20. Fragments of Hope

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. …

19. The Bike

On March 11, 2011, the world changed. Like the old photographs I occasionally found scattered amongst the debris, all the color was gone. Gray mud from the ocean floor coated everything, and gray dust constantly blew through the air turning our white masks black. Even the sun remained hidden behind the dull clouds, refusing to penetrate our colorless purgatory. …

18. Go Away!

“Go away! Leave us alone!” the voice thundered. “Too . . . many . . . volunteers!” We had just entered the high school gymnasium of a temporary shelter in the city of Iwaki. I turned to see a young man sitting on a cardboard box. He appeared to be slightly handicapped, with one leg shorter than the other. But it was his face, full of rage, that I noticed most. Time after time, strangers barged into this man’s “room.” In that brightly lit flourescence, he had no privacy, and he was obviously sick of it. Startled by the greeting, but not sure what to do, I followed the volunteers walking in front of me and placed the box I was holding with the others. The volunteer team proceeded to lay out big blue tarps, line up chairs, and set up buckets of freshly drawn hot spring water, still warm to the touch. …

17. Whispering to the Wind

As I walked through a garden on a hill overlooking the town of Otsuchi, Japan, birds flew overhead and the wind blew in gently from the sea. Leaves rustled on the trees, and the sweet aroma of flowers wafted through the air. I looked down to see goldfish swimming in a pond, and at the top of the hill I found a white glass-paneled phone booth. …

16. Tree of Hope

I looked up at the enormity of it. The tree was almost 100 feet tall. It grew here in the city of Rikuzentakata as part of a forest of 70,000 pine trees for hundreds of years. The trees protected the people from storms and strong coastal winds and were once chosen as one of the 100 most beautiful landscapes in Japan. But now they were all gone, all except for this one surviving tree. …

15. The Cookout

The food just after the tsunami was terrible. Every meal was treated like an emergency situation. Refugees and relief workers alike, we all lived off of emergency rations, canned and instant foods. This kind of food may keep the body going for a day, but it sure lacks the vitamins, nutrients, and life-giving beauty that we so desperately needed. …

13. A Party One Evening

The parking lot of the old Buddhist temple was packed full of trucks and vans. It sat on a hilltop, on the outskirts of the city of Higashi Matsushima, the only structure still standing that was big enough to hold a large group of people. One of the relief workers we met that day invited us to come here for a party. …

11. Cortège et Litanie

The “Cortège et Litanie” by French organist Marcel Dupré is perhaps one of the most famous organ pieces of the twentieth century. I’ve been thinking a lot about this piece during the spread of COVID-19. I would even go so far as to say that it has become a bit of a theme song for me. I will be playing it for our Christmas Day service here in Tokyo. …