After my time in October helping out in the tsunami areas of the Pacific coast of Iwate prefecture, I was eager to get back and help once again. The week of November 28-December 2 gave me that chance. This time I went with Matt Williams. Matt is 25, and is from Redeemer Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN – one of our faithful supporting churches.
Matt and I left early on the morning of Monday the 28th, and took the same route I travelled when I went up in October. We left the Tohoku express highway in Ichinoseki, and went due east to the coastal city of Kesennuma. From there we worked our way north up the coast to the city of Miyako. Since I had been there before, it was good to see it through Matt’s eyes, as he was looking on the devastation for the first time.
What struck me there, as it did in the other cities and towns along the coast, was how little had changed. The rubble was perhaps a bit more sorted through and put in neat piles, and there was some construction work to improve roads and clear out remaining concrete foundations. But overall the scenes weren’t too much different than six weeks earlier. Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect much change. In any case, I came away with a sense of how enormous the tasks of hauling away rubble and rebuilding communities continue to be.
Matt and I arrived in Miyako as it was getting dark. We had nothing to do that night but get settled in and await the next morning. Tuesday, November 29, started with blue skies, but quickly turned overcast. It would be gray skies each day until the day we left.
After meeting with Pastor Kazuo Iwatsuka of Miyako Community Church, Michio Nagata (the young man from one of our Japan Covenant churches who now works full-time in relief efforts) and other volunteers outside of the Miyako train station, we went on to a temporary housing unit where we bagged supplies for distribution to about 100 homes. The supplies included laundry detergent, fragrant bath salts, and chemical packs that when crushed give off heat to warm cold hands. Interestingly, the laundry detergent is specifically made for drying clothes indoors after washing – residents of the temporary housing units do not have clothes dryers, and most do not have laundry poles for drying clothes outside. Some of the 100 bags of supplies were distributed that morning, while the rest were distributed at other housing units over the next two days.
Our next job was to put on a “mobile cafe” for the residents. We had coffee, tea and some baked goods ready for whomever came to the community room in the midst of the housing unit. Pastor Iwatsuka said, however, that this would be the first time a group of volunteers from the 3.11 Iwate Church Network had visited, and he told us not to be surprised if no one came to the community room.
Pastor Iwatsuka was ready for this. He had asked me to bring my banjo to Miyako, and on this day he asked me to sit outside the community building and play! As I did, one woman and then another poked their heads outside their doors to see what was going on. That gave Pastor Iwatsuka and the other volunteers the opportunity to chat with them, and to encourage them to come for coffee. After only ten minutes we had a small group gathered outside to listen to the banjo. They seemed to enjoy talking to our staff, and with each other.
One of the things that seems to be lacking in the daily lives of people in the temporary housing units is music. I was glad to be able to offer a bit of that, even though bluegrass and the banjo are relatively unknown here.
Beyond that, Pastor Iwatsuka was quite excited to be able to get into yet another government provided temporary housing unit in his city. This was a good beginning, and from this should come opportunities to develop relationships, find out what needs people have, and provide some loving care and attention to those who have lost so much.