On Sunday we joined the Be One team (a mix of missionaries from different churches/denominations) at The Rock for church. One of the Be One members, Joey Millard, preached on Acts 16:25-34 and how Paul and Silas worshipped God in spite of their circumstances. He talked about what it takes to turn our words from grumbling to praise and that it is a change of attitude. This is a choice we are free to make in every circumstance – grumble, or praise; moaning or praise; crying or praise.
He ended the sermon by recalling an old gospel song he loves (the irony, he said, is that he only listens to gospel music once a year and that’s at the annual gospel festival which just happened on Saturday), “Hallelujah Anyhow.”
No matter what comes my way,
I’ll lift my voice and say,
Oh, yes Lord, me, too. Though I am sore from sleeping on the floor and am perpetually perspiring on account of the humidity and can never seem to get enough coffee, hallelujah anyhow. I only have wifi in the evenings back at the house and the shower is too short (though maybe I am too tall – I have to duck everywhere!) and I have not had sushi yet, but hallelujah anyhow.
Monday morning found us bright and early with a 40-minute drive to a nearby costal village. We joined up with another L.A. church (whose leader teaches at APU and whom I’ve met before – small world) and we were dropped off at different job sites around the village for a day of work alongside local farmers and fishermen.
My group’s task for the day was to shuck barnacles from lead weights used by the fishermen to keep their nets taut and in one place in the water. Little by little, we learned about the fisherman we were helping. He used to be the fire chief, and used to have workers who would help him with his scallops business. We also learned that this little garage-sized hut that housed the “factory” we’d been working at all day stands on the site where his house used to stand.
Everyone here remembers where they were on March 11, 2011. We have yet to meet someone who can talk about it without tearing up and getting lost in vivid memories. Some have not yet been able to clean up and repair the damage to their homes. We have been told many times by both the missionaries here and by the locals that lots of people helped immediately after the tsunami, but that it is the Christians who keep coming.
Culturally, the Japanese people are very polite, kind, and reserved. It takes relationships to win them over, not just gifts or acts of service – it takes time. The missionaries here emphasize and prioritize relationships over any task or chore we may do while we are here. Prayers are full of pleading for soft hearts, wisdom for discernment, and time to spend with the people of Ishinomaki. Servant leadership is on full display here with the Be One group, and they give most freely of their time.
Selfishly, this is why I do short-term missions – perspective. My “hallelujah anyhow” is a lot different from Paul’s. It is a lot different from the Be One group and the Christians here in Ishinomaki. But my “hallelujah anyhow” has value, too, when used wisely. Go ahead and roll your eyes at me for the things I mentioned above – I certainly did as I wrote them. Yes, they are “hallelujah anyhow” moments for me, but honestly? I know better than that.
But there are seasons in life when it seems too hard to do anything but put one foot in front of the other, times when I worry if God has forgotten about me, times when I feel like I am on my own. We all have unknown battles we are fighting, and it is in these battles that we cry out “hallelujah anyhow.” There is a lot of pain and fear in these cries, but cry out I must. My battles are not insignificant compared to the battles of Ishinomaki; my battles are different. And I thank God with all my heart that He is bigger than everything. Just as he provides and cares for the birds (see? they’re everywhere!), so he provides for me, the Be One team, and the people of Ishinomaki.