Wednesday, June 29, 2011

CRASH HQ Sendai Trip 6/22-6/26

Reflections from the CRASH HQ Trip Last week. 
(Photo Credit mostly to Pauline Wu)
Special thanks to my team members: Urs, Lalita, Jordan, and Pauline. I enjoyed working with you, laughing at our silliness, debriefing after tiring emotional days, and getting to know you all better. 

This was "Seaside Chapel" in Sendai. Now only the foundation and the cross remain. Those from the congregation who are still alive continue to meet in a cafe. CRASH has been working through this church and doing events, especially for child victims, in the Seaside Cafe. Makes you remember what the important parts of a church are...

This is the CRASH Sendai Morigo base camp which we stayed in. It was a group comprised of individuals from headquarters to observe the base camp procedures and experiment with sending individuals rather than only accepting teams. 

One of our work projects was at the house of Ouchi San, a farmer and volunteer fireman in Sendai, who shared a bit of his story with us. Ouchi san (the one in the middle with the helmet and apron) is a local hero, not only because he is known for growing the most delicious vegetables around, but also because on the day of the tsunami, he went towards the water, where there is an elementary school, to warn everyone to get to higher elevation. Then he drove back towards his house, racing the wave, but was swept away in his car. He managed to climb on top of his drifting truck and grab hold of a roof and hold on. It wasn't until four days later that Ouchi san was able to get news to his wife and daughters that he was safe, because they were at the school. He told us that the kids in the school had watched as people scrambled to get up into buildings but were swept away, and they wrote all over the walls things like "I don;t want to live, because I've seen too many people die." His wife and daughters now suffer from post-tsunami depression and the family is struggling to move on with their lives. Nevertheless, Ouchi san has high spirits and perseverance and, as one of the volunteers said, "sums up all that is good about the people of Japan." I barely even met the man, but I have so much respect for this new hero figure. He is not a Christian, but he accepts help from the church thankfully and allows us volunteers to pray for him. When we asked him what we could pray for, he said, "I already know you have been praying for me. But there are so many other people who are much worse off in my town." He went on to describe some people's predicaments, and then asked us to "pray for everyone." These are the people we are fighting for.

Ouchi San saved this puppy, Rui-chan, from drowning in the tsunami. It has a lot of problems now. It barked at us like crazy, so we asked Ouchi san if Rui disliked foreigners. Ouchi san replied. "He dislikes foreigners. He dislikes Japanese. He even dislikes me, his rescuer. The only one he likes is food. Food is like his girlfriend!" 

This is Ouchi San's farmland, which will take years to be rid of salt and trash, but he dreams of one day farming his famous vegetables again. The base operations leader was talking to him about how the rain coming down to cleanse his field of salt water was God's grace. 

The calander in Ouchi San's house is still on 3/11. He told us that's when time stopped for him, and nothing will ever be the same.

Our other work project was in Ishinomaki. We spent the day clearing out a house of it's mud, fish, and debris to rid it of stench, filling bags with shovel-fulls of rotten goodness-knows-what. 
The combination of strenuous labour, an overwhelming smell, and the view of destruction as far as the eye can see, made it a day none of us will forget. I've smelled a lot of rancorous things in my life, but this was the worst. 

One of my fellow volunteers called it a “little slice of Hell,” and I can't help but agree that it is hard to find God in a place like this. Nevertheless, through the experience, God has renewed my faith in a way that he never has before, and proven himself faithful, even loving, and very present in the heart of this muddy stench, reaching out to these depressed and melancholic people.

Through this trip, my passion to help in this relief effort has grown stronger. I returned to the CRASH office with new insight and motivation to be part of this operation to mend these people's lives and show them the hope they are so desperately searching for. There have been moments where I have been paralyzed by grief, uncertainty, or frustration, but I try to learn from these moments and move on, keeping the broader picture in mind. 

It was a great trip, and I made a lot of friends from all over the world who are volunteering at the base camp. What a beautiful picture of the body of Christ coming together. This is the church.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I just got back from a CRASH headquarters relief trip to Sendai, but before talking about that trip, I wanted to post some pictures from the trip before. Each trip is so good--but only makes a dent on what needs to be done. So as I make all these trips, it starts to become somewhat frustrating, and make me feel helpless. Nevertheless, I learn new things every time, and God is teaching me many things, especially humility and perseverance, and a new kind of faith in him. Sorry the uploading process made this movie pretty low quality, but you get the idea... 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kids, Shovels, Boats, Rubble... Love in Action

 I just got back from helping to lead the CAJ Love in Action mission trip to Sendai. I'm pretty exhausted from it all, and I'm turning around to do another trip tomorrow—it never ends! But its encouraging to see progress being made.
During the trip we went to 3 different schools to lead games and English teaching with elementary and Middle School aged kids. Talking to the kids in these badly hit regions is not as visible progress as clearing out an entire field of rubble, but we allowed these kids who have been through so much a chance to just goof off, laugh, learn, and make new friends who cared about them, even though we didn't really know them. We hung out with hundreds of school children from various areas. This was my favourite part of the trip, because I freakin love those kids. I can't believe all the trauma that many of them have experienced at such an early age. And I also can't believe the remaining resiliency and even joy they are able to muster.
The school that I found the most tragic, and also had an amazing time at was in Minamisanriku. Go ahead and type Minamisanriku into google images or news right now. Now you know what I'm talking about? The town was—is—wiped out. The school remains, because it was on high ground, but around 10,000 people, over half the city population, was killed. The school looks out over a completely obliterated landscape. As we played in the gym, the windows presented an ominous view of a mass grave of water and debris. That is the reality for these children, many of whom have lost one or both parents, family members, and close friends. This is the truth they have to face as they rise up each morning and go to school. What could we possibly do to make anything better. What do I say when a little girl comes up to me and asks me what I think when I look out the window at the demolished city? After questions like “Do you like cherries? And What's your favourite colour?” this one catches me off guard. I don't have the Japanese vocabulary to communicate my sorrow for her, and her people. I Heck I don't have the English vocabulary for it! I want to be able to empathize, but it is beyond me to understand why it all happened, and why these sweet, funny school kids should be victims of such loss. So what cannot be communicated in our little bilingual conversation, I try to communicate through a hug, a smile, a silly ball game, or through writing a note or drawing for them on the scraps of paper they eagerly thrust in my face. I suppose this is what love in action and truth is about, when words and deeds are not enough. I'm just a tall foreigner who visited their school for a day to see a tiny fraction of what they have been dealing with for 3 months. What good can I do, except to make little Nako smile, even if just for a moment. What good can I do? I do know that I will be praying for the kids I met on this trip. Even though I barely know them or remember their names, I love them.
From that school we went on to visit the hinanjo (evacuation/relief center) in Minamisanriku. This was quite a switch of gears, because it was mainly elderly people rather then children, because elderly people get last priority in being moved from the evacuation center to temporary housing units. It was one big room with several people living in it, with their individual corners divided off with pieces of cardboard. As I walked through, I could see into all of their tiny homes, set up much like a group of homeless people in the station. It was fun to be able to talk with and encourage these people and have the chamber singers sing a beautiful Christian song in Japanese for them.
Beyond these trips to schools, the week-long trip involved a great amount of physical labour.
We worked at the Shichigahama volunteer center, mainly digging out ditches so water would no longer get trapped and flood the streets. It was pretty messy work—I'm glad I had boots—but it was also kind of fun, and a bit like a treasure hunt, because there was no knowing what objects you would find in each shovel-full of rubble. We had people working on the Takayama grounds, where many volunteers are being and will be housed. And we spent some time clearing rubble all along the shore. In addition, our family friend Hidemasa Endo san had his and his families' houses destroyed, with mountains of rubble all over his land. Our group helped him clear his land, including horrendous tangles of fishing nets, and pieces of the bath room, and all kinds of heavy, dirty loads. Hidemasa san also asked some of the guys to get his fishing-boat out of a tree and into the water, which they did, do he has his livelihood back! We also cleared the farm land of Hidemasa san's friend, so that he too could have his livelihood back. This was certainly the smelliest job, because layers of muck, debris and fish guts were being uncovered.
One of the highlights of this time was singing with, praying for, and talking with Hidemasa san. He was telling me about the losses experienced in Shichigaham—how the stretch of knocked out houses we had just driven past was where 10 people died, and how 5 were close family or friends to him. One of his friends was in the 2nd story of his house during the tsunami and the water did not reach up to him, but he later found a car basically inside his house. He was so happy and thankful for our help, and it was a joy to be able to serve him.
This was a really great trip. The 40 highschoolers involved were able to jump right in to all sorts of service and everyone maintained fairly positive attitudes. It was an incredible time, but, yes, I am tired in many ways and must continue with CRASH. I'm hoping I myself don't CRASH at any point this week. Uh oh-I'm so tires I'm starting to make puns. Its time to stop. 
(Don't worry Pictures are coming). 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Soccer + Ministry? Yes please.

Tomorrow morning I leave for Sendai to help lead the “Love in Action” soccer and ministry trip. There are 40 high-schoolers coming, so it is guaranteed to be pretty crazy, but hopefully exciting and successful. We will be going to local middle schools to play soccer, teach English, and hang out with the kids there. Some of these schools are in pretty bad shape, supporting kids from several schools because some campuses were destroyed. Especially in locations, further north, and with lower elevation, kids have experienced deaths of friends, family, parents, and community members, as well as other tragedies, so we will probably be dealing with some traumatized youngsters. In just about any non-western setting, two very important things, which schools often welcome help with, are soccer and English. So this will be our means of reaching out to these communities. We will also be doing work projects, probably involving a lot of clearing rubble. Beyond this, everything is still very unknown, so I don't have any other details. We will have to be flexible, patient, perseverant, humble, and willing to just shower floods of love and energy out every single day. 

Meanwhile, tomorrow also marks the beginning of Gospel Team, a high school ministry of street evangelism and rallies for Japanese high schoolers, so they may hear about and come to know Christ. Joy Bible Camp will also be commencing this week, which is a summer camp for young children from all over Japan, coming together to have fun, build friendships, and learn about God and the Bible. 

All 3 ministries rev their engines tomorrow. All 3 are targeting kids of various ages all over Japan. It's incredible to see the potential and know that God has GREAT things in store for the next few weeks, and beyond. Please PRAY for all the camps, trips, ministry, work, and play going on, and for strength, compassion, and wisdom for all those leading. The Kingdom is NEAR! And I don't know about you, but I am STOKED to be even a small part of it! 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Is it just me or does this blog need more photos?

Ok... I admit, for a while I forgot how to upload photos onto here. But I figured it out, no worries. Kudos to Anika--most of these pictures are her masterpieces. 

 It's been great catching up with friends,
 Going to JAM youth group,
 Going to the opening ceremony of Nasu House in Tohoku with CRASH,
 Wearing our awesome オレンジ レンジャ volunteer shirts,
 Ear piercings and chaos at my house all the time,
and soaking up sun at the Kurume river,
...I have good-looking classmates...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Not For Sale

 If you think slavery is wrong, raise your hand. If you have a problem with the exploitation of women and children in every country of the world, usually involving forced sexual prostitution, stamp your foot. I hope I don't have to tell you why humans deserve freedom, but I definitely needed a wake-up call to the reality of this modern issue. What, you want numbers? How about 27 million? That's people in modern-day slavery across the world. What about 1.2 million children exploited by the global commercial SEX trade, every year? There are at least 161 countries identified as affected by human trafficking in this $32 billion a year industry. For those who think this is not a problem in the U.S... there are 14,500 - 17,500 foreign nationals trafficked into the United States every year, and the majority are between 12 and 24 years of age. There are more slaves in our world now than at any point in human history, more slaves today than there were total in the 4 centuries of the atlantic slave trade.

This evening, I went to hear the founder of Not For Sale, an anti-slavery organization, speak in Harajuku. I have heard many people talk about human trafficking, and have been interested in movements to end it since grade 11, but never have I heard someone speak with such specific ways for everyone to get involved like David Batstone did. This man spoke in such a way that presented the gravity and immensity of the issue, but balanced it with stories of how everyday people can make a difference and DO make a difference in their own diverse ways. He was truly inspiring, and I've come away feeling a bit fired up, if you can't tell.

As his lecture commenced, he said something he always tells his university students in his Justice 101 class (O my gosh can I please take that class?!) He says, “Don't try to go out and search for meaning in life. It's right in front of you and all around you. You just have to open your eyes and recognize it.” Working to further the anti-human-trafficking movement does not mean everyone should drop what they are doing and fly to a foreign country in search of brothels to burn. Slavery goes on under our noses in our own backyards. It is even involved in the food we all eat, the clothes we all wear, and the products we use. That's where our first step needs to be.

In developed countries like the U.S. and Japan, there is a certain ignorance, disbelief, and even denial of the slavery that goes on in the cities around us. This is something the church, especially, needs to get involved in. I should hope that if we claim to believe differently from our apathetic non-Christian neighbors, we would also be willing to ACT differently. We cannot remain blind and immobile in the face of what will soon be the largest source of crime and human rights violation world-wide. As Christian we are called to be compassionate, and also just. This means reaching out to victims of global slavery, as well as destroying the root of the injustice itself. We can give a man a fish, and we can teach a man to fish, but we also must create equal access for him at the pond. Without getting rid of the traffickers, and the consumer demand for trafficked products, we can never end it's giant industry.

What can we do? The site gives ratings for how much a company or product involves slavery or unjust working situations. Companies like Hershey's, Hanes, Nestle, Molten Sports, Brigestone, McCormick Food, Godiva, Skechers, OshKosh, Amazon, Reeces, Marvel, and Kay jewelry all rate very poorly. As Christian consumers, we would be hypocrites to condemn the sin of enslaving humans, but support the practice through our consumption, which only fuels the demand for slave labour. am I supposed to just give up buying from pretty much any major production company? Small steps. That's all we can hope for. But we can start questioning the inhumane means of making our favourite pair of jeans until the companies are forced to clean up their act. We can also stay aware of the injustices going on, ell others about it, and contribute to organizations which are working hard to end human trafficking, and create programs for children and adults to have positive lifestyles, prevention, and recovery.

I almost wish I hadn't gone to the conference tonight, because I absorbed every word and cannot pretend to be unaware of the prevailing issue all around me. I can't just close my eyes to the hundreds of millions of people, people beloved to God, who are treated as filthy objects for their whole lives. I can't just notice them and sympathize either. I have to do something. It's not right to do nothing. That's the whole reason that slavery still exists and is flourishing more than ever today—people do nothing. You're probably wishing you never read this as well. Because now you cannot be ignorant. Now you have a responsibility too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Crash Devos
I was asked to give testimony/ devotions in the CRASH headquarters tomorrow morning, so I'm trying to figure out what to say to such a diverse group of people, who I find so much more capable and mature than I am, and have probably been hearing the same words of encouragement for the past 2 months.

I think I will share from Micah 6:8, "He has shown you what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." I love that verse, and it has really guided me this year. There have been times when I am at a peak in my life, and want to show God how thankful and in love with him I am, but I don't quite know how to do that without showing pride or hypocrisy. And there have been times in which I am so confused, and I call out to God, "What should I do?" There have also been plenty of times in which I have been so distraught that all I can do is cry to him, "Why?"

But God calls us to act justly--to feed and talk to the homeless people, and care for your widowed great aunts, to look out for the kids and those who are disabled or suffering, or just in the margins of society;  To be aware of the problems and injustices of the world and do whatever we can to end them; To be a shoulder to cry on for the suffering, and a light for those wandering off course. I know I am so far from being able to do these things, but it is something I have been considering in my actions this year, and aiming for in my life.

God also calls us to love mercy. Everyone has been hurt by someone. Sometimes in small annoyances and arguments, and sometimes the wounds run deeper than anyone can imagine. Showing an act of mercy is a difficult thing, but infinitely more difficult is actually feeling and living that mercy. Besides pain in close relationships, there are also those more distant people who I tease, generally dislike, insult, or simply ignore. I call people names behind their back, and laugh about them, even when I don't know their story. I pass on blame to others and hold grudges. In these things I am extremely unmerciful. I am slowly discovering the immense void of mercy in the world, and how necessary it is. We have to recognize that as much as people can tear us apart, we are out there doing the same thing everyday, often without realizing it. And people are also capable of picking us back up, even holding us up when we can't stand alone. I know I have experienced this with my friends this year. The world certainly doesn't need more pointing fingers, breaking apart, choosing sides, dropping bombs. Show mercy. Forgive each other. Many of our fights are not worth remembering anyways.

Justice and mercy are fairly comprehensible aspects of God's character and will. However, what does it mean to walk humbly with God? At least for me, I know it is impossible for me to show complete justice or mercy on my own. That, in and of itself, produces a spirit of humility in me, and a dependence on God. I also think God brings us to humility through wilderness experiences. By this I refer to the Israelites wandering around, (literally walking) in the wilderness for years, constantly getting their pride knocked out of them, and growing closer to their God. God can use the same sort of situation for each of us. I'm sure some people around me are going through wilderness experiences right now. The awful thing about the desert isn't just the barren dryness where you are standing, but it is the fact that all you can see for miles around you is MORE barren dryness. There's no way out. Not a scrap of food around, not even a Denny's. The Israelites lived from day to day not knowing if they would get their next meal or drink until God provided. I feel the same sense of helpless hopelessness in situations of anguish in my life.

Walking humbly means to trust God in all things, and also to make your life completely God-centered. Jesus himself is the perfect example of walking humbly with God through his lifetime of serving both his Father and his people. He tells us to seek first the kingdom and his righteousness. Not seek the kingdom once you're done seeking your fortune, your relationship, your career, your ministry, but seek the kingdom FIRST. Walking humbly with God means making him our main priority. It means that everything we do is for his glory, and through his grace and power. If we truly walk humbly with God, we will automatically seek justice and love mercy, and do all these things in a God-honoring way.

So stay close to him. Listen to him. Talk to him. Trust him. I don't know much, but these things have been strong pillars in my life. As we strive to make this broken world more whole through justice and mercy, we cannot neglect our personal connection to God. He desperately wants you to walk with him. In a time of national disasters and personal grief, weariness, stress, confusion, and doubt, there little else we can do in response. He loves us and will direct our paths, even in the wilderness.

So I guess I will say something like that... It would be cool to sing that song "Hosanna" by Hillsong too. And I just realized that everything I say has to get translated sentence by sentence, so I better make this more clear and succinct. I don't know if this will hit home for anyone in the office, but at any rate, God put it on my heart to share. So hopefully it isn't too boring or horrendous. Especially since it was produced from midnight ramblings.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Well, as if the senior class didn't have enough grief and trauma for the year, my school, CAJ, has had another heavy blow. One of the senior boys was killed in an accident on his way to school just 3 days before graduation. This is crushing for his family, friends, and teachers, many of whom are very close to me, and it has wrenched the hearts of the entire community. Pray for the peace of the school, the exhausted staff, and Taizo's family and friends as they mourn while still trying to get through the end of the year.