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English Summer Camp for Japan Tsunami Refugees

Akio Matsuoka 

Many lives were affected by the earthquake of March 11th; among those were the mothers of Higashimatsushima. During summer vacation, mothers of Higashimatsushima take their children to Nobiru beach. Due to the tsunami, the beach is now inaccessible and covered in debris.

At first, the mothers of “Shinmichishita Children’s Club” planned to take their children to a different area where they could play in the nature, using the support from the Earthquake Relief Department organized by the Government. However, they found that if their houses were only partially damaged or if they had moved into temporary housing, they were no longer eligible for funding. Doing something for the children this summer seemed impossible.

A few days before the start of summer vacation, we started discussing a new plan. With the help of volunteers, private companies and individuals, we were able to do something for the children and mothers from Higashimatsushima who had been through so much in the past months.

Many people helped us make this project a success on such short notice. One of our friends offered to rent us her villa in Karuizawa, so we decided to host a summer English camp there. Activated Ministries generously sponsored the rent of the villa and also food for most of the meals during the camp. Another friend offered to drive the microbus, which we also got to rent for a discount. With the help from many people, we planned a fun and lively program for the camp.

The camp was blessed with good weather from the morning the five mothers and fifteen children set out to Karuizawa (in Nagano Prefecture) until the time they went home. (August 17th-19th)  Local businesses in Karuizawa were very generous and donated access to parks, hot springs and lunches to our summer camp.

The children visited museums, amusement parks and various sightseeing areas nearby as Karuizawa is a resort area and people from all over Japan go there for vacation. They also received English classes and had a barbeque.

On the last day we sat in a quiet room in the villa and talked and encouraged one another. One of the mothers told me with tears in her eyes, “I have something I want to confess.” She had been carrying a weight in here conscience for a while, she said, and we waited patiently as she wiped her eyes and she started to tell her story.  “It was snowing on the night of the earthquake, and there were 200 people who evacuated to this cold gym but there were only 38 blankets. I’m sure you’ve heard of people helping each other and wonderful things from the TV and newspapers, and they are all true. But ugly things happened too. I fought over the blankets for my 2-year-old child. I got the blanket, but I heard people shivering from the cold that night. Ever since, I’m tormented by what I have done.”

Another mother told us of a person who was trying to flee the tsunami by car. In desperation, that person drove over others to flee. Some people regretting their horrible deeds, later committed suicide. Listening to their stories, I realized again that the hurt these victim bear is far beyond our imagination. After the mothers poured out their hearts, I said: “That’s the reason Jesus came here to earth. It’s in the nature of humans to think only about yourself and even kill others to save your own life. Humans even killed God who came to us in the form of a man. But Jesus understands our nature. Jesus came to bring love and salvation to mankind, but people nailed him to a cross. Jesus, in his deep compassion prayed, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ So Jesus has already forgiven us. Jesus would give his life to save you, even if you’re the only on one on earth. Jesus died on the cross to forgive us despite the wrong we have done.”

The mother who told me she had something to confess had tears in her eyes as she said, “Thank you. Thank you for healing my heart.” The other mothers were crying too. They must have all had some hurt they couldn’t put into words. They all seemed to be good friends, but it seemed it was the first time for each of them to speak of their hurt. I knew it was the Lord that made them open up. And I knew it was only Jesus and His message of forgiveness and love that could heal them.

These people were forced to face death, saw the true nature of humans, realized what they truly needed and were searching for light and love and forgiveness. All of the mothers accepted Jesus into their hearts. I was actually surprised that they all did so. At first I thought they and their children simply needed to enjoy a break from the tension of their disaster area. And from the moment they came to Karuizawa they were very lively and happy; they didn’t seem like they had gone through a painful experience. But the mothers all bore a hurt that only God understands, and He has heard the cries of their hearts. I believe He prepared their hearts, and as they felt His Love, they accepted Jesus.

When it was time to say goodbye, we shook hands and parted with words of thanks and encouragement. They smiled and waved, and went home to Higashimatsushima in good spirits. Watching the bus leave, I knew it was just the beginning for them. As they start their new life with Jesus in their hearts, I hope I can help them continue to feel the Lord’s love and to learn more truth. Please continue to pray for them. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17