By Stan Friedman
TOKYO, JAPAN (March 31, 2011) – Evangelical Covenant Church missionaries in Japan say helping others reflect biblically on the disaster has been important for their own lives even as they work through obstacles to relief efforts.
Andrea Johnson says her sermon last Sunday was as much for her as the congregation in Isesaki, Gunma. The lectionary text happened to be Exodus 17, which recounts the Hebrew people’s need for water in the desert.
“The Israelites complain to their leader Moses about their legitimate need for water – God meets their needs, but it is obvious that the people haven’t learned to approach God first,” Johnson writes on her blog. “Instead, their panic pushes them to blaming, anger and doubt in the character of God. Most of my Japanese friends don’t yet know that the God of heaven really cares about them, so I take this passage as directed at me rather than them.”
Andrea adds, “The irony in all this is that no one knows the whole picture except God. The journey of faith is a journey in letting go of control, of the illusion of control . . . but it is a very painful, very long journey for some of us.”
So is waiting. Shortages and long lines when food and other supplies are available have made providing assistance more difficult. It took Andrea and her husband, Tim, 40 minutes just to drive down a ramp to get to Costco to pick up supplies that would be delivered to survivors living in Fukushima, where the crippled nuclear reactors are located.
The goods delivered to Fukushima are being distributed through surviving churches. “Since the nuclear crisis, people still left within 30 kilometers of the plants were told to stay indoors, but many don’t have heat and most companies are not shipping things into that area any more,” Andrea says.
While Tim met with store managers to ready the loads for shipping in a four-ton truck, Andrea sought supplies for home and local residents. “I tried to shop, but there was no room to push a cart since all the aisles back from the cash registers were filled with lines of people waiting for check out. These lines went all the way to the very back of the store and didn’t seem to be moving much.”
A relief team that included missionary Jim Peterson delivered goods to Sendai, the city nearest the quake epicenter that was slammed by the tsunami. The team returned Saturday.
“Most of our time has been spent establishing cooperative networks with local pastors and churches and delivering supplies to the needy,” Peterson says. “The goal is to encourage, assist and enable local churches to reach out to those in need in their local communities.”
What they saw was difficult to comprehend. “The hardest part was seeing people sifting through the rubble, searching the spot that had been home to them until 10 days ago, hoping to find something, anything to salvage as a reminder of life when it was normal,” says Peterson. “We had very little to say after seeing all of this first hand.”
There were moments of great hope, however, Peterson says. A media team that had connected with the relief group witnessed the rescue of an 80-year-old woman and her teenage grandson nine days after being buried in their home. News of the discovery received international attention.
“I can tell you that everyone who was there was totally stoked when they got back,” Peterson says. “Our base camp didn’t quiet down for several hours as they relived it, replayed it and rushed to get their story ready and online.”
Covenant World Relief and the Department of World Mission are working with the Covenant Church of Japan to provide immediate assistance and help with future redevelopment efforts. To contribute online to a special fund, click here.