Round Two – Iwate (Part 1)
I’m back in Tohoku! After spending a week at home with Hydi and the kids I was suddenly given an opportunity to come back to Tohoku. Our group met up at IBF (the church where I was attending a pastors’ meeting on March 11 when the earthquake struck). Our group consists of Pastor Ino and Paula Chen, a Taiwanese missionary working with the Japanese Covenant, and Mr. and Mrs. Miyamoto, missionaries sent by the Japanese Covenant to Detroit last summer. They are back in Japan for one month since his parents were in one of the areas affected by the disaster.
We piled in my car along with food and supplies and headed north.
But first Pastor Ino and Paula had a tiny shopping errand to take car of. They plan on making lots of trips up here in the coming months but don’t have an appropriate vehicle. So having received the promise of an offering from the Taiwan Covenant Church to cover the purchase of a van we stopped by a used auto dealer and shopped for a van.
An hour later they were the proud owners of a new (for them) van and will take delivery in a few days.
Finally we were ready to hit the road some time around 6PM. About six and a half hours later we pulled into the city of Morioka in Iwate Prefecture and managed to find the church that is hosting us; the Morioka Bible Baptist Church. Pastor Kondo had been out in the hardest hit areas all day and had only gotten home an hour before we arrived. This is one of the bigger churches in Iwate with over 70 people. I was thrilled to learn that it was started by the parents of a childhood classmate and friend, Mark Schiefer.
Morioka is quite a ways inland from the Pacific Coast so we piled into a couple of cars and left the church at 8:30AM. Our first stop was another church in Morioka, the Morioka Minami Church where we met up with the pastor and her husband and loaded boxes of supplies into a 4 ton truck. These two churches are from different denominations but have been working together non-stop ever since the earthquake, making daily trips to the coast.
Next stop was the local home center where we bought supplies and equipment for a base camp site that is just getting set up. The challenge is that it is an inn that was hit by the tsunami and is still without water, electricity or gas.
At last we were ready to head out to the coast. It’s a two hour drive and takes you through some of the most remote countryside I’ve ever scene in Japan. Absolutely beautiful! We made a quick stop at a train station in hopes of finding a bathroom and it was hands down the most minimalist train station I have ever scene.
The building looked like this!
Peek inside and you see the daily train schedule posted!
When you’re used to stations like Shinjuku or Ikebukuro it’s hard to grasp the simplicity of a station like this one!
Soon we arrived in Miyako city. Our first stop was the home of a relative of a church member at Morioka Bible Baptist. No one is living there now and we were hoping to rent it as a base camp. But after talking it over with the owner we learned that it’s currently being transferred to a son-in-law and is in escrow so they can’t really do anything with it until the paperwork is cleared up.
Next we headed right down to the waterfront to an inn that is owned by Mr. Abe. The week before there had been a call to go help clean up a particular home in that neighborhood so the team went and worked for several hours at Mr. Abe’s inn. In the end they discovered that it wasn’t the place they had been intending to visit, but in spite of the mistake they struck up a friendship with the thankful owner, Mr. Abe. He ran an inn in his 3 story concrete building, and while the first floor was completely destroyed the building is fine and the 2nd and 3rd floors are untouched, other than the lack of electricity, gas and running water. Pastor Kondo decided to go out on a limb and asked him whether they might be able to house volunteer teams there and Mr. Abe immediately agreed! Talk about a divine appointment!
A team had already spend a day removing the worst of the debris from the first floor, including huge logs that broke loose from the mill across the highway and slammed through the large front windows of the inn. Today we worked on boarding up those windows, doing even more cleaning, unclogging the toilets from all the dirt that washed into them with the tsunami surge and getting things ready for the first volunteer team who arrived in the evening.
Some time around noon we drove to the next coastal village north of Miyako called Taro. Taro had one of the best sea walls around; 10 meters (33 feet) high and 2.5km (1.6mi) long! A serious case of over-engineering in the minds of most people. The heartbreaking part of the story is that while the wall still stands, solid as ever, the town is completely gone! The water came right up over the wall and washed away hundreds of homes leaving nothing but the foundation and heaps of debris. I have no words to describe the horror. I would estimate that only about half of the debris piles had signs on them saying they had been checked and were ready for removal. On the other lots we saw team after team of military personnel sifting through the piles looking for bodies.
We visited a kindergarten and delivered toys, coloring books and other kids supplies. The striking thing about the kindergarten was the white disinfectant power sprinkled all over the playground. They are only blocks from the waterfront and there are probably still hundreds of undiscovered human remains so the fear of disease is very real.
Then it was back to Mr. Abe’s inn, where we kept working on clean up.
Before we knew it a team from Hokkaido showed up to spend the next two nights there. They are relief team made up of members from a whole bunch of churches and are planning to continue sending people for quite some time.
There is still a lot that can be and will be done to improve the