March 28, 2011

[Disclaimer: It’s been over two weeks since the earthquake has hit and it has taken me two weeks for me to fully process everything. What I’ve written here has expressed my struggles as well as my own heart’s thoughts. I understand it’s a little long, but I hope you read through it to the very end]

Dear Family and Friends,

As you all already know, on March 11th a massive 8.9 earthquake hit Japan in the Tohoku region. The current death count is around 8,450 and the number continues to rise as bodies wash up on the shore. Officially, there are 12,931 people still reported missing. Hundreds of thousands of people are left homeless in the wake of the earthquake and resulting tsunamis.

I want to thank you all SO much for your constant thoughts, concerns, and prayers. My heart feels so touched every time I open my facebook as well as my gmail account, as I am constantly sent messages of love and encouragement. As of right now, I am safely in Kyoto with the rest of my team. This decision was made after concerns began to arise over the recent events regarding the nuclear power plants. Although I believe the news has sensationalized the event, we have taken safety precautions in case the situation gets worst. Kyoto is over 600 miles away from Fukushima and we are a safe distance from the radiation.

Let me rewind a little bit. Just last week we ended our yearly student conference. Although I was reluctant of how many students would come due to transportation being close to hectic, I was amazed and humbled to see about a hundred students come from all over Japan, even one coming from Sendai. Since some of the seminars (and even one of the main events) were cancelled, I had ample opportunity to talk with many students and friends. My heart broke as I heard of family members being in Sendai, homes being completely destroyed, and lives that will never be the same as a result of the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis. Soon after, I heard about the situation in Fukushima and the problems regarding radiation. Things just seemed to be getting worst and worst and there was rumor being put around that I might have to evacuate out of the country. When some of my friends in Japan asked me what I would be doing, it was so difficult to tell them that I might be leaving Tokyo and perhaps Japan. Soon my suspicions were confirmed.

We were directed to leave for Kyoto from our leaders and we were not given a choice. My heart broke as I heard this decision, because if I were given a choice, I would have wholeheartedly decided to stay with the students and friends that I have met in Tokyo. In fact, in my heart I was seriously considering ways of how I could sneak away from my team so I could remain in Tokyo and perhaps make my way to Sendai (sorry if anyone from PSW is reading this!)

I consider my friends in Japan like my family here. I have shared with them so many occasions of laughter and joy that they have made my last year and a half in Japan seem like a minute. And at that moment I wanted to be right at their side with them during, probably, their most difficult trial of their life (and now that I’m 600 miles away from them, I can still recall one of the students saying “no, don’t go Mike! Don’t go!”). But as I began to plan what I was to do, I realized I couldn’t act so rashly on emotions. I needed to just STOP and pray. Although I so desperately wanted to stay in Tokyo, I also knew that this would take a toll on my parent’s mental health (they were urging me to come back to the US or at least Hong Kong). I finally came to a conclusion that I probably should’ve gotten to much sooner: there is absolutely nothing I could do to mess up God’s plan. Regardless of whether I leave for Kyoto, Hong Kong, or the US, I heard a whisper in my heart to have faith, faith that the God who made the country of Japan shake is the same God who sent His son to die for Japan. I’m reminded of a quote Mother Teresa once said: “God hasn’t called me to be successful; he has called me to be faithful”. I originally thought that going to Kyoto was an act of fear, escaping from the danger of the radiation and earthquake, and by staying I would be “proving” my faith. But a brother I just met quickly reminded me that I have nothing to do to “prove” my faith. Becoming a martyr doesn’t give you a badge of faith and unnecessary suffering is just masochism rather than faithfulness. God knew how desperately I wanted to stay behind, but I also know that God desperately wanted me to trust in Him. Plus, if my leaving for Kyoto was an act of fear, I knew that God would just send a whale to swallow me up and spit me back in Tokyo (it’ll at least be cheaper than taking the bullet train and probably more comfortable than taking the night bus.  I’m secretly praying for this to happen). So I took a deep breath, and began to pack.

I understand that not everyone who is reading this letter shares the same faith in God as I do, but that’s ok and I still have a deep love and respect for you. What I do want to do is ask is this: what do you have faith and hope in? We just saw last week an earthquake and tsunami completely destroy in an instant what a person may have worked their entire life for. For the last four months I’ve volunteered at a weekly food distribution to the homeless community in Tokyo. One of them was a manager in a prestigious Japanese investment firm, only to make one mistake that landed him homeless. Right now we are heading into the Sakura (cherry blossom) season. For a couple weeks these leaves will bloom, and when they all do finally bloom it will be beautiful. Yet it only lasts like this for three days until they all slowly begin to fall down, a symbol of the ephemeral nature of life.

One of the parables that Jesus taught is of two men who built castles, one on stone and the other on sand. In an instant, the castle that was built on sand, what was once a symbol of pride, was wiped away from rain and wind. For me, I have a foundation built on God, in hope, and in love (all things that, in my vocabulary, are synonymous.). This foundation of mine is rooted in things that nothing on this earth could ever take away from me, no natural disaster or small little mistake I am so prone to making. And when my life is over, it will be far from the end, rather the beginning of eternity. I will be face to face with God in an eternal party (and there will be dancing) where I long to hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant.”

My friends and I have already signed up and taken the steps to head straight to the Tohoku area to help with relief efforts. While there are people heading the opposite direction, we’re going straight towards the exact places they are fleeing from. Everyday I read different reports of the varying dangers that might be involved, whether it is radiation or strong aftershocks. Some people take this as crazy, but do you know what I think is even crazier? To look at the photos and videos of all the destruction, to look into the eyes of the tens of thousands of people whose lives will never be the same, and do nothing about it. When I applied to come to Japan in 2009, God knew that this earthquake would happen. And so here I am. Many, many, people are wondering why this has happened; how can anyone even say that there can be a God amidst all this suffering? I can’t really give an answer to that as there is probably a different answer to everyone, but to just trust and know that God knows what He’s doing. And as His hands and feet, I am to do something about it.

My friends and I will be partnering with CRASH, a Christian relief group. Many of you have asked in what ways you can support the efforts in Sendai, and with a humble heart I’ll point you towards their website. I would also recommend both World Vision and the Japanese Red Cross.

Finally, my last comment will be a request. This all sounds well and good written on a computer screen, but I know that it’ll be a million times harder to actually go through with it. So please pray for God’s continued wisdom and faith, faith that there is absolutely nothing I can do to mess up God’s plan. Please continue to pray for Japan, that amidst all the suffering, they will remain hopeful. And finally please pray for my team and myself that as we go out, we will be filled with an infectious attitude of love, hope, and grace.

Thanks again and I hope to see you all soon.

Love,

Mike

And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Acts 20:22-24

“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s the King I tell you”

– The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

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