“I Want to Return to Those Days”

By Mike McGinty, OMF International missionary to Japan, Project Manager, Iwate Prefecture Relief Project

The dawn had just broken as I walked alone with my thoughts on the frozen ground near the Kamaishi harbor, surveying the unimaginable destruction that seemed incongruous to the promise of a beautiful new day. Overturned cars, large ships beached on the shore, twisted train tracks, heaps of mud, empty foundations where houses once stood, roads plowed through the piles of rubbish everywhere testified of the power of an ocean that had swept across several coastal towns in northern Honshu caused by the earthquake on March 11th.

One particular item caught my eye: an old 45 rpm record. I had not seen one in several years, so I wiped off the mud revealing the title of the song in English, “I Want to Return to Those Days.” As I stood there quietly in the midst of so much sadness, this song, written in another era, seemed to represent the heart cry of the survivors who were trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Our team of six, assisted by John Elliot and Martin Ghent, had traveled from Sapporo to assist people in returning to those days, but our efforts seemed feeble in light of the enormous needs. Loved ones who were missing were unlikely to return home. Possessions and homes that were destroyed would not be easily replaced. Community life would never be the same again. Previous plans and dreams had been swept away by the tsunami and were now subject to a new, harsh reality.

A life of waiting in lines for gasoline, food and basic necessities was the new “normal.” Sleepless nights in evacuation centers with hundreds of others on hard wooden floors, dealing with constant mud, cold, frequent aftershocks and lack of personal hygiene would only serve to intensify the longing for those days that would never return. While it was hard to witness so much personal loss, we were struck even further by the lack of evangelical churches in the areas that had been hit the hardest by the tsunami.

We came for a few days with our shovels to clear away the debris and cooked food to feed the hungry, but who would stay behind to feed souls and share about the God of hope who alone can rebuild broken lives? Even if these people could somehow return to those days of the past, their most critical need would remain unmet as they needed to return to the God who created them. Herein lays the greater challenge we must face as a mission while we continue to do what we can to minister to immediate physical needs. The God who pleaded with his people: “Now return to me, and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7), desires the same for the Japanese who cannot return to those days of the past. May God use us all in the coming days to offer help and hope to those in need.

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