When the earthquake hit, Sister Emi Maki was in her apartment with her senior companion, Sister Mai Kado, having a planning meeting. Sister Kado had a toothache, which put them an hour behind schedule for going out to work. The earthquake, its epicenter less than 37 miles (60 km) away, began just as they finished their planning meeting.
After the earthquake, the two missionaries took refuge in a nearby high school, in accordance with the disaster training they had reviewed just the day before.
As the six-meter-high (19 ft) tsunami came towards them, the missionaries, along with other evacuees, fled to the school’s second-floor gymnasium.
After a cold night spent huddled together for warmth in the gymnasium shelter, they woke to the water slowly receding and spent the day working with schoolteachers, cleaning the first floor of the gym and using mops to push the filthy water back outside.
As they worked, the other workers asked what they did for a living, to which the missionaries cheerfully replied, “We’re missionaries!”
The school building where the sister missionaries took shelter had “1,600 [people] SOS” written in the window. Food and all other essentials were scarce, but the sisters’ apartment had not been damaged, and they were able to secure enough food to last two people for a month, if they were careful.
Despite their relative wealth of food, though, and in a situation where children were crying from hunger, these missionaries took an unusual course of action. “We decided to fast,” Sister Maki said. “We figured if we were not going to be able to eat anyway, we would try fasting from the first day on.”
From then on, the two missionaries ate nothing, even if they were hungry, but drank water and ate just a little when they could no longer stand their hunger pangs. For a period of five days they only ate about one meal’s worth of food each day. The rest of their food they shared with the other evacuees.
Though they walked more than they had before, the sisters said they never felt very hungry or tired.
Those were not the only blessings. Sister Maki continued: “I never felt stress or anything like it while living in the gymnasium. As I prayed again and again, and sang hymns in my heart, I would feel a feeling of peace come over me. It wasn’t a feeling that my life would be saved, but a feeling of peace saying that I might live or I might die, but either way I would feel the will of God.”
Another blessing was the five days of good weather while the missionaries stayed in the shelter. “When I looked at that star-filled sky, I felt that though the land might change, the heavens and God do not change—we are always loved,” Sister Maki said.
Tears fell from Sister Maki’s eyes as she recalled the other missionaries of the Sendai Mission. “I think that all the missionaries—those in heavily damaged places and those in less damaged areas—were doing their best in their respective situation,” she said. “They walked around confirming the safety of members and investigators, visited shelters, and did their best to look for people. Still, when they traveled about affected areas and felt [the reality] that many people living in Ishinomaki had lost their lives, they were very sad.”
Two days after the earthquake the sister missionaries returned to the gymnasium after a day spent looking for members. Two women were complaining to the schoolteachers that the clothing cases and buckets that had been placed in the gym closet to be used as toilets had begun to overflow.
The two missionaries quietly put on their rain suits and masks, went into the closet, and began the job no one else wanted to do.
“Some of the people who saw that began to help,” Sister Maki said. “Older people who saw us cleaning the toilets gave us food in gratitude, and there were abundant feelings of people wanting to help one another. The people staying in the gymnasium with us had an atmosphere of mutual kindness and assistance.”
Sister Maki remarked that the disaster made her more grateful. “Before the tsunami damage, I didn’t notice just how many things for which I could be grateful,” she said. “I had a companion, water came from the tap, I had food—it was a miracle to have all the things I took for granted. . . . I thought that this world we live in is nothing more than a period of preparation. What’s important is that each of us do what is desired by the Lord, and in the place that he desires.”