Japan Disaster Response Team Coordinator reports


Dear Friends and Family,

I have been inspired by what I have witnessed in the first two weeks of my short-term missions trip to Japan. Matthew 22:37-40 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” I have witnessed the love of God’s people in action as they served without expecting anything in return.   

I arrived at Narita International Airport without incident on Friday, Sept. 16, and after a three-hour bus ride I arrived at John Mehn’s missionary house in Machida city, northwest of Metropolitan Tokyo. John and his wife Elaine have been Converge Worldwide missionaries in Japan for 26 years. They are naturally fluent in Japanese. Their 29-year-old son Tim is currently visiting them for several months and has volunteered to go on mission trips to the Tohoku region, where the tsunami took lives and devastated communities.

John, Tim and I were joined by two California Christian brothers, Rob Wright, a Sgt. with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office, and Jon Coulter, an architect from Santa Maria. We were immediately dubbed the “West Coast” team. I could not have dreamed up two better brothers to share the experience of helping the victims of the Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, or 3/11 (what the Japanese are calling it for short). After an eight-hour uneventful drive north on the Tohoku Expressway, we arrived at the Samaritan’s Purse – Tome Base. Although I have never been to boot camp, the base reminded me of one. It consisted of a large meeting room separated into three compartments, a dining hall, a 40-man sleeping quarters and a 20-woman sleeping quarters. Portable showers and toilets were available just outside. The best part of the base was the on-demand, continuous hot water for showers.

The food was simple but delicious. After the blessing, the ladies were always first. Otherwise, there would be nothing left for them after 40 to 50 hungry guys went through the line.

The Quonset hut by itself is the field kitchen, and the two Quonset huts in the photo to the right are only for the skilled laborers (carpenters), who either volunteered to work for months at a time or signed on as paid staff with Samaritan’s Purse for six months. They have the luxury of having separate sleeping quarters.

John Mehn was the director of Converge Worldwide’s Japan mission when 3/11 changed the landscape of Japan forever. He is now the director Japan Disaster Response, among other titles. God immediately gave him a vision to reach those in the Tohoku region by being willing to do anything without asking for anything in return. The first few attempts to help the victims were met with suspicion. John had to overcome a number of Japanese stereotypes about American labor being of poor quality. During the course of making more than six individual trips, John refined and focused his efforts. He located a small community where the people were trying to salvage their two-story homes. Although the second stories were livable, the first floors were completely ruined by contaminated mud.

John Mehn teamed up with Dean Bengtson, a missionary from the Lutheran Brethren International Mission and a journeyman carpenter, and local Baptist pastor Hajime Abe. Dean is the overall “mudding” supervisor, John is the on-site foreman of volunteers from the States and from Japan, and Pastor Abe is a conduit for much-needed supplies and equipment.

All three provide words of encouragement and are always ready to put the hammer aside to pray with the people. Their work has been so thorough that they are now in great demand. Samaritan’s Purse leaves them alone to work independently.

Mr. and Mrs. Katahira of Urayashiki area of Ishinomaki city are a typical family that has been helped by Dean’s “mudding” crew. Too exhausted to remove the contaminated mud from their house, and unable to pay for professional workers, they reluctantly allowed strangers into their house to tear out everything on the first floor except the foundation and supporting beams. Another crew initially mudded the house, but the Katahiras were not satisfied. Through a family member they heard about Dean and his mudding crew.

This is where I and the West Coast team come into the picture. We returned to the Katahiras’ house and re-mudded. Before we were finished, three neighbors invited us into their homes to mud their houses. During the first week we were renamed from the “West Coast” team to the “Snack Time” team by volunteers who came to be part of our team. Mrs. Katahira and her neighbors were so pleased with us that they insisted that we have a morning and afternoon snack breaks. It just seemed as if we would only work for an hour and it would be break time. I have to admit, I did not protest much because I was certain all of you back home would want me to be a team player. By the time our two weeks were up, we had made permanent friends and people willing to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Katahiras were home when the 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit. After surviving the earthquake without too much damage, they were in their living room when they heard a neighbor yell “Tsunami.” Unbeknown to them, the earthquake had disabled the community’s loud speaker system set up to warn them of catastrophes such as a tsunami. When they looked outside, the wall of contaminated mud and debris some 10 feet high was rushing down their street. They live miles from the shoreline. They only had seconds to run upstairs to save their lives. They were stranded without food or drinking water for 48 hours. By the third day, the muddy water had receded enough so that they could scavenge their refrigerator, now on its side near the front door, for anything to eat.

“Mudding” became so symbolic for me of what sin can do. Everyday sin is like dust that accumulates in an average home. We continue to clean the areas open to the public, but the dust keeps accumulating underneath the beds, in closets and under the sink.

Yas having fun on his first day of “mudding.”

The house appears clean but in reality it is getting dirtier and dirtier. This is such a drastic oversimplification, but it seems to me as if the Japanese as a society kept the appearance of cleanliness while the dust was accumulating in their closed closets. They saw no need to allow friends, let alone strange foreigners, to look under their furniture and behind closed doors for dust. All this changed with the catastrophic tsunami. Now the contaminated, sewer-infested mud had found every nook and cranny in the house. Drastic circumstances required a drastic response.

This unprecedented event has forced the Japanese to open their homes and receive help from outsiders. Christians and concerned citizens from Japan, United States and all over the world have labored to mud-out the homes, in the hopes the Japanese might be willing to listen to the salvation message of Jesus Christ. As this photo attests, it is working. We pray with our families when we arrive, during meals and at the end of each day.

The four Japanese families, volunteers from Converge Worldwide, Lutheran Brethren International Mission, SEND International of Japan and Pastor Hajime Abe of Ishinomaki House of Prayer joined hands and prayed on our last day of work. Through your prayers and financial support you are all participants in the miraculous work God is doing right now in the Tohoku region of Japan.

Thank you,

Your humble Wilderness Scout (Senior Grade), Yas Yoneda

    Point - September 2018

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