I recently returned to Japan for the second time since the massive 9.0 earthquake on March 11. The morning after we arrived in Miyako City there was a 6.7 aftershock. Actually there have been more than 60 aftershocks measuring more than 6.0 on the Richter Scale. The tsunami sirens began blaring. The public announce system in the city warned people to flee from the coastal area. I imagined the fear and terror that many must have been feeling as the memories of the horrible earthquake and tsunamis of March 11 came back. Immediately we began praying for the safety of those near the coast and for all who were gripped by terror. In this city estimates are that the tsunami wave was as high as 100 feet in some places. The tsunami hit about 30 minutes after the earthquake. Fortunately most were able to flee to higher ground, but more than 2000 people were killed, most by drowning.
Covenant World Relief is partnering with the Japan Covenant Church as they work together with other churches in the 3.11 Network (3/11 is the date of the earthquake). It was wonderful to see how this tragedy has brought churches from different denominations together to serve those most in need. Pastor Kondo the leader of the 3.11 church network told me that their goals are to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the people in the devastated areas.
As we walked through the coastal areas, I was overwhelmed by the degree of destruction and loss and haunted by what must have been the terror that gripped those who fled the tsunamis, and those who died trying. Over 125,000 buildings were destroyed – most of them houses. If not for a good warning system and other means of preparation for tsunamis, the death total would have likely exceeded the 25,000 victims by at least ten times.
Hearing about survivor’s guilt and all the emotional issues that accompany that was expected. However I was surprised to hear about the relational gulf that exists between those who lost their homes and those who did not. Most of those whose homes were destroyed are living in evacuation centers or temporary housing that has been built by the government. We visited many places where houses a few feet beyond where the destructive waves hit were left virtually untouched. Everyday those people look at the destruction which used to be their neighbors’ houses and feel guilty that they still have a house. Many of those whose houses survived the tsunami have lost their jobs because their place of work was destroyed. Many lost vehicles that were destroyed by the waves. Food and basic living supplies are often difficult to obtain because there are no longer shops nearby. Many are faced with massive cleanup work around their houses.
Pastor Kondo has built a strong relationship with local government leaders. The leaders have seen the care shown by the 3.11 Network volunteers towards the victims of the tsunamis. The government is providing food and supplies to those living in the evacuation centers. However once the people enter temporary housing, they are pretty much on their own. The 3.11 Network volunteers have been providing food and other necessary supplies to those people. In addition the local leaders have provided detailed maps and encouraged the 3.11 Network volunteers to care for those who still have their houses but are facing the difficulties mentioned above.
Along with all of the basic needs that the volunteers seek to address, they are also building relationships with people who have been through unbelievable trauma. Another facet of the 3.11 Network’s work focuses on children who survived the disaster. Some of the volunteers are helping to run after school programs for these children, trying to help them work through all that they have experienced since March 11. All the 3.11 Network volunteers, including many from the Japan Covenant Church, are selflessly serving people in the name of Jesus and bringing comfort to those who have been traumatized.
I am thankful for all in the ECC who have given so generously to Covenant World Relief so that we are able to partner with the Japan Covenant Church in all that they are doing to serve those most in need.