Our God, Eager to Save

Posted January 10, 2010

Tomohisa had reached a coveted status in Japan’s vertically-ordered society: medical doctor. Along with the status came wealth, which he used to buy the affection of women…and lots of booze. His selfishness blinded... [Read More]

The Humbled Tsunami

Posted December 2, 2011

When the warning sirens went off, residents in a south Sendai neighborhood fled to the local school. Together with panicked children still in class they climbed to the rooftop. Some 600 altogether... [Read More]

Japanese Get "Bach" Hope

Posted September 21, 2011

Who would have thought Bach would be involved in 21st century mission work in Japan? I have frequently read with interest of the strong connection between classical music (particularly J.S. Bach) and Japanese interest... [Read More]

Tsunami Ground Zero

Posted April 7, 2011

I still haven't returned from tsunami ground zero. That is to say, although I've been back several days already, the reality of the scene is still with me. The incredible amounts of mud in once beautiful homes... [Read More]

"Nice Try, Kevin" File

Posted February 9, 2011

This one goes into the "Nice try, Kevin" file. I just thought it was a nice-looking bunch of flowers in the storefront and, on the spur of the moment, decided Kaori deserved to enjoy them. Chrysanthemums, however, are... [Read More]

The Gulliver Complex

Posted November 9, 2007

I'm a giant again. Well, not really. But it sure feels like it again since returning from the States. The first sign was bumping my head in the shuttle bus from the airport. By habit, I normally duck my head through any... [Read More]

Foreigners Don't Get the Point

Posted January 31, 2010

I'm standing in line at a drugstore with other shoppers. The woman in front of me has just pulled out a business card file. Hurriedly she flips through at least a hundred or more cards searching for the right one. It's a... [Read More]

More Powerful than Bombs

Posted July 5, 2008

Fuchida grew up loving his native Japan and hating the United States, which treated Asian immigrants harshly in the first half of the twentieth century. Fuchida attended a military academy, joined Japan's... [Read More]

Ready?

Posted September 14, 2010

I'd been putting it off. Although I knew it was important, taking inventory of our earthquake and disaster gear just wasn't getting done. Japan rests along the "ring of fire" in the Pacific ocean, a stretch of area that is... [Read More]

150 Years Later

Posted March 17, 2009

This spring marks the 150th anniversary of Protestant Christianity in Japan. The first protestant missionaries set foot in the port of Yokohama back in 1859. Now they were real church planters -- overcoming all... [Read More]

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I for Japan. Japan for the World. The World for Christ. And All for the Glory of God.

— Kanzo Uchimura, Japanese Evangelist

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Rambling Notes from Japan

Here are some blog posts that we hope will make you feel a part of things, and help you understand how to pray better for us and Japan. Please see our external blog in Blogger, if this page does not display correctly.

A Church Without Doors

There's a church without doors in Miyako, Japan. We've seen it for ourselves! The love of Christ spills out of the building and into the community.

"Up until the 311 tragedy, most Japanese didn't even know a Christian. They didn't feel anything toward the church or Christianity period!" says a Miyako Community Church member when I asked her about the impact of the ongoing relief work. "The tsunami changed things. Now, many people around here can say they know a Christian!"

Our team of six from our church plant, Denen Grace Chapel, again worked in the tsunami-struck area for a weekend last month, and can testify to Mrs S's words. Now, through the work of literally hundreds of Christian volunteer relief workers, many understand what Christianity is about: a neighbor there in their time of need with God's words and hands of hope.

Even the local police!

My heart skipped a beat when the Japanese police officer approached our vehicle. I was in the driver's seat; our church team rode behind. We had just stopped at a scenic overlook when the patrol car pulled in next to us. "Are you a church?" the officer asked. "Yes," I managed, confused as to why he would ask and not sure whether this admission would lend credibility or suspicion to my case. "Thanks for your work!" he replied. Then added cheerfully, "Say 'hi' to Pastor Iwatsuka." He recognized our borrowed church vehicle and just wanted to say thanks!

This was another reminder of the impact this church has had in the community since 311. Even the police can say they know a Christian, and have a good opinion of the church's work! Pastor I is now an integral part of community networks, involved in ways the church used to be shut out from.

I preached at the church on Sunday AM, giving Pastor Iwatsuka a needed break. Our team brought some special music. Attendance numbered maybe a dozen or so, typical size for a Japanese church. But that's not their real size...

God has thrown away the doors of the church to provide it with perhaps the greatest opportunity for community engagement in Japan in the last 100 years. And this little church has seized it. Of the 60+ temporary housing areas around Miyako, the church has a ongoing presence in 26 of them!

Into the Community

We follow Pastor Iwatsuka to our first venue: a cluster of temporary housing in Miyako. Pastor I explains the dynamics and challenges for the people in these tiny barrack-like quarters. Three years after the disaster, lack of progress and despair has resulted in mental problems. Suicide is up. 8 out of 10 men are at risk.
Pastor I greets the residents by name, and casually picks up conversations on things they had previously talked about. He knows them!

Meanwhile, we set to action. First, we go door to door, distributing the small gifts and Scripture bookmarks we prepared, and inviting the residents to join our "mobile cafe" in the community room. There, our own Mrs. U has prepared a Bible calligraphy lesson. Residents trace simple Scripture verses like "The joy of the Lord is my strength." We serve hot coffee. I share a short message from the Bible. We sing and pray together. Then we serve them lunch: taco rice and salad. The men are reluctant to come out, so we hand deliver this meal to some of those shut-ins.

We say our goodbyes. Everyone steals a hug from the odd American (myself). Then we go to another temporary housing area and do it all again.

New Waves

This is our fifth trip to post-tsunami Japan as a church, and my ninth visit. The long trek up and back (12 hours by car) is exhausting, but the work is exhilarating. And it REALLY matters to the survivors. Some were near tears, reluctant to let us leave, even following us to our vehicle. Pastor I showed us the activity calendar on the community room's wall. The church-sponsored mobile cafes were the only thing they had! Other NPO activity and volunteers have dried up or moved on. But the church remains!

Though we're still careful to honor the community's rules (no overly pushy proselytizing), none really mind us opening the Bible, praying with them, and using creative means (like calligraphy) to bring God's gospel words of hope. And I've never heard a more tear-jerking strain of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" than the one the residents sing together with us. For the first time, parts of northern Japan are learning that they have a friend in the church, and a friend in Jesus. They are seeing a church without doors lovingly engaging their community and lives.

Pastor I takes us to the harbor around sunset. He shows us a tsunami warning tower with markings on the wall that indicate the height of the previous waves [see photo]. Wow! Yet that great wave of destruction on 311 was followed by greater waves of Christian testimony, and, I believe, will in time produce a great wave of spiritual awakening in northern Japan.

Would you pray for this ongoing relief work among the people of northern Japan? Pray that more would want to know what motivates these Christians to keep coming and keep loving them.

I have uploaded more photos for you to view. More info on Taro (the super seawall town) relief work on our blog here, here, and here.



A Trip to the "Tree of Hope"

I’m a little disappointed with hope. The tree, that is.

I’ve written before about the “Tree of Hope” in tsunami-struck Rikuzentaka, Japan. It’s official name is “The Miraculous Solitary Pine Tree.” Out of a glorious forest of some 70,000 Edo-era trees, this one alone survived the waves of 311. It was heralded as a miracle, a source of hope for a devastated country.

But 16 months later, despite the best preservation efforts, its roots finally succumbed to saltwater poisoning. So it was sawed down in sections. The wood was treated, the leaves coated with a synthetic resin, and a metal spine inserted down its trunk. The $1.5 million price tag for all this preservation work garnered a lot of criticism. Many felt the little city’s relief money might be better spent.

A ceremony for the restoration of the tree was held on March 10, 2013, a day before the 2nd anniversary of the 311 triple tragedy. Here, Yoshihisa Suzuki, president of the association for its preservation, said, “It’s returned at last. I’m convinced that the tree will cheer us up.”

A recent trip up in Tohoku took me close enough to Rikuzentakata to visit the memorial. Though I wasn’t quite sure of the location, it turned out to be hard to miss. The glint of the afternoon sun off the metallic skeleton led me to the spot from a distance. I pulled into a stone parking lot on the beach front and walked the kilometer or so to the base of the tree. A half dozen other onlookers stood nearby.

To be honest, I felt it difficult to be “cheered up” by the sight of the tree. The dead, lonely pine posed so artificially. The scaffolding holding it up as though it were a crippled patient in traction. The desolate, brown “moonlike” beach front. It all had the feeling of melancholy to me.
Rather than a place of inspiration, it seemed to be a place of former glory now lost. The scene reminded me of God’s words through Isaiah to Israel: “You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill” (30:17). Japan’s situation is no less tragic than Israel’s.

I’m sure many tears were shed at the sight of this tree.

I don’t understand God’s purposes for Japan’s suffering, or any human suffering. But I know where the source of hope is in the middle of suffering. He is there waiting for you, and for Japan, to “come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help” (30:18).

I’m so glad that passage continues with words of hope. May I insert Japan?

O people of [Japan], who live in [Rikuzentakata],
    you will weep no more.
He will be gracious if you ask for help.
    He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.
Isaiah 30:19

I’m so glad that God’s response to man’s cries, to Japan’s cries, involved the sending of his Son. Here is a hope that “does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5).

I’m so glad God made a way for Japan to escape bitter weeping and find true comfort.

My “tree of hope” is still the cross of Christ.




The Cross in the Tragedy

I've finished collating a 64-page book of 14 chapters themed around Japan's March 11, 2011 triple tragedy. The book has stories, small group study discussion questions, culture notes and more. You can see the details on our website page here. You may find it useful for personal study and devotions, small group Bible study, or missions education. A leader's guide PDF is also available for small groups here.

Take two weeks for Japan, spending just 10 minutes a day to read each chapter and pray! This is my best effort to share with you our experiences from the March 11, 2011 triple tragedy in Japan, and to look at them through a spiritual lens to see what God what want us to know.

We ask for a donation of $5 to cover printing and mailing costs. You can use the order page here on our website to pay, or make arrangements with us personally.


Two Years Later -- Hope in Christ Alone

Two years after Japan's darkest day since the end of WWII, the memory of 311's earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis is still the somber backdrop for most conversations. Twenty thousand dead or missing in a moment of time. The disaster was so big it echoed to the edge of space. The loss was so much bigger that it echoes in the human heart in every dream and hope, challenge and concern. And there are many of them. Today new worries abound.

What about the next big quake? Don't tell my mother this, but the respected Tokyo University Earthquake Research Institute reported there's a 70% chance that a 7.0-magnitude or higher quake will strike Japan's capital by 2016. Such an event, the scientists said, could mean a death toll of up to 11,000 people and $1 trillion in damages!

What about the return home? Some 350,000 residents still live in temporary housing units and have been officially told to expect to remain there for at least another 5 years. Off the record, many are told it may be much longer. The rebuilding is painfully slow. One man (in the video here) looking out at the vast wasteland of emptiness that was once his hometown sobs, "We have all these hopes and dreams, but in reality nothing moves." Corruption, bureaucracy, and lack of leadership have slowed the recovery to a crawl.

And what about the nuclear resolution in Fukushima? We knew the crops, groundwater, livestock, and dirt were radioactive. But even the surrounding forests are radioactive, according to this article. Entire forests will likely need to be razed and millions of trees burned.

Two years later a tour through the troubled Fukushima nuclear plant revealed row after row after row of enormous storage tanks (photo above), more than 900 constructed to date. And the spent water used to keep the core cool just keeps on coming, 400 tons of radiation-tainted liquid everyday! This video on that scene (Japanese only) has to be seen to grasp the size of the problem.

The worries, water and waste. The pressures and stresses underground in tectonic plates and above ground in lives of people. All these things keep building up. Even two years later. And Japan can only look to one Source, one Hope, for resolution to these things. With problems beyond the scope of man's ability to resolve, Japan must turn to God the Father, their Creator and the Ruler of everything.

And many are doing so in the north. God has allowed this tragedy to result in the softening of many Japanese hearts toward him. Even as the bleak winter desolation of tragedy lies all about them, a new spring of life is seen bursting up from many souls. So Japan! Turn toward your Savior and embrace Him in this moment of grief and despair! May you say, "Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls -- Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." (Habakkuk 3:17-18) Pray for Japan.


Now is the Time

LET (JAPAN) RECEIVE HER KING!

"How are things going in Japan since 311?" Glad you asked. While the physical recovery is still a long way off, the spiritual harvest is here now. A missionary colleague put this video together of interviews from our church association pastors in the north. As you can see, the kingdom of God grows VERY slowly in Japan. In fact, the Christian population here actually shrank the last few years due to deaths and low conversion rate. But...

Now is the time for a great spiritual ingathering of Japanese. As Pastor Kishinami shares in the video, seven or eight out of ten people will respond positively to the gospel message when shared. Five out of every ten will trust Christ. This spiritual window will not remain open forever. And the Christian workers in the north are so few and overworked. Northern Japan's greatest need right now is more Christian workers. Please "ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Luke 10:2).


Another Visit in Taro

I've just returned from a relief trip with a couple others members from our church plant in Kawasaki. I've written elsewhere on this blog about the coastal village of Taro and its great seawall broken and humbled on 311. It generates much emotion to visit an area so obviously devastated by the loss of so much. It will be many years before this place comes back. 

It's a 12 hour drive to Taro from Kawasaki, farther than an international flight from Tokyo to Chicago (and not any easier on the legs and back). The trip had a few unexpected "slips" and "turns" as we ran into a late-winter snowstorm near the coast. Japan generally does not do a lot of plowing, and no salting. So, the mountain roads were quite an adventure to navigate with "normal" tires. Fortunately, I had tire chains along. Unfortunately I had never had occasion to practice putting them on. The chains claimed to be "NO-PROBLEM-30-seconds-EZ-on-and-off chains." I can tell you, in the cold, dark and snow, it was nowhere near EZ. I finally gave up and crawled slowly, slipping and sliding, to the gas station for help. It took them 30 minutes. 

This trip was to a different demographic of people. The survivors who lost their homes in the tsunami have either moved out of the area, rebuilt elsewhere, or are living in temporary housing units. There are several such temporary housing villages within a short distance of Miyako/Taro. During our time in Taro we visited two of these. Nearly 1000 people were clustered together in each village in what resembles army barracks. Space is tight and living is cramped and uncomfortable.

We cooperated again with a local church to do some simple survivor care with these residents. We hosted "mobile cafes" to encourage gathering and sharing with one another. When we arrived in the villages, half the team went to set up the cafe, the other half knocked door-to-door and spread the word that the cafe would open soon. I could tell by the surprised look on some of the residents faces that they had not encountered a big-nose American recently, much less one that spoke Japanese at them. I'm not sure whether this generated more curiosity in the cafe...or more fear. 

We used a common room with rows of tables for our cafe. Off to one side, a table of Christian resources was set up. People looked through and took Christian literature as they pleased. Although we brewed some great coffee, these cafes were hardly quiet coffeehouse experiences. They were times of loud interaction as residents had a chance to share freely and process the events with relief workers. 

Restoring the social fabric of connectedness that was torn by the tsunami is probably the most difficult part of the recovery, but the most needed. One participant of such a cafe said to me, “If we didn’t have this cafe, I don’t think we’d be able to put up with this place (temporary housing communities)...I think I’d lose the fight with loneliness.” I had a particularly interesting discussion with one resident which I will share in a later post.

Unemployment in the tsunami areas is a real problem. Residents try to do their best with a little bit of government assistance and help from family. It will take a long time for the economy to come back. I noted, however, that the town now had a new gas station and convenience store to give people some options for essential things. Ironically, new vending machines were also in place alongside the otherwise barren area next to the sea wall. I suppose a can of hot coffee in the cold winter months is indeed a kind of emotional relief needed.


Without work, residents look for things to keep them busy. One resident shared her newly-acquired talent of basket-weaving. It seems this is a very therapeutic hobby. Her bags and baskets were so well made that we strongly encouraged her to consider selling some. We told her that many people would love to buy a well-made eco-bag for shopping in a desire to support the Tohoku recovery. Of course, true to rural Japanese form, she was very self-deprecating and resisted our praise. We did manage to get her to pose for a photo, though.

I have the sense that God is doing great things in this town and will build His church here in the years to come. The mission potential of historically tough towns like Taro has seen a reboot with the tsunami. Closed networks have cracked open. New networks are being created. A new spiritual openness exists. Community is being reborn. And in that newly forming community, the church will find an opening for its message.

Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). Taro can't deny that it is being gently loved by God's people. In this Christlike love, the church will put down roots in the "swampy soil" of Japan. Toward this end, would you continue to keep Taro and the Miyako area in your prayer?



No Room?

Here is one more story from the tsunami. This was passed along to me by missionary colleague, John Houlette, who helped clean the Matsukawa home of mold to prepare it for interior rebuilding. 

When the 311 earthquake struck, residents in a bay area city of Ishinomaki had precious few minutes to prepare for the tsunami that rushed ashore soon after. Mrs. Matsukawa managed to get herself and her elderly mother up to the second floor of their house before the wave arrived. From their bedroom window they watched the water wash large parts of their town away. People floated past their home. Many of them were soon overcome by the freezing temperature of the early March water. One elderly couple floated near enough for them to reach. The couple had been swimming hard and were completely exhausted. Mrs. Matsukawa called out encouragement, “Hang in there. It’s gonna be okay.” Then, with a small bit of makeshift rope (and no small bit of effort) she managed to pull the couple into her upstairs bedroom. The wife, however, had ingested too much debris-filled water and died on the floor. For five days the Matsukawas and this elderly man slept together in their upstairs room with the dead wife’s body. There was nowhere for them to escape to and no one had come to help.

Mrs. Matsukawa rescued others during those five days as well. Once, in the middle of the night, Mrs. Matsukawa heard a pounding on her window. She laughs now that her response to this knocking was to call out in a sweet voice, “Yes? Who is it, please?” A young mother in the neighborhood had paddled up to her window on a tree limb. When the tsunami struck, this young mother had a 4-year-old son in her hand and an infant strapped to her back. Both children were swept away. She alone was left clinging to a tree in a neighborhood yard. She pleaded for help to the family watching from the home. The family ignored her pleas and shut their windows. Mrs. Matsukawa, however, took this woman in. She piled layer after layer of clothing on the woman’s shivering body to warm her up. She shared the bit of chocolate snack she had left. She made room in her home, and in her already turbulent life, until help arrived days later.

Making Room
When I heard the story of Mrs. Matsukawa taking in a desperate young woman, and another neighbor rejecting the woman, I was reminded of the Christmas story. God was acting out of self-sacrifice and love; man was responding out of self-preservation and rejection. Although not a Christian, Mrs. Matsukawa certainly acted in a Christ-like way. Her neighbor, however, acted more like the innkeepers of Bethlehem. And lest we be too hard on the innkeeper, let’s remember that we, too, have more than once failed to give Jesus his rightful space in our lives. We, too, have unintentionally sent him to “the stable” of our lives on many occasions. 

Although this world and I fail at times to make room for the Son of God, I am thankful that my Savior made room for me: leaving the joys of heaven for the pains of earth, bringing me into relationship with the Father, preparing for me an eternal dwelling.

Our Savior still seeks room in the hearts of people. And the challenge of making room for Christ in my Bethlehem Inn-like heart is certainly reflected by how I make room for his people. None of those of whom God brings into my life will likely ever come paddling up to my window on a tree limb, but many are equally desperate. Although not a Christian, Mrs. Matsukawa certainly responded to the need around her in a Christ-like way. Her response challenges my heart. How about you?



The Humbled Tsunami

When the tsunami warning sirens went off, residents in a south Sendai neighborhood fled to the local school. Together with panicked children still in class they climbed to the rooftop. Some 600 altogether watched as the great tsunami of 311 surged ashore and crushed everything in its path, including a church several hundred feet away between themselves and the shoreline. The raging wave came to the very brink of the school roof, but rose no further. Aerial footage that day showed the group of traumatized survivors huddled together and completely surrounded by water. The tsunami had wiped out everything else. (See Google map of location)

The school roof had saved them. Or had it? Some residents had a different story: “When the tsunami came near that church, it fell to the ground. That was how Nakano Elementary school was saved. If the tsunami had flooded in as it was, all 600 people would have been swept away.” The Seaside Bible Chapel took the worst of the blow, shielding the school just enough from the full force of the water. The school roof refugees were spared. A resident commented: “God sacrificed His own temple to save the children.”

God sacrificing his own to save many. The story has a familiar gospel ring to it. Hasn’t God done the same for us, his children? He’s held back the full punishment headed our way and let it crush down instead upon His beloved Son. That's real salvation!

What’s more, He now humbles personal tsunamis in our lives daily. Most of the schooltop survivors probably overlooked a destroyed church as God’s way of holding back the full force of the waters so it would not overcome them. How easy it is for us, though, to miss God’s work. The storm obeys him. Waters are permitted only so far in our lives and no further: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not flow over you.” Isa 43:2

The end? No, God still has good things for the seaside church. The cross was found among wreckage and placed atop a beam (photo above). There it speaks powerfully to the many people that pass by. In the last 8 months the church has seen more visitors coming to pray in that location than in all its years of existence. The church itself, the members, are meeting in a coffee house. The video clip here tells a little about the effective outreach God has given them already. God has his “Easter Sunday” good purposes in every “Good Friday” disaster!



Relief Work in Miyako-Taro

Taro is a mid-sized fishing community along the hard-to-evangelize coastal area of northern Japan. Twice in Taro's past (1896 and 1933) the town experienced major tsunamis that destroyed much. Small seawalls were built. Then in the 1960's Taro came up with a final solution: a 40-foot high super seawall built at the cost of billions of yen. The town felt secure and took great pride in this human testament to engineering. People felt so secure that they built their new houses right up along the outskirts of the wall. Then came 311. The tsunami completely demolished an older, smaller seawall and easily crested the super seawall. This time the loss of life was great. In the video I've posted here you will see row upon row of unclaimed photo albums in the gymnasium of a town hall. These lives are lost or changed forever.

The "Jesus People" in Taro
Six of us from our church plant in Kawasaki drove to Taro. There is no church here, nor any church in most of these fishing towns along the coast. But a church in Morioka (see video of Pastor Kondo), 70 miles inland, is helping coordinate Christian relief and witness in these devastated towns. The suicide rate there has escalated dramatically post 311. So our focus was heart care: talking with residents, delivering food items, offering to pray, doing light cleaning, asking about their needs, and playing with children.

The people who survived the tsunami were amazingly open, breaking cultural norms to open their home, welcome us in, talk and receive the food items we brought. They were also very near to tears and struggling with survivor's guilt. Many of their friends and neighbors were washed away. They only survived because their homes were built higher up on the mountain side, or they were out of town at the time.

After nearly four months of Christian relief activity, there are early signs of God's work in Taro's healing. There has been no high-pressure evangelism, just steady care and intentional serving of local residents. Many are taking interest in the motivation for these volunteers. Some eagerly take Bibles and Christian literature put out at a outdoor cafe a volunteer team has set up. Others have begun calling these Christian volunteers "Kirisutosha" or "the Jesus people," a term of admiration that rings of what Antioch called early believers they couldn't make sense of.

Would you pray for the energy and strength of Christian volunteers entering towns along the coast just like Taro. The opportunities and needs are great, the resources so few. Pray for wisdom to stretch what God has given.

Would you pray that the people would turn away from manmade security, toward the security of the Everlasting Arms, and receive forgiveness in Christ. Now is the time for a great revival in coastal Japan!



Tsunami Stones

His family perished in the water along with hundreds of others. His beloved town was destroyed beyond recognition. His family home and grave markers were washed away. First the earthquake. Then the waves of water that crushed everything in their path. There was little warning of the tragedy that came ashore that day.

In the midst of his grief, the man desires that generations to come not endure the pain and sorrow that he is going through. They must be warned of the danger of tsunamis! They must not build homes along the shoreline! The man devises a warning system: a marker stone. The year is 1896. The Meiji-Sanriku tsunami has just killed 22,066 Japanese.

Hundreds of these stones are found along the coastline of Japan. Some are more than 600 years old. "High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants,” one reads. "Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis," another stone warns. "Do not build any homes below this point,” an inscription on another stone advises.


In the bustle of modern Japan, many disregarded such good advice, building communities right along water's edge. Perhaps they took comfort in the sea walls built in the 1960's after a smaller tsunami. But in the town of Aneyoshi, a centuries-old stone saved the day. It was advice that a dozen or so households of Aneyoshi listened to carefully, and on March 11, 2011 their homes and lives were spared from a disaster that flattened low-lying towns all around.

A God that loves us infinitely and knows us completely desires that we be spared from personal disaster in this life. He desires that we be spared not from physical death, but from spiritual, emotional and relational death that poor choices and rejection of His ways can bring. His warnings are left for all generations to know and heed. The warnings in His Word are not raging outbursts from an angry God. His warnings are gracious love calls that say, "I am for you. I want you to enjoy everything I have to give you. Listen to my wisdom for your life."

"Today I am giving you a choice between prosperity and disaster, between life and death...Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live." Deut. 30:15, 19 NLT


Tsunami Ground Zero

I still haven't returned from tsunami ground zero. That is to say, although I've been back several days already, the reality of the scene is still with me. The incredible amounts of mud in once beautiful homes, the cars tossed around like toys, the shell-shocked people moving about sadly, the piles and piles of everything imaginable from the lives of so many now gone, the smells of kerosene and decay and sewage, the overwhelming feeling of heaviness...it all comes together in Shiogama. The city (along with Kessenuma, Ofunato, Nattori, and many others) along the coast has was hit straight on by the 40ft. tsunami. It's hard to articulate the sheer size and amount of devastation. Riding through town brought scene after shocking scene of devastation. It hurts my missionary heart to see the extent of sadness and lost hope.

Stateside news has moved on to other topics, but the reality of things here in Japan has just begun. This is a disaster of epic proportion. But even in tragedy there is hope.The cross is being proclaimed. Click this video to see the footage from Tsunami Ground Zero that I've put together. (Churches/Mission Committees: Please download here and use for your church's mission education and vision.)

The most valuable thing?
What's taken away. If you knew that in 25 minutes everything around you would be taken away, what would you do or grab? As the tsunami sirens blared away, families in Tohoku fled to safety with little more than the clothes on their back. And then the monster wave came. Those who hesitated lost their lives. Those who fled lost everything else.

Last week I worked in Shiogama alongside a relief team of 5 missionaries. We were overwhelmed by among the piles and piles of people's once-precious possessions, now broken, muddied trash waiting to be taken away. I was reminded again of the fleeting nature of the things of this world. At one home, we carried out a priceless baby grand piano (photo left) to the curb. I felt truly sorry for the piano teacher in the picture who lost his livelihood and his beloved treasure. At another home at which we scraped out mud, the owner was sorting a ruined collection of home videos and cameras. "Toss it all...toss it all." he repeated. In my feeble attempt to comfort him I said, "This is a sad time. But Shiogama will return. It will come back. I'm praying for you!" The man replied slowly, "Shiogama may come back. But I cannot. I've lost everything. I can't live here again." How great is the loss for those for whom the world is all there is!

What's left behind. The following is from our church association's pastor in Kesennuma. As much as 80% of Kesennuma, a city of 70,000, was destroyed by the tsunami.

Pastor Minegishi was working in his church office when the earthquake struck at 2:46PM. They have many earthquakes in their area, and actually had had one just a few weeks before. At that time, the tsunami warnings sounded, but there was only a small wave. But on 3/11, the jolt was so strong, Pastor Minegishi sensed this time was different. He had worked at a nuclear power plant before and was trained to check the sea right away whenever a quake occurred. So he jumped in his car and rushed to the sea to check whether it was receding or not. Actually he relates he didn’t see a strong recession, but the warning sirens were sounding, and his instincts told him this was the real thing, so he rushed home, picked up his wife and daughter, and headed for higher ground immediately. The roads were still clear, and they could leave the area without any problem. The tsunami hit 40 minutes later. Many people weren’t sure whether there would be a tsunami or not. When they finally realized one was coming, they all tried to make a getaway in their cars. But by then it was too late – the roads got jammed, and they got stuck in the traffic. The tsunami crushed them in its relentless path.

An older lady in Pastor Minegishi’s church shared this story of what happened to her brother. He picked up his daughter with his car, and they headed for his daughter’s child’s kindergarten. They made the fatal mistake of trying to pick up her child instead of escaping themselves and trusting the kindergarten to watch over the children. The schools in Japan are trained to protect the children in their care at the first sign of danger (although there have been some tragic mishaps also). So her child was already being taken to higher ground while they were headed for the kindergarten. Sadly, they got caught in the traffic jam that trapped many. As danger approached, the father ordered the daughter to get out of the car and seek safety in a nearby 3-story concrete building. She did so, but he was still determined to go to the kindergarten. The daughter relates the last words she heard from her father while talking over their cell phones were: "The water's come!" and then he was cut off. The tsunami slammed into the car and swept it away. She has searched in vain for her father and their car, but has not been able to locate either.

Pastor Minegishi returned to his church and home the next day. To his horror, they were both swept completely away, and nothing is left where they once stood. They had built a new church sanctuary and dedicated it just 3 years ago. But they have lost everything. He loves to read and down through the years had collected thousands of books covering many Christian as well as secular topics. But every single book in his library has been washed away. He felt like he has experienced what Job went through when Job lost everything – his home, possessions, business, and even children. Through this experience, Pastor Minegishi has realized that God’s love is the most valuable thing in life, far above all material possessions. He has renewed his dedication to God and wants more than ever to love Him and live for His purpose. He quotes Song of Solomon 8:7 often, "Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away."

Gotta share Jesus
This past Sunday I shared a simple message on Lamentations in light of recent events. In our sharing time afterward, a woman told me excitedly, "I've gotta share Jesus. I've gotta tell my friends that he's coming again. Things in this world are coming to an end someday." Among the confusion as to God's purposes for this kind of evil tragedy, that kind of passion for evangelism is also bubbling to the surface in Christians. That passion in our hearts is also stronger than ever. This is a historic time of opportunity in Japan for missions. I sense that a wave of spiritual awakening in Japan is coming that will be more powerful than any old tsunami. Have you ever thought about coming and sharing Jesus with Japanese? The harvest is ripe and ready! Would you pray and support us as we reach out to these people that need Him?

How to Pray
1) for pastors up north ministering in tragic circumstances, some approaching burnout
2) for stressed out relief workers working daily without electric and water among great sadness
3) for wisdom to organize and utilize resources effectively in the Christian relief effort going on
4) for opportunities to share Christ, and for the response of many to the gospel message
5) for a quick and safe resolution by the Fukushima Fifty to the nuclear power plant crisis
6) most of all, for Japanese to turn their hearts toward God, place their faith in Jesus, and find rest from their heartache in him

How to Give
Please click here if you feel led to give:
1) Regular or one-time support -- through WorldVenture online. We want and need to stay here, and minister to a heartbroken people
2) Our Evangelism Special Project -- all gifts in April will go toward earthquake restoration work and evangelism efforts
3) Japan Earthquake Relief -- general relief fund to aid our WorldVenture churches in the affected area


March 25 - Earthquake (10)

"The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him." Nahum 1:7

Hope is on the Way
We appreciate the many of you who have expressed your prayer support. We're reading those email, we just can't respond.

These are unusual times in Japan. Even as the nuclear reactors continue to belch mysterious smoke and strong aftershocks rattle us daily, we are trying to make plans and move ahead with things. Our strength is in His promises to us.

There has been a tsunami of tragedy, but there will now be a tsunami of Christian relief and hope flooding the area in the days to come. Our church, and many, many others across the country, are hurriedly working together to gather needed items, and holding prayer vigils for this historic time in Japan. Volunteers are organizing into teams, setting up base camps, sharing resources, and enlisting support. Sleepy Japanese Christians are being awakened anew in their faith.

Next week I will be going into the tsunami area on the coast (near Shiogama) with a few other missionaries to get an idea of needs and begin to help with the cleanup. It will no doubt involve a lot of mud. The area is safely outside the evacuated zone around the nuclear reactors (no worries, mom). I hope to take some needed supplies and equipment up as well. We will be making a church our "base camp" and moving out from there. Without running water, food, bedding and little heat, it will be a rustic camping experience. I hate the idea of any form of camping, but I sense God pushing me out. I simply can't stay put here in "safe" southern Tokyo, while people I care are dealing with this tragedy alone.

How to Help
Let's get real practical. Kids of tsunami families need items replaced to get back to school and "normal" life again: school supplies (pencils, erasers, paper, etc.), gym wear, backpacks, athletic gear, etc. Tsunami families that have not lost their homes need supplies for major cleanup: work gear and work clothing, boots, tools, buckets, towels, etc.

If you would like to give toward that specific need please let us know and we will facilitate that for you.

Remember this special 2-minute appeal for prayer from our church is downloadable here, and now also posted on Facebook here. (FBusers, please share and like).

I know churches/groups want to collect these items, but...
Please let us buy these above items locally as it helps the local economy recover and fits the standards for things that Japanese use.

Alternative collection idea for church/groups/individuals
You really want your church to touch this need directly. You need a project. We get it! Easter is April 24. By that time short-term needs will be met, but despair will still be a daily reality. Wouldn't it be great if families and kids could hear the resurrection hope that Christ brings? Wouldn't it be great if they had Easter craft items and resources sent from Christians in America in the love of Jesus that churches could use for outreach? Items such as Easter basket building material, candy, craft material (particularly with Christian symbols), coloring kits, games and prizes, giveaway items, picture books (Easter story), etc, etc. These are items not available in Japan. I'd love to take such items (combined with a few locally bought items) to the affected areas on your behalf. This is a possible idea for churches/mission committees. Please let us know if you intend on doing this so that we are not inundated.

How to Pray
1) for safety as I travel north next week with a few other missionary volunteers
2) for wisdom to organize and utilize resources effectively in the Christian relief effort going on
3) for opportunities to bring encouragement and Christian witness to those we meet in the tsunami area
4) for physical strength and health, and spiritual and emotional strength and health. We know the scene we will go into will be shocking.
5) for a quick and safe resolution by the Fukushima Fifty to the nuclear power plant crisis
6) most of all, for Japanese to turn their hearts toward God, place their faith in Jesus, and find rest from their heartache in him


March 20 - Earthquake (9)

Sunday Renewal
What do you preach after an unspeakable tragedy? After the tsunami, Noah and the flood might at first seem to be dicey choice. But Genesis 8, the account after the flood, is a picture of God's healing grace, renewal of the earth, and firm promise. Pastor Kondo has been preaching through Genesis the past few months. As it worked out, this Sunday was scheduled to be on that very passage. Pastor Kondo preached tenderly and powerfully of the promises of God that carry us through the worst of disasters. It was divine timing and a message of great healing for distraught people.

Thank you for praying for our church today. We were able to hold a service at Cozy Hall as usual. There was no power outage.

I've often been frustrated that the rental hall we have is in a triangle between the police station, fire station and hospital. The constant emergency vehicles with sirens blazing can be unnerving during our services, particularly for newcomers. However, it seems that being in this triangle of necessary emergency services has resulted in us being spared from the planned rolling blackouts. Did God know we needed this location to meet at after such a disaster?

Share this Video
The mood was a bit weary and heavy at the beginning of our time together on Sunday morning. But gradually people were encouraged by each other and the time of worship. After the message, the Holy Spirit open floodgates of emotion bottled up in people's hearts. Many tears as we closed our time together, and then prayed together in small groups.

Many of you have a close investment in our work here. I want to show you a bit of that. I took a video of some of our church members to help you remember their greatest need for prayer. As you can see, by the time church was finished, people were back to smiling. Please look at it below.

CHURCHES & MISSION TEAM MEMBERS: Please show this 2 minute video to your church if possible to encourage their prayer support for Japan at this time. View and download video here.

How to Pray
1) for the rescue efforts going on in the hardest hit areas where 30 of our churches are located
2) for that the current nuclear problems would be resolved soon. The wind is changing direction toward Tokyo.
3) for a "lifeline" to be reopened to the north areas allowing transport of essential items and help
4) for many people in the area that STILL have not yet been heard from by friends of ours
5) most of all, for Japanese to turn their hearts toward Him and for opportunities to witness and comfort
6) that the surging yen would weaken, and the dollar strengthen. It has been going the opposite direction for some time.


March 19 - Earthquake (8)

After the Triple Punch
The 9.0m earthquake and 40ft. tsunami double punch killed thousands (7500 and counting) and left a half million homeless. But then the knockout punch: the nuclear crisis began. The fear that has gripped people has done at least as much damage to the Japanese psyche as the earthquake and tsunami. No, I am not writing this from a fallout shelter. The Lavermans are watching, waiting, praying, planning, but also trying to go about life and ministering to distraught people, albeit in unusual circumstances. The scheduled power outages and lines for many things has made the dark, quiet environs feel a bit like a bad edition of "Survivor Tokyo." (We have a single light on in the house). But Japan is pulling together. Our church people are uniting in prayer. GOD IS AT WORK IN A BIG WAY. Keep praying please! We suffered through Friday (Mar 11), but Sunday is coming for Japan!

On Pastor's story
I want to share with you a testimony from our own Pastor Sato, of Fukushima Daichi Seisho Church. His church is one of the larger (150 members strong. That's big for Japan.) in our association and only 5 miles from the nuclear facility having so many problems. As you might know, the area has been evacuated and is currently a ghost town. Please read it to move you to prayer and praise. Here are his words:

I give thanks for your prayers. On March 15th at 1 in the morning, my wife and I, having joined a truck which was full of relief supplies, stopped at a local store, taking anything we could get our hands on from shelves, buying it all and filling our trunk and back seat area with these supplies we headed north straight for Fukushima. Though on the way we saw sink holes in the road and houses that had partially collapsed we moved smoother than we expected, yet we also heard about another explosion at the nuclear power plant and the leakage of radioactivity and added to that we heard reports of the enlarging of the evacuation area, prohibitions regarding entering the evacuation are and the like, so though perplexed we chose the inland road. It took 10 hours, but finally we arrived safely in Aizu at the refuge shelter (a church) at 11o’clock in the morning. Hallelujah!
About one-third of the 60 church members came from near the nuclear power plant, the radioactivity contamination testing not yet done they then joined us in the afternoon. At that time when we immediately started with a worship service, I began to hear their sobbing voices and I realized just how much each had passed through upon arriving here. In the evening we went to a nearby hot springs and shared the joy of bathing for the first time in five days. We were deeply touched by the kindness of the Aizu Church. One by one, trembling with emotion, I saw them call out and embracing each other saying “You alive!” and the flow of tears fell to flowing again.

And all that to realize, they have just started a Gypsy like wanderings, no longer having a home, and I ask these who left with just the clothes on their backs, “Do you need to launder anything?” and when they answer “We have NOTHING to wash.” I cannot find the words to respond to them. When I ask, I find that some of them have had nothing to drink or eat for 3 days; others had spent those days numb with cold. This drifting lifestyle has just started with the pressing need to secure gasoline and a place to stay. This large family of 60 people trying to live together, and making matters worse this is a nationwide emergency in which it is hard to make decisions, so we have decided to head north preparing to establish ourselves, anticipating a protracted situation. Perhaps as a result of exhaustion, there are those who have received I.V. in the hospitals, both the old and the small children, even as God’s people after the exodus, it looks like we will be traveling in the “wilderness”. Will we ever be able to return to that town? Will it become ruins? Will be able to return in 2 or 3 months? When will we again be able to open our front doors to the church and our homes? All seems to be a drift, in the midst of feeling our way we unite our strength guided by the pillar of fire and cloud, no other option but to wander.

The day before we left, the police gave a special “disaster relief” certification for our car so we were able to get a full tank of gas. Tomorrow the Yonezawa Church will pay a great sacrifice by receiving in their building. We give thanks for their compassion and sympathy, and we can do nothing but kindly accept this means of survival. It is just like living out a scene in a drama, I never thought I would have this kind of experience in my lifetime. O Lord, may you protect this flock that has begun to wander scattered about in various places like the “Remnant” like a people left behind.

Psalms 121 1I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. 3He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

ONE FINAL NOTE: Mr. S, is a member of this church. He is currently leading a project team at the Fukushima nuclear facility, helping to restore the power/pumping needs. God has left a witness from this church in the middle of the disaster.

PRAY!
* Pray that we can hold a worship service tomorrow (Sunday). We are unsure with the power outages.
* Pray for Mr. S's witness at the Fukushima facility
* Pray for the rescue efforts going on in the hardest hit areas where 30 of our churches are
* Pray for wisdom and calm in making contingency plans for our church and mission
* Pray that the surging yen would weaken, and the dollar strengthen. It has been going the opposite direction for some time.


March 18 - Earthquake (7)

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday." Psalm 91:4~6

We wait anxiously for a resolution to the growing nuclear problem in Fukushima. As foreigners leave in droves from Japan, we wonder what God has for us here. Part of us says to evacuate or flee south, too. But our church and Japanese need the hope God brings now more than ever. We have no intention of being foolishly heroic. We are watching the situation carefully and putting together contingency plans. But we feel safe in His care, covered by His wings both night and day. And there's so much opportunity and work to be done now!

Prayer and Perspective
Today and yesterday we had small group prayer meetings. Many tears, much grief, but also a lot of faith expressed in God. Our baby Christians in the church are really growing up, uniting and comforting each other through this tragedy. It makes this church planter proud to see, but I know it is all the Lord's work in their lives. He is glorifying himself in His church in Japan in a big way right now!

Why the Tohoku?
Can we see God's saving mercy in this tragedy in Tohoku area? There will be much time to reflect more deeply as stories emerge in the coming weeks and months, but let me share just a little perspective that God gave me yesterday.

After WWII, our mission entered Japan and began intense church planting work -- not in heavily populated urban areas, but in the countryside of Japan, Tohoku! Why here and not where the masses were? There the gospel was received readily. Churches were established quickly. We have more than 30 churches in the area devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.

It is no understatement to say that this area (the area of current devastation) has been among the most evangelized by our mission. Just as Nagasaki had the longest relationship with the gospel in Japan (500 years) before the atomic bomb fell, so Tohoku has had the longest spiritual opportunity in postwar Japan. And since then, the church there has really worked hard at evangelizing their areas in the last 60 years. It is even reported that one of the Fukushima Fifty (50 workers left in the Fukushima Nuclear Plant trying to avoid meltdown) is a strong believer and leader in his church. God has definitely left a witness. I believe that part of God's plan with all this was to prepare the Japanese people in that area spiritually for this great tragedy. He sent his workers into that harvest field 60 years go to begin reaping the harvest. As Peter 3:9 says, "He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Click here to see before and after pictures of the area.

In my next email I will share a testimony from the pastor of the church just 5 miles from the nuclear facility in crisis.
I do not want to SPAM or fill your email boxes, but we are truly desperate for your prayer. This is a historic time in Japan in many ways. Please allow us to email you regularly as we go through this crisis period.

PRAY!
Please keep praying! You can impact Japan from your knees right from your home!
FB users, register your prayer support here. PRAY...

...for the rescue efforts going on in the hardest hit areas. It is now snowing in the area
...for a quick resolution to the growing crisis in three of the nuclear reactors up north
...for shortages, particularly in the north, to be filled quickly
...for many people in the area that have not yet been heard from by friends of ours
...for wisdom and calm in making contingency plans for our church and mission
...for stress levels on our family and mission family

Additional prayer need: the yen is strengthening (dollar falling) in a big way in the middle of this crisis. This may have long-term impact on many things here. Pray that it will recover to its pre-crisis levels (which was already a major crisis for us missionaries).

We pray especially that many Japanese would turn to Christ through this crisis. Our God is eager to save! We are hearing reports of spiritual decisions!


March 17 - Earthquake (6)

Now what?
That's been the question it seems each day, and sometimes each hour for places north of us. After the quake came landslides, then the tsunami, then the traffic and transportation problems, then blackouts, then the shortages of essentials, then the nuclear crisis, now the snow and freezing temperatures. One Japanese man interviewed on TV today asked, "What did Japan do to be punished like this?

"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." Lam 3:21-24

In my next email, I will communicate a bit of perspective I gained today of the Lord's great faithfulness leading up to this great tragedy.

"What are you standing in line for?"
Today we had a special prayer meeting with church members. I reminded them of how prayer for Japan is now a global movement in the church. They are not alone. They have Christ, and they have 2 billion Christian brothers and sisters praying for them. This is an important reminder for Japanese who suffer from a bit of a minority complex (only 0.5% our Christians.)

At the prayer meeting one lady told an interesting story. The shortages (particularly of gas and some basic food items) have created a bit of panic buying. I took the picture at left yesterday. When I say panic buying, for Japanese that means standing in a very orderly but determined way, even hours on end, until items are completely gone. At a particular store there was a long line that twisted down the block. When our church member asked a shopper toward the end of the line, "What are you standing in line for?" The shopper responded, "I don't know! But everyone else is in line." The people in the middle of the line didn't have any idea either. From the front of the line came the answer: toilet tissue. (Let me assure you that we are well stocked with toilet tissue. Please don't send us any -- this means you, too, mom...I know what you're thinking.)

Our pastors in the news
Three of our church association pastors were in California with a fellow missionary visiting churches and gathering ideas when the quake struck. A local news service did a human interest interview on them here. This is not the circumstances they would want to be interviewed under. They have since returned safely to Japan and are ministering to their congregations.

Pray for our church association with nearly 30 churches in the affected area. One of our flagship churches is only 3 miles from the nuclear facility in Fukushima. Click here to see the video interview.

PRAY!
Please keep praying! You can impact Japan from your knees right from your home!
FB users, register your prayer support here. PRAY...

...for the rescue efforts going on in the hardest hit areas. It is now snowing in the area
...for a quick resolution to the growing crisis in three of the nuclear reactors up north
...for shortages, particularly in the north, to be filled quickly
...for many people in the area that have not yet been heard from by friends of ours
...for wisdom and calm in making contingency plans for our church and mission
...for stress levels on our family and mission family


Additional prayer need: the yen is strengthening (dollar falling) in a big way in the middle of this crisis. This may have long-term impact on many things here. Pray that it will recover to its pre-crisis levels (which was already a major crisis for us missionaries).

We pray especially that many Japanese would turn to Christ through this crisis. Our God is eager to save! We are hearing reports of spiritual decisions!


March 16 - Earthquake (5)

For such a time as this
The events of the past several days, as surreal as they seem, have gradually permeated the atmosphere of everything in Japan. The nonstop tremors, rolling blackouts, emergency alerts and shortages have all created an air of constant emergency that is wearying to body and soul. But we rest in God's goodness and protection. We know that God has a purpose for the events and for us.

Some of you have expressed concern for our safety and asked if we are leaving Japan, particularly with the current nuclear crisis. Thank you for this concern. We are quite safe, and feel secure in God's will to stay put and minister as He allows. There will be much work to do in the coming weeks, months and years, even after the immediate crisis has settled. Troubled times are certainly opportunities to speak into the hearts of Japanese that have been tightly closed. "And who knows (Kevin) but that you have come (to Japan)...for such a time as this?" Esther 4:14

Close Call
One of our church members was shopping with a non-Christian friend at the warehouse club, Costco, here in Machida, Tokyo immediately before the quake struck. She was leaving the building and headed up to the parking, but her friend decided she needed a free refill on her drink for the ride home. Moments later the quake hit. The ramps of the parking garage pancaked on top of each other, trapping cars underneath (photo above at right). This is one of the few structures in Tokyo that received enough damage to make the news. Both were likely spared by the "need" for a refill (the hand of God). he non-Christian friend was pretty frazzled. She has been to our church. She told me in December when I gave an invitation to receive Christ's forgiveness at our Christmas service that she "wanted to put her hand up too." Pray that this close call would urge her to that spiritual decision.

Enough
Some of you have asked what we need. For now, we have enough. We are well supplied! Different areas are struggling with shortages, particularly in the hard-hit Sendai area. Gasoline has been a problem for many. Most stations are closed or have long lines and very tight rations. I had filled up the car several days ago. I grumbled about the gas prices that have steadily crept up above $7/gallon. But now I am thankful to have paid that! Stores have also been selling out of many food items, but we have enough and expect supplies to be restored soon. The rolling power outages throughout Tokyo have not yet affected us. We have running water and gas. The weather is fairly warm. We have all this...and Jesus too!

"We survived the quake & tsunami, but..."
"...but we may not survive the cold and lack of medical care." In stark contrast, there are very serious shortages mounting north of us. Medicine, heating oil, gasoline, food and drinking water, emergency radios, baby items, underclothing, even toilet paper are all in short supply. My personal frustration is to see the desperation of the survivors, and be able to do so little from here.

Tranport service is stopped. Roads are cut off. Nothing gets through. My heartfelt instinct is to grab a shovel and supplies and head north. But I'd soon be a liability myself. There will be time for this type of response with organized teams when the situation stabilizes. The needs in the area will continue for some months (and years) to come.

On top of the disaster and growing humanitarian problems in the north, it is now snowing there and temperatures are below freezing. The gasoline shortage has hampered early relief work. BUT, help is slowly getting into the affected areas. AND a relief effort is being organized by mission organizations here, with the support of many Christian organizations in the States. We expect to be able to tell you more about this in the days ahead. Take a look at one of the planning meetings at left in our mission building here.

PRAY!
We know you are praying. Please don't let up! Double up your prayer time...

...for the rescue efforts going on in the hardest hit areas
...for a quick resolution to the growing crisis in three of the nuclear reactors up north
...for shortages, particularly in the north, to be filled
...for many people in the area that have not yet been heard from by friends of ours
...for Japanese to turn their hearts toward Him

We pray especially that many Japanese would turn to Christ through this crisis. God has purposes.


March 14 - Earthquake (4)

The Search Continues

Slowly information has been coming in from the Sendai areas. The search continues for nearly 10,000 people still missing or unable to be contacted in the hard-hit areas around Sendai. Whole towns simply disappeared in the tsunami. Many of the missing were likely swept out to sea along with vehicles, houses, and everything else. You need to understand that this is not exactly next door to us. As you can see by the map below, Sendai is quite a distance from Tokyo, nearly 150 miles away.

For Kaori and I, the distance makes the devastation no less easy to bear. Now that reporters have gotten into the area, the information coming out steadily is absolutely heart-wrenching. To see the constant unspeakable images of the Japanese people we love suffering (and understand what they are saying), to know (and have visited) the places where the tragedy occurred, and to be able to do SO little from here is particularly emotionally draining. We feel a sense of powerlessness and grief for the incredible humanitarian need just north to us. Yet, we don't dare turn off the news for long periods of time as there is information we do need to know (and much we wish we didn't).

Our situation
Our situation is far more secure and comfortable than many. We have all basic services. Food and water is also readily available. However, rolling blackouts throughout Tokyo have begun today. Japan has been strictly told to do all it can to conserve electricity (b/c of loss of power plants), and so we're heating and lighting a single room (our prayer "command center"). We are told we'll be without power tomorrow for part of the day. We're eating through our perishables in anticipation for blackouts, but have plenty of nonperishable things to keep us going a long time without shopping.

Today I was out for a bit in the shopping area of our town to get an idea as to the mood of things. People are very polite, but there is a general sense of concern and emergency permeating things. Many of the stores were closed. There were lines for many things. Grocery and convenience stores were very busy. One was virtually stripped bare except for some candy and ice cream. Today at least there obviously is a little bit of panic buying in light of the blackouts. I was happy to see that some cereal (which Japanese generally don't eat) was left. It had my name on it so I happily brought it home.

Aftershocks are continuing, a few more than 6 magnitude. We are told to expect a 7 magnitude in the next few days. We have flashlights,blankets, Bibles, earthquake kits (CHECK BLOG HERE FOR INTERESTING STORY ON THAT) ready at the door if we need to leave in a hurry. But at this point it would be unlikely even with a 7 magnitude quake. We are also too far inland to be easily affected by a tsunami.

The real concern remains with the nuclear power plants along the coast up north. It seems that a meltdown may have been averted, but the situation is still fluid and somewhat sketchy. A worst case scenario might have a radiation leak turning the surrounding area (we have a flagship church right there) into a ghost town, and perhaps affecting areas as far south as us. This is highly unlikely, but the surreal events of the week remind us that nothing is beyond imagination at the moment. It's great to know that God's got us covered regardless.

Keep Praying
We as humans live a weak, frail existence. We depend upon a great God, the only One to cling to when the foundations of this world shake. This week reminded me anew of this. And so we need your prayer.

1) for the rescue efforts going on in the hardest hit areas -- it is expected to snow up there tonight
2) for a "lifeline" to be reopened to the north areas allowing transport of essential items and help
3) for many people in the area that STILL have not yet been heard from by friends of ours
4) for three churches in our church association in the area that STILL have not been heard from
5) Most of all, for Japanese to turn their hearts toward Him and for opportunities to witness and comfort
99% of Japanese are without the hope and eternal life Christ gives. We have prayed and sweated for this country's revival a long time. Could God be allowing an answer in this way?


March 13 - Earthquake (3)

Still All Shook Up

We are still shaking here in Tokyo. Sometimes it's us. Sometimes it's the ground. The aftershocks keep coming, continuing to unnerve people here. Thank you for praying.

When the quake first occurred we knew it was severe, but had no idea as to the scope of things. I had been sneezing from spring hay fever and joked lightly that my sneezing just now was powerful enough to move the earth. Slowly, however, as information has come in the gravity of the situation has dawned on us and the nation. It is a truly awesome disaster. We would not wish this upon the country that we love, but God has some purposes even at this time. We rest in His arms.

The quake has been revised to a 9.0 magnitude, the largest in Japan and fourth largest in recorded history.
You need to see some of these photos to understand. They are absolutely apocalyptic.
It is important to realize that this is, for the most part, these are more than 150 miles north of us.

What's next
As if the massive quake, tsunami, dam breaks, and landslides didn't cause enough destruction, the nuclear powerplants along the coast are struggling to avoid a meltdown. We are also expecting some acid rain tomorrow from the massive fires at the oil refinery in Chiba.

Due to the power plant disasters, the prime minister of Japan has just come on TV to tell of rolling blackouts from tomorrow (3/14). We are not sure if we will always be able to communicate with you (don't worry mom, we will be fine!).

We have been warned that there is a 70% chance of a quake (aftershock?) of greater than 7 magnitude in the next few days.

Water and gas (and internet) services are all working for us here in our neighborhood. This is not the case for all Tokyo. Many of our colleagues in ministry are roughing it. I was out earlier this afternoon to do some shopping. Although there is a little bit of panic buying (batteries, bread and some other staple items are sold out), for the most part there is plenty of food and water and everyday items. The atmosphere is solemn and quiet, but we also see some people having their hair done and eating out.

Justen's adventure
Justen was at school at the moment of the earthquake. There was some slight damage to the building. Because the train system had come to a halt (large parts of it still are), the teachers tried to return kids by car, but quickly became stuck in the massive traffic jam caused by everyone having the same problem at once for more than 3 hours. Finally, one of the teachers stayed behind in the vehicle while another walked with the children -- a 3hour walk -- back to that teacher's home in Tokyo. There the kids spent a restless night with a few more adventures thrown in. Justen returned back home safely on Saturday. He was worn out in many ways (and so was his mom).

"Yes, Jesus loves me!"
In spite of all this, thirty people and ten kids gathered at our church plant, Denen Grace Chapel, this morning (3/13). I shared a message of hope from Psalm 23. We had a time of singing, prayer and communion. In the middle of communion twenty-some cell phones went off warning us that an aftershock was imminent. It was quite an unexpected special number!

But the heart-warming scene that brought tears to this church planter's eyes was standing toward the back and listening as church members sang "Jesus, Loves Me." (I took a video of this and hope to post it soon.) Many of them were unsaved and unbaptized just a couple years ago. To see the change in their lives -- and now in the face of this devastating reality -- crumbled down the walls that stress had built over the past few days. The emotion welled up within me. It was all I could do to hold it down as I preached.

PRAY!
There is so much more we could share. Please follow us on Twitter or friend us on FB. We'll try to put some things there. Please understand that we are really overwhelmed at the moment in many ways. Above all, PLEASE PRAY

1) for the rescue efforts going on in the hardest hit areas -- there is much loss of life, pray for more survivors
2) for many people in the area that have not yet been heard from by friends of ours
3) for three churches in our church association in the area that have not been heard from
4) for Japanese to turn their hearts toward Him
99% of Japanese are without the hope and eternal life Christ gives. We have prayed and sweated for this country's revival a long time. Could God be allowing an answer in this way?

We will set up an account shortly to receive any gifts you would like to give specifically to these devastated churches/people.


March 12 - Earthquake (2)

We're still shaking in Tokyo, both from our nerves and the aftershocks. It's been nearly 8 hours since the big quake here.
The phones are finally working again and we have heard from Justen. He is stuck in a monster traffic jam in his teacher's car. Unfortunately for him school is still in session, but he is safe and on his way back home. It may still take several hours.

At 8.9, this was the LARGEST quake in recorded history for Japan. You may have seen some of the incredible footage of the tsunamis (SEE VIDEO) that have swept through Sendai. I am afraid that many people have lost their families, homes or lives. Boats of people have also capsized. It is now night and quite cold here. My heart is heavy with grief for those affected tragically.

Kaori's family (from up north) and here in Tokyo are all safe. We have been in touch with almost all our Denen Grace church plant family and they are also okay. One, however, had a close call when part of the parking garage at the warehouse club, Costco, collapsed nearby her. We are anxiously waiting to hear from churches in our association that are very near the epicenter of the quake.

Millions are without power. Trains are not in operation. Many people are walking on foot back home from Tokyo. It is quite a sight to see.

On a note of sad irony, the multi-million yen hi-tech system that was supposed to ring cell phones throughout Japan to warn of an imminent severe earthquake has just rung our cell phone...several hours too late. Thankfully, other technology is working and we are very thankful for the fiber optic lines that let us communicate with you by email.

Things are still shaking as I write this email. This experience will remain in the Japanese consciousness and memory for some time. Pray that it brings them seek out God and know the Source of true peace.

Pray
...Justen will return safely from school (ANSWERED!)
...that the loss of life will not be great (WAITING MORE NEWS)
...that people will be rescued safely out of the disaster this has caused up north (WAITING & WATCHING)
...that Japanese people will call upon the name of the Lord who will comfort in this tragedy (PRAY HARD!)


March 11 - Earthquake (1)

Some of you may have heard of the strong earthquake that occurred in Japan today (March 11) about 2:45pm our time. It was by far the strongest that we've had since coming to Japan, lasting several minutes, and chasing ourselves and the neighbors out into the street. The quake was centered in Sendai, more than 100 miles north us. Sendai has had its share of quakes in the last couple weeks.

We are still glued to the news to see what damage and casualties this has caused up north, and among our church association. Tsunamis along the coast have already made quite a mess of things and no doubt taken many lives. We have been watching on live TV as the cameras have shown many cars and vehicles being swept away, and many fires. The hardest hit area is close to one of our church locations, and several others are in the area. A larger tsunami is predicted to come soon.

We ourselves are fine. A few things were knocked to the floor, but that's about it. The phone lines are down, but internet is still up. We are waiting for Justen's return from school in Tokyo. The trains are stopped for now and his return for school will be very delayed.

There have been two strong aftershocks in the last hour (those chased the neighbors outside, too), and a small one while finishing this sentence. We are used to earthquakes in Tokyo. But having everything moving around you is still a VERY unsettling feeling.

The earthquake has just been corrected to be a 8.4 magnitude

Pray
...Justen will return safely from school
...that the loss of life will not be great
...that people will be rescued safely out of the disaster this has caused up north
...that Japanese people will call upon the name of the Lord who will comfort in this tragedy


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