For people in Ishinomaki, March 11 will always be the day that the ocean swallowed half of their city.
Many people in Japan are still in recovery mode, more than two years after the devastating 2011 triple disaster that hit in the form of earthquakes, a tsunami, and nuclear plant meltdowns and affected thousands of families, leaving an estimated 19,000 dead or missing.
Especially hard hit was Ishinomaki, a city of around 160,000 people in the Miyagi Prefecture near the coast. Nearly 50 percent of the city was flooded — much of that washed completely away.
As the community began to re-build, a team of missionaries who had been serving in the region since the disaster created a social enterprise called the Nozomi Project. Launched in October 2012 by a house church network called Be One, Nozomi Project helps women who survived the disasters by providing a sustainable income in the form of making jewelry and kimono accessories. The Be One church network members live and work in the community as they serve the practical needs of the people and also share their faith in their day-to-day lives.
The micro-business, appropriately named Nozomi, the Japanese word for “hope,” provides not only a job but also a place to find community, love, and encouragement. Around fifteen women create one-of-a-kind necklaces, bracelets, and rings for product lines that have been named in honor of a loved one in the life of one of the women. The jewelry is made even more special as it features broken pieces of pottery found in the wreckage left by the tsunami.
“These dear women are finding hope as they take broken things and make them into beautiful art that has value,” said Nancy Nethercott, a TEAM missionary who recently visited Nozomi Project where she met some of the women and heard stories of survival and heartache.
One third of the women are single mothers and grandmothers, and most of them lost their livelihood after the disasters. Some of their family members were among the more than 3,000 Ishinomaki residents killed in the disaster. Yuri, a necklace and earring artisan at the Nozomi Project, became separated from her three-year-old son as she was helping evacuate senior citizens from her workplace after the earthquake. After more than a month of frantic searching, she discovered that her son and former husband had been caught up in the waters of the tsunami. Her husband survived, but her son did not. Yuri fell into a deep depression and would often gather with other survivors at a temple, where she met Nozomi Project member Yuko, who invited her to join the group.
As Yuri started making jewelry, her depression lifted. She enjoys working on something creative and beautiful, and appreciates the friendships and loving atmosphere of the Nozomi Project. Yuri makes key chains named after her son Kosei as a happy way to remember him. She also creates a necklace/bracelet combination called Moeka, named after Yuri’s sixth-grade daughter.
As the women of the Nozomi Project continue to recover and open up about their experiences, missionaries are able to discuss their faith and offer the hope and love of Jesus.
“The women were very encouraged that I had taken the time to travel all the way from Tokyo to Ishinomaki to visit them,” Nethercott said. “And I had the privilege of praying with the group before I left. It was a joy to spend time with the women and see how they create their beautiful jewelry.”
To find out more about the Nozomi Project, visit: http://nozomiproject.com/
-Photos courtesy of the Nozomi Project