Soup Run, July 2013
July 23, 2013
Dear Family and Friends,
It has been quite a while since I volunteered at one of Imai Sensei’s “soup runs” for the homeless. But the other day I had the time, so eagerly went to help out. This time it was held in a park. Despite the inclement weather, people started gathering about an hour before. Then volunteers began drifting in. And at exactly 11:30 vans arrived with food, freshly cooked and steaming hot.
We volunteers hurried to set things up, as the rain graciously backed off — amazingly from start to finish.
This week there were several first-year high school students with their teacher. They were allowed to dish out the rice and beef curry stew,
while the rest of us handed out items for the men to take with them: shoes, compressed gas cans for their cookers, rice, cans of spam, and packages of instant soup. One man was in charge of getting medications for men who needed them, so he took orders to give out the following week.
Yomarari Group has been at this “soup run” for so long that things now run without a hitch. Since it was so wet today, for example, they had brought large pieces of cardboard for the men to sit on. And they knew of a drinking fountain drain where we could squeeze out excess juices from bags of pickles before putting them into Styrofoam bowels on the serving table.
Today there were old timers and new comers, young and aged. Imai Sensei told me lots of people were still coming from far away, looking for work. As a consequence, companies have been hiring for only short periods. When new people arrive, older ones get laid off. New ones are cheaper, so the companies take advantage of that. That means many men are left without enough money to move on. So, they join the weekly “soup run” and become part of the Yomawari “family.”
“My work is never ending,” said Imai Sensei. “We do what we can. But the depressed economic situation here is really tough.”
The men could get seconds, if they wished, but not too much for fear gorging would make them sick. All of them did come back for more. And as usual they were incredibly polite and grateful.
After the homeless guests had finished, we volunteers were allowed to eat. I sat next to one man, who started to philosophize. “You know, I was raised a Buddhist, so I learned to believe in reincarnation. If you are out of luck in this life, then maybe in another things will be better. And the other way, too. But in Christianity© the perspective is really different. You have this one life, and then you go on to the next, probably for eternity. That concept really gives a sense of urgency. You’ve got to get it right this time round. That’s why I volunteer here. Not for me, but for these guys. I want to help them in every way I can, so that in this life, the only one they have, they will know some beauty, some hope, and maybe some love.”
Later Imai Sensei asked the high school girls their impression. “I learned a lot.” “I didn’t know there were so many homeless in Sendai.” “I was surprised by how gentle these men were.”
“Yes,” said Imai Sensei. “Remember. These men are human beings, just like you and me. But they’ve had bad luck. This could happen to you or to anyone. So, remember to always keep an open mind and see the humanity in everyone, no matter what.”
And with those words implanted in our hearts, we all bowed deeply to one another, and went our various ways.
© (Imai Sensei is a Baptist preacher, who believes it is his Christian duty to combine his religious beliefs with work in the world. Yomawari Group is the outcome.)