Tuesday, November 1, 2022

A Different Kind of Harvest

It seems like the pandemic stopped the whole world for the last three years. In some ways the Pandemic has slowed down the rest of the world so that Fukushima could catch up! Seeing empty rice fields along the Fukushima coastline in this beautiful Autumnal weather has reminded me of one simple but powerful truth. 

Nature never stops. 

Nature always rebounds. 

Nature reflects God's glory even after being tainted by human sins such as the Fukushima daiichi plant. After all, it is his creation. 

Fukushima now looks just like any other countryside in Japan, looking through the train window. JR Tohoku line finally opened and I am able to travel all the way to Tomioka from Tokyo without having to transfer to a bus near the disaster-stricken areas. 

Villages along paddy fields show signs of life. People must have returned and are growing food. It's been a while to see this iconic beauty of Japanese countryside, here in Fukushima, again. 

But there is also a different kind of harvest. Harvesting solar energy wherever the land does not seem to be good enough to produce food. A different kind of sign of life. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

A Church of Christ is a church of reconciliation

 (This is a revised manuscript of my message during the Dedication Service at Futaba Hope Church yesterday)


Thank you Rev. Sumiyoshi and Miwako san for your kind invitation for me to come to Fukushima on this special occasion.

I first met Rev. Sumiyoshi and Miwako san on April 20, 2011. He told me that he was looking for “theological meaning of this disaster.” I told him that I am a Korean and I had to come to Fukushima. Then he shook my hand and said, “Let’s work together.” Today I am seeing one result of his question before God and that is this church.

For the last 11 years I witnessed that Rev. Sumiyoshi is a theologian, a very special kind of theologian. He is not a theologian within the ivory tower but a barefoot theologian. He walks, rides his motorcycle and he travels everywhere to go serve people. He brings theological meaning out of ordinary people, from ground-up, not top-down.

I believe the 21st century’s gospel story for the future will come out of Fukushima, not only for the people of Fukushima but for the rest of world today.

When the Tohoku Disaster happened on March 11, 2011 I was briefly working as a researcher and teaching missions at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. I came to Fukushima because of my friend, Midori, one month later in April.

Today I am so grateful to see two Korean missionaries living here. But 11 years ago it was very hard to find Koreans in Fukushima. Koreans were the first ones to leave Japan among all foreigners. Why?

But a few months later Koreans gradually came back to Japan and started showing up even in Fukushima. Volunteers and missionaries started to come and work.

We Koreans have a love-hate relationship with Japanese. But I learned by working with Midori, who is translating for me today, since 1995 in Bangladesh that in order for nations to be reconciled, it must start with two people from the bottom of their hearts before God. Reconciliation begins with the heart, not with a theory in the head. I experienced the same spirit of reconciliation with Rev. Sumiyoshi and Miwako san. By coming to Fukushima since 2011, I also learned the painful history of Japanese Christianity. And that we Korean Christians own much to Japanese Christians.

In these short few minutes, I would like to talk about the last 400 years of history. If you look at the Korean modern mission movement for the last 40 years, it seems like we Koreans are here to give and serve. But if you look deeper, we are here because we first received from your ancestors. We owe much to you. Thank you.

As you know Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded the Chosun Dynasty in the late 16th century and many Koreans were brought to Japan as war slaves. That is also when Christianity began to grow exponentially in Japan, from Kushu to Hokkaido. If you know the history, the name, Fukushima, doesn’t just mean a Land of Happiness. It is the Land of Gospel.

There were over 2000 Korean Christians in Japan before the end of the 16th century and the first Korean church was built in Nagasaki in 1610. That is more than 100 years before the first church was built in Korea. The first Korean martyrs in Japan gave their lives for Jesus in 1613 along with Japanese Christian martyrs. That is almost 200 years before the persecution of Christians began on the Korean peninsula. 

I share this with you because I know how important it is for Rev. Sumiyoshi and Miwako san that a true church is built on the blood of martyrs. His missional theology is found upon the faith of martyrs. My point is not whether Koreans owe to Japanese or visa versa. But we all owe to faithful Christians who gave their lives for Jesus regardless of nationality or race. 

All of us are here today to witness three things. First, we witness the power of God that is bigger than any disaster or human suffering. Second, we witness the power of hope in Christ that endures any hardship for today’s post-disaster Fukushima. And we witness the power of reconciliation in the Holy Spirit. May God bless this church to witness such power to this neighbourhood, Fukushima prefecture, and all over the world.

That is the gospel message the young generation are hungry for and non-Christians are eager to hear. I will go home to Canada from here with this hope of Easter from this church. Thank you.


Suzuki san emceeing the program. he donated his parents' home for the church

Ladies are always busy preparing to feed the crowd!

Rev. Sumiyoshi sharing the brief history of the church 

Korean missionaries sharing their testimony and vision for Futaba 

Midori (left) and I (right) sharing the greetings

Friday, October 28, 2022

Christ of the Dispossessed


Joy Banks is a pastor, linocut print artist and art therapist based in Vancouver, Canada. She spent most of her childhood in Hokkaido which deeply influenced her art style. Joy has ministered at a local church that practiced radical hospitality to the homeless, poor and marginalized. During that time she often heard dispossessed people expressing their encounter with Jesus as Noah's ark where they can find protection. Out of all her artwork, Joy personally connects this piece most with people of Fukushima.

When I first looked at the image on the screen by Joy's recommendation, I was moved by what I saw. The power of Christ's open arms embracing powerless, dispossessed people resonated in me. After three flights and trains, and nearly thirty hours of travel, the linocut print made it to Fukushima, where the Jesus of suffering people welcome dispossessed returnees in this remote town, less than 10 miles south of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. 

I came to Fukushima for the first time since the Pandemic, after my last visit here in March 2019. During my last visit, I did my little part to rebuild this house that was to become the first local church near the crippled nuclear power plant. Rev. Sumiyoshi obeyed the call from Jesus to follow him to the nuclear power plant soon after the disaster. And the result of his obedience is this church today 11 years later. 

Futaba Hope Church offers hope to the dispossessed by the love of Jesus with his wide-open arms. 

Midori, Shihoko and I came to attend the dedication service tomorrow and we were overjoyed by the beauty and warmth of the completed renovation project of the church. Rev. Sumiyoshi and his wife were overjoyed by the gift of artwork, alongside their new colleagues from Korea who now live in the church and minister in the neighbourhood.

Artworks: Christ of the Dispossessed (left) and Rising Son (right) by Joy Banks

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Fukushima 2011-2021

Fukushima in 10 years.

Before March 2011, Fukushima, third largest prefecture of Japan, was home to two million people many of whom were farmers, fishermen, or involved in agri-business and seafood industries. Two nuclear power plants generated electricity for Tokyo metropolitan areas and generated jobs for people in the towns surrounding the plants. The devastating nuclear accidents in Fukushima Daiichi Plant (No. 1 Nuclear Plant) following the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 changed everything for people who lived around the power plant, destroying the prefecture’s beautiful coast and nearby land. Many lost their homes, jobs, community, and more importantly, a promising future for their children. Ten years later less than 30% of people who were affected by the disaster have returned to the disaster-stricken areas. The government declared the completion of decontamination of the areas, but the mounting tasks of human, communal and ecological recovery have barely begun. 

Before March 2011, there were overt 140 local churches in Fukushima. Many of them closed after the triple disaster and only a handful of them stayed open to serve their hurting neighbours. 

I have been privileged to visit Fukushima, with Midori's help, for the last ten years to walk with some of the most resilient people I've never met. During this Lent, I will be "meeting" three of them to hear their stories of following Jesus for the last ten years in Fukushima. I will post more stories after each meeting with them, but here is the plan for now. 

On March 16 (the morning of 17th , Japan time), Midori and I will meet with Pastor Toyomi Sanga of Grace Garden Chapel in Koriyama. 

Rev. Toyomi Sanga and her husband are co-pastors of Grace Garden Chapel in Koriyama, located 60 km east of Fukushima Daiichi. The largest evacuee shelter was set up in Koriyama soon after the disaster and the church began serving at the shelter. They helped evacuee families, especially mothers and children, to settle and re-start life in Koriyama. They church now focuses on raising up the next generation to rebuild Fukushima. 

On March 22 (the morning of 23rd in Japan), Pastor Ken will join us online. 

Rev. Ken Nishihono is the pastor of Koriyama Bible Baptist Church in Miharu town, near Koriyama. He graduated from seminary in Western Japan on March 10, 2011 and went to Fukushima immediately to volunteer at a local church’s relief project. He met his wife, who was also a volunteer, during that time. After working together at the relief project, they moved to Miharu for Ken to accept a call to pastoral ministry.  They have four children.   

On March 25 (the morning of 26th in Japan), we will meet Rev. Sumiyoshi. 

Rev. Eiji Sumiyoshi is the pastor of Nakoso Christ Church (50 km south of Fukushima Daiichi) and planted Futaba Hope Church, just 11 km south of Fukushima Daiichi a couple of years ago. He envisions that the church will offer the hope of Christ to returnees in the area in tangible ways to help rebuild their disaster-stricken town. This is consistent with the call he received from Jesus who appeared to him in a dream soon after the disaster.

Here is the map of the four churches in Fukushima below. 

The two faces of technology. 

The nuclear disaster is clearly a man-made one because we abused technology. But now I am enabled by technology to be able to connect virtually with dear friends in Fukushima. Now I hope the readers may join these faithful disciples of Jesus in prayers during this month. 


Monday, March 8, 2021

What happened to 2020?

Pandemic happened. 

I didn't get to go to Fukushima. The level 7 nuclear crisis didn't stop me from going to Fukushima in 2011. But COVID-19 did. I can't enter Japan this year either. 

So we are going to gather online three times in the next two weeks to hear the stories of Fukushima pastors that I got to know and journey with. Precious people. 

Stay tuned for more stories this year!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Futaba Hope Church

There is transformative power in working with your own hands. Hands that build beautiful things inspire us. Justo Gallego is one such man, who started building a cathedral all of his life by his hands, alone. He used family property and used his own money to buy materials for foundations but drove around to collect discarded bricks to reuse (for the full story on BBC, click here)

Justo Gallego's hands
Justo Gallego (91) started the project more than 50 years ago and hopes to be buried by the building site, if he can't see the completion of the project.
Cathederal of Justo in Mejorada del Campo, Spain
Futaba Hope Church is located in Tomiyoka town. The name Futaba is the name of the district, consisting of 6 towns and 2 villages, surrounding the troubled Daiichi nuclear power plant. Many residents left for good after 3/11 and those who have returned are mostly elderly people. In this neighbourhood, the church is planted to offer prayers for the district and to welcome returning people with hope for a new future.

However, the situation doesn't seem to get better, but in fact, it looks like it is getting worse year by year. More homes were demolished in the neighbourhood since I came last year. More homes were domolished this past year.

But what seems to be the reality is not the whole story. There's another story - a story of hope and presence sustained by the Spirit and a vision of new creation.

The physical reality of that hope and vision is present in the building that is home to Futaba Hope Church and the people who are reclaiming the building for witness to the gospel.

Last year, Rev. Sumiyoshi started repair work last year with the help of volunteers and financial support from overseas churches. Proudly he shared with us that the owner of the building, a few other pastors and himself completed the work of repairing the roof. Now that there is no more rainwater leaking inside the house, the interior repair began just a few months ago. Renovation is progressing more slowly than he anticipated, but he is in no hurry and moving along with whatever God provides and how he provides.

We came inside to sit around to hear Rev. Sumiyoshi's vision and mission for the church in the community. "This house is to become a house of prayer where the Spirit of God dwells. It is to serve returning community people with prayer and give them hope from Christ." After much invigorating conversation with him, we started working. Our job was to clean inside and outside.
From left to right: Ken Warren from Canada, Rev. Sumiyoshi, Rachel Phua from Singapore and Chie Yoshida from Canada. 
Kaoru from Tokyo and Chie from Canada cleaning the small garden.
Before: The big flowerbed with piles of trash and overgrown weeds.
After: We spent two days to clear the flowerbeds all around the house. 
An elderly neighbour walked by and talked to us. After a few minutes of conversation with Shihoko, the neighbour pleaded, "Please come back. We need more people like you to come back!"

Shihoko received the vision of "spiritual cleanup" of Tomiyoka area when we first visited four years ago. She and her husband started a new church plant in Vancouver with a few Japanese immigrant families just before 3/11 disaster 8 years ago. Since then the church started New Eden garden ministry that offers practical gardening experience at a suburban farm outside Vancouver as a way of solidarity with Fukushima people, as a way of holistic discipleship, and as a way of serving local neighbours in the metro Vancouver area.

Rev. Sumiyoshi and Shihoko
Coming back to Tomioyoka with members of her congregation in Vancouver has been an irresistible joy for her and Ken, her husband. It was her vision to see the area being cleansed by the blood of Jesus and to see a church being planted to offer the love of Christ to hurting people of Fukushima. Ken, a horticulturalist, weeps over the broken land whenever we see or hear about the stories of topsoil removal or abandoned farms or struggling farmers.

With this vision, we come here each year to offer the little service of our own hands as a form of prayer and a form of friendship and solidarity.

Rev. Sumiyoshi hopes to finish repairing the interior this Fall and to start the service officially from then. But we know that he and others have already joined God's ongoing mission with prayers. We join them also through our prayers.
Fukushima Seven!: Ken, Rachel, Chie, Shihoko, Sumiyoshi, Kaoru (and Maria, the dog)
after two days' work.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Tomioka's small signs of life

Coming back to Tomioka town is always an experience of heavy emotions. I first came to this area near the old train station in 2015 soon after the 20 KM evacuation zone order was reduced to around 11 KM from Fukushima Daiichi power plant. It looked like a ghost town where everything stopped on March 11, 2011. Destroyed homes, broken roads and debris everywhere. The only signs of human trace were the flowers at the small memorial site for the tsunami victims near the ocean.  (For more pictures and the story I wrote that time, click here)

Midori and I have come here every year to see the changes since the evacuation zone was opened. This year we decided to stay here for a couple of days to see what life is like for evacuees who decided to return after 4 or 5 years. When we arrived at the train station Wednesday evening, the first thing we noticed is the newly constructed embankment. The height was noticeably raised and I couldn't help but wonder what all is covered under the concrete surface, because what we have seen before, are the piles of black bags containing radioactive topsoil removed from farmlands in Fukushima.

The full moon over the ocean looked sad. As we drove around the area, we discovered an open area where the old embankment still remains. There we saw black turf bags of soil on the shore.

Yesterday morning we went out for a stroll to look for signs of life and to pray. We hardly saw anyone walking on the street. The only place we could see people was a mall that had a grocery store, garden/home repair store, general store and a food court. During lunch hour, the food court was busy but soon after that it quickly became empty. 
"Sakura Mall"

There was one clinic in town and a mobile internal radiation monitoring station on the clinic parking lot. This station is run by the Ministry of Environment and the staff were friendly (I can't write anything about what they shared with us or post photos, sorry).

The houses and apartment buildings in this town look sterile, just like so many fields "naked" with their topsoil removed in the rural area. It was hard to tell whether these houses are occupied now and if there were anyone who make these places their home again.

This unfinished building below grabbed our attention but we couldn't understand why anyone would start putting in the glass first before finishing the rest of the building. Then someone told us that this construction was begun before the tsunami but the owner disappeared after the tsunami; no one knows what happened to the owner or what would happen to this structure. What amazes us is that the foundation was built with earthquake-proof materials, therefore these structure stood undamaged, and no glass broken, even after such a great earthquake as 3/11!

Some sad signs of life are below. We saw a row of houses with broken windows patched up with duct tape and cardboards. Signs of thefts.

It is strange to see vending machines right in the middle of a residential area without any store. What is even more strange is that there were no flower gardens or pots in this apartment complex below, other than a row of young trees planted by the construction company. A Japanese home without a flower plant indeed looks sterile. It doesn't look like a Japanese home I know. This is where we saw signs that people have returned, but these signs are yet far from people making their home again.