An Anniversary to Remember

Good Morning Friends,

I hope all is well with you.

Usually I crank out my thoughts for a blog early in the week, waiting with anticipation (and Tony’s kindly grammatical edit) to post it to you on Sunday.

This week has been different though.  I have procrastinated all week.  No, it wasn’t because of our deck building project. That actually got ‘put aside’ more than once lately because of a week of cyclone related rain So, if anything, that gave us more time.  (But Thanks Be, we’re only hours from finishing it, I’m happy to say!)

No, this problem, I began to realize, was purely emotional.  Emotions that I had largely forgotten.  Being the emotional lightweight I am, I would have just as soon left it that way.

You see, 7 years ago today, March 11, 2011, the great “Higashi Nihon Dai Shinsai Jisshin” earthquake struck Japan, in the early afternoon, logging in at 9.1 on the Richter scale.  That was bad enough, but what followed on the heels of the earthquake was a tsunami that broke every record and hopefully will never be repeated.

When it happened, Tony and I were having a ‘nostalgia’ day, retracing our footsteps to the city of Yokohama, where we’d lived in language school some 30+ years before.  We’d just stepped out of a coffee shop onto the street when I felt a wave hit me, like nausea. I blinked my eyes and tried to get my bearings when I heard people start screaming, and then buildings began rocking and bouncing off each other.  It took me about 3 seconds to understand what was happening, maybe seeing the pavement rolling and the cars bouncing helped.  I don’t ever want to feel like that again.

And it didn’t end there.  I clutched Tony’s arm harder and harder, thinking all along, “This is what I’ve dreaded all the years we’ve been in Japan and now I need it to stop.”  I don’t think I was so scared as it was happening than I was soon afterwards, not knowing if it would get better or worse.  (there’s a whole sermon in that).  People began to scream for God in Japanese.  I clutched Tony harder, but by now it was simply to remain standing as people around me were falling.

All in all, the original quake was almost 6 minutes long.  That’s more than the length of a really bad country western song and a LONG time to wonder if you’re going to die.  As soon as it was over and I let go of him, Tony texted both kids in Australia to say we were OK. It’s good that he did, because a few short minutes later, all telephone service was cut off, along with internet and most electricity. That condition remained for days.

We didn’t know it at the time, but while we going through our own crisis there in Yokohama, the epicenter of the earthquake was happening, just offshore of the town of Sendai, 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the north of where we were barely standing.  We had lived and worked for 20 years in Sendai and.days later, when electricity was restored to Tokyo, we were able to watch in horror as helicopters filmed the tsunami, sweeping away people and cars as if they were nothing. I’ll never forget the sight of the huge wave bearing down on a highway where people were headed for safety, not knowing they were already doomed. At that time we had no idea where our best friend was, who had been out on business and was still missing.  (he was finally able to contact us hours later)   In places the water would rise over 40 meters (133 feet) deep coming through at lightning speed, even sweeping away the “safe zones” where you were supposed to run if a tsunami was coming.  The force of the water, combined with the earthquake itself, managed to physically move Honshu, the main island of Japan, 2.4 meters (8ft) closer to California and dropped it down about the same (around 8 feet)  in altitude.  If you’re not impressed yet, how about this?  The earth’s AXIS actually shifted by 10 cm (4 inches).

The fourth worst earthquake in recorded history.  Because Japan is a middle class well-established society, only 15000+ people died, with another 2600 still missing.  Six years before that, a 9.1 earthquake/tsunami in Indonesia wiped out 230,000 souls, but that may have been largely because people there were living in much humbler dwellings, mostly on the beach.

And then there’s the nuclear threat because of the damage to a plant nearby in Fukushima that is still very real today.

OK, so that’s got you up to speed as to what happened on that day.  What boggled my mind the most, and even still now, is this:

Many of you will remember we were living happily in Thailand from 2009-2011.  The life was easy, the food delicious and we’d even learned a little bit of the language to get around.  We loved working with the Japanese business people who were living in Bangkok, and because there are only two Japanese language churches the ‘fields are ripe” and many of the 80,000 in that city are very open to the Gospel. We had enough work to keep us busy for a century and pictured ourselves living there till retirement.

But God had other plans.  In late 2010, our mission contacted us and said we HAD to move back to Japan.  We begged, carried on and demanded answers, but finally gave up to their supposed wisdom and packed our bags. We arrived in Japan 6 weeks before the earthquake to find that the ‘job’ that was so important that we fill didn’t even exist.  We visited our former churches and friends in Sendai and then went to work trying to settle into where we’d been assigned in Tokyo and figure out what we’d be doing for the next several years.

And then the earthquake struck.  When we collected our wits, and especially when we heard about the tragedy in Sendai, where we’d been all those years, we looked at each other and said in unison, “This was GOD who brought us back!”

And so we were able to do relief work for the next 5 years.  A LOT of emotions there……….so many that thinking back on this 7th anniversary almost makes me weak in the knees.

But out of the terrible grief came great gain for Christianity.  People saw first hand the kind compassion of Christians, coming from all over the world just to help, just to be there to hold a hand and cry with them.  So, so many memories we have of people who ‘saw’ Christ at work.

And of course our churches in Sendai were not long in loading up and getting out to the tsunami zone every week to be salt and light to these people, taking food and clothing, but more than that, befriending and building relationships that will last for a lifetime.  Some became Christians, many have a new regard for Christianity that will remain for generations, changing the foundations of Japanese thought.

Last week, the churches had some ‘goodbye’ events, because driving 3 hours each way for 7 years does wear everyone out.  Watching on Facebook the record of these happy and sad times made me stop and thank God that we could be a part of it.

In the ‘final analysis’ we have to say that Japan will never forget what Christians did for them.  Very few other volunteers came, only the Christians.  Why is that?  Because we have a God Who cares.  This will not be forgotten and will, just like many other Christian warriors of the faith in Japanese history, will be woven into the fabric of who they are as a nation. Pray that someday they’ll put it all together and realize they are deeply loved and cared for by God.

There are many things in life I believe,  that forge these kinds of emotions.  I remember childbirth.  I thought to myself, “Yes, I want to do this again, but not tomorrow!”  That’s the way I feel about the tsunami.  I thank God that He gave us the experience of seeing His hand on everything, His love for the Japanese and us, and for giving us the opportunity to see it all coming together……….but I don’t mind sitting here in boring ol’ Australia either.

I wonder what emotions you’ve been given that you don’t particularly want to revisit, but when you do, you can see God’s hand in it all.

I’ve been chatting a bit with a friend on Facebook this week who has just buried her mother and then her husband within a couple of months.  Many years before she’d buried her only son.  I can’t imagine the emotional avalanche she must feel, and yet, she soldiers on, confident in her Sovereign God and His purpose in her life.  She’s a woman I want to emulate.

And there are so many others of you out there who could probably top this list.  Tony preached this again today and I maintain that God has a plan and a purpose for each of us.  Even though there are valleys to walk through, there is the witness to God’s faithfulness that we can show to others, exactly like what happened in the earthquake/tsunami 7 years ago today.

Hope you have a great week in the Lord,


Oh, I also hope you woke up an hour earlier……or is it later?  We don’t have Daylight savings here; guess they thought we’re not that good at math.

Comments are closed.