Early this month, City Harvest Church sent a relief team of five people to Japan to bring aid to the people affected by the March 11 tsunami. This is one team member’s firsthand account.
Contributed By Ng Jia Qi
“A typhoon may be coming our way.” That was one of the first pieces of news we received when we arrived in Japan. The implications of that got me worried. I did not travel so far to be stopped by a typhoon. I immediately sent a prayer request back home. I also started to pray in my heart, until I knew for certain the typhoon would not be a problem and there would be sun throughout the time we worked there. Our prayers were answered—this was miracle number one.
The Singapore team met our counterparts, a group of international volunteers from Hongodai Christ Church and our translator from Fukuoka Harvest Church. We traveled through the night to our destination. We managed a couple hours of sleep before breakfast and started our one-hour journey to Ishinomaki, a town that was badly affected by the disaster. The devastation could be seen the moment we entered the town: houses were in ruins and crushed cars littered the streets; there were flat parcels of land where houses once stood. We even saw a ship in the middle of a courtyard!
Our job for the next two days was to clean a temple, which was one the most beautiful things I have done in my life. This was miracle number two: Demonstrating how God’s love transcends religious beliefs. As we worked, we sang worship songs and felt His presence among us. Mud was everywhere as the watermark was more than two meters high. We had to clean everything inside the building by first removing the wooden flooring and then shoveling the sludge below. The smell of stale seawater and decay forced us to put on masks.
The lady at the temple never failed to greet us with a grateful smile. She shared her story as she set our teatime snacks on a little table. Tears welled up in her eyes as she told us how everyone tried to escape by cars, which caused a huge traffic jam. Her own daughter-in-law survived after she ran out of her car and stayed on the second level of her home. I felt her grief as she explained what the red ribbons we saw on the cars signified—someone had died inside. She gave each of us a hug as we said our goodbyes.
The following day, we spent time cleaning the wooden house of a 70-year-old man who survived the tsunami by clinging onto a pillar as the water came pouring in. One of our Japanese teammates had visited him before this trip and learned that he was a widower and lived alone. That teammate promised to return within the month to visit. She kept her promise and brought us with her, bringing life and laughter into his life as we tried to make his home habitable again. When he heard that we were from Singapore, he insisted on giving each of us a cup, out of the few possessions he had that were left behind by the tsunami. It is the most precious gift I have ever received. He had so little yet he was so generous. It was also on this day that we had the privilege of leading him to receive Jesus Christ into his heart.
I learned two things from this experience. First, that we should be faithful in the little things, and second, that we should always keep our word to people. I believe those kind acts opened his heart to God’s love.
The rest of the trip was spent visiting tsunami survivors in affected areas. We saw the remains of the fishing villages in Onagawa. Everything was destroyed. These people lost their loved ones, houses, and livelihood. It was as if the tsunami wiped out their lives and existence.
As we spent time with the villagers in their temporary shelters, I witnessed the beautiful spirit of the Japanese people; the smiles they wore on their faces as they greeted us and the generosity they displayed as they insisted on serving us coffee and sharing snacks with us. Only glimpses of pain flashed in their eyes as they shared their stories with us; stories too painful to hear yet told without a trace of self-pity.
I felt the hopelessness of their situation—having to rebuild their lives and villages from scratch. Yet their resilience moved me as they withstood the disaster and accepted their losses with a quiet grace I had not seen before. I felt God’s grief, but also God’s love. The bonds forged and the experiences my teammates and I went through together will stay with me for a long time.
This eye-opening trip is something I hold dear. It may be a long journey of restoration for Japan and her people but I believe that God has great plans for them. This will not be my only trip to Japan as she embarks on the path of healing and restoration. I believe that as the other teams go to Japan and touch her people, there will be a great harvest in time to come.