Facing the Challenges of the Greatest Crisis in Japan since World War II: The Great East Japan Earthquake

Being Servants of Life Together with the Churches in the Devastated Regions
by Kyodan Moderator Ishibashi Hideo
“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 the people affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami. At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, a devastating earthquake struck eastern Japan. At the magnitude of 9.0, it is the fourth strongest earthquake in recorded history, and it wrought horrendous devastation. The energy released was 45 times more than the Great Kanto Earthquake (Tokyo) of 1923 and 1,450 times more than the Hanshin-Awaji (Kobe) Earthquake in 1995. Likewise, the massive tsunami it generated devastated the Pacific coast for some 500 km (301 miles), swallowing up entire communities in the Ou, Tohoku, and Kanto regions. Ten days after the event, we are still unable to confirm the full extent of the damage and destruction.
As of March 22, over 8,000 people were confirmed dead, and more than 12,000 were officially listed as missing. Moreover, almost 350,000 others 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 such necessities as gasoline, diesel and heating fuel. Relief supplies are not 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 could have imagined, and with aching hearts, we pray to God for help.
Besides this, 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 this has attracted the attention of the world. We can only hope and pray for the safety of the people 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, are threatening lives in the greatest crisis to face Japan since World War II. In response to this, the Kyodan has set up a Disaster Relief Planning Committee, and a delegation consisting of the moderator, two executive secretaries, and four other committee members have worked diligently to gather accurate information on the extent of the damage, spending four days, March 13-16, in the Sendai region to visit churches in the affected areas of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. To assist in this effort, the moderator and the staff of the Kyodan’s head office have remained in the office day and night since the time of the earthquake to gather information.
On March 15, the Kyodan delegation met with the moderators of Ou and Tohoku districts at Ichinoseki Church in Iwate Prefecture to confirm information about the damage suffered by the churches and the communities they serve and to deliberate on how best to deal with the situation. Under the direction of its moderator, Tohoku District immediately set up a disaster relief center in the district office to begin gathering information and to coordinate relief efforts.
Pastors of the churches in the disaster zones have devoted themselves to such tasks as checking on their congregations, the staff of their related institutions, the children in their kindergartens, in spite of the difficulties imposed by the breakdown in the communications network and the severe shortage of gasoline for their vehicles. They need the prayerful support of all of the Kyodan in these difficult times.
There was also considerable damage in Kanto District as well, so its moderator has been coordinating relief efforts for 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 resulting in considerable damage in Tokyo, Tokai, and Kanagawa districts as well. There was even a death in Hokkai District.
In response to this situation, the Kyodan Executive Committee at its March 22 meeting established a Relief Planning Headquarters to coordinate relief efforts, and a special Executive Council meeting has been scheduled on April 18 to determine 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 people who have lost family members in this disaster or who are still searching for their loved ones, those who lost their homes in the tsunami and are at a loss about where to go from here, those who are experiencing anxiety over the nuclear accident, and those who are being forced to live in evacuation centers under difficult circumstances. (Tr. TB)
March 23, 2011
東日本大震災、戦後最大の日本の危機に立ち向かって
  被災地域の教会と共に
   -命に仕えるー
「わたしたちの助けは、天地を造られた主の御名にある」(詩篇124編8節)
被災された方々とその関係者の方々に心からお見舞い申し上げます。
3月11日午後2時46分、巨大地震が東日本を襲いました。世界の観測史上4番目に大きいマグニチュード9.0を記録し、甚大な被害をもたらしました。その地震のエネルギーは関東大震災の45倍、阪神・淡路大震災の1450倍とのことです。さらに地震による
津波は太平洋側の奥羽、東北、関東500キロにわたって、沿岸地域の町や村を襲い、多くの尊い人命と家屋を呑み込みました。地震発生から10日たっても、その被害状況の全貌は把握しえない状況にあります。
 3月22日現在で、8千名余の死亡が確認され、さらに1万2千名余りの安否不明者、そして、35万名に近い人々が過酷な避難生活を強いられています。道路も寸断され、通信手段が切断されて、孤立した地域があり、ガソリン、軽油、灯油等が極端に不足しています。援助物資が被災地域に届けられず、水や食糧が不足し、真冬の寒さに震えて、命を奪われようとしています。今なお医師不足、薬の不足などで、命が脅かされ続けています。まことに、想像を絶する惨状に心が痛み、主の助けを祈らされています。
さらに二次災害として、福島第一原子力発電所で1号機から4号機までが壊滅的打撃を受け周辺地域の被災された方々を初め、多くの方々を一層の苦しみと不安に追い込んでいます。原子炉が爆発し、放射性物質が大気に放出されないように、世界の人々が注視していますが、ことに福島第一原子力発電所の近辺にお住まいの方々の安全を願っています。
巨大地震と津波がもたらした危機、原子力発電所爆発による放射性物質による汚染の危機、
戦後最大の危機の中に命が脅かされています。
教団では、大震災救援対策委員会を設置し、ただちに被災地域の教会の問安と被害状況を出来るだけつまびらかに知る為、教団議長、二人の幹事、社会委員の4名を仙台に派遣(13日~16日)、宮城、岩手の被災地域の教会問安と被害状況の把握に努めました。
また、地震直後から教団事務局の幹事、職員と共に議長が泊まり込んで情報の収集に懸命に努めました。
15日には岩手の一関教会にて奥羽教区議長、東北教区議長と共に、奥羽教区内、東北教区内の被災地域の教会の被災状況の確認と今後の対策を協議しました。
被災地域の教会の牧師たちは通信網の切断、極端なガソリン不足等で移動手段が限定されるなかで、信徒、付属施設の職員、園児等の安否の確認、被害状況の把握など、必死な活動を続けております。全教団の祈りによる支えが求められます。
東北教区では地震直後から教区議長のもと、東北教区センターを拠点に地震被災の情報の収集と支援活動を開始致しました。
関東教区内にもかなりの被害があり、関東教区議長を中心に被災教会の問安と被害状況の確認を懸命に行ってきています。余震による被災を含めて、今回の巨大地震は、上記教区の他、東京教区、東海教区、神奈川教区等にも深刻な被害をもたらし、また北海教区においても犠牲者がでました。
教団は、去る3月22日の常任常議員会で日本基督教団救援対策本部(仮称)を立ち上げ被災教区の支援活動を支えると共に4月18日に臨時常議員会を開催して今後の長期にわたる取り組みを協議します。
教団への海外諸教会からの熱い祈りと支援献金の申し出がなされています。これらの祈りと支援に励まされて、被害甚大な地域を抱える教区の被災教会支援活動を支え、さらに、教会再建などの取り組みに全力を注いで行きたいと考えています。
この時、被災地域の愛する家族を失い絶望の中にある方々、愛する者の安否を懸命に求めておられる方々、津波によって家を失って途方にくれておられる方々、原発の事故で不安の中にある方々、悪条件下で避難所生活をされている方々の為に、主の慰めと助けがあるよう、教団内のすべての教会の祈りを深めましょう。
                          2011年3月23日
                           日本基督教団総会議長
                            石橋 秀雄