God Carrying Us on His Back

Soichi Watanabe | April 23, 2014

Reposted from Fujin no Tomo ("Friend of Woman"),
The Bible; Today's Prayer, March 2014

"Till you grow old I am He,
And when white hairs come, I will carry you still;
I have made you and I will bear the burden,
I will carry you and bring you safety."

Isaiah 46:4

The Path Shown by Trouble

"God Carrying Us" by Soichi Watanabe
*Click on image to enlarge.
My hometown, Ishinomaki was damaged immensely by the earthquake in East Japan in 2011. My mother was living alone on the hill area, Hiyoriyama. She lost many of her close friends and relatives. Her distress in her loss worsened her dementia. Last February, she entered the nursing home. Until now I was unable to support her, nor my teachers and friends. This causes me great pain. The Big Earthquake, the tsunami and the accidents of nuclear plant in Fukushima continue to pain me even now.

Isaiah chapters 40-55 are called the second Isaiah. They described the prophecy in which the Israelites would be released from slavery in Babylon. He [Isaiah] told them of the promise of return to their homeland when they were suffering. He told them to depend on the real God who made all things, who made us and will carry us when white hairs come, and bring us to safety. He also told them, repeatedly, never to depend on idols. We [Japanese people] were told that nuclear power plants were economical and safe. But it was a big mistake. Everything made by humans is not perfect, however excellent. It may still cause unexpected loss and accidents.

Isaiah was asked, "What is the meaning of suffering?" He answered that we experience suffering so that we may be able to see the right path. The suffering of Fukushima and East Japan made us vow never to repeat the same mistake again. Humans still have a lot to learn. For just in Japan, we were exposed to radiation three times.

Last Christmas our choir sang "The Desert Shall Rejoice" (Hymnbook 21, no. 173). It was based from Isaiah 35:1-5. We sang twice, at the Christmas concert in the Care Center of East Ohmiya ("gentle breeze"), and at the Christmas Candle Service of our Ohmiya Church. Whenever I sang this song, my thoughts go back to the disaster area. "The wilderness shall rejoice, the desert shall sing. Flower of life shall bloom in this wilderness." My heart was moved deeply and filled with encouragement while singing.

Jesus said to his disciples, "In the world you will have trouble. But courage! Victory is mine; I have conquered the world." (John 16:33)

Together with Neighbors in Asia and the Pacific

The 10th Assembly of World Council of Churches (WCC) was held in Busan, South Korea last autumn. I went with my wife and exhibited five paintings with the theme "God is with us in trouble", for this was the message I received from Bible after the disaster. We attended as members of the "Tohoku Help" Sendai Christian Alliance Disaster Relief Network.

"We are One in Jesus Our Lord" by Soichi Watanabe
Ninety large and small booths were set up in the huge Madang Courtyard. We, along with the participants from New Zealand, exhibited the disaster of earthquakes and the support of people from all around the world. We used panels and video installations to show these events to 4,000 participants from 100 nations.

A member from New Zealand made a presentation on the disaster in Christchurch City and the story of how church members and the citizens, protested against 300 nuclear tests for many years. At last it turned into reality in the form of the Non-Nuclear Policy that was passed 30 years ago. Until now people in the South Pacific still suffer due to the radioactive contamination in the area.

Everyday we had an opportunity to learn something new from our booth in Madang. On the first day there was a report on the harmful effects of radioactive wastes by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. Next were appeals by the No Nukes Asia Actions. The first appeal was to make a law that holds nuclear powerplant makers responsible for accidents caused by their operations; the second one was to oppose the nuclear power plant at Iwaishima Island in Inland Sea. Another presentation reported on the radioactive pollution at the Fukushima Nuclear Powerplant. Lastly was the testimony of Korean Hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bomb attack) on the suffering caused by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

The theme for my paintings focused on God's presence in our lives. My artwork, "Ego eimi; I am. Do not be Afraid!", was printed and displayed at the entrance of our booth. It shows Jesus reaching out to comfort his disciples in the storm. "Even though I Walk Through a Valley Dark as Death" is a new work based on Psalm 23; "We are One in Jesus Our Lord" is all about about community the spirit of WCC; and "You Shall Laugh"; "Together with Those Who Weep" was printed on postcards and delivered to visitors.

My oil painting, "Having Enough, But Even More" (138.5 x 87.5 cm) was also used as poster and flyers for our booth. It was based on the Tenth Commandment, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house". As I restarted working on this painting after the earthquake, I was called to reflect on my lifestyle. I have been unconsciously dependent on the electricity coming from nuclear power. The radioactive pollution from the nuclear powerplants destroyed the homes of neighbors, families, children, animals and also nature, and it will continue to do so in the future.

LEFT-RIGHT:"Ego eimi; I am. Do not be Afraid!", "Having Enough, But Even More", "Together with Those Who Weep", "You Shall Laugh"
*Click on images to enlarge.

While I was listening to the presentations from our booth, I realized that the neighbors were not only people inside our country but also people from nearby nations: Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, and other countries. I think that the slogan, "Asian and Pacific Solidarity for a New World without Nukes" is an assignment that we can accomplish by building closer ties with citizens and churches in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand.

Aiming for a World without Nukes

"Eventhough I Walk Through a Valley Dark as Death"
by Soichi Watanabe (*Click on image to enlarge)
We offered prayers and fasted, 40 days before the WCC assembly. They are usually led by pastors of Korean churches in front of the Busan City Hall. Rev. Naoya Kawakami of Tohoku Help also led the prayer on October 28-29. Before becoming a believer in Christianity, I was able to listen to lectures and study books about Peace Education by Prof. Mitsuo Miyata in the university. I also learned about the non-violent movement that was lead by Rev. Martin Luther King. At the same time I am also aware of the horrors of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Afterwards I was baptized as a Christian. I chose the path of being a Christian artist instead of a desk job. I tried to create paintings on the subject of peace. So these three: Peace, Faith and Art were united into one. I arrived in the WCC Assembly Busan City, filled with the belief that God has lead me to this path. I became aware of God's presence gracing this event. I have resolved to paint, as hard as I can, on the new theme, "For a world without Nukes".

On the final day of the two-week assembly, Rev. Jill Hawkey from New Zealand announced that, today is the end of the [10th Assembly of] WCC, but our own journey is just about to begin . Her words remained in my heart. Rev. Paul Schneiss, a pastor from the Frankfurt Japanese Protestant Church said that, we are weak and small, but if people who have the same aspirations come together to work on the problem, they will leave a great impact. These words were also impressed upon me.

In fact the subject in front of our eyes is very huge. However, I firmly believe in the community of people working towards similar goals and the presence of God who carries us and brings us.