Monday, May 9, 2011

Cherry Blossoms and Hope

UMCOR executive, Melissa Crutchfield (second row, fifth from left), attends an ecumenical gathering in Seoul, South Korea, to help the National Christian Council in Japan build a long-term response to the March 11 disaster in Japan.
Photo Credit: Ciony Eduarte/UMCOR

By Melissa Crutchfield

On May 6 and 7, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) joined some two dozen faith-based relief organizations in a forum in Seoul, South Korea, convened by national Christian church councils of Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The objective of the two-day meeting was to help the National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ) flesh out a long-term relief and reconstruction strategy and explore the establishment of an ecumenical consortium to accompany those efforts in the wake of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and still potential nuclear disaster in Japan. Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR’s International Disaster Response executive, attended the meeting and read her reflection, below, at the closing worship.

Reflection – Closing Worship – Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Relief Ecumenical Solidarity Meeting – Seoul , South Korea – May 7, 2011

When I began to contemplate what might be appropriate words to share on such an occasion as this, I kept thinking about cherry blossoms. Perhaps they were on my mind because I could see them outside my window in Washington, DC as I worked, calming in their simplicity yet inspiring in their abundance.

Or perhaps it was because the annual National Cherry Blossom and Japanese cultural festival had just taken place down the street – honoring the gift of the cherry blossoms from Japan to America many years ago, symbolizing friendship and solidarity between our nations. Then thinking about our gathering together here in Seoul, again showing solidarity with Japan, the parallel was pretty easy to see.

Or it could have been that a colleague had just shown me a touching and poignant haiku, accompanied by an image of a cherry tree (that you can see on the front cover of the bulletin):

My weeping cherry tree
Bloomed today
Pink Blossoms
For the people of Japan

Or perhaps I kept thinking of cherry blossoms because they are an iconic image of spring, renewal, rebirth, hope… after a long winter – or, after an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster – when the earth looks as desolate as it might have to Jeremiah, all we need to do is have faith in God’s word that the land will be restored to life, will flourish as before. Or as the Gospel tells us the story of the Resurrection –we just need to believe that life which we thought had ended, has in fact, begun again.

The cherry blossoms – the first sign of spring – consistently reassure us, the small pink and white flowers a signal to us that life goes on, grows, blooms, replenishes, recovers from the harsh winter of previous months. Embodying optimism and hope in their very existence.

Through my work with UMCOR, responding to other disasters across the globe, what has always struck me is the cycle of renewal and hope that abounds after every crisis. Especially working with and through the church, we see first-hand how faith in action inspires, restores, revives. A little over a year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, progress is indeed slow. But there IS progress. All around we see the hope of renewal, of life begun again: literally tons of rubble removed, families with new homes, women with new jobs through a microcredit program, crops and trees replanted, students returning to school in classrooms built back better and stronger than before. Recovery in Haiti is taking advantage of the opportunity to build back better. As Rev. Victor Hsu implored us yesterday, we are striving for quality, not quantity. Integrity and strength, not speed. We are committing ourselves to standing in solidarity with the Haitian people as they map out their future and the long road ahead. We are committed to being there, being a manifestation of hope.

In a world plagued by devastation, doubt, destruction; a world of natural calamities and man-made crises, it is easy to see the world as a place without hope… a world that looks more like Good Friday. But we are an Easter people who live with the conviction that land can be restored, that lives can be restored. That even in the face of death and despair, we have faith that life and hope are the final word.

With this conviction, together, we can change the landscape of Japan’s future. Together, we can raise awareness, and raise buildings. Together, we can repair and replenish lives and spirits. Together, we can nurture the support and momentum to carry us forward on the long road to recovery.

And so, we are again called to be like the cherry blossoms, to be Easter people in a Good Friday world, to be in God’s name that beacon of hope and promise of renewal and solidarity, for our friends, for our partners, for all of the people in Japan.

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