Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cherry Blossoms and Hope

UMCOR’s International Disaster Response chief, Melissa Crutcfield, stands beside a cherry tree during her recent visit to Japan.

Photo by J. Rollins

Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR executive in charge of International Disaster Response, first offered this reflection last spring at the close of a meeting in Seoul, South Korea, in support of recovery in Japan. The meeting was held just two months after the devastating triple disaster there. On her recent return from her second visit to the disaster area, Crutchfield was again reminded in this Holy Week of the hope we share even in the midst of crisis and devastation. Below is an edited re-issue of her reflection.

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….

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 [the prophet] 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 in 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 firsthand 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. 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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