At Work in Tohoku and Tokyo

Seima Aoyagi was in our International Intensive program in 2010, and is currently working with Grace City Church Tokyo. GCC has been committed to the disaster relief effort in Tohoku, northern Japan, since day three of the earthquake.

It has now been over six months since a 9.0 earthquake hit northern Japan. While the tsunami devastation is no longer on the news outside of Japan, the life of the people here is still under tremendous distress.  The death toll will most likely rise above 20,000.  More than 80,000 people are still living as evacuees in school gymnasiums, community centers, hotels, and temporary housing. People who have gone back to their houses are living on the second floor of their half broken houses without windows and doors.  The scars of tsunami devastation are everywhere.

We have been visiting one of the most devastated areas in Tohoku, called Koganehama, since April. In this neighborhood, there were about 1000 households were living before the earthquake. But now, because the houses are half wrecked (the first floor is severely damaged), there are only 134 households still living in the area.  One of our projects is to fix the wrecked houses and bring as many families back to the town as possible.

Ishio Abe is one of our earliest local helpers from Koganehama. He and his wife began distributing vegetables and water to his neighbors. They love Koganehama because they grew up, married and raised their family there.  But because their house lost all its windows and doors with broken walls, they were moved into a temporary apartment in another town.  I kept in touch with them and visited them whenever I had a chance, and one day, offered to fix their house so they can come back.  But what I heard from them was a mixed feeling. They want to go back, but also are afraid to after seeing so many deaths.  Even two months after the tsunami, their close friend from their street was found dead.  

Hearing their heart for the town mixed with anxiety and fear, we started to pray.  After a month of consideration, they called me and said that they would like to move forward with our help.  It was a moment of thanksgiving from our side.   He now is excited to see his house gradually being fixed.  He visits the site every day with snacks and drinks for volunteers.  Before, he had a lot of fears, but now he has a lot of hope.  Our hope is that God shows himself to them and make them realize that it is not us but God who love them most.
Who is my neighbor?

A challenge I face is to keep my heart connected to the people in the north while I am commuting from Tokyo. Six hours driving each time is not easy. Life in Tokyo is busy and is moving forward. My family is still in transition and the ministry of Grace City Church requires much.  There are a lot of things to do in Tokyo.  It is easy for me to lose my compassion and love toward those who are suffering in the north.  Even in a van going up north, I find my heart sometimes being tired and cold.  What God asks me in such a moment is, “who is your neighbor?”  It is amazing as well as challenging to be reminded of how wide the scope of God’s love is. Even though it is six hours away, Tohoku is still my neighbor in God’s sight.

It is not easy to have such compassion that the Lord has.  The only way I could have that love is by God himself.  I remember when one resident Mr. Aoki told me that he was afraid of being forgotten by the world.  As I saw the fear in his eyes, I said to myself that I do not want to forget, but will keep coming back to the area.  

One way that God shows his love to his people is by being with them.  God promised Moses to be with him. Jesus promised his disciples at the end of Matthews that he will be with them till the end of this age.  I hope to see how God will bring our relationship closer and use our relationship with the locals to proclaim his love and mercy to the people. Please pray that God fill my heart with love and compassion as I ride up north. 
Church planting in Tohoku

In the midst of all of this, what do we want to accomplish?  Certainly, we would like to help with the survival of the people, rebuilding their town, and helping them recover in their hearts. But more than that, we would like to see a gospel centered community coming up from the midst of the devastation. We have given water, gas, food, and now we are fixing houses. But it would be great if at the end we are able to say “my friends, we give you a church.”  A church that is able to provide even greater hope. A church that could remain in the town and keep serving the community even after our relief work is done.  

So we hope that what we are doing is not just relief work, but church planting. This can only be done by prayer.  We do not have a church planter, or even a church member yet!  But we believe that God will answer our prayer and establish his church in his timing.  Please join us in prayer that this relief work would sow seeds for a new church in people's hearts.
Church Planting in Tokyo

Though I spend so much time in Tohoku and would like to see a church to be given birth there, my deep desire is to see a gospel centered church to be planted in Tokyo.  What I am amazed by is that this relief work has also enabled us to build a broad network here in Tokyo.  While God keeps me busy with this relief work in the north, he still keeps in my heart a burning desire for a church plant.  I do not know how this is possible, but I sense God is even now planting a church in Tokyo by planting a church in Tohoku. 
Please Pray

..for us.
That we as a family be united by the Spirit and be dependent on the Lord always.
That God gives me strength and compassion to continue this relief work. 

..for Tohoku.
That the northern cities are rebuilt as soon as possible.
That the people in the north find hope in our Lord Jesus.
That God plant a church in the north.

..for Tokyo.
That God raised more leaders in Grace City Church, bringing more people to the church.
That God prepare a path for our future church plant.

If you would like to give to the earthquake/ tsunami relief work, you can send a check to:

Presbyterian Mission International (PMI)
12330 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO 63141
Attention: Seima Aoyagi (Tsunami Relief)

Or give to Grace City Relief via