Friday, April 29, 2011

Disaster Sites Lure Japanese Holiday-Week HelpersBy TOMOKO A. HOSAKA Associated Press

Dozens of volunteers donned white disposable jumpsuits, rubber boots and hard hats at the 370-year-old Jionin Buddhist temple cemetery Friday, sacrificing holiday time to help shovel away layers of tsunami mud and debris.

Others did more intricate work, tenderly wiping dirt off Buddhist statues and stone carvings.

It's not the way out-of-towners normally spend the start of the so-called Golden Week holiday, when Japanese commonly leave big cities to visit their home towns, take hot spring vacations or travel abroad. But after last month's earthquake and tsunami decimated northeastern coastal towns and left an estimated 26,000 Japanese either dead or missing, these are not normal times.

"I saw the devastation on TV and felt I had to do something," said Junko Sugino, 49, as she dragged a crate of mud through the narrow lanes between the tombstones.

"This is hard work, but it's something that has to be done by people. Machines can't fit into these tiny spaces," she said.

Read more here.

Please keep praying, going and giving.

We Start by Faith
"We do not come to a rational understanding of God's revelation (the Bible) before we are able to believe; we must first put our trust in that revelation in order to see its coherence." - R.C. Sproul

As Anselm's famous slogan goes, "I believe in order that I may understand."
We will never find God unless we truly seek to know Him and, in faith, believe that He can be found. That is why we are saved by God's grace, because this faith is not of ourselves, it is a gift of God so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Will we Speak Japanese or English in Heaven?

Language barriers, differences and translations are sometimes a problem for people, but they are never a problem for God.

John Frame:
We don't know the language by which the Father, Son and Spirit communicate with one another eternally, but it certainly is not a language that we have ever heard on the street.
Indeed, that language is not a language that any human being has ever heard, even in God's conversations with us. Ear has not heard it (1 Cor. 2:9). What God says to the hearers of his divine voice is always a translation of his eternal thought, a translation from his divine speech to human speech. God tells Israel in Hebrew, or in some linguistic ancestor of Hebrew, that he is their Lord (Ex. 20:1-2).
Scripture never suggests that such translation distorts the divine words. His spoken words, so translated, as we have seen, bear his ultimate authority. They are God's personal words to human beings. They are infallible and inerrant... Language diversity has been a great barrier to human unity, but it has not been a barrier to God.
Keys for Kids
I remembered this from my childhood and found that Keys for Kids can be listened to or read on the internet, or be heard as a daily podcast, all for free! Noah, especially, is loving it! I should probably include myself in that. : ) I highly recommend this for kids ages 3-12, or even 35!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Please Pray for These Precious Children

MOMMY WHERE ARE YOU?

Several hundred children have lost their parents in the March 11 Tohoku earthquake-tsunami disaster in North-East Japan.

Orphans are longingly looking at the sea, apparently hoping they will be reunited with their parents. Some smile more than usual, as if trying to drive away loneliness!

Manami is one of the many children whose parents have died or remain unaccounted for since the tsunami struck coastal towns in Japan.

She was at her nursery school when the violent quake struck on March 11. Her mother picked her up soon afterward and they went to their home, located on high ground overlooking an inlet. Their house stood next to a local primary school, designated as a safe evacuation center, but the massive tsunami struck with dark mud waves reaching a height of over 30 meters.

Manami's parents and her 2-year-old sister were swept away by the receding waters. Only Manami has survived. She was saved because her nursery school bag on her back became entangled in fishing nets.

When her grandmother Shizue Neki finally found her one week after the tsunami in a center for survivors, she was worried by the change in her usually lively granddaughter's appearance.

"She looked so sad and said nothing. I thought she'd forgotten how to speak," said Shizue.

On the afternoon of March 22, Manami announced she would write a letter to her mother. She opened her notebook, took up a colored pencil and began writing in the hiragana characters she had just learned in school.

Over the course of nearly an hour, she wrote:

Dear Mommy,
I hope you are alive.
Are you well?

Soon afterward, she fell asleep.

This is the heartbreaking letter written by the 4-year-old Manami Kon.

Manami has begun to smile again, but she will not go near her destroyed house; a look of pain sometimes flashes across her face.

Shizue wants Manami to stay at her house, but the girl will not agree.

“I’ll wait here until Mom comes to fetch me,” she says.

“Will Papa call me?” Manami asks, holding tight to her father's silver cell phone, with the power turned on.

Source: Yomiuri News, N Tateishi 2011-4-24

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saving Lives
TIME magazine: Takeshi Kanno always knew he would save lives in his line of work — but never as many at one time as he did on March 11.
Read more.

He will bring Day from Night!

In Japan, in our devastated, twisted & messy, tsunami torn, refugee lives, we have such a wonderful hope this Easter! Our sure hope is that Christ will bring Day from Night; He will bring everlasting Joy from Sorrow.

Shadows, by David Crowder

Life is full of light and shadow
O the joy and O the sorrow
O the sorrow

And yet will He bring
Dark to light
And yet will He bring
Day from night

When shadows fall on us
We will not fear
We will remember

When darkness falls on us
We will not fear
We will remember

When all seems lost
When we're thrown and we're tossed
We remember the cost
We rest in Him
Shadow of the cross

Thine Be the Glory!
Raise your hands in victory! He is Risen!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection?
Justin Taylor:
Historical evidence alone will convince no one, but Dr. William Lane Craig presents a number of facts that help to confirm the reality that Jesus rose from the dead 2000 years ago.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Keep Praying!
Please keep praying for these men working at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Many of them are Christians and are giving up their lives for their nation.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Smashing my Idols of Comfort & Safety
I think this will be my last post about my experiences in the Tohoku area. I want to sum up my experience of greatness coming out of hard, uncomfortable things in this last entry.

FoxNews.com reported on a story of a fisherman
who rode out the tsunami in Oshima, Japan. He couldn't imagine how he had survived, so now he is trying to help people who need ferry rides across the bay. He said,
"Everyone used to look out for themselves on this island, but after this, the whole community is now helping each other."

One thing I noticed about myself during my trip was how much I value personal comfort and safety. My fears included: being in physically dangerous and psychologically intense situations (someone said we might find dead bodies in the mud), the fear of radiation exposure while going through Fukushima prefecture, the fear of being without comfortable living arrangements for 10 days, and the fear of being away from my kids and my wife for so long. It was almost to the point that I did not want to go at all.

Of course desiring comfort and safety is not wrong, but desiring comfort and safety so much that you do not step out in love to others is indeed wrong. I am thankful that God gave me the conviction to go, despite my fears.

In James 4, we learn that our desires are the cause of the conflicts in our lives. Our idolatrous desires entice us to go against God in order to obtain what we think we must have in order to be happy. Only by God's grace can we fight and win.

As you have read in my previous posts, only as we have been forced to get out of perceived comfort zones and experience hard things, can we know the greatest comfort and happiness as the glory of God is deeply known, experienced and enjoyed. I am very thankful that I was blessed to be able to go and help out in such a needy area, if even for a short time. More than the help I gave was the help my own soul was given. I give God all the credit for that.

I'll leave you with the powerful words on a plaque, written in English, on the wall of the cleaned out church in Kamaishi. It sums it all up wonderfully.
May God continue to get us out of our comfort zones so that we can truly love others.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why We Love Stories
Tim Keller:

You can read online Tolkien’s profound essay, “On Fairy-Stories.”
(HT: Justin Taylor)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hard Things & Great Things - pt. 3

Hard: We got on a train from Tono, the city we were staying, and arrived in Hanamaki for dinner. The night bus was supposed to carry us (another missionary and I) all the way to Tokyo. Little did we know the adventure that was before us!
Leaving Hanamaki the bus driver said, "Please buckle up since we may have an earthquake on the way." I guess it is standard procedure these days. While in Touhoku I experienced an earthquake or two everyday. There have been a total of 947 aftershocks in the area since 3/11, and many think they will continue until next year. (Look here for a very interesting time-lapse scene of all the earthquakes.) I can't imagine what it must be like to have lost everything and then, on top of that, to experience more earthquakes every day.

Right before entering the freeway we had a 7.2 earthquake just south of us in Sendai. The bus was stopped (thankfully) and was shaking really good. I didn't know how bad it was until I looked outside and saw damaged buildings, windows and felt the bumpy road underneath us. At that point the driver said that we were heading back because the roads looked dangerous.

Great:
As I talked to two other Japanese men in the bus with me, I learned a little bit and it began to create some conversation. One of the guys got off at the first stop leaving just me and another 20 year-old man. He looked, spoke and acted pretty rough, but he was SCARED. As he looked out the window he was saying, "This is the end, this is it. Two times, I can't believe this is the second time! I am ready to die. I am going to die."

I learned that he had been in another night bus on the way up to the area when the first big earthquake hit on 3/11. He felt that everything was coming to an end for him. He told me how they had just finished fixing up his father's convenience store that was damaged, and now this earthquake had undone everything. You could see he was losing hope. He asked me, "Do you think this is the end? What do you know about the Mayan prediction of 2012?" and other other questions.

By the time he got off the bus an hour later, we had discussed quite a bit and I was able to talk to him about heaven and hell. He agreed that there was a heaven but he said, "I think I'm going to go to hell though." I simply told him that we all deserve hell because we are all bad, but, I said, "I believe you can go to heaven," In the end I was able to give him the gospel of John. (Yeah, that same gospel of John that I had wanted to leave with someone else.) Please now pray that he would read and receive Christ!

I am excited for how God is using this event for his glory in Japan. Through your powerful prayers (and millions of others like it), Japan can and will be changed forever!

Here are a few more pics of my time in the Touhoku area:
It was great experience to team with over 30 missionary and 7 pastors and countless others during my time there.I was surprised to see this car in the neighborhood during our days of cleaning mud out of houses!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hard Things & Great Things often go Together -
pt. 2

2. Hard:
It was hard to view, for seven days, constant and complete devastation, not only on the landscape, but especially on peoples' faces. That is what really brought trauma to my soul. Perhaps the hardest thing was to look into the face of children and see no sparks of joy or playfulness left in them. It broke my heart to offer them smiles, toys, balloons and hugs and yet be given blank stares in return. Many of the kids did respond, but we need to continue to pray for those who are still in deep despair.
(The view just a few hundred yards down the hill from the elementary school. Many kids lost friends and family here.)

2. Great: Through serving, even for just a little bit, I believe many people's hearts and souls were lifted tremendously, including the souls of many kids. Several kids jumped on my back and played with me. They were eager for love, and I was eager to give it. It was a great joy to smile and laugh with some evacuees and bring them true conversation and partnership. It was enough to tell them that they are not alone, that we are with them.
Outside Kamaishi City, there were hundreds lined up to get free food and enjoy true fellowship. It is a very uncommon sight in Japan. People laughing and crying and hugging and laughing again. No one was hiding behind their usual masks, afraid of showing suffering here. The grace of free food began to mingle with the grace of genuine openness and love. I was so blessed to be a part of it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Buy this Song for $1 & Help Japan

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Hard Things & Great Things go Together
(part 3 of my trip to the devastated area in Japan)

As you know from my previous posts, this trip has made me realize that in great suffering there is also great blessing. (If you haven't read the previous posts, I encourage you to do so before reading more.) I have truly experienced both on this trip. With, and even as result of the hard things, there have been great blessings.

1. Hard: The town of Otsuchi was devastated. Out of the 10,000 people, 4,000 are dead or missing, 1,700 are in evacuation centers and many hundreds are digging out of their mud-filled homes.

1. Great: Teamwork among volunteers from different cities and different countries are coming together to help. More than 90% of the foreign volunteers that I have seen and met are Christians. We brought needed supplies, dug mud out of houses, dumped out damaged items, made 1,700 rice balls for people in evacuation centers, encouraged and played with the children there, and washed the feet of those in the centers while listening to them.Through the daily service of missionaries and other Christians, people in this area are beginning to have a favorable opinion of Christians in a place where there are almost no Christians at all. On the last day I was there we were greeted on the streets as the "volunteer pastors" with big smiles and thank yous. I can't wait to see how God is going to use the steady stream of CRASH volunteers for the next months and years to come!(Playing with the kids and making balloons for them at an evacuation center in Kamaishi City.)
Most say that this is the least reached area in all of Japan. Every house seemed to be deeply involved in Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. What a joy it is then to silently serve these people who are so much in need of God's grace.
This kamidana (god shelf) says, "Protect the inside of this house." This sea area is also "protected" by a large idol. It is clear that these "gods" are not too reliable. (Notice the big Buddhist statue in the horizon below.) More to come tomorrow...
More on the Previous Post

The pastor at Kamaishi Church begins his message.
Only 8 members were there. Most churches are sparsely filled with old people in Japan. (Note the rubble in the background.)
They are going to try to salvage the piano. You can see in the background how deep the sanctuary was filled with water and mud. OMF missionaries had cleaned up the entire church.

The big Bible dries out on the podium.
video
"Arigatou, Kami-sama" - "Thank you, God!" ... even in the midst of suffering.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Reflections on the Disaster & Suffering (Day 2)
Gathering outside by a stove and under a small tent, the Kamaishi Church service began. Later I learned that this fire was continually burning, as a way for victims of the earthquake walking by to come and warm themselves, and have a chance to share their hearts with people who were willing to listen. (Don't we all need this!) There were 8 church members gathered, with about 20 volunteer workers from various places. There were reporters from two different newspapers there, including one from Vermont.

The pastor opened with these words,
"We are thankful for this disaster. It is changing the city and it is changing us."

Are you thankful for struggles in your life? Through common struggles and suffering we are brought together as a family.

The pastor went on to say that we all have a need for support and love, and we all have a need for giving support and love. Because of this we are one, supporter and sufferer. We are all both. We can cry together because we are all sufferers. We can laugh together because we are all supporters. No one is above suffering and if one does not enter into the suffering, no love is communicated. We are all supporters as well. We were made to support each other and share love.

It was inspiring as we sang many songs about suffering, and how God joins us in our suffering through coming to this world and dying for us. Finally we heard a poem read about the disaster. I'll translate some of it for you here:

By a song we can't stop a tsunami, no one can
That's right, certainly that's right
That is why... why not sing together
That is when... we just might know God's heart

After the service we went in the partially cleaned/fixed sanctuary for a time of silent prayer. On the wall was a dirty plaque, not yet removed for cleaning that simply said this:

This cross... of wood...
not steel or refined silver or gold
is the central symbolism within the church.
The most gruesome suffering that may come upon us
may be in fact
the ushering in of new life...
of new beginnings.

May it be so for these people, and for us. Because really, we are them and they are us.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Reflections on the Disaster - Day 1 (April 2) The roads have been cleared (though bumpy), and the bodies are taken (we hope), but other than that, there is nothing but devastation everywhere. Trash everywhere- everything made to be trash everywhere - choking the life and beauty out of everything. Semi-trucks thrown up into trees, homes thrown around and taken up into mountains, massive ships thrown up on to shore. Our task was to help a very traditional Japanese family clean the mud and sea water and sea shells out of their house. There was no husband or son, though pictures were there, only a mother and a daughter. The water had completely filled the first floor at the hightest point. We could see the water mark near the top of the ceiling. The Shinto god shelf (kamidana) had an old paper with writing that said, "Protect this house." The Buddhist shelf was cleaned first and best, while most everything else was still covered in dirt and in disarray. May they know the true God! The people we were working with knew that we were Christians, but the family did not attempt even to talk with us. I was kicking myself for forgetting to leave the gospel of John. After more thought however, I realized that that also would probably be taken as simply more trash. Our presence won't be forgotten, however. That is not trash. It is a joy to help... I couldn't help my hometown in the flood of 2008. I couldn't help my own parents before that with their own home problems. It is a great thing to be able to help and realize that I also need help. Thank you, God, for helping me realize that. When I get back I hope to upload pictures for you.