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This year, God has provided a team for me to serve with. My team from Chicago is made up of:
Phil (myself) from Streamwood, IL
Dan from Chicago, IL
Hilary from Rockford, IL
Hunter from Stevens Point, WI
Amazingly enough, two of the team members I just met this year! I met Hunter in April (I talked about him in my last post about the motorcycle in Florida). I met Hilary this spring at Willow Creek Community Church. And I have known Dan, who goes to my home church, since 1996 when I met him in college. Needless to say, God is wonderful, or as they would say in Japan, subarashi!
Our trip to Japan is from November 8 through November 18. We will be serving alongside 50 other volunteers from states across the US, including Missouri, Florida, Virginia and others. Together we will help my friend John Mehn, Director of the JCPI Conference (and also from Rockford, IL) put on this biennial conference which serves Japanese missionaries and pastors. Our main ministries will be conference setup, administration, and teardown; providing a Vacation Bible School for children; and running the main sessions and workshops of the conference.
I am extremely thankful to God for making this all happen, but with a team comes more responsibilities and unfortunately, more costs. Typically, I try to finance myself so as not to be a burden on others, but with four people we need help. I have already decided to cover all of our airfare using the frequent flier miles I earned from work, and I have even sold the above motorcycle in Florida to raise money. But we still have a ways to go!
The total cost of our trip so far is $7,426.40. Of this we have raised $4,001.40, which is 53.9%. We are well on our way, but could use additional help.
Interested in supporting our team?
Donations are tax deductible through our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt sending organization:
Example of oily clumps, rocks and debris that needs to be cleaned from the soil
The hula dancers teach the Poi Boys and the audience
The kids are first in line for kakigori shaved ice!
Kids enjoying their kakigori
Packing up the cars and saying goodbye at the lot that was our home for two weeks
Wednesday was our final work day in the Shintate neighborhood of Ishinomaki. God blessed us with some cloud cover, which kept the day from getting too hot. We spent the day finishing projects such as cleaning up debris and power washing the streets near our work site.
One task that we had worked on throughout the two weeks was cleaning debris out of a farm field. The tsunami had destroyed a neighboring factory that produced small parts for cell phones and cars. All of these small pieces had been washed into this field. The owner despaired that the field could never be used again but several Samaritan's Purse teams worked on the field, including ours. One row at a time, each team meticulously combed through the soil and removed rocks, plastic buttons, tiny plastic parts, broken glass, blobs of oil from the harbor, trash and debris. The owner was amazed at the progress and is now able to till the soil and will soon be able to use the field to plant crops again.
The highlight of Wednesday was the hula and kakigori (shaved ice) party. Rick and (Little) John built a simple stage out of plywood and carpet and turned the shed into a dressing room. Two hula dancers from another missions group arrived to dance and teach hula to the crowd (we later learned that one of the hula dancers had accepted Christ that very morning!). About 50 people from the neighborhood attended, including several children. Our team then served kakigori and held umbrellas to shade the line from the sun. The laughter of children filled the lot as they played with leftover ice and downed their delicious treats.
After the party, we cleaned up and prepared to say goodbye. It was a sad moment as we filled out cards with our thoughts and presented them individually to each of the families we had served. Even though we had been the ones working, we thanked them for the honor and opportunity to serve and get to know each of them. One gentleman, an expert Japanese calligraphy artist, presented us with beautiful paper cards on which he had written, "Arigatou" which means "Thank You." Some also stayed and joined our prayer circle as we prayed for the neighborhood and Japan.
Finally, we packed up the van and drove away, waving through misty eyes to those who remained. We drove through Ishinomaki one more time to reflect and pray for the work that still remains and headed back to the Samaritan's Purse Base where some team members shared their thoughts and participated in our final night of worship with the rest of the base.
Cramming everything into the van
Cramming everyONE into the van
Earthquake damage at the hospital
Power lines and clouds at sunset
Little John enjoys his reward for a job well done
Mas prepares to enjoy his reward as well
Thursday morning we packed up all of our things and loaded them into the van. With the Millhous's gone, our second car was smaller so the van was packed to the brim with all of our belongings. We said goodbye to the Samaritan's Purse base staff that had cared for us the last two weeks and various other friends we had made at the base. Then crammed into our vehicles and hit the road.
On the way, we stopped at the Red Cross Hospital so Dexter could have his stitches removed. 8 hours later, we arrived in Tokorozawa where we picked up Elaine, John's wife, and somehow fit her into the van.
We arrived at the missionary house in Tokorozawa at sunset. We unpacked then said goodbye to Araki-san and Suzuki-San as they continued to their own home. They thanked us for a wonderful experience and Araki-san presented us with a drawing he had made of the entire team.
Afterwards, the remaining team members went out to do laundry and stopped for dinner at Denny's (note that the food at Denny's in Japan is totally different from America) and had some dessert for a job well done.
Agnes, Dexter, Rick, Little John, Matt, Yoji, Phil, Mas, Suzuki-san, Araki-san, Ken and Gerry perch atop our fearless leader, Big John.
Enjoying our final dinner together
The Hot Dog and Poi Team (minus a few)
Friday, God granted us with heavy rain to cool things down as we spent the morning relaxing. We had lunch at McDonald's to try the Terriyaki Burger where we met a councilman of Tokorozawa. The afternoon was spent shopping and after our final team dinner at the house, we took some final pictures and said goodbye to Yoji, the first team member to leave.
Saturday, we spent the morning reflecting and sharing our thoughts about the trip. Then Mas, Matt, Agnes and Phil packed their things and went to the train station. There, Agnes and Phil boarded a bus to the airport while Mas and Matt boarded a train to Tokyo where they would split and head to their next destinations.
Sunday, the Poi Boys attended the Kokobunji Baptist Church before heading to the airport as well.
God's Work in Japan
Our trip may be complete, but God's work is just beginning. God has used this time not only to impact the people we met in Japan but to impact us as well. In our sharing time on Saturday, we had the opportunity to share the ways God has been working.
(Big) John remarked that no human would have picked the people in our team, yet God chose each person to be a critical part of this team, a perfect set of skills and personalities to do His work. Stories were told of how God moved each person to be a part of this team through small miracles such as a passport being renewed in less than two weeks and an obscure connection that brought new members to the team. There were stories of doubt and fear that were given to God and steps of faith taken that brought us together. As a result of the trip, members shared how God healed past struggles, renewed passions for Japan and gave new callings to continue serving Him.
God has big things planned for Japan and the team can feel it. At no other time in history have there been so many Christians in Japan and so many churches active and working together. Even though this team's work in Japan is over, please continue to pray for God's will in Japan and for more workers to be called as there is still much work to do.
We leave you with this passage from Matthew that depicts how we felt driving through the destroyed towns and villages of Japan.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." - Matthew 9:35-38
Pray for the families we met, the lives we've touched and the seeds we've planted, that they may bear fruit.
Pray for the future of Japan, that God's will would unfold and that a new age of faith would dawn on the Land of the Rising Sun
Pray that more workers would rise up and follow God's call to serve in Japan
Pray for physical, emotional and spiritual recovery of the team after 2 weeks of hard work, long travels and spiritual challenges.
Pray for the team members, that our hearts for Japan would grow and that we may faithfully return or send others, according to God's will.
It's hard to believe that our time in Japan is almost over. We have just one more day of work before heading back to Tokyo for debriefing and rest! Thanks for all of your support and prayers for making all of this possible!
In this issue:
Devotions and Sharing
Little John prepares to tear paneling out of a closet
Rick works in his hole
"Everyone, Thank You!" sign from a tsunami survivor
The store house completely stripped
Dexter's six stitches
5 months later, street lights in Ishinomaki are still not working
New military tents set up at the SP base to house more volunteers
Organizing bags of food for the temporary housing facilities
John shows off two pairs of jeans ripped after a week of work
Matt enjoys a fish cake that is no longer made; the factory was destroyed by the tsunami
Agnes hauls off a stump from the garden
For the remainder of the first week, we focused on the home that needed walls to be stripped and the store house that needed to be stripped to the frame.
Significant progress has been made on the store house. The steel siding was completely removed, as was all dry wall. Due to the corrugated steel siding, the store house was the primary source of minor injuries. Several team members received multiple small scratches and cuts, however last Thursday Dexter received a severe cut on his finger despite his leather work gloves. He was taken to the Red Cross hospital where he received six stitches. His wound is healing well.
The home being stripped has seen significant progress as well. All five closets were stripped and the owners were so pleased with our work (we didn't damage or ruin any expensive wood pieces) that they requested that we perform additional work. Unfortunately, Phil stepped on a rotten floor board on Friday which gave way and dropped him half a meter to the ground, resulting in a sprained ankle. His ankle is healing well and he should be fully mobile in a couple days though he will not be able to do any more heavy lifting or strenuous activities.
We finished Friday by driving to the coastline of our city, Ishinomaki, to view the destruction there and pray for the city. After five months, much of the coast line is still devastated and several intersections, including major roads, remain without traffic signals or electricity.
Over the weekend we continued various projects in the neighborhood but also prepared to visit some temporary housing facilities (trailer homes) by purchasing over $1000 of food, including non-perishables, fresh produce and frozen meat for forty families. On Sunday we visited a small home church for worship service where our translator, Pastor Mas, gave the message.
After church we distributed clothing and basic supplies at a small temporary housing facility. We then visited another housing facility and distributed food to the families there. This was a tough time emotionally as we got to meet and talk with families that had lost their homes. Some tears were shed and we received many thanks for our help. In this city alone (Minami-Sanriku) there are 58 housing facilities with over 2000 units housing approximately 6000 displaced Japanese.
In the second week we focused on finishing as many projects as possible. We finished "mudding out" the newly exposed sections in the home being stripped. We also power washed and disinfected the store house in time for Japanese carpenters to begin rebuilding it. Other tasks included removing several dead trees and stumps from a garden, putting up a fence to protect a field, weeding the area around a house, cleaning a graveyard, removing debris from a farm field, moving accumulated trash to the road for pick-up and power washing the street.
Lastly we canvased the neighborhood and invited the community to our final event, a Hawaiian Hula show and Kaki-gori (shaved ice) party. This gave us an opportunity
for the whole team to spend time in the community developing relationships, listening to stories and offering additional help. This was another difficult time emotionally as we heard many stories and saw many tears.
On Friday, the team said goodbye to Ken and Gerry Millhous. This couple served in Japan for 40 years and retired 6 years ago. After the disaster they felt called to return to Japan and spent two more months serving. This was their last week in Japan and their kindness faithful service will be missed. They also took their car back to Tokyo leaving the remaining 9 team members and all of our gear to fit into a single van for the weekend.
Sunday night, the team welcomed two new Japanese members: Suzuki Hirohumi and Araki Hiroto. These fresh volunteers joined our team for the second week of work. They will be a great asset as they are native Japanese speakers and will make it easier to build relationships at our Hula and kaki-gori party. They also brought a car so we will be able to return to Tokyo with all of our equipment in two cars (like we arrived in).
Devotions and Sharing
John (left) leads devotions with Andrew translating into Japanese
Sayuri (center) shares in Portuguese which is translated into English and then to Japanese
Rick and Andrew (SP Staff) lead evening hymns. Yes, that's an accordion.
Our team has been trying to be good stewards to the base, which means volunteering to wash dishes, participating in evening sharing time and singing hymns. It also means preparing and leading morning devotions which are translated between English and Japanese. John, Ken, Mas, Phil and Yoji have all led devotion time. Attached below is Phil's devotion, which includes verses that some of you may recognize from his support letter.
In the midst of all the destruction that surrounds us in Japan, some of you may be asking, "Why did God let this happen?" Maybe some of you have even struggled with your faith because of this disaster.
I hope to encourage you with some favorite verses from Habakkuk. If you don't know who Habakkuk was, he was the 8th out of 12 Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. His book can be found about 9-10 pages before the New Testament, between Nahum and Zephaniah.
Chapter 1, verse 5 is one of my favorites and became my theme verse for my first short term missions trip to Japan in 2001.
"Look at the nations and watch - and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." - Habakkuk 1:5
We all know that God has a plan. But God's plan is so amazing that even if He told us what it was, we would still not believe it.
Now, just so you know the context, Habakkuk was a prophet that was frustrated by the sinful decline of the nation of Judah. He cried out to God and asked Him to do something about it. What do you think God did?
God told Habakkuk he would raise up the Babylonians to destroy Judah. That's probably not what Habakkuk expected.
So Habakkuk asked why God would let such a thing happen? God's response can be found in Habakkuk 2:4
"See, he (the enemy) is puffed up; his desires are not upright - but the righteous will live by his faith."
In the rest of the chapter, God assures Habakkuk that despite the coming destruction, all will be made right at the appointed time. All Habakkuk needed to do is wait for it and live faithfully.
I'm guessing here, but this is such a powerful verse, that I think it was one of the Apostle Paul's favorite verses. Paul actually referenced it three times in his writing.
Romans 1:17 - For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
Galatians 3:11 - Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."
Hebrews 10:37-38 - For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay, but my righteous one will live by faith..."
As we look around at all the destruction around us, we may not be able to fathom or comprehend why it happened or what the future will bring. But that's ok, because God has an amazing plan that we would not believe anyway.
Like Habakkuk, all we need to do is live faithfully: to faithfully serve the Japanese in the name of the Lord.
Now that I have shared one of my favorite verses and what I like to think is one of Paul's favorite verses, let me leave you with some of my sister's favorite verses, found at the end of Habakkuk.
"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior." - Habakkuk 3:17-18
I hope that despite all of the destruction around us and our inability to comprehend God's plan, you will continue to serve Him faithfully and rejoice and be joyful in the Lord.
Continue to pray for health and safety in our work environments
Pray for continued healing without complications for those who sustained injuries
Pray that we would build more bonds in the community at our final party day
Pray for the relationships we have made and built with the Japanese and the seeds we have planted in their hearts
Pray for safe travels back to Tokyo and back home
Pray for physical and emotional health of the team as we are fatigued after 9 straight days of hard labor
The entire team arrived safely in Tokyo. Some early travelers stayed at John's home in Machida (southwest Tokyo suburb) but then all team members met at a Converge Worldwide volunteer house in Higashi Tokorozawa (northwest Tokyo suburb) on Sunday night (where there was one shower for 9 people). We gathered all of our supplies and re-packed to minimize our luggage. Monday morning we ate breakfast together at 6:30am, had orientation at 7:30 when we met our last two team members, then gathered all of our supplies and packed it into a wagon and a van.
At 10:00 we left the Tokorozawa house and headed north to the Samaritan's purse Tome base (about 45 minutes north of Sendai). The trip took 8.5 hours including two rest stops, lunch and some significant construction traffic but we arrived just in time for dinner and orientation.
The Samaritan's Purse Base
The SP Tome Base
The team at the base entrance
The Men's Quarters
The SP Base is an old sewing factory (you can still see the ceiling mounted electric outlets and compressed air lines) that has been rented out for two years and converted into a volunteer center. The one floor building is split into 4 areas: Office, Kitchen, Men's Quarters and Women's Quarters. The men's quarters contains 36 cots for volunteers while the women's contains 16, supporting a total of 60 volunteers (ear plugs are highly recommended). Last week the tiny kitchen prepared nearly 1500 meals for volunteers (including some meals for other external groups)!
Outside the main building are a large storage shed, 4 portable bathrooms, 8 portable showers and one sink. When running at full capacity, lines can be long during the morning and immediately after work, however we are fortunate that only a couple other teams are present this week so the base is only half full. Two more sinks will be installed and eventually these facilities will be enclosed. Three military tents will also be set up to house long term volunteers.
The base is run by a dedicated staff of volunteers that handle everything from registration, orientation, work assignments, translation, worship, cooking and cleaning.
A typical day at the base:
6:00 - Cold Breakfast (bread, cereal, yogurt)
6:30 - Hot Breakfast (eggs, meat)
7:00 - Daily Devotion
7:30 - Head to work site
12:00 - Lunch
4:00 - Return to Base
5:00 - Shower and rest
6:30 - Dinner
7:00 - Sharing
8:00 - Hymns (led by an accordian)
9:30 - Lights Out
The First Two Days of Work
Sunflowers planted in Shintate after 3.11
Eating lunch together
Converge Worldwide has been focusing its work in a neighborhood in Shintate (we are the fourth CW team to come to Japan). By focusing on one neighborhood, returning volunteers have been able to build relationships in the community and provide continuity and reassurance to the people they have met.
Tuesday morning we immediately began working on several projects in Shintate. First and foremost was cleaning up and weeding an empty lot that had been lent to volunteers by the owner. On the lot is a storage shed for CW supplies that had to be completed as well. Meanwhile three others moved belongings and supplies out of a building so it could be worked on. In addition to these tasks, any interaction with neighbors was considered ministry, whether it be talking, listening, playing with children and even supporting local businesses by getting hair cuts.
Removing steel siding
Packing the car with tables
After lunch teams were switched with three working on tearing out a water logged closet in a sound proofed house (due to it's proximity to the Japan Self Defense Force flight path). Four more closets will be completed throughout the week. The rest of the team worked on stripping the cleaned out building to the frame. This required removal of corrugated steel siding on the outside and drywall on the inside. This building also caused our first (minor) injuries of the trip, two cut arms and a minor head injury.
Wednesday our focus was on a community barbecue and concert. We arrived early in the morning and worked on setting up tents, a small stage, tables and a kitchen area in preparation for 60 guests from the community. Music was provided by two Japanese Christian musicians from Sendai that lived through the disaster. In addition, a Japanese chef who works at the Swedish and Norwegian embassies brought and cooked meat and yaki-soba (stir fried noodles) to supplement our terriyaki chicken and hot dogs. Following the concert we had shaved ice and cookies for dessert.
The day was extremely hot with temperatures in the mid 90's, 95% humidity and an intense sun, with little opportunity to work indoors. Some team members were quite fatigued and heat exhaustion was a concern for those working around the four grills, however regular sprays from the hose and an ample supply of water, tea and sports drinks kept the group in good spirits.
Thank you all for all of your prayers. They have been encouraging and powerful as God has provided for us in every way. Here are some new prayer requests.
Pray that those who we helped and attended the concert would be touched and would want to know more about God
We have heard stories of people who have lost loved ones and wish they had died as well. Please pray that we can give them hope that God has a plan.
We have already made new contacts and been asked to help with more relief work around the neighborhood. Pray that we would continue to be diligent, Godly workers
Weather will remain hot and humid this week. Please pray for health and endurance in these conditions
The Samaritan's Purse base will be filling up at the end of the week. Pray that all would be gracious and we are not constrained too much by time.
Bethel Japan Missions Trip 2011 Newsletter 1 Welcome to the newsletter for the Bethel 2011 Missions Trip to Japan! This list will be used to share updates and prayer requests regarding the trip.
In this issue:
Meet the "Hot Dog and Poi Team"
How to Contact Us
Meet the "Hot Dog and Poi Team"
Our journey to Japan is coming up fast! Different team members across the world will be leaving for Japan on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday so we are scrambling to tie up loose ends and complete last minute preparations.
The Bethel Team is composed of four people from Chicago and St. Louis, however, we are part of a larger team that will be working together in Japan.
The Bethel "Chicago Hot Dog" Team
- Matt Baumgartner, 30, attends the Japanese International Harvest Church in St. Louis where he is part of the music ministry. He lived in rural Japan for four years and will be the first team member to leave on Wednesday.
- Phil Tsai, 34, attends Bethel Christian Church in Chicago. He has been to Japan 7 times doing missions work including teaching English, running a multimedia team and doing disaster relief after the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami. He will be leaving on Saturday.
- Yoji Takahashi, 31, attends the Japanese International Harvest Church in St. Louis. He grew up attending a Japanese school in Costa Rica and is fluent in Japanese, Spanish and English. He is currently in serminary and will be our back-up translator. He will also be leaving on Saturday.
- Agnes Calabrese, 24, attends Bethel Christian Church in Chicago. She has been on short term missions trips in high school and felt called to serve in Japan after the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami. She will be leaving on Sunday.
The Larger Team
John Mehn, Director of Japan Disaster Response for Converge Worldwide, is originally from Rockford, IL. He has been a missionary in Japan for 25 years with his wife Elaine. He will serve as our overall team leader and coordinator in Japan. He was on vacation in July and returned to Japan on Tuesday.
John Alejado, Dexter Yamamoto and Richard Simafranca attend the Calvary Church of the Pacific in Hawaii. Nicknamed "The Poi Boys" by John, they will be leaving on Friday.
Mas Kobayashi is a native Japanese speaker and now serves as a pastor in Canada. He has been in Japan a month serving and preaching in the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe) and will meet us in Tokyo on Sunday. He will be our team's primary translator.
Ken and Gerry Milhouse are a missionary couple serving in Japan. They have been on multiple disaster response trips and will be joining us for the first week.
All together, that brings our team to 11 volunteers! Praise God!
A big thanks to all of you who are supporting us with prayer and finances! We couldn't have done this without you! On the finance side, we are currently 87% funded which allows our team to get to Japan but means we are floating $1,043 on various people's credit cards. If anyone has been planning to give but hasn't yet, it's not too late!
In terms of our itinerary and work, John has been busy coordinating all of our travel schedules to make the most of our time. We have been confirmed to be working with Samaritan's Purse at their Tome base, just north of Sendai in the Tohoku region's Miyagi prefecture. The base provides cots, electricity, running water and hot meals for 30-50 volunteers each week. We will be leaving for the base early Monday morning which will be tiring for half the team that is arriving Sunday night (those flying on Saturday lose a day due to the international date line).
We will be working in a town that previous teams have been working in. Our primary work will be "mudding out" homes. When the tsunami receded back into the ocean, it left debris and mud in the foundations of all the buildings. The work sites are littered with glass and nails and the mud can contain debris, crude oil, bacteria, mold and fungi. We will be wearing water proof boots with puncture resistant soles as well as water proof gear, gloves and breathing masks to protect ourselves. In order to do this, homes will need all of their floor boards pulled up and in some cases, walls opened as well. The mud will have to be shoveled out and the floor boards salvaged, cleaned and disinfected. The average house requires 12 people to complete in 10 days. We may also be asked to clean yards, parks, farms, sidewalks, gutters and more.
In addition to this work, we will have some outreach events including a community barbecue and possibly a concert to build relationships and open doors, not only for more work but also for God's word. We may also visit local community shelters and churches to serve and pray as well.
Pray for final preparations (paperwork, packing, spiritual and mental preparation) as we prepare to leave for Japan
Pray for safe travels and the smooth coordination and meeting of everyone in Tokyo since we have team members traveling from many places on different days.
Pray for good rest for the team as this will be a busy and physically demanding trip. Some team members will be traveling for 2 or 3 days in a row and some will be struggling with jet lag.
Pray for health as some work conditions may be hazardous, especially in Japan's hot, humid summer weather.
Pray for team relationships as we have a lot of people from different places with different backgrounds and expectations
Pray for the Japanese that we will be in contact with. Pray that we would be a blessing to them and that their hearts would be open to us and to the seeds of God's love that we will be planting
Pray for the churches in Japan, that they would not be overwhelmed by the needs of today and can continue to minister and serve after the volunteers are gone
Pray for God to provide whatever last minute support we need as we are still a little short on fund raising.
Good Morning. I am Phil Tsai and I am up here to talk about my trip to Japan in May and then share some details on the upcoming trip in August.
In many ways my trip in May was an exploratory one. While I helped in whatever ways I could, I also had the opportunity to see how things are progressing, how organizations are working and where the greatest needs are. Not only was I able to help in many ways, it also allowed me to understand where we could help the most in August.
For instance, the amount of effort that goes into organizing a response to a disaster is huge, and I got to see some of that. I spent two of my weeks in Tokyo doing administrative and IT work for two organizations, CRASH Japan and Converge Worldwide. During that time I worked on managing a database of donors, building a tool to aid in translation and fixing some websites.
I also spent one week in the region of Tohoku with the Rengo network, which is an association of Japanese Baptist churches. Tohoku, which was the region hit hardest by the tsunami, has 6 prefectures (which are roughly equivalent to states), as you can see in this map
Three of these prefectures were severely damaged by the tsunami: Fukushima, where the damaged nuclear reactors are, Miyagi, where Sendai is, and Iwate. I went up with 40 people from the Rengo network. This included several pastors, church members and seminary students. The focus of our trip was the prefecture of Iwate, which is north of the epicenter. There we did physical labor and outreach in three different cities.
This portion of the trip allowed me to serve in a more direct, tangible manner. It also let me see the enormity of clean-up and rebuilding work that faces Japan. Even though it had been two months since the disaster (three months now) the work is really just beginning. In fact, some groups are estimating that full recovery will take over 6 years.
For additional information, please see my other blog entries below. For now, here are some pictures from the areas we worked in:
The first city was Miyako. [Slides 3-4]
The next city to the south was Yamada. [Slides 5-7]
Going even further south was Otsuchi. [Slides 8-9]
So that was my trip to Tohoku. We learned a lot on this trip, for instance there are some unique challenges to doing relief work in Japan. The Japanese generally don't like to ask for help, as it is considered a sign of weakness. The government has relief centers, like the one we visited in Yamada, where people can go for help. But when we were there, they told us that people aren't asking for help, and if they do, they often feel indebted and obligated to return the favor, and I suspect that many people do not want to feel obligated to the government.
This is actually where we can make a big impact as volunteers. We can go in and get to know people and offer our services, for free, and they do not have to return the favor. In fact, we met people who struggled with the concept of volunteering. They were surprised that we would give up our work and vacations to serve them, without getting paid for it. This gives us an opportunity to tell them that we are Christians and we want to serve them because Christ served us and gave us salvation, no strings attached. In August, as we spend a couple weeks in one neighborhood, we hope to build relationships through that, we can connect people to the local church.
Our work will include tearing down walls and floors to clean out mud from the tsunami; cleaning debris and mud from buildings, yards, parks, sewers and streets; delivering supplies and providing meals to families; and reaching out to people to address whatever other needs they have. Through all of this, we will also be giving emotional support and connecting people to the local church.
The team will go with Converge Worldwide and work with Samaritan's Purse (who you may recognize as the group that does Operation Christmas Child). The team will be made up of myself and Agnes from Bethel. We will also have Pastor Mas Kobayashi from Edmonton, Alberta. He will be our translator and I actually worked with him when I went to Japan 4 years ago. There are two others from St. Louis who will be joining us as well as three from Hawaii. And there will be some local Japanese church members too.
In order to make this trip possible we need your support. First of all, we need your prayers.
Pray for the people of Japan: that they may find God in their time of need.
Pray for our team: that we may be faithful in our calling and trust in the Lord to provide
We also need your financial support. Each of us needs to raise $2,300 for daily living expenses and airfare. If God has so moved you, we ask that you please consider supporting us in any way you can.
Commuting in Tokyo During my trip to Japan for disaster relief, I spent some time commuting to the CRASH Japan office and decided to put together some vids about the train system. The result is a three part series providing some background and tips for commuting in Japan.
"Rail Map of Tokyo Area - JR Lines, Private Railways, Subways, Monorails, All Stations" - I could not find a website for this, but that is the title on the folder it comes in. It is published by Shobunsha Publications and references http://www.mapple.co.jp/ and http://www.mapple.net
Japan Trip Update 5/21/2011 Hi All,
This week's update is kind of ginormous because there are just so many things to talk about. I broke it down into the following sections:
Sunday 5/15 - Morioka
Monday 5/16 - Miyako
Tuesday 5/17 - Yamada
Wednesday 5/18 - Otsuchi
Thursday 5/19 - Ofunato, Kesennuma, Ishinomaki
The Story of the Ryokan
Sunday 5/15 - Morioka
Sunday, John and I met up with four pastors and a couple from some local churches. After the earthquake, many roads were damaged but now, two months after the disaster, the vast majority have been fixed and you can travel at full speed on the highway.
After eight hours, we arrived at a church in Morioka, 2 hours inland from the coast. We met with volunteers from another church and a seminary. After an overview and slideshow of the local effects of the disaster, the 20 of us slept on the floor of the church.
Monday 5/16 - Miyako
Monday we drove east to Miyako on the coast. The Tsunami was reported to be 30 meters tall here, but the area we stayed in did not receive the full force. The downtown area saw 10 feet of water and primarily suffered water damage instead of destruction. Areas closer to the sea saw significant destruction, primarily to the first floor, though many buildings had to be condemned completely.
My team's job was to clean up of the kitchen in the ryokan where we stayed. We removed all debris and cleaned up any salvageable dishes, flatware and cookware. We pulled up damaged linoleum, cleaned the floor, laid down tarps and boarded up windows so the kitchen could be used until it was ready for full renovations. More details on the ryokan are available below.
Finally we hauled the debris to the temporary dump. There was a constant flow of trucks dropping off trash, rubble, cars, along with things you wouldn't think of, like an entire car wash machine! The debris at the dump gave just a glimpse of the immensity of destruction that the Japanese are facing.
Tuesday 5/17 - Yamada
Tuesday our team drove south to the next town, Yamada, which was hit much harder. Sections of the tide wall were pushed aside, over turned or sunk into the ground by the power of the tsunami. Whole blocks of buildings were swept away leaving crumbling concrete foundations and rubble. Boats of varying sizes were strewn on the side of the road or in the middle of a block. In one case, both a boat and a Porsche had been lifted up and left teetering precariously on the roof of a two story retirement home. Throughout the area, the pungent smell of rotting fish permeated the air.
We reported to the local government volunteer center where they assigned us to a destroyed hospital. For safety we wore water proof armored boots, work gloves and breathing masks. We met two women at the hospital. One woman's father was the hospital administrator and the other woman's husband was a doctor. Our job was to salvage their furniture and books from the second floor.
Most of the first floor was completely ruined. We walked past a file room filled with papers and x-rays. A door had been ripped off its hinges but was lodged in the ceiling, hanging on by the auto-closing arm. On the second floor the water had come up to waist level. Debris, office furniture and medical supplies were tossed throughout the hallway.
We hauled a couch and some book shelves downstairs to a waiting truck, then about 300 books and magazines (including three complete sets of encyclopaedias) from the administrator and doctor offices. The furniture was dropped off at one of the women's homes and the books were brought to another hospital where we carried them up another flight of stairs to their new home.
We said goodbye to the women, who were extremely thankful and on the brink of tears as we left. Meanwhile, other teams set up a free concert in the ryokan in Miyako. There they cooked dinner and handed out basic supplies for the community.
Wednesday 5/18 - Otsuchi
Wednesday we headed farther south to Otsuchi, another city that was hit very hard. Otsuchi has a large river that feeds into the ocean and the tsunami followed this river inland. Our primary task was to provide food and services to an entire community that lived on the side of the river.
By the river you could see the side of the road piled high with trash, debris and bags of mud. The water level reached the top of the first floor and even two months later, many people are just returning to their homes to begin the clean-up. We set up at a small convenience store that had just finished cleaning inside.
The team broke up and canvased the neighborhood, inviting everyone to come for a free spaghetti lunch and food, clothing and other supplies. We asked if anyone had any additional needs. One woman needed help removing floor boards so they could be cleaned and her foundation could be cleared of mud. John and I were given a pry bar and assigned this task while the rest of the team helped cook lunch.
The people in this neighborhood were extremely grateful and everyone we contacted showed up. Providing a free lunch doesn't sound like much, but when you have an endless list of things to do to return to normalcy, one less thing to worry about goes a long way. After handing out a couple dozen boxes of supplies, we told them to contact their local church if they had any additional needs.
Thursday 5/19 - Ofunato, Kesennuma, Ishinomaki
Thursday was our day to travel back to Tokyo. Instead of heading straight for the highway, we followed the coast south, passing through town after town that had been destroyed by the tsunami, each with its own unique story. Some towns dealt with huge fires that broke out from liquid propane tanks that ruptured. Some towns were partially protected by their sea walls but some towns had sea walls that were destroyed. Some towns lost roads and train lines.
Seeing the destruction from city to city gave us a chance to pray for the Japanese and reflect on all that we had seen. But there were also times that the shock was overwhelming and we rode in silence. The latest estimates say rebuilding these areas will take at least 6 years.
For me, the biggest impression was how fragile our lives are and how quickly our earthly posessions can be destroyed by the power of this Earth that God created. It reminds me of the parable from Luke 12:16-21 (NIV)
And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
"This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God."
We often live in this world gathering money and stuff and building walls to protect it. Yet it can all be taken from us, in a single moment. Can you imagine that? Your home, your school, your work, your car, your grocery store, your favorite restaurant: gone in an instant. What do you do when that happens? What can you count on?
Are we rich toward God? Are we building up treasures in heaven? Are we working for the Kingdom of God? Are we serving and building relationships with the lost? Are we sharing the Truth with those who have not found it? Or are we pursuing earthly things that do not last?
Those are questions that I know I need to pray and meditate on. How about you?
The Story of the Ryokan
During our travels, we stayed at a ryokan, a Japanese style inn. How this ryokan became a place for volunteers is an interesting story of God's divine provision.
The three story ryokan is located across the street from the sea wall. It is owned by the Abe's, a couple in their 70's. The tsunami came over the wall and heavily damaged the first floor and basement, destroying windows, doors and an entire interior wall. The husband was swept out of a second story window but was miraculously saved when his cell phone strap caught on something. His wife pulled him back into the building, breaking her leg in the process.
Weeks later, a team of American volunteers came to help clean up. It took them some time to find the building where Mr. Abe was waiting for them but by the end of the day they had boarded up the first floor and made significant progress cleaning it. It was at that time that the team discovered they had been working at the wrong building!
However, Mr. Abe was so appreciative of the help fromt he volunteers that he invited the team to stay at his ryokan which had a dozen usable rooms on the upper floors. After discussions with local church leaders, he opened up his ryokan to all volunteers from the church who in turn pay a reasonable amount to provide the Abe's with some much needed income.
Thus, a divinely blessed mix-up brought volunteers to the Abe's which in turn became a resource that allowed volunteers to stay in a better location in better conditions, saving precious travel time and allowing the volunteers to be better immersed in the community. I'm certain that God has and will continue to use this location to touch many more lives.
Pray for the emotional, physical and spiritual health of the Japanese. Many people have lost not only things, but family, friends and careers: literally their entire lives.
Pray that the hearts of the Japanese may be filled with love and hope from the volunteers serving them.
Pray for the volunteer teams coming from all over Japan and the world to serve
Pray that the Abe's would be blessed for opening up their home and business to volunteers
Pray for the governments, organizations, churches and individuals that have an immense amount of work to do to restore
Japan Trip Update 5/14/2011 I landed at Narita airport in Tokyo, Japan on Monday afternoon. A quick three hour commute got me to John's house (John is my friend and a Converge Worldwide missionary) where I would stay for the week.
For my first week I helped John with some IT related tasks for his ministry, then hooked up with CRASH Japan, a Christian relief organization that is setting up long term base camps for disaster response. CRASH is growing fast and needs a lot of volunteers in their headquarters which moved into a new building this month. 30-50 volunteers work in the HQ every day in the midst of renovations.
The needs change on a daily basis requiring flexibility and a willingness to serve in whatever capacity is needed. I was assigned to help maintain the database of volunteers and donors as well as to help develop a tool to aid with automatic translation between Japanese and English.
Today (Sunday) I will be heading up to the disaster area for a week with a local team to do more hands-on work. Specifically we will be driving to Miyako, which is about 100 miles north of Sendai (300 miles from Tokyo) and will take 8-10 hours.
Our main task will be to distribute supplies in the area though that may change on a daily basis as well. We may also be removing debris, cleaning, watching children or just helping people emotionally. More details below.
We will be staying in an old ryokan (Japanese inn) that survived the devastation and is owned by a couple who lived through the earthquake and Tsunami. Electricity has been restored in the building but there is no water so we will need to bring drinking water and travel 20 minutes to a public bath every day.
I am currently packing supplies for the trip which include rain gear, waterproof boots with armored soles (so we don't step on nails), safety goggles, particulate masks, work gloves, flash lights, sleeping bags, food and duct tape of course. This should be an interesting trip!
For all the people we come in contact with, that we would be a source of comfort, hope and love for them
For the couple who owns the ryokan and are opening it up to volunteers
For opportunities to share the Gospel with those we meet
Health and safety for all the volunteers while we travel and serve
Thanks for your support. I will send another update after we return.
John will be leaving today with Phil Tsai, short-term worker, to work with a Rengo Disaster Response team in Iwate prefecture from the 15th to the 19th. The eight member team will include Pastor Sasaki, Rengo Board member, Pastor Kurashima of the Masago church, Associate Pastor Yamauchi of the Chuo church, the Wakaos of the Ishikawa Kita church and Pastor Yokota of the Minami Urawa church. This team is loaded with pastors!
John and Phil will pick up Pastor Yokota and supplies and then rendezvous the rest of the team at the Morioka Bible Baptist Church in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture on Sunday evening where we will spend the night. From Monday we will be working in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture distributing relief supplies, cleaning, removing debris, helping people emotionally, playing with kids, etc.
In this city of nearly 58,000 there are only two churches which together have only a weekly attendance of 39 people. Like the whole Tohoku region, this is a very unchurched and unevangelized area. We will be working with the Iwate 3.11 Church Network which is supporting relief efforts through local churches throughout Iwate Prefecture. Please pray for our hearts and our hands as we bring the love of Christ to this area.
Miyako lost more to 400 to the earthquake and tsunami and is the city where photos showed a waterfall-like tsunami over 124 feet high (about 10 stories) inundating the city. Photovideo
Please pray for opportunities to share the love of Christ both in word and deed on this trip. Pray that we may make many smile with hope. Pray to that God would give both John and Phil wisdom and sensitive eyes this trip. After this month trip, Phil will be returning to Japan later in August with a Disaster Response Team from Chicago (and St. Louis). Maybe some want to join him.
The Train Man When I was in Japan, my friend Mappe introduced me to a Japanese program (from 2005) called Densha Otoko, literally "Train Man" about an Otaku (uber-geek, i.e. an anime obsessed, socially awkward internet dweller) who falls in love with a beautiful woman on the subway.
I watched the TV series and enjoyed it so much that I decided to do a little more research on it. The story is based on the unfolding threads on the 2Chan Japanese forums in 2004, and are generally accepted to be a real story. The original compiled forum threads are available in the original Japanese and translated into English if you like to read internet forums.
Wapango Last night I met up with John and Elaine Mehn, my missionary friends from Japan. The last three times I've been in Japan they've opened up their home to me so when I heard they were going to be in St. Louis to share about their work with West Hills, I arranged my travel to be here this weekend.
Last night I invited them to dinner with my parents as well and we had a nice meal at Wapango, a pan-latin restaurant. Conveniently, this gives me an opportunity to finally share my Wapango pictures and review from when I went with my family in December. Here are a couple quick pics: their Carnivale appetizer sampler and their fresh cocoa fritters. Both are must-haves at Wapango.
Japanese Foie Gras I keep hearing east coasters talk about how seafood on the east coast is so good and how it's too bad that I live in Chicago. I don't know what they're talking about, there's tons of good seafood in Chicago and being centrally located means we can get fresh fish from both coasts. I have no doubt that seafood in New York and Boston is excellent but Hartford remains the blight of the east coast in this regard as well. I eat sushi fairly regularly in Hartford but the quality and variety just isn't that good.
On the other hand, last year I found Sakuma, a nice sushi restaurant in a strip mall near my home. I had a sudden craving for some good sushi on Saturday so I returned to Sakuma and was pleasantly surprised again.
This week they had a new special with Japanese delicacy called Ankimo. It is sometimes called "Japanese foie gras" and is a specially prepared, seasoned, sake washed Monkfish liver.
The dish was basically ankimo wrapped in unagi and drizzled with terriyaki sauce, pretty simple. I took my first bite and with the distinct unagi and sauce flavor, I couldn't really taste the ankimo, so I had a piece on it's own. It did not taste like a typical liver and tasted more like other Asian roasted fish eggs such as salted mullet roe a.k.a. karasumi except it was soft and tender. I thought it was quite good. Posted
04/06/2009 08:01 AM in Food, Japan, Restaurants, Reviews Link To This Blargh |
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Karoshi Karoshi is a Japanese word that basically translates as, "death from overwork." It's not a specific disease but rather a phenomenon of heart attacks and strokes that are generally attributed to excessive stress, especially shocking when it occurs among younger workers with no previous history of health problems.
The phenomenon of Karoshi is most apparent and recognized in Japan due to their strong work ethic post WWII. Statistics have suggested that the average Japanese worker works two hours of overtime per day, often not paid. I don't know the exactly numbers but since a typical Japanese day is probably 9 hours a day and often times a half day on Saturday as well, that could easily mean 60 hours of work in a normal week.
270 E Algonquin Rd
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
(847) 956-6470 Rating: Chopsticks of Pleasure
Good bread and buns, about the same level as Pastry House Hippo but this place closes early.
I finally got a chance to return to Mont Blanc Bakery and Bakery Crescent. With a hungry stomach making my eyes quite optimistic, I loaded up on $20 worth of baked goods. As a Pastry House Hippo (PHH) fan for several years, that will be the bar to which the others are compared.
First up was Bakery Crescent which specializes in breads and buns. I picked up katsu-curry buns, sweet potato buns, mocha buns, pizza buns and blueberry cream cheese pastries. Overall, I would say that this is a good bakery that is on par with PHH, but since they are located in a separate strip mall and close at 5 or 6, I can't see a reason to go here over PHH.
The regular curry buns at PHH are quite oily and so were these katsu-curry buns. I guess all American curry buns are oily. The katsu (fried breaded pork cutlet) gives these the edge over PHH, but the oiliness of both versions is a major detractor. The sweet potato buns were pretty good and are not available at PHH. The mocha buns are pretty good: creamy and tasty but not overly rich. PHH has coffee danishes or chocolate creme filled buns but I'd have to give the mocha bun a slight edge. The Japanese style pizza buns have hot dogs instead of sausage or pepperoni and were pretty tasty. I have not had the ones from PHH so cannot compare. Lastly the blueberry cream cheese pastry was pretty good, about the same as PHH.
Next up is Mont Blanc Bakery (next door to Bakery Crescent) which specializes in cakes. Their signature dessert is the Mont Blanc which is a cupcake with a special chestnut topping (below left). This stringy looking frosting is popular in Japan and I saw several uses of this style at bakeries in Tokyo last year. Unfortunately, I did not quite understand the draw of this stuff. It wasn't particularly tasty in Japan and this version at Mont Blanc Bakery wasn't very special either.
The next dessert I tried was a Kahlua cake (below middle). It looked good but I couldn't really taste Kahlua. It tasted like a pretty average tira misu. Also, it had too much cocoa on top: when I was about to eat some, I ended up inhaling the cocoa which resulted in a bout of coughing. The last dessert was a Blueberry Cassis (below right). I couldn't taste the Cassis and other than a very mild blueberry flavor, the rest of the cake wasn't anything special.
Unfortunately, I was not impressed by Mont Blanc Bakery and I probably won't return. I'd rather pick up an Earl Grey or Green Tea pound cake, a tiramisu, or a specialty cake from PHH where they seem much tastier to me.
Mitsuwa Summer Festival For dinner, I decided to drop by Mitsuwa to pick up some sushi. I was surprised to find a small stage set up in the middle of the parking lot where they were showing traditional Japanese music and dancing. They had Japanese food vendors set up on the side walk and had special exhibits inside as well.
For drinks, they had a stand with popular Japanese drinks including Ramune, Calpico and green tea. For food they had yaki soba (stir fried noodles), tako yaki (octopus dumplings), yaki tori (chicken skewers), shrimp curry and shoyu (soy) ramen. For dessert they had shaved ice and cotton candy. Though it wasn't the most authentic Japanese (some of it was a little Americanized), I was glad to have stumbled upon a a nice little festival. Posted
08/03/2008 01:22 AM in Food, Japan Link To This Blargh |
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