Last summer (August 2011), we invited people from the parents and children’s club in Higashi-Matsushima (one of the earthquake-stricken areas) to our friend's villa. This vacation was made possible through the support of many kind people who donated their time, skills, and goods in order to make this happen.
During that camp I heard heartbreaking stories of the survivors of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, and I couldn’t help but pray that all those who were downcast would find healing and renewal. Since then I’ve continued to feel strongly that the victims of the earthquake needed continued encouragement and care, during Christmas more so than ever.
These past few months, the Phoenix team has been working on the creation of reading and listening material designed to encourage and comfort those who are grieving over their lost loved ones, as well as those who are struggling to adjust to new jobs and lifestyles.
With the help of many generous individuals and Activated Ministries, we put together a Christmas present package and we were able to distribute them to various disaster-affected areas.
The Christmas Present package included:
1) “Peace in the Midst of the Storm”: A CD recording of a seminar and live concert with the theme of having peace during trials and difficulties. Amount produced: 3,000.
2) “The Four Seeds”: A picture book for children about having courage when facing change. Amount printed: 5,000.
3) 2012 monthly calendar: Words of prayer and illustrations. Amount printed: 3,000.
We were also able to join in an event by our friends, Higashimatsushima Shinmichi Parents and Children’s Club, who attended the summer camp that we had mentioned previously, and meet with them for the first time in four months.
The day of our meeting was sunny, and they had prepared many activities for the children at a borrowed farmhouse surrounded by nature. They made a fire in a drum can and cooked stew and baked cookies on it. We joined in the making of Christmas Cards and planted a tree they had found in the mountains as a Christmas tree. I was moved by how meticulously the parents in this club had prepared this event and how much love and thoughtfulness they poured into it.
At some point during the day, I spoke with a young man who was leading the activities. He had helped build the fire, bring the Christmas tree from the mountains, and other tasks that would have been difficult for the mothers of this club to do alone. His work was in Tokyo, but after the earthquake and starting to think more seriously about his life, he had decided to visit Higashi-Matsushima, which is his hometown, more often. He also said that even though he had less income from quitting his job in Tokyo, he still wanted to help with these kinds of activities as much as possible. Seeing young people like this man has encouraged me about Japan’s future.
One mother from the children’s club showed me a letter her 7th grade daughter who had come to our summer camp had written (she had not attended the gathering due to a school event). The letter read:
“Thank you for inviting us to Karuizawa during summer vacation. I have never forgotten those fun days at Karuizawa. I was so happy when you let us stay at the villa, took us to the onsen, prepared a barbeque, and so much more. The trip freed me of the stress I had since the earthquake. The villa was a very nice place and all the places we toured were beautiful places, too. I spoke about this trip in my speech for a contest in school, and I was able to win a prize. If I hadn’t had that experience, I don’t think I would have ever gotten the prize. I am very thankful. I learned something very important during the trip: I learned about kindness. Next time, I want to be the one to help someone in need. Thank you so much.”
I showed the letter to her mother, and she said, “I never knew she felt like this. Going to Karuizawa must have been a very important thing for her.”
Another mother thanked me saying, “I was able to sort things out in my mind because of that trip to Karuizawa. Thank you so much.” If we hadn’t met with them again at Christmas, we might have never known how their lives were changed because of the Karuizawa summer camp.
Being able to meet them and listen to their words of thanks was a wonderful Christmas present for me, and something I’d like to share with all who supported this project and prayed for us. We couldn’t have hosted that summer camp at Karuizawa without your generous support.
The love of Jesus touched that 7th grade student’s heart through us and made her want to help others. I’m sure other students and school staff were also touched through her speech. That mother who said she was able to sort through things that had weighed on her heart and those whose hearts were moved by the Lord’s love--I believe their experiences will live on in each of their hearts as a ray of hope that will help guide them into the future.
Wearing red Santa hats, I had teamed up with my 15-year-old daughter to bring Christmas presents to those living in temporary housing. The temperature was 2 degrees at noon; though I’m sure it dipped below zero at times. When we had first gotten out of the car the cold had been biting, but it became warmer once we started walking with the boxes of presents.
“Merry Christmas! We brought you Christmas presents!” we said at the door of each of the houses, and like last time they accepted the presents gratefully.
One elderly couple offered us tea and invited us inside. We were shocked at how small the house was. Even I who had been living in small rooms my whole life thought the room was cramped even for one person.
This couple served us tea and fruit jellies and the lady brought a CD player, explaining that she wanted us to hear a song. “I made a poem called ‘Arigatou’ (Thank you). A lot of people liked it, and one person even put music to it. And now the press and TV have started to come and visit too. Please listen.” It was a very nice song expressing thanks to the people who helped in the earthquake.
When I said I had made a CD too and that it was inside the present bag, they said they would listen to it right away. They gave us apples and their contact information before we left. I believe Jesus led us to this town so that we could meet this couple.
We went to give Christmas presents, but we received so many presents of love from these people. Outside it was cold, but inside our hearts had been warmed.
Other stories from members of the Phoenix Team:
As we went around the temporary housing and knocked on the doors, most of the people came out and returned smiles when we explained why we came. When we asked if they were all right, they shared their hearts with us and told us many things. Below are some of the stories they shared.
Staff: One lady said, “My daughter has been taken by the tsunami and she hasn’t been found yet. I was wondering what to do for Christmas.”
We told her, “Your daughter’s spirit is with God and she’s happy. She’s watching over you from heaven. You’re here on earth because God has a special plan for you. I think your daughter wants to help you.” At this, the mother had tears in her eyes and was very happy.
Staff: One lady in her fifties was very happy that we had come to visit. She was taking care of her mother who was too sick to move. This daughter felt condemned because she sometimes lost her patience and would say harsh words to her mother. She said, “I’m a terrible person and I can’t do anything nice for others.”
When we offered to pray for her, she prayed along and received Jesus. She said we had light in our eyes, we explained that it was only because we had Jesus in our hearts. We told her, “If you find your heart is like a dark room, just flip the switch to make it light. Please try it.”
While we were talking, an elderly woman from a nearby house came to ask if she wanted to come and see the broadcasting tower with the Christmas illuminations. Seeing us, the elderly lady said about the woman we were talking with, “She’s a good person. She always gives something to the people who come to do construction work.” I think those words encouraged the woman even more.
I think it was very good that we were able to go to these disaster areas and talk with these people personally and give God’s love to them. I feel it was because of everyone’s support in prayer that these people welcomed us and opened up their hearts. We appreciate everyone who helped make this trip possible. Thank you so much!