Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Fukushima - Ok, Lord!

I just returned from my second trip to Fukushima last Friday. This time I spent two weeks there, from July 15th to 28th. I had also gone on a first trip in June for four days, from the 27th to 30th.

It all started around May 20th, when I watched a video online of the work that the church was doing there in Iwaki city, Fukushima prefecture. As I saw volunteers and church members comforting and praying with people at evacuation shelters, God overcame me in the Holy Spirit with weeping and said, "Go there and paint pictures for people!"

Really? Ok, Lord!

It was a step out on limb. Financially and in a lot of other ways. Actually, I have several friends doing work further up the coast in Miyagi prefecture, closer to the worst damaged areas. Don't go with them? "No, go to this church in Iwaki, Fukushima." Ok, Lord!

Getting ahold of them was confusing at the time, and well, my Japanese isn't so great, let alone over the phone! I tried one way, talked to one person, and then didn't hear back for awhile. Actually, I had met the assistant pastor a long time ago when he was a seminary student in Osaka. Didn't know if he remembered me or not, but he had an email address I couldn't forget! Still, getting a confirmation that I'd be able to come (that is, permission or invitation) was not happening. Then when I was having lunch with a friend from the local church here, I felt impressed to ask him about his recent trip to volunteer (in another area, in Miyagi). Then he said he was actually planning another trip, but going to Fukushima this time. "Oh really?" I said. "Where?" "Iwaki..."

Ok, Lord! So I went with him.

Before I went out for the first trip in June, I knew God was sending me to paint pictures for evacuees and to visit them in shelters. But I didn't know if I'd be able to do that or not. I mean, after three disasters (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear crisis) there's a lot of stuff to do. I didn't know if I'd be cleaning up debris, or if I would have a choice or anything of what I did. It was one of the big steps of faith I had to take on that first trip, not knowing if I would get to paint at all.

As it turned out, I painted about 45 pictures for different people in just 4 short days there! The reason was because the church started a "cafe"... they have a lot of supplies that people send them, so they started distributing them. While people are waiting for their requested supplies to be searched for and gathered into one spot, they wait at the "cafe", which is really just a few old sofas and chairs thrown together in a corner of the main floor of the church building (not yet renovated to look anything like "a church"). There they are served drinks by church staff and volunteers, and they can just relax and talk while they wait.

In the cafe, the goal of the volunteers is basically "kokoro no care" (literally, "heart care")... mainly that means a lot of listening. And just plain friendly chatting. Once in awhile there's a volunteer who doesn't do the "listening" part, but is waiting to speak to slip in a word about Jesus and "present the gospel", but for the most part volunteers know their job is listening and loving. And if there is a chance to give the visitor some love by praying for them, yeah, we go for it. If they're open to hearing about Someone who's got peace and hope in His hands because He loves them, yeah, we share that. But if we don't get to, it's ok. Sometimes various volunteers supplement the cafe with their particular gift... some give massages, foot baths, haircuts, I saw a doctor there once giving advice, and of course I was there painting pictures for people.

I had no idea at all that the church had this kind of space or ministry (cafe) there! Generally you can choose from various jobs each day, like cleaning up debris near the coast, or working at the cafe, or cleaning the church or cooking, etc. After the first day, I wondered what I'd do the second day. I felt obligated to do some outside debris clean-up, because really, that's the hard work, right? I felt that I was somehow doing the easy thing and skipping the hard work, or something like that. Then inspiration hit me: Pray about what to do the next day! So I prayed, and He said to do the cafe again the next day. Ok, Lord. On the third day, I prayed and realized the obvious: I'm not going to get to do debris clean-up, am I, Lord? "That's right. I sent you here to paint pictures for people." Ok, Lord.

Also, twice on that first trip and about six times on the second trip I was able to go visit two different evacuation shelters, where we prepared food for the people and then sat to eat and talk with them. I painted a lot of pictures there, especially on my second trip!

By the way, most of the stories and anecdotes from the first trip are on the two blogs I wrote about the trip here:

1) My first Fukushima trip
2) Art from the first Fukushima trip

I guess I should say something about all those pictures I painted. I mean, they seem really "Jesus-y", don't they? It might sound weird to some (but I don't really care, haha), but actually I wasn't being super evangelical. I didn't push anyone into conversation about spiritual things. I listened instead of waiting to speak. I chit-chatted.

We're not supposed to ask people about the disaster, but I take that to mean that we just need to be careful and not directly ask them something insensitive or stupid, like, "Did you see the tsunami?" or "Did anyone you know die?" What I did ask was more like, "Is your home Ok?" or "Is your family Ok?" or "Is your job Ok?" Not in a barrage like that, of course. The goal I had was mainly seeing what difficulties they had. When they did share, like having lost their house, I would simply give the best Japanese equivalent of "I'm sorry" as possible. The goal is mourning with those who mourn, like the Bible says. I didn't want to offer them some cheap solution. And if I could give them a bit of hope or Bible verse, I think that's great but I need to do the "mourning with those who mourn" part first, you know? I need to sympathize with them first. I need to come alongside them in their pain, and even if I can only do that a little bit, it's something. I want them to know that they're not alone. I want them to know that God is with them. But they don't know Him yet. So I need to let them know that we are with them.

And shoot, that was just the very thing that I wanted to do, to be with them in their grief. I don't want them to go through it alone. I want to be there, or another volunteer, or someone, someone at least to be with them there so that they don't have to go through it alone.

The apostle Paul wrote, "Carry one another's burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ." Yeah. Like that. I can't carry the burden forever, and I'm not supposed to. But if I can come alongside and lighten the load for a little bit, that is something. And I can pray that they come to know the same Jesus that helped me by carrying my own load.

So into this goal of listening, morning, and carrying burdens, comes the art. I would pray quietly by myself, and God would give me a picture to paint. A simple picture. Something like Him hugging the person. And maybe a few words, like "God is with you" or a simple Bible verse talking about His love. I would paint it, put it in one of the plastic file-sleeves I brought, and give it to them. I really hope and pray people could get the love from this. I didn't say, "Believe in Jesus and be saved from hell!" or anything like that. My purpose wasn't to evangelize or gain conversion. Yeah, heck yeah, of course I want them to know Jesus! But one thing at a time. First I want them to know that they're not alone. And that they are loved, that He loves them. And if nothing else, we love them and don't want them to be alone.

Sometimes we prayed for people, but whenever I did that I wanted to make sure that the people were open to it, didn't mind, or wanted it. If I prayed for someone, the reason was because I wanted them to be touched by love, and through that love, to know that He loves them and they're not alone.

Of course, things didn't always happen the same way twice. Actually, they rarely happened the same way twice! Sometimes He had me start painting a picture for someone who hadn't even walked in the door yet. Another time I was painting pictures for children before I arrived at the shelter! Other times I would talk to the person first and learn something about them. And still other times people would approach me and ask for a picture! Maybe a picture of them themselves, or one time a lady asked for a picture of Jesus!

I also had various volunteers ask for pictures several times. So I prayed and painted what He gave me, sometimes including words He wanted them to hear. On the second trip, I found myself also getting to know better the church members and the the long-term volunteers. A lot of them are working really hard, and I got to listen and "carry their burdens" too. I was really thankful for that. The "carrying burdens" thing isn't heavy, by the way. All you do is be an ear for someone, and then you keep passing stuff to Jesus and keep your ear open to Him. You stay in His rest and listen, and it's like He siphons some of the weight off of someone while you just sit there and listen and pray. Yeah! Ok, Lord!

So anyway, it's been an interesting journey. And it's not finished. The relationship with the church and the volunteers there has only really just begun. I know God is going to send me back there at least two more times, and already this week I'm going to meet some fellow volunteers here in Osaka.

I still have yet to put up blogs for the pictures from the second trip. Better do that before the third trip rolls around. But in the meantime, there's a volunteer still out there with a gift for writing (among other things!) who is keeping a beautiful blog of her experiences here: http://becauselifewins.blogspot.com/



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