Tuesday, November 1, 2022
Saturday, October 29, 2022
(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
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.
Thursday, March 11, 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.
On March 22 (the morning of 23rd in Japan), Pastor Ken will join us online.
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
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
|Justo Gallego's hands|
|Cathederal of Justo in Mejorada del Campo, Spain|
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.
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.|
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|
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
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.
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!
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.