by Nicole M. (with Monika A.), Japan outreach participant
Small, boxy, metal houses stood out in rows along the flat blacktop. The summer sun glared hot and harsh. Pots of flowers and vegetables decorated the doorsteps–the residents' personal touch to make their temporary houses in Iwaki, Japan feel more like home. They had lost their own homes in last year's tsunami.
Some of these temporary communities feel gentler — like the one we visited yesterday the was made up of wooden box-houses, situated near trees and greenery.
But in many of these temporary communities, something was lacking — real community and vibrant life.
The Global Mission Center, one of the ministries we worked with, offers activities to residents to help promote community life. Activities like Tai Chi classes, handicraft classes, and cafe hours combat loneliness and isolation.
One of my favorite activities to help with was the cafe. While some of us set out beverages and snacks at the central community building, the rest of the team ventured into the community to invite people to the cafe (that is, the volunteers who spoke Japanese invited them!). Once people arrived, we mingled, sharing interpreters and doing our best to overcome the language barrier. Sharing photos of our families was a big hit! It brought such joy to see people sharing life together.
Not everyone we invited to the cafe would come, though.
We had gone down several rows of houses, knocking on each door and inviting people. We stopped at the home of an elderly couple and invited them to the cafe. The volunteers had a long conversation with them, but it was clear this couple didn't want to join us.
“They lived near the nuclear plant when it exploded,” one of the volunteers translated. “They are afraid they are infected. They said they don't want to spread radiation to anyone else.”
“I wish they knew this wasn't true, but they won't believe otherwise,” our friend said.
It was so sad to see that this couple would only stay in their home, imprisoned by the fear of causing harm to others. We stayed with them while one of the volunteers hurried to the cafe to bring them some refreshments. Another volunteer, an artist, painted a bag for the couple. We visited for a time and then prayed with them before we left.
I was glad that even though we could not convince them to leave their home, we could provide them with some socialization and encouragement.
It has been a year since the tsunami devastated this area — I am still moved by how profoundly it continues to impact the lives of so many people, especially this couple who have made such sacrifice to keep their neighbors safe.