Monday, March 17, 2014
Monday March 17, 2014
On Monday, March 17, 2014 Sister Johnson wrote:
It is a bright and sunny day here in Ishinomaki! It's still cold, and the wind never stops blowing here, but the sunshine is absolutely wonderful. I want to soak in as much as I can in the next two months before the rainy season gets here. I'm not looking forward to that again... but, now I know what to expect, and I can be better prepared!
Cherry blossoms don't happen in this part of Japan until the second half of April, I believe... that's what they say! But I cannot wait for that either! It will be absolutely beautiful and amazing! I will most definitely take pictures for you, don't you worry.
This week was the three-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami disaster that devastated the northern part of Japan. Ishinomaki was one of the hardest-hit places. The town was in ruins, and over 3000 people died. The morning of the 11th dawned cloudy and cold. From the very minute I woke up, I could feel the sadness settling on the city. It was almost tangible in the air. Luk Shimai and I had plans that day to go to some temporary housing units and give hand massages to the victims of the disaster that were still living there. As I sat across a small table from a 60 year old woman just talking with her and massaging her hands, I could see the sadness and the pain in her eyes. I asked her about the disaster and what happened to her. She said that her house was completely wiped away and that both her husband and her only son were killed. She watched her house be swept away by the tsunami, with her loved ones inside, from the safe place on the top of the nearest mountain. I was so penetrated by sadness that I didn't know what to say. I just tried to love and listen. She then asked me about my name tag, and said, "Why do you believe in God? If there really was a God, horrible things like the disaster would not happen." I did not know what to say. Here was this woman whose life was completely destroyed in the course of about an hour. She has not been the same since. Her soul was full of anger and sadness, and I had no idea what I could say to help her. I responded that Yes, I do believe in God, and that I don't know the meaning of all things. I don't understand the purpose of the disaster. I don't understand why so many people's lives were taken that day. I don't understand. But I do know one thing, and that thing is love. I told her that I love her. I told her that I was so sorry for her losses. I just held her hand and we cried together.
Then, at 2:46 p.m. (that was when the first earthquake hit), the disaster alert sirens started going off all over town, and there was a minute of silence and prayer. The sirens were so... eerie. I prayed with all my might that Heavenly Father would send His peace upon this town, that I would be able to love people unconditionally that day. That afternoon, we went to city hall with a member in the branch named Umeko Shimai. She is in her 80's, and she also lost everything in the tsunami. Her house was destroyed, and she had 10 people, family and friends, that were killed. We went to city hall with her to place flowers at the memorial and to pray, and then we sat and listened to a high school girl tell her experience of the tsunami. She said that she was walking home from school at 2:46, and was on the street near her home. When she ran home, her house had been mostly destroyed. She somehow managed to get inside, and when she did, she found her mother trapped under a wooden beam that had fallen out of the ceiling. Her legs were broken, and she was in extreme pain. The girl was trying to pull her out when she heard a big cracking sound, so she started running away. She looked back just in time to she her mother be buried underneath their house, and she saw a piece of wood with nails drag across her mother's face. She said that at that point a voice came over the loud speakers all over town announcing that the tsunami was coming, and so she ran to the nearest mountain to seek safety. She got there just in time to watch her entire neighborhood be swept away. Upon hearing this story, I was weeping with her. This poor girl watched her mother die a horrific death. And she is not the only one. People here in Ishinomaki watched as thousands of people were swept away by black water. It was also incredibly cold that day; snow was falling, and there was no electricity. Lots of people also died from exposure.
It is incredible how sad I felt that day. I don't think I've ever experienced sadness like that before, except when my dear Fisher took his own life. My heart was swelling with love and sympathy that day. After the ceremony, Luk Shimai and I went to the train station with the Elders, and we sang hymns of hope to passersby. We didn't have anyone really stop and listen, but I felt some peace while doing that. I felt that one of the best ways to declare my love for these people was to use my music to reach their hearts. We found out later that there had been one man listening intently from afar, and went to talk to the elders after we left. The man had been a member of the Church when he was younger, but was now attending a Catholic church. He said that us singing hymns of hope and love helped him feel the Spirit again in his life, and that he was very grateful for the experience. I'm glad that we reached the one.
After that, we went with Sister Usui to the Ishinomaki candlelight prayer memorial ceremony. It was taking place in that neighborhood where that high school girl lived. There is nothing there when you look from the mountain above, but when we got to the bottom, you can see the foundations of hundreds of houses. Pipes coming out of the ground. Grass growing where there used to be hundreds of homes. There were some ruins of old roads and sidewalks. There was a lot of cinder block crumbles. There, among all the rubble, there was a beautiful ceremony taking place. Hundreds of candles were lit, and hundreds of people were gathered to pray for Ishinomaki. I prayed with them. We stood in a huge circle, and prayed for a solid minute. The energy in that circle was absolutely breathtaking. Here were hundreds of people pleading with God for peace and the ability to make it though another day. I looked to the outside of the circle and saw a signpost that was really high up into the air. As I walked over to the sign, I saw that it was a measure of how deep the tsunami was at that point. 6.9 meters. 6.9 meters of huge devastating wave. Wow. I can't even imagine.
There are just no words to describe that day. I am so thankful to have been a part of this experience. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to continue working in Ishinomaki just so that I can LOVE people. Just so that I can maybe bring some hope into their lives. Just so that I can smile to a woman or a man on the street, and uplift them with love from God and from the Savior. I am so blessed, and I am so grateful for the people of Ishinomaki. What a blessed hallowed place this is.
In other news, we had a great thing happen yesterday! The story starts a few weeks ago; we were handing out flyers for Eikaiwa a few weeks ago at the train station, and we met a man named Atsushi San! We handed him a flyer and he asked us if we were from a Church, and it turns out that he was way more interested in coming to church than to Eikaiwa! So we exchanged phone numbers with him, and told him where and when church was and he went on his way. Well that was a few weeks ago, and yesterday he came to church! The members immediately started talking to him and welcoming him, and after Sacrament meeting (which is last here), he even stayed to eat food and talk to people! He had a great time at church, and set an appointment with the Elders this Thursday! I will be honest, I am sad that we don't get to teach him because we found him, but President Rasmussen has asked that we have Elders teach men and Sisters teach women, and that we need to pass when it is someone of the opposite sex. It makes me sad. But! Atsushi San is someone who has been prepared for the Lord, and I am just thankful that we were able to find and invite him! Woohoo!
This week, we also were able to communicate with Yuki San! She made us gyoza, and wanted to meet to talk about things. She said that she was feeling a lot of pressure from the Church to get baptized, and that she wasn't ready. She said that she just wants to take things slowly and that she will commit when she wants to commit. It was an eye-opening experience for me because I realized that I haven't been loving her as much as I should. So, from now on, we will just LOVE! Love, it really is all you need.
I have been so blessed this week to be really in tune with the Spirit, and to really expect to be guided by my Heavenly Father and Savior. We have seen some great miracles this week, and I am so grateful for the love that I can feel for the people around me through the Savior.
I was reading this morning a book written by M. Russell Ballard called Our Search For Happiness, and I found something I really believe to be true:
"The best thing about living a Christ-centered life is how it makes you feel. It's hard to have a negative attitude about things if and when your life is focused on the Prince of Peace. There will still be problems. Everyone has them. But faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a power to be reckoned with in the universe and in individual lives. It can be a causative force through which miracles are wrought. It can also be a source of inner strength through which we find self-esteem, peace of mind, contentment, and the courage to cope."
I know the Savior lives. I know that any sort of wrong can be made right in and through His Atonement. I have faith in Jesus Christ, and I have hope for a bright future! He lives! He is my Joy and my Song! He is my Light! He is my Life! I have felt to sing the sing of His redeeming love. What a beautiful message.
Love: Shak Shimai