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The Slow Work of Prayer

March 28, 2014

For the past 18 months I have carried stories with me about my friends and colleagues in Japan. I have spoken nearly one hundred times during this extended home assignment. My travels took me to 67 churches, two seminaries and two colleges. I met so many wonderful people – people who listened, who shed tears with me for what is happening in northeastern Japan. I was blessed to meet a grand community of people through the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ who shared my prayers. Thank you for your hospitality, and for the chance to share the story of how God is working through our partners in Japan.

“Slow Work” is the motto of the Emmaus Center which continues to bring relief to people suffering on account of the disaster of March 11, 2011. Our modern life style has given us an appetite for immediate results. The media shuffles us along from one disaster to another, we only really dwell on the tragedy for a day or two before our minds are carried along to another cause worth focusing on.

We are also taught that “fast” is good and “slow” is bad. But this frantic pace of life is ultimately inhumane because it robs us of the heart that ponders and dwells– like Mary, mother of Jesus, who walked alongside her son “pondering” in her heart all that was happening to Jesus.

In January I called Rev. Masashi Sato, director of the Tohoku Disaster Relief Center, based in the Emmaus Center in Sendai. He told me the sad story about Yoshiji. This picture was taken two years ago when our volunteers were finally finished with the Shoji family house. We dreamed that Yoshiji’s family would all be reunited here. But that was not to be. Yoshiji’s wife suffers from flashbacks of the tsunami. Yoshiji’s children have moved into the city. Yoshiji is now living in his grand ancestral home alone. He is out of work, and drinks alone at home. Masashi told me that there are many people who are unable to move on with their lives after the disaster. The Emmaus Center continues to visit them, hoping that through ongoing relationships of encouragement, God will touch their lives. I was reminded once again how important it is to be committed to a slow and consistent presence among those who are suffering.

This past Christmas forty churches from around the US joined me in the Christmas Card Project. Each church sent two Christmas cards to churches in the Northeastern District of the Kyodan, our partner church. This was a concerted effort to lift up our partners who are facing a nuclear tragedy that few of us have ever faced. We remind ourselves that this is not their problem. This disaster could happen to us. In that sense, they are the ones on the front lines being the church on our behalf. I hope the Christmas Card Project will continue, and that we in the US can continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ living in Japan. I hope we can find imaginative ways to hold onto the relationship with them – a relationship that has continued for 128 years. I hope that our prayers will reveal the slow work of God’s healing and saving hand in their lives. I also hope that a concerted effort on the part of US churches, to keep them in our prayers, will open us to the transforming presence of God in our midst. God’s mission is not about what happens “over there” across the sea, but rather it is about our global relationships that help us to be more faithful in our own community. God is calling us to be more intentional about doing the slow work of prayer for the world.

I return to Japan in March to start a new assignment at Kwansei Gakuin in Kobe, Japan. My family will follow me in June when our children finish school in Pennsylvania. It has been a blessing to be in the US for an extended home assignment of eighteen months. I thank every person and community who adopted us into your midst. I will carry the heart of our US churches with me as I return to Japan to work with our partners.

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

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