In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami disaster on March 11, 2011, a permanent road to recovery was formed with the help of caring organizations and passionate young Japanese leaders. Part Three of our story details the response from Christian groups who had been working in the area for years.
Tim Cole, a TEAM Missionary working in Tokyo with a ministry called Family Focus Japan, grew up in Ishinomaki. When the earthquake hit, he was in Shinjiku, the center of Tokyo, with skyscrapers all around. It’s the place that he has always referred to as the “worst place to be during an earthquake." The final preparations were being made for the National Prayer Dinner that was to take place on the evening of March 11th. As the building rocked and swayed, Tim and the other participants took shelter and began to pray. He realized that if it was this bad in Tokyo, it would be devastating up north.
Unable to communicate with his wife, Katie, he spent the night in a hotel and returned home after the trains started running the next morning. In the days and months since the earthquake, Tim has been encouraged by the response of the local church body to the needs of the Japanese people. Local organizations sprang into action in the directly affected areas, as did national organizations such as CRASH Japan (Christian Relief, Assistance, Support, and Hope). Tim and other missionaries throughout Japan are coming alongside the Japanese people to bring hope to the devastated areas.
Jonathan Wilson, director of CRASH Japan and pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship in Tokyo, describes the organization as a “very broad based consortium of people who normally have different jobs: missionaries, churches, pastors, and local denominations.” A six-year-old organization, CRASH has coordinated relief efforts in China, Haiti, Indonesia, New Zealand, and other major disaster areas around the world, all for the purpose of bringing the hope of Jesus Christ to those overwhelmed in a time of hopelessness. CRASH has also been involved in training and equipping organizations in Japan on how to respond to disaster, and had a significant network already intact and ready to respond. The work that Jonathan has done with CRASH has enabled him to deal with the biggest quake that he had experienced in his 20 years of living in Japan.
“I knew this day would come,” he said. “I didn’t know when, I didn’t know where, but I knew it would come.”
Jonathan explained that CRASH would do much of its work by ministering to the body of Christ and therefore ministering through the body of Christ. CRASH puts a heavy focus on church partnership when reaching out to an area affected by a major disaster. Through this church-focus, Jonathan said that the body of Christ in the disaster areas emerges stronger. Even churches not directly affected by the disaster gain strength and unity as they reach out and minister to needs around them.
God had already been at work, preparing many for the tragedy that struck on March 11th. CRASH Japan partners with ministries like Campus Crusade for Christ, OMF International, JEA (Japanese Evangelical Association), JBF (Japanese Baptist Fellowship), Churches Helping Churches, and Feed the Hungry, just to name a few. CRASH is also endorsed by Medical Teams International and Japan Evangelical Missionary Association.
While the volunteers worked quickly to determine a response method, CRASH workers contacted churches in the affected area to find out if they were okay, if they needed help, and if churches could help their community with the supplies from CRASH.
Since then, CRASH has established five bases of operation to help mobilize thousands of volunteers into the disaster area. Those bases prepare large amounts of supplies and offer a safe place for people to work from while reaching out to the hundreds of small coastal villages affected by this disaster.
The first base CRASH established was in Sendai. A team was on the ground within the first week of the disaster, and the first shipment of relief supplies went out about two weeks after the earthquake.
The farthest base camp north is the Tono (Iwate Prefecture) base camp, followed by the base camp located in Ichinoseki (Iwate Prefecture), Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture), Nasu (Tochigi Prefecture), and Hitachi (Ibaraki Prefecture). From these five base camps, tens of thousands of volunteer hours have been participating in activities such as cleaning and removing debris, distributing food and supplies, emotional care, training seminars, briefing and debriefing training for volunteers, cooking, and carpentry.
Each of these base camps is located in the Tohoku region. This is the northeastern portion of Honshu, the largest island of Japan, and is one of the least churched areas of Japan. Working through the local communities and using churches as distribution centers gives credibility to the presence of the churches in their respective communities. These local churches are familiar with the needs that are present in their areas, and they are well positioned to meet those needs with the support of an organization like CRASH.
As a gateway to the Tohoku region, a base camp was set up at a small family-owned boarding house called "House of Rest" located in Nasu city. The Kondo family oversees this establishment and leads the Nasu-Kogen Bible Church situated right beside the boarding house. Initially, they considered accepting evacuees from the radiation evacuation zone near the nuclear plants in Fukushima, but were contacted by CRASH about the possibility of opening up the pension as a base camp. Wanting to aid in the relief process in any way possible, the Kondos agreed to house CRASH volunteers working in the area. Pastor Kondo already had numerous connections into the business circles of Nasu, as well as relationships from their years of service in the area.
From the Nasu base camp, it is about an hour’s drive up to Koriyama city where the large multi-purpose complex turned evacuee center, Big Palette Fukushima, houses nearly 2,500 evacuees. The ministry of CRASH volunteers helped these disaster survivors and hundreds more across Japan, bringing the light of Jesus during this dark time.
-Written by Robert Johnson
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, Septermber 2011]Download This Issue of TEAMHorizons