Earlier in 2012, we visited the temporary housing areas in Miyako-shi Tarou-machi, which had been constructed in the wake of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and we were shocked at the amount of people still living in temporary housing units in this large area. As the Christmas season approached, I knew we needed to visit that area again. Due to its location in the northern part of Tohoku, volunteers visiting that area are rare. And on my last visit, a barber we met there had told me, “Right after the earthquake, we were all desperate for food and a place to sleep but now that we’re settled, we start thinking about life. We’ve survived but now we need more.”
His words provided direction for our Christmas charity projects, as we not only wanted to help in providing supplies, but also with something that would heal their spirits and provide them with the answers that their troubled hearts were searching for.
With the support and creative help of many talented individuals, we created two picture books, Aricchi to Imomucchi (The Ant and the Caterpillar) and Inochi no Ehon (Eternal Life picture book) to distribute to those in the disaster-affected areas. We did a print run of 2000 per book, a total of 4000 books (all of which were distributed), and the funding for the printing was generously covered by Activated Ministries.
Many people responded to our project: An individual working at a bakery sent us freshly-baked cookies, a friend in Okinawa sent us snacks and chocolate, another lady sent us nicely wrapped goods (clothes, daily goods, and toys, etc). We also received a photo book from Mr. K in Adachi, Tokyo to pass out as Christmas presents. And a friend in Shizuoka sent us 1000 beautifully-crafted, felt Christmas bags with which to present all the goods.
On the 22nd of December, we, a team of six volunteers, went to Okumatsushima in Miyagi. There we met with the mayor and his wife and were invited to their Christmas event the following day. We were able to reunite with the mothers of the children’s club who we had hosted at our Karuizawa Summer Camp, and they also asked us to join them in their own Christmas event the next day. So the 23rd was busy, participating in two Christmas events! In the morning we joined the Higashimatsushima children’s club and in the afternoon, the event at Miyato Elementary School’s ground, and there we were able to give out the assorted Christmas presents, all nicely presented in individual Christmas bags for each child.
After a day full of Christmas cheer, we headed to Rikuzentakata, Iwate and stayed the night there. At the lodging we stayed at, we met a man who was searching for the meaning of life. “We’ve experienced so much damage, I feel that we should be given something that we can trust and lean on. I’ve been searching for it but I can’t find it, and my heart is empty.” We gave him our newly published Inochi no Ehon and we explained that our life does not end on earth, but that we have an eternal life and he prayed and accepted Jesus into his heart. We shared our contact information and I hope to see him again.
On the 24th, Christmas Eve, we went to temporary housing units up Sanriku shoreline, from Rikuzentakata to Yamada-cho, and to Miyako-shi Tarou-machi and went door to door, passing out our Christmas gift bags.
Sadly, most of the disaster areas have not been reconstructed since the time of the earthquake as if the place had been abandoned and the people there seemed at a loss. Two elderly ladies were standing outside their house talking about how no volunteers were coming out this Christmas. Then one of our members went up to them and said “Merry Christmas!” and offered a present and their happy expressions were unforgettable. “People’s hearts are heavier now than they were after the earthquake.” “Volunteers hardly ever come here.” Such words spurred us on despite the night’s minus-five degree weather.
On the last night we stayed at Miyako, I met a man who was trying to create job opportunities that will help in reconstructing of can contribute to for reconstruction of various devastated areas. Now he is making “Fukkou Tombo”, balancing dragonflies made from copperplates, and he told us how he hoped he could make it into an item he could sell from Sanriku. This man’s ground floor had been all muddied during the earthquake. But since then he has let volunteers stay at his house and is doing much for his town. I was very moved to see someone who never gave up and is working very hard for reconstructing the town.
We met many people at the disaster area whom we plan on staying in touch with, including the mothers of the children’s club, offering input and encouragement to these children who carry the future of Japan on their shoulders. I’ve also made a new website titled Kyusoku to Iyashi (Healing and Rest) which is introduced at the end of the picture books that were printed for those in the disaster-affected areas, as well as for anyone in Japan who is in need of emotional and spiritual bolstering. I pray it will be a blessing to all who visit. (http://www.kyusokutoiyashi.com/)
The Phoenix Project is dedicated to creating picture books that will bring healing and encouragement to those in need. Thank you so much for your support.