by Umesaki Koji, moderator Kyushu District
As the 2016 Christmas season draws near, I would like to share with you some of the unprecedented events I experienced in our district during this year, and about the “light in the darkness” that I saw with my own eyes.
On April 14, at 9:26 pm, the Kumamoto region was stuck by a tremendous earthquake, measuring 7.0 on the intensity scale and 6.5 in magnitude (richter scale). The violent quake came with no warning, and people spent that terrible night in fear and confusion. When the full extent of destruction was finally revealed in the first light of day, we naturally felt bewildered. But somewhere in our hearts we were already thinking about what must be done first, or what needed to be cleaned up first. In other words, everyone was thinking, “The earthquake is over.” “There might be some aftershocks, but they will gradually end.”
We live in an earthquake-prone country, but no one anticipated that the sudden violent earthquake, which caused such devastation, might be followed by another, even greater, tremor. Yet this is exactly what happened 28 hours after the first quake, at 1:25 am on April 16. The second earthquake measured 7.0 in intensity and 7.3 in magnitude. Furniture and utensils that had just been painstakingly picked up and returned to their places exploded across rooms once more. Many homes that had thankfully withstood the first shock suffered heavy damage or collapse in the second.
This immediately made people aware that the situation was truly unpredictable. All of our trusted, experience-based earthquake rules were suddenly swept aside. Also swept aside were the fruits of our initial recovery efforts, which were achieved by rousing ourselves with great effort. “Every effort is useless.” Many people felt dispirited, losing their will to fight like a boxer matched against a far superior opponent.
Churches, members, and pastors were all tossed about and impacted by this giant force, just like every other building and people. But the work that was done by pastors in the earthquake region in the first days after the two powerful tremors was truly remarkable. Even though they were themselves victims of the disaster, they set aside the needs of their own families to search out church members, offer them comfort and encouragement, and try to meet their needs. They also provided crucial life supplies to the many people who came to disaster shelters or opened their own doors to welcome, serve, and comfort displaced neighbors. These efforts surpassed all bounds of expectation.
One of these pastors was particularly worried about a church member, an elderly woman, who lived alone. He was able to confirm her safety after the first big tremor, but could not reach her after the second. He drove toward her place through streets still rippling from aftershocks and reached her high-rise building, only to find the elevators stopped. He raced up to her apartment on the 10th floor, came back down with her on his back, then carried her to his house. This pastor was already in a state of psychological and physical exhaustion, but he could not help but run into a dangerous building to assist someone else.
In another case two church members, a husband and wife, became trapped in a room that somehow had escaped collapse while the rest of the house crumbled. Their home was in the most heavily affected part of town, which was quite far from their church. Roads were badly damaged and people assumed their neighborhood could not be reached. But their pastor packed food and water onto a motorbike and, by weaving through debris and finding alternate routes, found his way to their home. After this, he returned to them many times to offer encouragement. The supplies he took them were the very same things that he needed at his house, where water service had stopped and food was in short supply.
When I recall the many actions of these pastors, who “while suffering themselves, reached out to the suffering,” I feel strongly that these were all the works of “those who know the One who came.” It is precisely because they receive life from the One who could not abandon suffering people, and who came to be wounded and abandoned while ultimately bringing people to forgiveness, that they had no choice but to “while suffering themselves, reach out to the suffering.” The gift of Christmas was revealed through them, in all its pain and beauty.
The destruction from the earthquakes is still very serious, and the impact will continue to be felt for a long time. There is no light visible yet at the end of the tunnel of sorrow and pain, so the darkness is still deep. But there are people who have been given life by the Light who came into the darkness. These people, like the pastors above, inherit the beautiful commission and continue the work. (Tr. DM)