Part Two: Rebuilding

  • by Jess Fong
Sakaimoto Yoshiko (middle), the owner of the house that was being restored. Yumi and Roy met with her and prayed for her. Photo by Guy Gerrard

The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami washed away at least 15,846 people, according to the National Police Agency. They numbered the total collapse of houses at 128,554. Royden and Nancy Toma are on staff with Japan Cru and some of the few believers in Ishinomaki, the second largest city in the Miyagi prefecture of Japan. Their ministry currently involves rebuilding houses and ministering to the spiritual needs of Tohoku, the northeast region of Japan.

Japanese-Americans from California, Roy and Nancy Toma were living in south Japan before the tsunami. They had honored God’s call to show Christ’s love to Japan, and eight years ago settled with their three children in Okinawa, the southernmost island of Japan. The youngest, Joseph was 4. “We thought we would live in Okinawa for the rest of our lives,” says Roy.

When they heard of the tsunami, the Tomas prayed and felt God call them to join the ongoing relief ministry to Sendai and Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture’s two largest cities and the hardest hit.

During the last year, they have opened their tatami rooms and van doors to more than 100 volunteers. These teams of volunteers rip molded drywall and clear mud from houses so they can be rebuilt.

At one house, a recent team met homeowner Yoshiko Sakaimoto. Home with the flu at the time of the 2:46 p.m. earthquake, she and her daughter-in-law fled with their dog to her husband’s gravesite, the agreed-upon meeting place with her son. They were refused entrance into the shelters because of their pet, so they lived in their car at the cemetery for a week.

She came bearing snacks for the team, and Yumi Tomori, a friend and translator, prayed for her with Roy. As she left wiping her tears, Yumi caught Roy up in translation. “She is not ready to accept Christ, but she feels God is real.” Yoshiko-san drove away, her car making the only noise in the area besides the sledgehammers banging. It is too quiet here, in this neighborhood with no neighbors.

The man Roy most often meets with is Abe-san. Hiroyoshi Abe, 59, with permanent oil stains on his rough hands, jumped out his motorcycle repair shop window and hung onto a pole for three hours as tsunami waves washed around him, sweeping away 30 motorcycles.

When the water receded, Abe-san helped carry away bodies of the drowned. He saw Roy helping in the neighborhood, and they have started meeting once a week to talk about God and the Bible. Despite his hardship, Abe-san has a different outlook on the tsunami. “It sounds strange,” he says, “but it was good of the tsunami to meet God, and to meet Roy. Everything is gone, but I have new friends.”

Yoshiko-san and Abe-san are part of Japan’s new framework. They have seen Japan break. Now they are watching a new foundation laid.

Part One: Broken Homes
Part Three: Recovery and Care