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No Greater Love

October 3, 2013

The rice fields in northern Japan turn a beautiful golden color in September. As harvest time nears the rice stalks grow heavy at the top and begin to droop over. Rice stalks that bend over are symbols of a good harvest. This year, as always, the farmers were eager to take in their harvest in the midst of the typhoon season when the winds and rains could potentially damage their crops.

I had the opportunity to revisit northern Japan for three weeks in September. My primary purpose was to visit friends, and share time with my former colleagues – our partners in mission. I wanted to see how life was for them now, two and a half years after the triple disaster of 2011.

On September 8th I traveled down to the town of Kashima located in Fukushima 25 miles north of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) power plants. Rev. Sasaki, in his mid-70s, has been a longtime friend of mine who has pastored rural churches all of his life. He lives in Kashima with his wife and autistic adult child. The church he currently serves has a membership of ten. There were six people that morning who attended worship.

After worship the church members brought out some tea and rice crackers. We sat around a table for about an hour discussing their present situation. The church building that had been severely damaged after the quake, with leaking roof and falling ceilings, had been renovated within the last year. The parsonage had been completely rebuilt. The national church had called for a fund drive, and had come up with the money for this renovation. 53 out of 86 churches in the conference were in need of rebuilding or renovating.

All church members were also facing major work to be done on their homes. Young families had left the area for fear of the high levels of radiation. There were no more children in town. The only ones left were the elderly, the handicapped and the farmers.

I was remembering those first days after the nuclear plants exploded two and a half years ago, all of us were afraid of what might happen by the sudden release of high levels of radiation into the atmosphere. We were thinking of whether to evacuate or not. Though I was 70 miles from the reactors, I had decided to evacuate my wife and children to southern Japan where my wife’s family resides. But Rev. Sasaki who lived so close to the reactors was clear from the beginning that he was not going to leave Kashima, even if the radiation levels were deemed too high. I asked him about his decision, and he very gently told me the following; “There are people here who love this land and have nowhere else to go. I feel the eyes of the villagers on me. Some of them, I know, respect the Christian way of living. I for my part feel their pain and weakness, and in that pain and weakness I see the face of Christ. One of my favorite Bible passages is Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” I myself am a weak and earthen vessel. But I know that God has made each one of us in God’s likeness. God made me and brought me here to love others. Love is all about breaking down our barriers so that we can learn to love each other. That is the reason that I have chosen to remain in this village, so that God’s people will be comforted and loved.”

On this visit to Japan I took with me thirty handmade paper Moravian stars to pass out to the people I met along the way. At each church I visited I handed the Moravian star to the pastor saying; “This is the star of hope. Please know that people in the US are praying for you. You are God’s star of hope in this land. We will continue to walk with you, our partners in mission, for the sake of the gospel.”

Jeffrey Mensendiek serves with the Council on Cooperative Mission, assigned to the Gakusei (Student) Center in Japan. He serves as Director.

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