Two local businessmen. Two friends donating their time and money to support the Tohoku Celebration of Hope. Two non-Christians. What do these groups have in common?
They are comprised of the same two people.
At least that is the way this story started yesterday.
Local ministry leaders agree that a unique aspect of this weekend’s Celebration is the amount of support from area non-Christians.
“After the tsunami,” explained Royden Toma with an organization called Committed Relief, “two groups of people came: the military and the Christians. A year later, the Christians are still here. And seeing them rebuild this community has been a good witness.”
For Shigeo Abiko and Katsuo Takahashi, the witness of Christian friends has inspired them to support the Celebration of Hope by driving an LED bus—adorned with ads and videos promoting the Celebration—around town from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the last month.
The August before the tsunami, the men started a nonprofit community development organization because people were leaving Sendai and the economy was weak. They had just begun making an impact in the area when the events of March 11, 2011, forever changed their lives.
Takahashi’s entire house was swept away and Abiko’s home sustained damage to its foundation. Two people they worked with died; 10 of Abiko’s friends perished in the water.
“After the tsunami,” said Abiko, “I thought our organization was finished, but Takahashi felt strongly that we should go on and use the bus to help rebuild the community.”
The men decided to broadcast animation videos for kids on the sides of the bus and pass out sweets and snacks. They did just that all summer until the weather got cold.
Then, in November, they did some advertising for a Gospel music festival. That is where Abiko met David Matsumoto, a member of the Franklin Graham Celebration team. Soon a friendship developed and Abiko offered his bus to promote the March 2-4 event.
Abiko is sacrificing advertising revenue he could be earning in Tokyo. Takahashi, a Minato taxi owner, has donated his time driving the LED bus and has spent much of his life’s savings promoting the Celebration.
“This event transcends boundaries between Christians and non-Christians,” said Abiko. “There has never been something this big here. It will give people courage and hope.”
He follows the faith of his Buddhist ancestors, but Abiko heard about Jesus and the Bible when he was a child in school. “I am now reading 1 Corinthians 13—which is all about love.”
Abiko said he has enjoyed the love he has received from Christians connected with the Celebration of Hope. “Although many people close to me lost everything they had, if the tsunami had not happened I would not have met so many wonderful people.
“And if the tsunami had not happened, Franklin Graham would not be here this weekend.”
“The people of our area have received aid, clothing and food from around the world, but only Franklin Graham is bringing us a message of courage and hope,” said Takahashi. “There are many religions in the world but only Christianity talks about the resurrection.
“If there is a revelation from Jesus or a miracle,” said this non-Christian man, “I think many hearts will be opened during this Celebration and find needed hope.”
A Surprise Twist
When Takahashi talked about that miracle in our interview Friday, he never expected the miracle would happen for him the very next night.
At the Saturday night Celebration, he came forward to accept Christ as his Savior – and so did Abiko.
“I had great guilt and realized I needed to be forgiven by God,” Takahashi said after praying with his counselor. “I was born in 1944 and made many mistakes in my life.
“Already I feel at peace and that a burden has lifted. Alleluia!”
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