Marisa Foxwell ’13 woke up one morning to learn that her home country was in total disarray.
The date was March 11, and the country was Japan. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the coastal town of Sendai, where Marisa spent each summer with her family. At the time her parents, Phillip Foxwell ’80 and Anda Margesson Foxwell '81, were in Tokyo, where Marisa and her three siblings grew up.
“Some people asked me if I was glad I wasn’t there when it happened or if I wish I wasn’t going home because of the dangerous situation. It was the opposite actually.” Two months later, as soon as her finals were complete, Marisa was itching to return home to Japan.
However, when she visited Sendai for the first time in May, she was overcome “I was devastated; I couldn’t speak for a long time.”
Last summer Marisa volunteered with CRASH Japan (Christian Relief Assistance Support and Hope), a missions organization that aims to organize the international volunteer effort in Japan. She worked as the International Team Coordinator, arranging travel and information for teams coming in from America to do physical and emotional relief work.
Marisa traveled regularly to take teams to the coastal villages that experienced the worst damage. They worked alongside the Japanese villagers and relief workers to rebuild structures, and meet the physical and spiritual needs of the people. “In Tohuku, the work is usually physical labor— clearing rubble, fields, boats, and gutters. I have also gone with a soccer team to school in Miyagi prefecture, to play soccer and games with kids, teach English, and talk to the kids in badly hit areas.”
Marisa was thankful for the time spent with victims of the tsunami. She was moved by the story of one farmer, serving as a volunteer fireman in his village, who warned an elementary school on the coast, and then raced inland to escape the tsunami. “The water swept up his truck, so he climbed on top of it and grabbed onto a roof as the tide swept through the city. After four days he got word that his family at the school was alright, but many of them still suffer from post traumatic depression. This man, however, was in good spirits and was already talking about his future. He might build a new house where he would be able to farm again,” she said.
“One thing that has stood out to me, in a positive way, is the reliance and fighting spirit of the Japanese people.”
Marisa returned for her junior year this fall, and is preparing for her upcoming HNGR internship. She has found life as an international student is not always easy, but her love of travel and close family and friends help her along the way. “Life between cultures can be difficult at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for any other upbringing. At Wheaton, God has placed me with a group of friends and roommates who are understanding, patient, compassionate, and open-minded, so it has not been too much of a struggle.”
Coming to Wheaton to study Communication with a focus on Media Studies, Marisa found herself longing to be overseas once more, and she applied to the Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program. Her desire to be involved in HNGR has been confirmed through the last few months in Japan. “I am excited to get more experience with different kinds of relief work in the next couple of years as a HNGR intern, but even beyond college I would love to work for a non-profit relief organization. “
For now, Marisa is grateful for the time she spent in Japan last summer. “This is my home, these are my people. It is wonderful to see everyone I know here and hear their stories, and try to encourage them. It is a bit strange to realize though that things may never be the same, both across the land and in people’s hearts. Seeing all of the destruction can be a bit disheartening, but it also urges me into action.”