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).