As we neared Higashi Matsushima the desolation came into view. The area is not so much defined by what is here, but by what is missing. The beautiful Japanese countryside and farms are only just starting to recover. A town that used to have over 400 houses now only has around 30 homes.
We took a quick drive around the very small town and then arrived at the FamilyMart—a convenience store—where we worked with the children. Before the children arrived, however, we waited and looked at pictures that covered the walls of the lobby. It is very sobering to see all the destruction that came on March 11, 2011.
Around 2:46 pm a 9.0 magnitude undersea earthquake occurred off the coast of Japan. In response, many of the townspeople of Higashi Matsushima went to the elementary school gymnasium to be safe from any aftershocks.
In just 6 minutes, the tsunami brought enough destruction across Japan to kill almost 16,000 and over 2,000 are still missing. When the tsunami waves came into Higashi Matsushima, it created a whirlpool in the gym, swirling the people around and killing hundreds.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
In the midst of the realization of our surroundings, the children that we worked with are just as happy and energetic as the children in Yamagata. We played some circle games, musical chairs, and card games. Then, we helped make curry for dinner.
After dinner, we took the kids down to the beach. Here in Japan, they have a game similar to our piñata game, except they play with a watermelon. After all the kids tried hitting the watermelon open, the adults started giving it a try, and Wi was able to deal the crushing blow. Luckily the watermelon was in a plastic bag so the guts didn’t splash everywhere. We enjoyed the watermelon while looking out to sea, seeing the full moon reflected on the water.
Kazuki and the other Japanese adults started handing out sparklers to all the children and then we lit the bigger stuff. It was really fun to be there with all the children and see how much fun they were having.
A local man, Hirata San, and his family invited the whole team to stay in his home. The house was two stories and very big compared to the other houses in the area. While they have repaired the house and have curated a large, beautiful garden, the family has “too much sorrow in their hearts” to return and live there permanently. Instead, he comes back once or twice a week and welcomes volunteers into his home. He likes being outdoors and teaching children that they can enjoy swimming, kayaking, and playing in the ocean while maintaining a healthy fear of it.
It is hard to believe that after today we only have 3 days left in Japan, and I am so glad to have participated in so much. I have come to love the people, the country, and the language. I will truly miss the Zao Church and its members. I will continue to pray that God can use them to great things for Yamagata and throughout Japan.
This post was written throughout the day on July 30, 2015, and completed at 9:50 am July 31 in Higashi-Matsushima, an area affected by the 2011 tsunami. It was originally posted on the LifePointe Church website.