It wasn’t just the shaking that frightened Matt Murton on Friday afternoon in Kobe, Japan.
Nor was it the swaying from his 19th-floor high-rise apartment.
Sure, the shock waves from a 9.0 magnitude earthquake would shoot fear down the spine of most mortals. But the real impact for Murton, his wife Stefani and their two small children were coming through loud and clear.
The noise was wretched.
“The creaking sounds of the walls and ceilings were so loud,” Murton said two days after Friday’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed thousands in Japan.
“It was a truly frightening experience for the family. We gathered the kids and huddled and prayed.”
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
The fact that Murton is in Japan for such a time as this has God written all over it.
The likeable red-headed outfielder had already experienced one potentially seismic event in this country, as he partnered with the Kansai Franklin Graham Festival last October.
After breaking Ichiro Suzuki’s single-season hit record, Murton used his local folk hero status as a platform to share his testimony at the Festival, which Murton believes will be “a rippling effect that begins an awakening” in Japan.
But on Friday afternoon at precisely 2:46 p.m. local time, the earthquake’s rippling effect was creating much havoc in Kobe from almost 500 miles away.
“The amount of swaying back and forth was tremendous given the fact that the epicenter was hundreds of miles away,” Murton said.
Fortunately, Murton had arrived home after practice around 2:30 p.m. Normally, he would still be on the field, but Friday was an off day and he was able to comfort and pray with his family.
“The way the (shock) waves went out, there was an unusual amount of swaying,” he said. “And the length (of tremors) was tremendously long, lasting upwards of a couple minutes.
“The family is doing well, praise the Lord.”
‘REST IN HIS SOVEREIGNTY’
Shortly after the shaking and creaking subsided, the Murtons headed downstairs to gather more information about what had just happened.
“When we arrived downstairs and found that the epicenter was in the Sendai region, I immediately began to pray, knowing that if we felt that much, they surely were in trouble,” Murton said.
And Murton’s fears have been founded.
The death toll continues to rise, expecting to pass 10,000 and possible reaching tens of thousands as many who escaped the earthquake’s wrath were hit with the massive tsunami forces.
“The country as you may have already seen has been decimated,” Murton said. “The attitude is a somber one and many believe it will take the country months to return to normalcy with the directly-affected areas taking years.”
Normalcy is not usually how God grabs our attention and Murton is seeing this first hand.
“I believe that the country seems to be much more in search of answers than maybe they normally would,” he said. “My prayer would be that with the uncertainties of this world and country that the Japanese people would find the true meaning of life and gain a knowledge of Truth.”
And that Truth would be clearer than ever – that God is in control and is the only real protection from disaster.
“Something that is coming through to me very strongly is that God wants us to rest in His sovereignty,” Murton said. “We are called to walk by faith and know that ultimately God is our protector and director.
“When faced with life’s uncertainties there is only one place to rest and that is in the love and grace of our Lord and Savior.
‘GOD HAS A PLAN’
Murton said he’s not about to leave Japan, especially considering all the events that God had orchestrated in his life over the past year and a half.
“In my own strength and mind, the easiest thing to do would be to pack up and go home,” Murton said. “However, I know God has a plan and a reason and only through Him can we remain strong.”
How You Can Help
People across Japan have lost virtually everything in the devastating earthquake and tsunami. Please donate online today and thank you for your support.
Part of that plan for Murton was to play in Osaka, capturing the hearts of passionate baseball fans with his record-breaking season and humble attitude.
Murton will quickly deflect all the credit to the Lord Almighty. Which is exactly what he did moments after his record single, as the Osaka crowd cheered wildly, with a standing ovation.
It was a simple pointed to the sky. A humble gesture, giving thanks to God for designing a plan he could have never fathomed.
His Colorado Rockies’ contract bought out by Hanshin Tigers. His family uprooted to Japan with very little notice. The once-promising Chicago Cubs prospect now playing halfway across the globe.
How did any of this make sense?
But as he rounded first base with his 211th hit of the season, a packed Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, Murton simply wanted to give the Lord Almighty thanks.
“It was just recognition of who allowed that to happen, which was a special moment,” said Murton, who finished with 214 hits and a .349 batting average. “And even from that pointing up, God opened up so many doors.”
And one of those doors led directly into the Osaka-Jo Hall, where he shared his story at the Kansai Franklin Graham Festival on Oct. 22-24 weekend.
First, breaking a historical league-wide record. And now, sharing his faith in front of thousands in Japan? Murton could not have dreamed up a script like this.
“That was an unbelievable experience,” Murton said. “There was a moment I remember standing up there on the stage, giving my testimony in front of, you know, eight-to-ten thousand Japanese people and having to pinch myself.”
‘I DIDN’T WANT ANY PART OF IT’
And to think, Murton hesitated to answer God’s call to east Asia.
“At first I said I didn’t want any part of it,” he said. “My wife Stefani, she knew way before I did that this is where we were supposed to be.”
Looking back, Stefani can see how God’s plan was perfect for the Murtons, including their son Micah (now 22 months) and new daughter Macie, who was born last April in Osaka.
“I just think that everything that happened while we were there made it so apparent that that was where God wanted us to be,” Stefani said. “We had an English speaking doctor. They took such good care of Macie on top of taking care of me.”
Still, the journey to Japan was quite a culture shock. Growing up in a Christian home in Fort Lauderdale, Murton was saved at an early age, moving to Georgia at 14, before playing baseball at Georgia Tech. His success on the field created a natural platform to proclaim the Gospel.
But nothing could prepare him for the opportunity at Osaka-Jo Hall. Sure, he’s played baseball in front of larger crowds and screaming fans. But on an eternal scale, this was bigger. Much bigger.
On that night it was just him, a microphone, a translator, thousands of eager Japanese hearts.
And, of course, the Holy Spirit working in the midst of it all.
“While I’d shared my testimony before and done FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athlete) groups and stuff, I was never in a position to do something to that magnitude,” Murton said. “And so just to see how God had worked – feeling so ill-equipped – to give you the peace and the confidence to try to get up there and do it.
“He will equip you in those moments. Those moments you feel inadequate, He will walk beside you and He did that and He showed up in a real way for me that weekend.”
Murton continues to pray for the people of Japan and plans to return to the Hanshin Tigers for the 2011 season, looking forward to the great things God may have in store for him.
“I’m very excited about this year. I know Christ has us there for another year. We’re hoping for more and more opportunity to share Christ. I’m hoping that Franklin Graham Festival was the beginning of something that’s going to really start to transform that country.”