Jeff Mensendiek is a mission worker with the United Church of Christ of Japan, and a former seminary classmate of mine. He works at the Emmaus Center in Sendai, where the tsunami hit last spring . He writes a blog about his mission with young people who come to the area to do clean up, and one of his recent posts caught my attention.
It told of a woman caught between the desire to help her neighbors and her own need to collect belongings from her home ahead of the approaching tsunami. Jeff writes,
…I visited with Mrs. Takahashi in Tsukiyama near our Ishinomaki Relief Center… Mrs. Takahashi still cannot sleep well at night. She shared with us that right after the earthquake, she rushed outside and agreed to evacuate with the mother and 20 year old daughter across the street. Mrs. Takahashi told them to wait as she rushed into the house to get something. In her confusion, she took too much time, and before she knew it the tsunami had reached her doorstep. So she rushed to the second floor balcony only to witness the mother and daughter being swept away by the tsunami. Feelings of guilt still cause her to have anxiety attacks. Ours is a daily ministry of presence; accompaniment on the long road to recovery.
I see this story as a sad parable about the effect that loss has on us as humans. We are caught between our own grief and the needs of others, and sometimes we simply freeze in our confusion and anxiety.
Many years ago, just before I graduated from seminary, I had a dream one night that I was standing on a beach and a tidal wave was approaching me. I knew it was too late to run, but I turned around and saw a woman, a stranger, standing near me. I reached over and held out my empty hand, which she took in hers, and together we waited for the wave to hit land. I interpreted the dream to mean that, whatever happened in life, the first goal should be connection, not self protection.
It is tempting for a church facing loss to turn inward and abandon the neighbor outside. We may reach a point where we feel we have nothing left to give, and can only care for ourselves and our tiny band of members. I would hope that every church, no matter how small or close to death, would find ways to reach out to the neighbor, even when we feel we have empty hands–nothing left to give.
It is God, after all, who does the giving.
To learn more about Jeff’s ministry in Sendai, check out this link. And please keep the people of Japan in your prayers.