April 26, 2011

From April 21st to 23rd, I went with a team called “Hope Japan” to Ishinomaki to help with relief efforts.  On the day of arrival, our team of seventeen members pulled up to an elementary school where the refugee camp was set up.  In the gymnasium, there were about a dozen families living together separated by cardboard boxes.  During the three days we were there, we cooked meals for them, massaged them, cared for them, and help reconstruct their houses so that they would be able to live in them again.  We slept right by their sides in the cardboard boxes and ate the same meals as they did.

I’ll be honest with you; there were several times that were really discouraging for me. It was so easy for me to feel underappreciated for our efforts.  The two children that were always running around kicked me and punched me while calling me “気持ち悪い”(seriously, I don’t think I’ve heard that word said so many times in my entire life).  When I handed out bags of beef jerky that was donated to me, one person didn’t thank me but asked me if I had a beer too.  I never got to meet the family of the house my team spent an entire day to clean.  One family asked us why we didn’t come sooner.  At times I felt used.

Now that I look back, I feel like I was romanticizing the situation.  I thought, here I am as an American coming in to volunteer to help these people.  There would be banners, cheering, high-fives…you know, all the things you see in TV.

But once you turn off the TV, you realize that things aren’t like they are on the flat screen.  This world is full of suffering and pain and it was right now in front of my eyes as we drove past kilometers and kilometers of utter destruction.

I realized that most of my discouragement was a result of my attitude, an attitude expecting them to make me feel good about myself.  Yet my attitude should’ve been one of a servant, to care and love them.  I don’t think I’ll ever understand the pain and loss that they’ve had to experience over the past month.  Many of them have lost so much hope as they live day-by-day in empty cardboard boxes, losing everything they’ve had in a moment and now living off the charity of others.  But like it says so beautifully in the Bible, love is patient and persistent, always endures and never ends.  I’ll continue to go over and over again, no matter how long it takes, to share with them all that despite everything, there is always hope. And luckily, I have a perfect example for me to follow: Jesus.  He didn’t have to come down from Heaven, he didn’t have to be mocked, whipped, beaten, rejected, and ultimately crucified.  But he did it all.  For me, for you, and for the people in Ishinomaki.

I will be going again with the next “Hope Japan” team on April 29th, this time for five days, to continue with the relief efforts.  Please continue to keep me in your thoughts and prayers that my efforts will be filled with love and grace.  Although I can’t convey that with my words, pray that my actions will speak for me.

On a final note, Mirai, one of the two girls that kept hitting me over and over again, wouldn’t talk to anyone after the earthquake.  To be able to hear her laugh and giggle now, even at the cost of being punched many times, losing to her in tag as she changed the rules over and over again, being called disgusting, was completely worth it.  Kids do the darnest things.

4 Things I’ve learned during mustache March:

1. Kids don’t like you when you have a mustache

2. Parent’s don’t like you when you look at their kids when you have a mustache

3. Sunglasses + mustache = creepy combo

4. Mustaches of love doesn’t exist (something worth looking into…)

It's been a good ride, but sorry mustache you're gonna have to go.