Friday, August 19, 2011

Back from ...vacation???

We arrived home yesterday afternoon from 10 days at our cabin (less two for Stan who came back to Tokorozawa last weekend to preach at ICCS).

Frequently it is cooler up near the coast, but we had hot, humid weather for the full time we were there.

Usually to cool off, people head to the beach, but this time there was something different about going there, too. Not only are these shipping containers found all along the coast, but a lot of "garbage" is washing up on shore--only unlike the usual garbage, we find remnants of people's households.

Major beams from Japanese style houses, small knick knacks, pieces of bathroom fixtures, and lots of plastic. We saw this wooden mortar used for the tradition of pounding mochi (sweet rice). It stands about 1 1/2 feet high. Several times when taking beach walks, I felt like we were playing a game of "I spy..." as we looked through tangled piles of trash washed up.

Vacationing in the midst of a disaster site creates many different emotions. Every time we drove out of our area we drove through neighborhoods of foundations, displaced homes and vehicles, and piles and piles of trash.

All of the stores I usually would shop at had been affected by the tsunami. Many were still closed. Our favorite pork-cutlet (tonkatsu) shop had re-opened recently, but changed its menu and seemed to be run by different people. Even walking through my cabin would bring saddness as I realized so many of our belongings there have been purchased at stores that were destroyed.

One daughter grieved deeply as she revisited sites where she spent time with friends over the years.

Their evening walks to this lighthouse wound through a village that is gone. Even finding the path to the lighthouse was a challenge with the landscape changed by the massive waves.

One of the driveways across from the port with the lighthouse had this pile of stuffed animals collected from the rubble with notes written by those who had recovered them.

Broken boats, tanks and other equipment are still strewn along the coast. Absent were the usual sounds of summer--people playing on the beach, the lady in the snack shop announcing over the loud speaker that fried noodles (yakisoba) and roasted corn (tomorokoshi) were ready, the salesmen driving back and forth advertising delicious watermelon from Obanazawa, the fireworks being set off on the beach at awful times of night.

But present was the sight of resiliency and hope. This beach park was totally destroyed by the tsunami. The trees are gone, the bathhouse is in shambles in the middle of a tide pool, the walls are broken, the roads are in disrepair, and the community around it is gone. But a service group was putting together this memorial, planting flowers and pouring the cement for a reflecting pool. Across the street were sunflowers growing in the garden--all that remained of the homes were the cement foundations, but the owners had come back to tend the gardens. Some homes that had been vacant in June when we first went, were under repair in August.

I can't say I feel rested, and it wasn't a comfortable vacation, but it was good to be a part of our summer community for a few days, especially this year.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Holding our breath (figuratively...)

Headlines about the world economy, and especially the value of the dollar versus the yen, once again have us holding our breath...

...and wondering why missionaries have to be so tuned in to exchange rates when there are other things we should be focusing on.

At the risk of sounding old when I first came to Japan in 1984, $1 bought 240 yen.(When Stan came for his first short-term ministry, $1 bought 360 yen). Two days ago $1 bought 77 yen. In the past year we've watched the value of the dollar drop around 15%.

Everything we buy now costs more, much more. A very simple explanation showed up in the Wall Street Journal yesterday-- Strong Yen for Dummies.

What does that mean in practical terms for the De La Cour's? Our costs that are all tied to yen require more dollars. Our support requirements figure keeps expanding without us doing anything different. Of course we are trying to figure out what we can do differently to absorb some of the increase. We would appreciate prayer that we have clarity and discernment to know where to make cut-backs.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Cornerstone Bible Church Team in Tohoku

On July 17, a team from one of our supporting churches, Cornerstone Bible Church in Glendora, California flew in to do relief work in Tohoku. They came to Tokorozawa for training, led by Stan and an Asian Access co-worker, Nozomi.

Here is the team, the morning they left Tokorozawa. They headed up to a Samaritan's Purse base camp north of Ishinomaki.

We chose to work in the Shintate neighborhood of Ishinomaki, after following the work done there via facebook, under the oversight of Dean Bengston ( a fellow "Rhodailanda" ...these two men may be the only missionaries from Rhode Island in Japan.)

Mornings started with prayer, and then ministry assignments were given out. We need to continue to pray that the care and effort to help this community through massive acts of service, along with those occasional opportunities to share the gospel with words brings the love of Christ clearly into focus for the residents of this community, and others like it.

Here is the entire group working one day. The signs say "gambaru Tohoku" or "hang in there Tohoku" and were provided by a Japanese friend of one of our team who works for the Rakuten Eagles, the regional baseball team.

In addition to our Cornerstone Team, other teams joined them each day at the site. One day there were about 20 people, another day over 40.

Nozomi helped translate for the team. They are talking to the owner of this house about the process of power washing and cleaning out the house.

This is what the first floor of houses in this area look like. They were flooded with sea water and muck for over a week. Some are not salvageable, but others can be stripped and power washed in anticipation of rebuilding.

Aaron gets ready to power wash this house, which would have already been stripped down to the beams and had mud shoveled out. Samaritan's Purse has provided much of the equipment necessary to get these jobs done.

This is what a house looks like after its been cleared out.

Another project the team worked on was clearing off a field used for growing vegetables. We have seen many people take time on this field via facebook postings. It is covered with muck, oil and salt. By the time our team got there, about 2/3 had been cleared little by little over a couple of weeks.

With the arrival of a team of 40, they were able to complete the work while the Cornerstone group was there. This family can begin to plant vegetables again!

There are several neighborhoods in Ishinomaki that are being focused on by mission-lead and church-led teams. Pray that the Word of God, being shown through the love and acts of service by those who have come will bring more and more into His kingdom and that many churches will be planted in this area.
The week following their work in Ishinomaki, the team came to Shichigahama, where we have our summer cabin. They helped with some much-needed projects on the cabin, as well as gave time to the community in clearing some garbage away from the road outside the cabin area. We were blessed by their service to us.

The night before they left for the airport to return home, we all got together for yaki-niku (roasted meat). It was an "all you can eat" place, and the guys really enjoyed it. It was fun for us to have our sons mingling with the team for the second week. They don't often get to interact with men, and we appreciated the efforts and time the team made to connect with them.

Finally it was time to send them back to California.

We are so thankful for them coming. Their care for the Japanese and for us was a great encouragement all around.

A Surprise Answer to Prayer

In our first term as missionaries, back in the dark ages, I made friends with a woman from an English Bible class that I was teaching. Shortly before we left on our first home assignment she indicated an interest in professing faith in Christ. The trauma of our departure (two weeks after the premature birth and death of our twin sons) left me with no time to make arrangements for her follow up.

When I returned 18 months later, I didn't get a sense that she had grown much spiritually, and though we got together on occasion, it didn't seem that we were getting very far. She was having marriage and in-law problems (living in the in-law's home) and it was hard for her to keep in touch.

We ran across one another once at a department store where she was working, but her boss was circling around and we couldn't talk. Then about eight years ago I saw her in a train station, and we had a chance to talk, briefly.

Michiko has often been on my mind. There are times when I've been in that same train station and have prayed that God would bring us back together. I ran across a photo of the two of us from 25 years ago recently, and I wondered again how she was doing.

So today while shopping in a local department store, I was surprised when my name was called in Japanese--and there she was! Michiko had tried to send us a post card a couple of years ago and it was returned (we've moved twice since I last saw her). Both of us were wiping away tears as we expressed our personal desires to see one another over these past years. I honestly expected that she would have been divorced and left the area, so I was grateful to learn she was still here.

We exchanged cards with addresses, and I promised to contact her toward the end of August or early in September. She's a grandmother of two now, and has opened her own Baking School--a small classroom has been built on the family property--with room for two students. She showed me photos of her baked goods, and invited me to come.

This is a gift to me from God. I am so thankful to have met her again, and to now have her contact information. We don't live too far from one another--so I am looking forward to the opportunity to follow up. I do believe that God's Word will not return empty--and I'm looking forward to discovering how the Holy Spirit has been working in her heart over these last 20 some years.