By Bernie Barton
(Missionary to Japan, Pastor of Tamagawa Church of God)
“The church is here! The church is here!”
As Toko-san made her way through the rows of container-like, metal-sided, two-room dwellings, she called out the words that had become good news to these villagers displaced by the power of nature’s wrath.
On March 11, 2011, an earthquake that registered beyond the capability of the seismic scale occurred off the coast of northeastern Japan. This sent a massive tsunami (tidal wave) crashing into the coastline, inundating hundreds of small towns and fishing villages with walls of water reaching more than forty feet high. In terrifying moments, people lost loved ones, homes, possessions, and the means of making a living. In the aftermath of this unimaginable natural disaster, God’s church has responded to the massive physical, emotional, and spiritual needs left behind when the water receded.
Church of God Ministries Disaster Relief Fund directed support through the Church of God Assembly in Japan to organizations supplying immediate relief for the region. God’s people continue to show his love.
Tamagawa Church of God in Tokyo has visited a small temporary housing village built above the devastated fishing village of Kirigasaki six times over the past year and half. Phone calls are made to a pastor in the region who is caring for this village to find out what is needed. Tamagawa Church members collect the requested items and load them into the back of the old green mission van. The trip begins at 4:00 AM to make the seven-hour drive to the village. Once there, tissues and laundry soap, rice and vegetables, and other supplies are distributed. Toko-san, wife of the village leader, told us she announces the arrival of the van with the call, “The church is here!”
After distribution of the supplies, the villagers are invited to the community center, where we sing gospel songs and share the hope of God’s love and care through a short message from his Word. Can you imagine the impact of the words “In his time, in his time, he makes all things beautiful in his time…” upon those who have never heard the gospel message?
During one visit, another of the villagers, Itoko-san, said quietly to me that she had been talking to her husband about how wonderful it is that Christians have done so much for them. What a witness!! It made my heart rejoice to hear her words. All I could say is, “Well, Christians are people who have been loved and helped by God, and when God does that for you it is just natural that you want to do it for others.”
These people are not Christian. There was no church in their village. They had never read the Bible. Yet the church continues to reach out to them in love. Pastor Ito, who introduced us to the needs of this village, has told us that Itoko-san is close to making a decision to believe in Jesus Christ. It is because God’s Holy Spirit has spoken to her heart through the love of his people.
There are still approximately three hundred thousand displaced people in this region. Recent estimates are that it will be up to three more years before many of them will once again be able to have their own home. What work will God do in the hearts of those who have suffered so greatly? How will he use his church to continue to share his love with them?
Would you pray? Would you pray for Toko-san and Itoko-san. Would you pray for the hundreds of thousands of others who are learning that the great God of this universe is the One who will never leave them or forsake them—especially in their darkest hour? May many, many others find hope and joy to hear the words “The church is here!”