Memorial Service Elicits Waves of Emotion

By   •   March 12, 2012

During the Tohoku Celebration of Hope March 2-4, the BGEA team got to know and love members of the Samaritan’s Purse Japan staff who have been working in the Sendai area for most of the last year.

It seemed only fitting to ask for their reaction to the March 11 Memorial Service, as many of them interacted closely with homeowners throughout 2011 and saw firsthand the daily struggles of the Japanese people.

Here are just two of their stories.

Brianna Oliver, Program Manager, Communications & Development, shares her reaction:

Despite the eloquent and inspirational messages delivered by representatives from the Japanese government, pastoral mission networks, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, I found myself looking into the sanctuary lined with pews and filled with people. 

Faces were drawn, tears were wiped away, and with eyes distant and far away, the locals in the crowd were undoubtedly reliving the earthquake and tsunami that happened exactly one year ago.

Japanese artists sang a tune of the sad song of devastation, and messages of sorrow lined with hope were spoken.

A documentary produced by Kenji Ito of BGEA visualized what the tsunami was: terrible, destructive, sweeping – but also demonstrated what is one year later: rooted sadness, a rising sun, uplifted lives, and love only delivered through Christ.

The memorial service noted passages from the Bible referencing God’s unending love and unending devotion to those who experience suffering.

Those who came were able to remember what happened, and without hesitation or fear of judgment, everyone was allowed to grieve and process through loss and death. And those same people left with the message that it is OK to cry, it is OK to grieve, it is OK to mourn, “but know that the developing Christian community that Christ delivered to the Tohoku region post-March 11 is there to cry with you, to grieve with you, to mourn with you. We are here to have hope with you as well, a hope that salvation through Jesus Christ delivers.”

Beth LaFontaine-Keegan, Finance Manager for Samaritan’s Purse Japan, shares her thoughts:

Usually I like to sit outside with a cup of coffee in the morning. Yesterday (3/11) though, it was very cold.  It doesn’t seem like it’s been a year already. 

I reflected on the stories I’ve heard here. People have shared where they were when the quake hit, and how they instantly realized it was much larger than the many smaller ones that preceded the 9.0 temblor. 

Then the stories of people watching family and friends—entire neighborhoods being washed away by the tsunami that followed—raced through my mind. 

As I stood there watching the snow, it hit me.  When I saw the news reports of the devastation last year, it was snowing in Japan. That water was freezing.

I hoped the tears that came from the morning’s reflections would hold me for the day. We would be attending memorial services and I don’t like to cry in public.  

We attended two services.  At one, an elementary school principal shared his story.  Before 3/11/11, he was asked to train his staff and 600 students on tsunami evacuation. He’s a Christian man, and as he prepared and implemented the training, he prayed three times a day for the safety of the teachers and children.

He shared that when they heard of the tsunami coming, they got to the top floor. Looking out the window, he saw the large wave coming toward them.  The staff and students watched the destruction of everything in its path and realized that even on the top floor they weren’t high enough.

Thankfully, the wave crested just before hitting the school building. it was the only thing left standing in the area, although the first floor was filled with cars and debris. 

The principal said he knew through it all that the Lord is faithful and there is no trial we can’t endure.

Help came the next day to get the group out of the school.  At the time, 46 students were missing. Some had left after the earthquake, before the tsunami. One child was found alive three days later, in the water, holding on to a board. 

All 46 of the missing students eventually were found, and had miraculous survival stories. This principal had previously prayed with confidence that God would protect!  There wasn’t a dry eye in the church, and apparently I had some tears left after my morning reflection, too.  

A woman who prayed after the school principal’s story was very emotional. Her prayer was in Japanese, but I found it easy to pray along.  It was as though I knew exactly what she was saying, through the passion and sound of ‘crying out’ in her voice.  I was able to pray right along, in my own language, for continued strength and healing of these people, and be thankful that the 600-plus in this elementary school were protected.

Ken Isaacs, Vice President of Programs for Samaritan’s Purse, then shared how he called Franklin Graham right after the earthquake. They each felt God was burdening their hearts and agreed the Lord was calling them to Japan. 

During their first visit, Graham and Isaacs travelled up the coast, visited shelters and talked to thousands of people who were alone and scared. Many had questions about why this happened. They blamed themselves for having a home in the wrong location, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some wondered if they were being punished by God.  They wondered what tomorrow would hold.  

Isaacs spoke about the quiet, calm patience he witnessed last year as people stood in long lines to try to receive relief items and the lovingkindness they exhibited as they waited until those around them had eaten first.  The people came together quickly to meet each other’s needs. 

While I wasn’t here until three months after the tragedy, these comments made me smile.  I imagined everything he was saying as I’ve witnessed the same respect for others here.  It was beautiful to hear that wasn’t diminished during more desperate situations. 

There were many personal stories shared.  With each story, I couldn’t help trying to imagine what it was like, how I would feel.  

We’re here to shine God’s love, share the Gospel, provide hope through faith in God. But God doesn’t promise we won’t suffer.  So we suffer with our Japanese friends.  And God suffers with us all.  As one of the speakers shared yesterday, we can’t always be with someone while we’re suffering, but God is ALWAYS with us!  He showed us comfort by sending His son to the cross for us; redeeming us. Death is not the end for Christians.

Thank you Beth and Brianna for your heartfelt reflections.

Read stories from the Tohoku Celebration of Hope »

Read about the last year of BGEA ministry in Japan »

Visit the Samaritan’s Purse website »


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