was meant to, it looks like a bird about to fly away. When you see the framework the effect is more prominent and I am moved in a fresh way. We do need the hope of wings that fly out into the future. There is a power which we can get from a particular building. This chapel with its wings has been built through the support and prayers of many people. At dusk I saw double rainbows over it behind the cross. I do hope that it will become a symbol of restoration and peace.
Now I am on the wings of an airplane flying to Hiroshima. I heard that people said no plants would grow there for 70 years after the atomic bomb was dropped. Hiroshima’s recovery gives hope to Fukushima.
Yesterday I went to the theatre with my wife to see a drama, “Stone Coffin”. As a result of the accident at Chernobyl, 250,000 people who lived in a 30km radius of the nuclear power plant had to move out of their villages. Refugees from Chechen and Bosnia now live in empty houses that were used as evacuation centres. I suppose that living in areas that are contaminated by radiation is better than living under crossfire.
There is an exhibition on called The Art of Gaman. Japanese people who had immigrated to America were interned during the second World War. Works of art by these people are on display. Because of WW2 what they had built up was taken away and they were moved to concentration camps. They lost everything and had to start all over again. It’s too cruel, although inevitable as the wheel of history turns. The works of art in this exhibition tell us of their indestructible spirit and of dignity and serenity. After all this time they still communicate a strong spirit that never gives up and is positive beyond any sense of helplessness which they would have experienced. The inmates were released after the war. They didn’t talk to their children about their experiences but encouraged them to live positively without thinking badly of Americans. They inspire those of us who survived the Great East Japan Earthquake to have pride and dignity even in the midst of unspeakable suffering.
21st Nov, from Haneda to Miyazaki,
I am heading for Miyazaki to start a 10 day trip round Kyushu. Yesterday I said goodbye to a 92-year-old lady. After moving to Iwaki-shi, she became unwell and went to hospital, probably because of all that she had experienced away from home for so long. As she came out of hospital, she was to move to a nursing home in Tokyo closer to her relatives. Since the move was to happen during my absence I went to say goodbye to her. She was in tears. As I read Psalm 23 and 121 she recited the verses without opening her Bible, which was very typical of her. How much my wife and I had been supported by her! In good times and bad she stood firm in the Lord praying for us and for the church.
This old lady evacuated first to Aizu. After that she travelled with us through the snow to Yonezawa, then to Tokyo, and back to Fukushima. How hard it must have been for someone of that age. I called her “treasure of our church” which is very true. It is very sad that she is leaving. I want to remember deep in my heart how she has always lived, not grumbling, but always looking up to God trusting Him. I want to follow her example as I move on even though our homes and home towns have been taken, and our way ahead is not clear. It is always hard to say goodbye even when we experience it so many times. I want to bless our treasure.
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. Dt.7:6
22nd Nov, on a train bound for Miyazaki
I hear that in Miyazaki there are evacuees from Fukushima. I was surprised to know this as Miyazaki is so far from Fukushima. Back in history, a battle between two war lords was staged in this area. Many soldier samurai gathered for that and stayed on. People move their residence for many reasons, sometimes because of war, at other times because of natural disaster.
28th Nov, on board a bullet train bound for Hakata
Two days ago one of my church members aged 96 went to be with the Lord at a hospital in Tochigi. He was well that morning but suddenly took a turn for the worse. After his evacuation, he moved from an evacuation centre to a nursing home outside Fukushima. I saw him getting weaker. He was not able to go out at the nursing home so he died with no chance of returning home or seeing his home town. I know that our ultimate home is in heaven, but still it is very sad.
Yesterday, the 92-year-old-lady that I mentioned moved to a nursing home in Kanto. I heard that they said goodbye in tears. When I am physically far away from Fukushima, in Kansai or Kyushu, I can mistakenly feel distanced from the disaster. Things haven’t moved very much in one year and 8 months. I even feel more pain from its wounds, like a body blow. I hope the new chapel will give hope.
7th Dec on a fast train to Kofu
This evening, I am to speak at All Yamanashi Christmas, on the theme of Christmas after the disaster. It’s the second Christmas now and the story still continues. This year two of my church members were called to heaven. Many people who moved from Fukushima live in different parts of Japan trying to be quiet about where they are from. This out-of-the-ordinary period of life still goes on.
9th Dec on a bullet train returning from Gifu
I received a photo of the 96-year-old brother who passed away the other day. He looked as if he was laughing. As a pastor I have conducted many funerals and have seen the deceased smiling but I have never seen someone laughing. Every time I visited him he held firmly to my hand with tears in his eyes saying that it would be our last meeting. Finally it proved to be true. I imagined that he saw Jesus and his wife there which prompted his expression.
This brother was a navy officer when Japan lost the war. He became dependent on alcohol giving his wife much heartache. I heard a story once. They were poor. When his wife handed him a new shirt which she had bought for him he threw it hack at her demanding that she buy alcohol instead. She knelt before him apologizing. Something struck his heart. After this incident he came along with his wife to the church and in due course got baptized. After his wife died he stopped drinking and smoking and lived to be 96. Every morning he said good morning to his wife’s photo, went out for a walk singing praises to God, prayed, and did farming. I was convinced that he met his wife and Jesus.
Nesting, 5 October, on board a train
Four families have moved near our church which is still under construction, each family buying their own house. This week a fifth family is going to buy their own house. Others are planning to move next year. I am greatly encouraged. I feel as if I am building a nest collecting twigs and leaves, after the old one was crushed in an instance. If our closed chapel is being rebuilt like this in another way, no labour is too much for me.
There seems to be no end to our sorrows. Whether it’s because of prolonged life away from home, or because of my age, my heart aches every time I hear of church members’ ill health. It is said that there is graduation in life. It seems that there is no graduation in sadness.
In the Bible, Job was led into a new stage of life after the trials of losing his wealth, family and health. His wealth was doubled. He was given seven sons and three daughters. He had a dramatic new start. I sincerely hope that we will be given similar blessings. I wish to see everyone beam with smiles saying, “I suffered greatly but God has restored me with double blessings.”
Of course, our sorrows will not disappear. I believe that the sadness of losing his children was carved deeply into Job’s heart, even when he had other children. The Lord covered Job’s sorrows with His hand, and surrounded him with multiple blessings. I would like to meet my church members again, although they are scattered all over Japan, and see them smile, making up for all the tears they shed.
The other day, as church members shared their stories, one told his story. For him, maintaining his house had become a burden. He had been contemplating selling his house and moving to a council flat. He counted it a blessing that the house was lost by the disaster and he was freed from the burden. Another one shared. He was almost a workaholic. But now, his work life is more balanced. We lost much, but there have been some gains too. Like Job, I believe that our God will look after us with His blessings. So I will work at making a nest, looking for property for my church members.
Just like Jabez who said, “Oh,that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” (1 Ch. 4:10).
Just like Aaron who blessed Moses saying, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Dt. 6:24-26)
Perhaps we are being trained to receive blessings from God, not depending on our own strength. When we lived at the retreat centre, a missionary told us. “It must be hard for you to be on the receiving end. At the beginning of our lives as missionaries, we visit churches asking for support. We start by receiving thankfully and live by what people give.” It might be that God is teaching us this lesson. After losing everything, we have come this far, receiving so much from God and His people. Above all, everything is a blessings from God, even forgiveness of sin, salvation, and the way to heaven.
6th October, at my flat in Iwaki-shi.
As I drove to Ina, after the meeting at Iida-shi, I thought of residents there who welcomed evacuees from Soma-shi, Fukushima-ken, right after the disaster on11 March. It’s such a distance from Soma to Iida. The disaster was so enormous that it drove the victims to travel that far. The effects and wounds of the disaster are deeper than anyone can imagine.
I have been travelling extensively all over Japan and beyond, for which I am grateful as it has brought such a blessing, but I feel it has to come to an end. I should change gear and go back to life as pastor of my church.
8th October, in Ina
Yesterday, I was able to meet one of my church members for the first time in one and a half years. He lost his house, homeland, and was forced to escape to Nagano. He shared with me that he has been suffering from depression, which is quite understandable. I felt tears welling up in my eyes beyond my control. How much do I need to put up with this situation where I am unable to control my emotions?
After the disaster, this church member moved to Ojiya-shi, Niigata. When he arrived at the evacuation centre, he found a new set of pajamas and underwear. The mayor shared how he was helped when the big earthquake hit that area, and that he was glad to have this opportunity of returning the favour. I was about to lose control again. This church member lived without changing his clothes for seven days. How relieved he must have felt. He stayed with the family of a Buddhist monk for a week, who saw him off when he left. I was about to be in tears for the third time. How long will this last when I feel sad and glad at the same time?
15 October, flying from Narita to Taipei.
I am on a flight from Narita to Taipei. This is my second time this year to travel to Taiwan. I will speak at the 60th anniversary of my church group in Kaohsiung.
Picking up my elderly parents on the way, I headed for a retreat centre in Iwate for my niece’s wedding. During the service which was conducted outdoors, it was unexpectedly cold. As I glanced at my parents I was struck by the sight of younger members of the family standing around them, protecting them from the cold wind. The scene reminded me of the penguins at the South Pole protecting their eggs between their feet against the bitterly cold arctic winds. Perhaps our Lord has been protecting us with His shield.
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.” Ps. 18:2-3
18 October, on board a train bound for Kaohsiung.
During my visit to the Missionary Cemetery in Taipei, I heard some moving stories. One missionary gave up his job as a university professor, came to Taiwan, and eventually died of malnutrition. A Japanese missionary was killed by the head hunting tribe whom he served. His son was sent on revenge at first, but came to Taiwan as missionary. Most moving was that of a Canadian missionary. He travelled the mountains and shores of Taiwan, established a Bible college training students, which continues now in the form of several mission schools spanning from kindergarten to university. There is even a street named after him. When God calls His servants for mission, there is a lasting legacy, even though they are unable to return home when their family members pass away.
An American missionary couple came to my hometown. The wife’s ashes are buried in Japan, as a result of their ministry in rural Japan. Out of their work, my church was born. We had a vision; From Galilee (namely Fukushima) to the world. How can anyone imagine such a story would enfold, meeting so many people all over Japan and beyond, and speaking to them? Our Lord who is able to turn a stone into Abraham’s offspring (Mt. 3:9) has led us this far. We are definitely walking in the midst of His story.
I am onboard a rapid train heading for Kaohsiung, wondering whether the carriages are made in Japan. I am here for the 60th anniversary of Taiwan Conservative Baptist Convention, and I notice people’s friendliness toward Japan. We have received many donations from them, for which I am grateful. There has recently been some political tension over the islands between the two nations but I believe that things will improve.
I heard before that the Christian population in Taiwan is 3%, but now it has risen close to 6%. In Taipei it’s 15%. There are over 40 churches with membership of over 1000 people. I asked about the reason behind the growth, and was told that unity across church groups was the key. Other factors were appropriate ways for evangelism and cell groups. Experiencing severe earthquakes and typhoons was also essential in bearing fruit. Does God use natural disasters to bring people back to Him? Does this apply to Japan?
Friday 31 August, on board a flight for
Earlier this week I came back from Hokkaido to Fukushima. Now I am flying over Korea. I had little time to pack so nearly forgot my passport. I think it felt as if I was taking a domestic flight as it takes only two hours from Tokyo to Seoul. I feel less confident about myself.
At the airport before I left, I bought
travel insurance, taking some time to make up my mind for such a short trip. My
flight shook violently as it approached
1 September, from
I’m on my flight back to
I heard that it was the first time to have a large scale meeting for Japanese in Seoul. It was almost packed. I gave thanks that so many people showed concern and support even overseas. It was a pity that tension has risen between the two nations. The theme of the meeting was ‘Kizuna’ (‘bonds or ties of solidarity’) which makes me think that communication at a grassroots level is necessary in such a time as this. [Note for English readers: The word Kizuna had so much significance after the disaster that it was elected to be The Word of The Year in 2011.]
We have so often been supported speedily by many well wishers and by local and national government. Helping hands were extended to us ceaselessly almost like the tsunami. The present political tension might be relieved by a similar kind of grassroots solidarity. Above all our Lord Jesus became the intercessor linking heaven and earth, leaving us an example.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Mt. 5:9
4 September, Returning from my visit to Tochigi
Yesterday I visited two of my church members in Tochigi. They evacuated there as a result of the disaster. It’s been one and a half years. The situation is becoming a marathon. One of them evacuated with his parents and children to live with a relative. His mother is unwell now. It must also have been a burden to the relative to a certain degree. The other church member is aged 94 and lives in a care home for the elderly. Before the disaster he lived on his own, looking after himself, tending to his field and doing regular exercise. But suddenly he was forced to live in a care home and unable to go outside. He has a daily routine of walking four times round the hallway.
I couldn’t help thinking back to how he once was. I lamented for those days. But he himself kept his heart strong, telling me that he would walk heavenward fixing his eyes on Jesus, fit for someone who served as a navy officer during the war.
Still, after we shook hands he wouldn’t let my hand go, staring into my face, as if it was going to be our last meeting on earth. Since I became a pastor at the age of 25, he declared that I was the best pastor in Japan, which made me blush. It’s now a precious memory of mine. We have certainly been torn apart with one blow.
As he finally let my hand go a huge shadow and sadness overcame me thinking that these encounters are going to be set in sepia coloured photos.
Back in Fukushima I went to an electrical appliance shop. A shop clerk asked me whether I lived in Futaba-gun. I remembered him from my home town. He also evacuated and now lives in temporary housing in Iwaki-shi. I happened to pass in front of that housing block just before I came to the shop.
In Iwaki-shi alone, temporary housing has been put up in 27 areas, in some cases on very limited pieces of land. In my rural home town most houses are detached. Now they have to live in small townhouse accommodation. How much stress it must put on the evacuees.
A single resident has only one room. Some of them say it’s like prison, others a concentration camp. Perhaps because of this they get together and talk about their former life. Returning from Korea I feel I am still in a Kizuna meeting.
8 September, flying from
The construction of our chapel has finally started and I am grateful for your prayers. 23 underground pillars have been drilled in. Iwaki-shi has soft ground. I have never experienced this in my building projects in the past. The Bible teaches us to build on rock not on sand. I hope our new chapel will stand even when a huge earthquake strikes again and that it will be able to serve as a relief centre.
As the construction work unfolds we may see what Nehemiah or Haggai experienced.
Now I am flying over Hokkaido. When I came back from Tochigi on Wednesday I had a temperature. On Thursday I was unable to walk. I had to cancel two meetings related to building work. I am wearing a support belt around my hip over a medicated plaster. As she drove me to Fukushima airport my wife said to me that when the time comes, even in my worst condition, I always manage to travel. I feel the same.
In Kitami, there is to be a concert in aid of Fukushima. There will be gospel music and I will speak. I had to make it to this. God always looks after me and carries me through.
It’s Monday 10 September. I was able to speak at the concert in Kitami although I couldn’t stand straight. Many people commented that they had been following my diary for which I am grateful. One non-Christian said that he had been reading it. An unexpected Kizuna tie born out of the disaster.
Speaking of the unexpected, Association of Shinto Shrines invited me to speak at one of their meetings. It’s my first time speaking in front of Buddhist monks and Shinto priests, a totally new experience as a result of the disaster.
Our Lord spoke of Saul. “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 5:15-16)
‘Vessels of His choosing’ was the theme of my final paper at seminary and it speaks to me in a fresh way now. Peter’s life was similar. “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (Jn. 21:18-19)
Jesus’ words that Peter was to be led against his own will and was to be martyred came true, whether he knew it at the time or not. I suppose in our lives too there is a nautical chart that God has drawn. At times it may bring hardship and trial, but we experience His mighty hand.
It’s Sunday 16 September today. I still cannot stand straight and am heading for Okayama on a bullet train.
When I spoke at a mission school the other day a student asked me if there was anything she could do for the victims. I said to her that if she came across anyone from Fukushima I wanted her to be kind to them. Feeling God’s hand on my back nudging me forward and supported by the good wishes of many people, our path is now extending beyond one and a half years and we are all feeling as if we are almost beyond our limits.
Sunday 1st July
This Sunday morning I am heading for Fukushima after speaking in Himeji and Hamamatsu. I will arrive in time for the service at my church, as it is in the afternoon at a rented place. Our plan was to have the chapel building finished by September but it has been delayed as we wait for building permission to come through from the city office. They have to do some excavation too. I now pray that the chapel will be ready by Christmas.
Some people say to me what a nice new chapel we have got, which leaves me surprised. We rent a hall at a wedding ceremony place which costs us 30,000 yen for two hours. They see it on the church website and think it’s our new church.
I pray that they won’t find any old artifacts during excavation as this would delay the construction work for months or even years. Hopes and concerns, plans and worries all mingle together. Will we be free from these? And if so will we be able to stand firm until that day?
Wednesday 18 July
I am now flying to Seoul for a speaking engagement at Onnuri Church which is well known for conducting large scale evangelism in Japan under the name Love Sonata. Before he died recently its founder Pastor Ha arranged for the translation of my book “The Wandering Church” into Korean. It has been published by Tiranus Publishers the publishing house of the church. Pastor Ha’s successor asked me to come and speak there. Onnuri church has given us so much, for which I am grateful.
Right after landing in Seoul I will head for the Wednesday meeting at the church. I am excited to think what kind of dramatic meetings and encounters God has in store for me.
25 July, From Seoul to Narita
I am flying back to Tokyo after staying for eight days in Seoul. We had a packed schedule. Onnuri church has about 60,000 members and I was struck by the differences it presented from churches in Japan.
With my wife, I was able to visit the 38 longitude point, namely the border to North Korea. I was reminded that Pastor Ha crossed what has become the border 60 years ago with his family and I thought of the suffering they must have gone through. This was my eighth visit to Korea and our thoughts were drawn to those who suffered at that time.
I was told that this area around the border is now a treasure trove for various endangered species. In my home town in Fukushima cows, pigs and ostriches have turned wild and are wandering the streets. Those areas in Fukushima might turn into a similar kind of treasure trove.
There was a stone monument with the words “Longing for Home” carved on it. I found myself longing for Fukushima and was almost in tears. The Korean peninsula was suddenly divided into North and South. 3,000,000 people died. 10,000,000 people were driven from North to South. Parents lost sight of their children, resulting in many orphans. There is so much in common with our experience after 11 March 2011. My wife and I were moved in a special way.
90,000 residents of Fukushima prefecture are even now scattered within the prefecture; 60,000 residents are outside it. A total of 150,000 people lost their houses and hometowns. Most of them continue to be in a difficult living situation. There are similarities to evacuees from North to South. It is said that people never forget what they experienced physically and emotionally. Even if we wanted to we will never forget. We should never forget.
The other day I heard a story shared by a Christian lady. She left home, leaving her pet dog on a leash, thinking she would soon return. She tried to go back but was stopped at the end of the road. She pleaded, “My dog is waiting for me to pick him up” but the reply was that she couldn’t go back for fear of radiation. She told me that she could never forget that even when she tries to.
At the North/South border I discovered something about myself. There is more to an experience than what we experience at the time. I have made the decision to keep talking about my experience. There are things that cannot be told simply by numbers and scenes on the screen, only by the actual words of a witness.
We may go through unspeakable suffering due to war or the loss of family members. It seems to us that these strike us suddenly. They will never go away however much blessing we receive afterwards and they may bring unexpected flashbacks. But I believe that life starts again from there. One day we shall say, “That experience has made me the person I am today. Because of that there is a world that I appreciate now.” Winter passes and spring comes. Creation always tells us that a new world surely comes after some time of suffering.
“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Ps. 119:71
I am on a train heading for Kyoto, looking out on Lake Biwa. I wasn’t aware that there was a landslide yesterday which means that only slow trains are available. I am not so sure now whether I will arrive in time for the bullet train to Tokyo. Life is a series of unexpected events with thrills and tensions.
The landslide was due to a heavy rainfall yesterday. It seems to me that we have more natural disasters than before. Am I too sensitive as a result of experiencing the disaster on 11 March 2011? Or are there really more natural disasters all over the world? On its eve, the evening sky presented unusual colours. I have heard that even for three days before that, skies over Tohoku looked different. Was God sending us a sign through these changes?
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Rom 8:22
Changing the subject, we will have our grandchildren for the night tomorrow. They will come to our small rented apartment. We cannot return to the mountains, rivers and sea of our home area. I miss telling my grandchildren about the school their mother went to and the parks she played in, as I show them round. Are we going to lose opportunities like this for good? As they grow older they would have come to their grandparents, run around and played in beautiful fields and mountains, caught cicadas and come home to eat watermelons. I would have told them about their mother when she was young. Oh, how long am I going to miss the future that is never to be?
I should wake up from my day dream. I heard that some people are concerned that I was depressed as I haven’t updated my diary recently. I am fine. I may be having difficulty in concentrating, or accumulated fatigue is having an effect on me. I shall welcome my grandchildren tomorrow all the more, with a smile and with energy, hoping to get strength from them.
The other day I watched a TV program on Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Emil Frankl. I have a copy of this book buried somewhere in the home I can’t return to. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who wrote from keen observation as an inmate of a Nazi concentration camp. He saw the importance of prayer and hope.
He saw strength in those who pray without losing hope, and not necessarily in those who appeared to be strong. When food was scarce he met people who only thought of themselves and others who gave to others from the little they had. He became convinced that this freedom of choosing to pray and to hope cannot be taken away by anybody, even the Nazis.
He also found that motivation to live comes from not losing hope. Certainly circumstances alone don’t determine one’s happiness. Unless you are the unhappiest, you are not unhappy, or so I heard it said. I suppose it is how we look at it. I should be mindful of guarding my heart.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Pr. 4:23
Report 56, 14 May
I’m on a train, and my mind is blank. Recently, I have started reading the papers. I travel aloone by train and plane. This kind of time to myself might have helped me during the turbulent days.
In train carriages these days there are power points under the seats which is very helpful. Motorways to the disaster areas have all been made toll free. This has helped us greatly in our exodus and in visiting my church members scattered across Japan. I have lost count of the number of times I have travelled to Fukushima.
I have found myself plugging my PC to power points, sometimes wanting more convenience. The disaster has given us a warning against modern convenience but I find myself thinking back to what it was before the disaster.
At one of the meetings I spoke at I met someone who had escaped from Fukushima. They were too sad to return home. Just like what it says in Lam. 2:11 ‘My eyes fail from weeping’.
This was a time when Jeremiah, the prophet of sorrows, prophesied. Israel was attacked and was left to desolation. She was captured and disappeared from the world map. After three exiles, Zedekiah, the last king, had his eyes taken out and was taken to Babylon from Judah.
The situation for the person I met at the meeting isn’t as bad as that. But he cried his eyes out to see pigs that had become wild in his home, and his field turned into a wilderness after one year of neglect. I could understand when he said that he didn’t want to see his home again. It’s too painful for him. How can anyone accept this reality right in front of their eyes, as their home is trashed by animals and their home town turns into a ghost town? Who can calculate the cost of this pain for compensation payments?
My church members are barely making it wherever they are. I suppose they fear that any one of them could take their own life at any moment. The fatigue from living as an evacuee for over a year reached its limit long ago. I don’t know how long we can go on.
Our church building, built just two and a half years ago, can’t be used. Our homes, schools, hospitals and streets are all gone, and so are my church members. A sense of loss and sorrow engulfs me. Is this an endurance race? Do we have enough strength to go on? Or is it merely too much fatigue?
9 May, in Nara
Since the disaster, as I have travelled throughout Japan, I have met two couples who got married because of it. Yesterday, two of my church members got married. Many other church members came for the wedding. It was like a reunion reminding us all of what it was like before the disaster. But we had to say goodbye at the end. We couldn’t say, “See you next Sunday.” We had to say, “Until we meet again” then go on our separate ways to Tokyo, Saitama, Tochigi, Chiba and so on. Underneath the joyful celebration, there was the sorrow which the harsh reality brings to those who left as well as to those who remained.
13 June, flying from Ube to Haneda
I am flying above Ube airport after speaking at a university in Shimonoseki. I haven’t been able to update my blog until now - the longest gap since it started. One year and three months on the effects are showing. Am I lacking energy, or is it only tiredness?
One of the evacuees told me that he got tired of being asked about his experience of the disaster. Someone else said that she stopped talking about it for lack of sympathy. Another person tried to speak to a disaster victim from another area, and was told, “You have a house to go back to, unlike me” which put her off speaking to other victims. Victims have all been affected in different ways over the last year and three months leaving insurmountable gaps here and there.
It seems that I am looking for reasons for the long silence in my blog. It shows how abnormal it is to lose one’s home, one’s home town, and the foundation of one’s whole life, and to still be on a journey, unable to have them back. What was it all about? I guess I will know in a little while after things have settled down. I am still on a journey. I should resist going down the spiral.
The other day I heard that the owner of a supermarket committed suicide after visiting his shop. An interviewee from the same town said that he isn’t surprised at anyone doing that in this difficult situation. I suppose that owner was at a loss after he saw all the decayed products on the shelves. Indeed, any one of us might be tempted to take his own life. We’ve entered another phase of a severe marathon.
15 June Fukushima
Maybe I have told too many sad stories. Recently in my speaking engagements I have tended to do that. But I encounter God’s goodness and people’s kindness too and it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention those.
The other day one of my church members went to be with the Lord ending her life of over 90 years. At that very time I was visiting her in a hospital intensive care unit and was praying for her although she seemed unconscious. She regained consciousness and later told the family that she was aware of my visit.
The funeral fell on a Sunday. Neither I nor my assistant pastor was able to make it, so my younger pastor went to Tokyo and conducted the funeral, which spoke to the family and was greatly appreciated.
I was made aware that God had looked after them. She was living on her own when the disaster hit. One of my church members visited her and rescued her putting her on an evacuation bus, accompanying her to Tokyo, and caring for her. She went to live with her daughter in Tokyo and had to climb up the stairs for five storeys which meant that her legs got stronger. She visited her home in Fukushima three times in protection gear and even travelled to Hokkaido where she was born. It’s unbelievable as her family were concerned for her before the disaster when she lived on her own.
Perhaps she spent a very happy year with her family in Tokyo. God was always with her in the midst of the disaster, right after it, in her journey to Tokyo, and in the last happy year in her life. This should encourage me to see God’s hand in a still difficult situation, confessing my faith in Him, uttering warm words. I hope I was able to finish updating my blog on a positive note.
Saturday 14 April, on a bullet train to Osaka,
It’s been two weeks since we have moved to Fukushima prefecture. Although I didn’t feel excited as I had expected, I am experiencing the reality of being back after one year. I was an evacuee in unfamiliar places, but now the whole area where we live has the scars of the disaster. More people are reading local newspapers as they have up-to-date information on the troubled nuclear power plant and its effects.
I no longer have to travel back and forth between Tokyo and Fukushima. We have more privacy now. These are some of the big changes for me. As I hear news of recent traffic accidents, I am amazed that we were kept safe in our many trips over the past year.
I am now on a bullet train to Osaka. Out of the window only the foundations of houses remain, the rest has been washed away by the tsunami. I really feel I am back to the disaster area. Cherry blossoms are beautiful.
We rent a wedding hall for our Sunday worship service. The apartment block for the elderly and the weak is now complete. Our chapel is still under construction. We had our first Sunday service at another church on Sunday afternoon and the second one in the wedding hall also in the afternoon. We pay for it by the hour so can’t stay very long but it may suit us as a wandering church.
It’s hard to get used to this life style of not settling to one place. But older people are not affected so much, and seem to enjoy what they are experiencing. It must come from their long years of going through all sorts of trials, which I feel I can never achieve. They are the treasures of our church.
I miss my church members scattered all over Japan. My heart has shed so many tears that it makes my path slippery. Different kinds of sadness come over me like waves. The disaster brought by the earthquake, tsunami and the problems with the nuclear power plant is a formidable opponent. Sometimes I long to be freed from it.
Early Wednesday morning, 25 April, on a train to Takamatsu
I thought I would have more time to relax after being back to Fukushima, but I am pushed now by a different kind of busyness, such as filling out a variety of forms and handing them in. Matters related to compensation for the victims of the nuclear power plant accidents, and to chapel construction, take up my energy. The path is long, and many hurdles lie ahead.
Now I am onboard a 6am train bound for Takamatsu. Early this morning, my wife went to be with her father who is not well. I just heard from her that she got on to a motorway by mistake. She has been unable to drive on motor ways. I don’t know how she is managing to drive now, but obviously she does. Strength given to her is now coming to me, and I feel energized. I tell myself “If there is a will, there is a way.” I also see my selfishness in getting strength from someone else’s panic experience. I open the Bible and feel Paul’s words, “I can do anything by the One that strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) overlap with me.
I heard a story that happened in America. A Christian CEO of a business firm had a dream, where Jesus appeared and said, “Your business went to Japan and grew there. How much have you given back to Japan?” He made a large donation to a Christian organization in Japan, and on the occasion of the first anniversary of the disaster, he gave generously for the relief work.
Since the beginning of time God has been doing great things on a large scale and in a detailed way, beyond our imagining, like streams of clouds, whether we are aware of it or not. Is it too impatient of me if I ask Him to do His great deeds among us blowing away all darkness?
30 April, onboard a train on JR Joban line
One of the phrases that I have often used recently is that among the many things we don’t understand, if we trace the things that we do, we will meet God. Too much information attracts confusion even though it is useful most of the time.
In the film Alexei and the Spring the film makers portray people in the wintry villages that were badly affected by the accident at Chernobyl. I heard that visitors asked the villagers whether they were not afraid of living in such a place where there were high radiation levels. They were fed up with being asked this question over and over again, and asked back, “Don’t you have anything else to ask? How we can live with gratefulness, for example?” God can’t be found when we grumble, but when we look up to Him in expectation. I would like to journey on trusting that God is there when we expect Him to work, sensing a shadow of Satan when we grumble.
Report 54, 21 March, on my flight back to Japan from San Francisco
I am flying out of San Francisco, where I spoke at 11 meetings in 6 days. Soon after arrival, I had a chest pain. A pastor kindly brought a Christian doctor to my hotel, who was about to return to Japan in the following week. Something similar happened at the end of last year. I was unable to walk due to a sudden back pain where I went to speak, and an orthopedist at the meeting treated me. This incident at San Francisco was symbolic of the acts of kindness that I received there.
I watched a film on my flight back, something that I hadn’t been able to do for a while. It’s either that I recovered well enough to watch a film, or I was drawn to it because of its content.
The film, “I am Legend” (2007) was a story of a man’s fight against a plague that was about to erase all humanity in 2009. A special vaccine was supposed to help, but it made people violent, bringing the world to destruction. America was declared a state of emergency. New York was brought to chaos. Citizens try to evacuate, fearing being infected. It overlapped with my experience in Fukushima after the accidents at the nuclear power plant. Someone in the film said that it was a manmade disaster, not a natural one. The same thing happened to us. If it were only the earthquake and the tsunami, I wouldn’t have had to leave home for this long. On 11 March 2011, people in my area were not hurt. There were no problems at their homes as such. Still, the siren went on. 70,000 people had to evacuate. They are still not able to come home.
There was some hope at the end of the film. The scientist, the main character, attached to the US army, stayed in New York, sending off his wife and children. He succeeds in an experiment, just before dying at the hand of a violent civilian. His wife prayed for him just before they left, “God, give my husband strength to overcome these difficulties.” This made me want to pray for my fellow Japanese. “Lord, please give us strength to withstand the trial that we are having. Perhaps it wasn’t that I was well enough to watch a film. This one made me pay attention.
Saturday, 24 March, flying from Okinawa to Tokyo.
After arriving at Narita airport, I headed to Fukushima, Our apartment block has been built, and I was in time for the final inspection. It’s more than I expected, looking at the complete building. I am excited to see how stylish it looks. This must be a gift to us from God.
Job lost all that he had as well as his children. He was smitten with illness. But at the end of the story, he met God in a fresh way, and received more than he had had before. Is this the kind of ending God has for us? Or have we already received more than double share?
Those who see the new apartment block come and ask us if they could rent a place. There are so many people who need housing. It gives us a nice headache, when they want to live in it.
After the final inspection, I drove overnight to Tokyo. Having slept for 3 hours at the Retreat center where we lived, I headed for Okinawa. I am now on my flight back to Tokyo. It was a tight schedule, but I am thankful for His protection. Tomorrow, we are going to have our final worship service at the Retreat centre, where we stayed for a whole year.
It is going to be a farewell service to the staff at the centre, and the church members of Okutama Gospel church who have been so good to us. There is going to be a baptism of the ninth person since the disaster struck. The Fellowship meal is going to be a gift from a catering firm. I expect it will be a day mixed with laughter and tears, with lots of memory, fit for the closure of a year.
30 March, on board JR Joban line,
A TV crew filmed us for four days. They said that they were a little surprised that we didn’t look so happy going back to Fukushima. They thought that we would be happier. I drove to Fukushima from Tokyo, but my home town is still further north in the middle of a ghost town. Our expressions in the film spoke of our mixed feelings. If our destination had been our homes we would have been happy. But the reality is that we are still evacuees, just moving on to the next temporary accommodation. We have to get used to this new place, find where hospitals and post offices are. We should try to adjust to our new life here. It makes me happy being back in Fukushima. But I am sad that I haven’t reached my home yet. I hope that the film captured my mixed feelings of happiness and sadness.
The Farewell and Thanksgiving service was very moving. There were about 200 people. It was a good time of closure of the year that started with suddenly being thrown out of our homes and then being carried to safety many times over.
The service was packed with gifts from God: a baptism, greetings from the manager of the retreat centre, messages from afar, and offerings of music cheering our new start.
At the thanksgiving fellowship meal, sushi was served as a gift from a Christian catering firm. Excited comments were made that it was almost like a wedding banquet. One year ago, after losing everything, we arrived in Okutama. Beautiful mountains and river welcomed us. Many kind people surrounded us like clouds and walked with us.
The next day, after breakfast and final packing and cleaning, the missionary at the centre conducted our farewell ceremony. Before getting into our cars, as we said our goodbyes and hugged one another, we crumbled. Tears could not be stopped. Apart from the sadness of having to say goodbye there were all kinds of emotions from the past year: regret, anger, hurt, feelings of being torn apart so many times, of wanting to cling to someone, and of wanting to love, all came like waves as they groan and move about. We all came through this rough path of this heavy year together. And now we have to say goodbye.
A voice in my head spoke. Should someone from Tohoku not be so open about expressing his feelings? But still all the emotions from the past year engulfed me. How was it captured on the film? I later heard that the crew were also in tears as they filmed.
In the Old Testament God’s people in Exile were able to return to their homeland after 70 years. I wonder how all the feelings for their home expressed themselves when they finally returned. This might have been written down in Psalm 126. Perhaps we also ought to continue our journey in this state where sadness, thanks giving, tears and laughter are all mixed.
1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of[a] Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.[b]
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes,[c] LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
I had a chance to talk to my architect over the phone. He has been walking alongside us over 30 years. As he look back on our past year he thought of a platoon in a Korean army who fought till the end as they kept on losing their soldiers in the Korean war. He shared this as an encouragement. Our church went through a fierce battle in the last year. We were meant to experience it. I was grateful. My hand shook. Tears kept running.
A church was erected in that country town. It grew into several chapels. We kept on having new challenges. All those were for this time: for us to survive through suffering, to rise, experiencing a story in God’s Kingdom, in the whirlpool of the disaster no one had imagined.
But Lord, have we really tried our very best to death? Have we bounced back from death and come on the offensive? Have we made an advance? If you say that we have, that’s more than enough. No regrets left in me. I rest peacefully in your arms.
March 13th (flying over San Francisco)
Metamorphosing into heavenly beings
On the first anniversary of the disaster I am over San Francisco. Immediately after the disaster I had no idea whether I would survive or for how long. One year later I look back with mixed thoughts and feelings. At the time I felt that if my life were to end there and then, I had no regrets. Perhaps this was a survival instinct. Still, I am alive after one year and the way ahead is a long one.
I feel as if I have done all that I could. I can understand if a doctor finds one or two things that are wrong with me. Everyone who was affected by the disaster may be thinking like this.
The other day I spoke at a school about my experiences. There was a student there who had moved from Fukushima. One day out of the blue he burst into tears. I can understand that. He had done well, having had to move from his home and his school in Fukushima.
At a restaurant in the US I met someone whose sister died in Fukushima on 11 March 2011. People overseas have also been wounded deeply.
One day our tears will dry up. Memories of that day will maybe fade away. But I tell myself that I should never say that I have forgotten what it was like. The writers of stories in the Bible recorded their experiences so that they would be passed on to the next generation. I feel that I have been given the task of telling my story so that it can be shared with those who will come after us.
I ask myself how I have been changed by the disaster - how I read the Bible and the way I trust God. I should take off the old and put on the new. “Everyone in Christ is a new creation. Behold, the old has passed. The new has come.” 2 Cor 5.17
One year on sorrow quietly covers us. Wounds that I was not aware of at the time start hurting now. Moses cried out after the Exodus, “ If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now – if I have found favor in your eyes – and do not let me face my own ruin.“ (Num. 11:15) He must have been on a journey that he felt demanded more than he could give.
After a major challenge Elijah confessed to the Lord, ‘I have had enough Lord. Take my life.’ (1 Kings 19.4)
March 11th 2011.
Sunday - my birthday. I had a worship service in the morning followed by a seminar on Crisis Management. Then after the memorial service in the evening, I had an interview with Philip Yancey. It was after 10pm when I got on a train which turned out to be the wrong one. I nodded off and it was past midnight when I arrived at my hotel.
I woke at 7:40am the next morning. I was due at a Mission School at 8am so I got myself ready in 10 minutes and managed to arrive in time for my talk. I start the second year with a deep sigh. Some things never change even after the big disaster!
But perhaps this is better than being bogged down with too much sorrow. Busyness and an overwhelming amount of information keep pushing me forward. I run through them desperately trying to find God in it.
Just like a lost child, running straight to his mother when he finds her again, I want to run undistracted to the end.
Over the past year I have experienced God revealing Himself in a fresh way. He wants to be found. He wants us to come back to His embrace as the prodigal son does to his father. I hear that this year salmon in Fukushima are returning again to where they were born just as they usually do.
Are we going back to Fukushima, and then to heaven? Is this path that leads us to heaven going to stop first in Fukushima?
In the summer cicadas shed their skin, spread their wings and start singing. Shall we all turn ourselves into heavenly men and women, and sing spiritual songs with all our strength?
March 17th (at a hotel in San Francisco)
I had an early celebration of my birthday in Taiwan with a birthday cake. I was also glad that my book “Wandering Church 2” was published on my birthday, 11 March. It has a green cover with an image on the front of our new church building which is designed like a bird about to fly to our hometown in Fukushima. The first book was red with a photo of the nuclear power plant and a cross. Just like the first one a portion of the sales will be donated to churches in the affected area. The publication is a message to the world not to forget the disaster and this is an encouragement for us. One year on, the disaster is not talked about as much as it was before. It would be comforting to know that people are still walking alongside us and it would strengthen us to know that they rejoice with us in how good God has been.
I kept writing my diary in those days, as if something was pushing me forward. Apart from my diary this book is a collection of talks that I gave in various places both inside and outside Japan and stories of those who helped us along the way.
We were thrown out of our homes and out of our home town and have walked a rough road. I never imagined that after a year we would embark on the building project of the apartment block and chapel.
A Korean version of my book was published in Korea on March 7th, entitled “A church where miracles happened”. I would be grateful if this information could be passed on to anyone you know in Korea.
As well as the serial, one of my books “A new beginning” has been re-edited and published again.
Here is the Forward to it -
A lady member of Fukushima First Bible Baptist Church had the task of summarizing my sermon every week for the church bulletin. It is a pleasure that a collection of these is being published again as “A new beginning” in a larger font.
The chapel where those sermons were preached is still closed as a result of the disaster that happened on 11th March 2011. We ourselves need a new beginning. The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant accident took nearly everything away from us in an instant. Nine months on, we are still at a loss.
This book was first published many years ago. Readers wrote to me saying they had read it many times and asking when the next one would be published. As I read it again I felt God’s word speaking to me in a new way as I walk this path of sorrow. I thank the lady who summarized my sermons so well. I miss the church where those messages were given and where the congregation was nurtured.
Our church members were scattered and will not be able to get together in the same way any time soon. But we would like to walk the path of tears which is set in front of us just like the believers in the New Testament churches did. They had many new beginnings in that whirlpool of history.
I would like to dedicate this book to all the courageous people who are marching through suffering without giving up, heading towards heaven.
11 December 2011, in a bullet train
Report 52 – Feb 23rd More Dramatic than any other dramas
I am on board my flight home from Seattle. It has been a journey of 18 days. The last meeting was at Portland yesterday. The missionary who saw me off at the airport gave me a sudden hug which brought tears to my eyes. Something in me responded to the unexpected hug. Various emotions that had been suppressed since the disaster may have come to the surface whether they were sorrow, regret, pain or anguish. There are times when uncontrollable emotions hit me and I should watch out for it.
Am I going to find myself losing control over my emotions? It can’t last forever but I should be prepared for it and know how to deal with it or how to avoid it.
In Seattle I heard the story of a young woman whose address in Japan is very similar to mine. She returned to Japan just before I arrived in Seattle. I was told that she was in tears whenever the disaster was mentioned. I wondered where she would return to as both our home towns are in the restricted zone. My heart echoed hers.
How do people navigate through life after losing their loved ones and feeling pain that no one else seems to understand? How do they keep on going, dealing with their pain and sorrow? Even though the sorrowful scenery could not be put back to what it was before I would like us to play the beautiful music which only those of us who have experienced pain can serenade.
I think of the song that almost all of Japan sings at this time of year. My wife says that she hasn’t been able to sing it since March 11. It is called Furusato (My Hometown), and was written by Tatsuhiro Takano, a Christian born in 1914 and professor of Japanese Literature at Tokyo University. It is said that he wrote about a pilgrim who walked on earth aiming heavenward. In Furusato, he depicts the scene of one’s hometown. In the third verse he writes “we all go Home, completing what we came to this earth for”. The music was composed by Teiichi Okano, a Christian and assistant professor at Tokyo University of the Arts who led the choir at Hongo Central Church for 40 years. I would like to sing all the verses with the sincere hope of returning to my home town in Fukushima.
I am in Seattle, whose baseball team is the Mariners with Ichiro as one of the players. I read in the local paper that he is doing well and will be third best player this year. Even though Ichiro may not be as good as American players he always does his best. I should follow his example, always taking up the challenge, giving my all, and crossing national borders.
25th Feb, back at the retreat centre in Tokyo
Thanks to your prayers I am safely home. Soon after I arrived I went to visit a sister in hospital. She asked me in tears, “Why do we have to go our separate ways so soon?” It choked me up.
Next month we have to say good-bye. After arriving at Narita Airport I put “home” in my Sat Nav. My home town is in the restricted zone. Did I unconsciously want to go there so badly or was it just an automatic action? I was miserable when I noticed what I had done and made a U turn. I drove straight to the retreat centre in Tokyo imagining all the way how it was in my hometown.
Residents of Miyake Island were evacuated for a while, unable to go back home. How did they look after themselves? I would like to learn from them how they survived their prolonged days as evacuees.
We lived in a town together with our neighbours and never thought that would change. Why should we be scattered like this and have to continue living this abnormal life? Someone muttered that it had been an unbelievable year. Surely our lives have been more dramatic than any other dramas.
As we leave this retreat centre where there is scarcely any privacy I would like to have some kind of graduation ceremony. Both children and adults have done well here. Other church members have managed well, scattered in different parts of Japan. Yet others have prayed and waited for our church to be resurrected after she disappeared so suddenly.
5th March, above Taiwan
I will be in Taiwan for the next four days.
I apologize for not being able to update my blog until now.
Report 51 - Monday 6th February
I’m on board a flight bound for Hawaii. I will fly to Seattle from Honolulu and come back on the 24th. It’s a long trip of 18 days. Before I left I went to the Okutama town office to say farewell and thankyou for the past year here.
As always I was in a rush to pack and get to the airport in time for my flight. I am afraid this habit of mine might never change. I visited the town office, packed for my journey in 30 minutes, and then started driving to the airport. I foolishly used my Sat Nav and was very worried when I got stuck on the congested Tokyo roads. Then the light that indicated that the petrol level was low started flickering. I quickly applied for travel insurance on my PC when I was in the airport lobby.
After the Sunday service I did a final check of the draft of the serial of the Wandering Church.
6th Feb, 7:30 am, above Honolulu
Thanks to your prayers, my flight was not busy. I slept for about 3 hours and could use 3 seats. It’s 2am Japan time. Many of the passengers are surfers and they have been talking about sightseeing and where to eat and shop. It’s a bit strange travelling to Hawaii on my own like this but I should make the most of it. The sunrise I saw from the plane was beautiful. I think of the journeys many people have been taking since 11 March 2011. Everyone is doing their best including those of us in Tokyo. I would like to send words of encouragement to everyone especially my assistant pastor and his family, also my wife and my pet dog Papi who has lost weight and lives away from us.
I want to say “Well done” to us all. It’s been costly but we have survived. However life is given to us so that we can all live for a purpose. Jesus told us that a grain of wheat has to die in order to bear fruit. After losing everything we have come this far through hardship and with broken hearts, supporting each other and overcoming conflicts along the way. We haven’t given up.
“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Ps. 30:5) May we know this reality in our walk.
Tuesday 14 Feb. 11.30pm (On board the flight from Honolulu to Seattle)
I was given an upgrade at the gate - a spacious seat and a welcome drink. Two days ago someone who came to a meeting handed me a gift and said that she worked for an airline. She must be the one who has done this and has also got me more baggage allowance. Everyone I met for the first time on this trip in Hawaii has been good to me.
Today someone took me to Lanikai beach, which means ‘Heaven’s sea’. It looked like Utopia and was good enough to be chosen as the most beautiful beach in the US one year. I saw a dog walking on the beach with its owner and wondered whether a day like this would sometime come for me. I wished I could savour moments like this a little longer and felt bad for my beloved ones in Japan.
Big thanks to all those who were good to me in Hawaii.
Friday 17 Feb
It’s midnight Seattle time and it feels very cold coming from Hawaii. I seem to have left behind my winter polo neck shirt. Most of the clothes I packed were not used in Hawaii. I bought a jacket in a recycle shop in Honolulu. Perhaps because I lived on second hand clothes when opening boxes of relief goods, I have come to appreciate them.
I have been kept busy with work for the serial of the Wandering Church which is due to be published on 11 March 2012, commemorating the first anniversary of the disaster. It will be published in Korea too. I include here the Preface I wrote for the Korean version. Please do give words to those whom you know.
Preface to the Korean version of The Wandering Church
It’s been almost a year since the enormous earthquake and tsunami hit Japan and surprised the world. The earthquake, which was on a scale that only happens once in a thousand years, tore up many roads, caused landslides and crushed houses. Then the 15m high tsunami waves swept over the north east shores of Japan. Explosions at the nuclear power plant followed. Our church was thrown into the middle of all this as the church building is only 5km from the Fukushima First Nuclear Power Plant.
Overnight 70.000 residents had to evacuate as sirens echoed all through the area. Families were scattered and our church was closed. It was as if we were in a science fiction movie as we all made our desperate escape. The story in this book is a record of what actually happened to us, although it may seem unbelievable.
Surprisingly our church did not die. Sixty or seventy church members drove several hundred kilometers in 15 cars, a bus and a truck, crossing a mountain in a blizzard. We were able to get food and shared with one another. Although we lost our church building and left without a change of clothes, or any money, we continued our journey with prayer and tears, our eyes looking towards heaven. Four church members died as a result of the disaster. As of March 2012, nine members have been added through baptism. We have walked this long path day by day not knowing whether we felt sad or glad. I never could have imagined that days like these would come to us.
There have been strange and wonderful experiences. I have come to feel very close to Moses when he went through the Exodus, and to the believers of the early church who journeyed, sharing their resources because of persecution.
11 March was my birthday. My wife and I were attending a Seminary graduation. We decided to hire a bus and drove to Fukushima. We planned to bring 17 members of our church including the elderly, the sick and babies, who were at a rescue centre on a mountain. We headed for Fukushima where smoke from the nuclear plant explosion was still rising, fearing that we might not be able to get out of there alive. It was the start of our survival journey.
I hope readers of this Korean version will be able to hear the voices of actual witnesses of the disaster that have not been picked up by the media; the story of how God has been mercifully guiding us in this unbelievable present-day Exodus.
Fifty of us live at a Christian retreat centre run by German missionaries and 150 members are scattered all over Japan just like the believers in the Diaspora of the early church. Our church survived even though we have been stripped of our building, its organization and its activities.
This March we are making a new start as we plan to build an apartment block for the elderly members of our church. Our church building which was built only three years ago was closed due to the effects of radiation, as well as four other chapels. So a new church building, the fifth one since the beginning of our church, will go up in September 60km south of the restricted zone.
I am made aware how strong the church is, surviving not only persecution but also earthquake. She rises again even though she was beaten and scattered.
It is my great joy that this testimony of our survival through the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear explosion is being published in Korea. It gives me great strength to know that we have been watched even from overseas and that we are not alone nor forsaken. This book is a record of how one church in a rural area of Japan faced a sudden disaster, how she was beaten, scattered and crumbled, and how she looked up to God, started to walk again and experienced God working in her. Readers can read this story through the pastor’s diary, testimonies of church members who escaped the disaster, and the plans for the future.
May our Lord touch the hearts of all our Korean brothers and sisters who take this book in their hands.
Lastly, I would like to thank all those in Korea who offered prayers and support to us. We have lost many things but must consider ourselves blessed to have been helped by the kindness of so many people around the world.
Tuesday 14 Feb, Seattle, USA.
Report 50 – January 30th (flying above snowy white Sapporo)
The Diaspora and the Remnant
After travelling to Oita and Fukuoka I flew to Sapporo, went to Otaru, and now I’m back in Haneda. Although it was cold in Kyushu it was no comparison to the snow in Hokkaido. Even when on the move the planning for the new church building and apartment block, and the preparation for our move in March continues. In Tokyo people from a Dutch TV station will be waiting for me to conduct interviews over three days.
Time moves us along. All we can do is to do our best in the time and space given to us. It looks as if we will have less people returning to Fukushima than we first thought. I miss them but each person has to make their own decision. Those who got jobs in Tokyo will remain there. Some will join family and relatives who live in other areas.
It has been 10 months since the disaster. We have all had to make decision after decision at a fast pace. It is understandable that some people feel tired and the decisions that kept them going in the initial stage soon changed.
After a whole year those scattered take root where they went to, going to nearby churches. In the Old Testament after 70 years in exile, some of God’s people went home, some remained and others went on to a third destination.
Diaspora people: those who were scattered by the disaster. The Remnant: those who were left behind.
As they moved on to the next leg of their journey I suppose they were divided into smaller groups. Our life now overlaps with theirs. I wonder how long it will last.
Mr. Ockert, the German missionary who runs this Retreat Centre, has written kind words for the second Wandering Church book. I am so grateful.
Report 49 – January 29th, flying from Fukuoka to Sapporo
Following on from my last report, I would like to continue to share what I have written for the second Wandering Church book.
A flight attendant has announced that it is -11C in Sapporo. I have to prepare myself for the cold. The cold weather reminds me of the contrast I feel between that and the warmth of the people I met in Kyushu. I am grateful to be given these encounters. I have visited different parts of Japan for speaking engagements but have never met so many people in such a short space of time.
One of my worries is that I may greet people as if I am meeting them for the first time when in fact I have met them before. Another worry is double booking. Fortunately, I am kept from these.
During the night, three days after the disaster on March 11, my wife and I gathered petrol, blankets and some food and drove from Chiba to Fukushima in a relief truck with heavy hearts. I wasn’t sure what was waiting for us in Fukushima. Everything began with that drive.
Almost a year has passed, and we are about to set off again. It has been a series of hard decisions and moves to the next place. We crossed a mountain in a blizzard, a convoy of 16 cars travelling from Fukushima to Yamagata. Two weeks later 60 of us headed south to warmer Kanto. I wonder if that was the beginning of the new start which on year on has resulted in us building a new chapel and an apartment block for the elderly.
Last year our church was planning to start a day care service for the elderly. We have long been interested in caring for them and had been led to make this decision. Now we are going to meet with our brothers and sisters in Fukushima and start to build a new community.
On Sunday 25th July we discussed where we should go in 8 months time when we would have to move out of the retreat centre in Okutama. There were some who were waiting in Fukushima so we decided to return there. Our home town is still in the restricted zone so my wife and I started looking for a new site 60km south from there. But we couldn’t find anything.
However one month later the building project started. It was an unexpected development. In March a nice apartment block will be finished and in August, two hundred meters away, our new chapel will be built. It is designed to look like a bird spreading its wings, signifying prayer and resurrection. A cross faces our home town.
Our church members are reduced to a quarter of what they once were. 150-160 members are now spread all over Japan but are united by prayer. There will be accommodation for them so that they can come back any time. May this church with wings bring hope to all of us who still live in a state of evacuation, and be a symbol for recovery and restoration just like an eagle soaring into the sky.
I am grateful to so many people inside and outside Japan for their support so far. Being encouraged by all the prayers, we shall pray in our new church. I would like us to become a church that serves others in response to the wonderful blessings showered upon us.
Report 48 – January 26th
I have travelled from Oita to Fukuoka. Although I was surprised to see the snow here people welcomed me warmly and I am grateful. The day after tomorrow I leave for Hokkaido.
My second book, a sequel to ‘Wandering Church’, will be published in March in time to commemorate the first anniversary of the March 11th disaster.
Here is what I have written in the preface. I hope that it will be read by many people.
It will soon be a year since the March 11th disaster. The pain from the wounds left by the disaster doesn’t get any easier. In fact it seems to be getting deeper. We have no solution to our problems but a new year has come and the Lord has kept us. I see this publication as a milestone and an encouragement.
When Wandering Church was published two months after the disaster it strengthened us to hear that many people had bought it and read it. We had been lonely but while we felt terribly shaken by the disaster projects like this kept us going and gave us strength.
Deep fear, sorrow, anxiety and darkness overwhelmed us and made us feel as if we might disappear, engulfed in a whirlpool, without anyone realizing. What a great encouragement it was to discover that so many people were interested in us and watching us. In a situation that pushed us to our limits those warm looks helped to move us forward and keep us going.
Sales of Wandering Church went to relief efforts in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. The kind thoughts of readers have developed into a support network. This second book tells of how we continued on our journey and how we have been helped. In Chapter 1 you can read my diary. Chapter 2 has testimonies of those who helped us when we evacuated and writings by my assistant pastor and church members. Chapters 3 and 4 record what I said at meetings in various places and also talk about our plans for the future.
I hear that the disaster is not spoken about so much these days. I hope that many people will take an interest in this book and will read it. That would be an encouragement for us all.
Report 47, at the end of the year 2011
As I feared, after the Christmas Day service I started having back pain and following the afternoon meeting that day in Yokohama I couldn’t stand straight. I am grateful, however, that my last speaking engagement in this disaster year went well. My back pain might have started when I was driving back and forth from Tokyo to Fukushima but it didn’t. I am surprised by its timing. There was a doctor (an orthopedist) at the church where I was speaking and he took care of me for which I am also grateful.
I felt an unspeakable sadness at not being able to spend Christmas at home with my family. My wife and I visited our daughter and then welcomed in the New Year at a Guest House. It feels gloomy when I think that this will continue for another two or three years. How long will this situation last? My children too are feeling the loss. They are not able to go home and meet their class mates and friends as they normally do.
On the other hand there are stories of restored relationships. As parents and children helped each other after the disaster their relationships improved. Some are now going to church in the areas they moved to as they escaped from Fukushima. I hear that some of them got baptized there.
I remember the story of a manageress of a Japanese inn that I saw on TV. She went downhill calling out to the townspeople to escape. The tsunami came and swallowed her but she was rescued miraculously. Those who responded to her shouts and escaped spoke in tears of how she saved their lives. This reminds me of Jesus who jumped right into this world in order to save us.
Someone told me that our story is truly one of those miraculous stories. It surely was very dramatic. Starting with the sudden disaster on 11 March we all escaped - the start of a long journey with still no end in sight. We were scattered but we survived. Now we are about to welcome in a new year, one in which we hope to see our new church building. We have been put on a stage and I wonder who has written the script. We were afraid and uncertain at each juncture. One thing that is sure is that this year was the one that has shaken us most. This time last year who could have imagined that it would be like this!
We are having an extraordinary end of year. One good thing is that my dear pet dog Papi will be with me over the New Year. He is 13 years old and looks thin. I will give him lots of hugs and spend some quality time with him.
At the start of 2012
Unlike my usual feelings at this time I have very little power to step out into the New Year. When I stand in front of a mirror I see more grey hair.
At the New Year service I was going to speak on the eagle that flies away powerfully. I am not sure how it happened but an image of my church back in Fukushima, the one we built only three years ago, came into my mind as I was preaching. I completely lost control and was in tears. I was going to say that we should stop looking back and that we should encourage ourselves to move forward. But while I was speaking I couldn’t help myself being drawn to the past. What a start to the New Year.
This incident has made me aware of the dangerous minefield of tears on which I sometimes inadvertently step. I am not sure how much unhealed hurt and tearful sadness there still is in me which makes me anxious. I will tell myself not to remember going downstairs to the sanctuary from my home, in that church building. I will list that memory on a “minefield list.”
Please pray that after we set sail into the New Year I will not drown in the sea of my tears but that I will be able to walk steadily until the end of it. Somehow I expect another year with a big shake in it.
Report 46 - 22 Dec (arriving at Oguni in Yamagata-ken from Hamamatsu)
I am still busy, more so these days with media interviews. I hear that in some areas people feel that the disaster is over. I am surprised. Nothing is over. I sense more of the importance of being reported by the media.
Immediately after the disaster I was at a loss with no time to stop. I felt powerless. But God has somehow brought me this far. One of the reasons that I feel relieved when I go back to Fukushima is that there I feel my tears and suffering are shared which is in itself a comfort.
Right after the disaster I couldn’t tell where I was or what I was doing. I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I should be heading. Everything was in turmoil and confusion and I couldn’t grasp what was happening. When I heard phrases like “revival is here” or “an opportunity for evangelism” it felt strange, like echoes from another world.
How was the wiring in my head at that time? Probably all mixed up or at least confused. But my senses were acute. I would be trying to sense if the person before me was going to walk alongside me or not. When I felt they were trying to pull away my heart was heavy.
We probably didn’t want to hear preaching or explanations at that time. Everyone felt very tense, up to the limit. Little things depressed us and brought us to tears as we tried to suppress our feelings. Sadness came over us like waves. We were afraid of something. Was it our heart or our whole body? Were we afraid of our future, or of the past that was lost, or of the present?
As my mind dwells on these things it gets depressing. I am sorry. I should look to the future using suffering as a spring board. I should shine even though I am in tears. I decide to stick to this formula. But why am I so sad?
In two days time it will be Christmas Eve. Our Saviour who came into this dark world was a man of sorrow who knew infirmity. The Bible tells us that he came to weep with those who weep. We particularly feel it this year. My Saviour who was born in the stable without a comfortable place to sleep feels very close to we who have lost our homes, home town and church. When people lost interest in the disaster victims, our Emmanuel came to us. Our Saviour shines in the darkness, even now.
Have we walked this journey in order to meet our Saviour afresh? Let’s give our gold, frankincense and myrrh to this Saviour, who came to this earth to give His life to us out of His love for us. Let’s give gold to the One who came to earth as our King. Let’s give our sacrifice of incense to our God who came to this earth. Let’s give myrrh, which is used at burial, to our Saviour who gave us His life on the cross.
Our journey as evacuees started with us not knowing where we were heading. It is possible for us to just feel sad and depressed. But at this time, let’s remember our Lord who has always been with us, and offer our praises to Him at this special Christmas. Merry Christmas!
The birth of God’s only Son was announced all over the world. The shepherds and the Magi told everyone as well as those who witnessed the birth of our Lord. So I will declare His birth as the evacuated pastor telling of the goodness of Jesus and how good He has been to us.
Immediately after the disaster I was interviewed by Christian media. But now more of the interviewers are coming from secular papers, radio and TV. Back then I turned them down as I was using up all my energy in just surviving. But now I feel my task is to speak of our situation.
Our nation was hit by a disaster which only happens once in a thousand years. We are in the center as the whole world looks on. For over 2000 years since the first Christmas that incident has been told all over the world. We who are in the middle of the disaster feel that we have a task to tell the world.
My voice is carried via trains and planes to different parts of the world and my writing goes out through my books and the internet. I shall use every opportunity to share about my experience.
It’s all white with snow outside. Coming to Oguni, Yamagata-ken from Hamamatsu I feel the cold. The brightness of the snow outside is strong telling me that it’s Christmas. I am having my disaster year Christmas in this way looking back and meditating on what happened.
I am grateful for your prayers and support.
Report 45 – December 9th (flying from Singapore to Narita)
It’s Monday 5th December and I am flying over Singapore feeling feverish. I’ll stay in Singapore until the 9th. I need to get rid of this fever and take on all that is being planned.
Returning from a Christmas celebration in Fukuoka two days ago my throat felt sore then when I got back from a Christmas celebration in Saitama my nose wouldn’t stop running. Now I have a box of tissues with me on the flight. I have kept well since March 11 despite my very busy schedule. But now because of tiredness, I have caught a cold from someone or as a result of the sudden cold weather, I’m not sure which. I hope it will be gone by the time I land in Singapore.
I tried to watch a movie but couldn’t. I stopped reading newspapers after March 11 and hardly watch any television now. It seems that I have lost my ability to watch or read about what has been happening. I never would have imagined that before 11th March. What should I make of this?
Perhaps it is because I use up all my energy and there is none left over. I have no energy to watch a movie. Yes, I can keep going in the recovery process and can build the new church and apartment block for the weak and elderly. I guess that uses up all my energy leaving nothing spare.
Just as a light flashes when my car is low on petrol, so the disaster survivors must be living now with their lights flashing on empty. But still we have to keep going. We are running at 120% on empty. Many people around the world are supporting us as well as God Himself.
It’s my fourth day in Singapore: 9:30pm, 9 December. I finished speaking at the Japanese Centre and now am driving to the airport for an overnight flight back to Japan. I had a fever on the way here and it continued to rise. When I arrived in Singapore I went straight to bed and slept through till morning. When I woke up I felt better. I was worried whether I would recover or not, but I did. I am grateful for so many prayers and can feel their power. It is quite unusual to recover so quickly and so be able to do all that was expected of me.
During my stay in Singapore I received many blessings. Many Singaporeans spoke to me at meetings saying they had been reading my diary. I was moved that so many people had been watching me from overseas. I had heard that Singapore assisted Japan in a special way in this disaster and I was able to discover it for myself during this trip. How well and how much we are supported and helped!
It humbles me to hear people say ‘You survived well’ or ‘Well done’. I don’t feel that way but I must keep going on this journey.
Report 44 - Saturday 3 December, flying from Fukuoka to Haneda
I am on my way back from Fukuoka for the fourth time. I will come back again next month. When people tell me that they support me or read my blog I am very grateful. It makes me aware that I am in a heartwarming network and I tell myself that I should do my best. This unimaginable, out-of-the-ordinary life of mine started on 11 March. I have been able to manage my busy schedule through many people’s prayers.
This path we have been on since March 11th will become a story of past memories although I don’t know how long that will take. I will look back then on the days I spent away from home and on how good people at the retreat centre and the area have been.
Just as there comes a time when baby birds leave their nests so some of our church members have gone to be with their families. Others have moved to live in their own accommodation. We all lost our homes and came here. Someday will we look back and talk about the time we spent together at the retreat centre?
How long will this journey go on? We all know that it will come to an end but there are times when we feel hopeless. We are at a third stage of saying goodbyes. I hoped we could go home once we left here but it has proved not to be the case.
We are about to celebrate Christmas and New Year as evacuees. We won’t be able to welcome our children and grandchildren to our home as we lost it. It feels as if we also lost that quality fellowship time with my family but I feel that there is nothing I can do about it.
The other day I saw someone walking slowly with his old dog. I felt envious of this ordinary act and felt a sense of loss. I felt sorry for my dear Papi who lives away from us. When I see parents and their children shopping, a mother cooking dinner in the kitchen or doing gardening in the sun, I miss those times that I had at home. Perhaps it is because it is this time of the year when we look back and reflect on what has happened throughout the year. I should be careful not to think negatively.
In order to shake off these feelings I’d like to go back to telling stories again. Someday I will tell my grandchildren of a monthly event at the retreat centre. City council workers would come when we least expected them to fumigate the centre against insects. I will tell this story jokingly. Once it had happened a few times we learnt to close the windows in our rooms when we saw them coming. As a leader I would go into our building and within seconds went right up to the third floor closing all the windows. I felt like a hero in a film doing this! I would come back down to ground level and give a satisfied smile when no one was watching me. This might be a bit scary for my grandchildren so maybe I should just seal it for good. I could tell them about the bells that ring every day announcing each meal. That is a good story!
Will there really come a day when I can tell my grandchildren and their children that we actually lived in an affected area when the great earthquake happened, that we escaped and travelled and suffered and were sad every day although there were some joyful events in between – tell them that it was an unbelievable experience?
At this time of the year when we can’t see our way ahead my imagination runs wild about things that might or might not happen. This brings me relaxation and a smile to my face. But I should keep going as if nothing like this happened.
Report 43 - Tuesday 22 Nov, in the bullet train on my way to Kyoto
It seems I am running out of steam in writing my diary. I am now adding to what I have written a while ago. It has been 8 months since the disaster and I am lacking in stamina.
I have been putting on weight as I speak at meetings in different parts of Japan and receive hospitality in each place. I get a little worried, wondering if I am outgrowing the image of an evacuee pastor who is supposed to look thin and tired. Immediately after the disaster I lost 9 kg but look at me now! I don’t think I can ask people to pray that I will stop putting on weight. I was pleased that I was able to lose so much weight but I feel sad now that it has all been wasted. I am grateful, though, for all the good food that I receive. I am feeling sad and glad at the same time.
These kind of mixed feelings have been with me since the disaster. The new building is going to be a good one and I am glad about that. But when I am asked why it has to be built when our new church is still there I get sad. The plan of this new church building is based on an image of a bird with its wings open, heading home, and storing its energy before it flies off. It is just as I imagined. But when people ask me if I can really give up our church that still stands next to the troubled nuclear power station, then suddenly I go back to asking why.
We have come this far so we should move forward without grumbling. Of course it is sad that our favourite church is closed. However it is wonderful that a new one will be born as a result of the disaster. How many more “sad and glad” occasions are we going to have?
At one of the meetings in Fukuoka, three members of Fukushima First Bible Baptist Church got together. One couple had travelled from Yamaguchi. Someone else drove two hours from Oita. They have been scattered so far. This unexpected reunion brought joy and sadness at the same time. It seems that I am still to tread this path of mixed feelings. I may have to ask you to pray that I won’t be broken along the way.
Report 42 – 10th Nov (flying from Haneda to Fukuoka)
It’s Sunday night and I am on my way back to the retreat centre in Tokyo. The day after tomorrow I will go into the restricted zone wearing protective gear. Every time I go home I am staggered to see the desolation of the area and of my home. I am sure many people are completely disappointed. I wish it was all a dream and that I could have the old days back again, relaxing in my living room with my newspaper. This is far from coming true any time soon.
I am fed up with having to fill my days completing compensation papers and getting on with admin procedures as an evacuee. How much energy do I have to spend on things I shouldn’t really have to do?
The disaster came at the end of winter and now another winter is approaching. I will concentrate on building the apartment house for the elderly who lost their homes and those who are not well. It might not be a bad thing to work hard as I fear I will fall into depths of despair if I stop and think too deeply. Perhaps God is at work on those days when quick decisions have to be made one after another and immediate action has to be taken.
Many people are concerned about my well being but I keep well. One of the reasons for this is that I have so much to do.
The building project I am taking on this time is the 10th project since I became a pastor at the age of 25. I feel like asking God whether I am an architect or a building project manager! When the church building was completed 3 years ago I decided that it would be my last one. I poured all my strength into it. However God’s plans don’t match mine and we never know what will happen next. Here I am tackling another church project including, for the first time, an apartment block. After the disaster situations surrounding my family life and my ministry changed dramatically.
Although I have never applied for a bank loan in previous building projects it is different this time. Eight church buildings were built in faith through what was given. But the disaster has created an emergency. A church building and apartment block are needed urgently. I feel that God is inviting us to take a step of faith when we have no funds. We have been living with the unexpected since March 11th and even though eight months have passed I can’t get used to the out-of-the-ordinary and am often easily surprised.
On the other hand I feel God will make a way because He has done so in the past whenever we were in need. The other day, when it seemed impossible in terms of procedure and timing, permission was granted by a city official. So it is a succession of joy and pain which is not really good for my heart. I am grateful to God as well as to those at the city office.
I thought the children were doing well but the other night I heard stories of children who cry at night as they lie on their futon. They are obviously hurting because they suddenly lost their schools and friends and now have to change schools every so often. I should have known better. Everyone is deeply hurt.
My dog has also been suffering. Because my wife and I are away so much these days I decided to leave him with my son. He seems to be cared for by others when my son is not home. I am grateful to those who look after him but I feel sorry for him. He came to us 13 years ago so he is getting old, suffering from cataracts and hearing loss. I wonder how the days since the disaster appear to him, changing where he lives and now being away from us.
The other day in my busy schedule I went see him for 30-40 minutes. I opened the door and called him but he didn’t respond. He went to my son, and just stared at me as if I was a stranger. He seemed to be hurt and I felt sad. The way he behaved towards me had never happened before and it told me what a painful path he had been treading. “I am sorry Papi (he is a Papillon), please forgive me. It’s the disaster.” But his look didn’t change. As I closed the door and looked back I felt as if he was saying, “Don’t say those empty words to me. You are leaving me again. I am not going to be hurt any more. I am not going to open my heart to you.”
I knew afresh that the disaster tears away any ties that we have.
“To my dear Papi - I am so sorry, Papi. Please wait for me. I am not going to leave you. It’s the disaster. Don’t look at me like that. Forget your doubt. I will come to fetch you. Stay well until then. Come and hug me then. I will hug you back and catch up with the times that I wasn’t able to. I will spoil you. We’ll live together just as we did before the disaster. Be patient. Don’t forget me. From your Daddy.” O well, he won’t be able to read my letter.
I started writing this part of my diary on November 1st but then left it. Sorry for uploading it so late. It has been 10 days since I started writing. I am on my way to Saga, Kyushu. If it was pickled vegetables, so loved by Tohoku people, it would have gone sour having been left for so long.
Report 41 – Oct 25th (Okinawa)
I am in Okinawa. The sunset yesterday was breathtaking. It’s my second visit here since the disaster and I have spoken at six meetings in five days. On Sunday afternoon I spoke in a park and many people listened for which I am grateful.
I feel it is my task to keep talking about my experiences. Right after the disaster people went about their daily business as usual. It felt strange to watch TV programs where they tried to make people laugh. In my head I could understand that traumatic situations like this needed laughter, but I felt sad, empty and left behind at that time.
I still can’t make out the meaning of what has happened to us. During my visit to Chicago I listened to a report on severe disasters today. It said that even when we take into consideration the fact that news gets around quickly and widely due to modern communication technologies, natural disasters are getting more serious year by year. I hear that the recent floods in Thailand are affecting exports to Japan and car manufacturing. A natural disaster in one area has a significant impact on other parts of the world in different ways.
Are the trials we are going through a forerunner of the Great Tribulation? An example of how a pastor and a church deal with disaster when it strikes suddenly? My wife and I have often talked about how other pastors would handle what we have been going through. We desperately want to ask them. We wonder whether we are going through the present trial for the benefit of others in the future.
I go back to Tokyo this evening. Tomorrow I go to Fukushima by night train following a TV interview in order to finalize the contract for a plot of land to build our church. At the moment I am looking at a sunset through a sea of clouds from my aeroplane window. Last week I watched a very clear sunset as I drove back from Fukushima to Tokyo. However sad I may have felt looking at sorrowful views, God has painted beautiful pictures in front of us. So I shall look up to the sky instead of looking down. When we can’t find a way out we ought to look up high.
Most days in our lives are uneventful. Do we give sufficient thanks to God for those days? Or do we take things for granted and busy ourselves with what we think we ought to do? Was the disaster something out of the ordinary or was it our life which we took for granted that was abnormal?
I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber not sleep.
The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Ps. 121 1-8)
Report 40 - Saturday 15th Oct in a train on the Chuo line
After arriving at Narita airport I went straight on a ministry trip. In between visits and meetings I went to Fukushima. I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I would have liked with the church members at the retreat centre. I wonder how the apostles in the early church managed their time as they faced persecution, dealt with believers personal issues, kept the church going and spread the gospel.
Just as Nagasaki and Hiroshima survivors have continued to speak about their experiences of the bombs throughout their lives, so I feel it is my duty to share what I saw and felt as pastor of the nearest church to the First Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant which has become as well known as Chernobyl. Now that the date is set for us to leave Tokyo the urgent issue is finding accommodation and building our church. Will we have enough funds? Will the church be built? Our church life at present consists of 50-60 people living together without any privacy. It is hard to tell how things will develop.
The disaster shook my life up six months ago and it continues to shake it. Since then life has moved forward at extremely high speeds. Will this drama end someday? I suppose there is nothing that doesn’t have an ending.
Many people are concerned about the financial situation of the church and I am grateful for that. Our church members have been scattered. About a quarter of us will return to Fukushima. I feel like a samurai who lost the battle and escaped to the countryside with his mates. When we left Fukushima there were 60 or70 of us. We ran away and found a place to survive. Now 40 or 50 of us hope to return.
Sometimes I wonder whether it was the right decision to journey together as a church. We had to make an on-the-spot decision with no time for careful planning or reflection and it seems that we are still being pushed on and moving on.
I should say that I am tired but there is no time for that. Someone cautioned me that I will develop cancer. Another person told me that if you cope positively with stress, cancer will flee. I don’t know who is right. All I can do is keep moving forward. We are still on a journey.
After the disaster none of the church staff (pastor, assistant pastors or other workers) received a salary, and rightly so, as almost all our church members had lost their homes and jobs. Then we received 50%, and now 75%. One worker still receives nothing, just donations from people outside our church. Every month we are 400,000yen (US$5,000) in the red. This is part of what we have to carry because of the disaster.
Still, our church survived and is still alive. It may be lying on its side or flying with one wing. It may be a sight to look at. I can’t hope that my church will fly away or be restored to its original shape. But we will survive. The Lord will give us something to look forward to as we move on.
I have been speaking at various meetings, especially about the new church building and making trips to Fukushima and I’m sorry to say that my pastoral ministry has been suffering. But this kind of busyness has its own rhythm and doesn’t feel so bad.
So I will carry on being busy although I don’t know how long it will last. When I get to the end a view will unfold which I will look forward to. I will let you know what I see then. My life has taken a really unexpected turn. It certainly isn’t boring.
Report 39 - Saturday 8th October (on flight home from Chicago)
I am on the flight home after a very busy trip to Los Angeles and Chicago.
My assistant pastor visits church members who are living as evacuees in different parts of Japan. People call this a ‘Gangan Tour’ – a non-stop trip, packed full of activity. He leaves early in the morning and travels to Gunma, Saitama, Tochigi, Ibaraki and Fukushima prefectures returning after midnight. I can’t believe the distances he drives. I couldn’t do it and always think how tough he must be. But this trip to the US has been just as hard as that.
Arriving at Los Angeles airport we headed straight to our first meeting. After speaking at Saddleback Church in the evening we drove to the airport and flew to Chicago. I was able to sleep for 3 hours on the plane. Then from the airport we went to a meeting which started at 6:30am. I spoke at 12 meetings in 4 days. In between meetings I was interviewed and spoke to reporters. I am grateful for all the opportunities: small meetings as well as large ones, meetings for Japanese and for Americans. Thanks to everyone’s prayers I am on my way home again.
This trip was full of the encounters which the disaster brought us. The purpose of the trip was to speak about my experience of the disaster and to discuss my book which records how we survived. It was also to ask for support for the new church building. We have plans for the church building but not enough funds.
We discovered that there are hurdles to clear in publishing a Japanese book in America. My talks have been given through translators and this has a different feel for me.
Every path has its own challenges which have to be tackled. Is the Lord there helping us through? I remember my grandchild following his mother on hands and knees everywhere she went. “Are we following you like that child, Lord? Where are we on the path you set for us? Are we walking at the right pace? Are we really going to put up the church building? Will all the financial needs be met?” I think we will continue to ask the Lord these questions as we follow on down this path.
On October 6th the news reached us in America that my book about the disaster will be published in Korea on 5th November. We had just finished our meeting at Tyndale. It was such great timing and made us rejoice and cry. We may be dismayed but it seems that the Lord leads us to dance at those times when we are surprised and in awe of him. I guess we ought to dance on the palm of God’s hand.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time…… no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Eccles. 3:11
Report 38, 29 September, at Izumo
I thought I had shed enough tears to cover my whole life but it has proved otherwise. The time has come to say goodbye to the brothers and sisters we have lived and shared with in the retreat center and I can’t help feeling sad. I fear that I will lose everybody at this rate, but I try not to be pessimistic.
Our brothers and sisters in Fukushima are waiting for us to come home but before we return there are some more goodbyes to be said. In the past week three people have left, some to their families, others to Niigata and Kyushu. Those who have found jobs in Tokyo will stay here.
I always thought that half of life is filled with happiness and the other half with sadness. But it seems that we have a greater amount of suffering. Is it that in the midst of suffering we have some happiness?
A sister who joined us right after the disaster got baptized here and left for Niigata. We met a brother for the first time as we were on this journey. He is a carpenter and has been able to mend many things at the retreat centre. Many past skills and experiences have been put to use as we have lived here together. This brother just happened to join us so he came to the worship service and the Bible study. This has been one of the blessings of the disaster. I was moved when he said, in tears, that he would go to church in the next place he moves to. This is a crossroads where people’s lives intersect with each other.
A church member who served as an elder for many years has gone to live with her son. I am sad that our church seems to be torn apart. I should pray to the Lord for unity and protection of this flock on its journey.
So we have come to a point where we are making a turn-around. The new church building is based on the image of a bird looking towards its home but first stopping to rest and take stock of its energy levels before flying on. We shall start with about 50 people, a quarter of what it used to be. We are feeling tired and hurt from our long journey. Will we be restored as the scripture below describes?
I would like to thank all those who watch us and have walked with us. Our new church building will symbolize the unity of prayer from all over Japan and from around the world. We were able to buy the plot of land it will be built on using generous donations through this website and other offerings. I am grateful for that.
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31
Report 37 – September 10th on the way from Kumamoto to Saga
I wonder how many times I am to experience God’s miracles. He seems to work when we hit obstacles - dying to self is followed by resurrection.
On August 18th I started to look for a place to worship in Fukushima. We were very discouraged at not being able to find one but then were led to purchase a plot of land where we will build a church hall and apartment block.
It is only two months since the church decided to go back to Fukushima. Those who have evacuated with us to Tokyo will decide for themselves whether they want to return at this time or not. Within two weeks of starting to visit Estate Agents the decision was made. I never thought it would happen as quickly as this! Joshua and Caleb went ahead of the people of Israel to spy out the Promised Land. Did God also lead us as a scouting team? My wife and I were the first to go to Fukushima but were very discouraged when we were turned down again and again. The reality hit us very hard.
If we couldn’t find anywhere to rent then we couldn’t look for accommodation for church members. We considered some property including one that had previously been a pinball gaming center but nothing had worked out. This led us to the decision to buy a plot of land. I never thought that I would embark on building our church again. This time we feel we are also being led to build an apartment block for the elderly and sick. The Lord has led us this far so I should press on with all my strength.
To be honest I am surprised at this development. We will move to an area as close as we can get to the still restricted zone. We will live and pray there waiting and watching for the time we will be allowed in. The theme of our new church building will be Prayer and Resurrection. From there we will pray for the resurrection of our home land. Has God not led us with pillars of cloud just as a little child would follow his parents?
The search for a church site and accommodation for church members has been very dramatic. A plot of land has been found. Accommodation for church members which at first seemed non-existent has begun to materialize. A real estate agent told me that after we started to make inquiries property began to become available one after another in the space of one to two weeks. I thought this kind of thing happened regularly, but apparently not.
I feel God is at work, and the power of prayer. I was reminded of Abraham’s servant and the searching process as he looked for a wife for his master’s son. I can only think that God prepared all that we needed beforehand so that we were able to find what we needed in a mere two weeks.
Until we got to that point I almost gave up many times. When I was about to lose hope on that desirable plot of land we received the good news that the owner was willing to sell. I would like to ask God to show us the road map in advance so that we could see the way ahead more clearly. This would be good for the heart. But if that was the case I wouldn’t feel this sense of wonder and closeness to God. Perhaps faith requires us to believe without seeing.
The next hurdles are getting the funds and clearing the red tape. Please pray. We will continue to depend on the One who has led us this far as He has made a way for us in the desert.
Lord, you parted the Red Sea and rescued your people and you have allowed us to experience wonders too. We are overwhelmed. In our suffering, we thank you Lord for every exciting blessing you have sent.
Report 36 – August 30th
Three years ago we put up a new church building which should last for 100 years. It took many meetings but eventually this chapel made of reinforced concrete and with the theme of eternity was completed. Is it going to just stand there not in use?
Once a week I commute 400-500km to Fukushima to go round Real Estate Agents looking for a suitable place to worship. I must admit that at times I wonder why I am doing this but I suppose it is the path that God has prepared for me, going as far as I can, doing whatever I can.
I never imagined that I would be looking for a place to worship. Reality hits hard. Every site that I have had an eye on hasn’t worked out. I am starting to feel depressed. Will we be able to worship in Fukushima next spring?
It is even harder trying to find accommodation for church members who wish to return to Fukushima. I have never visited so many real estate agents in my life. Rental property is scarce. Some estate agents won’t even see me when they discover I’m an evacuee. Others advise me not to come back. One agent said that the rent for evacuees would be 90,000 yen when it is normally 60,000 yen. I was sad and angry at the same time.
I remember a story that a female evacuee told. She had moved to another prefecture and fell ill. When she went to hospital she was made to wait outside. Why did she have to be treated like that when she needed medical attention? I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I imagined her standing alone outside the hospital door. Why should we be treated like this? Are we unclean just like the land around our homes? I can’t stop complaining that electricity generated at the First Fukushima nuclear power plant was sent to the Kanto area.
I heard another story from a church member who lived within a 3km radius of the power plant. She went to the city office of the prefecture she had escaped to in order to register. She was asked whether she had come to receive relief goods. Are we to be stripped of our dignity? We are not beggars. We each had jobs and paid taxes. What brought us to the position we are in today? I hear that evacuees’ houses are being targeted by burglars. Some are told not to park their cars because they have Fukushima registration plates. Is this the only way that we are allowed to live? It is painful to know how much suffering this disaster has caused.
“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Ps 119:71
A Japanese translation uses ‘despised’ instead of ‘afflicted’. The Bible says that it is even good to be despised. There was an iris park near my home in the evacuated area. The flowers are planted in a muddy pond fed by black water that produces beautiful blossoms. I see us taking root in a chaotic land that allows beautiful yellow and purple flower to bloom.
Please pray that God will keep me in this decision I have made. Pray also that the Lord will strengthen me even more as things get tough, just as he did Paul.
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Phil 4:13
Report 35 – August 27th (Sapporo)
Your prayers are much appreciated. It seems that the time has come for the pillars of fire and cloud to appear. We are going to go back to Fukushima, our fourth turn-around since leaving in March. Our four chapels are in the evacuation zone and are still off limits and our homes are still lost to us. However many of our brothers and sisters have been waiting for us to come home. Fukushima First Bible Baptist Church needs to worship in Fukushima, not anywhere else. So we have decided that we should return as close as possible to where we were and join our brothers and sisters who are there. We would like to actually see our home church and then consider the next step.
After the Exodus Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert of Sinai for 40 years eventually reaching a place that was the final step before the Promised Land. In a similar way we will return to temporary accommodation in a place that is one step from our homeland and will wait for the right time to return home. I have no idea where that is or where we will meet to worship together. It seems that we will always be travelers on this earth.
I have heard that the real estate market is in confusion and there are no apartments available to rent in Fukushima. However, despite the uncertainties and anxieties we have made a decision and what we need to do now is to press on. I need to find accommodation for those who wish to return, and a place to worship. In order to do that, my time will now be spent on frequent trips between Fukushima and Tokyo. We need to move by the end of the year or by spring at the latest. As I venture into this new task of finding places to live for my brothers and sisters and a place of worship it certainly won’t be boring! Please pray for me. I will make sure to take care of my back as I drive.
‘So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes. 18 Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so arousing his anger. 19 I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me. 20 And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. 21 Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain. 22 You also made the LORD angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah. (Deut. 9:17-22)
Report 34 – August 18th, in Fukuoka
It is easy to tell if we are in a life-or-death situation by the way we look. Immediately after the disaster we travelled in 15 cars. Someone became ill so I rushed to a police station to ask for petrol. I probably appeared to be in a life-or-death situation.
We still can’t see the end of the road. There seem to be more mountains to conquer. Will we be able to persevere? After 40 years in the desert the Bible says of Moses, “his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” (Deut. 34:7) Without these qualities he could not have completed the journey.
When sports players retire they often say that they don’t have the mental energy or stamina that is needed any more. I think of the level of energy they need to constantly stay in competition, pushing on even when they feel they are at an end of themselves. This experience allows them to say that they have no regrets when they retire.
Against the background of the athletic races that gave birth to the Olympics, Paul can say in the Bible that he too has been running a race. There was also the race of believers, turning a new page as the church was born and grew. I think of their suffering as they did so. I don’t know whether Paul was naturally gifted in these areas or if the Lord gave him the strength and skills that he needed along the way.
Our forerunners during the Meiji Era had these qualities. Perhaps the Lord has been instilling them in us as we travel through the present whirlwind. As I anticipate this I feel I will be able to see a road sign leading to hope for the future.
Report 33 – August 6th
I am on board a JAL flight after my week in Hokkaido.
A member of staff from a publishing company was with me and we had seven meetings between Monday and Friday. How many more events will there be which I would never have experienced if I hadn’t gone through that disaster? This was my first time to speak at a series of meetings using one sermon, and with a publisher. As we started to sell my book after the meetings I was reminded of singers who do the same thing when they promote new songs.
I was surprised that so many people showed interest and came and listened. I spoke for one hour using a visual presentation. I remembered the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saying that they had a responsibility to tell their stories as long as they lived. I am a pastor, but I have never felt such a conviction to speak our story. I often wonder whether I would have had this experience if I hadn’t been a pastor.
Jesus told Peter that in his later years he would go where he didn’t want to go. None of us wanted to live away from home not knowing when we would be able to return. We are all living at present where we wouldn’t choose to live and are putting up with what is given to us. In the time of Jesus many were tested through persecution. Is faith perhaps nurtured when we allow ourselves to be put where we don’t want to be? If so, we are surely in God’s hand.
Why does God allow His people to journey on rough roads through wars, volcanic eruptions, financial scares and unusual climate patterns? Is it to teach us that we are aliens in this world, only living here temporarily?
Is it God’s plan that through separation from family, through job loss, accidents and other incidents, we come before Him gritting our teeth and trying to find a way out? Has the disaster maybe been a jumping board to bring us closer to God?
Report 32 - uploaded on 7 August, on the way back from a church in Yurigaoka
I am going to Hokkaido tomorrow. Looking back I realize that I have done much travelling in my ministry. This has been one way that the Lord has prepared me for my life now as an evacuee.
Life is a journey. So we ought to rejoice in what the Lord gives us along the way. We have been on the road since March 11th when the disaster struck. It would be so sad if there was no meaning to our journey.
Perhaps I have been too preoccupied thinking about whether we have arrived at our destination. What moves us is the process: how people faced adversity, and how they stood up again after many tears. I feel that God is watching over us as we fall, stand up and walk again. He keeps an eye on us in those times when we tremble as well as when we rejoice.
I find it difficult when I am asked about my future prospects. I have begun to think that even when what we wish for doesn’t come true, the journey itself has meaning and is worthwhile. We are stretched to the limit so many times but we journey on, looking to God and clinging to Him.
When will this journey end? How long do we have to live like this? Why does God set us on this earthly journey when He has chosen his heavenly home as our destination? Truly, the length of the journey is not the issue, nor how well one has done according to worldly standards.
This could be part of a program for Kingdom Living, God leading us on through our earthly journey as we try to follow him even though at times we feel lost.
Lord, I sense your gaze on us as we continue this journey, recognizing that there is so much we don’t understand, yet trying to hold on to the little that we do.
Report 31 - after midnight Friday 22 July, in the train back from Kawasaki
I feel as though something is driving me. Right after the disaster I felt lost and afraid as if everything had come to an end. Then at some point it was as if a switch was turned on inside me and things started to move. Perhaps it was God.
At first, all my energy was spent in finding food and accommodation. But now my role is as a witness - as someone who escaped and survived the disaster. Was it the Lord who pulled me away from looking within to sharing our experience with the outside world? My role is also like that of a carrier pigeon, bringing a breeze of fresh air to my church.
It still feels unreal to me to be on a journey like this. We each had to escape the disaster.
Maybe our story would be good material for a children’s book. In a country as advanced as Japan our group of believers had to drive across snowy mountains in 15 cars with little to eat. We were forced out of our homes and our town. We had multiple funerals and baptisms. It is like a modern day Exodus. Perhaps they could publish it with the words, ‘An unbelievable story of a miraculous journey’. It might be suitable for a film or stage production. I hope the story has a happy ending.
I would like the ending to be an exciting one full of surprises. The tears shed will all be gone as the audience smiles and looks at each other, amazed and satisfied by God’s plan. There will be a standing ovation. I can see us smiling and laughing. Much time will be spent in this happy ending.
Am I only imagining this? Can it ever happen? We need a joy that fills all our sorrows. So I shall imagine the ending that no one would think of. There are many possibilities and I’ll enjoy it.
I wonder if I will lose my balance if I imagine this too much or laugh too much. But perhaps God will go beyond my imaginings and do something extraordinary.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer. 29:11
Report 30 – 19th July (on board a Delta flight, somewhere over the Pacific)
I arrived in the US on July 11th and held 9 meetings at different churches in Atlanta and Los Angeles - Japanese, immigrant Japanese, and American. One of the reasons for this trip was to look at some possibilities for publishing my new Japanese book in English.
In meeting so many people on this first trip since March 11th I have discovered how widely our website has been read. When the disaster happened and we had to make the decision to leave home I felt as if I was groping in the dark. It was a lonely experience. Fear overwhelmed me, just like the engulfing of the triple disaster, leaving me alone.
Amidst this, an internet tool connected us to the world. This series of reports began with my letter to the chairman of my church group asking for urgent prayer. It quickly crossed over to other denominations and then over national boundaries and was beyond anything that I could have imagined.
On this trip I have come to know how real it was. To hear that readers of this blog were watching us and supporting us was as unbelievable as the reality of the disaster itself. The brother who managed our site told me that the access counter went up to 200,000 at its peak. I could hardly believe this.
Still, it encouraged us. We knew that we weren’t alone or forgotten and this trip to the US has confirmed that. How many people, both Japanese and American, have told me that they met me on the net!
After the disaster all our strength was spent on surviving. Something drove me to find a little time here and there to write the report on my PC. An obsession similar to fear had come over me so that I had to record these extraordinary experiences. They were constantly changing and I didn’t want to forget. This turned into a sense of duty as if it were my job.
Now I feel that it was right to feel that I might forget the pain, tears, fears and joys of each moment and I was so eager to record it.
Another reason that I kept writing my blog was the presence of the readers who watched us and shared in our sorrows and joys. It was just like a performance on stage which loses its meaning without an audience. The readers have given me strength and have helped me to move forward. Of course we are not a spectacle but I have valued the sense of so many people all over the world watching over us and cheering us on and this has kept me from feeling alone.
It reminds me of the painting where Jesus returns with a host of saints from heaven. We were surrounded by God’s people just like this painting.
I was moved to know that so many Japanese and Americans had been thinking of us, praying for us and supporting us, far away across the sea in the vast land of America. I heard that many churches prayed in tears and gave generously. This happened at the time of the Haiti earthquake as well. I felt ashamed as I didn’t have prayer meetings or pray for the victims with tears.
Peter teaches us to rejoice as we participate in the suffering of Christ (1 Peter 4:13). I was encouraged to meet so many people who have shared, and keep on sharing, in our suffering. I am very grateful.
I came to see that one of the differences between this disaster and the one in the Kobe area 16 years ago, is that victims wrote of their experiences and messages went out through the internet just as it happened. There were people who responded to these directly, forming a network to help each one in their needs.
This has proved to be my own experience. The grass roots expanded across the sea to the US. One letter asking for urgent prayer turned into multiple networks which surround us. These have encircled us and healed us, like waves as powerful as the disaster itself.
Thank you, again.
Report 29 (started on 25 June, and finished on 5 July)
Our grandchild was born this morning. I heard the news in Mito - Sunday morning, 8.15. Her name is Mahiru, which means ‘bright daylight’ and is taken from Proverbs 4:18, ‘The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.’ They hope that this child will brighten those around her. As we are still suffering from the disaster may this child shine as the light. This is great news these days when I often feel discouraged.
I’ve heard that a noodle shop at the south end of our home town, which now looks like a ghost town, has re-opened. I suppose the owner wanted it to be the first of others who will do the same. This is good news to many who are scattered all over Japan, bringing hope in the midst of heaviness. I wish this shop well.
I hope that many will follow in his steps and reopen their shops and restaurants and that it will encourage those who had lost any hope of returning to go back. Our home town will be full of people again. Lights are back. Cars are running again. Is this an impossible dream?
I want to keep hoping. There are good signs. Radiation levels in the air are decreasing daily. Main roads are open allowing some cars to drive there. Although this kind of news is still rare we have come this far and can put our hope in the good news that we have had.
Jesus was born in repressive times too. The birth of our Saviour gave light to the world as it was then and was a great encouragement and hope for the future. Being ruled by Rome must have brought different kinds of disagreement and disharmony between those who supported Roman rule and those who did not. Economic sluggishness must have made people feel helpless, resigned and hopeless. They must have wished that the Romans would go. As the situation continued people must have got more tired, driving them to their limits. Jesus was born into a complex world situation as the Light that shines in the darkness.
A baby has been born into my family. In the midst of an anxious world may this baby’s smile give light to people.
Let us welcome Jesus into our hearts giving light to us and leading us into
the world that is promised in the Bible.
Report 28 – July 2nd
I am grateful for all your support and prayers. I am in Toyama now and have been unable to update my blog. Instead, I would like to share with you a new tract that I have written, with the permission of the publisher. I hope this will be used to spread the Gospel.
Light shining through darkness
There is a church which is situated within a 5km radius of the Fukushima First Nuclear Power Plant. Members of this church experienced the earthquake, tsunami and explosions at the Power Plant. They have been scattered throughout Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and subjected to life as evacuees. What have they seen and experienced through these extremely difficult three months?
Is this a nightmare?
The Great East Japan Earthquake happened on March 11th. This was also my birthday. Our peaceful daily life was utterly changed by the earthquake and tsunami and by the accidents that followed at the Nuclear Power Plant. Everyone, from the very young to the very old, had to leave their home. One person was loaded on to a military truck and driven for 12 hours clinging to her seat and trying not to fall. They arrived at a rescue centre where food and blankets were scarce.
Nobody ever imagined a non-stop survival trip like this which would take us away from our ordinary life. Church members and non-church members - a group of us from the same area stepped out on a journey not knowing where it would lead us.
Fukushima Fist Baptist Church
Before World War II missionaries from America came to Fukushima and started a church. According to Baptist tradition, it was named Fukushima First Bible Baptist Church. We were there when the Nuclear Power Plant was built. But now we are unable to go home. We are looking forward to the day when we can stand on the field and mountain that we miss so much and admire the land we love.
As the church situated next to the Nuclear Power Plant, we continuously pray for employees there who are working so hard to solve the problems, and for their families.
Our hearts are troubled, but still…
Although we left home with neither a change of clothes nor enough money, our conversations were full of gratitude for the food and clothes that we were provided with. We were moved to tears by the kindness of people we met. At the first rescue centre a number of us slept in one big room but we were still thankful that futons were provided. It moved us when we were given hot meals for the first time in five days.
Then we realized that we don’t need so much in life. Many people helped us. We started to think that perhaps we had gained more than we had lost. We were carried by God’s love and peoples’ generosity. We have suffered but we have gained much happiness.
We have been living in temporary shelters for over four months now. There is a harsh reality to be faced. Companies have stopped trading, people have lost jobs and there is a level of fatigue that is beyond what we can cope with. Those who are living with relatives are sensing a change in attitude.
Last year, there was an accident at a coal mine in Chile. All the miners were rescued from 700m underground. An elderly miner read the Bible every day and encouraged the others to have hope in God. So let us believe in God and join our hearts and our strength to overcome the present situation. When we are in tears let’s cry until they dry up and we can stand and walk again.
The God of the Bible is familiar with pain
The Bible tells us that the Saviour Jesus saw our suffering. He did not leave us there but became one with us in it. Jesus wept with those who wept, and He mourned with those who mourned. Jesus was ‘a man of sorrows and familiar with grief.’
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Once when I was at a rescue centre and was about to bring relief goods to another centre I was overwhelmed and had to go outside. I realized how hurt I was. A drowning man can’t save another drowning man.
Only God can save us when we feel that we are drowning. God loves us so much that He sent His only son Jesus to us. Jesus forgave the sin of mortal man on the cross. He came to save us.
Jesus came to this dark world which is full of pain and suffering and became the light that shines out and leads the way. I would like to invite you to receive Jesus in your heart, as the Saviour of the suffering world.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Mt. 11:28
You might like to pray with me:
Heavenly Father, Protect those who are suffering
in the disaster affected areas. Turn all the pain to joy. I open my heart to
you. Come into my heart. I welcome Jesus into my heart as my Saviour. Lighten
the darkness in this world. Forgive my sin. Amen.
Report 27 – 18th June (Osaka)
It is three months now since the disaster and it seems that this is the hardest time. Someone said to me that it is like running the marathon at full speed. On the day of the disaster we wouldn’t have survived if we had not been going at full speed. However we soon reach our limits if we keep going at that pace. How long did we run at full speed? Have we changed down a gear to a slower pace or are we still going at full speed?
Report 26 - Tuesday 7 June (in the bullet train from Kakegawa)
Moses was born in Egypt, a Jew who was miraculously taken into the royal family and educated by them. He lived in Egypt for the first 40 years of his life and was then driven into exile. He spent his next 40 years in the wilderness. Then in the third stage of his life, he spectacularly led his people out of Egypt. This was the climax of his life. I have often wondered why God did not allow him to enter the Promised Land at the end of his life.
Sixty of us had to leave our home town and have journeyed for 3 months. I now feel that this journey is a complete story in itself.
The energy and ability given to each person in life has limitations. A journey has to end somewhere. The task God gives to each person might not be so big. Moses led his people out of Egypt, and their journey ends. The task of leading this people into the Promised Land, of getting them settled and solving their problems was given to someone else. Moses accomplished his task in his last 40 years, at least from God’s perspective.
We are each born in a certain time and place. We accomplish our tasks and complete our journey in the context of that time and place. I wonder if this is what God has for us. When I tell myself that Moses accomplished enough in his life I feel some strength coming back to me.
Our journey this time is complete. It has more than enough stories. But I want it to end. When it ends, Lord, will we still have the strength to rebuild our church and our town?
During the Korean War a pastor in his early 30’s left Pyongyang and the threat of the north and headed south with 100 believers. There were many encounters and many farewells on the journey which was hard and severe and he was unable to see many of the believers again. He arrived in Seoul and a life of survival began as he looked for accommodation and food for 100 people.
The church which started there was greatly used. The hardships were turned into blessings, the many trials experienced, and how hard they had been became like a coiled spring for the next steps in life producing grateful and content hearts.
I want us to stop complaining and thinking negatively and to move forward.
I am on a bullet train now. A journey always has a beginning and an ending. We are simply in the middle, heading towards the end. Past, present and future are on the one railway track. We may not feel it, but we are moving forward. When we are unable to get off the train we must stay put. We will wait in expectation even though sometimes we may be impatient. Maybe one day we will tell our grandchildren or great-grandchildren stories of this experience. I wonder if anyone is interested in making a film using this as the opening scene. Should it ever happen we will need to persevere and not be ashamed to be used as characters. The effort of looking good might be useful in gaining inner strength.
The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
1 Sam 16:1
Report 25 - Monday 30 March, in the bullet train on the way to Kyoto
Yesterday I met a couple I hadn’t seen for 2½ months who are members of my church. They told me that they wake up every morning wondering if they are dreaming. I also wonder sometimes if a dream could last as long as this. Who could ever have imagined that as many as 70,000 people would be driven from their homes? Or that more than 20,000 families living within a 20-30km radius of the Fukushima nuclear power plant would be forced to live as evacuees. And us among them.
During the sermon on Sunday March 6th, five days before the disaster, I said that if an earthquake such as the one that had just happened in New Zealand were to happen in our Tohoku area it would take more than a year or two to recover. My daughter realized this as she listened to her sermon recently. I was surprised when she told me as I didn’t remember saying that.
It’s amazing timing that my book ‘God is at work in good times, as well as bad times’ was published right after the disaster. I wrote it long before the disaster struck. I hear that it is in the hands of many people because of the title. The subtitle ‘He works beyond our assumptions’ seems to have an even greater impact. In fact, I first wanted to have that as the main title. I must say that I feel the hand of the Greater One in these things.
I have shared about the dream my wife had repeatedly for more than 20 years, where all the church members were travelling on a bus. The new church building was put up in 2008 and is meant to last for 100 years. I was very upset at first, asking why we should have to close it when we had only used it for 2½ years. However now I think it was better to be in it than in the old building which wouldn’t have protected us in an earthquake. The new building project started when we had leaks in the ceiling when it rained, and went on for 5 years. We all wanted a building that would withstand any disaster. Now we are starting to see that the Lord had been preparing us in this way.
I look forward to the day when all the puzzles are solved, one by one to the very last piece. I truly wish that that day will come soon and I will be able to feel that all this heaviness and wondering have gone.
I shall blame this haste in my heart to the bullet train I am on right now. Looking at the finger prints of God here and there I tell my heart that all is well, ‘Everything is going to be fine’. This is our catch phrase.
‘This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength’ Is. 30:15
Report 24 – Sunday May 22 (flying from Fukuoka to Haneda)
We have entered a perseverance race. No one imagined that our lives as evacuees would last this long. We escaped to rescue centers and then moved to a place where we could stay longer. But it is still not normal. Our journey towards normality continues. It is an endurance race. I wish it had ended half a month ago.
Many of our visitors tell us to have a good rest. Do I look so tired? We need to be careful not to be flat out but we don’t have a living room where we can relax. There have been times when people visited us in the early morning but it’s a different story when it happens every day. How long will this abnormal life last?
Our hope is in Genesis and Revelation where we see the beginning and the end. Our journey must have an end. God is eternal, but the world He created has a beginning and an end. We are taking steps towards the end that God has determined for us.
It is two and a half months now since our journey started so suddenly and it is time for a change of gear. Each family has to move on from survival mode according to their own physical and mental needs. It is no longer a sprint, but a marathon. We need to change gear in our hearts.
After the events of the exodus Moses and the Israelites had to change gear into a life that was to last 40 years (Exodus 18). I am not saying that our journey will last 40 years but it is certainly not going to end soon.
The Israelites complained that they wanted to eat onions and garlic. They missed their life in Egypt. They must have experienced a lot of stress as they escaped from Egypt and many things happened in the community.
We are in need of extra-ordinary perseverance and wisdom as the following verses tell us. Please pray that the Lord would grant these.
‘You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.’ Heb. 10:36
‘Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ James 1:4
Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope (CRASH) is a network supporting Christians in relief work. CRASH Japan has been doing relief work in the areas that were affected by the disaster.
Our lives ‘crashed’ as they were brought to a sudden halt on March 11th.
Lord, help us, so that our hearts do not ‘crash’ also.
Report 23 – May 16 (travelling on Tohoku bullet train)
If Noah’s Ark was here today, or the early church in the dispersion, they would have internet as they travelled. I heard a story on the news. A Japanese man in Europe received a text message from one of his parents who was buried under rubble in the earthquake. He asked for help through the internet. This was seen by many Japanese in Japan and it led to the parent being rescued.
This sort of thing happened in our church too. Our assistant pastor sent out a daily devotional reading and we received news of who was safe and who was in which rescue centre. Right after the disaster we were able to get news of each member through our webpage. Church members were scattered in different places, but through this webpage, we were able to feel unity. We would never have believed where information that was posted there spread to.
The speed and extent to which it has spread has been beyond our imagining. The website has been read by people across both national and international borders and even in languages other than Japanese. At its peak there were over 200,000 hits a day.
I am extremely grateful for this. We are not alone. We were hit by an unexpected disaster but we haven’t been struggling alone. We are not forgotten. Many people are watching us and supporting us. We have been made aware of these watchful eyes which have surrounded, encouraged and strengthened us. I would like to thank each and every one. It has been like the wave of a second tsunami after the destruction of the first one.
A church member worshipped at our church this week after a break of two months. He went to a nearby church and someone he met there for the first time asked about his injured leg. It is amazing that someone had read about him and prayed for him.
It seems we have become known all over the world.
A couple from America came to the worship service yesterday for the first time. They became Christians and go to a local church over there. It was their first time to visit a Japanese church or to meet Japanese Christians. They told us that after the disaster many people in America read our website and watched our videos even though most of them don’t speak Japanese. How thankful I feel.
I had to ask why. They said that they had wondered why there was no news about churches or Christians among the victims. Perhaps there weren’t any Christians who were hurt or affected as they are such a small part of the total population in Japan (less than 1%)? They were surprised to find our website and to discover that a whole church had to evacuate from their home town and were sending out news in their struggle.
Now I was the one who was surprised!
My report on the church website started as an urgent call for prayer addressed to the chairman of my church group. When the disaster hit my wife and I were away from home so I asked for prayer that I would be able to see my church members as soon as possible. That email was put on Facebook and then spread and was seen by Christians and non-Christians alike. Since the disaster surprises have kept coming, one after another. But this still surprises me. I seem to need more training in this aspect.
To change the subject, our dear pet dog has also been affected by the disaster. He is a 14-year-old Papillion who weighs 2.7kg and has a bit of a cataract. He has been travelling with us. I want to say ‘well done’ to him. (And ‘Sorry, I haven’t been taking good care of you’.)
He was been with us since our children graduated from school and married and then for visits by our grandchildren. He must have expected to be rewarded with a quieter life but the disaster came and he has been travelling with us ever since. I wonder how he has been feeling over these past two months.
He came from Shizuoka and was raised in Tohoku, and has the persevering spirit which is characteristic of Tohoku. No matter what I ask he replies ‘Woof’. If this is his answer to whatever comes then he is a better man than me.
But it becomes doubtful if he doesn’t care. He may be thinking, ‘How long do I have be away from home?’ or ‘Why can’t we just go home!’
Whatever the case may be he has been with us every day and that is enough. Whatever he may be thinking, whatever he understands, he must have had a fair amount of stress. We are in the same boat. We have been on a journey, bearing it all whether we understand how it came to this point or not. He and we are in the same boat.
And as we see our Heavenly Father in this, is he saying ‘Well done through all the trials’?
Report 22 – May 11
I am grateful that many attended the meeting in Okinawa, as well as the one in Tokyo. I got interviewed by a secular sports paper the other day. Since the disaster I have been away from news on TV or papers but I am aware that news about the troubled power plant is at the top of it every time. I am not sure whether it is because of that or because of the unique situation my church is in but many people show an interest in us and walk beside us for which I am thankful.
I have learned a new word that expresses the huge gap between two groups of people. After the Kobe earthquake some gained strength as they moved towards recovery and reconstruction. However there were others who got more and more depressed and the gap between these two groups got wider as time went on. It seems that we belong to the latter group. We can’t start clearing the debris or organizing our homes. No one knows how long it is going to be like this.
Sometimes we feel we are the only ones who are left in the same situation we were in on 11 March. We get sad and depressed. It encourages us to know that people remember us and that we are not alone.
If we are not allowed to return home we could always build a community like the Amish or the pioneers in Hokkaido. Our church was going to apply to become an NPO in the hope of starting a Day Care centre. We would find a piece of land and build a home for the elderly. Church members would obtain qualifications and work as carers. We would build an apartment house and live together. Thoughts like this came to me.
Life at the retreat centre now is community living with old and young together in the same place.
However a brother whom I met at the funeral said to me, “Pastor, you won’t settle there, will you?” It has only been two months since the disaster. We can’t give up now. Like the worshippers in Jerusalem in Psalm 126, our Zion is our home land where our church building stands. We should wait for the day when those who are now scattered all over Japan will come back with tears of joy and grateful hearts. I encouraged myself like this and came back to the place where I should stand.
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
P.S. (16 May) Some of the six didn’t like
water so at the baptism I asked each one whether they would like to fall
forward or backward, which caused laughter. During the rainy season in the
Negev they have rapid floods. When we go home we might break out with laughter
saying how unbelievable it is.
Last weekend I conducted the fourth funeral since the disaster. This is too many. Yesterday six people got baptized. Hallelujah!
Some of the six didn’t like
water so at the baptism I asked each one whether they would like to fall
forward or backward, which caused laughter.
During the rainy season in the
Negev they have rapid floods. When we go home we might break out with laughter
saying how unbelievable it is.
Report 21 – May 5 (Children’s Day -Bank Holiday)
I am on my way to Okinawa for a meeting to give a report on my life as an evacuee. Two days ago another member of my church went to be with the Lord. It must have been very hard for this elderly lady as she had to evacuate despite being ill and then having broken bones. I can’t help thinking of the ‘if’s’ although I understand there is no ‘if’ in the Christian life. I never imagined that I would have to say a final goodbye to 3 church members in two months.
I am aware that God has His plans which are higher than our thoughts. Many gathered at our brother’s funeral this week. Sixty church members came from different rescue centres for the wake and for the funeral. I feel as though our dear brother by his death brought together those who have been scattered for 1½ months. This brother and his family wanted the gospel to be proclaimed at his funeral to English class students and their parents, to his work colleagues, and to his wider family. The funeral was like an evangelistic meeting attended by many people whose hearts had been shaken by the disaster.
“And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” Hebrew 11:4
So the faith of this brother is passed on, through his life and also through the life of our sister who was baptized. Our dear brother told people about our Saviour Jesus through his life, and pointed people to the hope of heaven.
Last month, along with two funerals, we had two baptismal services. This month six more are going to be baptized. The baptismal service of our sister last month was originally planned for 13 March, right after the disaster. As the residents were evacuating she rang me and asked whether her baptism was going to go ahead. If this was the case, our assistant pastor would have to conduct it. Someone else said that she wanted to be baptized in a river near the retreat centre. I had to ask the assistant pastor to do that as the river water is too cold for me. I smiled as I thought of this.
In the midst of hardship and heaviness of heart little things that bring fun and joy multiply. I must be looking desperately for such things.
We are a Baptist church, so conduct baptisms by immersion. We had to work out how to do this as we were using the low bathtub at the retreat centre. We rehearsed, wondering whether to let her fall backward or forward. Some people aren’t so good with water, but not her! On the day I let her fall forward and waited for her to lift her head. It took longer than I expected and I guessed she might be savouring the moment, trying to catch up for lost time. It was getting too long so I lifted her up. I had never had a baptism like this before. The disaster leads us into new experiences.
I am writing this on the plane to Okinawa. In the monorail going along the edge of the sea to Haneda airport, a thought came to me - if an earthquake happened now and then a tsunami, I would die.
It is good to be baptized now instead of putting it off. At this time of disaster and radiation scare God is clearly leading, as our baptismal candidates decide to respond to God’s call and be baptized rather than postponing it. For those of us who have had many farewells these spiritual births bring much joy. I shouldn’t be put off by radiation or cold river water but should follow the Lord in this situation.
Lastly, some trivial matters. I found various customer cards in my purse. I regretted not using them to build up points or get awards when I had the chance. This reminded me of other regrettable things. We had some work done in my home. The boiler was replaced just before the disaster and we bought a new plasma TV screen. I began to think that I shouldn’t have got them but I stopped myself at that point because the shops that gave out those customer cards are no longer there. Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt when she turned to see what she had left behind. This is a lesson for me.
I am going to see brothers and sisters in Okinawa who have prayed for us and supported us from a very early stage. I want to pass on words of thanks giving from my church.
Please forgive me, as I am unable to come to everyone who has been supporting me. I am thankful for all your prayers and support.
Report 20 – April 30
This week one of our church brothers went to be with the Lord. There was a wake today in Fukushima to be followed by cremation tomorrow, and a time of remembrance at Sunday worship the following day. On Monday there will be a funeral in Fukushima. It is too much to have two funerals in one month and it is sad that a prayer by a church member longing to worship the Lord back home with everyone was not answered. We can’t help having funerals and remembrance services in both Fukushima and Tokyo. Our assistant pastor and another member of staff went yesterday and today. I will go next week. Someone has to stay here in Tokyo with the church. We don’t have formal suits so will go in casual clothes.
It is hard to conduct this brother’s funeral so soon after that of our 50 year old sister. I wish we could all go home and worship the Lord together. It is very sad to have to send church family members on this leg of the journey one by one.
This brother had been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 30 and had his stomach removed. He died at 54 having been through the disaster and hospitalized several times. It was a joy for him to worship God. He did simultaneous translation of the sermon and everyone recognized that this was his gift from the Lord. He must have felt lonely in hospital as his family had to leave the area after the disaster. The hospital he was in began to run out of medicines and supplies because of the widespread radiation fears. I imagine he was anxious. We visited him but not as often as we would have liked because of the distance between Tokyo and Fukushima. The last time we left him he held my hand in a strong grip, not wanting to let go.
So his fight against illness came to an end. I believe that the Lord saw it fitting to take him to his heavenly home at Easter. He had a tube in his throat yet he could write, “Resurrection. I have a mission.”
Moses lived for 120 years. He saw the Promised Land from Mount Nebo but died without entering it. I suppose he was sorry he couldn’t make it but this was God’s plan for him. He died passing the baton on to Joshua. Our lives are in God’s hand. Each of our lives is a journey. All we can do is to run the journey that the Lord has set for us. In the end, we are to pass the baton, and will be lifted up to heaven. This week the whole world will be celebrating Easter.
May the funeral and the other services be full of the hope of the resurrection and worthy of our dear brother, even in the midst of this evacuation life and even in our casual clothes.
Lord, please lead us.
Report 19 – April 26
It is certainly true to say that my requirements for happiness have decreased. When we were in the big hall I was grateful just to have a mattress to lie on, with someone else sleeping beside me and I was moved when tinned food or warm meals were provided. I am thankful simply to be alive. I used to drive frequently on Route 6 beside the beach in Fukushima, and on another road that led to Sendai airport. I could have been driving on that road on March 11th. I could have been left alone at Sendai airport. But I was kept safe and alive.
Last week my wife and I visited church members scattered in various places and had meetings with them. In one home, we sat on the floor with our feet in the kotatsu (a low table with a heat unit underneath, covered with a quilt) watching TV. We had breakfast and read the paper. It was six weeks since I had been relaxed like this, doing ordinary, everyday homey things. How good the tea and miso soup tasted! Away from our group in Tokyo, we savoured this piece of happiness.
We were able to go into the exclusion zone for the first time since the disaster to visit the church and get some important documents. We felt nervous, dressed completely from top to bottom in suffocating, white protective gear. The cherry was in full bloom, as beautiful as we had ever seen it. A dog lay on the road not wanting to give way for us. Cows looked as if they weren’t expecting to see any humans.
A member of our church who works at the nuclear power plant said that he once saw 18 cows strolling in our church grounds. I wonder if their owner next door set them free so that they could survive on their own. I could never have imagined this happening but if they are there they may be useful in protecting our church building. The cows were eating grass as if nothing had happened, sometimes looking at us as if to say, ’Welcome home.’
Cherry trees bloom whether people are there or not, perhaps even enjoying the quiet when nobody is around to have noisy parties under them. And animals seem to enjoy their freedom with no humans or cars in sight. An improbable thought passed through my mind. People feel sorry for the cherry blossom because it has no one to watch it. This is arrogant, as the cherry is there irrespective of men’s presence. Because of their arrogance, God has driven them away.
Am I imagining this or is it a vision? Is it a re-emergence of the Tower of Babel or Sodom and Gomorra? I would rather take it as the beginning of a world that needs to be saved by our Saviour Jesus.
‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den, the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.’
The Lord Jesus came to earth as a descendant of David from the ‘stump of Jesse’ and we are told that one day He will judge this world and reign over it as the King of all men. Then a new world will appear. The lamb will live with the wolf without being attacked or hurt. The leopard will live peacefully with the goat. The calf and the lion will be together, following a little child. No one has ever seen or heard of such a thing as this. The lion becomes vegetarian. The cow and the bear eat grass together. The infant will play over the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. An unbelievable sight.
This will be because a world where ‘they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ will have come. I would love to see this come true. Has man become too confident and gone beyond permitted boundaries? Dressed in my protective gear I wondered which it is supposed to be – ruling the world as if it is ours to rule, or this situation, where plants and animals are left on their own.
The world that we humans had built by ourselves was destroyed like a sand castle. Plants and animals, as well as humans, live alongside each other. I imagined that this could be the start of a new world. This could be what my protective gear caused me to think.
Besides the stories of the 18 cows looking after my church, and of the dog that didn’t give way to a car, I heard a story about a cat. Someone opened the door of her house worrying about her cat. The cat looked healthy as it had fed on the food she found in the fridge, and ran out of the house. Another person was concerned that his dog might have starved to death as it was left in the kennel on a leash. He found it in a neighbour’s house - it had survived by eating what it found there.
I heard stories of those who are still staying in the area. Some of them aren’t frightened of the radiation scare. They put their washing out to dry, tend the fields and plant seeds. Encouraged by people like this, and by the cherry blossom and cows in our home town, we shall live with courage, pliable like a willow. Above all it is the Lord who is behind it.
The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.
Lord, mould us and cleanse us, according to your will. Help us to become people who can say quite naturally that nothing matters if we have you.
Appreciating your prayers and
Report 18 – April 17
Last week the ambulance was called to our place almost every day to take some of our church members to hospital and some have had to be admitted. It seems that fatigue is setting in. Although we each have our own rooms we still live as a close community and it is not like living at home. We have visitors and the time passes very quickly. Information comes through about Fukushima but we are busy just dealing with what’s in front of us.
This morning one young couple moved to a new apartment having found work in that area. This week another couple will leave. They may settle in the places they are moving to bringing an end to our life together in our church. We will miss them but I also want to celebrate their new start. At the same time two couples and a single person moved in last week and this week we expect two more couples to join us. Just as a heart keeps beating this group keeps moving on through its struggles and pain.
At the service today, we remembered a sister who was washed away by the tsunami and went to be with the Lord. We also had a baptism. In my sermon I touched on the hymn ‘There’s a Light on the Cross’ which was composed during the Great Tokyo earthquake on 1 Sept 1923. Missionary J V Martin wrote it as he watched the survivors gather in the grounds of Meiji Gakuin.
Look! You peoples who live in distant countries and over the seas
The unchanging Lord who brings comfort, His Cross is brightly shining
He brings comfort to you, He brings comfort to me
Standing on the swaying ground, still the cross is brightly shining
Water is overflowing, fires are burning. Death stretches out its hand and waits.
The unchanging Lord…. (as verse 1)
If you look up you will not be afraid. There is no grief, and sin disappears.
The unchanging Lord….
He watched as darkness fell. Mosquito nets and candles were distributed and as the candles were lit the tiny flickering flames seemed to him to form the shape of a cross, piercing through the darkness of the night and people’s despair. Fire had swept through the city as a result of the earthquake. Many people jumped into rivers and ponds to escape only to die there. It was still hot on September 1st. In this situation, so like that of post-war Tokyo, Martin saw the cross of Jesus as the candles were lit.
During Passion Week we meditated on Jesus’ cross just as Martin did as he took comfort and hope from the cross lit by the victims of the Great Tokyo earthquake. One sister told us a story - as she was praying alone, feeling under pressure living in the rescue centre, a friend from another church who had read about us on our church website, came to visit her. Another sister met Christians at the hospital where her husband is a patient. A pastor she met for the first time prayed for her in the hospital room. It is as if God is surrounding us with His goodness. Some of us feel bound together, like sheep in a fold, others feel lonely. But still, the cross of Jesus sheds its light on us on this journey far from our homes.
Are these the things that we gain by losing? By losing much, we are looking more to Jesus, and are made more aware of the bond between our church members.
We sang another hymn as we remembered the sister whose life was taken by the tsunami at the age of 50. It is 687 in the Seika hymnbook. (The 4 verses in the Japanese hymnbook equate to the 5 English verses below – Translator)
Shall we gather at the river
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?
Yes, we'll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.
On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.
Yes, we’ll gather…
Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.
Yes, we’ll gather…
At the smiling of the river,
Mirror of the Savior's face,
Saints, whom death will never sever,
Lift their songs of saving grace.
Yes, we’ll gather…
Soon we'll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.
Yes, we’ll gather…
This is a scene from the picture of the Kingdom of Heaven in Rev. 22 where the crystal river flows from the throne of God. On either side of the river the tree of life stands bearing abundant fruit. ’And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations’ (v. 2). This reminds me of the previous chapter where it says, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Rev 21.4).
I thought of the dear sister who
was lifted to the river of life in heaven. How afraid she must have been as she faced the tsunami. She loved her family, worked hard at her
work, served faithfully at church, and sometimes prayed in tears. I believe she was lifted to heaven, not
simply swept away by the tsunami. So,
let’s sing our praises, savouring each word.
Report 17 – April 14
I came back from Osaka yesterday. I watched cherry blossom in full bloom through a window of sadness. The scenery as I say looks sad. Something in me has changed since the day the disaster struck.
Yesterday we had sad news. A church member with whom we had lost contact was found to be dead, carried away by the tsunami as he was driving near the beach. Church staff have gone to the scene and will have a commemoration service for him tomorrow. Everything looks to me as if it is in mourning. Passion Week is approaching and this makes things seem even sadder.
Peter wrote to the believers who went underground because of persecution. This community must have had those who were sick or died and had to be buried. As they were scattered some might have been sick or injured. Others might have died or been buried as they were travelling. Those who were on Noah’s Ark spent over a month together. I think of the experiences they must have gone through as they cared for all the animals.
In our life now as evacuees we create daily routines as we wake up and eat. But deep within we are all wounded. Little things can cause frictions. You could call it a ‘normalization of the abnormal’ and this might well be something that the believers in the early church or Gods people in the wilderness after the Exodus also went through. Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippian church to visit Paul in prison but became ill in Rome and was looked after by Paul. We are walking a road which others have walked before us.
The Early Christians travelled many miles visiting people in the dispersion and pioneering new territory. The team that was sent to Fukushima for the funeral will stay there for three days as the crematorium is busy. They say that they are visiting church members, having meetings, and being appreciated. It seems that hardship makes our bonds stronger.
“Like cold water to a weary soul, is good news from a distant land.” Proverbs 25:25
Next Sunday at our worship service we will have a commemoration for a dear sister. We will also have a baptism. I suggested the following Sunday (Easter), but the person wanted to be baptized on Palm Sunday. We are not going to do what we would usually do but will have a homemade funeral altar and send off for our dear sister. For the baptism we’ll use the large bathroom at the retreat centre and remember Jesus as he stood in the River Jordan.
Coming back from Osaka I really feel that this is our Ark. Although we are in Tokyo we are in woods which surround us with the Creator’s healing. Every day we are showered with the gentleness of our Heavenly Father and find joy in the midst of sadness.
In the baptism service on Palm Sunday we shall remember the hope that God gives as we think of the suffering our Lord has gone through. We will look forward to celebrating Easter. We are weak but yet strong. We have nothing, but yet are given everything.
Report 16 – April 8th
This week life is returning to some sense of normality. At 7am the children have breakfast and then go to school with others from this area. They were nervous on the first day. We watched them and took their photos as we sent them off. It was good later hearing them say ‘I’m home.’ This displaced me, making me feel as if the disaster hadn’t happened. They look so happy carrying the school bags that people in this area have given them. It brings smiles to our faces.
There were 70 or 80 people at our first worship service on Sunday 3rd April. Members of my church who had taken refuge in the Tokyo area came to the service with their family members. It made me realize how strong the church is. We have lost our church building and all our papers, records and schedules. The members are scattered. But still the church survived. Even when we are pushed and scattered the church never dies.
To be honest, when the accident happened at the nuclear power plant after the earthquake and tsunami, I thought our history of mission had come to an end. The towns were contaminated with radiation and everyone had vanished. So I thought our church was finished in a way that no one could have imagined through its 70 year history. I had to hold back very deep emotions as I accepted that reality. I helped some of my church members find work, asked pastors of other churches to look after some who were going away to stay with people they knew, and I left members of staff to the care of other churches. It seemed as if my ministry was over. However things have developed in a way that I could never have imagined and the church has survived.
I know from the New Testament that the early church grew through persecution and dispersion. Who would have thought that in present day Japan, ordinary believers in Tohoku would have their daily life taken from them and be scattered here and there? But even in this situation they have managed to reconnect with each other and to hold onto their existence as part of Christ’s body again. It may be an exaggeration, but a wider church has emerged to support us which crosses national and denominational boundaries. I wonder whose scenario this is.
On Sunday night, my wife and I talked to each other about the strong links that we have. We have certainly been in the centre of a church fellowship. But now we know that there is a world which we had never quite seen before. This is another treasure that the disaster brought us.
“The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” Psalm 37:23-24
We had a graduation ceremony in Yonezawa on a snowy day. This week we had a commencement ceremony but we didn’t have smart clothes. The staff at the retreat center got some from people they knew and my wife and I were able to wear them. This will be one of the stories we will tell in the future when we look back on our time at Okutama.
There are some serious issues. I organized a meeting for those who are looking for work and ten people turned up. Teenagers who were due to start high school or who were preparing for university entrance exams need to make decisions. They are wondering whether to move to a new school in commutable distance from Okutama or whether to take up a distant learning course. The disaster has broken many links. I hope our hearts won’t be broken. I should serve these people as their pastor. Please pray for us.
P.S. I went to Kyoto this week for a church member’s wedding. She has finished Bible College and married a pastor. She said, ‘As I think about the disaster I feel I should be wearing a mourning dress instead of my wedding dress.’ My heart shook. She had watched in horror from an upstairs window of her home as waves swept towards her over the tsunami barriers that had been built to stop them.
Report 15 - April 1
I value the fervent prayers of so many of you. Late yesterday afternoon, we arrived at the retreat centre at Okutama. We left snowy Yonezawa at 10am. We had stayed there for 15 days so had many memories. At our new place the cherry blossom is out. We will be here for a while. We have each settled into our own rooms and there are schools, hospitals, and post offices nearby.
Many people came to see us off as we left Yonezawa. We had to pack survival goods such as rice, tinned food and cup noodles. As we squeezed one more box into a van that already looked full, we murmured, “When have we gotten this greedy?” I wonder if our brothers and sisters in Yonezawa were left with a bad impression of us.
As we started driving I began to worry that we might have an accident because we were so overloaded, or if people from the media might come and report that we were greedy. We agreed among ourselves that we were getting so used to packing quickly and moving to the next place that we were becoming experts. Reporters could say that the disaster created some miraculous people. We laughed at this. Everyone prays and longs in their heart that this will be our last move. We are trying to make light of our situation. I am not sure whether to laugh or cry. It has been going on for so long. I wish it would end but that is out of our reach. So I have to push it down and drive on with anxiety and expectation.
Wherever I go I always seem to be saying ‘thank you’. At meal times I think of those who sent the ingredients and those who prepared the meal. I thank those who sent the clothes we are wearing and everything else that we use, and thank the Lord who prompted them to give. As we were rescued at such a difficult time and have received so much we need to change. Lord, may we have grateful hearts for the rest of our lives and not just during this trial.
I wrote before about going on a diet. I can’t tell for sure but I feel I have been overeating these days as I try to eat everything that is put in front of me. I’m not so sure whether to be glad or not, but I must report that I am gaining weight. I am thankful for God’s provision for us.
It is warmer here in Okutama. Magnolia and plum are in bloom. Those who are not so well and are elderly are feeling better. I am relieved that we are here. God certainly provides. Hallelujah.
I need to look up to the Great Shepherd as children go to school, people look for work, and the sick need to be cared for. I need much wisdom and strength for this round the clock care.
We started off leaving our homes with virtually nothing. Let’s not forget how good the Lord has been to us, carrying us on His wings, protecting us and nurturing us. I want to walk with Him, worshipping Him, until the day He brings our journey to an end.
This is our fourth stage, starting with the rescue center where it was cold and we had very little privacy. At Okutama where it is quiet and warm we are getting back to normal.
Appreciating your prayers….
Report 14 - March 31
There are times in life when we meet new people and times when we have to part from those we know. These days, I have more experience of the latter. This morning we set off south, the third time we have had to move as we try to find a place to stay.
Last night, our brothers and sisters at Yonezawa church had a sort of farewell party for us, serving homemade soba noodles and sweets. We only stayed there for two weeks, but their kindness made us feel as if they had saved our lives. It was very hard to say goodbye. We had nothing to give in return but found some chocolates in the rescue food which we made into necklaces and presented to the pastors along with cards from all of us. We sang a final song then shook hands with one another. Many people cried and some sobbed loudly which made me less embarrassed about my own tears.
At this stage of our journeying as we move from one rescue centre to another there are more and more people who help us. I don’t know how to thank them.
Leaving snowy Yonezawa behind, we are moving to Kanto, looking for some level of normality. A life of abnormality has its limits. Families need their own space. People need privacy. It is heart breaking to move further away from Fukushima but it is a time for decision. Lord, protect the weak and the elderly during this long journey south.
My schedule from April on has been wiped out and God writes His new plans in my diary. I never expected to move to Tokyo. In my heart I want to go home to my town and to my church. So hoping this stop will be the last before we return home, we head south.
Thank you, our brothers and sisters in Yonezawa. Thank you to those who brought us rescue goods, and to those who transported petrol and materials many times from Niigata. Thank you to the many people who have watched over us, prayed for us and supported us from afar.
Please forgive us that we are only receiving and that we are unable to repay your kindness.
Report 13 – March 29th 11pm
This morning my wife and I and a member of our church staff left my son-in-law’s house in Ushiku, and travelled north to Iwaki-city. There we held a meeting with some of my church members. They are a remnant who had to stay at home in spite of the radiation scare because they weren’t able to buy petrol. After meeting with them we travelled on, stopping at a hospital in Sukagawa and then at a nursing home in Aizu to visit other church members. Members of my church have been left behind like the scattered believers (diaspora) of the early church. I think of Paul, writing his epistles as he visited the believers in the diaspora. It was late when we reached Yonezawa and The Ark.
At the meeting in Iwaki a dear lady in her 80’s met us at the front of her home. She welcomed me, in tears and held my hand saying, ‘Pastor, you are safe. I’m so happy.’
It’s been over two weeks since the disaster but here the clock has stopped. I often find myself not knowing what day of the week it is. Since the day it happened I haven’t seen either TV or newspapers. I don’t feel up to it. I wonder if this is because we have more than we can cope with, or if it could be a sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
On the day before the disaster my wife and I watched something unusual - a flaming sunset that looked as if it was burning to extinction. It was so extraordinary that I thought of recording it on my video camera. I told my wife that it could be a sign of an earthquake, not expecting that I was right. Could it be that the Lord was giving us a sign before it actually happened?
If that is so Lord, I ask you, when will we be able to go home? What is waiting for us in the days ahead? We struggle to find out as we can’t see the way ahead. But if you were to give us a sign for recovery, we would be able to bear it. Show us the way as you told Isaiah, ‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ (Is. 30:21)
There is no official report of the number of people who died or are missing because the accidents at the nuclear power plant came on top of the earthquake and tsunami. If those accidents hadn’t happened my people would have been able to return home to start clearing debris and rebuilding their lives. But for us, the clock has stopped at 2.46pm on Friday 11 March. Some people can’t hold back their tears saying that they could have rescued those under the rubble, or those in the water, if the nuclear accidents hadn’t happened.
Lord, how long should we remain in this limbo? Give us permission to start rebuilding. I want to make a new start. If people were allowed to return, repair shops and construction firms would start working again. If this situation continues we will have more people out of work. Give us a sign. When you give it to us then I will lead the flock you have given me encouraging them to hope for that day. If you are not going to give us a sign, give us perseverance. Help us wait on you and discipline ourselves.
‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ 2 Cor. 5:17
On the last day of our journey here on earth, you will take us up to your Kingdom and we will leave everything earthly behind. Are we rehearsing for that day? I think of a dear man who lost his whole family and is experiencing deep loneliness. I can see now what he is going through. Do you want us to learn an important lesson that is fundamental to life?
We have made a decision to leave Yonezawa the day after tomorrow and head for Okutama (west part of Tokyo). The risk of radiation is not going to go away for a while. Children need to go to school. People have to find work. We need to live in a place where we can stay for the foreseeable future and where we can each have some level of privacy.
We are aware that as Christians we are aliens on earth. We long for some level of normality, even though that normality will always be temporary on this earth. And so we are moving on to our next destination. Your prayers are much appreciated.
4th April – Report 12
My wife has been dreaming the same dream for over 20 years.
Members of our church are journeying as a group for many days, visiting different places. She had this dream so many times, she eventually wrote it down. I used to say to her that it must be something symbolic for our church. Now I know that it was true. It is a déjà vu situation - we are walking just as in her dream. God gave us a picture that became familiar to us, so that we won’t be afraid or dismayed.
It is just like those in the early church who walked on proclaiming the gospel despite persecution and dispersion. We are driven away from home. The front door of our church is closed. I believe that the Lord has put this familiar picture in our minds and in our hearts so that we won’t be crushed under this harsh trial.
I find I am often thinking of the early church which had to move out of Jerusalem because of persecution. How did they travel - individually, or as a family? Maybe it is a blessing that I can lose myself in the stories of the Bible. They have taken on a new reality because of our situation.
“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” (1 Cor. 10:13) Others have walked the road we are taking now, the Lord leading. It may be a surprise to us but He knows it all. We feel as if we are in the centre of a whirlpool but as we walk closely with Jesus on this road that others have walked, maybe one day He will allow us to walk on water.
When I stand in front of the mirror, I see that I have more grey hair. The weight that I lost hasn’t come back, even though I eat properly. Of fifty church members, nine have taken up job offers that I was able to introduce them to.
We have had no report of the number of people who died or were lost in the part of Fukushima where our church is.
Because of the radiation scare, the clock has stopped at March 11th. Everyone is tired physically and emotionally. The towns have become ghost towns, and we hear rumors of break-ins. We took immediate action and closed our bank and post office accounts. We also stopped gas, electricity and phone lines.
Lord, we had to leave everything and move out. Protect us from those who would try to steal from us. Give us a sign when we can go back and restore our homes, our towns and our churches. Help and protect those workers and church members who are trying so hard to solve the problems at the power plant.
When this situation is resolved I wonder how many churches and individuals I will need to thank. The number is growing like the stars day by day. My life will be too short to be able to thank everyone once things are restored.
Suffering engulfed me after the disaster. But I am overwhelmed by the grace of God that overcomes the suffering.
“My cup overflows.” Ps. 23:6
Pastor Sato and 50 of his church members are living in an evacuation center in Yonezawa, about 48km/30mls from their church and homes in Fukushima. It makes him think of Noah, led by God as they are carried away by the flood. So he has called the church in the evacuation centre ‘The Ark’.
29 March – Report 11
Four days ago, on Friday 25 March, my wife and I left The Ark in Yonezawa and moved south. On the way, we visited a church member who was in hospital for emergency treatment. I asked one of my members of staff to stay there and went on to stay with my son-in-law.
It was no coincidence that we heard about this church member’s situation just at the time we were going to Yokohama, and that the hospital was on our way there. Since the day the disaster struck I have been acutely aware of God’s hand in our lives. I am not sure whether this is because we are more sensitive to his leading, or because our life is so stripped to a bare minimum that we are forced to see what we didn’t see before. This is one of the blessings that have come because of the disaster.
The church schedule, and my own, has been totally wiped out. Now the Lord gives us our daily timetable. It seems that when earthly things are shaken to their foundations, the Lord leads us into His own sphere. Now that He is leading us on, I would like us to go with His flow, without struggling, and to enjoy this world that He has prepared for us.
Arriving in Yokohama we found that, coming from The Ark, people treated us in a special way. We are a group of believers who have drifted away from our homes. They put us up in a hotel. For two weeks we slept with others in a big hall and then we were in a private room at my son-in-law’s. Now we are in a hotel room. I feel bad for those I have left behind in the Ark, but at the same time I feel like a king. My sleeping conditions have improved by two and then three times! When we get to heaven, the Lord will treat us a million times better.
On Monday 28th we moved to Tokyo and met my publishers and people who are involved in rescue work. I spoke at a meeting, reporting on my life after the disaster struck. I found myself talking passionately with a strange kind of excitement. Coming from The Ark into the city is like another world. Perhaps emotionally I am unable to hold these two worlds together.
The scenery in Tokyo looks sad. It seems as if everything is in tears. My wife says that she can’t appreciate the food, even though it is delicious. We both feel acutely aware that we are victims of the disaster. Things seem to have been turned upside down. This will continue for the foreseeable future.
25 March – Report 10
I am grateful for your prayers. There are advantages in life at a rescue centre. I had been saying that I would go on a diet, but now I have lost weight. However, there are some who have gained weight. I joke, “Your vitality is amazing. You can survive any disaster”. Everyone laughs.
Some have gained more possessions. Every day, clothes arrive. Some of them are brand new. A nearby clothes shop said that we can take anything for free. Others say that they are eating better than when they are at home. Even in deep sadness, we have laughter.
I often think of Jesus, who knew sorrow and was familiar with pain. He became man, entered a world of darkness, shared joy and pain with us, and experienced happiness and sadness. I am looking for this Saviour in my heart. This road we are taking might be one that is led by Jesus, reflecting His Good News. “Every road leads to Rome.” Jesus is with us on this journey. Let’s walk with him.
Pastor Sato and 50 of his church members are living in an evacuation center in Yonezawa, about 48km/30mls from their church and homes in Fukushima. He pictures them as having drifted away from home, like Noah, at the Lord’s leading and has named the church in the evacuation center, ‘The Ark’.
24 March 5pm – Report 9
It is snowing. I feel a surge of power within me. Just like winter turns to spring, God has prepared a plan of restoration. Since the disaster struck, we live on food and other goods that are sent from all over Japan, by the goodwill of people. Although we haven’t had any meat, the tinned food that we have every day is varied. We are kept healthy, and I feel a resurrection power within me. I feel blessed by being sustained by what people give us. I feel that the Lord has chosen our church - chosen it to be near the power plant; that He designed it so that I was a pastor who encountered the earthquake.
From tomorrow, I have decided to go to meetings in Tokyo and Yokohama as was planned. I also plan to visit my church members scattered in different places. Some have spoken to me on the phone, “More than anything else, I am sad that I lost my church.” I am in tears again, even when I decided not to be.
I will not be defeated. I will not give up. Saying these things to myself, I will leave my ark but will come back again. My Lord, who does not slumber nor sleep, bless this flock while I am away. Embrace and have mercy on each one who is scattered.
24 March – Report 8
In our worship this morning, from Matthew 5, we learned that Jesus calls us to be the light of the world and salt of the earth. People say that this earthquake is the beginning of a period of tribulation. There is no doubt that this is a time of trial. We might need to be shaken or to go through fire, so that the salt will keep or recover its saltiness. We read in Hebrews 12.5, “do not lose heart when he rebukes you.” I would like to take this as God’s discipline, just like parents who love their children discipline them.
Yesterday, in snowy weather, we had a graduation service for children at the kindergarten and primary school. Everyone was in tears. It seems there is no one who can stop us from crying. We took a group photo after singing the song that we always sing at graduations. I wrote a verse (the second verse), expressing how I feel now.
The precious years have come and gone too soon, here with you.
Now is the time to say farewell, with an eternally grateful heart.
(translation by Yamagishi Katsuei)
Even at this rescue centre, we as the family of God are having this blessed day.
How good it is to see your small hands.
May our Lord bless you as you step into a new phase of your journey.
I hope that we will have a graduation from this disaster, when we hear God speak to us, “Well done, you faithful servants.”
23rd March - Report 7
I took Monday off and had some rest. In the evening, we went out for a meal, the first and probably the last while we are at the rescue centre. The restaurant gave free sugar candy to the children and the adults watched, smiling. I have allowed myself to call this scene “happiness”.
We now have something that I call a ‘victim’s pass’. For example, at the ticket counter at a hot spring bath if I say, ‘This is a lovely place. By the way, I survived the earthquake and tsunami,’ they give me a 50% discount. It wouldn’t work if you were pretending to be a survivor. There is something that only a genuine victim can communicate.
Yesterday, I worked on my daily schedule. After breakfast and cleaning, we have worship from 9:30. Alongside a time of sharing and prayer, there is a Bible class. From 10:30, some exercise and games, including relaxation. Many people are not feeling well. We need to keep our strength up. Then the children study until late afternoon. It is like a small school in the mountains.
11 March, the day the earthquake and tsunami struck, was my 54th birthday. Yesterday I got a birthday present - a pair of slippers that someone bought for 200 yen (US$2.47). Normally you wouldn’t mention the price, but not now. They are worth more than that. They are too good for me, so I am keeping them in my bag.
At the worship service today, we are having a graduation ceremony for the kindergarten and elementary school children. I should wipe my tears away and serve in a manner fit for a pastor.
I received a phone call from Korea, saying, ‘We are watching TV with amazement and tears at how Japanese people are coping, queuing for food and not fighting for it.’ If that is so then maybe we are a church which the Lord planted in Fukushima before the arrival of the power plant, and is now nurturing through this trial to be strong enough to withstand it.
I remember how moved I was when I read ‘Through the Valley of the Kwai’ by Ernest Gordon. The prisoners of war were maltreated by Japanese soldiers at the camp in Thailand during WW2. Under extreme pressure they behaved appallingly toward each other. However once they began to meet around a copy of the New Testament, they started to change. The weak were encouraged. They started sharing the little food they had with each other. One gave his life for the sake of another. After the war, there were revenge attacks against the Japanese at other camps, but not at this one. Because of this experience Ernest Gordon became a minister. I saw what happened at this camp as a real church where Christ was at work. If God chose those POWs for His purpose, maybe He has chosen us for a reason.
I received good news today. Word of Life Press rang me to say that my book, ‘God is at work in good times, as well as bad times’ has been published. Who would have thought that a disaster of this scale would happen just at the time of its publication? It looks as if my own book will encourage me to move forward.
21st March - Report 6
We had a worship service yesterday, the first in two weeks. Yonezawa church let us use their musical instruments, PA and video equipment. I cried, blaming the leader (the assistant pastor) who was also in tears! It seems that if you have to cry, you should do it without embarrassment. I will cry 50 years worth, or a life-time worth of tears.
Living with fifty people, cooking, eating, and sleeping with them is out of the ordinary. It has been ten days now and I can’t even tell what is ordinary and what is not. I am trying to accept it and go with the flow. By doing so, I might be charging my battery for the days to come.
Is. 42:3: ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out‘ May the Great Shepherd embrace this flock and carry them on His wings.
Report 1 translated by Sachi Nakamura, Report 2-6 translated by Yoshie Yokoyama
19 March - Report 5
Day 3 in Yonezawa. I am grateful for the prayers and support of our brothers and sisters. People around me say they left home thinking they would only be gone for an hour or two. They literally have nothing with them. Brothers and sisters are bringing us food and clothing from all over Japan. I feel like Elijah, sustained by God with food carried by a raven. Our group of 50 is kept well by kind donations. Many of us are tired, and go to see the doctor. I have had a fever.
Yesterday I had my mobile in my hand but couldn’t remember what I had been going to do. I felt numb. My heart ached. Two or three layers of loss suddenly engulfed me. My home was gone, so was my church. I was driven from my town. My ministry is gone. I can’t see what is going to happen next. I am trying to grasp the whole thing, but find myself unable to.
My church was planted by an American missionary long before the power plant was built. Fukushima First (part of our church name) was the name given by the missionary in accordance with the practice of his church at home. The power plant has the same name, but ours was named first. Two days ago, a brother who works at the plant but has been with us, was called back to work. We prayed together with his family and sent him off. Other church members are working there risking their lives. ’Lord, please protect them with your mighty hand.’ In 1 Chron. 4:10 we read, ‘Jabez cried out to the God of Israel‚ Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.‘ And God granted his request.
18th March - Report 4
upheld by the prayers of our friends. Listening to the stories of people here I
see that each one arrived through fire and through tsunami. One church member
who I was very concerned about contacted me yesterday. He had a heart attack
immediately after the earthquake. If he had not had emergency surgery 30
minutes later, he would have died. He was very grateful that God had saved him.
A female member escaped death by sitting in her colleague’s seat at work. Later, as she was driving, the roads had been affected by liquefaction. She gave a lift to some who were running for their lives and one of these people was able to tell her how to drive in these conditions. Many cars were stuck in cracks on the road. She arrived at a rescue center, and then went on to another one. Now she is staying with relatives.
most miraculous thing to me is that I never get asked questions like ‘Why did
God allow this?’ or ‘I can’t believe in God. There is no God.’ From the 160
members I have been in touch with, all I hear are words like, ‘God is great. I
want to trust Him as I walk with Him from now on.’ I marvel at the strength of
their faith in the Lord.
Yesterday, three of those who are with us prayed to receive Jesus into their hearts. Hallelujah!
Two days ago, when we were moving from Fukushima to Yamagata, some decided to stay with their friends and family. Once more, I was moved to tears, fearing we might not see each other again. It is very sad to say goodbye to members of God’s family.
Yesterday a total of 12 cars drove through a blizzard to the next place. The church facilities here in Yonezawa are blanketed with snow. In extremely cold weather, church members welcomed us with hot udon and soba. I ate a rice ball trying not to cry. ‘Lord, make our hearts as white as the snow that surrounds us.’
Are we going to be diaspora people? Are we going to be led to a stable life? What is obvious is that God is shaking everything through these extraordinary events. Some people are receiving the Lord Jesus without question. Others are repenting saying their belief in God was dormant. They say that what sustains us as human beings is actually very little. We don’t really need many material possessions. The Lord challenges each one, shaking them from the bottom of their souls. Is this a beginning of an Exodus into a new frontier that the Lord is opening for us?
16th March - Report 3
Travelling with two other trucks we stopped at some shops at about 1am on March 15th and bought whatever was there. We arrived at a church in Aizu at 11am – 10 hours drive from Chiba. We will take shelter here for a while.
About a third of our 60 church members live close to the Fukushima power plant. They had to go through radiation checks, so we all gathered in the afternoon for a time of worship. I could hear people sobbing and saw that they had been through hardship. In the evening I went to a nearby hot spring. What a relief to have a soak after five days! People are so glad to find each other, which again led me to tears. Our nomad life has started. When I asked people whether they had any laundry, their reply was that there were no clothes to wash. All they have is what they are wearing.
Now we need to find petrol and a place to stay. Sixty of us decided to move north to Yamagata hoping to be able to stay there longer. Nothing is clear to us - Will be able to go back home? If so, how long it will take? Will we ever be able to worship in our church again, or will the town simply be abandoned? Like the Israelites in the desert, all we can do is follow God as He leads us with pillars of fire and clouds.
lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you — the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. ’
14th March - Report 2
We have contacted 150 church members and they are safe. Hallelujah! One sister told me that waves approached her but she was able to swim to safety. My eyes fill with tears as I call members from a pay phone - fifty or sixty still need to be contacted.
As we travelled to Yonezawa we bought quite a few materials. I heard other shoppers say, “He is panic buying” but I didn’t feel like defending myself. Buses took us to the rescue centres. One of them is quite comfortable with hot springs nearby and some shops too. Another place has no heating, and very little food. To protect ourselves from cold, I bought many pairs of warm socks. At a mobile phone shop, I asked for a charger and extra cables. They spoke words of encouragement which was quite moving.
I hear news of rescue teams coming from abroad, it moves me to tears. To avoid
congestion, we will leave in two hours time, after midnight.
13th March - Report 1
Evacuation report by Pastor Akira Satoh
Dear members of churches and pastors,
Praise the name of the Lord. I truly appreciate all your prayers and thoughts for us.
March 11th, when the earthquake struck, I was in Chiba to attend the
commencement ceremony of Tokyo Christian University. I am still in Chiba
because of the rough conditions of the road and the lack of gasoline. I have
been trying to contact with church members who were stricken by the quake, as
well as with Rev. Masashi Sato, and finding out how they are doing.
This has been triple disasters. Because of the quake, some member's house was partially destroyed. I still haven't been able to get in touch with the families who live near the beach. JR Tomioka station has been washed away by the tsunami. The city was utterly destroyed. You have already heard of the accident of Fukushima first nuclear power plant. All the residents were forced to evacuate, and my church members had to get on a bus without any belongings and sent to schools and gyms separately. It's been hard to find out how they are doing. I heard that there were not enough blankets for everyone, and some couldn't sleep all night because it was cold in the shelter. In some shelters, no water or food were distributed all day. I'm very concerned for Bro. Suenaga, 95-year-old, who was in a hospital due to pneumonia was forced to leave the hospital to evacuate. There are also people who have broken bones, in need of dialysis, with little children or children with disabilities...
heard that onigiri (rice balls) have been distributed 3 times a day, one each
at a time. Nevertheless, I can't help worrying about those who are elderly and
sick. They must have been exhausted by now. I covet your fervent prayers for
In addition, my biggest prayer request is that there would be no more radiation leaks. The worst possible scenario would be that people would never be able to go back to their town and homes, and that the church would be closed down and the history of mission in this region would end. Please pray this wouldn't happen. Please pray that people would be able to come back to the city and church doors would be opened again and we can praise and worship the Lord there again.
Today's service was canceled as well as a baptismal service and an engagement service which was planned to be held today. I have no idea for how long church members have to wander being unable to go home... I feel depressed to just think about it. However, I do believe and confess that our almighty God and the Lord of the history who reigns everything including nature WILL open a new page of mission and lead us on.
Rev. Keiichi Mori has requested prayer after receiving my phone call this morning. I really appreciate it. Some 10+ people have moved from a shelter to Aizu Chapel. They will stay there. I'm very grateful for it. Others will have to stay in shelters where they are now. Many people have offered help and even to donate. I'm so grateful. The church has been closed and we can't even go into the city, but if you could use the account number which is listed on the Conservative Baptist directory, I'd appreciate it very much. (To give through post office, the account number is Koriyama 1-2199 Fukushima First Bible Baptist Church 郡山１－２１９９福島第一聖書バプテスト教会)
Lastly, my last Sunday's message was titled "Hezekiah, an urgent prayer," Even though I never expected something like this would happen the following week. When about to destroyed by Assyria, Hezekiah put on sackcloth, prayed, and requested an urgent prayer to prophet Isaiah as they faced the life or death crisis of the nation. Then, the king of Assyria went back to Nineveh and killed by his own son. Before Hezekiah knew it, the crisis has passed... We were reminded that God of the history works in a wondrous way. I have never thought I would have to request an urgent prayer just like Hezekiah, and that we would be scattered to different shelters, and read the Word at wherever we were placed.
Again, I humbly request your fervent, urgent prayers that our church would survive this crisis and the work of mission would not be stopped, that we would rise again, and that the radiation leak would be stopped. I covet your prayer.