International Ministries

Tsunami Report: "Helping Hands"

April 17, 2011 Journal
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Dear Friends,

We just got back from part of the area that was hit by the earthquake and tsunami a month ago.  It was a trip to encourage our good friends, Rev. and Mrs. Usui in Kesennuma and Pastor and Mrs. Fujioka at Nishikiori. It was a time to listen to stories and to listen to the silence when words don’t come anymore.  It was a time to pray with and for those who hurt and those who are helping. It was a time to lend a helping hand, if even for a short time.  It was a time to play and sing and worship also.

Four of us went, our good friend, Mr. Banno, Tomoko, Alisen and myself. We stayed with Pastor and Mrs. Fujioka at the Nishikiori Baptist Church.  The church is several miles inland from the coast, and was safe from the tsunami.

The Fujiokas are both from Nishiokamoto Christ Church in Kobe, where we have served for 13 years.  The night of the earthquake and tsunami, they threw some blankets and a kerosene heater in the car and headed to the closest refugee shelter, a school gymnasium.  It was dark and cold.  The heater didn’t help much in that big room, and there were not enough blankets for the hundreds seeking shelter, so they huddled together to stay warm while it snowed outside.  From that day, Pastor Fujioka has been making regular visits to more than 20 shelters to see what their needs are.  He became one of the first sources of food for hundreds of people in those first days when many of these places were still cut off and isolated from the rest of the world.  Now the Japanese National Guard has arrived and provides the biggest portion of food.  However, Pastor Fujioka is helping to fill in the gaps that exist in the system.  While thousands of people who lost their homes and are living in shelters, thousands more are able to live at home, but their jobs and businesses were swept away with the wave. Community centers are serving as places where people can come for food, and Pastor Fujioka visits several of these each day to provide potatoes, onions, cabbage and other vegetables.  Gifts from American Baptist Churches are being used to help him buy some of these supplies, while donations of money and vegetables from around Japan are also used.

We also visited Rev. and Mrs. Usui at Kesennuma. They had just put many of the children from the church’s kindergarten on a bus to take them home when the tsunami warning was sounded.  The drivers returned to the church, saving the lives of the children. Since many children lost their homes, and everyone was without electricity and water, 90 children and several of the parents spent a week at the church. There were many stories of miraculous rescues and God’s grace, but also stories of pain and loss.  I am thinking of Mr. Saito as I write.  His wife was lost in the tsunami. He has moved home to a house where the first floor was flooded, and many memories swept away.

We spent one morning at the Nishikiori Church’s kindergarten. Alisen brought her Pika-chu Pocket Monster costume and was a big hit.  She also brought soccer balls to give to children at the kindergartens and in the shelters.

On Saturday several of the children came to the church for Saturday Church School. One of the children that came was Takachan.  His family is now living next door to the church with his grandparents.  They lost their home in the tsunami.  It was his first time to come to church.  Isn’t it great that the church is there in times like this?

Thank you everyone who has given a gift to help.   You have touched thousands of lives with the love God and grace of Christ.  You are part of what may be a beautiful Easter story that is unfolding in many lives.

Grace and Peace in Christ,

John and Tomoko Armagost
International Ministries missionaries in Japan

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