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In Memory of Her

October 5, 2007

Jeffrey Mensendiek - Japan

Image"Wherever in all the world the Gospel is proclaimed, what she has done will be told in memory of her."   Mark 14:9

She died in a car accident in north India in March of this year. Tomoko, age 40, was a Christian, and mother of two children. In her college days she had joined a study tour of north India, sponsored by the Sendai Student Center where I now work. This exposure trip to India had changed her life. She had fallen in love with the people of India, and her encounters had given her a sense of direction in life. After college she became a high school teacher. Her students loved her for her frankness, openness and inquisitive spirit. She had also been a leader among Christian youth in Sendai, active in finding ways to encourage young people in the faith. Her death was a great shock not only for her family, but for all of us that had known her. Why Tomoko? Why now?

I had invited Tomoko to accompany me on our annual study tour to south Asia, and she had been thrilled to have the opportunity to return to India with our group of college students. In Calcutta we visited Mother Theresa's House for the Dying. Every morning Tomoko was up for prayers at the convent at 6 am. During the day we visited NGOs and Christian communities that serve the weak and poor. From Calcutta we had traveled to central India, near Raipur where the Evangelical Church (now part of the UCC) had focused their mission efforts in India. It was during our stay in Bilaspur, that the accident occurred.

Her funeral service was held a week later, back in Sendai, her home town. As is the custom, everyone was wearing black, the color which in Japan traditionally expresses a deep sense of mourning. In Buddhist thought, the spirit of the dead remains close to the living for 49 days. The family of the deceased customarily places a large picture in their house by the Buddhist altar. Friends and relatives visit to show their respects by lighting incense to place by the altar. This is how the community mourns together, showing solidarity in the midst of sorrow. But Tomoko's husband, a Christian, was not about to sit around wearing black.

Death is a time when cultural differences come to the surface. It is also a time when Christians as a minority are able to witness to their faith in a living God. Tomoko's husband told me that he wanted to commit to something new as a way to express Tomoko's love for others, and particularly for young people. After consultation with our friends in India, we decided to start a project in memory of Tomoko. "The Tomoko Project" will provide scholarships for teenage girls in rural India who find it hard to continue their education due to lack of financial resources. The project will include awareness building and community development as a way to help people in the villages understand the importance of education for women. The goal will be to provide role models for women in the community, so that women can take on more leadership within the village. The Tomoko Project will also include programs in Sendai, to provide opportunities for young people to learn about world issues and about the Christian faith.

I am astounded by the way God works in and through our lives. Death is not an end, but the beginning of something new. Tomoko's husband says that his faith has helped him in the knowledge that all the faithful will meet once again in heaven. The faith that he had shared with Tomoko has lead him into a new relationship with the people of India.   

Sendai (Japan) and Raipur (India) were two places in Asia where missionaries from our board planted seeds of the gospel. Now Christians in these two separate countries are joining hands in a new partnership; investing their love and resources in the lives of young people, to build a new future. All is being done as Jesus said, "in memory of her.

Jeffrey Mensendiek

Jeffrey Mensendiek serves with the Council on Cooperative Mission, assigned to the Gakusei (Student) Center in Japan.  He serves as Director of Gakusei (Student) Center in Sendai, Japan.

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