Nearly five-and-a-half years ago, several weeks after the great earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, Dean began his daily commute from Sendai to Ishinomaki, where we are presently located. Through a series of God-ordained connections, he soon met and started working closely with the leader of a small house church, Abe-san, who had many Lutheran Brethren ties from long ago. Since many parts of the disaster area were completely cut off from food and water, the first item of business was bringing in emergency goods. Abe-san, from Ishinomaki House of Prayer, set up a system where people could register and request the items they needed most.
Meanwhile, international relief groups Samaritan’s Purse and Food for the Hungry rented a warehouse in Sendai, and donations soon began pouring in from overseas and all over Japan.
Every morning Dean and his volunteers went to the warehouse in Sendai and packed the van with food, water, sanitary supplies, boots, blankets, diapers—whatever was on the list for the day. People living near House of Prayer could go to the church and pick up what they needed. The system was running well and supplies were beginning to become available again.
But less than a month later another big earthquake hit. Once again, the struggling infrastructure was shut down. Dean contacted Abe-san asking what he should bring the next day. “Water. Yes, definitely, water,” came the answer.
Water may have been in short supply in Ishinomaki, but there was plenty of it in the warehouse in Sendai. Not long before, trucks had delivered a million bottles of water from Korea. It came to us by way of the Malaysian government, which is another story in itself. At any rate, our van was packed with as much water as it could hold and Dean was on his way. Upon arriving in Ishinomaki, he and Abe-san went door-to-door delivering it to all who were in need.
Fast-forward a few months. Picture an extremely distraught woman walking the streets one night. She was in mourning for her son, who had been washed away in the tsunami. So overcome with grief that she was contemplating suicide, she wondered what to do next. And a voice came to her, “Go to the church where the two men gave you water. Surely you can find help there.” She went to House of Prayer and was welcomed in by Mrs. Abe, who listened to her story and comforted her. That was the turning point.
Now, after nearly five years attending her neighborhood house church and being encouraged by other Christians, a lot of the sadness on her face has been erased. She enjoys crafts and quilting with some of the women, and participates in many of the special activities at the temporary housing shelter nearby. She rarely misses a worship service! Her husband has also commented on how much better she seems, and says, “Keep going to the church! PLEASE! Keep going!”
Jesus says in John 4:13-14, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
May this dear woman whose life was saved by bottled water, and many more like her in our current neighborhood near House of Hope, continue coming to drink of the water Jesus promised to all.
Linda Bengtson and her husband Dean serve Lutheran Brethren International Mission as missionaries to Japan.