TOKYO (BP) — A mother and her 7-year-old son pick through a stack of clothes piled on the parking lot pavement. After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami wiped out their house, the only clothes they owned were the ones they were wearing.
The somber-faced duo can’t find what they need and stop a man sliding back and forth between the stacks and the truck filled with supplies. Masashi Takahashi nods when the mother asks for children’s underwear. The 60-year-old man tugs his soiled baseball cap so low that it touches his smudged glasses before digging into the piles. He never thought he’d see the day a child in Japan stood in a distribution line.
“That’s what old homeless men like me do, not children,” he mumbles, tugging his cap even lower in an effort to hide a tear as he finds the item.
Takahashi is one of the 4,000 homeless living in Tokyo and no stranger to distribution lines. He spends part of each day waiting for food donations or other supplies. He isn’t on the giving side of the line very often. So when the chance came to leave his sidewalk “bed” outside of Shinjuku train station to volunteer with Tokyo Baptist Church in one of the hardest-hit tsunami areas more than 240 miles away, Takahashi took it.
Who better to minister to those who just lost everything than someone who has nothing?
It was through church distributions like this one that Takahashi’s heart slowly opened to Christ. After losing his job nine years ago, he took to the streets with only 2,000 yen — $25 — in his pocket. He soon learned the only way to survive was by standing in line at church distributions. The only drawback was that they always preached before handing out the food. But as Takahashi points out, you don’t have to listen. He didn’t for the first seven years.
Everything changed the day IMB (International Mission Board) missionary Josh Parks asked him to pray. As the former factory worker spoke to God, childhood memories of giving his life to Christ flooded his heart. From that moment, his faith grew, as did a desire to share it — leading him to minister in Japan’s worst disaster since Hiroshima.
The scene around him looks as if a bomb, instead of crashing waves, blew up the fishing village. Houses are splintered into thousands of pieces. A single train car sits mangled in the middle of the town’s cemetery. The devastation is overwhelming, yet Takahashi barely slows down to absorb it. He supplies the distribution line until everything is given away and he’s utterly exhausted.
He knows the most important thing right now is getting the people what they need to survive — clothes, blankets and food. For Takahashi, it’s the first step in sharing the Gospel with those who have nothing.
Susie Rain is an International Mission Board writer/editor living in Southeast Asia.