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East Church Prayer Shawls dedicated to Japanese Survivors

The youngest members of East Congregational Church’s Prayer Shawl Ministry were inspired to reach out to the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Violet and Sofi asked if some of the church’s prayer shawls could be dedicated to comfort those affected by the disaster. The girls composed a letter and translated it into Japanese. The shawls will be distributed via the United Church of Christ’s ministries in Japan.

Violet and Sofi with Prayer Shawls headed for Japan

Here is The English text of the letter the girls wrote to include with the shawls:

Hello Japan,

My name is Sofi. I am very sorry about what happened. I go to a church and we are sending 6 prayer shawls for Japan.

Hi, My name is Violet and I am in a prayer shawl group at my church with my family. We heard about all of the devastation in Japan and we are all very sorry. We decided to knit and crochet shawls and blankets in hopes to keep you warm and loved. We also prayed over the shawls and blankets. We hope that you are safe!

East Congregational Church
610 Adams Street
Milton, MA 02186

Here is what that letter looks like, translated into Japanese by Susan Harvey’s colleague, Maki:

日本の皆さんへ

私の名前はソフィです。震災のことでとても悲しい思いをしています。私の教会から 6 枚の「復興を祈るショール」をお送りします。

私の名前はヴァイオレットです。家族といっしょに私の教会の「復興を祈るショール」 の仲間に加わっています。私たちは日本の災害を知り、とても悲しい思いをしています。 そこで、皆さんが暖かく愛で包まれるようにショールを手編みして、毛布と一緒に送る ことにしました。ショールと毛布には祈りが込められています。どうぞ安全に過ごされ ますように!

イースト・コングリゲーショナル教会 〒02186 ミルトン市アダムズ・ストリート 610 番地 マサチューセッツ州アメリカ合衆国

Shown below with Violet and Sofi are three adult members of East Church’s Prayer Shawl Ministry: Janice Pinola, Susan Harvey and Marion Nelson.

Violet and Sofi, joined by adult members of the East Church Prayer Shawl Ministry, with Prayer Shawls headed for Japan

A Follow Up

In the Spring of 2012, we received this lovely letter of appreciation with a description of how the shawls were used:

Dear Friends,

Thanks to a rare global partnership in ministry, we were able to share a literal touch of the Gospel with a community that became known (albeit without a recognized name) to the world on March 11, 2011.

The people of this story are from the fishing village of Kamaishi, Japan, hundreds of miles north of Tokyo. Their homes, shops and schools were situated in a rounded bay area, originally the kind of picturesque vista one might find on a calendar page: blue waters meeting convoluted forested shorelines rising in elevation immediately at water’s edge, steep jagged rocky islands jutting out of the ocean waters, wind-worn gnarled pine trees that bear witness to the harsh elements of the ages. The fishing boats bobbing in the bay would only add to the imagination inspired by the scenery. Kids packed their school bags with books and moms’ lunches that morning as usual. Then not long before the afternoon bell was to ring, an historic 9.0 quake jolted the country, birthing the Big Wave which eventually crashed into the elementary and junior high schools, not to mention homes, stores, hospitals, work places~ and all of those boats. Everything became a giant spillage of soup, the ingredients being the materials of town, including, sadly, many of the residents. You know the event. However, a shock like this does not disappear from lives as quickly as it does from the headlines.

One woman has a friend who attends the junior high school in this village. The grandparents’ lifetime fishing boat had been splintered into oblivion in a millisecond’s time. This woman’s original impulse was to help her friend and the grandparents~~ until she realized that there were 129 kids in those 2 schools~ all of whom had suffered similar losses. The woman therefore created her own movement to appeal to people all over Japan on behalf of all of these kids, grades one through nine.

She raised money. Of course that was welcomed. But after the first line of necessities had been restored and the money spent, the woman wisely knew that the kids needed something more than money. They needed caring, hope and encouragement.

Someone thought about Pastoral Harp (prayerful presence through harp and voice) as a possibility toward this end. Carol was approached about the idea of visiting the village on Santa Lucia Day, December 13. This day had been considered the darkest day of the year in the old Julian calendar. Many Swedish Lutherans know the archetypal message of “Lucia,” the “Queen of Lights,” who dons a crown of candles in the blackest moment before dawn, bringing food to the hungry, warmth in the cold, light into the darkness. The plan sounded good, but would principals of 2 Japanese public schools accept such an idea? To make a long story short, they did. Though they had politely declined numerous forms of entertainment, the idea of prayer through harp music somehow, surprisingly, struck a cord.

There is a second chapter to this true tale. As plans were being molded for the forthcoming event, we remembered that we had received around 60 beautiful prayer shawls shortly after March 11 from churches and individuals throughout the US , all bearing the message: “Please pass these on to people in northern Japan.” Could this be the plan for these shawls? The thought seemed inviting and beckoning, except that we had only 60, and we knew that we could not give to one child if we could not give to all.

A second plea went out to our sponsoring churches and prayer shawl ministries throughout the States. By December 1, we had received close to 200 shawls!

On the Day of Lucia, students, grades one through nine, and teachers gathered in the cold make-shift gymnasium-school. The woman told the legend of Santa Lucia and invited the kids to let their hearts take them on whatever heart-journey they needed to take. She affirmed that tears can help to wash. The harp was played in darkness illuminated by 50 candles. Not a word was spoken. And in that time, volunteers quietly, imperceptibly, approached each child, silently wrapping a shawl around him, around her, capping the offering with a firm grip on each child’s shoulders~ to speak volumes without one word. But when the lights came on, or perhaps after the kids from these public schools were already back home, they could find on each shawl a tag written in Japanese which read:

“This shawl was knit with prayers for God’s Love and grace for you. When you feel down, when you feel the need to be supported with Love, please put on this shawl. And, please remember then that I have knitted this shawl with prayers especially for you. I am praying that you will receive courage from this shawl of love and prayer.”

The “touch” of God’s love and grace, literally.

Thanks be to God, and thanks be to all of you in many parts of the Body of Christ who added to the thousands of hours of prayers for these students of Tonicho Elementary and Junior High Schools in Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture, northern Japan.

The anniversary of March 11 has come and gone. Your further prayers become invisible skeins that silently continue to embrace these courageous young persons with the Love and blessing of the Lord. ~So that they also can then be blessed to be a blessing. (…And on it goes, the Kingdom of God.)

Jim and Carol Sack


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