In a few hours our first Converge Worldwide disaster response team will head up north for the first assignment. The team of 7 people, all from different States, will be working in the Shintate neighborhood of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.
Ishinomaki is one of the hardest hit areas where nearly one-half of the city was swamped by the tsunami. Over 5,000 people were killed or are still missing, making this city about 1/5 of the total dead or missing from this triple disaster. This is larger than the entire Great Hanshin earthquake in Kobe in 1995.
This city of over 160,000 people only has about 130 Christians meeting in 7 churches, 3 of which were damaged by the disaster. Clearly this church, like the rest of the region, is very unchurched and unreached.
The team will be working in over 15 homes which are being cleaned and repaired due to damage from the tsunami. Also work will continue in clearing streets, gutters, and storm sewers. It is hoped that this will be the basis for future connection with the neighborhood and long-term Christian witness and church planting.
The team will be cooperating with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief agency which is led by Franklin Graham. The team will be staying at the high-tech tent city in Tome only 30 minutes from the work site. The team will be working in the area until June 7th when they return to Tokyo. Pray for Aaron, Gayle, David, Ian, Cathy, Monica, and John as they work together to bring hope to these people in the Name of Christ.
Last week John was with four of our Tokyo pastors, a lay couple, and Phil Tsai, short-term missionary, serving with a team in Iwate Prefecture. In John’s previous trip with the Nerima church they worked with the Iwate 3.11 Church Network. This time they stayed at Pastor Kondo’s church where he outlined his vision for church ministry throughout this prefecture. Iwate presents several large challenges to mission ministry. There are only a few existing churches in the area, the prefecture is divided into several regions with their own culture, and there are many cities and towns with no gospel witness whatsoever.
In Yamada City we helped move valuable medical books and journals from a destroyed hospital to one protected from the tsunami. This city has no churches but over 20,000 in population. In Otsuchi City we visited one neighborhood hard-hit by the tsunami and flooding. The people were still trying to clean out their houses. John and Phil were part of a team pulling up floor boards. This is similar work John did a month earlier in another city. For this neighborhood the team prepared a hot Italian spaghetti lunch for 200 people and handed out supplies. This city has no churches. Please pray for Iwate Prefecture and the spiritual need there for disciples, leaders, and churches.
This is a video done by the Rengo about our trip. There is some Japanese narration but enough English titles to follow it closely.
This was the first short-term worker to arrive to work on teams. Phil has been to Japan about 7 times several working at the CPI Conferences. He will be returning with a work team to work August 9-18. Let us know if you would like to join that team. There is also a team forming in mid-June. http://www.convergeworldwide.org/reach-nations/japan-relief
Phil made several videos of our trip which are at YouTube.
John will be leaving today with Phil Tsai, short-term worker, to work with a Rengo Disaster Response team in Iwate prefecture from the 15th to the 19th. The eight member team will include Pastor Sasaki, Rengo Board member, Pastor Kurashima of the Masago church, Associate Pastor Yamauchi of the Chuo church, the Wakaos of the Ishikawa Kita church and Pastor Yokota of the Minami Urawa church. This team is loaded with pastors!
John and Phil will pick up Pastor Yokota and supplies and then rendezvous the rest of the team at the Morioka Bible Baptist Church in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture on Sunday evening where we will spend the night. From Monday we will be working in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture distributing relief supplies, cleaning, removing debris, helping people emotionally, playing with kids, etc.
In this city of nearly 58,000 there are only two churches which together have only a weekly attendance of 39 people. Like the whole Tohoku region, this is a very unchurched and unevangelized area. We will be working with the Iwate 3.11 Church Network which is supporting relief efforts through local churches throughout Iwate Prefecture. Please pray for our hearts and our hands as we bring the love of Christ to this area.
Please pray for opportunities to share the love of Christ both in word and deed on this trip. Pray that we may make many smile with hope. Pray to that God would give both John and Phil wisdom and sensitive eyes this trip. After this month trip, Phil will be returning to Japan later in August with a Disaster Response Team from Chicago (and St. Louis). Maybe some want to join him.
We are back home from the disaster area of Rikuzen Takata City Iwate Prefecture. We are safe but have lots of sore muscles. We worked at shoveling 6 inches to over a foot of dirt, sand, mixed with oil and other debris from the sidewalk that the elementary kids will walk on starting today. The school has been closed since the 3/11 disasters and is opening on Friday 5/6. The side walk is along a very busy street so the kids really need to have the sidewalk clear. We used a pick ax to loosen the dirt so it could be shoveled out of the way. The high school girl who was on the team said her prayer was that God would work in the hearts of the kids that walked along the side walk to heal the trauma they had been through and to bring them to faith in Christ. Knowing that we helped keep these kids safe in one small way is worth all of the travel and the sore muscles.
One of the heart wrenching things we found as we dug along was pictures. We were told to search for personal items as we worked. One in particular touched my (Elaine’s) heart. It was the pictures (taken at a professional photo studio) of a baby boy. Being a new grandmother I know how precious that picture is. I kept hoping that the little boy and his parents survived and that they would find a way to return the picture to them. John found a wedding memento from someone married about as long as us. He also found some graduation pictures of children and one photo of a mother at her child’s wedding.
John developed some contact cards and only had one when we arrived home. He met many different people and shared a bit of encouragement, some of the gospel with them, and prayed with Mr. Yoshida a gas station worker. Many he talked to were still shocked by the effects of these triple disasters. One camera man walked about a quarter mile to talk to us as he did not know what he should do.
Life in the disaster areas is very hard but the few people we talked to are coping. All of the workers (those organizing the city wide volunteer center, Japanese Red Cross workers, those we met at the evacuation center) were amazingly positive and encouraging. Everyone was so appreciative for all of the volunteers who came to help. They constantly thanked us. It will take years just to clear out the destruction but every little bit counts. I kept remembering that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Every step brings things closer to normal. The city we worked in does not have electricity or water but people are getting the help they need and are coping. Many of the homes that were on high ground had port-a-potties outside. The Japan Self Defense Force (army) had tankers of water where people could go to get drinkable water.
On our way back to Tokyo we stopped at another hard hit city Kessenuma in Miyagi Prefecture and met with Pastor Hiroshi Minegishi of the Kessenuma First Bible Baptist Church that was completely destroyed. All that is left is the foundation and the floor. It was very moving to hear him talk with a positive attitude and hope for the future. He and his wife are living in an evacuation center. They said it is very hard to find a place to rent because so much of the city was destroyed and so many people are looking for housing. PRAY that this pastor couple may find housing. We were also encouraged as Pastor Inafuku from the Shinjuku Shalom church has been partnering with him to bring hope to Kessenuma. They have had many teams through the area. Kessenuma had a population of over 73,000 people but only three churches with about 120 attendees before the earthquake and tsunami.
We stayed the first night in a community center (formerly an elementary school) that is being used for volunteer center housing. There were probably over 50 of us sleeping on the gym floor. It gave a feel for what it must be like to stay in an evacuation center. There is no privacy. If one group is noisy, there is no place to escape to. I was so exhausted from traveling all night and then shoveling that I slept through everything. But we only stayed there one night. Those in the evacuation centers have been there almost two months with months if not years ahead of them. There are nearly 200,000 people in these centers. The government is working at putting up temporary apartment like housing which will really help but there are so many who need it.
Today we also received a great encouragement from one of the hundreds that is praying for us. “The work sounds overwhelming except we have an awesome God. May He continue to strengthen you and the teams. We will continue to pray for all of you.” Thanks for your prayers. John heads up north again on 5/15 with a Rengo team along with our first short-term missionary to arrive since the earthquake, Phil Tsai.
We both leave tonight (5/2) with Tom Ellison and 7 others from the Nerima Baptist Church on a volunteer team to the disaster area. We will be working in Rikuzen Takata City, Iwate Prefecture until May 5th. We will be cleaning damaged houses, ministering to people in evacuation centers and developing ministry to children. Due to the earthquake and the tsunami over 2/3rds of the population of Rikuzen Takata City are homeless. There is only one church (undamaged) for this whole city of nearly 24,000 people. Pray that we all would incarnate Christ’s compassion.
1. Along with efforts at disaster response are also our regular ministries to women, LeadNet coaching meetings, Elijah Group and other ministry. Continue to pray for balance in the midst of so many opportunities.
2. The first session of the personal evangelism training last month at the Crossroad Church was excellent. The next lesson is May 22nd.
3. Continue to pray for the CPI Leadership Team as we consider the implications of this large disaster on the ministry of equipping and envisioning God’s workers for evangelism and church planting.
Last month John joined a team from the Kokubunji Baptist church that did volunteer work in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture April 17-20. Pastor Nakano from the Crossroad church also joined the team. There has not been time to develop a video yet, but some pictures and video with English are at the church webpage http://homepage2.nifty.com/kbch/new/tohokusupport/tohokusupport.html. The trip was very successful in completing several projects.
John and a short termer from America will also be joining a volunteer team from Tokyo district churches heading back to Iwate Prefecture from May 15-19.
Several short-term teams are coming to Japan to help with the disaster response. Teams are expected to come this month, June, July and August. Please pray for these preparations and also for God to send more workers into the fall and next spring. WE NEED MORE SHORT TERM VOLUNTEERS and teams to come. If you are interested in coming to Japan as a volunteer or if you would like to apply please go to http://www.convergeworldwide.org/reach-nations/japan-relief .
We are looking for PRAYER intercessors who would like to back up Converge Worldwide (BGC) and Rengo efforts in disaster response. A new website group has been set up at http://groups.google.com/group/Pray4Japan/. Please visit regularly or sign up if you would like these regular updates.