When we got to Furukawa, the first people we met were the Asano's. They are the go-to people with Mormon Helping Hands there. They are the cutest Japanese people. You just meet them and you instantly love them.
|Sorry, not a very good photo of Sister Asano.|
The day of March 11th, she was helping a woman in the ward who owns a floral business. She'd been helping her a lot around that time and her shoulders were starting to hurt with all the lifting she was doing. Because of that, she had called her husband to come help her, so he did.
They were 25 minutes away from their home in Higashi Matsushima doing deliveries for their friend. Brother Asano's mother, who lives with them (very common in Japan for the eldest son to be the caretaker for his parents), was at the hot springs, so she wasn't home either.
Sister Asano told me the exact time of the earthquake--2:46pm. As I spoke with people, one thing I noticed, you can ask nearly any person from northern Japan about the earthquake, and they'll tell you what time it began. It was THAT intense. She said it was like nothing she'd ever experienced before. It was three gigantic earthquakes--one right after another.
They heard, shortly thereafter, that a tsunami was coming. She said that because they were in the car, they were safe. They headed for higher ground.
This is their hometown now:
|Higashi Matsushima - August 2011|
Their home was completely destroyed. They went back three times to retrieve things, but there was nothing to salvage. They left it all behind and moved into a shelter.
Sister Asano shared that her time in the shelter was some of the best times of her life. She said the first thoughts in her mind as they drove that day--March 11th--were the words spoken to Joseph Smith while he was in Liberty Jail. She knew tough times were ahead.
She said she knew that it wasn't going to last forever but that she had to make the best of whatever she was given.
She also said, "You know what we learn about losing yourself in the service of others and that if you do that you will truly be happy? Well, I learned that that's true."
While in the shelter, there were others who had lost so much more than the Asano's had. There were families who'd lost children and other loved ones. The Asano's knew they had been very blessed. They spent their time concentrating on how they could bless the lives of all the others in the shelter. She said there were no volunteers, just the victims. They had to make the best of it. She said there she was truly happy. She lost herself in the service of others. In so doing, she made some great friendships. She said she still talks to them on the phone all the time.
Here's a woman who had lost all of her worldly possessions. She lived in a very nice neighborhood and had a very secure life. Suddenly, she had nothing yet she was happier than she'd ever been? Wow! What a lesson to be learned.
Over time, the church put the Asano's in charge of the Helping Hands effort in Furukawa. They greet each person that comes to help. If there is no international driver's license, Brother Asano plays "taxi driver" and gets the workers where they need to be. He is also the contact person for the people in the devastated cities. He arranges what needs to be done and who's going to do it.
This means that this man holds a meeting every morning, Monday through Saturday, at 7:10am. Before that, he opens the church and goes and picks up the people staying in the farthest away apartment. He directs all the workers on getting out the equipment and supplies--including the food boxes for those who have recently moved back into their homes and still have nothing. During the meeting, he makes sure to tell all the workers two specific things--where to go if you need to use the restroom and where to go if there should be another tsunami. He warns about wearing masks and not stepping on nails and he makes sure there is always a group prayer to begin the day. He drives if needed, acts as tour guide at times and ends some of his days by greeting the new Helping Hands workers as they arrive; sometimes this is late at night. This is a man who has everyone's best interest at heart.
Last night, knowing we were leaving, he and his wife threw a takoyaki party for us. They had three takoyaki cookers going and made little bread balls with octopus, green onion and red ginger in them. He wanted to make it a special occasion to see us off. He does this for everyone who comes to work.
Honestly, I know very few people like that Asano's. They may very well be the richest people I know.