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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!

Prayer Requests:
  • 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.

Here is some additional information from John.
John Back to Iwate, May 14th

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. Photo video

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.

Posted 05/14/2011 06:21 PM in Christianity, Japan, Travel | Total Comments: (1)
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Praying for you
Thanks for the update!
Submitted by Ben I. on 05/14/2011 08:20 PM


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
  • Personal Reflections
  • The Story of the Ryokan
  • Prayer Requests

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.

Personal Reflections
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.

Prayer Requests
  • 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

Posted 05/22/2011 10:19 PM in Christianity, Japan, Travel | Total Comments: (1)
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Finally read through this entry (& watched the videos)!
Took me a while to get to it, I know. =) All right, on to the typos! ;-) "fromt he volunteers" "work to do to restore [something?]" Thanks for the report(s).
Submitted by Dan on 07/24/2011 10:05 PM


Report from May Japan Trip
Here is a brief report that I gave to my church after my trip to Japan in May. It was given along with this slide presentation (PDF).

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.

[Slide 1]

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

[Slide 2]

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]


  • [Slide 10]

    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.

    [Slide 11]

    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.

    [Slide 12]

    Thank You
    Posted 07/18/2011 11:08 PM in Christianity, Japan | Total Comments: (2)
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    Comments

    Cool
    Did you want to update with the exact dates in August and all that? And spammers really hit the comments fast and hard now. Thinking of implementing some other test(s) to keep the spam at a minimum?
    Submitted by Dan on 07/19/2011 09:55 AM



    Those are the exact dates, aren't they???
    Submitted by filbert on 07/20/2011 11:02 AM


    Ha, ha... my bad...
    I was going by just the text here without opening the PowerPoint file; I see the August dates near the end there.
    Submitted by Dan on 07/20/2011 06:18 PM


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