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An OB staff member hugs a disaster victim at a workshop where beauty is found in brokenness.

Beauty in the Brokenness

An OB staff member hugs a disaster victim at a workshop where beauty is found in brokenness.

I’m on a 13 hour flight headed home from Tokyo after spending the past few days in Japan attending the annual OB Japan board meeting. OBI had never worked in Japan until March of 2011 when the historic triple disaster of a magnitude-9.0 earthquake, resulting tsunami and eventual Fukushima nuclear meltdown ravaged the northern coastal region.

We responded immediately, first with emergency food and water, then shifting focus to assist coastal fishing communities whose livelihood depended on aquaculture and the farming of oysters and seaweed, along with conventional fishing. Among other things, we supplied over 100 fishing boats and motors as well as a massive amount of fishing gear that enabled hundreds of families to get back to work in record time.

Damage from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The physical loss of that disaster has passed for most survivors, but for more than 80,000 people who lived near or downwind from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the nightmare continues. Many of these communities were unscathed by the tsunami but poisoned by invisible radiation that persists to this day. OB Japan’s disaster recovery focus has now shifted from emphasis on physical relief to efforts in helping displaced survivors cope with the wrenching trauma of living in decent but depressing temporary housing for an indeterminate period of time.

Their lives are “on hold.” Their homes, businesses and earthly possessions are so near — yet so very far away. Nobody can be certain, but it’s doubtful that those who cannot yet go home will live long enough to wait out the radiation and return. Experts say it might take 50 years or more for the radiation to dissipate to safe levels. Can you even imagine the stress of being stuck in that dilemma?

A boat distribution in Japan.

Our disaster recovery outreach now focuses on “Post-Traumatic Growth” and teaching that brokenness can result in a better life than before. The metaphor that OB Japan uses to explain that concept to displaced survivors compares their suffering and brokenness to the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is the art of repairing and restoring broken pottery using lacquer mixed with powdered gold or other precious metal dust. The pieces are meticulously put back together and cracks filled with the gold lacquer. The emphasis of this process focuses on the beauty of the repaired cracks; the scars of what happened are highlighted, rather than disguised or hidden. The end result exudes a beauty that surpasses the unbroken original.

As a philosophy, Kintsugi uses the repaired cracks as the focal point of the object rather than something to keep hidden. Japanese culture values the artfully repaired object as better, stronger, more beautiful and containing far greater character than before it was broken. This principal, when applied to a person rather than an object, can have a dramatic and positive effect on someone who feels broken.

An example of Kintsugi art.

When the OB Japan counselors explain the Kintsugi metaphor, disaster survivors can easily grasp the message, which sets the stage for meaningful teaching and discussions. The concept that a person’s brokenness can ultimately result in greater strength, a new level of appreciation of life, better relationships, new possibilities and, at times, a spiritual change, becomes exciting. There is even strong scientific data to back up the fact that individuals who accept the damage they have endured as a key part of their history come out the other end of the experience stronger and wiser than before the trauma. In Japan, Operation Blessing is not only fixing boats and replacing broken belongings, we are also helping survivors put the pieces of their broken lives back together.

As Christians, we have a huge advantage compared to non-believers when it comes to recovering from trauma. Instead of using gold dust to beautify the glue that holds us together, we can call on Jesus, and ask Him to heal the wounds of a life upended by disaster or disappointment. Thanks to you, dear reader, Operation Blessing continues to shine the light of God’s love into many dark places.

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