‘We Can Go’

Alliance workers minister in tsunami-ravaged area


It started out like any other earthquake. The hanging light began to swing. The house began to rumble. My friend Pam and I looked up from our Bible study and, for a split second, felt frozen. Would it stop like all the others? This one seemed different.

Was the two-story mission office building going to crumble? We jumped up and ran to the front door. My husband, Harry, who was outside, came running to help us escape. We tried to keep our balance in the street, but it felt as if we were standing on a waterbed. High electric wires looked like jump ropes going around and around, and the buildings were twisting like rubber bands. For minutes, it continued. Then a slight calm and quiet came. Should we go back inside? It seemed safe.

Fallen objects peppered the floor of the house, and drawers had been thrown open. Turning on the TV, we began to see the havoc. But then an aftershock hit hard, and we ran to an open field. Neighbors and school children across the street lined the playground, wondering what would happen next. For several minutes, everything was moving. Finally, it ended.

Little did we know that in northeastern Japan, one of the biggest catastrophes in history was in progress. Reentering the house, we saw live TV coverage of the damage and then the horrifying scenes of the tsunami—30 to 40 feet high in many areas—traveling at 500 miles per hour. The tsunami raged for more than 300 miles along the eastern seacoast and inland up to five miles. Thousands of houses were washed away; thousands of cars were being tossed like toys. But worst of all was seeing people in those cars or standing on top of those houses or trying to run but being engulfed in the most destructive wave imaginable.

Disaster came to Japan that day. Shortages of food and water, gas and electricity changed our lives. Reactors in Fukushima, a city about 140 miles from Tokyo, had been severely damaged, and radiation was feared to be leaking. On and on, the warnings were given to the public: “Do not drink the tap water.” “Cover your face when you go outside so you don’t breathe in radiation.” “Keep children covered.” “Don’t let rain water touch your skin.”

Yet this was nothing compared with the experience of hundreds of thousands of residents in what is called the “Tohoku,” the northeast. There, the final number of those killed or missing stands at about 20,000. Children were swept from their parents’ arms as families tried to escape the powerful tsunami. Many people, old and young, couldn’t outrun the wall of water. Death lay everywhere as the tsunami ripped through city after city, port after port, neighborhood after neighborhood.

Evacuation centers were set up, and people started looking for family and friends. Some found those for whom they were searching, but many did not. A new kind of paralysis hit the beautiful land of Japan. Shock, pain, destruction and rationing, hopelessness and sadness were the new world for the people of the Tohoku.

In the ensuing days, Harry, serving as team leader, put together an evacuation plan for our mission family in case serious levels of radiation spread to Tokyo. And then, another plan came to our five mission families from the C&MA National Office: “A couple needs to be on the ground ministering in the Tohoku as soon as possible. We dare not miss this opportunity to help those who are so needy.”

But who could go? Which family could move to the area of Sendai to open a ministry of help and hope? We went through the list. What about this family? What about that couple? Circumstances were not working out.

As Harry and I sought God’s will for our mission family, we quietly looked at each other and said, “We can go.”

We had never been to the Tohoku. There are no Alliance churches in the region, and we knew no one in Sendai, a city of 1.6 million and the epicenter of the earthquake. We made an investigative trip to search for housing. With 300,000 people in the Tohoku displaced, our mission family prayed with us for the provision of living space in Sendai. We did not want to take housing needed for those who had no home.

As we were praying and searching, God opened a door for a house that had features not attractive to Japanese people. We thanked God for His provision and relied on Isaiah 30:21—“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Harry resigned as team leader, and we began a new journey surrounded by devastation unlike any we had ever seen, waiting each day to hear God’s word of guidance.

Through Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA), the U.S. Alliance relief arm, funds began to come in, allowing us to set up a center to help those who were hurting and in need. Thank God for all who gave. Shinobu Tanaka, pastor of Nagoya Christ Church, and team worker Alan Kropp came soon after we moved to Sendai to pray with us, seeking God’s guidance in the midst of debris and sadness. As we continued to meet with realtors and search for a ministry facility, we partnered with a Japanese church near our house to minister to evacuees in temporary housing.

Through those partnerships, God began to lead us from Sendai, where we had made needed contacts, to the city of Ishinomaki, with only six small churches among a population of 160,000. Forty-six percent of the city had been inundated by water. Thousands of people had died, and homes and businesses were in shambles.

Pastor Tanaka stated it clearly: “It’s what The Alliance does. We plant churches where there are no churches.” With so many homes and businesses destroyed, only God could provide a possible building for sale. Harry returned to the Internet to search.

And then a property came on the market in an area of Ishinomaki where there were no churches. We went to see the building and were met by a realtor who was more than willing to have missionaries as possible buyers. Smiling, he took us through the house, which had been flooded with 11 feet of water. Because it had been built very solidly, it had survived the tsunami much better than other homes. Windows were broken and there were holes in the back walls, but it could be repaired. It had many possibilities for a church that could also house volunteers.

“The neighborhood will be better off if there is such a ministry here,” the realtor said. He then revealed that his mother was a strong Christian, and he had gone to Sunday school as a child.

In our 33 years in Japan, we had never met a realtor so excited about working with Christians. We felt God saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” as the man told us he had already checked to make sure the owner was willing to sell to Christians.

On November 4, 2011, the purchase process began. The Japan Alliance national church partnered with the Japan Alliance mission by registering the contract in its name and giving financial aid. CAMA provided remaining funds to purchase the house, and by December 14, we had the key in hand.

The next step of repairing the structure was a stretch of faith. How could we complete this task? God sent a “Good Samaritan” to our rescue. Since the middle of December, Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse has brought in volunteers to help us. They appear with a smile each day, thanking us for the joy of participating in this relief and church-planting ministry. Teams from Osaka and Youth with a Mission (YWAM) ripped out everything down to the wall studs and shoveled out the ocean sludge and mud from under the house.

Volunteer professional carpenters, an architect and a finish carpenter did basic remodeling of the first floor. They sang for joy to the Lord as they worked and affirmed their love for the part they had in helping to establish a church in this area. They have cleaned and remodeled hundreds of houses in the area, building relationships with Japanese people who have never before met believers. At the end of each of these projects, a dedication service is held in which the love of Jesus and His plan of salvation are shared and a prayer of blessing is offered for the family and the house. Eight people have become Christians and 12 more prayed a prayer of salvation at a neighborhood outreach. When the Father says, “So send I you,” He provides for every need.

After purchasing the building, we began to meet other believers in adjoining neighborhoods of Ishinomaki who are also engaged in ministry and in sharing the gospel. God is opening partnerships with several mission groups to reach Ishinomaki. In March I was diagnosed with cancer and had to have extensive surgery. Harry and I will be leaving for the United States as soon as I can travel, but God is putting a special plan in place for the ministry in Ishinomaki to continue.

The New Life Center was dedicated recently. Through the ministry of this community center, we preach God’s Word, visit evacuees in temporary housing and work with children, all while continuing to help neighbors clean out their homes and rebuild their lives. We pray for a great harvest of souls for eternity.

The Tohoku is often called a spiritually dark region of Japan. As we look to the ocean just four blocks from Ishinomaki New Life Center, we see a lighthouse shining the way for ships to come into port. We thank God that He has allowed The Alliance to open the lighthouse of New Life as a beacon of eternal hope for many searching for the Savior.

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