Michael in Tohoku- August 8-12
On August 2nd, I received a phone call about a group of young people from Osaka who wanted to go to Tohoku with a group called Be-One. However, they need 4 people to serve as drivers of the 2 vans. As I had been wanting to go up north and help out for a couple of months now, this seemed like a good opportunity for me. Besides, since it was a Monday to Friday trip, this meant that I would not have to miss church on Sunday. It turned out that my driving skills were greatly needed even after we got to Ishinomaki. Every day I drove numerous vans full of people and trucks full of relief supplies. All in all, it was a great experience for me. Most of my time serving at SIBC is spent by myself at church (writing messages, printing bulletins, preparing PowerPoint slides, cleaning the church, etc...), so I really enjoyed being able to actually work WITH other people to serve those people whose lives continue to be effected by the tsunami last March. Here are some pictures and a few brief thoughts about my 5 days.
A group of 16 people in two vans left Higashi Osaka early Monday morning. Eight of the people (myself included) were somehow connected to Kansai Christian School. The drive to Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture took over 13 hours.
We started each day with a short devotional, worship and prayer. All of the Be-One volunteers stay in a karate dojo about 30 minutes from downtown Ishinomaki.
After devotions, we all piled in the vans and drove to the Be-One house in Ishinomaki. This is Chad Huddleston, the leader of Be-One, as he gives us our daily assignments. Notice the drywall around the room. Like all of the homes in this area, the first floor was flooded by the tsunami and all flooring and walls had to be replaced. The Be-One house is currently in the process of being fixed up.
I was assigned to drive one of two trucks that took supplies to the hard-hit area of Minami-Sanrikucho. The trucks were loaded down with relief supplies donated by Ace Hardware in Hawaii. These two men, Paul and Milton, work for Ace Hardware. They had sent over 10 pallets worth of various goods, and then came to Japan to personally help with the distribution.
This is us on the way to the town of Minami-Sanriku. Chad lead the way in this truck while I drove the van behind him. The town was about 1 hour north of Ishinomaki.
As you can see, most of Minami-Sanriku was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Even though it has been 5 months since the disaster, they are still just trying to clear away all of the debris. Who knows when they will actually be able to start rebuilding.
More Minami-Sanriku. The devastation is impossible to believe. All survivors who once lived in this area have all be relocated to temporary housing. These are the people that we were bringing supplies to.
Piles of cars like this could be seen all over Minami-Sanriku. One of the big problems is not knowing were to put all of the debris.
Our first stop was a community center that was being used as a shelter for those who lost their homes. Some people have been living in these shelters since March 11. As you can see, the truck was loaded down with hardware items like shovels, brooms, buckets, trash cans, lanterns, duct tape, axes, tarps, batteries and ladders. Whatever people needed, we gave it to them for free.
After giving the center the items they need, one of the women from the shelter came out and began to tell us her story. Her whole family was at home when the tsunami struck. Fortunately for her, when the water rushed into her house, it forced her out the window. Once outside the house, the wave carried her up towards the mountainside where she was able to grab on to branches until the wave retreated. Tragically, she was the only one of her family to survive. Chad had a chance to pray for her, as well as the gentleman in blue who runs the shelter.
This is one of 5 temporary house locations that we visited in order to distribute supplies. To me, it looked a little bit more like a prison camp.
Chad and his son are interacting with some of the residents of one of the temporary housing locations. There are about 4 or 5 housing units in each block, and each house looks to be no bigger than just a room or two.
On our way home we saw this amazing sight. The tsunami wave was so tall that it deposited this car on top of a four-story building!
We spent the morning cleaning out gutters in the badly hit area of Ishinomaki. The gutters are so full of mud, debris and washed away household items, that water could not flow properly through them. We had to take off the cement covers, scoop out the 8-10 inches of mud and then put it in the white bags. It was hard work, and the sun was really hot, but everyone served without complaining.
Taking a break from the hard work.
After cleaning out the gutters, our group then divided into two. My group drove 20 minutes to the town of Onnagawa and visited three temporary housing sites to hand out gift bags to each family. After distributing the gift bags, we drove through what used to be downtown Onnagawa. Again, this small community experienced almost complete devastation. In this photo you can see how a cement building (with the green roof) was tipped over by the tsunami.
Another view of Onnagawa. This area was once packed with houses and building and now EVERYTHING at sea level is completely gone. You can also notice that most of the debris has also been removed. This is one of the few places that had actually been "cleaned up."
Early in the day, our group again divided into two. Each group took a truckload of various supplies (food, clothes and household items) to a neighbor near the Be-One house in Ishinomaki. We then set out all of the goods and called all of the people to come and take what they needed. You can see that the houses in this neighborhood were not destroyed (at least not all of them), but they all suffered sever water damage, making the first floor uninhabitable. These families now living entirely on the second floor, while the wait for the first floor to be repaired. Also, notice the brown trees. The wave of salt water killed off much of the vegetation in the town.
In the evening, Be-One hosted a BBQ for everyone in the neighborhood. In the first few months after the tsunami, BBQs like this were only hot meals (and the only meat) that people were able to eat. About 40 neighbors joined us for dinner. We ended the evening with a rousing game of bingo. The winner received a brand new bicycle (seen in the lower right corner). Since many people lost their cars, and local supermarkets have still not re-opened, bicycles are extra handy for getting around. Of course, everything was free for those living in the neighborhood.
Before people ate, we made a few items available for them. People came with their shopping bags, and picked up with the items they needed. People were limited to one of each item so that as many people as possible could get something.
Another view of the BBQ. On the menu was BBQ chicken, grilled veggies, corn on the cob, Costco hotdogs and potato chips.
We woke up real early on Friday and it the road for the long drive home. Since half of our group was staying through the weekend, we only had one van on the return trip.
All in all, it was a very good experience for me. Now that I have done it once, I REALLY want to do it again, only this time stay longer than just 3 days. The hard part for me is missing church on Sunday. Recently, we have been experiencing a shortage of people who are able/willing to help out on Sundays, especially in he areas of worship and preaching (two things that I do almost every week.) However, if we can work it out for someone to take over these responsibilities some Sunday, I would like to make another trip up north in the Fall. The camaraderie of working together with other Christians, as well as the obvious impact of shining the light of Jesus through our good deeds is not only fun, but very fulfilling.
Please pray that God might open a door for me to return to Ishinomaki. Please also pray for Chris. She is hoping to go up from Aug 22 to 29.