Surrounded by picturesque rice fields, on the far eastern edge of Sendai is the sleepy suburb of Gamo. When the massive earthquake and tsunami struck just off the coast of Sendai in March 2011, coastal suburbs like Gamo were inundated with waters reaching over nine metres in height.
In the months following the disaster, the OMF-led Sendai Evangelical Christian Church plunged into finding creative ways to love the tsunami survivors around Gamo and share the gospel with them. Eventually a property in the area was purchased and the Gamo Mission Station was established, headed up by the church evangelist, Tadamitsu. Together I’ve been helping him run a variety of regular outreach events for the neighbourhood.
It has been a huge learning experience, as this ministry is largely oriented towards a demographic I have had very little experience with—the elderly. This is because the area is rural and younger generations usually move away to the cities for work, leaving behind a greying population.
To my surprise those who came to our events had a great love of craft activities. Decorations made out of dried pressed flowers, cookie decorations, and cooking classes have all be popular events. Singing Christian hymns has also been an unexpected hit.
With many of their adult children now living far away, loneliness is a common issue. To be available to chat with them seems to fill a felt need. Bringing along our young children also helps remind them of their own grandchildren, which is brings them joy.
In the midst of fun times we have together, it is easy to forget these are survivors of a massive disaster which swept away their suburb. Only recently did I discover that one participant lost a family member in the tsunami. How many other untold stories of sadness are there?
However, there are many challenges to this ministry in this area. Suspicion about Christianity mixed with a ‘small village atmosphere’ means that sometimes family members and neighbours will subtly or not-so-subtly pressure people to stop coming. One time a neighbour went to a participant’s home and made a show of ripping up one of our fliers in front of her to show their displeasure of our existence in the neighbourhood.
But most challenging is the sense of urgency which comes from the knowledge that many of the participants are not far from eternity. On more than a few occasions we have been shocked to discover a participant suddenly passed away a few days earlier.
Praise God for the opportunities we’ve had connecting with locals so far. May God establish his church in Gamo amongst people who know all too clearly how fleeting life can be.
Written by Andrew.