Pray and Serve

By Keith Olson

Last summer, Celia and Keith Olson, first-term OMF International missionaries to Japan, had the opportunity to go to Miyako and give out relief supplies, pray for and simply be with the survivors of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Below are some slices of life as recorded by Keith in his journal.

August 5, 2011

We left in the morning and traveled all day from Tokyo through Sendai to Morioka on the Shinkansen (bullet train). There is no designated place for cello-sized luggage, so I stuffed my instruments behind the last row and attempted to apologize to the people there because I was not only taking their luggage space but the fat cellos made it impossible for them to recline their seats. I probably sounded something like this: “Big cello … pain in the rear … very sorry … can’t … impossible … very sorry.” After that uncomfortable episode, the rest of the journey went fairly smoothly.

We stayed in a building that was just out of reach of the tsunami. A few blocks down the road, we saw watermarks seven feet high. A few more blocks down the road, there was a gas station ripped to pieces. A few more blocks down the road, there’s nothing more than the empty foundations, similar to a graveyard in feeling and appearance.

Our primary work is running a mobile cafe. We make food, pack the cafe van, pray, drive, set up tents, tables and chairs, pray, wait, serve food and drinks under the atmosphere of Celia’s cello and violada gamba music, talk and be with Japanese people, repack cafe and return home.

August 8, 2011

Today, everything reminded me to pray and I took every moment to pray. The barren house foundations, the old ladies bent over with age, the neatly groomed gardens next to the sidewalk. Even if I have zero ability to speak in Japanese, I can pray for these people. Always pray.

August 10, 2011

Celia played at a school today for about 11 children. Afterwards, she let each one play the small viola da gamba. They all had this look of wonder as if they were holding something magical; I wonder how many of them are asking their parents for music lessons now.

August 12, 2011

We talked with our team leaders until late in the evening about death and counseling in the Japanese context. In their time here, they have heard some incredible survival stories, including a family that jumped out of their car while it was being swept away and were able to hold on to some trees until the wave passed. They talked with another man who climbed up a telephone poll as the wave swept underneath. Often, these stories are followed by guilt for surviving or fear of where they might relive the experience.

August 17, 2011

Today was the last cafe. It was raining so hard that we had to use an indoor community center area. Our main problems were getting airflow into the stuffy room and dealing with the muddy shoes. A crowd of children came in around lunchtime, grabbed some food and went off to a tatami room, where the boys played card games and the girls did a sort of sticker drawing diary.

I didn’t get to talk to them much before they went off, so instead I went to go organize their shoes in Japanese fashion (in Japan, you turn your guests’ shoes so that they are easier to slip on while leaving). While I was turning their muddy little shoes, I felt an overwhelming gratitude to be in this place serving like this. Tears came to my eyes. Serving and showing the love of Jesus to the children of Japan was one of the main ways God confirmed my calling to Japan.

When the children came back for second helpings, I hid behind the table, pretending to grab some more cakes from the box while I wept. I’m not sure if these were tears of gratitude for being able to serve or tears of sorrow for all that these people have had to endure this disaster.

When the rain let up, I went outside. From the vantage of the temporary housing units, there was a stunning scene of clouds rising from the green hills, below which were mounds of garbage and cleared lots. The contrast of beauty and destruction, nature and industry, was very present to me.

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