Editor’s note: Naomi Paget is a Southern Baptist disaster relief specialist and a member of First Baptist Church in Bellville, Texas, who is helping train Japanese Baptists to respond to the crisis in their country. Paget reflects on her first walk through the tsunami disaster zone.
ISHINOMAKI, Japan (BP)–The stench is terrible — mud, organic decomposition, mold, death and destruction. The roads are muddy, sickly and smelly. I will never forget the sights and smells of Ishinomaki and the tsunami that has left its horrible mark.
In the manner of the Japanese, debris that has already been picked is neatly stacked along the narrow streets, waiting for proper disposal. This alone is a monumental task. Most of the block-long stacks stand 10 feet high and are at least four feet wide.
As we walk along the narrow, debris-lined streets, we see mile after mile of twisted metal, shredded wood, broken glass and crushed plastic. The sights don’t change the farther we go. It seems like reruns of nightmares with little hope of waking up. Wrecked cars are stacked in piles, with mud acting as mortar to create walls — hiding the broken remains of hurting lives.
We watch a small woman carry a two-gallon bucket of mud and debris from her home. During the last four weeks, she managed to clear her little yard. It’s neat and tidy, even without the landscape of shrubbery and trees that certainly were a part of this traditional little home before the tsunami.
In the Japanese way, she carries her little bucket about 20 feet down the street to dump the contents in an “appropriate place” — maintaining the integrity of the wall of debris. I don’t think she would ever have considered dumping it anywhere else. Convenience would never have dictated where she deposited the bucket of mud. Japanese would only dispose of it in the “right” way.
We stop to visit with her, inquiring of her well-being and needs. She says she is managing and doesn’t need help. She bows to thank us for inquiring of her situation. That’s when we notice her little flower bed with pansies and petunias gaily dancing in the breeze. The contrast is so great, we comment on their beauty.
“My world is so ugly when I look at my neighborhood. I could not bear to see it anymore. The flowers give me pleasure,” she says. “There is still beauty in the world — somewhere.”
This is a strong woman in Ishinomaki — a woman who waits patiently for her world to change.
How do I help her see the beauty that is Jesus? How do I help her be strong and take heart, waiting patiently for something truly worthwhile?
Jesus could be the dancing face of pansies in the middle of the mud and wreckage that is Ishinomaki.
Naomi Paget is a fellow with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. She is a Southern Baptist disaster relief specialist and a member of First Baptist Church in Bellville, Texas, who is helping train Japanese Baptists to respond to the crisis in their country.