LIFE at Wheaton Bible Church

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Japan

Yuko and Kent Muhling, Caleb, Sophie, and Joshua

Even as news about the Japan earthquake and tsunami riveted the world’s attention, Wheaton Bible Church was in contact with our missionaries there—Kent and Yuko Muhling, and Brian and Margery Van Zante, as well as WBC member and teacher in Nogoya Bethany Travis. In response, WBC provided $14,000 in relief funds in coordination with our contacts and a network of Japanese churches.

The notes that follow are brief excerpts from more extensive updates from our missionaries “on the ground,” particularly Kent Muhling, who shared his personal journey as he was involved in the early days of disaster relief along Japan’s devastated coastal areas.

It is our prayer that as you read, you will be blessed and encouraged to pray for the Japanese church, for God’s restoration of lives, and that He would draw people to Himself through this catastrophe.


DAY 1
From:
Kent Muhling
Sent: Friday, March 11, 2011, 7:58 am
Subject: We’re okay!

Dear praying friends and family,

I wanted to send out a brief update to let you know we are all okay in the midst of the 8.8 [later upgraded to 9.0] earthquake that has hit the east coast of Japan. Our mission has been gathered since yesterday in the Nagano mountains, about 200 miles from the epicenter, for our annual retreat…

God’s timing is strange.  Last Saturday, I attended an all-day training to help Christians in Japan be prepared to respond in case of earthquake.  On the ride home, I was wondering how the Lord would want us to respond, but I really felt a desire to be part of relief efforts the next time a disaster struck.

I had no idea the next disaster would be one week later!…

We pray that the God of Psalm 46 will bring hope to those who right now are buried in tragedy… We have prayed for mercy, for miracles, for accounts of Japanese whose eyes are opened to the realities of His love even in the midst of this.

Love in Christ,
Kent (for both of us)


DAY 3
We continue to be amazed at the information coming in about what has happened. It is simply huge. Japan’s government takes great pains to plan for natural disasters, but this is on a magnitude that simply
cannot be managed. It is chaotic. . . .

Last night there was a second earthquake, much closer to us, and big enough to wake us up. We have heard that because of the main earthquake on 3/11, the entire landmass of Japan is unstable and there will likely continue to be earthquakes until the shifting plates in the earth’s crust have re-stabilized.
There have been numerous smaller quakes or aftershocks, some merely minutes apart. . . . Ooh, there was another one . . . .

We have a strong conviction that since we are here in Japan, we must respond in a
direct, tangible way. . . . The church in Japan is small, but the love of Christ is big! We hope and pray the Christian community in Japan and worldwide will be able to demonstrate Christ’s love to the Japanese people.


DAY 6
From: Kent Muhling
Subject: Going up to help! Please pray.

Dear praying friends and family,
Our missionary team here in Sanda got word this evening [from the group coordinating the Christian volunteer relief effort] that we’ve been invited to join a team going up to the Sendai area to set up a base camp for other volunteer groups to use when they come up to help. . . . We’ll be there for two
weeks—at least that’s the plan at this point.

Thank you for praying for all of us.
Love in Christ, Kent


DAY 11
Has it really only been 3 days since we arrived in Sendai?

…Our team is realizing that the best contribution we can make is in more long-term support of churches, equipping them and coming alongside as they begin clean-up and rebuilding, and offering church leaders and members the encouragement and spiritual care that they sorely need.

In such a time as this, who will care for a pastor when everyone expects him to care for others?
And how will we partner with churches if their leaders are stressed, depressed, and unable to imagine offering help to others? I think these visits have been as helpful as the food, water, and other items we have delivered to those in need. They are paving the way for future ministry as they get to know us and trust develops.


DAY 13
This morning we drove about 3 hours north of Sendai to the city of Kesennuma. We had heard that the evacuation centers were short on supplies such as toothbrushes and other hygiene items…

Our van load, even with the extra load on the roof rack, wasn’t enough, but it was a good start, and the folks working there were very encouraged to know that someone cared and that more were coming.

We told them we were a group of Christian volunteers who had come from various parts of the country to help because we cared about the people in the affected areas. We also told them that many Christians, in Japan, in America, and all over the world, were praying for them…

In Ofunato we visited a church and made contact with the pastor there. They were fine, but their sister church’s building was destroyed, and about half of the members are unaccounted for.

The third church we visited also runs a kindergarten, and they asked if we could get them supplies to give each of the 90 children for their graduation on Saturday. A hygiene kit is a strange present to give as a graduation present, but then this is a strange time. Imagine: “Congratulations on finishing kindergarten! Here are 5 toothbrushes, 3 razors, and some soap.”

…It makes one’s heart heavy…driving along the picturesque coastline and seeing community after community utterly destroyed. Clothes hanging 30 feet up in the trees where the wave left them. Immense piles of scrap wood that were once houses. Cars crushed under the hulls of boats, both lying in the street next to a blown-out storefront.

The only time I cried was when I was sitting in the car, trying to understand the request for supplies the evacuation center had given us. I wondered, “Why are they asking for rubber boots and backpacks?” Then I realized. . . . they wanted to walk back down the hill through the wreckage to search for their belongings, anything they could find that had not been destroyed. When I thought about what that must be like…


DAY 14
Today we went back to the evacuation center [in Kesennuma] and brought some items they had asked for— boots and shoes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, clothesline and clothespins…The Japanese self-defense force probably wouldn’t bother to look for clothespins for one evacuation center, but that’s precisely the small need that a small outfit like us can fill. And, for those families living in a school
gymnasium with no way to hang their clothes up to dry, it really matters. . . .

Before the evac center we returned to the Baptist church with the kindergarten, who had asked for supplies for the children for their graduation tomorrow (Saturday). We brought 96 hygiene kits, one for each child.

But the best part of the trip was getting to sit down with the pastor of that church, along with his wife. We drank tea and talked for about 45 minutes.He is 76, and has been a pastor for 50 years—and still going strong. It was a great, encouraging time for all of us. . . . Before we left we prayed with them, and they
both had tears in their eyes when we were finished. We all felt so good to have been able to minister to them in that way…

I’ve been thinking about what we’ve been doing up here, and it’s changing my perspective about “ministry” a little. I’ve been taught to focus on sharing the Gospel and making disciples, and rightly so, I think. But it is easy to turn that focus into an agenda that pushes out other important aspects of who I am supposed to be as a follower of Christ.


DAY 17
On Monday we delivered stuff to two evac centers in one of the very hardest hit communities
on the coast. Once again we saw a wasteland. The tsunami had rushed up the valley from the coast, almost 2 miles inland. . . . Don’t know the latest figures, but a week after the tsunami, half the residents were missing. Most of the rest are living in evacuation shelters.

Strangest sights today—a small house sitting on top of a 2-story apartment building, and a wrecked car sitting on top of a three story building…

It’s been two and a half weeks since the earthquake/tsunami, and wherever we go, gasoline is still in short supply, convenience stores have lots of empty shelves, many stores and businesses are still closed, and those that are open, close early. Far beyond the areas actually hit by the wave, recovery from this
disaster will be a long time in coming.

Yesterday Roger counted 260 cars waiting in line for gas…

Thank you once again for your prayers.
Good night.
Yours in Christ, Kent Muhling


DAY 19
As I write this I am sitting in an evacuation center in Shizugawa. There are a little over 120 people staying in the high school. There is no running water, no electricity. A generator outside provides electricity for heat, and trucks bring in water—but there is not enough to shower or bathe. Instead people are using wet
wipes of any kind to keep themselves clean each day.

Each family has their own little space, about the size of a king bed, for sitting, eating, and sleeping, and their few belongings are in boxes around them, forming a kind of wall between them and their neighbors.
As you walk down the aisle in the middle of the room, you can almost imagine you are going past houses on a neighborhood street, but all in one big room…

Everyone here has experienced great loss—home, car, possessions, livelihood, and in some cases, family. It was so very good to be able to listen to a few of those stories, to pray with them . . . and to tell them about the many others, like you, who are concerned for them.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with this unique experience. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of telling others about Your power and love, and that You hear and answer prayer.
Kent


DAY 19
From: Yuko Muhling [back home in Sanda City]

Dear praying friends,

Thank you for your prayer for Kent and the other guys who are helping out up north and thank you for praying for Japanese people. I (Yuko) wanted to share how God’s been working down here in Sanda also.

Sunday afternoon, I took Sophie to the nearby park and there was a Japanese-looking mom and a little girl who is Sophie’s age. I overheard them speaking English, so I went up to them and started a conversation.

I found out that they are from Tokyo area, but they came down here to escape from Tokyo a while ago. Her husband is an American and she is Japanese and her little girl is five years old (one year younger than Sophie).

She is pregnant and concerned about the possible effects of radiation. She told me how the earthquake affected them and people in Tokyo area and it seemed that she was dealing with fear after the trauma.

Her husband is still working in Tokyo…Sophie and her daughter enjoyed playing with each other so much.  The mom said that she was so glad to meet us because they didn’t know anyone other than her parents and they were feeling lonely.

This afternoon, they came over to our house and Sophie and the girl played again. I got to talk to the mom more and found out that her host family whom she stayed with when she was in high school in Iowa was Christian and she went to church every Sunday with them. She said she couldn’t really understand the sermons and she still thinks it’s difficult for a Japanese to become a Christian. So, I got to share my testimony. She also shared that her husband’s grandmother is a Christian.

I was just so amazed with this divine appointment. While my husband and other guys went up north to share God’s love, He sent this mom and her daughter down to Sanda for me to share His love also.

God is amazing!
God bless, Yuko


DAY 20
From: Kent Muhling
Subject: My Last Day in Sendai

Dear praying friends,
Tomorrow I head back down to Tokyo with four others from our team, then head home by train to Sanda city…

Today I made my last trip up to the Baptist church and kindergarten in Kesennuma, where 76-year-old Pastor Usui is. The first time we went they hadn’t even begun to think about how to minister to the local
community. They were simply exhausted themselves, and trying to care for their own congregation.

But something happened since we were last there. The hygiene kits we delivered for their kindergarten graduation were apparently very well received, and the moms of those kids began talking to their neighbors about it. Soon the whole community nearby learned that the church had supplies to offer, and
they all started coming!…

The church sanctuary had been turned into a little supply warehouse. The pews were turned so they ran lengthwise toward the front, so when you come in you can walk straight up through the aisles like aisles in a store. The pews were filled with boxes of clothes and other supplies we and others had brought.

It was so great to see what they had done to prepare to serve their community! Old Pastor Usui looked like he had been given a boost of energy as well. We had a little time to talk, and we prayed together again before we left.

Can’t wait to go home and see my family again! So sad to be leaving this place…

Lord, thank you again, so very much, for allowing me to come here. Please continue to work through Your people . . . here in the devastated Touhoku region of Japan. . . . May Jesus Christ be known, loved, and served all along this ravaged coast. Amen.

Yours in Christ, Kent


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kent Muhling, Serving Christ in Japan with Asian Access.

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