It was nice being back
Dear Family and Friends,
Imai Sensei is someone I have admired for years. He and I used to work in the same university. But his life’s work took him far beyond being a teacher. He is a Baptist preacher and got the foundation for how to be a Christian from a stint in Germany. There he learned that practicing religion means working for the greater good of the community. That is why he started Yomawari Group when he returned to Sendai.
Yomawari is an NGO that helps homeless people. It started mostly serving meals, plus handing out clothing and daily necessities. Over the years it has expanded to include showers, help with finding odd jobs or work and housing. Fortunately for everyone, the building boom in Sendai has left many old, but perfectly good, buildings vacant. So, Imai Sensei negotiated with city officials to use them as homes for the people he serves.
I used to go relatively often to prepare and serve meals with Yomawari. But I had not volunteered for many years. However, the other day a friend invited me back, so I decided to go and see what I could do.
As usual, the atmosphere was very welcoming. Long-time volunteers greeted the homeless with kindness and respect, and me with great warmth. They knew everyone by name and made small talk with each person there. The atmosphere was relaxed and happy. It was nice being back.
It was a cold day. Before things started, volunteers hovered on one side, while the unsheltered slowly drifted in. They sat in a large circle around the park, waiting for the signal to head to the table.
As we were setting up, however, three young girls came bounding over and said, “We want to help.” We volunteers were both surprised and delighted.
Of course, there were many questions. Names. Ages. Schools. (All were in 4th grade of elementary school).
Two younger boys, not wanting to be left out, dashed over to see what was going on. One was in first grade.
Being kids, they could not hold still, so there was a lot of jumping and hopping, ceaseless motion. But they did listen attentively.
And they were great volunteers, working smoothly beside the adults.
I was lucky to work with a fourth-grade girl and the first-grade boy, Mika and Kazuki. They were not shy at all, as most Japanese kids are. They asked questions and gave long answers to mine. They had to explain some vocabulary to me, and did so completely naturally. Most Japanese get very embarrassed and shy when I ask a question. They simply shut down. But these kids were marvelously open and curious. And willing to share ideas and help out. Mika’s, Kazuki’s, and my job was to offer “lucky bags” with a few daily necessities inside. They did their work efficiently and very proudly.
The guests could come back as often as they liked. Many came for second, even third, helpings. But gradually the crowd dispersed, the volunteers cleared up, and the kids, still hopping and dancing with their boundless energy, decided it was time to go, too, so off they ran. We tossed the bit of leftover rice for the pigeons to enjoy, which they did, of course.
“Thank you. See you next time,” we said as we waved good-bye. It was a very good “soup run”. I am sure I will be back, not waiting so long the next time.