Facing the Challenges of the Greatest Crisis in Japan since WWII: The Great East Japan Earthquake
March 23, 2011
Rev. Hideo Ishibashi, Moderator of the United Church of Christ in Japan
Being Servants of Life Together with the Churches in the Devastated Regions
Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Ps. 124:8)
We wish to express our heartfelt concern for all those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. At 2:46 pm on March 11, a devastating earthquake struck eastern Japan. At magnitude 9.0, it’s the 4th strongest earthquake in recorded history, and it wrought horrendous devastation. The energy released was 45 times as much as the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and 1450 times that of the Hanshin-Awaji (Kobe) Earthquake in 1995. Likewise, the huge tsunami it generated devastated the Pacific coast for some 500 km, swallowing up entire communities in the Ou, Tohoku and Kanto regions. Ten days after the event, we’re still unable to fully quantify the damage and destruction.
As of March 22, over 8000 were confirmed dead and more than 12,000 were officially listed as missing. Moreover, almost 350,000 people were left homeless and forced to live as refugees. Blocked roads and severed communication lines have left many areas isolated, and there are severe shortages of gasoline, diesel and heating fuel, etc. Relief supplies aren’t reaching many areas, and there are shortages of food and water. Likewise, the wintery weather has added to the misery, and with the shortage of doctors and medicine, many lives are in danger. This desperate situation surpasses anything we had imagined, and with aching hearts, we pray to God for help.
On top of this, then, the serious situation at reactors 1 through 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Facility has dealt the area an additional catastrophic blow, deepening the suffering and anxiety of not only the direct victims of the earthquake and tsunami but many others as well. The explosions at the facilities have caused radiation to spread through the air. All of this has attracted the attention of the world, and so we can only hope and pray for the safety of those in the area.
The crisis brought on by the dual disasters of the earthquake and tsunami followed by the radioactive contamination from the nuclear facilities is threatening lives in the greatest crisis to face Japan since WWII.
In response to this, the Kyodan has set up a disaster relief planning committee, and a team consisting of the moderator, 2 executive secretaries and 4 other committee members have worked diligently to gather accurate information on the damages, spending 4 days (13th to 16th) in the Sendai region visiting the churches of affected areas of Miyagi and Iwate. To assist in this effort, from the night of the earthquake, the staff of the Kyodan head office remained at office around the clock with the moderator to gather information.
On March 15, the Kyodan delegation met with the moderators of the Ou and Tohoku districts at the Ichinoseki Church in Iwate Prefecture to confirm information about the damages suffered by the churches and the communities they serve and to deliberate on how to best deal with the situation.
Pastors of the churches in the disaster zones have devoted themselves to checking on their congregations, the staff of their related institutions, the children in their kindergartens, etc., in spite of the difficulties of imposed on them by the breakdown in the communications network and severe shortage of gasoline for their vehicles. They need the prayerful support of all of the Kyodan in these difficult times.
Under the direction of the district moderator, the Tohoku district immediately set up a disaster relief center in the district office to begin gathering information and to coordinate the relief efforts.
There was also considerable damage within the Kanto district as well, and so the Kanto district moderator has been coordinating efforts to get relief to the affected churches in his district. The frequent aftershocks are also causing some damage, but the effects of the main quake were far reaching, not only severely affecting the above-mentioned districts, but also visiting considerable damage to the Tokyo, Tokai and Kanagawa districts as well. There was even a death in the Hokkai district.
In response to this situation, the Kyodan established the “Relief Planning Headquarters” at the March 22 Executive Committee meeting to coordinate relief efforts, and a special Executive Council meeting has been scheduled for April 18 to hash out a long-term plan.
The Kyodan has received numerous messages of support from overseas churches offering their prayers and financial assistance. These prayers and contributions have greatly encouraged us, and they will help us in our efforts to support the churches in the disaster zones as they rebuild and serve their communities.
We call on all our churches to pray to God for his comfort and help as they support those who have lost family members or who are still searching for their loved ones in this disaster, those who have lost their homes in the tsunami and are at a loss for where to go from here, those who are in the midst of anxiety over the nuclear accident and those who are forced to live in evacuation centers under difficult circumstances.