My quadriceps just reminded me of something. Today is National Bike to Work Day and to celebrate, a co-worker invited me to join him for his ride in this morning. Jeremy Denief, a videographer for Convoy of Hope, put his car up for sale and is riding his bike everywhere for the next six months as part of a documentary he’s filming. What’s film-worthy in America is normal practice in Japan where Convoy of Hope has distributed 600 bikes to survivors of the 2011 tsunami.
This morning’s ride brings to mind several conversations with tsunami survivors in Japan last month where riding a bicycle to work is just as much of a cultural norm as fish for breakfast. Upon arriving at the relief center that Convoy of Hope helped build in Higashimatsushima I met a husband and wife who stopped in for tea. I learned quickly that they had only survived the massive tsunami because of a decision to leave their earthquake damaged home and check on their daughter. After the tsunami wiped out their home and belongings they were very grateful for Convoy of Hope’s help with food and relief supplies. When I asked what was most helpful I honestly expected to hear about food and water but their answer surprised me. “We each received a bike” the woman explained, “it helped us to get going and to find a job.”
Her answer brought images to mind of all of the bikes I had seen riding about in Narita, Tokyo and Sendai the days prior. Later I asked Pastor Ito, who oversees the center, about her answer. He explained that for many Japanese, their bikes are their cars, and to have a bike is to be able to live a healthy and productive life. Suddenly, 600 bikes takes on a whole new meaning for me. That’s not 600 people riding to the park a few weekends or 600 people riding to work once a year, that’s 600 people empowered to restart their life after a devastating disaster.