A three-year effort to build a new church for an Arlington Heights congregation received a big boost recently all the way from Japan.
Takahiro Tsutsui, a skilled carpenter who spent a career building traditional Japanese shrines completely free of nails, flew to Chicago for two weeks to lay floor tiles at the Chicago Japanese Mission, located at 24 E. Seegers Road near the Mitsuwa marketplace.
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The church's pastor, the Rev. Yugo Kobari, said volunteers have done 70 percent of the work on the new church, which he hopes finally will be finished in time to celebrate Christmas.
Another Japanese-American pastor, the Rev. Akira Horiuchi, talked Tsutsui into making the trip and found financing for his airfare.
"God weighed heavily on us to finish the church as soon as possible," said Horiuchi, who lives in Bolingbrook. "So many American Christians are helping as volunteers to build the church building. It's really amazing to us. Tsutsui is a fine carpenter, and I begged him to come over here to help."
Tsutsui has been volunteering in areas hard hit by Japan's tsunami in 2011 and wants Kobari to help him obtain American materials to build small, inexpensive houses for people there who are still homeless.
"American two-by-four houses are the only ones standing without any kind of problem" after earlier earthquakes in Japan's Osaka and Kobe areas, Tsutsui said with Kobari's help translating. "They are very strong. I want to build at least three model homes with materials from here and see if Japanese people like them. People who lost their homes want houses but don't have much money."
It's fitting that Tsutsui broke from his relief work in Japan to help Kobari because the pastor's own trips to help tsunami victims over the past few years cut into time and funds for his church.
While in the area, Tsutsui took enough time away from the heavy work to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field and "beautiful views" from the John Hancock building in Chicago.
He hasn't been alone in making large contributions to the church effort.
Rich Meyer, another volunteer, isn't a church member, but is a neighbor of Kobari in Mount Prospect. Meyer admits he laughed a bit when Kobari told him he'd moved his family from California to build a church in Arlington Heights.
"I was sitting at home doing nothing," said Meyer, who's volunteered on the effort for about a year. A veteran of Desert Storm and 28 years in the Army and National Guard, Meyer had a background in home building.
"He asked me to come over and look at his church's outdoor lighting, and I saw how much work there was to do with plastering and things, and I said 'Let me do it,' said Meyer, who's now retired.
Other volunteers have come from 10 churches, including ones in Arkansas and Colorado and an African-American church in Broadview. The Korean Baptist Church of Schaumburg, where Kobari's congregation holds services, donated the new chairs stacked in the vestibule waiting for the church to be finished.
Kobari said without those volunteers, the effort would have gone nowhere.
"Without the help of Tsutsui and Rich and other volunteers there is no way -- I am eliminated, I am dead meat," he said.