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Blessing and Curse
Water can be both a blessing and a curse, as weâ€™ve seen in the
recent events unfolding in Japan. An island country on the Pacific rim of
fire, Japan was formed by volcanic action, and it has always been prey
On March 11 a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck in the ocean
off Sendai on the northeast coast, sending a 32-foot wall of water that
swept up to six feet inland, flattening structures, depositing boats on top
of buildings, causing tens of thousands of people to disappear, as well as
neighboring towns like Miyoko, leaving the coastline looking like a post-
The earthquake damaged the nuclear power plant at Fukushima,
resulting in fires and explosions and leaks of radioactivity.
When the quake hit, one of my first thoughts was of our friends, Harris
and Eloise Brown Ives. They have lived in Japan since the early '80s.
Harris grew up in New Orleans, and Eloise is from New York. They
met at Pepperdine's old campus in Los Angeles. That was where I met
Harris was a fellow English major, and we took several classes
together. He lived just down the block from us on 79th Street and was
one of our childrenâ€™s favorite babysitters.
Eloise was a principal at Normandie Christian School. When Harris
went to Japan to teach at Ibaraki Christian University, Eloise visited
him. They married, had two children, and built a house in Japan.
Harris was on a speaking tour in China when the quake struck. I
emailed him that evening and spent a couple of nervous days waiting for
a reply. When it came, it was titled, â€œDid you get my email?â€� He
had tried to get in touch with me as well.
His reply, dated March 14, was written from the Tokyo Airport a few
hours after he arrived from China:
â€œI have never been a fan of mobile phones but praise God for this
iPhone gift from the children and Eloise on my birthday. If you got my
previous mail you know that Eloise called me a few hours ago. I broke
down and cried.
I canâ€™t get home. I will sleep on an airport chair tonight and do
some thinking in the morning.
â€œThings are not exaggerated in news coverage. This is bad. But my
family are alive and I had just finished a triumphant series of guest
lectures on American Literature at a good Chinese University.
â€œThe Chinese have been consistently and outstandingly gracious to
me on my frequent visits. When they learned of the disaster they took
care of me as if I were family. I remember a curious prayer of muscular
Brother Crosby at Vermont: â€˜It were enough, O God.â€™ I think I
understand that prayer today.â€�
Later that morning--next day for me--he wrote again:
â€œIt is progressing into the early morning hours and I canâ€™t relax in
my little corner of the airport. There is a community of us homeless
people. The flights stopped hours ago. I have made friends with the
bearded man next to me. I asked where he was from. He replied â
€˜Sendaiâ€™ the epicenter. He said that miraculously his wife is safe
and house intact.
â€œWe talked a mixture of English and Japanese of Hemingway and
London. He is a retired professor of geography and just returned from
six months in Lima, Peru.
â€œUpon first talking he volunteered he didnâ€™t like religion and that
he visited the tomb of Marx in London. Lest he embarrass himself I
quickly said that I was a Christian but that I found people of all religious
persuasions interesting, having just published a paper comparing the
Joseph Story in the Bible and in the Koran. We returned to discussing
Harris already had a ticket to visit a friend who owns an apartment
complex in South Carolina where students from Benedict College, a
historically black college, are housed. Since he couldnâ€™t get home,
and Eloise was determined to stay to care for their cat and dog, he
decided to use the ticket.
Eloise had been at church when the earthquake struck, and her usual
one-hour drive home took 12 hours with all the closed roads.
Four days later, Harris wrote: â€œI still donâ€™t know when the
university will resume schedule. We were supposed to begin the new
year April 4. All the foreign professors are planning to show up
whenever we open. . . .
â€œShockingly the 77-year-old retired professor-adventurer is still
sleeping on the airport floor. We struck up a friendship the one night I
camped out on the floor. The arrival lounge looks like the homeless
section of downtown Los Angeles. Many people still canâ€™t get
home. I suspect that transportation to my area will improve when I
return here on March 30.â€�
Events in Japan demonstrate just how amazingly and tragically
destructive water can be. Yet, water is essential to life. Numerous
Japanese line up daily for supplies of drinking water. The ocean, so
destructive in the tsunami, has helped avert even worse disaster by being
used in the reactors as a coolant.
The need for water is one reason why most cities are built on rivers.
Rivers provide a consistent supply of fresh water for drinking and
irrigation, as well as navigable routes for transportation and trade.
Scripture recognizes our need for water. Water is used, both literally
and symbolically, to represent rejuvenation, restoration and redemption.
This issue of the website includes articles on city water supplies, the
movie Chinatown, and water in the Bible. I hope you'll write me at b.
firstname.lastname@example.org about your experiences with waterâ€”either as a
blessing or a curse.