A short-term team recently visited Japan from the USA. They wanted to be involved in homeless outreach, but had a scheduling conflict. To accommodate them, the day was temporarily shifted from Saturday to Thursday. What no-one was prepared for is that apparently the police monitoring that area are a different group of officers than the usual Saturday contingent. Being unfamiliar with it, about eight of them approached the ministry with questions, which they directed to Kurt, our missionary on the scene.

What are you doing here?
We’re handing out food to the homeless.

You don’t charge money for these meals?
They don’t have money! (Several homeless vocally affirmed that.)

But they are all holding tickets.

So you are charging them money!
No, the tickets are free too.

Where are the Japanese people involved in this?
They’re working.

Why aren’t you working?
I’m an English teacher, so I work at night.

They then started to try to figure out which organisation was in charge, and they were expecting a simple answer. Kurt informed them that he is the leader, but this is far from a one-man show. It involves two Americans, one of whom serves with a Canadian organisation (that’s us!), one Filipino, one Peruvian and sometimes there are Brazilians who assist as well. The more the men hunted for simplicity, the more humorously confusing it all became. Kurt could tell that they were baffled by the logistics he was presenting, and they couldn’t understand how this was working so well without formal organisation.

How long have you been doing this?
It’s been going on for several years. (No one on the scene knew exactly.)

Why are you doing this?
We’re Christians, this is what we do.

Some nodded their heads in response to that. Apparently Christians do have that reputation, even when they are in the vast minority. The policemen requested identification, and examined the leaders’ documents, but mostly it seemed that they were just expressing their professional curiosity about what they were seeing.

Kurt was especially grateful that, while they were clearly identified as police, they approached the ministry in basic white shirts as opposed to full uniform. The relationship between the homeless and police is understandably strained, and this was one factor that allowed the situation to be diffused rather than escalated.

The team explained that they do this the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month. And when they resumed that regular schedule, they did see an officer present and taking notes. He didn’t interfere, or even ask questions. He was just there to satisfy his professional curiosity about what’s going in his city.

And how about that short-term team that saw this potentially dangerous situation firsthand? Some have reported that this was their favourite part of the trip!

There are two related challenges that Japan still faces in this crisis. One is the shortage of reliable information. And the other is the list of continuing problems themselves. In many cases it’s hard to determine which is which.

Kurt has shared that people seem to be getting their lives back together. Wherever possible, people have moved out of the shelters, and are returning to their homes and jobs. They are resuming some sort of normalcy. But adjustment isn’t easy.

One thing they noticed is that children have started to express their emotional distress more and more, especially through acting out in inappropriate ways. Kurt and fellow missionaries are trying to open the lines of dialogue, which is a challenge within the typically reserved Japanese culture. They have discovered that offering massage therapy really helped them connect.

They were in the area for a short time, but through CRASH they are planning an extended contribution.

Kurt is exploring renewing his qualifications in the nuclear field. He hopes to be able to train people in radiological equipment, like Geiger counters and dosimeters, and he can probably get the training he needs within Japan. He is the only one on site with previous experience with nuclear energy, and is keeping himself and his team as safe as possible.

Scot, the CRASH Base Leader in the area, was working 15hr days at the time we spoke with him. His work consists of trying to keep up with the teams, processing the necessary documentation, liaising with CRASH leadership, establishing a long-range plan (which changes daily!), and making meaningful connection with authorities in the community who always want to speak to the “man in charge”.

Their plan is to build a warehouse facility in Nasu, which is effectively located half-way between Sendai and Tojoyo. However, their plans keep changing as the government changes regulations in the area, which is hindering their work.

Update: the warehouse is in progress. Here are some pictures of the ground-breaking from CRASH Japan:

One of the biggest needs is to establish and maintain contact with evacuees. The shelter where survivors have been housed has provided an important connection point. But as people move out of it and find places on their own, it’s easy to lose track of them and the lingering needs they have. Sustained contact is important, because one of the long-term dreams of this is that there would be at least one church planted in the affected area.

Currently CRASH is working cross-denominationally — a powerful testimony of the unity of the body! Kurt envisions the day where there could be a viable, supported and integrated Evangelical Free Church in this place, and due to the inclusive nature of the EFCCM, it would be an excellent follow-up to this joint effort.

But Wait, There’s More!

One of the groups that has responded with most generosity toward this disaster are our Chinese-Canadian churches. As their generosity is shared with the Japanese, it forces them to challenge their long-held assumptions of Chinese people. (If you know anything about the history between China and Japan, you will recognise how significant this is!) It is a further testimony to the harmony and grace that are found in Christ, and it is a thrill to be a part of it.

You’ve no doubt heard this one before: “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. It’s a phrase that’s been drilled into some of us since we were kids. It’s making itself particularly evident right now in Japan. The massive earthquake has given the church an unprecedented opportunity to show its care.

And it has!

The church has stepped up in solidarity, and is confronting a myriad of the immediate, pressing needs that abound. The church’s blistered, dirty hands have created a whole new openness to listening to the heart behind the actions.

From the EFCCM’s perspective, some of the largest donations for this effort have come from our Chinese-Canadian churches. This is a huge testimony of the bridges that Christ makes across stark differences of faith, culture and geography. We are so grateful for the generosity of our Chinese-Canadian brothers and sisters!

Most of the essential physical needs are now being met. People who have been evacuated, or who have lost everything are still housed in shelters. Those shelters now have sufficient supplies to provide people with their basic necessities. Life is resuming as much as is possible considering the conditions. People are returning to work, and the country is rebuilding.

But there is still great need. Many need to grieve, and express their deep sorrow even when their loved ones will likely never be identified. People need to confront their fear and anxiety. They need to embrace hope and choose life. All of these are tough problems in a nation that is as emotionally closed as Japan is. Generally, there is an unwillingness to talk about these deep issues. Sometimes wearing a clown wig helps to break down barriers, and Kurt’s certainly willing to do that!

But it’s happening. It’s happening one-on-one as people open up about their experiences and their perceptions. It’s happening as individuals allow Christians into their lives, and to pray for them.

The church must make the most of this opportunity. There are unsavoury people who are trying to capitalise on this disaster for their own gains. They look helpful, but there are strings attached to their ‘charity’, and gang ties are evident. May we be vigilant for how we can be Christ’s hands and feet in this situation, and to offer everything that we can to Japan’s injured people.

Sort of a switch to see North Americans clowning for the camera in Japan, isn’t it? (Because Home Office is located on Canada’s West Coast, we’re pretty used to seeing Japanese tourists having fun with their cameras around these parts.) Pictured here are Melvin, Daryl and Erin.

I’m glad that we have a moment like this to share — it’s a contrast with all of the continuing need and effort in Japan. (Kurt sent a couple of these pictures, and said we “gotta use one”!)

Update on Earthquake Relief

Kurt is about to head back to Sendai to further analyse the region’s needs, and to engage them himself in whatever ways are possible. We hope to have a more complete report available from him and Dale soon, both about what CRASH has achieved, and what the EFCCM specifically has contributed.

We are blessed and humbled by the generosity of donors, who are continuing to invest in relief and assistance despite the fact that this event has mostly slipped off the larger media’s radar.

We’re really excited to have Melvin join us at the EFCCM as Asia Area Director. He has jumped into the role with both feet, and is in fact currently visiting the EFCCM’s missionaries and ministries in Japan, Thailand and the Philippines. We appreciate his enthusiasm, his perspective and his compassionate nature, and we trust that God will do great things through his leadership.