"Now we can go back to work and feed our families."
These were the words of the fishermen in a small village near Sendai, Japan, on a very rainy day this September as they cut the ribbon on a new ice making machine donated by the Church, using humanitarian donations from around the world. On March 11 a tsunami destroyed all but one of the 84 fishing boats in the local fishing cooperative. Some of the boats have been repaired. But even though they have boats, the fishermen were beached without ice to bring back the catch.
The plight of the fishing village was discovered shortly after the earthquake by Elder Masahisa Watabe of Alpine, Utah, a senior missionary serving with his wife, Faith, in the Asia North Area office in Tokyo.
Elder Watabe was born and raised in Sendai but had not been back for many years. He decided to "go home" in an effort to see how he could help. He met in a hotel lobby with an old friend from high school, now prominent in the community, and learned about the fishermen.
The Church went into action and on June 15, Presiding Bishop H. David Burton visited Japan to announce to the local fishing co-op the gift — an ice making machine, a cold-storage unit, and three refrigerated trucks. (Please see Church News, June 18, 2011, p. 3.)
The machine was delivered in August. The fishermen's co-op, the town of Watari, and the prefectural officials overseeing the fishing industry invited representatives from the Church to come back and cut the ribbon on the equipment. They said, "We want to express our appreciation to the Church for giving us the chance to go back to work."
On Sept. 1, Asia North Area President Gary E. Stevenson, the fishermen and government officials cut the ribbon. Although it rained on the ceremony, Elder Watabe watched on with the warmth that comes from knowing his work was making a difference in the lives of the men and their families. Many had lost wives and other relatives in the tsunami.
The machine is capable of making 3.3 tons of ice a day. Prefectural Fishing Cooperative President Shinetsu Kikuchi called it "a large step for people in the fishing industry" as he presented a plaque of appreciation to the Church.
Although the skies were dark, the smiles were bright knowing that their "catch of the day" would be back on menus throughout Japan.