Within days of the disaster, a representative of WorldShare's US sister organisation Partners International, Bob Savage, visited the disaster zone to assess the situation and see where help was most needed.
Bob shared, "This is an historic moment for the Church in Japan to serve those in need. The churches don't have the resources to rebuild thousands of homes. The Japanese government and major aid organisations are doing the bulk of it.
"But the churches are doing what the government can't do: sitting with people, hearing their hurts, and being with them in their suffering. They know who is hurting in their own communities, and most of these people have never been inside a church. Just getting their homes rebuilt won't heal their deepest needs."
THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST JAPAN
The United Church of Christ Japan (UCCJ) is the largest church group in Japan with 1,739 churches. Rev. Kazuo Kinouchi, leader of our sister organisation Partners International Japan, is the pastor of a UCCJ church. Rev. Kinouchi travelled with Bob Savage to survey devastated areas and to meet with Japanese Christian groups who were responding to the needs.
The earthquake and tsunami damaged a total of 46 UCCJ churches in five districts. Many nearby churches whose buildings were still usable converted their facilities into relief centres to meet the immediate need to shelter and feed affected people from the community.
One example is Eiko Church in Ishinomaki. Bob said, "The tsunami wave came up to the church and around it, but it was far enough from the shore that the water was not deep enough to go inside. But 10 of the 22 church members lost their homes, and one died. They have a kindergarten building that was used as an evacuation shelter after the tsunami."
As of July, the UCCJ had recruited 726 volunteers to take part in the relief effort. Many of these are Christian young people, but non-Christian young people joined too after seeing the good work of the churches. Volunteers have been organising and distributing supplies to the affected areas, as well as helping victims, especially the elderly, clear their homes of the tsunami mud.
Naoya Nomura, a volunteer with UCCJ, shared about his experience:
"My first day of work I went to a family's house. We cleaned out mud and removed furniture covered with mud from the house. All the household items held lots of memories for the family. My heart ached to see the house bare and the 80-year-old grandmother, with a bent back, cleaning things out from the inside.
"I remarked to her, 'You have a lot of energy.' She smiled and she answered, 'I'm used to it since I'm a farmer.' But the entire farm and the machinery were all submerged. Her
daughter said, 'Losing the machinery is hard, but the rice fields too... I wonder if the day will come when we can farm again.'
Christian Relief Assistance Support and Hope (CRASH) Japan was founded in 2004 in response to an earthquake in northern Japan. Its purpose is 'to mobilize the body of Christ to minister to those in need in times of disaster.'
In the days following the 2011 disaster, CRASH sent out assessment teams who set up five base camps from which to operate relief efforts in the affected areas. This was the start of a remarkable work. In the weeks after the devastation, 311 volunteers put in a total of 14,257 hours serving those in need in co-operation with local churches.
"As we assessed the needs of communities, the greatest need by far in every location has been for emotional and spiritual care," they reported.
With your gifts and those of other groups, CRASH has distributed more than 135 tons of supplies including food, hygiene items, and home starter kits. Your gifts are also helping CRASH to maintain a long-term presence in those communities in order to help the small local churches continue serving and reaching out to people.
FRIENDS WITH THE VOICELESS
Friends With The Voiceless International (FVI) is part of Disciple Nations Alliance (DNA), whose goal is to influence local churches to be an active force for change in their communities. Dr. Kanda of FVI leads vision conferences to help Japanese churches explore how they can connect with their communities, taking the love of Christ to people in practical ways.
Following the tsunami, the FVI staff met for prayer and heard God calling them to be present with the forgotten people in the worst-hit area of all - those near the Fukushima nuclear plant. No relief groups were going to this area due to the fear of radiation.
"Four nuclear reactors at Fukushima were severely damaged," Dr. Kanda shared. "This caused radiation dispersion and contaminated drinking water, vegetables, sea water, etc. The Japanese government gave a compulsory evacuation order to people who lived within a 12-mile radius of the plant. They also told people within the 13-18 mile radius to stay inside their houses. We believed this was an opportunity for Japanese Christians who believe in the resurrection to boldly step into the area and break the chains of fear with the love of the Lord Jesus."
Your funds are helping FVI encourage pastors and believers, provide relief goods, and show the love of Christ in this devastated and neglected area. They are providing seminars about radiation in order to help people know what the real dangers are and so to dispel fear.
Dr. Kanda told the story of one pastor he is working with:
"Many people told Pastor S. to escape, but he dreamt that he saw Jesus walking towards the nuclear plant bearing the cross. He woke up from this powerful dream and thought, if Jesus is walking towards the nuclear plant, I should not escape; I should stay. So he decided to stay.
"The next day he started getting lots of relief goods - water and food - from his denomination. His church building was soon filled with these goods. He didn't know what to do. So he put up a poster in front of his church, inviting anyone who wanted food, water and other supplies to come and receive them without charge.
"Pastor S. counted about 1,300 people who came to receive those relief goods. He said, 'What I tried to do in ten years, God did in a few weeks.' In the first week, 13 new people came to the Sunday service, an unheard-of result in a church of about 20 people. The next week, 9 new people came. We met a few of those people. They said, 'Since coming to church, I feel peace here, I feel power here.''"
ASIAN RURAL INSTITUTE
The Asian Rural Institute (ARI) was founded in 1973 and has trained more than 1,000 rural leaders from 51 countries in sustainable agricultural practices. It is very highly regarded by Japanese churches.
In the immediate aftermath of the quake, ARI reported, 'The earthquake shook the ARI campus violently. Buildings shook, windows broke, books and bookcases tumbled down, dishes shattered. There was damage and utter mess everywhere. However, we are deeply thankful that no-one was injured. Everyone was able to get outside or under a desk or table for cover. It was a traumatic experience, especially for those who were not able to get outside.'
Because of their agricultural programmes, the campus had plenty of food and has been supplying food to those in need in their area. But many of their buildings were severely damaged. Your funds are helping with the repair so that training programmes can resume.
Your care and concern for the hurting people of Japan and your commitment to help local churches reach out in love at this historic time is greatly appreciated. Thank you for standing with our brothers and sisters in such practical ways as they have cleaned up the mud, listened to and comforted the hurting, offered shelter and supplies, and began to rebuild the broken structures of their communities.
Because of your partnership, many Japanese have experience the love of Christ in a way that has changed their lives forever.
This work could not have been done without you. Please continue to pray for breakthroughs for the local churches and for God to expand His Church in Japan.