Just two weeks before the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, Kesennuma pastor Hiroshi Minegishi read a book by Charles Colson called Loving God, in which Colson shares the testimony of Myrtie Howell.
While in her 90s and in ill health, Howell wrote to dozens of inmates every week, leading many to Christ. A lifetime of tragedy preceded her ministry, including the death of her husband and youngest son. But when Colson visited Howell in a nursing home, she was full of joy and excitement.
“I was deeply impressed and cried again and again,” said Minegishi. “On that day, two weeks before the tsunami, I rededicated my life to God. Yes, I am a pastor, but I was weary and dry. I know now that Jesus led me to read that book.
“Just like Colson was influenced by Myrtie Howell, so was I.” (See her story below the picture of Pastor Minegishi.)
On that day, Minegishi understood what it really meant to love God. It was the “final chain” that would hold him up during the storm.
Minegishi would need all the strength he could muster come March 11. After the devastation hit, the pastor was trapped in his car for two days. Finally clawing his way out on day three, he made his way over crushed cars and buildings and headed home.
There was nothing left but rubble.
Minegishi said he received two words from God while standing amid the wreckage of his house and his church:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD” ~ Job 1:21 (NKJV).
“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” ~ 1 Timothy 6:7 (NIV).
“I felt these words sink into me,” said Minegishi during an interview at the conclusion of the Tohoku Celebration of Hope last weekend. “God taught me what it means to lose something.”
A few days after the tsunami, Minegishi opened the Bible to find yet another special word from God: “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned” ~ Song of Solomon 8:7 (NIV).
“I applied this verse to myself,” said Minegishi. “Even the tsunami couldn’t break the love of God for me or stop the love of Christ from flowing out of me. The tsunami taught me what is really important—not possessions but love.
“There is nothing else!” he exclaimed with a big smile.
Minegishi is grateful that he and his wife are safe and that now he has a new chance to minister to hurting people: “God saved my life so I can serve others. I take that seriously. There is no reason to be sad.”
When the people around Minegishi see his joy and thankfulness, they tend to tell him, “This is not normal” and ask the inevitable questions: “How?” “Why?”
It gives Minegishi an opportunity to witness about his faith.
“The tsunami has reinvigorated my passion for evangelism,” he added.
During the Tohoku Celebration of Hope with Franklin Graham, Minegishi brought a busload of people from his town of Kesennuma, one of the hardest hit areas in northeastern Japan. “One of the brothers came forward to accept Jesus Saturday night and he came to my church Sunday.”
While serving as a counselor during the Celebration, Minegishi prayed with several men who made decisions for Christ. With tears in his eyes that night, he said while gesturing to the crowd of new Christians, “This heals the pain of the tsunami.”
Twin sisters whose homes were repaired by Samaritan’s Purse volunteers also accepted Christ last weekend. “I had been praying for them for a long time,” said Minegishi. “I am so happy. The tsunami caused their guards to drop.
“The message of Jesus is reaching more and more people in Japan. Things are happening in Sendai—never have so many been saved.”
Read stories from the Tohoku Celebration of Hope »
Pastor Hiroshi Minegishi prays with an inquirer at the Tohoku Celebration of Hope – photo by David Uttley.
Setting Prisoners Free
Myrtie Howell lived a hard life. Her family was very poor. When she was 10, she quit school and went to work in a steel mill for 10 cents a day. She married at age 17. But in early 1940, her husband was killed in an accident. And when that happened, she lost her home. She had to go back to work to support herself and her three kids.
Years later, her declining health forced her to move into an old, high-rise nursing home. A few weeks later, her youngest son died. That’s when Howell fell into a depression. She said, “Lord, what more can I do for you? I’ve lost everything that ever meant something to me. And now I’m stuck in this dark, dreary room. I have nothing left to live for. I want to die. I’ve had enough of this prison. Take me home.”
But then God spoke to her as clear as possible. He said, “I’m not through with you yet, Myrtie. Write to prisoners.”
So she wrote a letter and sent it to the Atlanta Penitentiary. This is what the letter said: “Dear inmate. I am a grandmother who loves and cares for you. I am willing to be a friend. If you’d like to hear from me, write me. I will answer every letter you write. A Christian friend, Grandmother Howell.”
The letter was given to the prison chaplain who gave her the names of eight more prisoners. Prison Fellowship provided even more names.
Soon, Howell was corresponding with up to 40 inmates a day. She became a one-woman ministry reaching into prisons all over America.
She said, “I thought my life was over. But these past few years have been the most fulfilling years of my life. I thank Prison Fellowship! And most of all, I thank Jesus.”
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