By Jay Haworth, Covenant missionary to Japan
On June 24, a group of 10 young adults from two campuses of the Newsong Church in Southern California came to assist the Japan Covenant Church in disaster relief efforts. I joined the team for a few days to help with transportation and was deeply touched by their enthusiasm and faith. What prompts young professionals to take personal vacation time, pay their own way to travel to a foreign country and do something they’ve never done before for people who don’t even speak their language? The concept of “surrender to God and faith that He will provide” was clearly evident in the team as they sought to serve. What a foundation for ministry!
This is how it worked for the Newsong team. During their first week in Japan they worked with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization with several base camps in the disaster area. Following the disaster, many homes were damaged by the tsunami, but not completely destroyed. On this occasion, the Newsong team went to Minamisanriku to assist a family there. When the flood waters came in, the entire house was submerged up to the roof. While the structure remained intact, everything in the house was damaged, so the Newsong team helped by removing the mud, floorboards, drywall and ceiling. Once the house was cleaned out, volunteer carpenters were scheduled to put in new drywall, floors and ceilings.
Since many of these owners didn’t have insurance to cover this kind of damage, Samaritan’s Purse has stepped in with volunteer labor to help. Owners are invited to join the team as they stand in a circle and pray at the beginning and end of the day. The custom seemed strange to them, but they were deeply moved by the compassion of people who were willing to come and help.
Every owner has a unique story to tell, and over the process of a week a significant bond is formed between these Japanese families and the volunteers. God speaks his love into relationships like these and doors that have been closed for centuries begin to open. Samaritan’s Purse has helped more than 500 families reclaim their homes, and in the process, established new channels of communication for sharing the love of Jesus Christ.
At the end of their first week the Newsong team made its way to Ofunato where the 3.11 Iwate Church Network, a group that we are closely associated with in Tohoku, put on a Summer Festival for the neighborhood, especially those living in temporary housing. Our full-time staff, guided our participation in the festival. The Newsong team was responsible for barbecuing hamburgers and serving the crowd. (200+ people) Other stands included takoyaki (octopus cakes), home made sausage roasted over an open pit, children’s crafts, games and even a stand for foot messages.
Disaster relief takes many forms. While it is easy to repair a building, broken lives are far more complex, so this festival was designed to encourage the residents through delicious food, a free concert and lots of warm friendship empowered by the love of Christ. Once again the team experienced the power of simple acts like drinking tea with those living in temporary housing, playing games with the children and helping with small construction projects. Not only are these acts of love appreciated, they are transformational for the team and the Japanese families who have lost so much. The love of Christ is incarnate in these acts of mercy, and everyone is changed by His presence.
The 3.11 Iwate Church Network and two local community centers jointly sponsored the festival. The on-going partnership between local officials and the church is one of the significant developments of the church’s disaster relief effort. Please continue to pray for the joint relief effort and the many teams who continue to respond to the Lord’s nudging to go and serve. Many thanks to the Newsong Team for their efforts on behalf of the Japanese.