The stories brought tears to his eyes.
A woman swept up in the tsunami’s surging tide struggled to hold her baby above her head. As she happened to come up from under the water, she noticed a railing not far ahead, took one hand off the baby, and clung for dear life.
Somehow she found the strength to pull herself and her child out of the water and climbed up three flights of stairs to safety. They survived there for three days with no food, no water and no heat. Close to freezing and starving, mother and baby were rescued just in time.
Another woman caught up in the flood could hear her parents calling her name: “I kept yelling, ‘I’m here! I’m here!’ but they disappeared in the tsunami. It was devastating.”
Listening to their stories, Dennis Agajanian couldn’t help being moved. The world-renowned acoustic guitar player and longtime BGEA crusade performer just returned from Sendai, Japan, where he spent several weeks conducting guitar workshops and performing at churches.
It’s all part of preparation for the March 2-4 Tohoku Celebration of Hope with Franklin Graham.
Agajanian explains: “Years ago, when we were in San Diego, Ruth Bell Graham set the precedent. She wondered what could be done in the daytime before Billy preached. She suggested I go to parks and colleges to play and invite people to the crusade.
“From then on, we always heralded Mr. Graham coming—a little like John the Baptist—said Mrs. Graham.”
It’s a role he has loved playing in Japan for Franklin.
“It was an honor to go and be a spoke on the wheel,” says Agajanian, “to love the people, not just by word and tongue, but also in deed and truth. To talk with them and care for them, and to communicate with them.”
He says the people he met weren’t vocal about what they are going through. “The Japanese people have a lot of resilience—they are very kind and humble.”
Part of his time was spent leading guitar workshops for groups of 18 to 20 in various locations. Agajanian was amazed at how quickly his students learned. “I would demonstrate for about 30 seconds, and immediately they picked it up. I had a young man, 22 years old, that I led to the Lord—he is a genius on guitar.”
According to Agajanian, the Japanese have a great respect for history and the arts. “When you are doing something from Bach and introducing ‘Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring,’ that is a good witness. And after teaching them for four hours, once you gain respect for what you do, they listen to you.”
Along with several Japanese songs that he recently learned for the concerts, Agajanian played bluegrass and some classic hymns, then he shared the Gospel. More than 700 people responded to the Good News, with 400 indicating they prayed to accept Christ for the first time, which is “pretty remarkable” considering that Christians comprise less than one percent of the population in Japan.
Agajanian says that the hearts of the Japanese people were open because they remembered that within weeks of the earthquake, Franklin Graham packed a 747 jet and flew to Japan with 94 tons of supplies. “That said a lot to them. It meant the world to these people.”
Remembering March 11, 2011, when the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami ravaged the Sendai area, Agajanian says he was on the phone with the man he considers to be his best friend. “When I called Franklin, he told me right away he wanted to respond. He didn’t call a meeting or fly to Japan and take pictures and come back, but he immediately got right on it, sending relief.”
When Graham preaches in Sendai March 2-4, Agajanian will “play John the Baptist” one more time. “As musicians, we want to prepare the people for Franklin as he preaches the Gospel. It will be a little different than other Festivals. These people just went through a horrific tsunami a year ago and we will be respectful and sensitive.
“It’s a time for Japan to heal. We want to encourage them and try to bless them.”
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