Report on De Wet’s support work in Sendai-area – 4 November 2012

REPORT on our ministry with RCJ HIGASHI-SENDAI congregation

in the North-Eastern Japan disaster area during the period from 15 August to 4 November 2012

Submitted (in Japanese) by Tobie and Annalie de Wet to the RCJ Higashi-Sendai Church Council on Sunday 14 October 2012

It has been a great honour for the two of us to be officially sent a second time by RCJ Shikoku Presbytery and Mission Japan to the North-Eastern disaster area of Japan and an unforgettable experience to spend another time with the people of the badly affected communities of Tona and Nobiru Towns as well as with many of our brothers and sisters in the congregation of RCJ Higashi-Sendai and some other congregations of the RCJ North-Eastern Presbytery.

We deeply appreciate the privilege to work under the supervision of RCJ Higashi-Sendai congregation and under the leadership of Tateishi sensei.

We thank our brothers and sisters for the love and warmth we experienced from everybody during our almost three months stay.

We herewith submit an honest and frank report of our experiences and impressions of the short three-month period.

Brief report of our work during the three-month period:

1)  On all the Sundays we visited and ministered in and fellowshiped with our brothers and sisters in the following congregations: Higashi-Sendai, Kitanakayama, Fukushima, ShiroishiKeiyaku, Aomori, Hachinohe, Watari and Rokunohe,

2)  We had the privilege to minister God’s Word 4 times at RCJ Higashi-Sendai congregation and one other time just attended the worship service. Six times we did the prayer meetings as well.

3)  Twice we helped at NOZOMI center in YAMAMOTO Town and once just visited there.

4)  Our main focus was SAKURA HOUSE in SHIN-TONA TOWN where we were involved in the activities with the children of the area (Nijiiro Gakushukai) as well as with some meetings and dinners with the parents.

5)  Twice a week we did the SAKURA CAFÉ.

6)  During their stay in Sendai CARINA baked all the cakes for the CAFÉ and after STEPHAN returned from SA he joined us in the SAKURA HOUSE activities.

7)  Immediately after our arrival we participated in a camp with the children from the area. 45 children from the area and three mothers went on the camp.

8)  We also joined two ONSEN tours (Hotwater Spring tour) with people from Tona and Nobiru living in temporary housing units, one with about 15 people and the second with about 28 people from the area.

9)  We regularly participated in get-together lunches with people in different temporary housing units.

10)      We also had the opportunity to do visitation of some people in the temporary housing units.

11)      Annalie participated every Tuesday in a KNITTING CLUB at a temporary house unit in Shichi-ga-Hama City close to where we stayed.

12)      Four times we had visitors from KYUSHU (Fukuoka and Kokura), good friends since our time in Kyushu, who stayed with us and attended some of the activities.

13)      At our cabin in TAKAYAMA missionary resort we also invited some people for tea, lunch and dinner (BBQ).

14)      We also had the opportunity to attend the RETREATTE of the congregations of the North-Eastern Presbytery.

15)      What we did this time was totally different from last year. Last year we were basically involved in physical and manual labour, cleaning houses and gardens (yards) inundated by the tsunami. We had very few opportunities to meet with and really listen to the victims of the tsunami. This time however, we did very little physical work.  Our focus has been almost completely on reaching out to and spending time with and listening to and serving the people in the disaster area affected by the tsunami.

16)      Because most of the people we got to meet have been women, it was Annalie who had many more opportunities to spend time, listen and talk to people. It really gave her a feeling of satisfaction. To Annalie and her personality it is in any case much easier to mix with and talk to new people than myself. However, the longer we stayed the more opportunities arose also for me to get closer to people and to listen to several stories. Among these were several men as well. We were also invited to people’s homes.

17)      Because our communication and fellowship with the people are all in Japanese and requires from us constant concentration, it has also been rather mentally exhausting, much different from last year when we did only physical work. Annalie especially experienced exhaustion both mentally and physically because of the intense way in which she reaches out to people….

18)      We like children very much but unfortunately found it very difficult to reach out to and communicate and even play with the primary school children at the weekly events at Sakura House (Nijiiro Gakushukai). Maybe it’s because of our poor language, or the fact that we are foreigners, or simply the age and generation gap. That’s why we later decided to leave that part to the younger staffmembers and volunteers…..

19)     In any case, as we were often told last year, more important than what you do, is just your being here with the people….. So if our being here has been of some benefit and help, we are happy and grateful…. As a matter of fact, the longer we have been here the more we experienced acceptance, the closer we got and the more we also experience the value of us being here…. And also the need for us to stay much longer among these people and the value of it…

Some IMPRESSIONS and REMARKS

1)  Though our main purpose was to be involved in RCJ Higashi-Sendai congregation and their work in the disaster area, we were also requested to visit congregations of the Presbytery on a wider scale. We experienced the importance of encouraging, especially the far-away and small congregations who definitely experience loneliness and struggles of their own. Their numbers are small and the areas where they are located much more conservative than the cities. They need more contact, encouragement, fellowship and even help from the rest of the church. We had good fellowship with these brothers and sisters.

2)  This unfortuntely meant that we could not spend enough time for fellowship on Sundays with the members of Higashi-Sendai congregation. Also because of a full schedule we couldn’t help Tateishi sensei and the elders with pastoral care of church members as expected.

3)  Though we were also expected to assist at NOZOMI center (initiated by the foreign MISSIONS in cooperation with the RCJ)) in YAMAMOTO Town, because of the distance and our full schedule with Higashi-Sendai congregation it didn’t really realize, except for the two times of helping a little together with YUI HAMADA and CAL CUMMINGS. We are deeply impressed with the attitude, commitment, the spirituality and the counselling skills of YUI. We praise the LORD for a young girl like her fulfilling this calling on behalf of the Missions. But we are concerned about the fact that YUI as a young woman is staying fulltime alone in the center and has to take care, not only of the running of the center but also the counselling of people from the community as well as physical work in the area. CAL, as official adminstrator of the center, and the OHNO san and his wife, TAMAKO san from RCJ KANAN congregation are a great help. We also appreciate TAKASE sensei, who recently retired and committed himself to three years of ministry at FUKUSHIMA congregation, for his weekly assistance at NOZOMI center. Recently some of the SAKURA HOUSE staff members are also helping.

4)  We very highly estimate and appreciate the work in SHIN-TONA and NOBIRU TOWNS of RCJ Higashi-Sendai congregation, initiated by and done under the leadership and guidance of TATEISHI sensei. The names of Higashi-Sendai congregation and of TATEISHI sensei and the staff members are well-known in the whole area. With their attitude and sacrificial labours they have, during a year and 8 months, built an incredible reputation for the Church of Jesus Christ in these totally non-Christian towns. They have cleaned over a 150 homes and were supported by more than thousand Christian volunteers from all over the country and also from overseas. Now they are focussing on reaching out on a more social and emotional (psychological) level to the people and children of the communities with the weekly SAKURA HOUSE activities, meals, events at and visitation of people in the temporary housing units, tours, camps and picnics etc.

5)  To us it was just one big joy, blessing and privilege to be for a short while part of this incredible work of the LORD, His CHURCH and people like TATEISHI sensei, Higashi-Sendai congregation members, staff members and volunteers. To meet with so many victims of the big disaster, to get to know them intimately, spent time with them, listen to their stories have indeed been a life-changing and enriching experience. It will have an impact on us for the rest of our lives….

6)  Our main involvement was definitely the weekly SAKURA CAFÉ, a “brain-wave (bright idea)” of TATEISHI sensei and a great success!! So many people from the disaster area visit the café. In an area totally destroyed by the tsunami without any shops etc. it is a place for the community to get-together, to relax, to chat to one another and with the personnel, opening their hearts and sharing their experiences while eating delicious cake and drinking good coffee. It is a place of consolation and encouragement. People who have been coming there testified that when they are at home they often feel very morbid but coming to SAKURA CAFÉ cheer them up… There were days we had over a twenty people from 10 AM until 2 PM.

During their stay in TAKAYAMA Carina baked most of the cakes for the café and it was a great hit. Every day three cakes were served and many people often ordered a portion of all three simultaneously! Tateishi sensei is the coffee expert providing the people the choice of many different brands of coffee and letting them grind their own beans with a little hand-coffee-beans grinder.

7)  We could do only a little visitation at the temporary housing units but experience the importance very deeply of this kind of outreach to the many-many people living in these small temporary housing units. People have lost their homes and have been living there for almost two years now. Some can afford to restore their houses or to build new ones and are moving out. For the rest however the future is very uncertain and bleak. They will need a lot of attention, care and counselling. Who can do it better than the Church? Even those who move out of the temporary housing units will not easily forget what the presence and help of the church meant to them. Their follow-up will also be very important.

8)  Annalie experienced her involvement every Tuesday in the KNITTING CLUB at the temporary housing unit in Shichi-ga-Hama City especially very meaningful. It has been a very significant follow-up of the same last year. Deep friendships have been built and we invited some of the ladies for tea and lunch also to our cabin at TAKAYAMA.

9)  From the very beginning we have been very impressed and fully in agreement with the way the work in the disaster area of Tona and Nobiru Towns have been conducted by Tateishi sensei and the RCJ Higashi-Sendai church: Not a top-down approach imposing them on a community and doing their own thing their own way, but from the very beginning the church, through the person of TATEISHI sensei, became one with the affected people, identified with them in their trauma, humbly and sensitively offering their services, responding to the requests of the people in the community, consulting with the community on everything. This was not and is not seen as an opportunity for “cheap” evangelism of traumatized people and for church-planting but as humbly serving victims unconditionally with Christian love and charity.

10)                TATEISHI sensei’s role in this has been exceptional! His personal example, his clear convictions and leadership and guidance of his congregation and all the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, his warm and sensitive attitude towards young and old and especially those outside the church, his social skills etc…. It is as if God put the right person with just the right temperament, character, gifts etc. at the right time at the right place!! We respect him deeply for his attitude, approach and role. At the same time we praise the Lord for the staff members, the congregation of Higashi-Sendai and the many volunteers for their support of Tateishi sensei and their sacrificial service of the victims of this big disaster. It is our conviction that what has been and is happening here and what is being done by this small congregation of Higashi-Sendai congregation with the support of so many in Japan and overseas is historic in the life of the RCJ and a model and inspiration for the whole church also overseas.

11)                We too have been inspired by TATEISHI sensei’s example, attitude and approach and have learned a lot from it. His open and honest confession of his own emotional and spiritual struggles and even doubts about God because of this big disaster and suffering of people, made a big impression on us as well as on our people in South Africa when he visited SA earlier this year. Despite his own spiritual struggles, he believes that he is doing what God has called him to do. He needs our prayers very much.

12)                We are of the conviction that what Tateishi sensei and Higashi-Sendai congregation are doing in Tona and Nobiru Towns are missions as such, is following the example of our Lord Jesus in reaching out to people with concrete physical and unconditonal love and charity, it is being “JESUS” for them. Jesus was definitely a controversial person in His time in the way he associated with the people outside the “church” and became part of them. The religious leaders of his time criticized Him saying: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Luke7:34).

13)                The four years we were in Shikoku, we had the privilege to visit most of the congregations in the Presbytery and do seminars on mission in almost everyone. What I always first emphasized very clearly was that MISSION is not in the first place done inside the church (doing evangelistic meetings in the church), but is first done outside the church in the community and among people we don’t know the inside of the church and are not at all interested to know and even scared to step into the strange world of a church… Also that MISSIONS is not in the first place speaking the Gospel but showing God’s love and mercy through wordless deeds and of addressing the peoples’ felt needs unconditionally and concretely. This is how we prepare the soil of people’s hearts for the seeds of His Word. Of course this is true everywhere in the world (also in our own so-called “Christian” country where almost all people have some knowledge of the Creator-God, of their sins and need for salvation and of Jesus Christ), but so much more here in this non-Christian Japan…! This preparation work might take many-many years, maybe even decades to reap any real fruit…(Some of the primary school kids at Nobiru Primary School might only when they become adults, experience their spiritual need and then remember the work of Higashi-Sendai congregation and start to look for a Christian church….). This is the significance of what Higashi-Sendai congregation with Tateishi sensei is doing. That is why we all need to continue praying for this work at Tona Town, without stop…. without giving up….

14)                We consider the future of Sakura House and the work of RCJ Higashi-Sendai congregation in these two towns as something very-very serious. Consider the many-many people who have been touched by this ministry, the deep relationships being built, the credibility and trust won,
the reputation of the Christian church in this community of non-Christians…… Consider the hundreds of volunteers, the millions of dollars (Yens and Rands), the prayers and support of the church from all over Japan and from overseas…. Through millions of concrete deeds of love and charity millions of seeds have been sown in the lives and hearts of many many people and children in these communities. This is truly unique. In our 20 years in Japan we have never experienced or even heard of something like this. To discontinue this for whatever reason, will not only be a terrible waste and a deep pity, it will be an incredible spiritual loss for the Kingdom of God….  We are very earnestly and seriously praying for the future of Sakura House and this work….

15)                Regarding our own future involvement, whether on a short or longer term, we believe it will depend on the following factors:

①    The future of SAKURA House and the work of Higashi-Sendai congregation in that area as decided by the Church、

②    A clear and specific request from RCJ Higashi-Sendai congregation and Church Council、

③    The decision of RCJ Shikoku Presbytery、

④    The decision of Mission Japan and the Church in SA、

⑤    The real and clearly concrete need for our involvement, whether it really is worth the finances and sacrifices involved、

⑥    Our own physical condition and especially the condition and feelings of Annalie who is the one working the hardest, having to give herself so much in reaching out to people, especially the women, who becomes very exhausted both physically and mentally, who is sacrificing so much more than what I do. More than ever before I believe that Annalie’s condition and feelings have to get preference in our considerations….,

⑦    The feelings and desires and response of our family and relatives、

⑧    The very clear guidance of our Lord as we together with his church and everybody involved prayerfully consider all the above factors and come to a unanimous decision…

16)                We are honestly concerned about the pastoral and spiritual care of TATEISHI sensei and the staff members involved in this very demanding and high-profile ministry of the Church. To reach out to and take care of the various needs of the many victims of the disaster area is a very-very demanding and exhausting work, more so mentally than physically. They are not just NGO volunteers, but representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ and of JESUS HIMSELF. They need to be filled, inspired, strengthened and guided by the Spirit and love of Jesus Himself on a daily basis through the WORD and the fellowship with fellow-believers. They need that from their own congregation, denomination, as well as from their own daily devotions, both privately and corporately as a team. We believe that this needs serious attention….

17)                At the same time are we concerned about the pastoral care, the spiritual health and growth of RCJ Higashi-Sendai congregation. In order for the congregation to support and encourage TATEISHI sensei and their staff members, they as a congregation first need to be built up spiritually, cared for pastorally and discipled and trained to fulfill their important supporting role without getting tired and frustrated and lose their vision and enthusiasm…..This is a matter to be seriously considered by the elders and deacons of Higashi-Sendai congregation with the help of the Presbytery.

18)                Finally, it is our honest conviction that this vitally important ministry, this very heavy responsibility, and the very serious and difficult leadership it requires, cannot be left on the shoulders of one young minister and a small congregation of only two elders. It is definitely far too big and heavy for them alone. We strongly believe and suggest that not only the Presbytery of North-East Japan but even the RCJ Synod should come to the rescue, guidance, oversight, spiritual care, assistance of Higashi-Sendai congregation. The responsibility for this work and its future must be that of the wider church and whole denomination, the church who has been giving sacrificially millions of YENS, prayed for and sent so many volunteers. The future of this work and its contents affect the whole church and also those overseas churches which have been supporting it financially and with their prayers. RCJ SYNOD has a vitally important role to play here…. we believe.

19)                We stayed in different cabins at TAKAYAMA but it was really good to have Stephan, Carina and their family with us here most of the time. We never had a dull or lonely or a quiet moment! We often came home in the evenings with a nice hot meal waiting for us. They have been a great encouragement. When they eventually left we experienced some loneliness….

Tobie and Annalie de Wet

Comments (6)

Johann McFarlaneDecember 6th, 2012 at 05:29

Sjoe, die verslag en kommentaar laat ‘n mens sonder woorde! Dis ‘n geweldige gedagte dat die ontsettende ramp dinge laat gebeur wat julle in 20 jaar nie gesien het nie! Hoe anders is God se wee as ons s’n! Die verantwoordelikheid op ons as kerk staan uit. Sal ons dit waardig wees? Mag die Here ons help!

Carina van der WaltDecember 7th, 2012 at 09:23

Liewe Tobie en Annalie

lekker rus na al die harde werk!

AnnatjieDecember 8th, 2012 at 14:52

Wat ‘n enorme taak! Wat ‘n wonderlike God wat mense bereid maak om alles op te offer ter wille van sy naam. Hy sal self sorg dat alles nie tevergeefs is nie, maar dat die werk sal voortgaan. Dankie, Tobie en Annalie, vir wat julle weereens gaan doen het.

[…] geneem van (pa) Tobie en (ma) Annalie. Hulle het moeg, maar vergenoegd terug gekeer na Suid-Afrika. Lees hier die verslag oor hulle 3 maande ondersteuningswerk in die rampgebied. Hulle sal voortaan steeds op nuwe maniere […]

Rev Victor PillayDecember 13th, 2012 at 08:53

Hi Tobie and Annalie

it was interesting, heart warming, sometimes moving me to tears and truly challenged by the work in Sendai and the disaster area. Deeply blessed and impressed with the commitment and ministry of Tateshi sensei. We as MJ greatly appreciate the sacrifices you and Annalie have made for the Kingdom of God and His people in Japan in such a meaningful way.

I read about also your hard, taxing and enduring work with dealing with the people , their problems and especially their emotional state. I know this cannot be easy. Therefore our prayers are always with you.

I really believe that you need a time of good rest but more importantly some kind of de-briefing for both of you to unload much of the trauma you have been experiencing and taking upon yourself as you listened and worked with the people in their crises. This may mean to talking to someone in a pastoral way about your experiences and especially the painful experiences of the people that may have impacted you emotionally.

our fervent prayers are with you. may you spend some GOOD GOOD quality time with your family in RSA, especially your children and grand children.

we wish you and your family a blessed Christmas and that the Lord will lead all of you for your plans, work ministry and family lives in 2013.

love and regards from Caroline and the boys. You are welcome to visit us in Pretoria and even rest here.

Vernon NaidooDecember 13th, 2012 at 10:42

Wow great Work Rev and sister Annalie
the work you are doing is excellent! I pray that you will rest and enjoy SA for a season now. Hopefully we will see you in the new year.
many blessings
Vernon Naidoo

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