When the tsunami hit on March 11th, 2011 Mr. Ohtaki was 67 and living in Hokkaido. He was not yet a Christian, but was attending church. By God’s grace he was saved and baptized in October that year.
He was moved by the havoc that the tsunami had wreaked and wrestled with whether he should volunteer or learn more about Jesus first. He decided to study the Bible first and God opened a way for him to attend Hokkaido Bible Institute (HBI) for a year.
Would he be able to cope with the demands of studying after having been baptized just six months before? He didn’t get much sleep that year, with a 2 ½ hour commute to HBI as well as homework and preparation for classes. But with God’s help, and the encouragement of teachers and fellow students he graduated in March 2013.
In the spring of 2014 Mr. Ohtaki and three other men from his church in Otaru (near Sapporo) went for a week as volunteers in the disaster area. They all felt that one week was far too short.
A year later God spurred him on to commit himself for longer. He was asked if he would help for two months to set up a new non-profit organization (NPO) called Ippo Ippo Iwate (Ippo Ippo means ‘step by step’). As he was a widower with adult children in other parts of Japan, Mr. Ohtaki felt free to move 600 km south.
Two months turned into two years. As he was planning to return home after Christmas 2015, they were told that the Ippo Ippo’s prefab café had to be moved to a different location. Mr. Ohtaki and the staff had never dreamed this could happen.
But God, of course, was not taken by surprise.
Mr. Ohtaki was God’s man for this special time. God saved him five years earlier, prepared him spiritually, and now an opportunity had come to use his professional skills. Mr. Ohtaki had been a civil engineer for over 40 years. He was God’s man!
God did one miracle after another. One of the regular guests at the café introduced Mr. Ohtaki to the present location, right in the centre of town. It was not only ideal for the café, but also perfect as a meeting place for the newly started Sanriku Nozomi (Hope) Church.
Mr. Ohtaki noted other blessings God gave:
- All expenses were met through God’s people from within Japan and abroad
- A reliable moving company
- A cross was fixed on the top of the building showing the way to the only Saviour
- Bureaucratic delays allowed time for renovation
- Opportunities to explain to town officials what Ippo Ippo stands for
- A strong typhoon flooded the previous location after they moved
Mr. Ohtaki may have received the greatest blessing. The owner of the land that Ippo Ippo was moving to stipulated that one guarantor of the NPO had to be a resident. God pushed Mr. Ohtaki to think about his future. Would there be something for him to do as a resident of Yamada after the move had been accomplished? As he was thinking and praying he felt that God wanted him to stay long term, and if necessary to “bury his bones” in Yamada, as the Japanese say.
After becoming a local citizen, he was eligible to apply for public housing. God gave him a small local house with two bedrooms. Even if Ippo Ippo closed down one day he could still host volunteers. He wants his house to be used for house meetings in the future, too.
Now he is making new friends, using every opportunity to share Christ by introducing them to Sanriku Nozomi Church. Recently his non-believing children and grandchildren visited him for a few days. This had never happened in 30 years. He was able testify of God’s goodness to his children.
In April he moved from full-time to being a part-time worker. But whenever something goes wrong, the cry goes up: “Mr. Ohtaki, come and help!”
From Ingrid Matsumoto
This is an extract from the Ippo Ippo newsletter, Septemer 2017. Ippo Ippo is a ministry bringing practical and emotional support along with the good news of Jesus to lives devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11th 2011.
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray that Mr. Ohtaki can continue to be salt and light in the area.
- Pray for another staff member from next spring.
- Pray that God’s work in this post-disaster area will continue.