Today marks the end of a full two weeks here in Tagajo, Miyagi, Japan. Part of me feels like I just stepped off the plane last night and another part of me feels like I am actually becoming part of a family rather than just a new intern. I don’t know when it happened but somewhere between throwing kids over my shoulder and running around like a giant, and having to sacrifice my living space (and personal belongings) to a bunch of invasive strangers, I have become comfortable with the fact that this is my home for the next month or so.
Where do I begin? I guess I left you guys last time with feelings of being overwhelmed and still not having fully processed my experiences up to that point. To be honest, I am not sure if I am any better off this time around. I will say that it is noticeable in the treatment we receive that the people realize we are here to stay for awhile rather than just in-and-out like many other missions teams. In the last 8 days I have dived headlong into this culture and people. Just a few days into the trip we had our first church service which was entirely in Japanese and completely over our heads. Following the service we were served lunch as a church community in the multipurpose room and had the opportunity to meet some of the church members. During the meal a very wily-eyed, toothless, smiling man came up to talk to us Americans. Despite not understanding a word (and telling him in Japanese that we don’t understand), he kept right along with his quick, unending monologue. After struggling through understanding him, we just nodded our heads and said ‘hai’ (‘yes’) repeatedly. Sure enough he walked away and then about five minutes later returned with his phone to show us pictures of his 12 dogs and where we will be sleeping when we visit him. My friends and I were very caught off-guard and confused as to what he meant by “sleep here when you come over”. Apparently in our feeble attempt to break free of a never-ending conversation we had somehow agreed to sleep over at the man’s house and look after his 12 dogs with him. Thankfully we had a friend who speaks Japanese work out the misunderstanding and we all walked away relieved and even more embarrassed.
Monday was our day off and we were able to go visit Sendai and walk around their huge mall. Apparently we made the dumb mistake of walking and eating/drinking our Starbucks (strike 2) when we were supposed to sit in the Starbucks and finish our food. Then, we struggled through ordering our lunches and continued on with our day. Japanese fashion is so close to being normal, but also entirely bizarre. For example, we saw a man wearing a nice pair of dark jeans, a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, hair done nicely, and crocs. Trying not to stare, we quickly realized that this trend would follow throughout the rest of our shopping visit. Our trip boded for many laughs and awkward pointing but it somehow made us feel much more comfortable as a whole.
Our workweek began with a bang. Tuesdays are the days to go to the local Buddhist preschool and teach some English classes. Somehow, one of the teachers at this school made her way into our church and through the relationships she built here, our pastor has been allowed to bring some people to the school and teach english lessons. This is huge because although we cannot evangelize directly to the kids and teachers, we are creating a presence that will hopefully lead them to wandering into our church doors. Following the classes we go to Sakuragi Smile. Sakuragi Smile is a little park in a neighborhood that was severely inundated following the tsunami. All we do there is play with the kids for an hour and a half and make ourselves present in the community. The parents and kids love it because it gives the parents a little time to unwind after work and gives the kids an outlet for some of their pent-up energy from school. We laugh, play games, and run around until all of us are tired out. Even though sometimes it feels like this ministry isn’t doing much evangelism, I have noticed that Shiogama Bible Baptist Church and Hope Miyagi have a huge presence in this community. I hope that as these weeks continue on we will see some of the kids and parents from the school attend church or even our after school programs.
Our work with NPO High-Five on the island of Nonoshima has continued as well. The past two visits included getting a truck stuck out of a ditch just for one of the men to drive through it again, building a not-so-sturdy deck/relaxation area as well as uneven, weak tables to match. Again, even though some of the work seems tedious, we are really deepening relationships with these people. Apparently, following the tsunami, hundreds of volunteers would come out to the island to help clean up. Now that four years have passed, however, it has dwindled to a couple dozen and they still have a long way to go. It speaks volumes to the people who inhabit this island because we are showing consistent, diligent effort. Although the older Japanese men we work with don’t speak a word of english, their laughter and smiles are so contagious and we manage to have a great time together.
During the midst of this crazy week, a group of 10 people from Singapore came to stay for the night. While it is great having a space all to myself, I will admit that I get pretty lonely from time to time, so I was pretty excited to have some company. Until they got here. I’ll err on the side of the golden rule and not talk too bad about these people but it was an experience altogether. After coming home from a long day I walked into my room to have my bed moved (which I had already done to create space for the group), my phone charger and other electronics missing, and my shampoo, conditioner, and body wash significantly lighter than they were before all 8 men showered. Despite my irritation, I gritted my teeth through obnoxious snoring and restlessness and saw them off with a smile in the morning. It may not have been the most ideal company in the whole world, but it was company nonetheless and kept me occupied from my thoughts for some time. Sometimes God uses the most frustrating things to bless us in the smallest, yet most helpful ways.
I know this was a lot but it seems like I barely scraped the surface with most of it. Altogether, this area still needs an incredible amount of work. Both physically – in helping clean up and rebuilding – and also spiritually in that these are a people who are very clearly looking for something outside of themselves but are left to their own devices. These are a people who have faced incredible hurt and continue to do so. I still have so much to see and try to learn as I continue on my journey here in Tagajo.
Prayers both for the people of Japan as well as our team/ministry are so incredibly appreciated.
Until next time, friends.