Mrs. Yamazaki, a gifted poet and author, was having trouble sleeping. She and her husband had been living in a temporary housing unit since their house was destroyed by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011.
Mrs. Yamazaki mentioned her sleeping problem to TEAM short-term worker Amy Nielsen, who offered some books by famous Christian authors that she could read before bedtime. She also asked for a Bible and began reading it just before going to sleep. Soon after, Mrs. Yamazaki told Amy that reading her Bible at night was helping her sleep peacefully. After studying the Bible with Amy, she told her, “I think I am a Christian.” Mrs. Yamazaki now writes poetry that often weaves in her faith and hope in God. The Yamazakis were able to rebuild their house and return home in December 2012.
Relief workers met the Yamazakis through a home visitation program started by TEAM missionaries Jim and Eileen Nielsen. The Nielsens have been working with disaster survivors and serving as base leaders of the Tono Base relief camp since April 2011. Set up near Otsuchi and Kamaishi, two of the northern-most cities in the Tohoku region affected by the tsunami, the camp was established in partnership with CRASH Japan, a non-profit Christian disaster relief organization. CRASH Japan recently turned over base operations to the Nielsens and TEAM so that long-term relief work could continue in the area.
There is still plenty of work to do even now, almost two years after the disaster. More than 300,000 people in eight regions are still living in temporary housing communities, according to the newspaper Japan Today. Relief workers from the Tono Base camp run mobile cafes, home visitation programs, recovery groups, and arts and crafts classes for adults and kids living in temporary housing units. These programs help survivors heal emotionally from the disaster and find hope in their difficult living circumstances. Relief workers offer smiles, listening ears, and kind words as well as spiritual care as the Lord presents opportunities to do so. The disaster has opened up many Japanese people to talk about spiritual things as they face a future full of questions about where they will live, what work they will do, and how they will re-build their communities.
Mrs. Kubo, a regular at the Thursday mobile cafes, lives in a temporary housing unit by herself. At 88 years old, she has serious health issues with high blood pressure and has to travel three times a week for dialysis at a local hospital. Mrs. Kubo has no family to help her, having spent her whole life by herself working on her family’s farm. She is now finding support and comfort with the relief workers. “If we hadn’t had a tsunami, I never would have met so many wonderful people,” she said.
As the Nielsens continue their work with disaster survivors, they hope to establish regular worship services for people who have come to faith or want to learn more. Future plans include building a permanent cafe in downtown Kamaishi and reaching out to young people who have found work as the distressed cities slowly come back to life. As the healing process continues, the Lord is opening more doors to the hearts of the Japanese people.
-Written by Lisa H. Renninger
-Photos provided by Eileen Nielsen
For more on TEAM’s efforts to help survivors of the March 2011 disaster in Japan, see https://horizons.team.org/stories/japan-the-art-of-faith.