Tohoku District’s Disaster Victims’ Relief Center

—Noda Taku, director*
Student Christian Fellowship

The activities of the Tohoku District’s Disaster Victims’ Relief Center are mainly focused in the Arahama and Ishinomaki areas of the Wakabayashi Ward in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture. Our desire is to see the restoration of the homes and lives of the people living there. Arahama is the area closest to the center of Sendai that was damaged by the tsunami, and very soon after the disaster, news reporters were saying that 200 to 300 dead bodies had been found there. We decided very early on that we were going to work in this area, alongside the people living there, and we began our support with prayer and countless visits to Shichigo Elementary School, which was being used as a refuge center. I would like to tell you about the important guiding principles of our work.

Is this disaster an opportunity for evangelism?
My own answer to this question is that it is not appropriate to become involved with such a hidden agenda. We are looking to see how we can share others’ burdens by coming alongside them and suffering with them. Such a blessing is the only aim of our work.

Because of this stance, we have made it a rule that none of our clothes, cars, or bicycles carry any kind of logo advertising our group. We do not all wear the same clothes or have identification badges or any other kind of mark or symbol. While on site, the group leaders are, of course, carrying identification or business cards, but these are kept out of sight. This reflects our feeling that each of us has a personal involvement as an individual believer. The only information that we see as important is our own names, and to display these we write in felt-tip pen on sticky labels. We are proud to be involved not as an organization, but personally, as individual believers, and selling our organization is of no use either to ourselves or to the people we are working with.

The Biblical approach to service: “Rejoice together, weep together”
The policy for our work was decided on very simply, as it is shown to us through the Bible and prayer. It is, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” It is important to us to follow the approach to service and walking with others that we see in the life of Christ.

“Slow work”–the importance of inefficiency. Another policy for our activities is the idea of “slow work,” meaning that we attach more importance to the actual person we are dealing with than to any achievements or results. When we first started our work in March, we would spend all day clearing away rubble and mud, only to see how much could be cleared away by heavy machinery in just a few minutes. Faced with such a scene, we felt extremely helpless, and realized just how exhausted we were both mentally and physically. Such experiences made us aware that for us it was to be people that was important, not efficiency or results. We came to want to engage with this disaster slowly and carefully, knowing the emotion of a sharing that involves getting down on our knees and getting dirty.
We travel by bicycle. We use bicycles as the means of transportation for our work. At first this was for practical reasons, as bicycles can maneuver in and out of the debris and park in gaps between the rubble, and are not affected by gasoline shortages. However, what we think is most important is that we are exerting ourselves to make the visit. As a result, this approach has brought us rich rewards. Our bicycles running around the streets pulling trailers full of spades and other tools have become a well-known sight. Everyone greets us, and people have been known to put soft drinks or other gifts in our baskets when we are stopped at traffic lights, so that we feel their recognition and love. Also, because we use bicycles in the area struck by the tsunami, the atmosphere and the smells are close and very real to us. When participants first go, they become unable to see the road ahead for their tears, and so need mental preparation for becoming involved in the relief work. From the center of Sendai, we have a 14 km bicycle ride each way, but it doesn’t feel like a long way.

Don’t predetermine or impose needs. We want to take care in responding to what the individuals we are dealing with see as their own needs, whether these are for things or for actions. If we ourselves are not able to do anything, then we add our voices to the cry, “Please help us!” And if there is no response, then we also grieve. To someone facing a house with everything deep in mud and despairing of ever being able to live in it again, we offer the words “We’ll help,” as encouragement. To someone who is losing hope when faced with fields that have been damaged by salt, we simply say, “We’ll help.” As examples of things that have actually happened, we met one elderly person suffering from a backache, and so we gave her a back rub while we were talking. When we met someone who really liked to talk, we all stopped what we were doing and listened. When talking at the front door of a house that had a heap of the area’s rubble piled up in front of it, we said, “Isn’t this terrible! May we plant some flowers for you?” And they let us plant flowers. We see all of these things as “needs,” and as a way of serving people as individuals who matter.
In addition, the life of the church has been enriched in many ways. Our day starts with us holding hands in a circle for prayer. We go by bicycle to wherever we are working, and when we return we offer prayers of thanks for our safety during the day. The volunteers who come from all over Japan (more than 100 of them a day during the Golden Week holidays at the beginning of May) have stayed in the local churches. The women’s groups of the churches render their services by providing hot meals at the end of the workday. The work of our center is basically made possible with money donated by churches. Of course, for the people who are sent from the churches of other areas—but especially for the many participating volunteers who did not know anything about the church—it has been an important experience to be enveloped in church life. So it turns out that before returning home many people, without being pressured into it at all, have attended Sunday worship at the churches in which they have been staying. Through the work of the church, they have had the experience of taking part in relief activities based on the words of the Bible, and I believe that this will lead to abundant fruit in their future lives.
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*Noda Taku is the assistant to the Kyodan executive secretary responsible for the Kyodan’s Disaster Relief Program, and was formerly the on-site coordinator. He is also the director of Kyodan’s Student Christian Fellowship in Tokyo. (Tr. SN)

 

日本キリスト教団東北教区「被災者支援センター」活動報告

私たちの活動拠点は、主に宮城県仙台市若林区の荒浜地区と石巻地域であり、そこに住んでおられた方々の居住と生活(生業)の回復を願って活動しています。荒浜地区という地域は、仙台市街より最も近い津波による被災地であり、ニュースにおいて最初期に「200~300人以上の遺体を確認」と報道された地域でもあります。
我々は、その場所とそこに住んでおられた方々と寄り添うことをかなり早い段階で心に決め、祈りつつ避難所となっていた七郷小学校へと幾度となく訪問と支援を始めました。我々の大切にしている活動の指針を書かせていただきたいと思います。

◆この震災を伝道の機会と見るのか?
私個人の想いですが、そのような「下心」を持った時から、この出来事に関わるべきではないと思っています。どこまでも痛みと寄り添わせていただくことで多くを分かち合えること。その恵みだけを目的に活動をしています。
その姿勢の一つに、我々は服にも車にも自転車にもどこにも、「団体名を一切冠しない」というルールがあります。我々は、そろいの衣服や所属証、マークやシンボルなど、何も付けることなく活動しているのです。当然、現場責任者は名刺や所属証は携帯していますが見えるところには持っていません。それは、一個人として、一信仰者としてこの出来事に関わるという意思表示です。我々が大切にしているのは、布ガムテープに油性ペンで記された自身の「名前」だけ。それが、組織ではなく個人として、一信仰者として関わらせていただく誇りです。売名やその類は相手にとっても自分たちにとっても不要です。

◆聖書に示される寄り添い、仕える姿勢。「共に喜び、共に泣く」
我々の活動の方針はとても簡単に決まります。聖書と祈りによって示されるからです。
それは、「共に喜び共に泣く」こと。キリストの生きざまに示された他者に仕え、寄り添う姿勢を大切にしています。
・非効率性の重視(スローワーク)
我々の活動の方針に、スローワークという考えがあります。実績・効果より相手の存在を大切にするということです。3月の活動の最初期、我々が一日かかった瓦礫や泥の撤去作業が、重機では数分で終えてしまう事実を見ました。その光景を前に、我々はたまらない無力感とともに、心身の疲労がどっとあふれ出したのを思い出します。そのような出来事を通して、我々が大切にするのは効果や結果ではなく「人だ」と気づかされました。この震災の出来事にゆっくり大切に関わり、ひざまずきドロドロになって分かち合う感動を大切にしようと願うようになったのです。
・我々の活動の足は、自転車
我々の活動の足は自転車です。それは、最初期に瓦礫の中を縫って走れ、瓦礫の隙間に駐車できる。ガソリン不足に左右されない。などの現実的なこともあったのですが、なによりも大切に想っているのが、「労して伺う姿勢」です。
結果として、それはとても豊かなものを我々に与えてくれています。リアカーにスコップなどを満載し、自転車で街を走り抜ける姿は、今や有名です。街中でも皆さんが挨拶してくれますし、信号待ちでかごにジュースなどいろいろ入れてくれ、我々への認知と愛を感じます。また、自転車は津波の地域へ近づく空気感や匂いもリアルに感じることができます。参加者は最初は涙で道が見えなくなり、この震災に関わる心の準備が成されてゆきます。大都市仙台市街から片道14キロの自転車での関わり。私は決して遠いとは思っていません。
・ニーズを読まない。押し付けない。
我々は、一人ひとりが必要としている物(出来事)に対し、それぞれに大切に応えたい。我々が応えられないならば、共に「助けてください」と声を上げ、適えられなければ共に嘆き悲しむまでです。ある人が、泥の堆積した家を前に再び住むことにあきらめていれば、「我々は手伝います」と励まし、塩害の農地を前に希望を失っていれば「我々は手伝います」と声をかけるだけです。現にあったことですが、家の方が腰を痛めておられるご老人であった時、話をしながら腰をもみました。お宅の方が話し好きであれば、手を止め皆で聞きました。家の前に地域の瓦礫が山積みにされたお宅の玄関先には、「あまりにひどいですね。お花を植えてもいいですか?」と花を植えさせていただきました。これらすべてが我々にとって「ニーズ」であり、一人ひとりに大切に仕えてゆくということだと思っています。
その他にも、「教会の営み」としての豊かさはたくさんあります。
我々の一日は、手を取り合い一つの輪になっての「祈り」から始まり、自転車で現場に派遣され、戻って来ては祈りで一日の無事を感謝します。日本中から集まるボランティアの方々(GW時は一日100人超)が泊まるのは、地域の教会です。ワーク後に食べる温かい食事は、婦人会の方々のご奉仕です。そもそも、このセンターの営みは教会の献金です。各教区・各教会から派遣されてくる方はもとより、多くが教会を知らないボランティア参加者にとって、この教会に包まれる体験は大きなものでしょう。ですから彼らの多くは強いられることなく日曜日は宿泊している教会の礼拝に参加して帰るのです。教会の営みを通し、聖書の御言葉を基にこの震災よりの回復の業に参加する体験は、彼らの将来に豊かなものを生みだしてくれると信じています。

日本キリスト教団震災担当幹事補佐(前現地コーディネーター)
日本キリスト教団学生・青年センター学生キリスト教友愛会(SCF)主事
野田沢