On April 11, the one month anniversary of the quake while waiting at the airport for the arrival of the Korean, Hong Kong, and Taiwan delegations:
Narita was not as crowded as usual since so many flights had been canceled with the decrease of travelers to Japan.
Delegation: NCC Korea General Secretary Rev. Kim Young Ju, NCC Hong Kong General Secretary Rev. Po Kam-Cheong, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan Rev. Andrew T.C. Chang, General Secretary of the Korean Christian Service Rev. Kim Il-Whan, Korean Methodist Church Ecumenical Desk Rev. Shim Bog Hyun, NCCK Director of Department of Justice and Peace Lee Hunsam, Presbyterian Church in Korea Executive Secretary of Justice and Peace Rev. Lee Gil-Soo, General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Korea Dept. of Social Service Ministry Rev. Seung Youl Lee, Taiwan Church Press reporter Alice Chen. From Japan: the Acting General Office Secretary of NCC Japan Rev. Hiroko Ueda (UCCJ) and NCCJ International Churches in Japan Liaison and Japan Christian Activity Newsletter editor Rev. Claudia Genung-Yamamoto (UMC missionary). After all had gathered, we loaded up into the chartered bus and late at 3:30 to go to Sendai. We hoped it would be a five-hour trip, but a quake (6.1) hit Fukushima around 5:15 p.m. and we could not use the freeway anymore. So we slowly crept along side roads. A little after 9:00 p.m., we stopped for dinner on a side road at a small ramen shop which also served kimchee making our Korean guests happy although we would have enjoyed anything.
After our late dinner, we got back on the road and traveled for some time, Rev. Po led us in prayer and soon after, we found the freeways had once again opened. Our arrival time at the ryokan hotel was around 11:45 p.m.
The next day we had a simple breakfast of rice balls and tea, as the hotel was not prepared to make elaborate meals.
Our first visit was to another ryokan hotel which has agreed to accept volunteer teams. We met Rev. Shouei Abe of the Nazarene Church and Korean missionary Rev. Keun Bae Lee who was to be the translator. As we waited for our Korean translator, we saw a small number of local residents coming to take baths, as many places still haven’t had running water since the quake
We continued our journey to the city of Ishonomaki. In Ishomaki, the March 11 tsunami was a muddy deluge sweeping cars into various places and smashing cars into houses, some houses were standing but badly damaged on the second floor, but we also saw pulverized wooden houses. Looking out from the bus windows we saw that roads had been cleared but the houses and buildings still had debris everywhere.
Leaving the bus, we smelled an interesting mixture of sea air, ash, and trash. Many workers had masks on as the air was not good to breathe. There was also concern about the news that the radiation leak at Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant is now officially designated as a “7” on the international nuclear-events scale.
At the church we met to the Eiko church (UCCJ) where we met the pastor, Rev. Minoru Kobuna.
A Korean Christian news station came to the church. Rev. Hiroko Ueda shared her words of thank to Korean for all their aid to Japan.
Next, we viewed the devastation. The mud consisted partially of pulp, as there had been a paper factory nearby. The church showed us the water marks from the tsunami. We toured the neighborhood and saw volunteers sent from Emmaus Center around the neighborhood. Many volunteers were using bicycles to get around.
One group was busy shoveling mud out of homes, clearing debris around homes, and trying to make a path for an abandoned car which had been washed between he two homes by the tsunami. Their goal was to clear enough debris to remove and discard the useless car.
There were many abandoned cars which had flyers taped on the outside saying the car had been officially inspected and no one was inside.
The church had just opened the kindergarten the day before and had around 50 children, although some had not returned. The church membership was around 21, but one member had died in the tsunami. Walking around the area was like a war zone. A few aftershocks occurred as we continued to walk around. Running water had only been restored a few days beforehand.
We boarded the bus and ate our bentos on the bus as we went an hour away to Higashi-Matsushima to the Social Welfare Society at City Hall. Without the support of the government, it would be hard to do relief work. However, Higashi Matsushima City was prepared to take foreign volunteer teams later if a translator came with the team. The city official appreciated the prayers and support from Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong. Behind us was a banner from the children in Shokoku with messages like “let’s work together for a bright future” and “our hearts are one” and “lets work hard together to recover.”
Sendai to the Emmaus Center: The Emmaus Center was started 60 years ago by missionaries in Sendai. 10 years ago the ministry was handed to the Japanese church. At the Emmaus Center, there is a Christian book store, the Tohoku Kyodan (UCCJ) office,
(Rev. Takahashi is the director), and youth ministries led by Jeffrey (add his last name). We were warmly welcomed by the Acting Director, Rev. Yoshiya Matsumoto, UCC missionary, Rev. Jeffrey Mensendiek who is the director of the Sendai Youth Center and translated for the delegation from English to Japanese and Japanese to English. (Jeffrey grew up as a missionary kid in Sendai.) There were other staff members and volunteers in the office so it was a hub of activity. The quake happened over Spring Break and four days alter relief efforts began. Jeffrey said; “None of us are experts, but we have gathered volunteers and have been reaching out to the community.” The Tohoku Office has approved activities and made a Committee for Church Relief.
The newly formed Sendai Alliance of Churches now has an office at the Emmaus Center. (The S.A.C. includes the United Church of Christ in Japan (Kyodan), The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), various other Protestant bodies including small independent churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. The Sendai Alliance sent out a team of volunteers whom we saw at Ishonomaki Church where the volunteers have been helping the families of the kindergarten, church members, and other neighbors in the community. Every Thursday night, 70-80 representatives from various churches gather to pray and discuss activities.
One such activity has been “praying for the dead” since so many people had to be buried so quickly. Buddhist priest and Christian ministers work together to say prayers beforehand.
Churches form Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have sent much money, prayers, and support and in the future wish to send work teams through the Emmaus Center. The churches in Taiwan also sent bicycles which are badly needed as sometimes the volunteers had to bike 40 minutes out to the ocean area.
Although Sendai City Hall and the government do provide many services, the Emmaus Center finds the gap and begin their ministry there.
We had dinner with Rev. Yoshida and Rev. Kawakami with the Sendai Alliance of Churches and learned more about their relief work ministry and needs.
Donations are the primary need now and later work camps will be helpful.
Returning late to the hotel, we were exhausted but woke up early the next morning to go back to Narita praying that no aftershocks would occur. On the long ride back to Tokyo, the four general secretaries had a meeting at the back of the bus to discuss the upcoming meeting in Korea on May 5,6,7 where aid to Japan will be the topic. NCCJ looks forward to future partnership from ecumenical friends as we work together in relief work ministry.
Website for Emmaus Center: http://ameblo.jp/jishin-support-uccj-en/
Website for Sendai Christian Alliance: http://tohokuhelp.com/
Website for Second Harvest Japan: http://www.2hj.org/index.php/eng_home
Schedule of Visit to Japan Earthquake Disaster Area April 11-13, 2011
- April 11 (Mon)
- 12:10 Delegates of NCC Korea arrive Narita Airport
- Lunch at Narita Airport
- 14:35 NCC Hong Kong Rev. Po arrives
- 15:30 To Sendai
- April 12 (Tue)
- 8:00 To Mastushima
- 9:30 Meeting at Uchiumi-Ryokan regarding workcamps
- 12:00 Lunch at Ishinomaki –Eiko Church http://tohoku.uccj.jp/i-eikou/
- 13:00 Visit to Volunteer work, Emmaus Team of Kyodan (UCCJ) Tohoku District Center
- 15:00 Meeting at Higashi-Mastushima at Social Welfare Society
- With Mr.Chiba
- 18:00 Meeting (and Dinner) with Sendai Christian Alliance for Relief Work in Sendai
- April 13 (Wed)
- return to Tokyo