As their footsteps echoed down the empty corridors of the Grande 21 Super Arena in Sendai, Japan, BGEA Festival Director Chad Hammond and one of the facility’s managers discussed how the state-of-the-art venue would be an ideal location for the Tohoku Celebration of Hope this March.
Suddenly, the pair stopped in front of a large open space, and Hammond asked the man about the months following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami: “Is it true this facility served as an emergency morgue?”
The manager’s countenance changed. His professional, businesslike demeanor fell away, and his voice seemed to crack. “You could tell he was working through post-traumatic stress issues,” said Hammond. “He told me, ‘We’re not morticians. I was never trained how to deal with families like that. They would come here, and I had to help them find their loved ones’ bodies. I had no training for that.’
“You could tell the whole staff at this venue had been traumatized by having to go through the experience,” Hammond added.
Such lingering trauma is not unusual, even a year later, and that’s exactly why Franklin Graham will bring a message of hope to Sendai—in the very location that served as a national morgue—on March 2, 3 and 4.
“Now God can redeem the place,” said Hammond. “We can go back to the ground and reclaim it for life.
“In the future, it won’t be known for once serving as a morgue. It will be known for the Celebration of Hope, where Franklin Graham proclaimed the Gospel and many Japanese received eternal life in Jesus Christ.”
“We will be there the week before this anniversary date,” Franklin Graham said during a recent television taping, “to preach and to proclaim the Gospel; to give the people of Japan an opportunity to make a choice, a choice for change. Their hearts and their destiny can be changed for eternity by putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.”
Graham acknowledged that ministering on the anniversary won’t be easy: “This is going to be tough, because this is not just a Crusade or a Festival. This is really a one-year anniversary memorial service.
“We need to be sensitive to the loss of life there in Sendai,” Graham added. “But at the same time, we will be bold as we present Jesus Christ as the Lord of lords and the King of kings. We pray that the hearts of the Japanese people will be open to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Extending the Reach
The churches in Sendai and the surrounding communities, known collectively as the Tohoku region, are busy preparing for the fast-approaching Celebration. Although the event will be held at the Grande 21 Arena, just outside the central city, it will be broadcast via satellite to four other areas: Aomori, Iwate, Yamagata and Fukushima. “All of Tohoku will be dialed in to Sendai and what’s happening,” said Hammond.
Currently, people in the additional four cities are mobilizing local churches and preparing for counseling and follow-up. The Celebration team is working on finding venues, such as city halls or churches, where people will gather to watch the simulcast.
To get the word out in remote areas, the team has partnered with relief agencies, such as Samaritan’s Purse, which are helping homeowners. “The groups will go in and do a mud-out of a house and while they are there, they will give them literature and tell the homeowner about the Franklin Graham Celebration,” Hammond explained.
In Sendai itself, people are learning about the Celebration through Operation Andrew, a simple plan where friends identify 10 friends and family members who do not know Jesus Christ. They then pray for these people, find ways to nurture their relationships with them, and invite them to attend the event.
Additionally, the team has mobilized churches in the inner city of Sendai, organized rallies to raise awareness, and hosted a large youth retreat over the Christmas holiday. A major prayer meeting will take place on the 29th of January.
“Everything we’re doing here is fairly unique,” said Hammond. “We’re also putting out a call to other cities in Japan to invite volunteers to come to Sendai and help serve with ushering, security, the choir and parking lot security.”
According to Hammond, Christians across Japan have responded wholeheartedly to this opportunity for ministry. He knows two people who moved from Hong Kong to minister in Sendai. Another relocated from New Zealand. “A lot of Christian organizations and ministries have moved into Sendai,” Hammond added. “I remember a year ago saying, ‘We really have the opportunity to do something for the Gospel and for the Kingdom,’ and you are seeing some of that.
“You can sense that the country right now is really getting ready for this one-year anniversary,” said Hammond. “Everybody is talking about it, and we are praying for a major move of God.”
On March 11 itself, the Celebration team and the Executive Committee will host a memorial service in Sendai at a local school with about 2,000 people; Franklin Graham will send a special video message. The national memorial service will take place in Tokyo.
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