February 23, 2021 – Roger W. Lowther
After the 2011 earthquake in Japan, Christians started art organizations to provide jobs and build community, and, just as important, to bring beauty back into a shattered world. They made jewelry, decorations, bags, and clothes.
In the city of Ishinomaki, a small group of women made jewelry out of broken shards of dishes and teacups found in the rubble. They called themselves Nozomi Project, or literally, Project of Hope. The people at Nozomi pick up the pieces of their lives by making beautiful art, one necklace, earring, and bracelet at a time.
Collecting broken pieces themselves was too painful—their unhealed wounds just went too deep—so volunteers brought the bags of debris to them. Then the Nozomi workers carefully pulled out the pieces one at a time, remembering that each one represented a fragment of someone’s life.
The women washed, shaped, and polished those pieces. Their creative work moved them beyond mere survival to unlooked-for healing. These broken pieces were powerfully symbolic, as they were recycled and transformed into something valuable, something worthy of display.
Tomoko, an artisan at Nozomi, cared for people by working at a retirement center. It was her day off when the earthquake struck, but she immediately felt a responsibility to get the senior citizens to a place of safety. She asked a friend to watch her three-year-old son and rushed to help, but, tragically, both the friend and the boy drowned in the tsunami. Guilt and despair tore her apart. Eventually, she began working with Nozomi and making accessories in the name of her surviving daughter, to encourage both of them in their grief. “I didn’t know that creating something could bring so much healing,” she said.
Nozomi artisan Asami recalls, “In the beginning, we couldn’t laugh. We didn’t know what we were living for day after day. We ate without tasting the food. There was no thought for the future even a year after the earthquake.” However, in the community of Nozomi, she learned how to laugh again.
These women found a place to belong in the middle of the ruins and the rubble. “It became a home for my heart,” Asami said.
The broken shards, redeemed as valuable sought-after pieces of jewelry, were powerful symbols of renewal, but not only that. Sue Takamoto, founder of Nozomi Project, said, “God was working in multiple layers in our midst that we couldn’t have thought of ourselves.” The jewelry provided employment and healing, but it also provided a community of people who loved one another.
“I thought to make jewelry you had to do the whole process yourself,” Asami said, “but one person cleans the pieces, another polishes them, another designs them, another puts the pieces together . . . everyone’s involved. I was really surprised by this at first. Women new to Nozomi hesitate to join us because they don’t know how to make jewelry, but we can always find a job for them to do. We tell them, ‘First, just come and see!’”
Women started working to help themselves financially, but through the work, they ended up helping themselves emotionally as well.
Maki remembers, “In the beginning, I thought I had to keep going as a single mom all by myself, but when I was about to break down, people were there to support me and pull me back up.” Maki fell into a deep depression after losing her mother and sister in the tsunami. Her sister was just a month away from giving birth. “I was at a loss,” she said. “I just wanted to die, but I knew I couldn’t leave my children. But now, everything is different. It’s mysterious to me how this place has soothed my heart. ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘this is what community is for.’ Because we experienced this pain together, we were able to be there for one another and encourage one another. Perhaps that’s part of the strength of Nozomi.”
The jewelry business also became a way to communicate the gospel. Most days after lunch the women gathered to read the Bible together, discuss the passage, and pray. “One time I went to the library with my big Bible,” Maki said. “I sat there to read, but I didn’t understand a thing. I definitely think it’s easier to understand when we’re together and able to share.” Two years after the tsunami, Maki was baptized. Soon afterward, two other women in the Bible study were also baptized.
Becoming a Christian is always about the building of community. It’s about bringing healing and love to a world so desperately in need of it.
The Christians who started Nozomi Project simply wanted to be the hands and feet of Christ to their neighbors, but little by little they have seen their influence spread around the globe. They continually hear from customers with handwritten notes of appreciation.
“My first Nozomi earrings arrived today, on a day I was diagnosed with a disorder I’ve had for more than 15 years. I truly felt broken and without hope, but this afternoon my beautiful blue package arrived, like a gift from God to remind me I am perfectly made in his image. What I saw as a fault was actually a design feature God beautifully built into me.”
“I wear my earrings often. I tell people about your work. I tell people that there is beauty in brokenness. Thank you for all the work that you do to bring joy to people around the world!”
Sue remarked, “It’s so encouraging to receive notes like these. God’s plans are always bigger than our plans. He works in ways we never could have foreseen. We started Nozomi to help local families, but now God is working through us to send hope to the rest of the world!” Nozomi has now sent jewelry to 42 countries, which they celebrate with a big map marking all these locations on the wall of their meeting space.
“God is sending hope around the world through our brokenness,” remarks Chad Huddleston, leader of the church planting network associated with Nozomi Project. “And surprisingly God is sending this hope through the beauty he creates out of our brokenness.”
What is the gospel? We are broken, but we are redeemed by the one who found us. We were dead, but we have been renewed with life. We were once a people without nozomi, without “hope,” but we are now a people with hope.
Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ . . . without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12)
In the gospel, we find wholeness brought out of brokenness. Nozomi Project is boldly proclaiming and living out this message one piece of jewelry at a time.
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