Earthshaking Opportunities

In the summer of 2009, God called me to be a missionary in Japan. Personally, I thought He was nuts, to which he simply replied, “I made you. If I’m nuts, what are you?” Realizing I couldn’t argue with God, I shut my mouth, packed my bags, and with nothing to go on but a few contacts and a job teaching English, hopped on a plane and went.

God’s hand seemed to be guiding me from the very beginning. Within the first month, a small church near my apartment contacted me. I visited them the next Sunday, nervous that with only two semesters of Japanese, I wouldn’t understand a word. Lo and behold, the Japanese pastor had gone to seminary in Texas. He translated his sermon into English for me, and after the service asked (rather embarrassed), “Would you like to be our missionary?” You can bet I was all over that!

But after a year, we had seen little fruit. My Bible classes, Christian movie nights, and holiday events were about as well attended as work on Labor Day. I brought in special guest speakers, advertised, offered free food and candy. I tried passing out Bible comic books and cartoons to kids at school, only to have the other teachers take them away and threaten to fire me. The Japanese seemed about as wary of the Gospel as a mouse of a snake hole.

Frustrated, I cried out to God, “Why did you send me here?” I was all set to head back to Oklahoma and my cats, but Pastor Toshi begged, “Please, just one more year. We prayed and fasted for a whole month, asking God to send us a native English speaker to help at our church.” Grudgingly, I agreed.

Not long after that on March 11th, 2011, my whole world shook. Literally. But the tremors I felt were nothing compared to those 350 miles north of me as the largest earthquake in the recorded history of Japan struck the Tohoku area. Though I thanked God for my life, I bit my nails until they bled worrying about my friends suffering in Tokyo and Sendai. How could I help them? With no one allowed to travel north, I couldn’t even reach them. I wept as I watched events unfold on the news. The aftershocks continued, walls of water over thirty feet high sweeping away entire cities, fires raging, infants and elderly turning to frozen corpses without electricity, nuclear reactors overheating, and the death toll rising from 1,000 to 10,000 in days.

“What can I do?” I prayed over and over. “You sent me to these people. Teach me how to serve them!”

The next day I got a mass email from a Filipina Christian friend in Fukushima. “We have to get out,” she wrote. “The nuclear reactor near my house is in melt down. I’m going back to the Philippines, but does anyone have a place for two Japanese sisters?”

“Yes!” I wrote back immediately. “Send them to me!”

Two days later, I met the sisters in Osaka. Their eyes told of unknown horrors, and fear and exhaustion seemed to weigh them down.

“What would you like to do?” I asked on Saturday, after they’d had a chance to rest.

“Take us somewhere beautiful,” the older sister Junko, an English teacher, replied.

So I took them to a plum blossom garden in a nearby town, the pink and white blossoms draping over the trees and terraces like delicate curtains.

At the entrance to the garden stood a small shrine, and the two sisters paused to pray.

“What did you pray for?” I asked when they finished.

“The safety of our families,” Junko replied.

Feeling moved by the Holy Spirit, I asked, “Do you believe there is a god in that shrine who hears you?”

Looking confused, as if she’d never thought about it before, Junko turned to her sister. They discussed it in Japanese for a few minutes, then Junko turned back to me.

“No, we just do it out of habit.”

“Well,” I offered with a smile, “would you like to meet a God who will hear your prayers?”

The two sisters discussed this again, until Junko finally said, “Yes, I think we would.”

The next day I took them to church. There the sisters heard about God’s love for them and Japan, how God grieved for the death and destruction, and how He would rebuild Japan. They heard about the church’s plan to help and about the hope they could have in Jesus Christ.

Tears filled my eyes as both sisters raised their hands, receiving that hope and love. Now I understand. Thank you, God, for bringing me to Japan.

Junko and her sister spent the next month in my apartment until they got government housing in Kyoto. They became my best friends in Japan. They taught me how to make giyoza (fried dumplings) and many other Japanese dishes, and I taught them American cooking. When they got their apartment in Kyoto, I went to visit them and dressed up as a maiko (apprentice geisha):

A few weeks later, I connected my band at the high school where I taught with my church and organized a charity concert. The entire community got involved from other local musicians to the newspaper, radio, and television station. We raised a lot of money for the people of Tohoku and my students and church members felt proud being able to help.

During Golden Week, I led a ten-day trip up north to help out at the hanamin (refugee) centers with CRASH (Christian Relief, Assistance, Support, and Hope) in Ishinomaki.

Even though the streets were still strewn with rubble, I’ll never forget how the kids ran around us, smiles on their faces, eager to receive the food and water we brought. Several older people we talked to really opened up and started crying, saying that if we hadn’t come, they probably would have committed suicide, but now they had hope.

I could go on forever telling stories of all the great things I was blessed to be part of after those disasters, how in the midst of so much tragedy, God worked miracles. But more than anything, I will never forget the day in June, my birthday, when Junko was baptized. During her testimony, she shared how a kind American girl took care of her and her sister when they needed it most and how the love of her new Christian friends led her to faith.

So I challenge you that wherever you are and whatever you do, be open to God’s call to love, to speak, and to serve. That is the greatest testimony you can ever give.

By Laura Jane Popp


  1. Hi Laura Jane,
    I’m the Managing Editor of a magazine in Japan for and by missionaries called Japan Harvest. I’m interested in using some of your story for an upcoming issue. Could you contact me please?

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