Disaster Kits

“Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?” Deuteronomy 31:17b

Emergency kit

Members of our mission organization typically receive a personal emergency evacuation backpack when they first arrive in Japan. This unusual item is a standard provision because a wide variety of natural disasters such as typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides and floods frequently hit Japan and they often occur with minimal warning. These disaster kits are to be kept handy in the event of an emergency and we are frequently reminded by the government to periodically conduct an inventory of the contents to make sure batteries and other perishable items are kept up to date.

The recommended standard contents for an emergency bag would include such items as food and water for three days, a flashlight, a lighter, cash, a radio, a first aid kit, rope, toiletry items, extra batteries, a change of clothing, a multi-purpose tool, copies of important documents (passport, driver’s license, etc.) and essential medications. No one knows when a disaster will strike, so it is always good to be prepared. As part of that preparation, the Japanese government regularly conducts emergency drills in local communities, schools and places of business.

However, disasters, by their very definition, often occur without much warning and at irregular intervals so it is human nature to become lax in preparedness. The important emergency evacuation bag might get shoved to the back of a closet so its location easily slips from one’s memory. In addition, carefully stored food can become stale or spoiled, making it inedible. Batteries corrode over time and become useless. Copies of important documents can become out of date and fail to serve their intended purpose. The often-quoted proverb, “Out of sight, out of mind,” applies to this natural tendency to push recognized priorities aside while focusing on more immediate, visible matters.

The term “disaster,” actually covers a wide gamut of unexpected and unwelcome circumstances that can wreak havoc in our lives. The death of a loved one. The loss of employment. Financial ruin. A burned-out home. War. A pandemic. Failing health. A broken relationship. Food shortages. A natural emergency. Or as Texas recently experienced, a prolonged ice storm. It is during these times of extreme calamity where life seems overwhelming and we feel that we have lost all control over the events cascading around us. Such disasters generally interrupt our patterns of normalcy and many unfortunately, have life-long consequences. These unexpected catastrophes can either drive us to utter despair or to increased dependence on God who is somehow sovereign over all such occurrences.

This truth points to the reality that there are often deeper elements or purposes behind many of the calamities that alter our lives. Some are self-inflicted, and the resultant consequence was often rightly perceived in the Old Testament as a form of punishment from God for willful disobedience. (Deuteronomy 31:17b) But other disasters seem to come out of nowhere and devastate both the wicked and the godly with impartiality. While such things are difficult to comprehend and even harder to embrace, they serve as a critical reminder to turn to the only emergency kit that will suffice in such adverse circumstances. That is God Himself. “Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”  (Psalm 46:2) “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster is passed.” (Psalm 57:1b) This is the true emergency evacuation bag we must keep close at hand to sustain us in times of trouble.

Capsule Hotels

“I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6b

Capsule hotel

In observing a capsule hotel in Japan, one’s initial impressions may be that the capsules resemble drawers designed to store corpses in a morgue or appear to be a collection of human cryogenic vaults depicted in a science fiction movie. Called “kapuseru hoteru” (カプセルホテル) in Japanese, the capsule hotel concept started in Osaka in 1979 before spreading to major cities in Japan and eventually to other parts of the world. Around 300 such hotels now exist in Japan, servicing weary customers who are looking for simple, inexpensive lodging for the night.

Kapuseru hoteru come in various sizes with some hosting up to 700 sleeping units. Each compartment is approximately the size of a single bed with a height of about one meter, allowing sufficient space for the guest to crawl into the chamber and sit up. They are usually made out of plastic, but other materials are also utilized. Amenities in the capsule ordinarily include air conditioning, adjustable lighting, a small TV, WIFI and an electric socket. Upgraded versions are a bit larger, with added perks, and many incorporate a miniature workspace. Toilets, bathing facilities, dining and lounge areas are communally shared like a hostel. Other services, like restaurants, bars and a pool, are provided in the more upscale capsule hotel complexes.

When guests check into a kapuseru hoteru, they usually store their belongings, including their clothing, in lockers and are provided with a yukata (Japanese robe) and slippers. Such hotels routinely cater to Japanese businessmen, who may have missed the last available commuter train from work or were too intoxicated to return home safely. The prices average around ¥2000–4000 ($20-40) a night and they are not recommended for individuals who struggle with claustrophobia. A frequent complaint regarding the older models is that the walls tend to be so thin that noise from neighboring capsules, like snoring, carries easily and may disrupt sleep. One writer, following his first stay in a kapuseru hoteru, wrote in his review: “I’d give this Pillbox Hilton four stars for cleanliness, three stars for efficiency and one meteorite for comfort.” (Mark Schreiber The Japan Times January 16, 2001).

Capsule hotels are obviously, just a temporary and minimal provision for those needing some kind of housing on short notice and working with a limited budget. Comfort, space and other elements that are typically part of a normal residence are either non-existent or are a far cry from one’s usual expectations. But even the most opulent and grandeur lodging available here on earth cannot compare to what awaits us in our eternal home in heaven. The Bible provides some vivid descriptions of what our heavenly “house of the Lord” might look like, but far more important than appearances and creature comforts is what we stand to gain from being in the presence of the Lord. The author of Revelation, in his review of heaven, described such housing in the following manner: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:3-4) That sounds like a great place to get a good night’s sleep and much, much more.

Car Names

“and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”  Genesis 2:19b

Car Names

A few years ago, we bought a used two cylinder, 660cc Honda mini car to match our new Tokyo lifestyle.  (Imagine a classic VW Beetle and think smaller.)  The name of our car, N-One, initially puzzled us, but we soon learned that the “N” stood for “New,” “Next,” “Nippon” (“Japan”) and “Norimono” (“vehicle”).  Apparently, we were driving a car with an identity crisis!  We didn’t mind the intriguing name as it was a great car that served us well for several years. We soon nicknamed it “Panda” as the color scheme reminded us of a giant panda. A few years later, I discovered that there are actually websites to help owners come up with nicknames for their cars as they become like members of our families.

Car names in Japan have actually been a continuous source of humor among foreign residents.  We couldn’t help but chuckle sometimes when we pulled up behind a Dunk (Honda), a Scat (Daihatsu) a Lettuce (Mitsubishi), a Homy (Nissan), a Bongo (Mazda), a Joypop (Suzuki), a Noah (Toyota) a That’s (Honda), a Scrum Wagon (Mazda), a Charade (Daihatsu) and the prize-winning, Naked (Daihatsu). I’m sure there were many good reasons for selecting these particular names and the attributes they supposedly represented, but not all such choices successfully stand the test of time.

For a few years we owned a Subaru (スバル) and wondered about the symbolism of its logo on the back of the car. Someone eventually informed us that “Subaru” is the Japanese name for the constellation Pleiades, which is cleverly represented by the six stars in the Subaru logo. A little further investigation into the name origin of various Japanese car companies reveals the following:

  • The Toyota (トヨタ) Company was founded by Kiichiro Toyoda, whose slightly modified surname was used for his new car company founded in 1937. Toyoda means literally “fertile farm field.”
  • The Nissan (日産) name comes from the combination of two Japanese kanji. The first one, 日 (ni), meaning “sun,” is also the first character for Nihon (日本), which means “” The second kanji, 産 (san), means “production.” Taken together, Nissan translates to “made in Japan,” a very appropriate name.
  • Honda (ホンダ) is less interesting as its name is derived from its founder, Soichiro Honda.
  • Mitsubishi (三菱) Motors is actually a collection of companies, which explains why the word “mitsu,” meaning “three,” is incorporated in the name and stylistically represented by the three red diamond Mitsubishi logo.

The power of name giving was one of the first responsibilities God entrusted to Adam when all the animals were brought to him in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:19). This ritual symbolized the authority that mankind was granted over all of God’s creation and man’s supreme position, as he alone was created in the image of God. The pattern of name giving is particularly highlighted in the Book of Genesis as each generation gave way to the next one with many of the names steeped in symbolism or prophetic significance. But the unparalleled name of God, “I AM,” first revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14), stands out among them all. This name is described as “holy,” “majestic,” “powerful,” “glorious,” “praiseworthy,” “awesome,” “fearsome,” “merciful” and “good.” It is a Name we would do well to remember, and to revere.

Personal Seal

“A good name is more desirable than great riches;” Proverbs 22:1a

hanko

Shortly after our initial arrival in Japan many years ago, we visited a local shop to have our personal seal or “hanko” (判子) made. We had been informed that a simple signature would no longer suffice to open bank accounts or enter into any contractual relationship, but instead, a personal seal was required for all such transactions in Japan. Once it was decided how our name would be written in Japanese, a hanko was ordered and we were soon ready for business. We used that same seal for 34 years to sign for deliveries, purchase cars, register for health insurance, enter into cell phone contracts, withdraw cash from the bank and sign rental agreements.

Each hanko, like a signature, is unique and they can be made of wood, plastic, ivory or stone. The cheaper ones cost $10-20 USD, but more expensive versions sell for a few hundred dollars. The word inkan (印鑑) is often used interchangeably with hanko, but technically an inkan is the actual stamp on the paper whereas a hanko is the physical object used to make the stamp. Only red ink is used with the hanko and businesses or local government offices generally provide the stamp pad when you are requested to affix your seal to a document. These personal seals are usually protected in specially designed cases and it is important to register your hanko with the local municipal office. The government officials will in turn provide a document called an “inkanshomeisho” (印鑑証明書) required for important transactions, as it serves to verify that is your legal seal.

All businesses, organizations and even churches have their own official seals which are carefully protected due to legal liabilities if they are misused. As the representative of our mission organization, I was required to use a specially designed square hanko to authorize certain official documents. However, our religious registration as a mission changed, which called for the creation of a new hanko that was supposed to be round in shape. This anomaly confirmed what I had long suspected… I was a square peg placed in a round hole!

The author of Proverbs highlights the importance of maintaining a good name (Proverbs 22:1) in reference to our character or reputation. A hanko is designed to represent its owner, but how do our actions, words and attitudes represent us? This is a critical question we must periodically ask ourselves since the possession of a good name is far more valuable than great riches, power or influence. A good name can last well beyond our short existence here on earth and it potentially puts us in a position to in turn, have a meaningful impact on the lives of others. In contrast to this, a person with a bad name, who manifests an ignoble character, is not only judged by men, but by God Himself who alone can accurately evaluate such matters. A hanko serves to represent us legally, but a good heart is the best indicator that we are healthy spiritually. “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3:3,4)

Pounding Rice

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” Genesis 3:19a

Mochitsuki   We watched with admiration at the efficiency and precision of two people engaged in the Japanese tradition of making mochi. Mochi is a rice cake made from a particular strain of rice and it is customary to eat it with the coming of the new year. The traditional method for making it is called mochitsuki (餅つき), where one individual rhythmically beats the rice placed in a large mortar (usu) with a two-handed wooden mallet (kine) while the other person deftly turns the rice anticipating the next blow.

The preparation of mochi actually begins the previous day by soaking the rice for several hours before steaming it. Then, the ritual pounding begins, usually taking place in a festive atmosphere at schools or neighborhood gatherings. When the rice has reached the right consistency and no individual grains remain, it is finally removed and divided into edible portions. This ancient form of preparation is usually associated with the new year, but mochi is actually eaten year-round and modern machinery has for the most part replaced the more traditional, labor-intensive process. Hundreds of years ago, mochi was offered as a special food to the gods in Shinto rituals and the practice still continues today in many homes and shrines.

Mochi is often eaten as a form of dessert, along with a sweet red bean paste (anko) and various confectionary powders are typically added. One of the most famous variations is the sakuramochi, or “cherry blossom” mochi, sold in the spring with the onset of cherry blossom season. Because of its thick consistency, mochi presents a potential choking hazard, so it is not uncommon to hear of fatalities connected to its consumption.

The general activity of eating seems to be an important theme at the outset of human history as indicated in the early chapters of Genesis. For example, the first created humans, Adam and Eve, were told by God that they were “free to eat from any tree in the garden” (2:16) but then an additional instruction warned them that they “must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (2:17) After their disobedience, the serpent who tempted them, is cursed and is doomed to eat dust” for the remainder of its existence. (3:14) Following that, the ground itself is cursed because of the man and woman’s disregard for God’s command and it is only “through painful toil [they] will eat food from it.” (3:17) Before they are cast out of the Garden of Eden they are told once again: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” (3:19)

Anyone who watches the traditional process of mochitsuki will certainly take away the impression that considerable toil is a prerequisite to actually eating it. Since that initial sin in the Garden, the same is essentially true for everything we consume, as it is only through our labor that we have money to purchase food or the physical labor of others to produce and prepare it. Taken in this light, our daily consumption of food and other necessities in life serves as a subtle reminder of the consequences of sin and how the choices we make can reverberate for eternity. Sadly, every year, some people will die from eating mochi and much more sadly, many  more will perish because of their utter disregard for God’s truth.

Lucky Bags

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  Romans 8:32

Lucky BagsJapan has a popular New Year’s custom where stores offer sealed bags filled with random contents and sell them for a substantial discount. These special bags, known as “fukubukuro” (福袋) or “lucky bags,” are eagerly snatched up by customers who flock to the stores on New Year’s Day looking for a bargain. This established promotion is actually a clever means by which merchants unload excess or unwanted merchandise from the previous year. Obviously, this practice serves the dual purpose of attracting customers into the store to hopefully make additional purchases. The fukubukuro tradition also loosely ties into the Japanese superstition of starting the year with a clean slate as it clears the store of a number of unwanted items.

These goodie bags can contain a variety of items, but in major department stores, the contents are usually restricted to things sold in the specific department in which the bags are located. Prices for fukubukuro vary widely, depending on the store and the quality of the items they contain. The contents may include anything ranging from food, clothing, cosmetics, electronics, jewelry and miscellaneous household goods. It is essentially a form of gambling as some bags may prove to be duds while others may be an excellent bargain. Hence, they are called “lucky bags” and are widely used as gifts to family members and friends.

 As one would expect, the contents of a fukubukuro can be hit or miss, and even Santa’s legendary bag can leave many recipients dissatisfied come Christmas morning. However, there is nothing insufficient or inadequate in what God provided for us on that first Christmas. From His infinite storehouse of treasures, God spared nothing and gave us, not His leftovers, but the greatest gift of all—His Son. This is why the Japanese character for “lucky” (福) is also used as part of the very important biblical word “fukuin” (福音) which means “good news” or the “gospel.” It is, however, critical to understand that the good news of eternal salvation has nothing to do with our traditional concept of luck, but rather, is rooted entirely in the grace and goodness of God. The gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins is a “lucky bag” that God alone can provide and its value far exceeds anything else this world has to offer. Best of all, the purchase price has already been paid by God at the cross. This is indeed fukuin, or good news.

Shiokari Pass

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  John 15:13

Shiokari Pass

Located at the apex of Shiokari Pass in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, sits a solitary marker in a desolate spot, commemorating the story of Masao Nagano, a man who sacrificed his life to save others. This newsworthy event took place over one hundred years ago on February 28, 1909. At the time, Nagano san was employed as a railway official in the major city of Asahikawa, where he was highly respected by his superiors and colleagues for his integrity, work ethic and generous spirit. There was one other important fact about this young civil servant that made him stand out to others: he was a Christian. Masao was quite zealous in his faith, even using his own personal funds to help found the Young Railway Men’s Christian Association and was a popular speaker within local Christian circles.

On that particular snowy evening, Nagano san was making his way home from a church meeting on a train that regularly traversed the steep Shiokari Pass. As the train neared the summit, the last carriage in which he and other passengers were riding suddenly became uncoupled from the rest of the train and started to roll backwards downhill towards their certain destruction. Everyone knew the train car would soon pick up speed and likely hurtle off the tracks at the first bend. As an experienced railway worker, Masao Nagano immediately leapt into action and raced to the hand brake at the rear of the carriage. In desperation, he repeatedly turned the brake wheel to stop the descent of the trapped passengers. His efforts succeeded in slowing down the carriage, but not sufficiently to stop their downward movement. However, just when it seemed all was lost, the train car surprisingly came to a stop. All the occupants were saved, but their deliverance had come at a great cost. It was soon discovered that Nagano san had thrown himself under the wheels of the train car and managed to halt its doomed descent.

On Nagano’s body, in the inner pocket of his jacket, authorities discovered a recent copy of his will where, among other things, he had written: “I am equally grateful for all the hardships, happiness, life and death.  With gratitude I offer all I have to God.” He was only 30 years of age, but in his short time on earth, Masao Nagano managed to impact many for the kingdom of God.  Thanks to the efforts of famed Christian novelist, Ayako Miura, Nagano san’s story continues to touch countless lives through her famous novel “Shiokari Pass.” This widely acclaimed book published in 1968 is a fictional story largely based on what is known of Masao Nagano’s life and was later made into a movie.  A candlelight vigil now takes place at Shiokari Pass every year on February 28 to honor the man who selflessly laid down his life for others.

It is generally understood that love of self often impedes empathy of other people’s needs and, consequently, our willingness to take sacrificial action on their behalf. Nowhere is this more evident than our natural penchant to preserve our own life even when other lives are at stake. This tendency is likely why Jesus used the example of sacrificing one’s life for someone else as the supreme demonstration of the meaning of love.  Of course, Jesus later modeled such love on the cross, inspiring one of His disciples to offer up the following challenge: Bottom of Form“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (I John 3:16) We would do well to follow the example of Nagano san, who offered all he had to God at Shiokari Pass.

Funerals & Feasting

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. “     Ecclesiastes 7:2

Overhead view family toasting wine glasses at candlelight Christmas turkey dinner at table

As a few of us solemnly gathered around the shrouded body of a church member who had just tragically taken his own life, I was asked, “Did you drive here in your van?” I thought it was an odd question considering the circumstances. Less than an hour later, I found myself driving that same van with a corpse wrapped in my old car blanket and a grieving widow sitting beside me in the front seat, numbly holding her husband’s death certificate. This unusual scenario launched my initiation into performing my first funeral in Japan.

My immediate education began with assisting the undertaker in preparing the deceased’s body for burial. The body had to be washed, dressed and the face even shaved as hair continues to grow for a while following death. Rigor mortis had already set in, which proved to be a problem as the casket was a bit small, requiring us to manipulate the limbs to ensure the body would fit. While my attention was briefly diverted by a few important phone calls, a well-meaning Buddhist neighbor had convinced the deceased’s wife, who was also a Christian, to surround her husband’s body with things that he would like to enjoy in the afterlife. Even though I was inexperienced in such matters, this arrangement didn’t seem right. A quick phone call to a local Japanese pastor confirmed my suspicions and gave me the confidence to persuade them to remove such objectionable items.

The next few days were a blur accompanied by minimal sleep as I undertook a crash course in Japanese funeral protocol and vocabulary, made countless funeral arrangements, prepared messages, and comforted grieving family and church members. As a young and inexperienced missionary, I felt completely overwhelmed by the situation. While struggling to pull my thoughts together for a message that would somehow convey hope in the face of so much loss, I was led to a previously overlooked verse in the Bible where Solomon advises: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

I lived in the house of mourning during those dark, distressing days. I mourned the loss of a member of my church plant who was under my care. I mourned my inadequacies as a missionary. I mourned my inability to comfort family and church members. I mourned my own sinfulness. If granted a choice, I would have greatly preferred to linger in the house of feasting, but that was not an option.

We live our lives trying to ignore the inevitability of death and its cold reality. We dress it up when forced to confront it at funerals. In our daily lives, we do our best to minimalize death and pretend it isn’t there, always waiting for us unseen around the corner. Some go out of their way to redefine death and somehow tame it with new age sentiment and terminology. But Solomon saw immense value in visiting the house of mourning in contrast to the house of feasting. For it is only when we come within proximity of death that we are able to gain a healthy perspective of eternity. In such moments, we are also given a glimpse of God’s heavenly purpose in whatever days He has allotted for us. While I reluctantly resided in the house of mourning, I was able to feast on who God is, what He has done, and most important of all, what He will someday do.

Real Truth

“Do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.”   James 5:12

truth3

Every husband, who values his well-being, knows the correct answer if his wife asks him the paradoxical question: “How do I look?” The stock answer of “You look fine dear!” is certainly the safest reply, but it may not necessarily be the most truthful one. This is what the Japanese call a “tatemae” answer and they have elevated this form of communication to an art form that many foreigners find difficult to comprehend. Tatemae (建前) means literally “built in front” or “façade,” in contrast to its opposite term, “honne” (本音), which can be translated “true sound.” Honne, simply put, is one’s true feelings and opinions, whereas tatemae is what one perceives others want to hear. In this sense, honne is the real “sound” or voice of an individual, but for various social or personal reasons, the speaker deems it best to express a safer alternative, or tatemae, answer as a form of protection. This “safer” response could be intended to protect a personal or working relationship, and it is certainly common in diplomatic communication, which can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings.

Some consider the use of tatemae as a subtle form of lying, but in reality, every culture employs a certain degree of such communication to avoid needlessly hurting or offending those around us. In English, we may call a slight stretching or distortion of the truth a “white lie,” but such falsehoods often stem from selfish, ulterior motives. In contrast, the Japanese propensity towards using tatemae responses is generally far more complex. In Japan, the group usually takes precedence over the individual so there is an invisible, but widespread pressure to ensure that things go smoothly. Therefore, great care is taken not to potentially disturb harmony in relationships. Avoiding possible conflict is a high value in Japan and tatemae answers can be very useful to that end.

However, such a practice can lead to other challenges where one is constantly required to discern when an invitation, compliment or offer is genuine or just a tatemae response. This intentional vagueness is why sociologists classify Japan as being a high-context culture, meaning that communication is often implicit and relies heavily on context. Direct answers are often eschewed and ambiguous, innocuous replies like “daijoubu” (it’s all right), “omoshiroi” (interesting) or “yōji ga aru” (I have something to do) are frequently employed in everyday conversations. Most people are reluctant to state a contrary opinion and stand out, so they “build a wall” using tatemae, which serves to ward off unwanted scrutiny.

Because of people’s natural propensity to tell lies and not follow through on their promises, oath taking became a common practice to demonstrate the veracity or trustworthiness of an individual in both ancient and modern times. While culture can certainly complicate the best of intentions towards honesty, as a general principle, God’s people should be characterized as truth tellers. James exhorts (James 5:12) us to avoid the taking of oaths by simply being people of our word. This verse is almost a direct quote lifted from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33-37) where He challenged His listeners to strive for a higher, God-honoring form of communication. A “true sound,” or honne, flows naturally from a true heart that belongs to God.

Tree of Hope

“Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless.”            Job 8:13

Tree of Hope

On the shoreline of the small coastal Japanese town of Rikuzentakada, stands a lone, towering pine tree, which is all that remains of a once-flourishing forest of 70,000 trees. All the other trees were obliterated in a matter of minutes by a 42-foot tsunami that swept aside everything caught in its relentless path of destruction on March 2011. Local survivors of that terrible natural disaster were amazed by the resiliency of this one particular tree, and fondly began referring to it as the “Pine Tree of Hope” (希望の松). For many residents on the coast who experienced the tragedy of that fateful day, that single tree became a symbol of hope among those who had lost so much. We ourselves marveled at the seeming miracle of this solitary tree every time we passed through the area while engaged in relief work ministry.

Unfortunately, the extreme salinization of the soil caused by the onslaught of seawater eventually took its toll on the Pine Tree of Hope such that it began dying and, sadly, had to be cut down. However, thanks to Japanese ingenuity and generous donations to the project, the tree was restored and erected in its original location. As part of that process, this natural monument was carefully cut into sections using a giant crane and each portion was carefully treated over the course of months with special preservatives. Then the pieces were reassembled around a uniquely constructed carbon spine as the final stage to bring this powerful symbol of resiliency back to life.

Everyone understandably celebrated the restoration of the Pine Tree of Hope, but if one paused to reflect upon these matters, it seems rather ironic to note that a tree, which is supposed to offer hope, is actually a fake. This bit of irony may lead one to reasonably ask, “What is real hope and how can I obtain it?” Men can certainly replant a forest, but only God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, can make a tree and give men genuine, lasting hope in the midst of life’s most adverse circumstances.

The biblical patriarch Job, wrestled with such perplexing issues while suffering enormous personal loss. He came to the conclusion that hope is an exercise in futility if it is not grounded in the character and eternality of God (Job 8:13). Interestingly, the word “hope” appears in the Book of Job nineteen times, which almost seems incongruous with the massive setbacks in his life, like a fake pine tree in the middle of a disaster zone. But closer examination reveals that Job’s hope was not centered on the possibility of future positive outcomes, but on God Himself. Such a sure foundation of hope explains why the psalmist confidently declares “Blessed are those… whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them—he remains faithful forever.”  (Psalm 146:5-6) In the tsunamis of life, only God, not a tree, can provide real hope.