Following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, empty foundations were a familiar sight along the 500-kilometer (310 miles) stretch of devastated coastline where bustling towns and villages once stood. Over several months, mountains of debris caused by the tsunami were painstakingly removed, and the only remaining evidence of prior human habitation was thousands of vacant concrete slabs.
Vegetation slowly took over and the seemingly empty fields eventually began to appear like ancient archeological ruins from a previous civilization. Long stretches of collapsed sea walls offered muted testimony to their failure to protect against the destructive forces of nature.
Most survivors of this massive disaster were relocated to hastily assembled temporary housing units further inland on higher ground. There, they stoically waited for months and then years for the return of normalcy and some form of permanence. Each community worked to develop master plans for rebuilding and renewal as they struggled to recover from the past and yet still dreamed of future prospects.
As part of this transition process, temporary buildings sprang up everywhere, almost like weeds, providing a variety of badly needed services.
Temporary grocery stores, gas stations, drinking establishments, restaurants, local shops, business offices, clinics, police stations and even a public bath dotted the landscape. Some businesses reopened on the top floors of badly damaged structures that would later be demolished. All of this served as a constant reminder that we lived in the midst of a deeply stricken community desperately struggling to survive.
Living in this prefab world made us thirst for things of a permanent and even eternal nature. Treading carefully among the rubble of people’s lives, our thoughts often lifted heavenward as we began to “look forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10 NIV).
Much like our spiritual father Abraham and other heroes of the faith, the temporary nature of things characterizing our lives reminds us daily of heavenly realities that yet await us. Those empty foundations represent the past, but they also serve as a powerful reminder of greater things that are only visible through eyes of faith. That’s the city we should seek in the midst of life’s storms.
By Mike, an OMF missionary
What part has God given you in building his eternal kingdom in Japan?