The Rev. Jim and Carol Sack are ELCA missionaries in Japan. Jim is a professor at Japan Lutheran College and Carol is a director of Lyra Precaria, a bedside ministry of prayerful presence through harp and voice.
On March 11, 2011, a historic 9.0 quake jolted Japan, birthing the Big Wave that crashed into the elementary and junior high schools in the picturesque fishing village of Kamaishi, Japan, not to mention homes, stores, hospitals and work places. You know the event. However, a shock like this does not disappear from lives as quickly as it does from the headlines.
One woman had a friend in this village and wanted to help the survivors, including the 129 kids in those two schools 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 visiting the village on Santa Lucia Day, Dec. 13. Many Swedish Lutherans know the 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.
As plans were being prepared, we remembered that we had received about 60 beautiful prayer shawls shortly after March 11 from churches and individuals throughout the U.S. for people in northern Japan. But 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 Dec. 1, we had received close to 200 shawls!
On the Day of Lucia, students and teachers gathered in the cold make-shift gymnasium-school. The woman told the story 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 were back home, they could find on each shawl a note in Japanese: “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.
Jim and Carol Sack
P.S. I am so sorry to be sending this message so late. It happened that my Swedish Lutheran pastor-father passed away the very morning I left for this event. This only added to the depth of meaning of the day. Nevertheless, for various reasons it has taken me some time to return to this report. I pray my long silence will not betray the mountain of gratitude we feel, nor especially that of the students and teachers of the schools. God bless you all! We thank God for your partnership in the Gospel of our Lord!