Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Community of Easter Hope (2): Genuine motives matters!

Volunteers packing goods for delivery
The Life Support Program is a relief program run by Grace Garden Chapel in Koriyama (read more details about the program - here). The name of the church, 'garden' shows their mission and focus very clearly (I discovered the meaning of this name in my first visit last April. Read about the name of the church - here). The leaders of this local church is committed to planting seeds of hope and grace throughout Koriyama. They started serving evacuees in a very simple and tangible ways of helping with household appliances and material support to resettle and create homes, rather than wandering around from evacuation shelter to evacuation shelter.

Because it involves material support and it is done by the local church, there were some roadblocks the church had to experience. These roadblocks came from both within and without the church. I was very privileged to hear some of the stories of both the positive and negative impacts of such assistance. The criticism coming from outside is easy to understand in today's world. Local churches in many countries have over-used formula of 'relief goods + dying poor = rice Christians' trying to fill the pews of the building through providing food and other material goods. Japan was not an exception to this. Disaster victims in Japan are not dying poor, but had credit cards and cell phones in evacuation shelters trying to navigate the devastating crisis in their own ways. In a developed country like Japan where basic infrastructure is well built, local residents have high expectations that "the government must do something! (by the way, in Fukushima the expectation of efficient government assistance is now an eroding belief.)

A temporary housing block in Koriyama
As for roadblocks coming from within the church, often well-meaning volunteers, who are eager to evangelize strangers, often do not understand that the work has to be done with a genuine motif to help others in need, and they cannot have hidden agendas when neighbors become vulnerable through life circumstances. Simply, within the church we have this 'reductionist gospel,' which says that gospel is only good for saving souls for the next life in heaven (somewhere up in the sky!). This is still powerfully at work among many well-meaning Christians who want to use 'doing good works' as platforms for evangelism. 

The integration of relief work with the local church is a very delicate matter to address that I will save for another day, but now I want to share stories of positive impact made on victims when assistance is provided with genuine motives.

In my November visit to Grace Garden Chapel, I met with two non-Christian families who were assisted by the church. One family is comprised of three women (names undisclosed; grandmother, mother and a little daughter) and the other is a couple. Both families moved to Koriyama from the 20 KM exclusion zone around the Fukushima Dai-chi after the disaster. They live in temporary housing units and spend most of their time at home doing little chores and waiting for the day to go back to their home town.

When they heard Ms. Matsumoto, a relief worker of the “Life Support Program” run by Grace Garden Chapel, was a Christian, the grandmother honestly thought that because she was a Buddhist the church is not a place she would think to go for help. Ms. Matsumoto told them not to worry about that, and that she would never force them to become Christians. Through observing the engagement of Ms. Matsumoto with her daughter, the mother found that Ms. Matsumoto was a very nice person. She even felt ashamed for caring that Ms. Matsumoto was a Christian. Ms. Matsumoto even prayed for them, and this touched their hearts deeply. And she continues:

Grandmother: I wonder why Ms. Matsumoto helps total strangers like us so much. I think she is a very strong person. I am very thankful for her now. The supports from the central and prefectural governments are very slow. When the victims were in trouble, Grace Garden Chapel instantly took action to support us. I am very amazed that individuals help and support us like this.
(Interview question I asked) What do you want to tell people in other countries to know about Fukushima?
Grandmother: I want everyone to know that Fukushima, and Japan, are not places where people cannot live anymore because of radioactive contamination.

The second family is Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe and we were thrilled to witness the unexpected reunion of the neighbors when I came out of the interview room with the mothers to greet the Watanabes (see my story from yesterday). This couple were so touched by the genuine love of a relief work, Ms. Matsumoto, they began to volunteer with Grace Garden Chapel soon after our interview.

A genuine motives is contagious and it spreads.

We invited Ms. Matsumoto to let us know anytime if there is something that we can do to help them. I have been thinking of what we can do to return the help they gave to us. I do not remember when it was exactly, but in the past the river flooded due to heavy rain. Since we were not familiar with Koriyama, we did not know which part of the city was flooded. Later, we heard that this church was also flooded. I thought if only they had informed us, we could have helped them somehow. Ms. Matsumoto said, ‘It’s okay, we cleaned up by ourselves.’ So I told her, ‘If something happens to you, please contact us right away. We will help you anytime.’ Then, she invited us to visit the shelters to encourage people with relief supplies. So with pleasure, we decided to join in visiting the shelters. Each time she called us, I kept telling her that we were willing to help them in order to return what they had done for us, and asked her to let us know if there was something we could do. Before I was asked, I was always thinking of offering a helping hand to those in trouble, if possible. This is not because we were asked to help. They offered us this opportunity because we have been asking them to tell us if there was something we could do. Therefore, we are very pleased to help you tomorrow. 

As long as we live in Koriyama, we would like to volunteer. Even when the day comes when we can go back to our hometown after reconstruction, we do not want to forget the help that was given to us, and want to keep helping.

Salt and Light

You are the salt of the earth.
But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?
It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world.
A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.
Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
(Matthew 5:13-16)

No comments:

Post a Comment