Blessed be the Name of the Lord

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the massive tsunami that hit Japan. The Wycliffe News Network team went to Japan a year after the disaster to learn more about how it impacted staff from affiliated organizations.
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Kesennuma in March 2012

In March 2011 Kimiko’s parents were visiting her in South Asia, where she serves as a literacy worker. On March 11 while Kimiko was at work, her mother received an alarming text message from her younger daughter in Japan.

“There has been a huge earthquake here. Please pray.”

“We tried to contact [our daughter in Japan] but the phones were disconnected. We didn’t know anything. All we had was ‘Please pray,’”

Since Kimiko joined Wycliffe Japan in 2009, her parents, who are strong believers in prayer, have hosted an inorinowa, or prayer circle, for Kesennuma Bible Baptist Church.  The group prays for Wycliffe Japan staff.

When Kimiko came home from work on that day in March, she and her parents went to the embassy to watch the news and saw devastation sweeping across the country.

The Most Powerful Earthquake Ever Recorded in Japan

The earthquake was the most powerful ever recorded in Japan. It triggered tsunami waves that reached heights of 133 feet, traveling up to six miles inland in some areas. Thousands were killed. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes. Millions lost electricity and water. More than 1,000 people were killed in Kimiko’s hometown, Kesennuma.

The Church in the Aftermath

After the disaster, Japanese churches faced a nation in mourning. People combed lists of survivors for the names of friends and loved ones. Families had lost everything. Amid the devastation, the Japanese church prayed and served. Churches served as centers for relief work and as havens for those seeking help.

Wycliffe Japan members and the staff of Wycliffe partner organization ViBi (Video Bible – a ministry of Japan Deaf Evangel Mission) each joined relief efforts, serving their neighbors and churches across the country.

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Chaos in Japan prevented Kimiko’s parents from returning to Japan immediately. When Kimiko watched her parents finally board their plane, she wondered how they could possibly recover.

After getting to Tokyo, they had to wait two more weeks before they could get all the way home. On May 28, they arrived by bus at the evacuation center and confirmed that all of their family members were safe.

“We were so happy to meet our family and embrace them. They all lived in a big gym with room for 1,200 people,” says Kimiko’s father.

Washed Away

They soon discovered that their home and their business, a small print shop, had been destroyed.

Kimiko's father stands near to where his house once stood

“This was where my front door used to be!” Kimiko’s father stood in the middle of a concrete foundation. Weeds and grass popped up through the cracks in what remained of the tile floor. Kimiko’s mother picked up one of her old coffee mugs, but nothing else was to be found.

As they entered their print shop, Kimiko’s parents saw mud oozing through all the cracks and crevices of the printing machinery. It seemed impossible to recover.

Kimiko remembers her reaction to the news. “It meant that all of my belongings in Japan had been washed away,” she says. “I felt like God had brought me back to the basics again, to rely on Him for everything.”

“It is good for me that I was afflicted…”

Today, as Kimiko’s parents look back, they see how God did what they could not imagine.

“When I first arrived back in Japan,” Kimiko’s father remembers, “two verses came to me. One was Psalm 119:71: ‘It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.’ The other was Job 1:21, where it says, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ When these verses came to me, I couldn’t process it. We had lost everything…. How could we say it’s a blessing? How is affliction good for me?”

Kimiko's parents

Kimiko’s mother adds, “We had a vision before the earthquake that we wanted to do printing for evangelistic purposes, so it was shocking to have everything taken…We felt God was challenging us and asking us– ‘Will you still follow me on this path?’”

About a month after Kimiko’s parents’ return to Japan, volunteers from a church in Singapore arrived to clean out all the debris and mud in their print shop. Then came a Japanese team of professional carpenters. Japanese believers sponsored new printing equipment for the shop so that Kimiko’s parents could begin working together with a Christian publishing company. They began to print evangelistic material for the people in the areas hit hardest by the tsunami.

“We did experience hardship,” says Kimiko’s father, “but through this we could see God’s grace, and we were reminded that Jesus is with us all the time.”

The Kesennuma First Bible Baptist Church inorinowa (prayer circle) has resumed meeting, in Kimiko’s parents’ new dining room. In this room prayers rise for Kimiko and the other men and women serving worldwide with Wycliffe Japan, working to provide the Word that has sustained the Kesennuma believers through loss and devastation.

“All that was lost has now been restored. God took away and has now provided again. That’s our experience of Job 1:21,” say Kimiko’s parents. “‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’”

Article by Kate Roberts
Photos by Marc Ewell

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This story was written for the Wycliffe News Network.

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Traditional Japanese Music

God can be honored through the arts of our cultures.  One place that is evident is in our music.  I was really touched when I heard this woman share a Christian song that she had written in a traditional Japanese music style.

In many countries ethnomusicologists, sometimes called arts consultants, work with communities to analyze and develop their local arts.  Christian workers may come alongside the Church and help them to adapt local arts for Christian worship.  Local arts used in worship help communities to worship God in ways that don’t feel foreign.

Learn more about ethnoarts.

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Tokyo Deaf Church

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On Sunday I visited the Tokyo Deaf Church.  Pastor Minamida is one of the other Deaf pastors in Japan involved in the Japanese Sign Language Video Bible translation.   Pastor Minamida’s love of scriptures came through even before he began to preach.  In his opening prayer he said, “Pray that we will understand the Word deeply, today.”

He also encouraged the congregation to review the new scripture DVDs that were coming out.

“Looking at the Bible is important,” he said.  “Do you have a copy of [the] Colossians [DVD]? It’s easy to understand, and a great way to share about Jesus with your non-Christian friends.”

During the church service Pastor Minamida would show a portion of scripture using the JSL Bible DVDs, and then explain the passage to the congregation.  His sermon was from Ecclesiastes 3.  What was interesting on the video was that it had three different signers.  I learned that having multiple signers is one way that poetry is communicated in sign languages — fascinating!

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I enjoyed watching signed singing during the service. You may wonder how exactly that works.  In Deaf churches congregational songs are signed together in unison by following a person up front who is leading.  Sometimes a drumbeat helps everyone stay in tuned together.  Other times everyone stays synchronized just by watching.

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It’s beautiful to watch, and a common element of most Deaf church services.

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“It’s my own language!”

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This is Miya.  She was showing us the sign for “Christian.” Behind her are some photos of the church congregation taken during the last ten years.

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Miya is the pastor of a Deaf church in Toyooka, and she’s been involved in the Japanese Sign Language Bible translation program as an advisor.  The JSL Bible translation is being worked on by an organization called ViBi.  Bit by bit, more and more scripture are being made available to the Deaf community in Japan via DVD.

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Miya is an amazing resource because she is fluent in several sign languages (including both Japanese and American Sign) as well as spoken and written Japanese and English.  She uses her gifts in languages not only in her consulting for the sign Bible, but also to teach hearing people in Japan how to sign in Japanese Sign.

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Even though Miya is gifted in many languages, she still is glad to have more and more of the Bible available in Japanese Sign Language.

She shares, “It is my own language! It was the first language I learned.  I can understand it clearly. When I was little we didn’t have a JSL bible, but my dad was such a good story teller in JSL.  He told me all of the Bible stories.   Now I want the JSL Bible for others.”

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We also met Shunko, one of the women from Miya’s congregation. She has been a believer for the last 20 years. She came to know Jesus after attending a Deaf church with a friend.   Shunko shared with us that even though she can read Japanese a little bit, seeing the Bible in JSL is better.

“It is hard to understand Japanese words so I check things on the [JSL Bible] DVDs to see what it really means,” says Shunko.  “Otherwise I have to ask someone, like my pastor. “

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