In October 2011, my husband and I went with TEAMServe on a short-term trip to Japan to do relief work after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami disasters. It was one of the most incredible experiences we had ever had, and also one of the most heartbreaking.
Even though it had been more than seven months since the disaster, debris still littered the coastline, and thousands of people still lived in temporary housing.
TEAM had partnered with CRASH Japan, a relief organization, and we lived at one of the CRASH bases in Tono that was being run by TEAM missionaries Jim and Eileen Nielsen. The Nielsens were working to help provide physical and emotional needs to the survivors in the area. During the two weeks we were there, we helped to pass out blankets and set up “mobile cafes” where people could come and get a free cup of coffee or tea. These mobile cafes were our attempt to reconstruct a sense of community in the temporary housing locations, giving the survivors a chance to connect with us and each other while also giving them an outlet to talk about their experiences. Some people didn’t want to discuss the tsunami at all, but many were desperate for someone to listen to what they had been through. One woman in particular told me about how she had lost nearly every one she knew in the tsunami. Her current boyfriend was a man she’d met in one of the shelters. When she learned I was married, she began to ask me for relational advice, and I could see how desperate she was to not lose this man she loved – he was literally all she had left.
One day, a group of us joined a volunteer center that was doing clean up work in the worst affected areas. We would spend the afternoon picking up glass, plastic, wood, and other things that the tsunami had washed into the fields. When we were finished, we stood in a line and carefully planted wheat into the soil we had just cleaned. For this community that had lost so much, it was a true blessing to have the gift of planted seeds in clean earth. It was a beautiful metaphor for what we were all attempting to do for the survivors of the tsunami: plant seeds of Christ’s love and compassion into their hearts to grow into the fruit of salvation and trust in His care and provision. While we did not have any chances to witness to people during this trip, it was evident that many survivors were questioning their traditions and previous beliefs. All had taken notice that when they were most in need, it was the global Christian community that came to help them.
-Written by Alecia Tallent, TEAM Global Ministries Administrative Assistant
-Photos provided by Alecia Tallent