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
                            石橋 秀雄