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2011 Sack Newsletter

November 2011

We are now a little more than 4 months past the horrific earthquake and tsunami that took place on March 11.  However, the repercussions of the event are still very evident throughout the psyche of this country.    


Dear Supporting Congregations:
It has been a few months since our last contact with you and we wanted to update you in regard to our lives.

 We are doing pretty well these days in Tokyo, though with the contrasting reports of the nuclear situation we do live with unseen and unknown anxieties. We can't help being a bit concerned about what it means to have Jon's Miho ten weeks pregnant when the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster took place, and also what it means to have a wee little one come into life in this city at this time. Please see the picture below of our new granddaughter, Kaya Evelyn who was born on October 21.

  We hear conflicting reports about Tokyo's safety. And we can't fathom what it all means for tens of thousands displaced from their entire existences up north. WHAT A MESS. Even though we are nine months past the earthquake and tsunami the consequences of that huge act of nature continues to affect all of us living in Japan.

 However, on the surface things seem to be pretty much back to "business as usual." In the past half year we did see many good things, like people truly taking care to conserve electrical energy, even through the hottest summer months, and a huge increase in volunteer helping spirit~ also an increased consciousness to not take our food and water and gasoline etc for granted. It is curious and a bit unfortunate that as we get more complacent, we also lose those senses of gratitude and meaning. What is it about humans that does that we wonder? Why are "comfort" and "ease" generally so blanding to the soul?

 Well, one other factor we must mention is that we do almost always keep in mind the fact that the earthen plates under our feet have shifted in epic proportions. So the thought of the possibility of a big quake in Tokyo is never too far from our minds. We keep supplies in my car and always wear good walking shoes when any distance from home. Carol carries a backpack with energy bars, water, flashlight and Swiss Army knife etc; a bit inconvenient, unless of course they are needed some day.

 Nevertheless, we would say that we are mostly back to normal here. We went up to Sendai again in August, and we were surprised at how much had been cleaned up since we were previously there in April. Still mountains of mangled things like cars and gas stations and so on. At least much of the debris had been put into piles, whereas before it had just been scattered willy-nilly over miles and miles of land. So there is progress. We were actually amazed at how much had been accomplished.

 Yet, needless to say, the scars in the hearts cannot be so clearly put into piles and cleaned up. After the functional life-support lines of infrastructure have been restored, lost memories, lost communities, lost jobs, lost meaning, lost hopes and lost family members may take years or lifetimes~ and indeed may never be restored. Only through loving care can the losses even hope to be transformed into new depth of purpose. We cannot lose faith that this is possible even in the seemingly worst of scenarios. (That is the power of the Cross.)  March 11 was one of the worst scenarios anyone could imagine(though we know there are examples more horrendous going on in unnamed places as we speak.) But we choose to hold onto blessing!

 Fall brings the busiest part of the year for us as we continue our ministries in music, counseling and teaching. It is such a privilege to be allowed to do God’s work in a culture other than our own.  Not only do we sense we are making a contribution, but we are also being stimulated by the Japanese and their own understanding of God and how God works in this culture.

 May the Grace of Christ accompany you each day this Advent,

 Jim and Carol Sack

Tokyo, Japan

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July 20, 2011

Dear Partners in Christ:

 We wanted to send you an update on what has been happening in Japan recently.  We are now a little more than 4 months past the horrific earthquake and tsunami that took place on March 11.  However, the repercussions of the event are still very evident throughout the psyche of this country. 

A scare over radiation-tainted beef in Japan spread recently as more cows from farms in the Fukushima region were shipped across the country after eating contaminated straw.  Officials told a news conference that they detected up to 520 times the government-designated limit. As you can imagine, this kind of event spreads anxiety and fear.  Also the crisis continues at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and thousands of people remain evacuated due to radiation fears. At this time over 100,000 people are still being housed in refugee centers. Here in Tokyo, companies and even ordinary people are expected to cut electric consumption by 15% over last year. Since we are in the very hot and humid season, this has led to a number of deaths, especially of older people who are not turning on their air conditioners in an attempt to reduce their consumption.

We remain busy with our various ministries.  Jim is involved in a project with what is known as "Child Fund Japan," which has translated "A Manual for Caregivers: Remembering September 11,2001" into Japanese and made it applicable for caregivers after the March11 tragedy here.  The Japanese version is now being put back into English with the information that is relevant for Japan included. This will be used for non-Japanese speaking caregivers that are trying to assist in Japan.  We hope to get this completed by October so that it can be used shortly thereafter.  The faculty of the Clinical Psychology Department at the Japan Lutheran College has also been taking turns going up to the affected areas in Northern Japan and giving lectures and workshops to scout leaders, kindergarten teachers and others directly relating to children. Jim’s next assignment in the disaster area will take place on October first.

Carol has been asked to lead various congregations in musical prayer for those suffering, or in memory of many who have died in the Tohoku triple disasters. Some seventy prayer shawls have been sent from churches in the US since March. Carol brings these shawls along and asks the participants to put on a shawl while listening to the music, and to pray for the person who will end up receiving the shawl. On December 13 (happens to be Santa Lucia Day) she has been invited by a public school that was washed away by the tsunami in one of the hardest hit areas to offer prayer through harp and voice for  124 elementary and junior high students and their families. They are now holding school in a converted gymnasium. We are praying (and fully expecting!)to have one prayer shawl for each of the 124 children on that day. (If any of you reading this feel the calling, please add your prayer shawl to the harvest! ~Please send by November 1)

Earlier in July the two of us were asked to give a program for the board of directors of the Japan Federation of Christian Churches, an association of Catholic, Anglican and Protestant Churches in Japan. At the request of the organization, we gave a presentation that included a lecture about love and healing, healing music from the harp and a slideshow presenting the wonders of nature in God’s world. We were honored to be able to put on this presentation.

We ask for your continued prayers for the people of Japan as they try to adjust to a new reality.  We especially ask that you pray for those in the affected areas.  There are still thousands of people who do not know where their loved ones are.  No doubt they have died, but they do not have the knowledge of how or where they died. At the writing of this letter we are also now experiencing a strong typhoon that is bringing huge amounts of rain to parts of the country.  In one location they have already received 1,116millimeters of rain, which is almost 44 inches in the last three days. We also ask for your prayers for the various ministries that we are privileged to be part of in Japan.

Many blessings to you all,

Jim and Carol Sack

Tokyo, Japan

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Sent: Friday, May 06, 2011 12:36 AM

Subject: Sacks in Japan- Newspaper Article about Manami

May 6, 2011

Dear Family, Friends and Sponsoring Congregations:

It has been some time since we last wrote.  I am guessing that the news about the earthquake and tsunami here in Japan in no longer seen much in the United States.  At the same time, the reality of that huge event is just now beginning to sink in as many people still do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones. The chances of them being dead are almost certain.  They estimate that it will take over 3 years just to clear the land of the massive amounts of debris.  The shock of the event is still very much alive, but now the need for supplying emotional, mental and spiritual care will increase.

This need will remain for quite a while.  We are sending on to you an article that was in the Daily Yomiuri on April 1.  This kind of story is what many many Japanese will now face.  We also attach the two pictures that went with the article.  There are hundreds of thousands of Japanese faced with the pain of losing a loved one and all that they own.  This is only one of those stories about a 4 year old named Manami.  May she receive comfort and support at this time. Please see the article and pictures below. We continue to ask for your prayers for the very many who are still suffering from this disaster.

In Christ,  Jim and Carol

“Longing for her mother / 4-yr-old girl pens heartbreaking letter to missing parent”

MIYAKO, Iwate--"Dear Mommy, I hope you are alive. Are you well?"

This is the heartbreaking letter written last week by 4-year-old Manami Kon. The girl's mother, father and 2-year-old sister have all been missing since their town was devastated by a tsunami March 11.

Manami is one of many children whose parents have died or remain unaccounted for since tsunami struck coastal towns in the Tohoku and Kanto regions 21 days ago. Children in the towns have been seen looking at the sea, apparently in the belief they will be reunited with their parents some day.Some smile more than usual, as if trying to drive away loneliness.

Manami's father grew seaweed in the Chikei district of Miyako, a small fishing village near the easternmost cape of Honshu. Manami was at her nursery school when the violent quake struck on March 11.

Her mother picked her up soon afterward and they went to their home, located on high ground overlooking an inlet. As their house stood next to a local primary school, designated as an earthquake evacuation center, it was thought to be safe.

After they returned home, however, the massive tsunami struck. According to a local disaster management headquarters, the wave reached a height of at least 30 meters, apparently pushed higher by the narrow inlet. Manami's parents and her 2-year-old sister were carried away by the receding waters. Only Manami is known to have survived.

According to relatives who rushed to the house after the tsunami, Manami was probably saved because the nursery school bag on her back became tangled in a fishing net. Manami was taken in by other relatives in Chikei. For four days, the district was cut off from surrounding areas as roads and bridges were made impassable by the tsunami. When her grandmother Shizue Neki finally saw Manami one week after the tsunami, she was worried by the change in her usually lively granddaughter's appearance. "She looked so sad and said nothing. I thought she'd forgotten how to speak," said Shizue, who lives in an inland area in Miyako.

On the afternoon of March 22, Manami announced she would write a letter to her mother. She opened her notebook on a kotatsu, took up a color pencil and began writing in the hiragana characters she had just learned in school.

Over the course of nearly an hour, she wrote:

Dear Mommy,

I hope you are alive.

Are you well?

Soon afterward, she fell asleep.

Manami has begun to smile again, but she will not go near her house. Everything on the first floor was washed away. Looking down the inlet that has changed so much, a look of pain sometimes flashes across her face. Shizue wants Manami to stay at her house due to the fear of aftershocks. But the girl will not agree, saying: "I'll wait here [in Chikei] until Mom comes home."

Cell phones are not yet working in this area. "Will Papa call me?" Manami asks, holding tight to her father's silver cell phone, with the power turned on

(Apr. 1, 2011) The Daily Yomiuri Newspaper

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Sent: Sunday, March 27, 2011 6:50 AM

Dear Sponsoring Congregations, Family and Friends:

We are still here in Tokyo while the radiation crisis is not going to go away all by itself.  At this point the official death toll has gone past the 10,000 people mark and those who are still missing number about 16-17,000 people.  We are not experiencing as many aftershocks nor are they as strong as they have been during the first two weeks after the major earthquake.

Carol and I continue to be amazed and dismayed at the images that we see of the damaged areas.  What a totally massive and destructive force that was unleashed at the time of the earthquake.  We continue to ask for your prayers!  Please pray for those who are now living in refugee shelters that may be many miles away from their homes that no longer exist.  If you can imagine that in just a 10 second span that everything you every owned was ripped out of your hands and disappeared, that is what the majority of these people experienced on March 11.  They have nothing.  All of their possessions have been removed from their grip.

At the same time we have seen a great deal of compassion and genuine love expressed by many, many Japanese as they take in refugees and send supplies up to those who have been so greatly influenced by this disaster.  Everyone in this country has been touched by this triple disaster: earthquake, tsunami and radiation.  It is gratifying to see such tenderness by people who are reaching out to their fellow Japanese who have suffered so by this event.

Witness by "withness"

One thing that we were very surprised by was the number of comments from Japanese when they see us remaining in Tokyo.  So very many foreigners fled to other countries after the earthquake and all.  When we attended the annual meeting of the East District of the JELC ( Japan Evangelical Lutheran

Church), we were told by a number of people that they really appreciated seeing us there.  Comments like "seeing you remain with us, gives us strength" , "thank you for your presence with us at the annual meeting" and "you didn't leave us, thank you!"  These kind of comments were totally unexpected, but they gave us a sense of how important just "being there" can be at a time of stress and panic.  We were appropriately given approval by Global Mission of the ELCA to depart for other safer places within Japan if we sensed that our lives were endangered by the radiation or aftershocks.

Since Tokyo was still considered rather safe, we decided to stay here, however we did prepare our bags and other emergency items in case we needed to quickly make our departure.  We were genuinely touched by the sincere expressions of gratitude a number of people expressed to us.  I was reminded

of the "body of Christ" through these encounters with grateful people.

Sometimes I wonder why I am here in Japan.  But to have so many people thank us for our presence (actually the presence of Christ through us) here in Japan we have been encouraged to be better witnesses of Christ in Japan.  We have rolling blackouts throughout the Tokyo area to help conserve electricity.  Many stores and homes are using only a fraction of the electricity by shutting off unneeded lights.  It is refreshing to see so many people cooperating to help conserve.  May that last long after this disaster has ended.

I had an opportunity to preach today and the text was from John 4, the woman of Samaria at the well.  I have to tell you that I was challenged to grab ahold of the meaning of "living water" as I prepared for the sermon.  In recent days we have experienced the "water of death" in the form of a huge tsunami.  As I searched the Bible for texts on water I found that about 719 references to "water" can be found in the NRSV Bible.  Many examples of "water of death" as well as the "living water" can be found.  Noah, Moses, as well as Jesus had profound experiences with water.

I was struck how the sacrament of baptism is a combination of the "water of death" and the "living water.” Not only is baptism a literal and symbolic cleansing, but also a dying and a finding of new life at the same time through the same action of being completely immersed in the water.  The old self is put to death as the new spiritual self is brought into the glorious experience of new life.  Even though we die, we live through Christ and what he has done for us by dying on a piece of wood.  Two weeks ago so many people were overcome by the raging "waters of death."  I pray that they also meet the source of the "living water."

I would like to pass on what a former missionary to Japan and a professor here at the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, Dr. Olaf Hansen said about Phil 1:21.  The text reads "For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain." Dr. Hansen changed that slightly and said "For to me, living is Christ and dying is more Christ." May we all encounter the Jesus that met the woman at the well.  May we all be submerged in the water that will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life 

May God radically bless you all this day as he offers us a cup of "living water."

Peace to my brother and sisters in Christ,

Jim (and Carol ) Sack

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Sent: Monday, March 21, 2011 7:24 AM

Dear Sponsoring congregations, Family and Friends:

It is Monday March 21 and I thought it would be a good idea to just give you another update on what we are experiencing at this time. Today we had our annual meeting for the East District of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church. Usually it takes many hours to just try and get to all the business items. However, today that was done in quick fashion and most of the afternoon was spent on what we as a district can do in response to the multiple disasters that we are now experiencing in northern Japan. This area is part of our East District. Our boss Franklin Ishida was there and gave a report on what the ELCA is doing in response to the disasters. He was able to share that the ELCA was going to donate over $240,000 as a response to the Japan disaster. That news was received by a big ovation of applause.

The JELC is of course collecting donations for the disaster, collecting various items that cannot be found in the affected areas, like toilet paper, portable gas cookers ( like a Coleman stove), water, gasoline, dairy products, diapers, medicines and kerosene. We also will be dispatching 4 pastors to the Sendai area to get a feel for what is happening and what the needs are at this time. They will go to the Sendai and Tsurugaya Churches where Pastor Fujii is serving. In addition to that the churches of the East District will be having a concerted pray effort on behalf of those who have been touched by this disaster. Of course the Lutheran Church will be working in an ecumenical way with many other denominations to help alleviate some of the pain that so many people are experiencing.

Not immediately, but at some point both Carol and I may be involved in providing counseling, grief support and healing music in the future. We have been asked to possible provide grief support for both children and adults through the Personal Growth and Counseling Center (PGC) where Jim is director, and to have healing music offered by Lyra Precaria, which Carol is responsible for leadership. If these opportunities come our way we will gladly respond.

The frequency and strength of the aftershocks have reduced in recent days and for that fact we are very thankful. At the same time the condition of the nuclear reactors remains a big concern. Gradually progress is being made at connecting electricity back to the many of the reactors which will give the ability to start cooling the units with much more control. However Reactor #3 continues to be a problem as grey and black smoke was seen rising from there this afternoon. The good news is that the radiation levels remain unchanged but the smoke indicates something was on fire. After a while the smoke stopped. Of course we pray for a good solution to this issue.

Radiation levels above normal have been detected in spinach and in milk surrounding the area around the reactors. This has brought on some new anxiety for us all.

Personally, this past week has been an experience of being in kairos (an appointed time in the purpose of God ) time and not chronos ( chronological or sequential) time. Since normal life had stopped and we were continuously in kind of an emergency mode, I had no sense of days as they were all just one after another. There was no Monday or Wednesday or Saturday; only one day at a time. Since we only had a couple of emergency meetings at school, time took on a new meaning. We woke up, did what was needed for the day and then went to sleep. This is such a strange and yet wonderful experience. There has been a sense of fully being in the present and not being driven by a clock.

We continue to ask for your prayers! Please pray for us personally, but especially for those who are still suffering because of these multiple disasters. Pray that God will provide wisdom to people who make decisions which will affect all of our lives.

We thank all of you who have taken time to pray for us and to communicate with us during this stressful time. We continue to seek the Lord's will in all of this and pray for courage, wisdom and strength.

May you all be filled with Peace at this time,

Jim and Carol Sack

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Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2011 9:29 AM

Dear Sponsoring Congregations:

We are still in Tokyo at this time and continue to pray for the many Japanese who are suffering greatly at this time.

Who could imagine suffering a 9.0 magnitude earthquake followed by a huge tsunami ( up to 10 meters ) in many areas.

We have seen images of the water reaching up to the fourth floor of buildings.  After that the prospective of absorbing radiation from the nuclear power plants has become a daily concern.  Right now there is snow falling on the people who suffered the worst damage from the earthquake and the tsunami.  The temperature is below freezing.  They do not have access to kerosene that would be used to power the heaters they have at the places of refugee.  They do not have access to gasoline that would allow them to visit the hospital or to flee from the unimaginable nightmare they are living.  Those who lost their medications in the floods are forced to go to a refugee center and wait many hours just to receive a one day dose of medication.  Those who have heart disease or asthma or other major illnesses are stressed out by this reality.  Many others need to receive dialysis for renal failure a number of times each week.

While they are trapped in their situation many others are now fleeing the country.  We have a friend who was able to secure airlines tickets out of the country but that is not until the 24th, a full week from this time.   The governments of a number of nations have told their citizens to leave Japan.  The airports at both Narita and Haneda are filled with people intent on getting away from this nightmare.  When we go shopping we are confronted with numerous empty shelves of ordinary products like toilet paper, kleenex, batteries, flashlights and basic food like dairy products, rice, bread, bananas, etc.

Since the amount of energy needed to supply the country is not sufficient due to the loss of the nuclear reactors in the NE part of Japan where the earthquakes took place, even in Tokyo we have rolling blackouts to ensure that supply meets up to the demands.  However right now with the very cold weather we are experiencing, there is a fear that there will not be enough energy to meet the demand for heat and a more widespread blackout may occur.

We continue to experience aftershocks a number of times each day.  In fact we just had a good shake about 5 minutes ago.

Please continue to pray for this country and the great number of Japanese who are under great duress on an ongoing basis.

If any are so led you can go to the ELCA web site  (https://community.elca.org/NetCommunity/SSLPage.aspx?pid=631 )and make a donation.  Over the years Japan has continuously sent people and donated to other nations when they suffered from natural disasters.  Now is the time that Japan in in great need of help.

Carol and I continue to prepare for whatever road lies ahead of us. We are at peace ourselves at this time.  Of course there are many tense moments and times of anxiety and fear, but we remember the promises of our Lord.  We have no idea what tomorrow will bring but remember what is found in Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make straight your paths."  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy!

May you all receive the peace of the Lord that passes all our understanding.

Jim and Carol (late evening Thursday the 17th of March--Saint Patrick's Day, the day we got engaged.)

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Sent: Saturday, March 12, 2011 7:55 PM

Dear Supporting Congregations:

I wanted to update you about what is happening here in Japan.  Yesterday I sent an email to the churches but to make sure that you saw it, I am re-sending it again now. That email is below at the bottom and is in Green.

Now to report what is happening now Sunday morning Japan time ( Mar. 13).

What has been only “news” up to this time has changed into multiple individual “stories” from individuals.  Since the tsunami waters have stopped and/or receded, we are able to get a closer view of what has happened.  The devastation is very broad and horrific.  It truly is incredible to see footage of how quickly the ocean levels rose up and inundated city after city.  At this point estimates of the dead and missing run around 1,800 people. Of course we still have no idea where that number will stop.

We are saddened by the loss of precious life!  And now we are hearing the stories of people who have survived, but are in dire circumstances.  For many of these people they do not know where their loved ones are; whether they are alive or not.  Many are without a home and have no place to go.  Refugee centers have been set up and many people are now going there or are being brought in.  At the same time there are thousands of people who are still stranded in buildings or other locations.  Rescue crews have not been able to reach these locations because of the huge volumes of destructed materials all over the ground. Cars and huge boats were literally flushed away in no time at all and are scattered everywhere.

It is heart breaking to see people standing on the rubble, calling out the name(s) of loved ones and hearing only silence as a response.  Even if family members are still alive there is a great deal of difficulty trying to locate them.  These are the stories we are now hearing one after another.  Those who have survived will now face the difficult task of trying to go on with life when literally everything has been taken from them.

Finally this morning Pastor Fuji from the two churches in Sendai ( see below in first letter) was able to call and relay that the two churches have survived. One church even has electricity now but not the other.  At the second location they are seeking food, and have no toilet facilities because there is no water or electricity.  The pastor is safe but he still does not know of the whereabouts of the members.  At this moment they are having worship and hopefully he will get more news at that point. Even in our technologically advanced society communication is difficult.  Even here in Tokyo where destruction is limited cell phones are spotty.  Up north there is very little ability to communicate.

The next big concern is with 2 or 3 nuclear power reactors.  There is fear of a meltdown since they are having difficulty with the cooling systems.  As you can imagine, this could be a potentially huge issue. Please pray for this!

So we ask for your prayers!! Thank you.  Pray especially for those who cannot find loved ones.  Here in Tokyo we have been greeted by a warm and sunny morning.  It feels like such a paradox to have that when hundreds of thousands of people are in a state of shock or despair just a couple of hundred kilometers away.  There still are many aftershocks every hour. Some of them are still quite strong, in the magnitude of 5 or 6.  They still think for the next month that will continue and even a magnitude 7 aftershock is possible.

 

Hopefully this will give you a little idea of what we are facing.  Of course you get news as well.  We can only say “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”

Carol and I thank you for your prayers and concern!

God’s blessing on you all,

Jim

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 Sent: Saturday, March 12, 2011 7:55 PM

Dear Friends and supporters in the States:

We have received numerous calls and emails from those of you back in the States and we thought it would be good to just send a brief update about the situation. We are sending this out at about 9:30 pm Friday night 3/11( CST). It is 12:30 pm on Saturday here.

It still has not been 24 hours since the first major quake of m8.8 we had yesterday afternoon. However as you already know there has been very major damage in much of Japan. Of course the earthquake did a lot of damage but the damage from the tsunami has been really unbelievable. At this moment they have a count of about 400 confirmed dead and around 1000 still missing.

Even here in Tokyo, some 250 miles or so from the epicenter we had very violent swaying. It seemed to go on for a long time (3-4 minutes) Since that time the aftershocks just keep coming one after another. Fortunately for our family, we are all safe. The one exception is that our son Jon's wife Miho was stuck at Tokyo Station in downtown with millions of others. Luckily she was able to find a place to sleep and will attempt to get home today ( Saturday ). (She has now made it back safely.)We had some broken dishes and books fell off of the shelves, but that was all.

We would ask you to pray for the many people who have suffered and are still suffering loss and devastation of their property and the loss of precious life. I am sure it will take a considerable amount of time to recover from the horrific damage done mostly by the water and tsunami. The church office has received word from our Lutheran Churches up in the Sendai area that the buildings and those related to the church and the kindergarten are all safe. We are thankful for that.(This had to be revised and there has not been a report from those churches.) Still, much work needs to be done to find those missing and to start a clean up.

Thank you for your concern and prayers. This experience helps to show just how precious each day is in our lives. May we all live with the meaning and joy that the Lord offers us. At this time we are grieving with those who grieve.

Blessings to you all 

Jim and Carol

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Sent: Monday, February 21, 2011 10:49 PM

Subject: Sack February Newsletter

Dear Sponsoring Congregations:

Please find a newsletter from the Sacks in Tokyo below.  We pray that the Lord of the Harvest would richly bless you all as winter begins to turn towards spring.

 

Dear Partners in Christ:

In this season of Lent, I’d like to share a story of an encounter I had with a man I met at Hope House, the hospice for homeless individuals where I volunteer each week. (For those of you who are not aware, I offer prayerful presence through voice and harp one-on-one at the bedside, in a ministry we call Pastoral Harp.)

I will call this man Tanaka san (not his real name.)

This man was not dying physically, but he had become completely hopeless and full of despair, so he was dying in his spirit. The hospice welcomed him, offering a place to stay until he could feel more hopeful about living again. He had just arrived at the hospice this very day.

The hospice director, Mr. Yamamoto, asked me to play for Tanaka san, but explained that 17 years ago he had committed a horrendous murder that had become famous in all the newspapers around Japan.  He had spent many years in prison and had finally been released, but now he was having troubles in his daily life and had come to the end of his rope. I wondered if there was anything I could do to help him, but agreed to go to his room with one of the other staff persons.

We knocked on his door. Tanaka san looked tense and troubled. The staff worker asked if he would like to listen to some music. He looked kind of surprised and confused, but asked us to come in.

We invited Tanaka san to lie down on his bed and relax, which he did, still looking confused. At first I played only the harp for a few minutes. His body was stiff, his hands were clenched, and his face looked tense.  Then I began to sing with the harp. For some reason, when the voice began, Tanaka san just seemed to melt~ and then he started to cry and cry and cry. I continued the music for about a half an hour, and he just kept weeping.

Then when the music ended, he said something amazing: “A long time ago, I did a terrible thing. I am so sorry, so sorry, so sorry…”   We usually do not use many spoken words at the bedside but, wearing my cross, I said only, “We all do things that we regret. But we are loved. And you are loved.”  And then we left, shaking hands, by this time all of us moved to tears.

Later I realized what I had been singing to Tanaka san at that time.  It was an Agnus Dei, a Gregorian chant in Latin, which means “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” I am quite sure that Tanaka san does not understand Latin, but somehow the meaning of this Gregorian chant seemed to enter into his heart directly through the Advocate of the Holy Spirit. Tanaka san knew somehow that his sin had been taken away, and he responded with confession and repentance. It was a very mysterious and holy moment for me.

Tanaka san taught me something about human relationships. It struck me later that, had we had come in and yelled at him, telling him how horrible he had been, perhaps he would have responded by putting up a thicker wall of defense. Instead, it seemed that the Holy Spirit quietly relayed to him that he was loved, just the way he was, and forgiven. And the power of God’s love and grace melted away, in front of our eyes, many years of thick walls that had been surrounding his heart.

The Cross of Christ continues to penetrate children of God all over this earth, both ourselves and others known only to God. May this season of Lent draw each one of us increasingly into the Paschal Mystery, in its depths of forgiveness and grace.

 

Grateful for your partnership in that grace,

Carol (and Jim) Sack

Tokyo, Japan

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January Newsletter from the Sacks

 Newsletter from our Missionaries, James & Carol Sack, serving for us in Japan:

New Life in Kairos, New Year in Chronos

 In Japan, December and January are months that bring warmth in the midst of the cold. Though we rarely see snow in Tokyo, our homes are chilly-to-the-bone since they do not have central heating. The high moisture content makes the winters downright shivering (and the summers unbearably hot.) It strikes us as “so like God” to warm our hearts with God’s Light in this coldest, darkest time of the year.

Christmas and New Year’s are celebrated here, though the atmospheres of both are almost the opposite of what you would find in the States. As one might expect, the Japanese have imported the surface commercial veneer of  Christmas~ the glitter and glam of lights and tinsel have found their way into stores of all sorts. Japanese tend to use the end-of-year timing to get together with work or school colleagues to party and eat and drink in group comraderie. Often they will each bring a small gift to pass around and open randomly. One of the most amusing adaptations of the “Western Christmas” in our opinion is the custom of the masses to order a dinner from Kentucky Fried Chicken on December 24. You will find lines of people literally wrapped around the block in front of KFC, and usually the Colonel is dressed up as a glasses-clad Santa! Our best guess is that this is the closest most families can get to a turkey dinner, given the small Japanese ovens. The other Christmas custom is to order a “Christmas Cake” to bring home together with your KFC. Order blanks for these cakes are abundant even in the convenience stores from November on. It is always a white frosted cake with strawberries and chocolate figures on top. Though we are not sure of the origin of this custom (other than shrewd business motives) we think the idea of a birthday cake rather appropriate~~ and we try to capitalize on this with our non-Christian friends. My personal favorite aspect of December is the fact that you will hear our traditional Christmas carols being played everywhere~ even in the grocery stores or train stations. Of course most of the rushing folks have no idea what is being sung, but somehow I find it poignant and metaphorical to realize that God’s grace is being sent forth, albeit not recognized. Is this not true for all of us?

New Year’s on the other hand is a holy and family-centered time. There is a huge cleaning of homes at the end of the year, and days of enormous energy are put into special “New Year’s only” food preparations that must be ready before the strike of midnight on Dec. 31. Bells at the temples are rung to welcome the year. Young and old alike will dress up, often in traditional kimonos, to visit the shrines and temples in the first three days of January. Annual new year’s cards are sent as greetings. Special envelopes with money are given to the children. Stores and businesses close until January 4. Most of all, people gather in families and make visits to relatives to say: “May your year be a good one.” In essence, it is a time of reflection, of gratitude, of family and of blessing.

 May we extend our gratitude and blessing to all of you, our church families, as we also take time to reflect upon all that you mean to us. Your prayers and faith and love of Christ have sustained us in all ways these many years. We both feel filled with ministry meaning which seems to be coming to fruition at this time in our lives. Please know that we find your sustaining care both humbling and wonder-filled. May God bless your Chronos now with Kairos, also, as we work together on opposite sides of God’s earth to help ourselves and others to recognize the music that God is always, in Christ, abundantly pouring forth.                                                                  

Jim& Carol Sack                                                                    

Email:  jsack@luther.ac.jp      

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