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February 26, 2013

Japan: The Art of Faith

In the areas of Japan devastated by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant fallout disasters, The Butterfly Project is using the creative arts to bring help and hope to survivors.

  • Expression of Joy

    Kathryn led a session in gospel hula that brought smiles to many. Hula is very popular in Japan and often provides a vehicle for sharing about the gospel.

  • Time of Worship

    Gospel hula combines hula dance with Christian music to create a wonderful worship experience. This may be the first time many have heard the gospel.

  • Encouragement

    Interpretive dance expresses the joy in knowing Jesus. Survivors are often encouraged by the energy and storytelling of this type of ministry.

  • Prayer Time

    The group shared in a time of prayer led by the pastor from New Hope Tokyo. Over time, relationships with volunteers have opened up many hearts to Jesus.

  • Much-Needed Supplies

    Volunteers go door-to-door to gift people in temporary housing with much-needed supplies. This also gives volunteers the opportunity to chat and share about Jesus.

  • Meeting Felt Needs

    Volunteers from The Butterfly Project have fun preparing simple meals of rice balls filled with local ingredients.

Almost two years later, Japan is still hurting from the devastating March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disasters. Ishinomaki was one of the cities most seriously affected, where several tsunami waves around 33 feet high traveled inland three miles from the coast.

The waves destroyed around 80 percent of the 700 houses in the coastal whaling port of Ayukawa, and the Kadonowaki neighborhood was largely leveled. Approximately 46 percent of Ishinomaki was inundated by the tsunami, with around 29,000 city residents losing their homes. Many of the destroyed homes had been in families for generations.

The Butterfly Project’s mission is to use the creative arts to bring emotional healing to people affected by the disasters. Created by TEAM short-term missionaries Burton and Kathryn Sue, The Butterfly Project uses dance, music, art, photography, and drama to minister to people. In Japanese culture, it is not customary to seek help from a counselor, but the creative arts are seen as an acceptable way to work through the pain in one’s life.

Over a recent weekend, The Butterfly Project joined up with New Hope Tokyo and Kurihara Baptist Church to visit various kasetsus (temporary housing communities) in Ishinomaki. Volunteers from all ages, professional backgrounds, and different levels of faith included musicians, dancers, sound and video professionals, and a therapist. Many of them were repeat volunteers.

About sixty people from the community and several kasetsus came to a local gym to enjoy the outreach performance that included gospel hula, interpretive dance, original gospel songs, hand massages, and prayer. Burton also shared his testimony with the group on why Jesus is important in his life. The day ended with a trip to different temporary housing locations to pass out household necessities and food. Everyone who received a bag of goods was thankful. If they didn’t personally need the items, they would accept the supplies and pass them along to other families in the kasetsus.

“It was tough seeing how so many people still get by on so little,” said Burton. They met one woman who lives alone at age 85. She said she experienced a tsunami when she was young, so she knew to seek higher ground when this one came. She survived, but her home was destroyed. At another kasetsu location, a middle-aged man came stumbling to the door. There was trash everywhere on his porch. He seemed dazed as he greeted the group. It was clear he has been drinking and probably was suffering from depression. “No one can truly understand how a survivor feels, but we all can do our best to sympathize and pray for him or her,” said Burton. “Most importantly, we can introduce them to the one that does understand – and that is Jesus.”

-Written by Lisa H. Renninger with contributions by Burton Sue, TEAMServe missionary to Japan
-Photos provided by Burton and Kathryn Sue

For more on TEAM’s efforts to help survivors of the March 2011 disaster in Japan, see