Our last stop in Japan brought us to Ishinomaki, a city nestled between small mountains and the sea. Its beauty is magnified by our fortunate timing of cherry blossom season, which makes it hard to believe that only seven years ago it was destroyed by a tsunami. Nearly every conversation we’ve had in Japan, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami has been mentioned, but most of all in Ishinomaki which was hardest hit.
In talking with the people of Ishinomaki and the many missionaries who moved here in the months following the disaster, there is tension between remembering the past and looking forward to the future. Within the stories we’ve heard, a common theme appeared: whether missionaries from other parts of Japan, relief aid workers from North America, or Japanese volunteers from other cities, no one really expected to be in Ishinomaki seven years later. Roots have grown in a city being slowly rebuilt, and the gospel of Jesus Christ has never been proclaimed more. A tragic disaster where homes were destroyed, jobs were lost, and countless people perished is being used by God to pursue and change hearts.
One home church has outgrown the house they once met in, and outreach efforts are a part of the natural rhythm of church life. Sister non-profit artisan organizations started in the tsunami’s wake, using broken pottery and donated kimonos to provide jobs to the women of Ishinomaki, all in the name of Jesus. Men and women in this broken town are being shown the love of Christ in crafting workrooms, Dinner Tuesdays, coffee shop hangouts, prayer meetings, Bible studies lunches, and so many other moments of day-to-day life.
As we prayed we were unified. Brothers and sisters we had just met, in some cases only moments before, became partners in the gospel. In a place of so much brokenness, there is hope that is firmly rooted in Jesus Christ.
As we prepare to leave Japan, we cling to the prayer lists to bring back with us. But before we return to tell you some of our stories in person, pray as one of our missionary friends asked us when we first met him. Pray as Christ commanded His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37b-38