Japanese typhoon victims benefit from helping hands

TOYOOKA, Japan — Members of the Toyooka Branch, Fukuchiyama Japan District, were hit hard by Typhoon Tokage (The Lizard) in late October, but, within two days, humanitarian aid began arriving from surrounding stakes and districts.

One of an unusually high number of typhoons — 24 — to hit Japan this year, Tokage flooded the branch's meetinghouse and the homes of 32 members, as well as missionaries' quarters, according to Branch President Yoshihiro Furutani. Some members and missionaries moved to emergency shelters.

Two days later, four carloads of Church volunteers from the Osaka-Kobe area traveled four hours over flooded, damaged and nearly impassable roads to reach Toyooka. They helped in contacting all members of the branch to confirm their safety, lending whatever assistance was needed by members, their friends and neighbors.

On Sunday, the branch held sacrament meeting on the second floor of the flood-damaged meetinghouse. President Furutani said, "Truly, our bodies were tired and worn, but through that one-hour, irregular meeting, each member received spiritual nourishment." Attendance was up dramatically and has continued to climb since.

To expedite their ability to help, Church volunteers wore "Helping Hands" vests. The "Helping Hands" logo, registered by the Church in Japan, is on the front of the vest with the name of the Church on the back.

Michiko Sugimoto, a Church public affairs representative from Osaka, was part of the group of volunteers. She said the benefit of the vests became apparent at the disaster site, enabling members to register as volunteers expeditiously as a group at a time there was much concern over looters in the city.

Sister Sugimoto said, "We felt a warm feeling as we washed the mud out of houses, made beds and played with children. People started calling us Kirisuto San (Christ's people) or Kyokai San (Church people). And sometimes they said to us, 'I've read the Bible before.' Or, 'True to reputation, you are a Christian and a hard worker.' Those compliments made us happy. We learned that wearing a vest, to help victims of a disaster, is very effective. In fact, other volunteers asked if we had extra vests that they could wear."

Another blessing through the members' acts of service was the reuniting of a family. Sister Sugimoto stated that before their group left from the Osaka area, they were given emergency supplies by parents to take to their grown son who lives in Toyooka.

The son of these parents and his family had been estranged from the parents for years. Contact had ceased. The Osaka volunteers were able to find the son and give him the supplies. He was so grateful, Sister Sugimoto said. He phoned his parents, and thanked the volunteers for making the reconciliation possible.