Ministry Setup Report (2)

July 25, 2011

Weeks two through four flew by in Japan. The most memorable part was our 8 days in northeastern Japan, July 9-16. We saw first hand the devastation caused by the massive tsunami waves of 3/11. Four months after the disaster, the northeast coast of Japan is still reeling from the tsunami. As Ann expressed it in a July 14 email to family and friends:

It is hard to describe in words what we saw. Kristy has been looking at her pictures and says that even those don't say it all. Matthew has taken many movies, so we hope to share some of them. In most places there is a great deal of activity with trucks and front loaders. Other villages are untouched rubble left everywhere with only a few standing buildings. There was one large cement building that had been turned on it side. [See the pic at the top of this blog.] Everywhere, the ocean and sky was a beautiful blue, and the forest so green. Nature seemed to be at peace after so much destruction. But in every town and village, other than the clean up crews, there were no people. They were ghost towns.

And then again on July 18, Ann wrote:

We will be processing all that we have seen for a long time. I find I was numb while I was there [up north], but now when I review everything or think about what I saw, the tears come. I am hardly able to talk about it. Please pray for open doors to get to know and minister to the disaster victims.


That bus doesn't belong up there! (Ishinomaki-shi, Ogatsu-cho)

We not only drove up the Pacific coastline of northeastern Japan and saw first hand the devastation. We also spoke with leaders of Christian relief organizations in the area, as well as with local city and town office staff, including the staff of one temporary housing complex built by the city of Sendai. We made or confirmed the following observations about the situation on the ground, factors that will shape the kind of recovery ministry we forumulate:

  • Just after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011, over 300 miles of the Pacific Ocean coastline from north of Tokyo to the northern tip of Honshu island was devastated by tsunami waves up to 15 kilometers (9-10 miles) inland. These wave heights reached 40 meters (130 feet) in some places. Whole cities, towns, and communities have been destroyed. The Pacific Ocean coast of northeastern Japan is still like a war zone four months after the quake.
  • Before 3/11 over 1.3 million people lived in this area. The tsunami waves claimed over 20,000 lives.
  • The vast majority of victims speak only Japanese.
  • Over 65% of the victims are over the age of 60.
  • The fear of nuclear radiation from the disabled Fukushima nuclear power facility is understandable, but more people are currently affected by the tsunami destruction than the radiation problems.
  • The prefectural and local governments are still discussing not only how to rebuild destroyed communities, but also whether to rebuild. Reconstruction needs to take into account the risk of future tsunami.
  • Many of the over 100,000 victims have no desire to return to live in the area that used to be called home. Temporary housing solutions for victims include barrack style housing units set up by local governments and rental subsides for victims who opt to rent apartments. “Temporary” means two years.
  • Rebuilding will take years.
  • Physical needs of victims are being met as well as can be expected by the Japanese government at the local, prefectural, and national levels. In addition, many international NGO/NPO organizations have a focus on meeting the physical needs of victims.
  • By contrast, the emotional needs of victims remain outstanding. Government workers and agencies typically do not have the mandate to listen to victims or develop relationships with them. And NGO/NPO workers do not speak Japanese.
  • The stretch of coastline destroyed by the tsunami waves is one of the most unchurched areas of Japan.

Our recovery ministry setup trip to Japan has shown us the significance of a ministry that gives priority to trying to meet the emotional needs of the several hundreds of thousands of tsunami victims. The key question we have been asking is: "What does a gospel-centered ministry in the aftermath of trauma look like?"

Future posts will further describe this focus of our one year tsunami recovery ministry. (dale little)