On this trip we visited three centers in Matsushima area; the Satohama Evacuation Center, Ooshio Shimin Center, and Ono Shimin Center. We’re very thankful for all who sent supplies and funds for this trip, and for those who prayed for us; and a big thank-you to Mrs. Yoshida who transported the supplies. Thank you Activated Ministries, for sponsoring the printing of our booklets of encouragement and many boxes of insect repellant for the refugees.
The team for our trip in June consisted of Isamu and Aaron, Chris (from France), and my children and me. We stayed at a friend’s house for one night, and although we already had two evacuation centers to visit in the afternoon, our hosts directed us to an evacuation center in Okumatsushima since we had some time in the morning. On our way there, we passed temporary roads with water stretching out on bothsides, saw capsized fishing boats in the mud, and an upended concrete building. The place must have been beautiful before the tsunami, but now was desolate. Thinking of all the work it will take to clear the debris and rebuild made my heart sink a little.
At the center, most of the men were out clearing the debris. Most of the children were out too. We delivered some extra summer clothes, insect repellant and other supplies. A lady in her 40s who worked as a receptionist treated us warmly. She was very calm and seemed to be at ease and ready lend a listening ear to anyone. Since she acted so cheerful, at first I thought she was a volunteer worker from a different area. But she turned out to be one of the evacuees whose house had washed away. She didn’t show a bit of pain or grief, however, only cheerfulness, and it felt as if we were the ones being encouraged. Since one of our friends had donated cat food, I asked if anyone needed it, but she said, “The cats were swept away too, so there’s none in the center.” But a little later, she told me brightly, “Oh wait. There was a cute cat at the community center over there. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.”
At the community center we found three families living together. They had all lost their homes to the tsunami. They seemed very happy about our sudden visit, especially the owner of the cat. Because the small area around the evacuation center had been left standing and could only be reached by a narrow road temporarily set up, they said going shopping was rather difficult and commented that if they only had two bicycles it would be much easier.
Isamu and Aaron performed clown shows on this trip and made balloons for the children there. We also gave them picture books and distributed booklets of encouragement that we had printed especially for the refugees. We were able to give diapers to a woman who passed by with two children. She had just happened by, she said, and was very glad for the perfect timing. The receptionist whom we met earlier also came to make sure that we found the place to set up, and went back smiling when she saw us. People at the community center said with teary eyes, “Everyone is so good to us, we’re so thankful.”
In the afternoon we visited the two evacuation centers, performed a clown show, delivered supplies, and gave the children picture books and toys. We were able to distribute encouraging booklets sponsored by Activated Ministries as well. At both centers, it impressed me that the people there were all very cheerful and smiling. One elderly man said chuckling, “At first it was difficult trying to sleep in one gym with all the people. Some people snore, others grind their teeth, and babies crying everywhere. But now I’m used to it.” A bed built of cardboard was made recently to alleviate the cold of the floor.
As we left the evacuation center, we met some men in their sixties smoking and taking a break from clearing the rubble. One of them was a fisherman, and he had lost every single ship he had in the harbor. He said that he had to clear away the many anchors adrift on the ocean floor, as they would hinder the new ships that would be coming and going. Then a man who looked to be in his forties came along. He was called “boss” by everyone and one of them told me, “The boss lost everything in his company. All that’s left is a hundred million yen loan.” The boss said, “I’ve been cultivating nori (seaweed), but the waves took the machine that dried nori too.” Another man said, “But boss will try again. Won’t you, boss!” and the boss laughed and answered, “I’m already 45, I can’t start something brand new now, there’s only one thing I can do – start over!” He had lost everything he built up in the disaster, on top of that he was in debt, but was determined to start anew, even from a deficit.
The people we met at the disaster area were all so wonderful. Even in such hard times, they were helping each other, looking out for one another, smiling and grateful, trying to live positively and cheerfully.
I thought this quote by Victor Hugo that I read this morning fit them perfectly.
“Sorrow is a fruit. God does not make it grow on limbs too weak to bear it.”
These people are strong enough to bear new fruit. They will reap fruits of sorrow because these precious people have walked through desperate hardship with humility and love.