Change is coming

Today in Japan, which is tomorrow at home, is my sister’s birthday. It is also the anniversary of the first earthquake that I ever felt. We had all gone to bed after a day of celebrating my sister’s birthday. She was eight that summer. The earthquake was big enough to wake us up. It turned out that it was a really big earthquake. The 7.2 earthquake caused what may have been the biggest landslide in the recorded history of the United States. The history of the quake reports that the shake lasted for 30 to 40 seconds, which either was long enough for me to get out of bed and make it down the stairs, or I felt an aftershock after I got downstairs. I was only 6 at the time and my memory is mixed up with stories that others have told. At any rate, the time after the quake was a busy time for our father. He flew a reconnaissance flight over the quake area at first light the next morning, taking pictures with his polaroid camera. What he saw was that the entire flow of the Madison River had been blocked by a gigantic landslide. He saw Hebgen Lake was rising rapidly with the flow cut off. A new lake was forming behind what turned out to be 50 million cubic tons of mud, rock and debris that had slid into the valley with such force that it created hurricane force winds - winds strong enough to have blown a car with 5 people in it off of the road. He saw broken and damaged roads. Old Faithful Inn had been evacuated due to damage to the structure.

A subsequent flight with a professional photographer and engineers from the Army Corps of Engineers produced large 8 x 10 black and white photographs of the damage. Over the next week, more flights were taken and the Corps made a plan to cut a spillway for the new lake. It took until September 10 for the emergency spillway to allow water to flow into the Madison once again and until the end of October for the new spillway to be completed.

At least 28 people were killed by the immediate effects of the quake, which was felt strong enough to cause damage in Idaho.

Those memories are reinforced by being in Japan where we’ve felt three strong earthquakes since we arrived, two of them in the last week.

So happy birthday, dear sister. You always knew how to shake things up!

It is also the day before we depart from Misawa and begin our journey back home. Our trip has been so wonderful on so many levels that it is hard to see it coming to a close. We have now been here for more than half of our new grandson’s life. We’ve seen him grow and we’ve watched our daughter gain confidence as a mother. We’ve held the tiny one as much as possible so that we will have memories to reinforce our regular video chats over the next few months until they are able to visit us in April next year. We have one more day to soak up baby cuddles and have conversations with our daughter and son in law. We have two more days to be immersed in Japanese culture and language and to enjoy what to us seems like an exotic destination.

Meanwhile, back at home, folks are in the midst of a big rummage sale at the church. The efforts of many people have combined for what is one of the biggest events of the year to raise funds for the Women’s Fellowship, who turn the dollars into mission and outreach into our community, supporting a variety of important projects and ministries. If we were at home, we would be doing what we are able to help with the sale and enjoying the fellowship of the workers.

Sunday will be the last of six weeks of being out of the pulpit. Three capable substitute ministers have each led two worship services in our absence. Before we left, I created drafts of the liturgies and worship bulletins for each of those services and so I have a sense of what is has been happening in the worship life of the congregation even though I haven’t been present in worship. I’m excited and ready to be back in the pulpit and sharing with the congregation on August 25.

It is always the nature of our trips away from the congregation, whether the purpose of the trip be sabbatical or vacation. I miss the congregation. I miss our particular style of worship. I miss the people. A lot happens in a congregation in a few weeks time. An important funeral occurred in our absence. The life of the congregation has gone on. Things have changed.

We have changed, too. We have learned more about Japanese culture, religious observances and festivals and traditions. We have been changed by spending quality time with our daughter and son and their families. We have been reminded that love transcends distances - even the distances of half of the globe. We have once again been reminded that we are not the center of the community. Life goes on in our absence. These are all important lessons that we understand in theory, but the living of them is important for the health of our congregation and the community we call home.

Our return will be a busy time. There is much to be done. A newsletter needs to come out. A church school rally needs to come off. The fall is a busy time of programs gearing up. Our congregation hosts the community Thanksgiving service this year and there are meetings to arrange and a service to plan. It won’t be long before we are in the midst of Advent and all of the special preparations for Christmas. Thinking of our return gives me a bit of anxiety about all of the things that need to be accomplished. Thinking of our return begins the process of preparing me for the plunge into the life of the community and the church that is important for the ministries of the year to come.

Like the earthquake of my childhood, we don’t know what all of the changes such a major event will cause. We do know that it is momentous. May we, like those who responded to the earthquake 60 year ago, give our energy to responding to the call.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!