I checked my watch, it was 10:45AM. I wondered… was it too early to ring the doorbell? March 11 was still two weeks out, but it was going to take a long time to pass out 1000 advertisements for the five-year memorial concerts. As much as time allowed, we wanted to ring doorbells and invite our neighbors personally.
I rang the doorbell even though I suspected it wasn’t a good time. A very tired looking person appeared at the door. A couple of years ago she had apologized to me for never coming to an event. “I save all the invitation cards, though!” she had said proudly. During our monthly visits by her front door, I learned quite a bit. Her house is located in an area that was heavily damaged by the tsunami and is now zoned for a new road. As the months have turned into years, stress levels have been pushed high by the lack of clear information about when and where the construction will begin and how much the homeowners in the area will be reimbursed. With prolonged stress come health issues, financial issues… and more.
Sometime last fall this woman told me she and her husband had “quit religion.” They had both been leaders in a non-conventional sect of Buddhism that seemed to demand a lot of their time. Their religion had caused inconvenience in the neighborhood and tension within the family. Finally, they got so tired they decided to resign. In light of this, she confessed, she was extremely hesitant to go to anything with a religious affiliation.
This morning I heard again about how exhausted she was, and how her previous religion of trying to do good and take care of everyone had not made her happy. I gently suggested that she hadn’t found the “real thing” yet. After some more discussion I told her the main difference between Christianity and every other religion: As Christians, we don’t have to do good works to save ourselves. Jesus saves us, so we are free to do nice things for people out of love instead of fear. It was a good talk and I was glad I had awakened her.
On to the next house and a different discussion with another woman I had gotten to know solely through door to door advertising of our events.
Looking down the street today, it was hard to remember exactly what it had looked like five years earlier. There had been ruined houses, crushed vehicles, and piles of rubble on both sides of the street that made it nearly impassable. We held Christian concerts and neighborhood BBQs in a nearby vacant lot, and we advertised in much the same way as we do now. Five years ago, however, there were only hurting faces and tragic stories. Those faces brightened when we brought help: warm clothing, emergency supplies, and homemade brownies to cheer up the taste buds at a time when there weren’t a lot of food choices. I didn’t know names and families, though. Until five years ago I had never even heard of Ishinomaki!
Now we walk around our neighborhood and know many of the families and their circumstances. Together we have survived hundreds of aftershocks, practiced evacuation drills and celebrated the re-opening of the local supermarket. In spite of all the ugly construction trucks, the dust and the lack of green, this is our home. God has led us here and our work has just begun.
Linda Bengtson, and her husband Dean, serve Lutheran Brethren International Mission as missionaries to Japan.