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How can I possibly sum up so many amazing experiences, conversations, and encounters with so many people during the past two weeks in one blog post? Even though it’s not possible to do so, I will share some of the highlights.

Today, world-famous pro surfer Bethany Hamilton (the movie “Soul Surfer” is based on her life story) came to our town! In case you don’t know Bethany’s story, she survived a shark attacked and lost her left arm but overcame incredible odds to become a pro surfer. She shared her life story to a large group of a few hundred people. The best part of the event was meeting a precocious nine-year old girl (I’ll call her “M”) who came all the up from Tokyo with her mother and uncle just to meet Bethany! Maybe you can see in the picture that both of M’s arms are underdeveloped. Yet, despite her disability, she is a very spunky and funny girl who even showed off her dance steps for Bethany and spoke a few phrases in English, too!

It was wonderful to see the wonder and joy on this little girl’s face and she was about to meet Bethany for the first time! The volunteer staff was deeply moved to see M’s excitement at meeting Bethany and talking with her through a translator. Matthias and I got to talk to M’s mother at length and even exchanged contact information. Hopefully the next time we’re in Tokyo we can see them again.

with M and her lovely mama

Other happenings:
First off, we moved into our own apartment! Thanks to a wonderful friend, Chad, we were able to meet with a realtor who offered us not one but two apartments to rent, one for us and one for a short-term worker arriving in October to live here for a year. We’ve greatly enjoyed getting to know the realtor, a very cordial and friendly man (a father of four!) whose office was flooded to the roof by the tsunami. It’s also been fun shopping for lots of things for our apartment and trying to find the best deals in town.

With our realtor
Our very first visitor – our delightful neighbor and new friend, Beth J.

Last week, we had a special visitor from Nagoya, a German friend named Maike. We greatly appreciated having her helping hands during a very busy week! We helped prepare for a huge festival to celebrate to re-opening of a park that was severely damaged by the tsunami. The Be One network has sent hundreds of workers to help repair the park and it looks just wonderful now. It was a marvelous day complete with lots of food, music, eight booths for the children (including rock painting, face painting, ring toss, etc.), raffle prizes, a memorial plaque, a prayer offered to God for the blessing of the park, and the release of balloons at the end. What an unforgettable day that was!

Matthias at the ring toss booth

Maike and I (in the middle) at the rock painting booth

Releasing the balloons at the end to symbolize prayers going up to God!

Last weekend were able to host two college girls for dinner. Maike was a big help and planned a great dinner. We really enjoyed getting to know these young women and hope to see them again while they are on summer break from their studies. We also enjoyed playing a very cool (and a little weird) game called Dixit – we highly recommend it! The girls really liked playing it, much to our delight.

The other day we decided to drive though a part of the city we hadn’t checked out since our visit in April. We wound up at a shrine atop a mountain with an incredible view of the entire city.

View overlooking Ishinomaki

Every day we wake up and wonder to ourselves what interesting, unusual, or surprising thing might happen. We are getting used to constantly meeting new people and feel very little hesitation at starting conversations with total strangers on a regular basis. We’ve been meeting people who are tsunami victims at very unexpected moments – at the used goods shop, in line at the supermarket, on the street, at restaurants, etc. Despite my inability to really comprehend or understand how deeply they have suffered, I am so thankful for the privilege of being here. I am often moved to tears, asking God, “Why us, Lord? Why do we get to live here and help to love and serve people who has suffered so tremendously?”

Tonight I was talking to a lady whose home was flooded by the tsunami and she said to me, “As horrible as it was to go through all that, thanks to the tsunami we could meet so many wonderful people from all over the world. Something good came out of something so bad.” Just as we have seen in Bethany Hamilton’s life, it is amazing to hear how she and many people in Ishinomaki are able to be thankful in spite of experiencing something so horrible and traumatic. God is definitely doing something very special in the hearts of many people in this city, and we feel so privileged to be a part of it!