On Dec. 23, 2011, the Kyodan’s Disaster Relief Planning Headquarters dispatched to Sendai Kyodan Moderator Ishibashi Hideo; Kato Makoto, the executive secretary responsible for the Disaster Relief Planning Headquarters; and Maekita Mio, Disaster Relief Planning Headquarters secretary and assistant to Executive Secretary Noda Taku. The four joined in Christmas parties for boys’ baseball teams and their parents in Wakabayashi Ward, the area of Sendai that had experienced the worst tsunami damage on March 11, 2011. This was based on a project begun in August 2011 for the Tohoku District Center in Sendai [known as the Emmaus Center] to support victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami by sending out volunteers. The project was brought to fruition through the efforts of local boys’ baseball coach, carpenter, and volunteer leader Sugawara Tadao. The area around the site of the morning party, the Shichigo Elementary School, has been without a church for some time. This situation is not unrelated to the fact that the area was largely settled during the early to mid-Edo Period when Christianity was harshly suppressed and Christians did not officially exist. For that reason, no traces of Christian evangelism can be found in the area.
With a car full of presents, Secretary Maekita dressed as a snowman, and the Assistant to Executive Secretary Noda in a Santa suit, the four of us set out for the Shichigo Elementary School grounds, the site of the morning’s activities. We were welcomed by about 60 members of two baseball teams and their parents. Executive Secretary Kato acted as master of ceremonies, and Moderator Ishibashi appeared with his ventriloquist’s dummy partner Haru. It was the first time the children had ever seen a ventriloquist or heard the biblical story of Jesus Christ. In his performances, Moderator Ishibashi has been given permission to use the name Harukaze Shiro by the professional Christian ventriliquist Harukaze Ichiro. From beginning to end, the audience’s attention was riveted on Moderator Ishibashi and his partner Haru as they used the words of the Bible and a sprinkling of jokes to tell the story of Jesus’ birth.
After lunch, a second Christmas party with the same content was held for another baseball team and their parents on the grounds of the Rokugo Civic Center. There were approximately 50 in attendance there, but including the children who could not attend either party that day, we were able to distribute all of the 300 presents we had brought. When both the morning and midday Christmas parties were finished, our host, Sugawara, said a few words to all the participants. He told those gathered: “I am not a Christian, but because of the earthquake disaster I was able to meet the people from the Emmaus Center. From now on, Jesus will be a part of my life.” In fact, the only volunteers who were accepted by the Shichigo area were those sent by the Emmaus Center. The biggest reason they were accepted was that the Emmaus Center volunteers were completely committed to being with and supporting the people of the Shichigo area. These volunteers gained the trust of the people of this area by observing the rules of the community, by never intruding on their privacy, and by working in silence with sweat dripping from their brows. Half a year of accumulated volunteer work and being able to realize the first Christmas parties—for these reasons alone, Sugawara’s words brought us joy and impressed us like nothing else could have. (Tr. DB)
—Kato Makoto, executive secretary