Personal Reflections (Dale)

November 5, 2011



It was 1:30 AM on March 11, 2011, on the east coast of the US when we were awakened by a phone call from our daughter on the west coast. Understanding her Dad’s penchant for tracking earthqukes, especially in Japan, she knew we would want to be informed if there had been a big one in Japan, even if it meant waking us up in the middle of the night. A few years earlier we as a family had experienced a 7.2 magnitude quake at almost the same location in northeastern Japan this one hit. But this quake on March 11 was a whopping 9.0 magnitude, the fourth largest recorded quake in history and the biggest one to ever hit earthquake prone Japan.

As soon as we learned the size and location of the 3/11 biggie, we immediately feared the worst from tsunami waves. For the next 36 hours Dale worked email, skype, Japanese TV on the internet, Western TV sources, FaceBook, etc., to gather the information about the quake and the ensuing horrific tsunami waves, and to offer support for our colleauges and acquaintances in Japan. It did not take long to realize that Western media was fixating on the tsunami disabled nuclear power plant in Fukushima rather than on the most obvious unfolding tragedy: the tsunami waves.

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Out at sea the highest tsunami was measured at about 10 meters (33 ft). But due to the funnel effect of tsunami waves when they enter topographically confining inlets and ports, the highest was actually measured at 40 meters (130 ft). These measurements were taken from markings left on buidlings such as a hospital perched high on a hill. Tsunami of this size are practically inescapable. Nobody fleeing a tsunami would think that the safety zone was above 40 meters. Most fled to hills and buildings only about 10 meters above sea level (4 storey buildings).

The angry tsunami waves swallowed most towns along a 350 mile stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline in northeastern Japan, sometimes extending 5 miles inland. And then on its reluctant retreat to the ocean, the tsunami ground up the debris it had already inhaled. The tsunami waves had reduced most coastal communities to rubble. Within 45 minutes of the quake, over 250,000 people were made homeless and 23,000 died.

Four months after the quake and tsunami, we stood in Shichigahama town we knew well. It was one of the places we call home in Japan. Dale spent most of his childhood summer vacations in this town just to the east of Sendai city. Similarly, as our own children grew up in Japan we built family vacation memories on the Pacific Ocean beaches of Shichigahama. (The name of the town means “seven ports.”) Missionaries move around a lot. But this town was one place we would always come back to. It was our geographic reference point, full of good family memories. It was probably our favorite location in Japan.

As we drove into Shichigahama in July, four months after 3/11, we were talking, laughing, and enjoying the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of the ocean from the windows of our car. And then driving around one last curve coming into Shichigahama, we saw for the first time the destruction left by the 3/11 tsunami waves. We became awkardly quiet. Nobody spoke. Nobody made a sound. It was as if someone had smothered us. We stared in disbelief at what should have been a town but was instead something like a bombed out war zone. We parked our car in what was left of a little graveyard and walked through the rubble. Out of hundreds of buildings, only a few awkward (There’s that word again!) parts of one gas station remained. On closer inspection, we saw that the gas stand was actually back in business. We wished we had not filled our car with gas 30 minutes earlier so that we could have instead given our business to that skeleton of a gas station.

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Knowing what the town used to look like, we were shocked by being able to see the ocean from where we stood. There were no longer any buildings and trees blocking the view of the ocean. It did not seem right to be able to see for a mile out to the ocean over the jagged and twisted remains of house foundations. We felt as if we had been violated, somehow victimized by the ocean. If we felt that way, we pondered how much more painful and intense must be the feelings of the survivors who used to live there.

We walked through the remains of the devastated port town that was now a ghost town. We traipsed along the beach that had been a place of fun, relaxation, and happiness, but was now littered with stray 40 foot containers washed ashore from the nearby port. It was surreal to walk on a beach that was missing most of its sand. (Is a beach still a beach if it has very little sand?) The tsunami had swept much of the sandy beach inland to who knows where.


We walked together in silence. And we sometimes walked alone. There was nothing meaningful or appropriate to be said. Each of us was lost in private thoughts and feelings. Periodically one of us would sigh or say something like, “Oh no, look at that!”

Yet the sky was blue and the ocean inviting. There was a haunting beauty hovering over this place of desolation. The mild ocean waves lapped at what remained of the tsunami ravished beach. We dared not wade out into the inviting ocean for fear of debris that might be under the surface. Our senses tried to take in the contradictory, simultaneous beauty and ugliness of one of our home towns. Awkward. (There’s that word again.)

We finally walked to the house we called home in Shichigahama. Takayama by the sea, as we fondly call it, is built on a 25 meter (80 ft) high cliff overlooking the beach, and had sustained no visible damage. The tsunami waves at this point had only reached about 10 meters (33 ft). We were reassured to know that to a certain degree our home was still intact. Hope had not yet perished. However, our hearts went out to the thousands of survivors who used to live down in the town but now had no house, no communtiy, and perhaps no family or friends. They had been robbed of their hopes by the tsunami.

The next day we drove north along the coast for 90 miles. We saw many destroyed towns like Shichigahama. Hardly a single town along that coast escaped tsunami devastation. We drove through one rubble strewn ghost town after another. Turning 360 degrees in these towns brought no relief from the destruction. We found ourselves becoming numb, not really wanting to see any more. Enough is enough.


And now it is November. We have completed our one year home assignment in Canada and the US, and are eager to get back to Sendai to pitch in and help bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to tsunami devastated northeastern Japan for one year. We hope to give tsunami displaced Japanese people the opportunity to share their experiences and grow toward emotional healing.


We plan to do this through serving at the temporary housing units set up by the government along the northeastern coast of Japan. Ann will offer quilting opportunities for the ladies. Dale will serve coffee. And who knows what else we might end up doing in order to personally connect with tsunami displaced people of Japan. We just want to be there with them, helping as culturally appropriate.

But most importantly we will be pointing the residents of the temporary housing units to Jesus and toward his community, the church–through which God desires to reveal his glory to Japan and in which God showcases his love. Jesus is who Japan really needs. He is the true hope for Japan. So we will be linking our tsunami recovery ministry closely with church planting ministry that is already in full swing.


We now have our new three year Japanese religious activities visas in hand. But before we fly to Japan on December 31, we need an additional $15,000. Will you help us out by partnering with us financially? Your donations will be used to enable us to serve in tsunami ministry for the next year. (dale little)