Voices from FUKUSHIMA Vol.10 Rev. Akira SATO

Jesus, Our Savior, who Had Been Always with Us

But I pulled myself together once again and read the Bible again. I remembered Psalm 119 verse 71 that said that these unprecedented experiences of our sufferings were meaningful in that we learned the important lessons from God. Indeed, there were many people whom we would have never met without going through this chain of sufferings. There were new perspectives of the world that we had gained for the first time when we went through this hardship.

60 to 70 of us crossed over the pass to Yamagata prefecture in a howling blizzard. When I wanted to carry the surplus of emergency supplies to the nearby gymnasium, I suddenly had difficulty in breathing. I realized that I, myself, too was deeply hurt from the disaster. I lost my house. I was jobless without any income. How can I help others who are drowning when I myself am also drowning? Man cannot save a man. At that moment, I realized all over again that a sinner cannot save other sinner and that it was necessary for the Savior to come to the world where sinners live.

Ever since then, I have become aware of the presence of the Savior who was prophesied in the Book of Isaiah that he knew the people’s sorrow and their sickness. In the camping ground in Tokyo, I heard one lady telling to another. “We didn’t bring anything with us from our home.”

Then the other said “Because of the nuclear explosion that day and sirens went off commanding us to evacuate without any of our belongings, but with the clothes we wore. We had no spare clothes for a week. Four months have passed since then, but we are still alive. We used to think before the disaster that we need may things to live, but now we learned that we really don’t need much to survive.” The conversation ended just like that, but when I heard this little exchange casually, it sounded just like a modern version of the Gospel “The Sermon on the Mount” that Jesus gave: “Look at the birds in the sky. Think of the flowers growing in the fields.  It is God who gave you life. Isn’t it certain that He clothes you? Therefore, do not worry. Trust Him.”

It was March 15, four days after the biggest hydrogen explosion of the Nuclear Power Plant that I went to pick up some of our church members who were scattered around the shelters all over Fukushima prefecture. The original plan was to pick up 17 people. However, when I arrived at the rendezvous, nearly 70 people gathered there waiting to be picked up. From that moment, my heart started pounding. Our survival journey began in this way. It was the start of a no-going-back group journey at a pinch with no particular destination. We had no money. It was difficult to find a place to accommodate 70 people, get a supply of gasoline and food. I lost 9 kg in a week. I could sleep only three hours a day. I was under constant strain. It was all I could do to keep myself​.

In the end, I asked one of my colleagues if we could stay with them. He said he could receive 17 at the maximum, but a crowd of 70! But somehow, we could secure at least two nights to stay there. In the meantime, I tried to look for our next stop. The church offered us warm noodles and futon (Japanese bed). Many people of the group ate this simple meal, weeping. For at a certain shelter, no meals were offered for three days. Then, all of a sudden, they were offered a hot meal, so, they wept. We had never been touched by one single bowl of noodles. We slept together in large numbers all mixed up together in a room, but at least on the futon. We slept three to a two-person futon. We did not have a change of clothes, but I felt that it was not a matter of course to have a futon to sleep on. I’ve been sleeping on a bed for years, but it wasn’t until this moment that I realized its value. We tried to sleep on pieces of cardboard without blankets on a cold night on the northern mountains of Japan. We only got a maximum of 3-5 minutes of sleep. Our backs ached. “Futons are extraordinary. It is heavenly,” said one of us who was near to me. We had never been so thankful for a single futon.


Heartfelt Gratitude

 When we arrived at the camping site in Tokyo, the people were very welcoming and kind. They prepared individual school backpacks for children. On the first day when they went to school, the principal of the school told the whole school, “The number one supporter of the kids from Fukushima is me. I will not tolerate any bullying against them.” I could not thank these people enough for their support. These kids started their new life in Tokyo. After they got back from school, they played for hours with their school backpacks on their back. Aren’t kids supposed to come home, say “I’m home,” throwing their backpacks and play? I wanted to ask them. “Why are you so happy about an old school backpack that someone else has used for six years before you? Is it that great? Is it so precious?” However, I came to realize that these kids continuously prized their belongings even if they were not brand new or expensive. I felt as if the scale of happiness for all the people from children to grown-ups was completely flipped over and crashed in the thunderstorm of experiences of the disaster.

There is a story of the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament. To make a name for themselves, people of the town built a tower with its top reaching heaven. One day, all of a sudden, the tower came crashing down. Just like a today’s version of the warming to the people of Babel, we were knocked off our feet to be penniless. And we found ourselves confronted with a very basic question to return to our origin and our true happiness. Don’t count on things that you do not possess, but look at the things in front of you, live everyday like there is no tomorrow, keep our feet firmly on the ground, live appreciatively and so on. I felt as if God was telling us that it was good for you to learn the basics of life through sufferings.

When I first returned to my hometown a few weeks after the cataclysm, I felt a strange wave of emotions. My hometown seemed like the Garden of Eden or the Lost Paradise. With no cars and people in sight, and all the factories closed, my hometown abundant with nature was soundless. The cherry blossoms were blossoming peacefully at their best and cows were roaming. At this moment, I pictured a scene of the Lost Paradise from where Adam and Eve were expelled. They left from God, and their eldest son, Cain killed his younger brother, Abel. Such a sinful man did not qualify to live in the garden, and was expelled from the garden and settled in the land of Nod. Right now, Fukushima is well known throughout the world. Last month, I checked into a hotel in Australia, and when I signed Fukushima, the receptionist asked me, “Are you really from Fukushima?” with a surprised look on her face.

Has Fukushima, damaged so badly, been sending a silent, but very powerful message to the world? People of today, is the situation acceptable as it is? How much longer are we going to live a life ignoring God and pursuing a comfortable life? Don’t you know that if we keep on going at this pace, we will perish someday? What happened to jamming on the brakes and changing your course? This cataclysm may be a warning to today’s society that keeps running on the misunderstanding that tangible goods is a criterion for happiness.


The Journey in this World

 In the midst of our journey, we felt as if we were traveling through the land of the Bible. Losing our homes, we journeyed together. We remembered that the Early Christian Church in the New Testament was also journeying. The mourning of the death of Saint Stephen under persecution overlapped with the death of a 50-year-old lady who was killed by the tsunami. We had the funeral service on our journey. Without mourning nor a gown, we bought black ties at a 100-yen store to attend the funeral.

There were too many encounters and farewells during our journey, each of which was very dear to us. Our hearts ached with emotional pain at every farewell, and a strained atmosphere floated in the air. We thought that this could possibly be the last time we would ever see them, and wiped away the tears. On the other hand, when we met someone of them again in half a year, we cried with tears of joy, hugging our companions tightly. I wondered what this unbelievable story was. Since children transferred to another school in Tokyo and their learning situation changed, the elder ones taught the young. Sometimes, we sang hymns weeping. Funerals and baptismal ceremonies were held alternately, so we really wondered whether we were happy or sad. During the journey, nine among the group were baptized. I thought how the Early Christian Church who was persecuted felt sad but at the same time, grateful.

That reminded me of the Babylonian Captivity in the Old Testament. It must have been extremely difficult and miserable for the Hebrews who were deported and lived in the land far away from their fatherland. The old Chinese poet wrote, too. “The country is in ruin, but its mountains and rivers remain.” When we were deprived of our treasured hometown, we realized how much we really loved it. Thinking of the land of the Bible where the Hebrews yearned for, but could not return, and of the Old Testaments in which psalms were written. I realized that the Bible is not a philosophy, but life itself.

I also thought about the Exodus. Although Moses traveled for forty years, we were at the brink of death in just four months of travel. However, I realized that life on its own is the journey. While we were not aware of, we might have sought the paradise on earth, which was our misunderstanding and we were called into question.  If life is a journey, then every single day and month are a process. I started to think what God really wanted of us might not be the end result, but the process throughout our journey. As we could not do anything alone by ourselves, we gathered together as remnants of defeated troops, and worked shoulder to shoulder together. We fell twice but tried to get up three times. Maybe God was watching the whole process. Though it was uncertain whether we were ever able to return home or not, I decided to treasure each step and process that I have taken in this journey.