Post-earthquake Situation at 2 Churches near Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

The coastal area of Fukushima along the Pacific Ocean, called hamadori, is reeling from the triple disasters of the Great East Japan Earthquake, a tsunami, and nuclear radiation from the damaged nuclear power plant. Staff of the Kyodan’s monthly magazine Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend) visited the eight churches located near the power plant and shared with their readers the following testimonies of two of those churches.

Odaka Church and Kindergarten, located within the 20-kilometer radius of the Fukushima nuclear power plant

When the earthquake struck on March 11, five kindergarten children working on their yearbook album and their parents and ten other children were in the church and kindergarten buildings. As soon as the shaking stopped and all were confirmed safe, everyone evacuated the area. Seeing that conditions were beginning to stabilize, all agreed to return again the following Monday. However, the next day a hydrogen explosion occurred at the nuclear power plant, and an evacuation recommendation was issued.

“Almost everyone expected to return home quickly. People had gone to a variety of places of refuge, and many had not taken their cell phones. At first, there was no way to contact church members or related people. While I was out in a car, searching for people, one member spotted my car by chance in Iwaki City. We were then able to connect with others, one by one. Now I have a list of where our members are located,” reports Oshimo Masato, pastor of Odaka Church.

Because, like the kindergarten staff, the kindergarten children and their families were all widely scattered and it was no longer possible to continue administration of the kindergarten, Oshimo himself also returned to his parents’ home in Chiba until he received communication from Seifu Kindergarten in Iwaki City, a sister kindergarten under the same license, which is part of the same Christian kindergarten association. Regretfully, from May 1 the staff had to be dismissed. However, one of the teachers was employed by Seifu Kindergarten in Iwaki City.

Regarding the church, requests for transfer of membership have come from some of the members. “We really need to call a congregational meeting, but that is now impossible with our members so widely scattered. Our thought is to convene an emergency meeting with our subdistrict and district moderators and as many members of the church board who can attend. The real desire of our members and myself is to return to Odaka and reopen the church and kindergarten, but we are stuck in a position of uncertainty, not being able to foresee our future. For Odaka, time has stopped since the earthquake. We are unable to do anything. To be honest, when people say, ‘Just keep trying,’ I think, ‘What can I do to keep going?’ Still, when I am stuck in this mood I am thankful for prayer. Somehow, keep praying with us. In this situation of not knowing what to do or how to do it, I can only try to see God’s purpose in all of this,” says Oshimo.

Iwaki Church, damaged by the tsunami

According to a later report, things have quieted down, but people are still not able to look ahead. In the disaster, Iwaki City sustained damage from the tsunami that left sunken fishing vessels in the harbor and homes washed away. Also, the ground under the city has liquefied, or changed in other ways. The ground under the parsonage of Iwaki Church is tilting. The new pastor, Uetake Yuko, was called to the church from Kanagawa Prefecture in April. Despite changes in the level of the ground in Iwaki City, the restoration of electric and water supply was relatively fast. However, here too, the radiation from the damaged nuclear power plants has caused widespread anxiety among citizens, especially those raising small children, and many families have evacuated. It is the same with church members. Fortunately, the city, being south of the power plants, has experienced relatively low levels of radiation, so people are becoming calmer, and from April some began to return. In a later report at the beginning of June, most of the church members had returned. Still, their feelings about the radiation issue are varied, especially for families with small children, and the decision to stay or evacuate is complicated. Some are staying and others are leaving. A few children are attending church school, but the church kindergarten teachers are in a state of anxiety about reopening, reports Uetake.

Later, Seifu Kindergarten, adjoining Iwaki Church, was able to accept children and on May 9 began its new school year. The building was damaged by the earthquake, but repairs are being made. Also, to ease the concerns of the staff about radiation, all the top soil of the kindergarten playground was removed, and now the whole kindergarten grounds are lower.

Because Seifu Kindergarten and Odaka Church Kindergarten share the same license and are part of the same Soso (soh-soh) Christian Kindergarten Association, Seifu Kindergarten is supporting Odaka Kindergarten and is offering free admission to children younger than kindergarten age whose families had evacuated from Odaka to Iwaki and remained close enough for them to attend. There were some cancellations of enrollment for the new school year, but not as many as was feared.

So Uetake is gratefully welcomed for accepting a call to the disaster area. “My own regret is that I was not present during the crisis immediately after the disaster. Among those members who have evacuated and those who have remained, I sense an ambivalent feeling,” she mentioned. “Now, members of Odaka Church and Pastor Oshimo are worshipping together with Iwaki Church. The spirits of all are reviving, with some now able to look ahead while others still see no way forward. The heavy responsibility of bringing God’s word to these people in this difficult situation continues.” (Tr. GM)

 

From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend)

 

東日本大震災 被災教会の今

福島・原発周辺で生きる教会(現地取材)

福島県の太平洋岸(浜通り)は地震・津波に加えて、原子力発電所の 事故によって放射能の不安に揺れています。そんな原発周辺の教会を訪ねました。8つの教会のうち、二つの教会の声を届けます。

 

原発二十キロ圏内で避難した小高伝道所と幼稚園の今

 

三月十一日の地震の時、伝道所・幼稚園には、卒園アルバムを作る ために園児五名とその保護者、ほかに預かり保育の子どもたち十名がいた。揺れが収まった直後に全員の無事を確認してただちに避難。状 況が落ち着いたのを見て、「また月曜日に会いましょう」と言ってその日は別れたという。しかし翌日、原発が水素爆発を起こし、避難勧 告が出た。

「ほとんどの人はすぐに帰るつもりで避難しました。施設に入所し ていた人は施設ごと避難しましたし、携帯を持たずに出た人もいて、当初は会員・関係者との連絡がとれませんでした。ある会員とは、私 が車であちこち探していた時にいわき市で偶然車を見つけて再会できました。あとは人づてに連絡をとり、今は全員どこにいるかを把握し ています」と大下正人(おおしもまさと)牧師。

牧師自身も一時は千葉の実家に帰ったが、いわき市の清風(せいふ う)幼稚園(小高教会幼稚園と同じ学校法人である相双(そうそう)キリスト教学園に属する)から声がかかり、今はいわき市で小高教会 幼稚園の園長として事務をしている。とはいえ、会員同様、幼稚園児の家族も散り散りになったために幼稚園の事業継続は不可能となり、 やむをえず五月一日付で職員を解雇した。ただ、今春採用予定だった保育士一名を清風幼稚園が採用してくれた。

伝道所のほうはすでに何人かの会員からは転会願いが出ていて、今 後のことを考えるために総会を開かなければならないが、会員が各地に散っていてそれもままならない。近々、教区議長、区長、大下牧師 に加えて役員の何名かに出席してもらい、臨時役員会を開きたいと思っている。

「会員も私も、本音を言うと小高に戻りたい、幼稚園を再開したい のです。でもその未来が見えない不安の中にずっと置かれています。小高は地震から時間が止まってしまいました。何も手つかずです。正 直、『がんばってください』と言われるたびに、『どうがんばったらいいんだろう』と思うのです。でも、そんな中でやはり思いを寄せ続 け、祈ってくださるのがありがたい。どうか今後も祈ってください。何をどうしたらいいかわからない今の状況の中で、神さまのなさる業 を感じ取っていくしかないと思っています」と大下牧師。

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落ち着きを取り戻したが、まだ前向きになれない人も

 

震災によりいわき市も津波の被害を受けており、取材時、沿岸の漁 港内にはまだ船が沈み、家が流されたままだった。また市域全体に液状化を伴う地盤の変動があり、磐城(いわき)教会の牧師館の地盤も 傾いている。その教会に、四月に上竹裕子(うえたけゆうこ)牧師が神奈川県から赴任した。

いわき市は地域差はあるが、電気・水道の復旧は比較的早かった。 しかしここでも原発事故による不安が市民に広がり、特に子どもを抱える家族を中心に多くの人が一時避難した。教会員も同様だった。

幸い、原発の南に位置する同市は放射線量が比較的低レベルにとど まったことから人々も次第に落ち着きを取り戻し、四月に入ると徐々に戻り始めた。取材した六月上旬の段階では、ほとんどの会員が戻っ て来ているとのことだった。

ただ、放射能に対する対応は人によってまちまちだという。「特に 子どもを持っている家族の思いは複雑で、ここにとどまる方もいれば避難される方もいます。教会学校には数名の子どもがいましたが、保 護者の方が心配して今は開催が不安定な状況です」と上竹牧師は語る。

会堂に隣接する清風(せいふう)幼稚園では五月九日から子どもを 受け入れて新年度を始めた。地震による建て物の被害があったが補修をすませている。また、保護者の不安を取り除くために園庭の土を 削っており、庭全体が一段低くなっていた。

清風幼稚園は小高教会幼稚園と同じ学校法人の相双キリスト教学園 に属しているため、小高教会幼稚園を支援している。また被災地より避難してきた家族の幼児を無料で受け入れている。新年度、入園キャ ンセルもあったが、心配していたほどの数ではなかったそうだ。

こうした被災地の教会に赴任した上竹牧師は、「よく赴任してくだ さったと歓迎されました。でも、私は震災直後の一番大変なときにはここにおらず、教会員の中でも避難せずにとどまった方や避難された 方、それぞれに複雑な思いを持っていると感じます。今は小高伝道所の教会員や大下先生と共に礼拝を捧げています。元気を取り戻してい く人がいる一方、まだ前向きになれない人もおり、こうした方々にみ言葉を語る重責があります」とその難しさを語る。

(信徒の友より)