Japanese artist's exhibit reflects gratitude

Baptist Press
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Posted: Mar 09, 2012 6:22 PM
Japanese artist's exhibit reflects gratitude
OFUNATO, Japan (BP) -- An abstract piece of pottery -- a lopsided hurricane lamp with holes letting out the inner light -- sits in the middle of the art exhibit.

The artist, Shiro Ogasawara, beams as he points to it and explains it was in the kiln when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan on March 11, 2011. The tsunami waves came soon after, wiping out most of the Japanese town of Ofunato and washing his kiln away. He found it months later, blocks from his destroyed home and buried in mud, with just a few items intact.

Surrounding the lamp in the exhibit are pieces Shiro has made post-tsunami to offer encouragement to his community. One drawing depicts the Chinese year of the dragon and says, "Let's hang in there this year and do our best." Another dragon drawing is meant for the entire world, specifically the Tohoku Care ministry of the International Mission Board, saying, "We are thankful for your help and support."

"For each phase of our recovery process, Tohoku Care has been there for us," the retired schoolteacher and community leader says about the IMB's Japan disaster response ministry.

"Initially, our emotions went up and down," Shiro says, noting that Ofunato lost around 460 people in the disaster. "I was depressed but received encouragement through the prayers of volunteers. Looking back, meeting Tohoku Care was God's leading to bring us together."

IMB missionaries first met Shiro and his wife Ritoko when they were delivering relief supplies such as clothes, toilet paper and blankets. The couple was standing outside their temporary one-room home when the Tohoku Care van pulled over and the couple was asked if they needed anything. The Ogawasaras had a tent set up as a distribution site for their neighborhood and quickly became the contact point for IMB relief efforts in Ofunato.

"The first time Tohoku Care came, they asked if they could pray. It made my wife cry," Shiro remembers. "Every time they came, she wanted them to pray. Because of her tears, I knew she needed emotional care as well as physical."

Ritoko says those prayers eased the pain in her heart and helped her start moving forward. The couple invited Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams working through Tohoku Care into their home for tea as a way to say thanks. Ritoko served them in cups Shiro dug out of the rubble from their old house. The visits meant so much to the couple that Shiro drew diagrams of where the workers sat and wrote their names. The diagrams decorate their wall.

"We'll never forget the relationships we have made. When people hear the name Tohoku Care, something warm rises in their hearts. We will never forget the help that we have received," Ritoko says. "If we didn't have this disaster, I would never have met Lana . The disaster brought us together."

IMB missionary Lana Oue pats her friend on the hand in appreciation. She and her husband Tak have spent a lot of time sitting around the table with the Ogasawaras. Their relationship has advanced in the last year from simply providing relief supplies to friendship to sharing stories from the Bible.

"Several meetings back, our friends brought us a New Testament," Shiro says. "I opened it and read it and asked, 'What does it mean?'"

Shiro's art now reflects what he reads from his new Bible. He points to a drawing of cherry blossoms. He felt cherished and loved after reading 1 Corinthians 13:13 and drew the flowers. He takes the drawing off the wall and hands it to Tak and asks the Oues to explain the passage.

The men pull out their matching yellow New Testaments and start a deep discussion. Shiro marks the verse with a red pen and jots down a few notes so he can go back to it later when he has more time to think and contemplate.

Lana says the Ogasawaras have not made a decision to follow Jesus but have taken the first steps, studying the Bible and asking questions. In the hardest-hit tsunami areas, missionaries say less than 1 percent regard themselves as evangelical Christians.

The Oues pray their friends will one day share the Gospel with their neighbors and fellow tsunami survivors. In the meantime, the missionaries continue to share stories from the Bible and help the Ogasawaras meet the physical and emotional needs of their neighborhood.

A knock at the door interrupts the impromptu Bible study. A woman walks in with a bag of fresh fish for the Oues. She saw the Tohoku Care van and came to offer a gift of thanks for all of the organization's help this year.

Ritoko watches the exchange and can't help but smile at the friends who give her glimpses of Jesus' love through cleaning up rubble, providing for their physical needs, lending a listening ear and other acts of Christian service.

Susie Rain is an International Mission Board writer based in Asia. For more stories on Japan's recovery and what Southern Baptists are doing, go to http://www.asiastories.com.

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