The Widow from Ishinomaki

Eric Takamoto, Asian Access/Japan Missionary

Mrs. S. is a widow who lives in the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture. She had recently lost her eldest daughter to illness and was making a go of it with the help of her middle daughter. She was getting by all right until the tsunami of 3/11 took that daughter from her. She has one remaining daughter, a journalist in Tokyo, and it is from her that we first heard this story.

After Mrs. S. finally recovered her middle daughter’s body a week after the tsunami, they were busy with funeral preparations. Mrs. S. knelt before the family altar where her daughter’s memorial items were freshly laid and quietly prayed. She apologized to this daughter for all the trouble she had caused by having her stay with her and the suffering that had befallen her. She made this solemn promise; “I will be with you soon. I need to take care of the funeral arrangements so please wait a little longer.”

It was about that time that Christian volunteers first made contact with her. They were looking for a place to distribute supplies in a previously untouched community. She asked them to stage the distribution right on her property, which they gratefully did, and it quickly became a center of hope for that little neighborhood. Since that day volunteers, including many from Asian Access, have had numerous occasions to show God’s love to her and her neighbors through barbecues, cleaning mud out of street gutters, and fixing up homes, as well as just sitting and chatting. It was during one of these conversations that Mrs. S. was first able to share about her personal tragedy and for the first time since the disaster felt free to cry being surrounded by people who loved her. She has now taken it upon herself to look after her community and she routinely takes walks around her neighborhood just to check up on people.

Her surviving daughter conveyed her gratitude for how much her mom has changed in heart in ways that have been hidden to most outsiders. Recently, she shared that her mom has prayed a different prayer; “Daughter, I am so sorry that I cannot be with you. I have found a purpose for living.”

One thing that we have seen throughout this experience is that it is in our deepest sorrows where the depth of God’s love can be truly realized. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life… neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,29).

We continue to marvel at the Lord’s work in people’s lives, and the symbols of hope that remind us of His presence with us.

Mrs. S.’ husband (who died several years ago) had planted a special donguri (oak) tree in the yard for their grandchildren to enjoy. The tsunami had killed it, down to the last root. When a previous team was there working, they had chopped down the dead trees and dug out the roots. Eric checked to make sure it was really dead, and it was. When the daughter saw that the roots were dead, she laid down her head and cried. It had obviously meant a great deal to her.

I was moved by the importance of this tree. I searched and was able to find a similar oak tree on the Internet, which he had shipped to our volunteer base in Ishinomaki. Upon its arrival, a team of volunteers showed up at Mrs. S.’s home, tree in tow, and planted it where the previous one had been. This is her way of communicating cross-culturally:  “It’s great! Awesome! Thanks!”  It is so worth whatever the cost may be if we can bring the light and the love of Jesus to these people. And now, a new tree of hope grows in Ishinomaki.