Round Two – Iwate (Part 1)

8 comments Written on April 5th, 2011     
Filed under: earthquake
I’m back in Tohoku! After spending a week at home with Hydi and the kids I was suddenly given an opportunity to come back to Tohoku. Our group met up at IBF (the church where I was attending a pastors’ meeting on March 11 when the earthquake struck). Our group consists of Pastor Ino and Paula Chen, a Taiwanese missionary working with the Japanese Covenant, and Mr. and Mrs. Miyamoto, missionaries sent by the Japanese Covenant to Detroit last summer. They are back in Japan for one month since his parents were in one of the areas affected by the disaster.

We piled in my car along with food and supplies and headed north.

Leaving IBF

But first Pastor Ino and Paula had a tiny shopping errand to take car of. They plan on making lots of trips up here in the coming months but don’t have an appropriate vehicle. So having received the promise of an offering from the Taiwan Covenant Church to cover the purchase of a van we stopped by a used auto dealer and shopped for a van.

"No, I want the pink one!"

An hour later they were the proud owners of a new (for them) van and will take delivery in a few days.

Finally we were ready to hit the road some time around 6PM. About six and a half hours later we pulled into the city of Morioka in Iwate Prefecture and managed to find the church that is hosting us; the Morioka Bible Baptist Church. Pastor Kondo had been out in the hardest hit areas all day and had only gotten home an hour before we arrived. This is one of the bigger churches in Iwate with over 70 people. I was thrilled to learn that it was started by the parents of a childhood classmate and friend, Mark Schiefer.

Morioka Bible Baptist Church

Morioka is quite a ways inland from the Pacific Coast so we piled into a couple of cars and left the church at 8:30AM. Our first stop was another church in Morioka, the Morioka Minami Church where we met up with the pastor and her husband and loaded boxes of supplies into a 4 ton truck. These two churches are from different denominations but have been working together non-stop ever since the earthquake, making daily trips to the coast.

Loading the truck

Lots 'n lots of cardboard!

Next stop was the local home center where we bought supplies and equipment for a base camp site that is just getting set up. The challenge is that it is an inn that was hit by the tsunami and is still without water, electricity or gas.


At last we were ready to head out to the coast. It’s a two hour drive and takes you through some of the most remote countryside I’ve ever scene in Japan. Absolutely beautiful! We made a quick stop at a train station in hopes of finding a bathroom and it was hands down the most minimalist train station I have ever scene.

The building looked like this!

About the size of an American garden tool shed!

Peek inside and you see the daily train schedule posted!

Miss the 6:14 and you'll be looking at a 10 hour wait for the next one!

When you’re used to stations like Shinjuku or Ikebukuro it’s hard to grasp the simplicity of a station like this one!

That's all there is…

Hiratsuto Station

Soon we arrived in Miyako city. Our first stop was the home of a relative of a church member at Morioka Bible Baptist. No one is living there now and we were hoping to rent it as a base camp. But after talking it over with the owner we learned that it’s currently being transferred to a son-in-law and is in escrow so they can’t really do anything with it until the paperwork is cleared up.

Next we headed right down to the waterfront to an inn that is owned by Mr. Abe. The week before there had been a call to go help clean up a particular home in that neighborhood so the team went and worked for several hours at Mr. Abe’s inn. In the end they discovered that it wasn’t the place they had been intending to visit, but in spite of the mistake they struck up a friendship with the thankful owner, Mr. Abe. He ran an inn in his 3 story concrete building, and while the first floor was completely destroyed the building is fine and the 2nd and 3rd floors are untouched, other than the lack of electricity, gas and running water. Pastor Kondo decided to go out on a limb and asked him whether they might be able to house volunteer teams there and Mr. Abe immediately agreed! Talk about a divine appointment!

A team had already spend a day removing the worst of the debris from the first floor, including huge logs that broke loose from the mill across the highway and slammed through the large front windows of the inn. Today we worked on boarding up those windows, doing even more cleaning, unclogging the toilets from all the dirt that washed into them with the tsunami surge and getting things ready for the first volunteer team who arrived in the evening.

Lumber Mill

Boarding up the broken windows

Some time around noon we drove to the next coastal village north of Miyako called Taro. Taro had one of the best sea walls around; 10 meters (33 feet) high and 2.5km (1.6mi) long! A serious case of over-engineering in the minds of most people. The heartbreaking part of the story is that while the wall still stands, solid as ever, the town is completely gone! The water came right up over the wall and washed away hundreds of homes leaving nothing but the foundation and heaps of debris. I have no words to describe the horror. I would estimate that only about half of the debris piles had signs on them saying they had been checked and were ready for removal. On the other lots we saw team after team of military personnel sifting through the piles looking for bodies.

Searching for remains…

We visited a kindergarten and delivered toys, coloring books and other kids supplies. The striking thing about the kindergarten was the white disinfectant power sprinkled all over the playground. They are only blocks from the waterfront and there are probably still hundreds of undiscovered human remains so the fear of disease is very real.

White power all over the ground

Then it was back to Mr. Abe’s inn, where we kept working on clean up.

Srubbing the floor

Unclogging the sink and toilets

Before we knew it a team from Hokkaido showed up to spend the next two nights there. They are relief team made up of members from a whole bunch of churches and are planning to continue sending people for quite some time.

Meeting the Hokkaido team

There is still a lot that can be and will be done to improve the usability of this base camp but we felt pretty happy to have a team come in even as we were doing last minute cleaning.

Mr. Abe's Inn

The first floor room converted into a meeting room/storage space.

In spite of the sheer horror of seeing the death-riddled remains of entire towns swept away I came home tonight feeling genuinely encouraged. I got to see Japanese Christians of all different backgrounds working side by side and hand in hand. I didn’t hear people talking about this being “an opportunity for evangelism”! Instead I encountered Christians who truly believe that everything we are doing is a vital part of the work of Jesus Christ, even when it gets down to srubbing floors and unclogging toilets. I got to see little toddlers playing and having fun in spite the fact that many of them have lost home and even family, perhaps without even really knowing it yet. And most encouragingly I got to meet Mr. Abe, a man who has probably never had a single personal encounter with a Christian in his entire life. Suddenly he has opened his inn to a whole flock of Christians and he seems to be absolutely thrilled to have us there.


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8 comments “Round Two – Iwate (Part 1)”

Wish I was there helping in some way. Tears in my eyes.

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Jim, so glad to read of all that you are doing in Tohoku. Have wished so many times that I could be there to help in some way, especially since we have family in Sendai. Praying for you all!

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Thanks so much for posting this. Our prayers are with you and please let us know if there is anything we can do to help out. Some people in our church would like to help if they can.

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Jim – thanks for sharing what God is doing. I share stories like this with people from my church and encourage people to pray. We know of you through our days as former NLA members of #227. Now we’re stateside praying and asking what God would have us do. We’re with ReachGlobal – EFCA. Blessings & strength be yours!

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It is very exiciting and warm in heart to see my dear friends ministered like servants in the tsunami areas. That is a way to present Jesus! May the Lord give you strength and remember you!
May the Lord bless Japan in His love and righteousness!

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Hi Jim, Thanks for sharing some of your stories and pictures. We have prayed for you and those you are serving with in our Karate class, Sunday school class, etc. I will share this with the people who’ve been praying. The response of the Christian church to the crisis there may end up having more impact for the Kingdom than the ordinary life’s work of all the missionaries serving there. I’m glad you have the opportunity to be in the thick of it all helping out. We’ll continue praying.

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You may be interested to know that Rowena and I have moved to Miyako for the purpose of ministering there for the next 2 years leading OMF’s relief efforts in Iwate. We had a dinner in Mr. Abe’s ryokan last month to celebrate its reopening. Many people used that as a base but now we have set up a separate facility in town and the groups in Hokkaido (Hokumin) have also rented a place as well. We are making weekly trips to Taro too to meet with those who are living in temporary housing.

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Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog. I have heard of your move to Miyako and think it is great! I hope the ministry and service there continues to go well. I’m sure our paths will cross before long. I’ve stayed at the OMF place there as well; even was there one morning when we had a nice rattle followed by about 40 minutes of tsunami warning sirens.

One thing that always makes me sad in Miyako is the lack of communications between the three churches there. Not many places on the Sanriku coast have three churches in the same town… and yet the fact that they don’t even talk to each other is so sad. It seems that the traditional walls between different groupings in the church are more firmly stuck in place in rural areas…

Anyway, blessings on your work there!

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