To See Grown Men Cry . . .

August 2011

Raymund To, Asian Access/Japan Missionary

As I looked around at the loss and the destruction, I found myself speechlessly shaking my head, not knowing where to begin. Remembering back to some of the images and videos I’d seen in the news while still in the States, I could only think that it didn’t do it justice. Seeing the destruction that the earthquake and tsunami left behind, I was left imagining the enormous power of it all, and it gave me gut-wrenching thoughts of what it was like to experience firsthand . . .

But in the midst of the pain, the suffering, the loss, and the destruction, the resiliency and strength of the people of Tohoku really struck me. It didn’t matter how big the task ahead was, they were going to keep working at it, and they were going to conquer it. Amidst the devastation left by the waves of the tsunami, a new wave of hope and determination was coming over the region.

Their determination never ceased to amaze me. Countless times we were told that our help wasn’t needed. Countless times we were told that others were in greater need, and were encouraged to help them first. Countless times, I was completely floored by their demonstration of strength and pride.

We encountered a lot of people over the course of the summer, but a few instances in particular really grabbed a hold of me. On some of our workdays, we were met with stone-faced and determined older Japanese men who would look us dead in the eye and tell us, “We’re ok. We don’t need any help. We can take care of ourselves.” But being stubborn Americans who don’t take no for an answer, we reasoned with them to allow us to just do a little bit here and there.

Over the next several hours, continuing to “just do a little bit here and there,” I caught glimpses of transformation taking place. Hard and proud faces slowly turned softer, filled with amazement and thankfulness, as overwhelming tasks were being completed seemingly with ease by our team of volunteers. Moreover, their determined insisting that our help wasn’t needed slowly turned into humble invitations for additional work and specific instructions being barked out for how the work was to be done.

As the workdays came to a close, the pain, hardship, and emotion which had been pushed down deep by these strong and proud men seemed to work their way to the surface. There was no more suppressing them or covering them up. As expressions of gratitude streamed from their mouths, they began to stream from their eyes as well. Proud, strong, composed Japanese men overcome with the feeling of not being alone, the feeling of not having to show no fear or pain, the feeling of being cared for, the feeling of God’s love.

For me, in that time and in that place, this was the epitome of sharing the love of God. I’m glad we were able to help with the clean up. I’m glad we were able to pray over them at the end of the day. I’m glad that on occasion, we were able to tell them more about who we were, what we were doing, and why we were there. But what I’ll remember most is walking up to these men after a hard day’s work, giving them a firm handshake, looking them square in their emotion-filled eyes, and without saying a word, telling them “God loves you.”