There is a look in their faces.
It’s a look that can not be described. And impossible to ignore.
But as Rev. Yoshikazu Takada looks deep into the eyes of the hurting people of Japan, he can only offer one thing.
“Whenever I start to speak to them, they tear up. Both young and old,” said Rev. Takada, speaking from Osaka, Japan. “Normally, they are very hard to approach. But now they are different. They are really thirsting and hungering for something they can rely upon.”
Rev. Takada has the answer. For him, a follower of Jesus Christ for 47 years, it’s simple. But to so many who are struggling, cold and hungry, hope left their world somewhere in the midst of a 9.0 earthquake striking off the coast of Sendai and a nasty black-wave tsunami ripping through a once-beautiful coastline.
A nation wonders, what now?
“I believe this is the time to preach the Gospel, but first we have to show them Christian love,” said Rev. Takada, pastor of Osaka Church and Executive Chairman of the Kansai Franklin Graham Festival last October. “We have to be careful how we approach these people because they hurt so much. It’s unspeakable.”
THERE’S NO SHYNESS IN THEIR EYES
There is a graveness in Rev. Takada’s voice as he talks about people who had loved loved-ones taken out by the tsunami even though they were right in front of them.
Over 25,000 are estimated dead in Japan with a rebuilding effort that experts predict will cost between $200 and $310 billion.
But those costs are not weighing heavy on the hearts right now. Two weeks removed from the deadlines Japanese tragedy since World War II and most people are looking for something they can believe in.
“I dearly believe Jesus is the only hope,” Rev. Takada said. “We have so many gods in Japan. There are so many religions. People are fed up with religions. But with God’s love and the Holy Spirit, we can reach people.”
For Rev. Takada, reaching people is suddenly much easier. Sometimes it’s just one question or a word of encouragement and the connection has been made.
It seems devastation has spawned a swift departure from what is normally a reserved society.
“Those people, who experienced disaster, there’s no shyness in their eyes,” he said. “They are scared. It was such a shocking experience. They are scared to think of their future. They don’t know what to do.”
Rev. Takada knows exactly what to do. An experienced pastor in the Japanese culture, he realizes the wounds are still fresh.
“I feel they are quite open to the Truth of God,” he said. “I tell them I’m a pastor of a church. I tell them God loves them. I usually ask them if I can pray for them. They never refuse.
“In the prayer, I tell them about the Gospel of Jesus.”
PEOPLE REALLY DO APPRECIATE
Twice, Rev. Takada has made the 14-hour road trip from Osaka to Sendai, a 900-kilometer journey, which is quite a long trip in a small country like Japan.
As head of the Japan Mission Center — the executive committee that made last October’s Festival a reality — Rev. Takada has helped organize the distribution of the initial $200,000 worth of supplies the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association donated and the 93 tons of supplies Samaritan’s Purse airlifted last weekend.
The once-picturesque are of Sendai is now rubble and there is still a shortage of food and gasoline and temperatures at night are still hovering under 30-degrees F with occasional snow.
“At the moment, only two weeks after it has happened, they need food to survive. There’s not enough food,” he said. “They need warm clothes and blankets.
“Samaritan’s Purse and the BGEA are doing a very good job there. I was really moved by your people’s love and prayers. We appreciate them so much.”
Rev. Takada, who had met with Sendai leaders about a possible Festival there two weeks prior to the earthquake/tsunami, was stunned at the scene when he returned.
“Chaos,” is the best way he could describe it. “Sendai is a beautiful city. A beautiful city. It’s such a disaster. I’ve never seen scenery like that.
“One pastor said ‘I lost everything. I had a thousand books and they’re just gone.’ “
The widespread damage has also complicated the relief and rebuilding process.
Hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes are still without power. Officials have said that people may want to move to other areas of Japan who have better services to offer.
“Unfortunately, churches have such damage. Some churches, the tsunami completely destroyed them,” Rev. Takada said. “We are finding it very hard to distribute through the churches, so we need volunteers with the help of the pastors and Christians. And the people are very thankful. They appreciate it so much.”
PEOPLE DON’T FORGET ABOUT HIROSHIMA
Northeast Japan took the heaviest brunt of the March 11 disaster, but the aftershocks are being felt nation-wide. Sometimes literally.
Hundreds of aftershocks, including one of 6.2-magnitude on Friday, serve as deadly reminders to those who survived.
“Trauma,” is how Rev. Takada described it. “Yesterday, the ground started to move. Those people who lost their loved ones, whenever it starts, they scream.”
And Rev. Takada fully understands why the uncertain situation with the nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex fills the population of Japan with concern and fear.
“People are still suffering today from the World Wars,” he said. “It was 65 years ago, but people are still cautious.”
And while most are too young to remember first-hand the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings in 1945, virtually everyone knows the reality of those events.
Stories are passed down from generations. Schools take field trips to the bombing site.
“People don’t forget about Hiroshima,” Rev. Takada said.
PEOPLE CAN FEEL GOD’S LOVE
Chad Hammond, BGEA Associate Director of Asian Affairs, is a big supporter of Rev. Takada and his ministry. Not only has Hammond worked closely with Rev. Takada on the relief efforts, but saw what a strong example he set for three years in laying the 2010 Festival groundwork.
“Rev. Takada has modeled Christlike love and humility to the people of Japan,” Hammond said.
But he’s never had a challenge like this.
People were already hurting. They were already lost. And now they’re scared.
“They can feel God’s love,” he said. “They are sensitive because they don’t have anything they can rely on.”
So on Friday night, after a long drive back from Sendai, Rev. Takada gathered his congregation and shared from his heart about what he saw. And was very direct.
“It’s a very serious issue. It’s more than we think,” he said. “I asked my brothers to pray earnestly for God to save this nation.”