Brown, a Cleveland native who speaks very little Japanese, did not leave Bradley County with a team of volunteers or an agenda to try to evangelize to the people he wanted to help. In the spirit of a goodwill ambassador, he said he wanted to offer comfort, a listening ear and any assistance the people felt they needed.
His lone return to Japan was accompanied by his sincere prayers to be a source of good and to be used in whatever capacity would help bring glory to his God as opportunity presented itself. Coincidentally, the opportunity to help the needy townspeople of Otsuchi presented itself after Brown saw one door close and another door open.
In April, Brown said he found himself between jobs when his company downsized. His wife, Meary Ruth, who was born in Tokyo but raised an orphan at the Bachman Home for Children orphanage (now Bachman Academy) in McDonald, had visited her relatives in Japan only once, in 1999, after discovering their whereabouts the previous year. According to Brown, being between jobs was the perfect time for the couple to return.
“I told my wife, ‘We don’t know what the future holds. While we’re able to go, we need to go and see your family because there’s no telling when we’ll get to go back,’” Brown said. “So we went to Japan in August. While we were there we spent a week with our friends at the church, and a week with family.”
Brown said while they were there he asked Eriya Yatsuzuka, the pastor at the Tokyo Lighthouse Church of God who coordinated the visit, about ongoing relief efforts in areas where the 8.9-magnitude earthquake had struck off the east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011 — one of the largest in recorded history — triggering a 23-foot tsunami that battered Japan’s coast, killing thousands and sweeping away cars, homes and buildings. Construction and cleanup from the catastrophe were reportedly far from over.
“Sindai was a large town and it got a lot of publicity,” Brown said. “A lot of what we saw on TV came from the Sindai area. But the local pastor mentioned there was a smaller town, north of Sindai, that they were focusing on because they were not getting the attention that Sinda got. That was Otsuchi. I told him I would like to help them in some way. I’ve got the time. I could come back and stay for a month and do whatever is needed.”
The pastor told Brown if he was willing to return for a month he would pay his way back over. After talking to his wife and prayerfully considering the matter, Brown took a leap of faith and returned to Japan alone, not knowing exactly how he would impact the people.
Before he arrived, however, Brown viewed footage on YouTube of the massive tsunami as it swept through Otsuchi. He also studied photos of the site before it was devastated. Still, seeing the aftermath with his own eyes, when he arrive in Otsuchi on Oct. 13 proved to be an overwhelming site.
“I could see plots of ground where nothing was there any longer,” he said. “Everywhere was concrete foundations where buildings had been. Everything was gone. In one stretch there may have been four families in four different sections and they were sitting there with nothing to do. There are no jobs there. They don’t have homes to repair or gardens to tend to. I saw very few men. I think they had moved away or were commuting to get to work. My dealings were mainly with older women and little kids.
“I had sent emails asking what would I being doing when I arrived. I never got a response. So I decided not to worry about it. I went with absolutely no expectations. My feeling was — if I went with expectations I would try to force them to happen and that would never work.”
Instead, Brown decided to wait and see how each opportunity would unfold and respond accordingly. To his surprise it worked out better than even he had hoped.
“I thought I was going to be there alone the whole time,” Brown said. “But I went up with the pastor, a friend and another lady from the local church who stayed with me for three days. They also sent a young man who wanted to spend some time with me. They had bought a house in the neighborhood and turned it into the Joyful House Church. They would go up every two or three weeks — for three or four days at a time. I think the pastor was willing to bring me over because there was going to be a presence in that house for a whole month. So I was never alone for more than one day at a time.”
Brown said he learned that it is not always what one says, but rather letting others know that you are there for them, that can have a positive impact for goodwill.
“Japan is only 1 1/2 percent Christian,” Brown said. “I always thought they were not a religious society. But they are an extremely religious society — primarily Shinto and Buddhist or a combination of both. They are pretty much like most Americans who say they’re Christians — they say they are, but they don’t really practice. I went over knowing that this was not going to be an evangelistic trip. I’m not a preacher. I’m not a teacher. But I can love people and listen to them.”
Brown spent time with several children and their families, played table tennis at a community center with senior citizens, helped move an elderly lady to another location with other volunteers and introduced himself to total strangers — giving out financial aid at his discretion.
“I was trying to make inroads and establish a relationship with people, which I feel I did,” Brown said. Before he left Otsuchi, Brown and the local church pastor met government official Ken Sasaki, the chief of lifelong learning on the board of education. Sasaki thanked Brown for his goodwill contributions and asked him to send a message back to the U.S.
“Tell them don’t forget about us,” Brown quoted Sasaki as saying. Brown said he wanted to help raise awareness about the plight of the people in Otsuchi, who could easily go unnoticed, but who deserved more attention, especially if other volunteers were interested in reaching out to the people of Japan.
“It’s a slow process getting into the hearts of these people,” Brown said. “You have to let people know who you are and what you’re all about before they’ll ever hear anything about the gospel. This is a way to do that. When we all walked out, the pastor looked at me and said, ‘Wow! I’ve never met a government official like this man!’ Evidently, the pastor was able to establish a working relationship this time that he was unable to do before. Just the fact that I was different and could go up to this official and he would listen and talk to me — whereas the pastor had never been able to get anywhere with anybody. The pastor told me, ‘You just opened a door that I would never have been able to open.’”
Although he did not make as huge an impact on the devastated land, Brown said he felt he made a lasting impression on the people and their impression of Americans in general — a goodwill gesture they may never forget.
The former environmental technician said it is his hope people will remember the survivors of the massive tsunami that devastated parts of Japan and the struggling people in the village of Otsuchi, who continue to need assistance in more ways than one.
To read more about Brown’s day-to-day journal while visiting Japan, visit his blog at: butchisan.tumblr.com.