Being in Tokyo, the world seemed like it was business as usual. The rivers of people flooding the streets of Shibuya; passing consumers blasted with advertisements by jumbotrons on high rises; to the familiar symphonic sounds of a busy city. All these made it eerily easy for me to forget about a 9.1 earthquake.
Then one night as I was sleeping on the floor, I found myself rudely awakened by a rumbling that shook the whole house. I realized I was woken up by aftershocks still hitting from the earthquake that happened two months ago.
“There it is…” I thought, “… there’s reality”. As odd as it may be, the aftershock comforted my conscience; comforting that the eerie mirage of “normal life” blanketing the recent disaster was further from reality than what I discerned. I took it as a clear cue from the Lord to not be so easily fooled - A greater reality would be right around the corner.
So with $4500 worth of camera gear, humbled hearts, and open hands, God was on the drivers seat. Traveling eight hours by bus, Edward and I embarked on our faith journey to one of the hardest-hit cities by the tsunami to Ishinomaki, Japan. To give you some perspective, the 9.1 earthquake caused a tsunami as high as 3 stories high (30 ft), damaging about 320 miles of Japan’s coastline. Some areas were damaged as far as 6 miles in from the coast. After the tsunami warning, people were barely given eight minutes before it hit the shores. Ishinomaki, took the most debris damage from the tsunami.
With only the busy streets of Tokyo and statistical facts to reference, we were being led into a rude awakening. As we finally stepped off the bus in Ishinomaki we were greeted with a horrendous rotting smell that permeated the city. The tsunami carried deep-sea sediment that had mixed with the odor of dead fish that had been carried along the land & oil from boats along the ports. If death had a smell, this was it.
As we drove along the coastline, I thought we were teleported to another world. Houses were lifted off of foundations and washed away. Classy Mercedes Benz’s to old Hondas were smashed into living rooms. Metal beams and other debris were plowed off the sides of roads like snow. The remnants of children’s toys and home appliances were peppered across the landscape. Asphalt streets & sidewalks were rolled back like sleeves. Warehouses & supermarkets were hollowed out or ripped in half. All of this in the midst of being surrounded 360º by what looked liked a city that was ironed flat by God himself.
I realize I’ve been given the priceless opportunity to witness both worlds (Haiti & Japan). In hindsight, I am officially more fearful of a tsunami than I am of an earthquake. However, I had been to disaster sites before, so quite honestly I wasn’t shocked by what lay before me. I had to actually tell myself “... this isn’t normal Jasen … this isn’t normal…”. Haiti’s earthquake & cholera epidemic apparently thickened my skin some. But beyond the disaster in the natural, the Lord was beginning to stir me fiercely in the spirit.
Late night under the full moon, Edward and I sat in complete silence as we stared off into the horizon of Ishinomaki’s rooftops. All we could hear were the whispers of a sleeping city full of survivors. I needed the stillness to let this reality sink in. Tokyo’s eerie veil of “normal” was pulling back, and not even the flashy riches of Japan could cover up Pandora’s box; the stacked cars & hollow houses stood as dark monuments making sure of that.
In Haiti, there was an unavoidable sense of normality whenever the unusual occurred. It genuinely felt cultural for “crazy” to happen. When swallowing the brutal truths of 3rd world nations, the earthquakes, riots & epidemics are mere cherries on top of the cold dish of reality being served. Whether it was mere arguments in tent cities, citywide riots during elections, to being surrounded by dying Cholera victims – after stepping out of the grace of America’s peace, all of the above seemed normal.
However in Japan, there was absolutely nothing my emotions could behold as normal. Haiti’s safety net of expecting the unexpected was defenseless. What we witnessed, hit too close to home. The very pillars of luxury, safety, and status of our nations received no mercy at the hands of the tsunami. In short, what lay before us was a dark silhouette of the American Dream that was wiped away.
Immersed under a myriad of emotions, God anchored me into sobriety with one simple word .…. GRACE. “…It could have been us ….. “ I said under my breath. A silence then ensued bridging our agreement.
I’ve realized that in the midst of this life Journey, there’s a harmonious tension we must embrace. It’s a sobering Grace that we as Americans rarely delve upon. It’s not the type of Grace we desire so often where we find ourselves asking the Lord for “the grace to carry on”. Nor is it the type that reminds us to be thankful for how far we’ve come. It’s the Grace that reminds us that nothing, absolutely nothing, whether gained or even earned, is deserved. It is only by God’s Grace that we have life, let alone the fading trinkets of our American Society.
Haiti taught me to never take life, health, and peace for granted. Japan taught me that I was entitled to absolutely none of these.
There’s more to the story, but I could not let this conviction pass. I really pray that this thought provokes not only a weighty heart of thanksgiving, but a reality that God’s Grace over our lives empowers us to pass on the grace that has been given to us, to others.