We are currently resting in Tokyo, the capital of the country, before heading back to Tohoku this Saturday to visit the city of Iwaki in Fukushima prefecture as Japan prepares to remember the disasters of March 11, 2011.

Last week, we had an impactful visit to Tohoku, the northern region of Honshu, the main island of Japan devastated by the 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident in March, 2011.  My good friend and colleague Ben Cheek, Creative Director of Muddy Hudson, www.MuddyHudson.com and I were traveling with a media team from CRASH Japan, www.crashjapan.com as we visited strategic areas in the recovery effort just a few days ahead of the one year anniversary of the fateful day last year that folks here in Japan now call 311.

Housing complex in Japan

Housing complex in Ichinoseki, Japan for relocated survivors from 311 disaster

On Thursday last week, we arrived at CRASH’s mission base in Ichinoseki, north of the city of Sendai, the quake’s epicenter on March 11, 2011.  At this base, six missionaries –two young couples and two young men from the United States, are operating a small apartment building donated by city officials where various mission teams are staying on a regular basis as they participate in rebuilding programs in the area.  Samaritan’s Purse is also operating several mission bases in the region.

Along with hosting mission teams from overseas, the CRASH base in Ichinoseki conducts outreach to survivors living nearby in government owned housing.  These survivors were relocated from areas such as Kessunuma and Rikuzentaka which were absolutely devastated one year ago.    On Thursday afternoon, I was asked to join a “Mobile Café” along with Rev. Rick Chuman, the Executive Director of the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society www.jems.org based in Los Angeles. 

After lunch, we headed out in a van loaded with small café tables, coffee/tea, waffle makers, musical instruments and Christian reading materials.  We arrived at a local community center owned by the city government and discovered the center locked due to a miscommunication in the reservation process.  As a group we prayed for the Lord to open up the center that day as a place to begin relationships that might ultimately open hearts to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Two missionaries from CA offer a performance of Gospel Hula at Cafe Ricky sponsored by Crash Japan in Ichinoseki

A few minutes later, the city officials arrived and we began to set up “Ricky Café” which is based on the central character of a Christian children’s book popular in Japan.   Paul, the team leader who grew up in Japan as a missionary kid, then asked me to jump in the van with him and bring a large flag to advertise the café at the nearby housing complex where survivors had been relocated by the government last year.  Paul asked me to walk through the complex, waving the flag and inviting folks to come to “Ricky Café” at the community center next door.  I worked in Japan for nearly 9 years with the Presbyterian Church USA as a student evangelist but I never had the opportunity or idea to boldly walk through the portico of an apartment building complex and simply invite people to an event!!  I took a deep breath and thankfully my Japanese language came right back as I walked through the complex and calling out in loud, honorific Japanese asking residents to come join us for delicious coffee and conversation from 2-4pm.  I was familiar with the approach, having lived in Japan and hearing salesman walk through my neighborhood advertising everything from laundry poles to various food products. However, this was certainly a first for me!  Honestly, it was simply exhilarating to be so direct and open in inviting folks to come to the café where they could build relationship and eventually hear the Gospel.

About 20 middle-age and older Japanese women joined us at Café Ricky that afternoon.  Our team ran around serving them tea and fresh, hot waffles.  We all fellowshipped and enjoyed each other’s  company.  I showed family pictures and listened to stories about the women’s children and grandchildren.  Then, about 40 minutes later, two of the gals on our team put on Hawaiian outfits and gave a beautiful Gospel Hula performance to praise songs like “Shout to the Lord.”  I was sitting at a table with a group of older women who absolutely loved the performance and we talked about how much they enjoyed Gospel music and how it became popular in Japan through the movie “Sister Act” about a decade ago.  The two Gospel dancers then invited the ladies to a class a few days later where they could learn how to hula dance themselves.

As we joked and enjoyed one another’s presence, one of the ladies grew serious and shared how her doctor would not allow her to dance because she had an operation one year ago.  When she said the phrase, “one year ago,” “ichi nen mae” in Japanese, all of us at the table, knew exactly that she was referring to the tsunami and for just a moment, I could sense the tremendous pain and suffering these ladies had gone through in the disaster and relocation.   In Japanese culture, there are ways to share emotion without stating things too specifically and this was definitely one of those moments.  Suddenly, I felt a deep love and concern for the Japanese and especially these sweet ladies who were valiantly stepping forward to rebuild their lives.

Christian Zebley enjoys time with Japanese ladies attending the mobile cafe outreach.

 As our time came to a close, we took a picture which is another Japanese way of bonding.  As we said goodbye and the ladies began to depart, they took freely of the Christian books at a table by the front door.  One lady took some books and then pointed to her glasses and said gleefuly, “I just love to read.”   We encouraged her and my heart lept up inside, knowing that a door to hearing and receiving the Gospel had just been opened.  Jesus says in Revelation 3:21, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  Join me in prayer that the mobile cafes and all the work of CRASH Japan, Samaritans’ Purse and other groups working in the region will continue to open hearts to hearing the Gospel through loving kindness. 

If you are interested in joining a Global Leadership Team this summer to work in Northern Japan with GLD go to www.globalleadershipdynamics.org/japan   

Please consider making a donation to support the GLD ministry happening right now in Japan as there are many costs associated with our being here for two weeks.  Thank you for praying for and supporting our work as God leads you.

Funds for Remember Japan are handled through our partnership with PRMI and are tax deductible. We greatly appreciate your support.