“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:10
Following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, a familiar sight along the 500-kilometer (310 miles) stretch of devastated coastline were empty foundations in field after field where bustling towns and villages once stood. Over several months, mountains of debris caused by the tsunami were painstakingly removed and the only remaining evidence of prior human habitation were thousands of vacant concrete slabs. Vegetation slowly took over and the seemingly empty fields eventually begin to appear like ancient archeological ruins lingering from a previous civilization. Long stretches of collapsed sea walls usually accompanied these sites, offering muted testimony of their failure to protect the inhabitants against the destructive forces of nature.
Most of the survivors from this massive disaster were relocated to hastily assembled temporary housing units that were tucked further inland on higher ground. There, the survivors stoically waited for months and then years for the return of normalcy and some form of permanence in their lives. Each community worked with government officials to develop master plans for rebuilding and renewal as they struggled to recover from the past and yet still dreamed of future prospects.
This process understandably took time, and transpired in phases as mammoth machines moved earth and rubble to give way to a new infrastructure, hosting new communities. As part of this transition process, temporary buildings sprang up everywhere, almost like weeds, providing a variety of badly needed services. Temporary grocery stores, gas stations, drinking establishments, restaurants, local shops, business offices, clinics, police stations and even a public bath dotted the landscape, reminding everyone of past and present hardships while fostering hope of a better future. Some businesses managed to reopen on the top floors of badly damaged structures that would later be demolished. All of this served as a constant reminder that we lived in the midst of a deeply stricken community desperately struggling to survive.
Living in such a prefab world only served to increase our thirst for things of a permanent and even eternal nature. As we tread carefully among the rubble of people’s lives, our thoughts were often lifted heavenward and we began to “look forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10) Much like our spiritual father Abraham and other heroes of the faith, many of whose lives are chronicled in that same chapter, the incompleteness or temporary nature of things characterizing our lives reminded us daily of heavenly realities that yet awaited us. As we often pondered on what those empty foundations represented in the past, they also served as a powerful reminder of much greater things that were only visible through eyes of faith. That’s the city we should seek in the midst of life’s storms.