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.
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.
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.
They soon discovered that their home and their business, a small print shop, had been destroyed.
“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 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
This story was written for the Wycliffe News Network.