|News Story - July 15, 2011 - Serving Hot Ramen|
|Friday, 15 July 2011 11:49|
A Bowl of Hot Ramen Can Be Just the Start
by Kristina Bjorkman
Jesus feeding the five thousand takes on new meaning when you’re preparing to feed one thousand Fukushima evacuees. It took Jesus just a few seconds, but today it’s taking four hours for thirty volunteers from CRASH Japan, Grace Garden Chapel, and Chuo Bible Church to make pots of ramen so that evacuees living at the Big Pallet convention center in Koriyama can have something other than rice for lunch.This is my second time to visit this convention center abruptly transformed into an emergency home for more than a thousand people. I don’t have to go inside to know what is there. Makeshift houses of sheets, pipe and cardboard fill the hallways and spill into the warehouse space. Futons, pillows and precious salvaged personal items mark out territory and feebly declare over a small patch of worn carpeting or cement, “this is mine.” Volunteers like me come and go through this strange patchwork village, but its residents remain. They have nowhere else to go.
Outside, three canopy tents, three boiling soup kettles, and rows of tables are our ministry center. I work as much as I am able, but with so little Japanese, I feel as if I’m floating between participation and observation. And so I work and watch.
As I systematically open package after package of ramen noodles, I watch the women laboring over the pots. Their strong steady arms wield huge wooden spoons, and bandanas try in vain to hold back wisps of black and grey hair from their sweating faces. The steam rises from the boiling broth, thick with vegetables, meat, and noodles. It adds to the heat under the already sun-baked canopy. Haphazard assembly lines form to pass bowls from volunteer hand to volunteer hand to the far tables for distribution. Even before our “doors” officially open at 11:30 a.m., a line of evacuees forms in the coveted shade of the trees off to one side.
We scramble to finish our preparations as the line shuffles forward toward the distribution table. I hold up fingers to ask how many bowls? They respond in kind with their fingers: Two, three, four, five... or just take the number of chopsticks they need and I give them bowls to match. They are only numbers perhaps, only gnarled fingers held up with a sympathetic smile for the linguistically challenged foreigner. But each finger is a mouth to feed and, more importantly, each finger is a person still living and trying to reassemble a life.
The line stalls while fresh noodles are made, and a few of us begin to serve cold tea to those who are waiting in the sun. My mind drifts to the shores of Galilee and five thousand faces, hungry for bread but hungrier for life, crowding around a single carpenter and asking for both. In my mind, the faces are not Jewish, but Japanese.
Seven hundred and thirty is the total by mid afternoon. Leftovers are bagged to take back to the church, pots are sprayed down with a hose and scrubbed clean, tables wiped, trash gathered. Despite the heat and the work, the energy and smiles from the morning have remained and grown stronger. One or two people have stopped to thank us for cooking for them, for giving them something different to eat. That is reward enough.
Jesus, if you had been a Japanese carpenter, would you have served them rice and pork instead of bread and fish?
I pray quietly as we drive out of Koriyama. I cannot help but pray, as pictures of hungry eyes fill my mind. We filled their stomachs, but I impatiently wonder after their hearts. I think to myself. When Jesus fed the crowds, they came to Him again to ask for more, and then He fed their hearts. After all, a bowl of hot ramen can be just the start.