I just returned from our final pastors’ retreat in Japan—a response to the 2011 tsunami. By the end of our retreat, the pastors decided that even if CHC does not sponsor more retreats, they will continue to hold them on their own. As an organization, this is immensely encouraging.
One early morning, while still severely jet-lagged, I went to the empty lobby of our hotel in search of an Internet connection. I saw Ken Nishiono, the thirty-one-year-old Japanese minister who leads CRASH’s spiritual care efforts for victims of nuclear radiation in the Fukushima prefecture. He had settled into one of the lobby’s chairs and was looking out the window. He had no books, no paper, no pen and no computer with him, so I assumed that he was thinking or praying. When I went over to say “hello,” he was visibly startled—his eyes were brimming with tears and he wiped his face with his sweatshirt and sniffled. I had interrupted an intimate moment with the Lord.
I knew that there was a story behind his ministry for victims of disaster and I wanted to know how he had got there. Ken graciously accepted my invitation to share his story with me over breakfast.
Ken began by saying, “My parents divorced soon after I was born. I lived with my mom, who soon remarried, and had no communication with my biological father. I started rebelling against my family at a young age, and it only escalated with time, so much so that I dropped out after only one month in high school—thinking that I would live for myself and not be dependent on anyone else.
After working and saving money for one year, I left Fukuoka and started a part-time job in Tokyo at the age of sixteen. I didn’t have any friends and was completely cut off from my family. Eventually, I ran out of money and spent the next year searching for food amongst trash.
Exhausted from living in these conditions, I took a job delivering newspapers on a scooter. After one month on the job I got in a traffic accident while on route and spent the next couple weeks in the hospital. Later that year there was another accident, but this time it was more serious. I had been hit from behind and was suffering from internal bleeding. I was just nineteen years old.
After a successful 10-hour surgery, I had a long journey of rehabilitation ahead. I sunk into a deep depression and isolated myself from the rest of the world. During this time my family attempted to contact me, trying to reestablish a relationship, but I didn’t know how to respond. I felt cursed, thinking that I would be better off taking my own life. This went on for four years.
I knew that I needed to find a reason to live, so I began looking for one in books. One night, while walking past a church, I saw a church sign reading, ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you… Matthew 7:7.’ I had no Christian friends, had never attended church and I knew nothing about Jesus. That verse struck a chord in my heart, so much so that I bought a Bible and began reading it ferociously.
I was greatly encouraged by a number of verses, like ‘Come to me and I will give you rest’ from Matthew 11:28. If there really was a God who spoke like this, that was reason for hope—so, I went to church and heard about Jesus for the first time, not understanding why he would die for me.
Then, at twenty-four years old, my desire to get to know God didn’t change, and over time I came to understand the magnitude of my sin and rebellion. I also experienced an unconditional love, telling me that I was entirely forgiven and cleansed.
I decided that I wanted to live for God, but I didn’t know what that meant. Without having completed schooling, I was accepted into Bible college, where I graduated on March 10, 2011. The tsunami hit the very next day. I knew that I was called to do something.”
Ken is now leading in spiritual care for CRASH and is involved with victims of nuclear radiation.
As if that were not enough, the retreat speaker, Takahashi sensei, told a story with uncanny parallels. He went through a harsh season in his life and resigned from his pastorate on March 10, 2011. While in a state of confusion about what to do next, the tsunami hit the next day. He now mobilizes disaster response chaplains throughout Japan.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29)Tags: Counseling, JA01, Japan, Pastor Retreat, tsunami