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Sharing Shalom in Word, Thought, and Deed

A Letter from Thomas Goetz, serving in Japan

November 2018

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Recently, our region of Hokkaido experienced a serious earthquake, the Hokkaido-Iburi earthquake. Many people are still recovering from this. As for me, this was my second major tremblor. The first happened January 17, 1995 at 5:47 a.m. That was the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake of the Kobe region.

These two earthquakes were different. The Hanshin-Awaji earthquake was much bigger, measuring 7 on the JMA Shindo scale. The recent Hokkaido-Iburi earthquake was 6.6. The difference between the two may seem to be minimal from a mathematical view, but earthquake measures are not based upon simple math. In short, an earthquake’s strength, or magnitude, increases with a) the amount of time the earth shakes and b) how close the quake is to the surface. So, the longer the earth shakes, the more the destruction. The closer the movement is to the surface of the earth, the more the destruction. The Hanshin-Awaji earthquake happened 17 kilometers beneath the earth’s surface, while the Iburi quake happened 35 kilometers down.

Though it may be hard to see, in events such as these we are under God’s care, God’s love. We are pulled away from our ordinary daily lives and placed in new and unfamiliar surroundings. Those new surroundings are rooms filled with fallen books, broken glass, no running water and no electricity, or, in extreme examples, completely destroyed neighborhoods, upturned land, and impassable roads. The feeling of isolation is intense.

Recognizing that we are under God’s care is akin to seeing that we depend not just on ourselves, but on others. Neighbors helping each other and a child resting in the arms of a loving proud grandparent are much more visibly at hand. It is not just humans reacting with care; it is something more.

We are blessed. There is an expression in Hebrew, “asher-ani,” that means “Happy I am” or “Blessed I am.” We are not happy because we won a game, but because we are blessed by God and we are loved. We feel that love. We are at peace, not just through the absence of conflict. Peace is the encompassing completeness of things being whole. Shalom: harmony, wholeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. To say that we are blessed and at peace makes me wonder where. In God’s hands. To be in God’s hands means that God will keep the promise of love and togetherness. That there is a plan to save us from harm in all its forms.

In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus tells his students to be kind to children. Of course, in every culture and society, everyone agrees to be kind to children. It’s common sense.

Or is it?

Inside the city of Sapporo is an enclave within the Satozuka neighborhood. During the 1950s, the city reclaimed a swamp by filling it with ash. The new land was leveled and approved for private ownership for homes and businesses. Construction commenced with all lots sold in a timely manner. When the quake hit nearly 60 years later, the land literally bounced like jello pudding. Destruction was immediate.

Just as immediate were the disturbing opinions of other citizens whose homes were not damaged.

As God’s children, we are to share kindness, but that has not been the case here in Sapporo. Since the Hokkaido-Iburi earthquake, Twitter has been a depressing place. On Twitter, they said that using city money to aid those affected in Satozuka was not necessary. This reaction was in sharp contrast to what I experienced in 1995 in the Hanshin earthquake, when about 500,000 people were in some manner affected. Here in Sapporo, all too many people seem as though they couldn’t care less about those who live in Satozuka.

To get beyond this problem, we have to walk in the way of the pilgrim. We may feel alone, but we are not by ourselves when we speak. We are in God’s company. The path in front of us is a bright one. With the peace of God so close, we are told to be as trusting as children are. Jesus said, “‘Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

What can we do to bless others? Let’s set into action the kind of love that Jesus would if he were walking among us in our time, sharing Shalom in thought, word and deed with those we know and love and those we have never met. Your contributions to the Presbyterian Mission Agency enable us to walk in this manner. Thank you and may you live a long and rewarding life.


Ubi caritas, et amor, Deus ibi est.
Where there is caring and love, God is always there.

Please read this important message from José Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission

Dear partners in God’s mission,

We near the close of 2018 inspired by the hope of Christ. God is transforming the world, and you are helping to make it happen.

Thank you very much for your support of our mission co-workers. The prayers and financial gifts of people like you enable them to work alongside global partners to address poverty, hopelessness, violence and other pressing problems in the name of Jesus Christ.

Every day, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers are blessed to be able to walk alongside their brothers and sisters across the globe. Listening to each other in faith and in friendship, they learn from each other how to work towards a world in which everyone flourishes. Acting upon what they discover together, PC(USA) mission co-workers and our global partners strengthen the body of Christ.

Because you are an integral part of God’s mission, I invite you to become more deeply committed to Presbyterian World Mission. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer God’s call to serve others.

I also invite you to ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s prayer list and mission budget for 2019 and beyond. Your multi-year commitment will make a great difference in our involvement with our partners. The majority of our mission co-workers’ funding comes from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours, for God’s mission is a responsibility of the whole church, not a particular area of the church. Now more than ever, we need your financial support!

In faith, our mission co-workers accept a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission, representing the whole church and you, sends them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts? With hope and faith, I await your positive response!

At God’s service and at your service!

José Luis Casal

P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!

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