Friday, April 15, 2011

Hearts Breaking, Hope Healing

OMF members visited the disaster area and created this video after their return. I highly recommend you take 4 minutes to watch this moving video.

OMF Kanto/Tohoku Earthquake from Mike McGinty on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Message from Bryan and Jan on the 1 month anniversary of the disaster

On the one-month anniversary of the Great Tohoku/Kanto Earthquake, we send this message to you as an update on our lives and ministry in Tokyo, Japan.

Monday, April 11, 2011

April 11, one month since the disaster, "trauma rages on"

  • Today marks the 1-month anniversary of the triple calamity on March 11, and one article said "The trauma rages on." ""My chest has been ripped open by the suffering and pain that this disaster has caused the people of our prefecture," said Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima, which saw its coastal areas devastated by the tsunami and large segments of its population evacuated because of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in its midst. "I have no words to express my sorrow.""
  • At 2:46pm today the 50 volunteers in the CRASH Japan headquarters stopped their work and spent time praying for the victims, and for those working to help those who have experienced loss and trauma as a result.
  • Ironically, there was another large aftershock at 5:17pm today that killed at least one person, although there was no tsunami reported. This follows an aftershock last Thursday evening, which was the largest since March 11 and killed 4 people.
  • Those killed now number over 13,000, with an additional 14,000 people missing.
  • "50 years of effort swept away." Reports continue to come in about how most preparations against tsunami were overwhelmed by the killer waves that followed the massive quake.
  • Considerable criticism has been heard about the nuclear plant's preparedness and the response after the quake. "Nuclear crisis man-made, not 'an act of god': experts".
  • Regarding the nuclear plants, workers continue to try to get a very difficult situation under control, but areas outside of the 18 mile evacuation zone are not being affected. 
  • "Desperately worried but determined to support their husbands, the wives of workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant struggle with their emotions as they wait for their husbands to return from work that is endangering their lives."
  • 150,000 people are still living in shelters, with 1 in 6 saying "it is unbearable."
  • The search continues for the dead, in very difficult and dangerous areas, many of them still underwater.
  • Questions are being asked about how to dispose of debris estimated at 80-200 million tons, including an estimated 146,000 cars destroyed by the tsunami in one area alone. 
  • Then there is the logistical nightmare of trying to re-unite valuables like jewelry, pictures, heirlooms and the hundreds upon hundreds of household safes that have already been found, but are without any external identification. Tens of millions of cash has already been found: "According to the police in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, police stations receive everyday on average several hundred items containing cash."

Friday, April 8, 2011

What is C.R.A.S.H Japan doing to respond to the disaster?

CRASH (Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope) Japan has been busy setting up four base camps near the heaviest-hit areas, and we hope to open at least one more. From those bases we would like to set up sub-bases, working as much as possible with and through the local churches. In some cases there are not local churches to work with, or the church itself has been destroyed.

Ofunato Church, damaged by the tsunami
Once the bases are operational we expect to send a steady stream of volunteers to work safely and effectively to do the work of recovery, which may include clean-up, furniture removal, minor repairs or construction, meal preparation, ministering to victim's emotional and spiritual needs, and serving the community in whatever ways are necessary. For example, many people have lost their cars and they cannot even get out to buy food. Children need safe places to stay and play while their parents are restoring their damaged homes or businesses. The "ministry of presence"is very important we we listen to their stories and pray with them. The needs are immense and ever changing, which is why we need bases in the field.

At the present time we are mobilizing teams from Japanese churches, as they are ready to go and already have the language and understand the culture. As we approach summer we hope to be able to accept teams from overseas as well. We've also been able to help some specialists to go as well, like the team of firefighters currently at a CRASH base.

So far about 100 people have gone into the field in association with CRASH. I'm volunteering at the CRASH Japan Headquarters in Tokyo, where some 300 people have come in to help over the past 4 weeks. About 30 tons of relief supplies have been distributed through the CRASH network.

CRASH Japan is preparing for a long-term recovery effort, to support the church as they reach out in love. We are grateful for the prayers, financial support and volunteer help we have received so far.

For information about how to be involved, see the website:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Evacuees, Operation Tomodachi, and the unique Japanese way

It's been 5 days since I've posted an update. I was quite busy over the weekend, and also needed a bit of rest. Here are a number of stories related to the disaster I thought you might find helpful and/or interesting:
Photo: NY Times
  • The situation and conditions of evacuees varies widely. Some are still crowded in cold shelters with cardboard dividers. Some have been given tents to stay in, whether inside or outside. Temporary dwellings are being built, but there is not much open land in Japan, so they are using the playgrounds of local schools. Some will even have the chance to stay in a former posh hotel in central Tokyo! Residents of Futaba town, evacuated because of high levels of radiation, have been moved to a town not too far from where we live in Saitama Prefecture. "Now, he, too, is a refugee, driven from his home by the very plant he long held up as the linchpin of the local economy." "For the government, providing food and temporary shelter was the relatively straightforward part in helping victims cope with the disaster. However, making sure people have a place and a community to return to will be a much more difficult task."
  • The American military in Japan has received praise from the government and the citizens of Japan for their large-scale response to the disaster, called Operation Tomodachi (which means "friend"). They even responded to a 14-year old girl's plea to help her family find their lost fishing boat.
  • I've seen several articles about how calm and orderly the Japanese were in the midst of the crisis. Although probably a simplification, I believe this is an outworking of a complex cultural system that has been honed over centuries to enable people living in close quarters on a small island to function in their daily lives. A strong cultural value is not to be a bother to your neighbor and to live up to the expectations of the community. Human relationships carry with them a weight of obligation and responsibility not felt in other cultures. Failure to keep the norms will result in shame and ostracism, something Japanese do all they can to avoid, even in the midst of a crisis.

"How has God been impacting the people of Japan?"

April 1 was to be the day when a good friend and professional photographer from our home church was to arrive in Japan to take pictures for our missionaries to use in their ministry publications. We had to cancel the trip due to the disaster. In going through my email I found a message from him, sent on March 11 at 10:22, about 4 hours before the earth shook in Japan.

In preparation for his trip he wanted to encourage those praying for him, so he asked me "How has God been impacting the people of Japan since you have been there?"

I never got the chance to answer him because of the disaster, but my answer would be very different now that God got the attention of Japan and the world! Of course it is still early days, but this much I can I say:
Photo: NY Times
  • Millions of Christians around the world have been focussing their prayers on Japan.
  • The Tohoku area of Japan, which had most of the hardest hit areas, is one of the least churched areas in this nation.
  • Thousands of Christians in Japan have responded by giving financially, collecting and delivering relief supplies, and going to help. CRASH Japan has been able to send about 100 volunteers into the field so far, with a goal of many hundreds more in the weeks and months to come.
  • Although I've heard that 15 foreigners have been confirmed dead, I have yet to hear of one Christian who has died yet.
  • Japanese pastors, churches, denominations and associations are meeting together to discuss what can be done, both short-term and long-term, in the stricken areas. We are praying for an unprecedented level of cooperation and unity among a relatively fragmented Japanese church.
  • Mission organizations, including OMF, are considering strategies for relief and recovery work, that may lead to ongoing ministry and (we hope) even new churches starting.
  • This triple calamity has shaken the confidence of many Japanese all over Japan. The nuclear issue is an ongoing concern (although we are safe in Tokyo), as are possible power outages in Tokyo and shortages of some items. Will this result in thousands of Japanese asking the hard questions of life and finding their answer in Christ? Only time will tell, but we must pray to that end.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Japan Disaster toll: Strange figures

The headline in the newspaper on March 14, 3 days after the quake, read "20,000 missing in two towns." I recall one person saying "Oh, the death toll won't be that high."

The truth is, no one knows yet how many people are missing. The official figures are:

  • Over 11,000 killed
  • Over 16,000 still missing, including an estimated 1000 bodies that cannot be recovered from the nuclear disaster zone
  • About 3000 injured: What a strangely small figure for such a huge disaster. It seems that most either survived or died. Such is the nature of a killer tsunami.
  • Over 150,000 buildings damaged or destroyed, including hundreds of schools.
Strategizing at the CRASH Japan command center
I'm working full time in the CRASH Japan command center to mobilize the Body of Christ to respond, because I believe we can and should minister to those hurting in Japan. We are gearing up for a long-term recovery effort. We welcome your prayers.

"What if that were MY daughter?" (Day 21, March 31 report)

The relief and recovery efforts of CRASH Japan are focused on meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those affected by this disaster. We can readily appreciate that those who have lost home, family, friends and community need care for the trauma they have experienced.

Less apparent are those affected by "secondary trauma"; friends and family members of those directly affected. Then there are those who have evacuated their homes due to the radiation leak. Life as an evacuee is stressful, especially for children.

Photo: NY Times
Easily overlooked are those who are directly involved in caring for disaster victims. Yesterday at the CRASH command center I spoke with a colleague about the needs 100,000 Japan Self Defense forces whose job it is to sort through rubble, often by hand, looking to recover the bodies of the more than 16,000 who are still missing. Who is caring for them?

Coincidentally the same topic came on the evening news. A group of soldiers discovered two more bodies, one of a young girl. After recovering the body they lit incense right there in the midst of the rubble and prayed for the soul of the departed people. Later the commander debriefed his men and said, "They put on a brave face, but I know inside their hearts are breaking." One soldier said, "What if that MY daughter we just recovered? How would I feel?"

The needs are so great and long-term. Pray that God will raise up thousands of Japanese Christians to respond to this opportunity to minister to those in need.