Ishinomaki Team#4: Cooking and offering goods
April 16th, 2011
Early on the morning of Saturday, April 16, our group of 16 volunteers gathered in the parking lot of Tokyo Baptist Church to prepare for the church’s latest relief mission to the disaster-stricken Tohoku region. Knowing that the success of the mission depended above all on God’s providence and guidance, the group first gathered in prayer, calling also upon God for His protection and blessing upon the effort. The team loaded one truck full of relief supplies (clothing, toiletries, canned food, water, etc.) along with two vans to carry cooking supplies, Bibles, and other Christian reading material, to feed both physical and spiritual needs.
After approximately eight-hour drive to Miyagi prefecture with a short delay, and some nervousness (marked by tightly closed windows) as we passed through the outer part of the “hot-zone” radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant, we safely arrived to Sendai city.
When we got to the hotel, God has given to us and to pray for His blessing upon our efforts for the next day. Many team members shared Bible verses that had spoken to them. One member shared Psalm 46: 1God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,3though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. … 10”Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Another member shared from Isaiah 40:28-31: 28Do 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. 29He give strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31but 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. After sharing and lifting up many more prayers to God, the team retired for the night in preparation for the exertions of the next day.
The team awoke early on Sunday morning and promptly departed on the one-hour-plus drive to Ishinomaki, one of the towns that had endured the full wrath of the tsunami. Once we entered the town, we gazed at the large piles of wreckage all around, interspersed between wrecked buildings and streets that had only been recently been cleared of mud. Yet, there was a healthy flow of traffic in the town, with many residents getting around on bicycles – life was beginning to return to normal.
We arrived at our distribution site, a parking lot of an abandoned sushi-restaurant (closed even before the disaster) located next to a water distribution point. Though it was still early in the morning, a group of approximately 30 people were already in place, seemingly awaiting the arrival of relief goods. After unloading the supplies, the group held a short, informal service, including those waiting in line, with a rendition of Amazing Grace in both English and Japanese. A group leader Mr. Ouchi gave a short message in Japanese, and we all prayed as one for God’s blessing and mercy upon the town of Ishinomaki.
After this, we started the distribution of goods, letting people in the line to the goods area 4-5 at a time and encouraging them to only take what they needed. Toiletries, new clothing, canned food, and tea drinks were very popular and disappeared rapidly. Surprisingly, not all of the bottled water was taken immediately, perhaps a factor both of the large quantities we brought as well as the revelation that normal water service had been resumed to some parts of town. Along with the relief goods, we also distributed the full stock of Bibles we had brought with us, along with a healthy portion of the Christian tracts we had. When asked what other goods they would like brought should we return for future relief missions, many residents said that as stores were being restocked, many things were now available. We did get some unusual requests, though, including one for bicycle locks and another for a car, which we said we would take under due consideration. Many residents said that above all, they needed a permanent and safe place to live again and enjoy some precious privacy (many people having come from the official shelters, or living in the remnants of their houses). We were all particularly blessed by one old gentleman, who when asked what he would like us to bring next, simply replied, “your smiles.”
The team made two wood fires, preparing one large pot for pasta and one for cooking the meat sauce. Thanks to the hard work of the volunteers at church who had pre-cut many ingredients, we were able to get things set up fairly quickly.
Without exception, they were delighted at the prospect of having spaghetti. When asked, the residents said that although they had access to cold food, such as onigiri and packaged bread, they could not cook at home and could only get hot food at restaurants. As such, home cooked food was a luxury that many people would be glad to line up for. As we got closer to serving time, our hearts were touched as one young boy approached the team, asking if there was anything he could do to help.
During the food service, especially during breaks as we awaited the next batch of pasta, we were able to talk to many people waiting in line, explaining who we were and that we were in Ishinomaki to share the love of Jesus in a material and spiritual fashion. We continued distributing literature along with the pasta for the next several hours, only stopping past 5:30 pm when we ran out of both pasta and sauce. All told, we served between 400 and 500 people.
Many team members were able to talk with the residents, hearing many harrowing tales of escape from the tsunami and getting a feel for the continuing difficulties they encountered in their daily life. Many families said that they had formerly been associated with the fishing industry, and faced uncertainty and depression when they thought about how long it would be before they could work again. For many, the uncertainty of what the next day, week, or month would bring was the greatest burden. One family in particular was enthusiastic about learning more about the Bible, and we took down their names and addresses to send them materials later on.
After a full day of work distributing goods and cooking food, we carefully cleaned up the area, thanked the landlord for allowing us to use the space, and left the distribution area. We decided to detour to see one of the hardest-hit areas of town first hand, albeit by car and not on foot. As we drove into the main tsunami zone, we were stunned into silence by the scope and scale of the disaster. There were many surreal sights – entire train cars tossed carelessly aside like giant toys, houses missing their first story but with seemingly intact, untouched second stories, giant rolls of paper from the local paper factory ruined and useless in the aftermath of the wave. We were silent and humbled by the sights, smells, and even the eerie lack of sounds in what once was a bustling neighborhood.
We departed, each of us holding firm to our faith in the character of God – we do not claim to know His purposes, but because of the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ know that He is a loving and merciful God, and we prayed for His work to be done even in the face of this disaster.
After we retired to the hotel for the night, God indeed showed us that He is working in the region, as we were able to witness to one of the hotel staff and to her husband. Praise be to God, she accepted Christ as her personal Lord and Savior!
On Monday morning, we gathered once more to share our thoughts and experiences and prayed together again for the disaster-stricken region. We then departed the hotel for an elementary school in the area that was doubling as an evacuation shelter. Although we were unable to get permission to speak directly to the children or the people in the shelter, we were able to prepare candy, snacks, and Christian literature to distribute. We were also blessed to visit a nursery/kindergarten next to the elementary school. Brother F.C. also shared his testimony with the people there, and we pray that God will make the seeds planted on that day grow and flower into faith in His word.
After another long drive, we arrived back in Tokyo, exhausted but filled with the Spirit and with the confidence and joy that God is indeed working in Tohoku. Praise the Lord!