Japan’s Churches to Help House Survivors

Date Posted: 3/30/2011

Hundreds of thousands left homeless by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami or evacuated because of the continuing nuclear threat are struggling to regain the routines of daily life.

To assist them, churches in Japan are working to find temporary accommodations for some of the survivors.

The effort is being coordinated through the National Christian Council in Japan, which is working with Church World Service to find housing for 1,000 individuals. CWS estimates that some 300,000 people are living in more than 2,300 evacuation sites across Japan and another 200,000 are receiving relief supplies from those locations.

The Rev. Claudia Genung-Yamamoto, a United Methodist missionary who serves as a council liaison, said she expected that most of the placements would be in Tokyo and the west Tokyo area “but there are people who have houses or cottages elsewhere and if the evacuees are willing to go, we can help send them.”

On its own, she said, Kobe Union Church has found church families willing to temporarily house evacuees coming through that city. The Wesley Center in Tokyo also has assisted Filipino refugees.

The chaos caused by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck northeastern Japan on March 11 has hardly abated as people in the affected areas struggle to survive. As of March 29, Japan’s National Police Agency had confirmed 11,004 deaths and said another 17,339 people were unaccounted for in six prefectures, including 7,588 in Miyagi, 5,093 in Fukushima and 4,654 in Iwate.

The National Christian Council in Japan is one of the organizations given an initial $10,000 grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which had received just over $1 million in donations for the Japan disaster by March 28.

The United Church of Christ in Japan and GlobalMedic also have received grants and a grant to CWS is in the works, said Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR’s executive for international disaster response.

 

UMCOR expects to support relief and recovery efforts by the Korean Christian Church in Japan, Asian Rural Institute, the Wesley Center in Tokyo and Second Harvest Japan, she added. UMCOR also is working with regional partners to address needs related to those displaced outside of Japan, such as Filipino migrant workers forced to return home after the earthquake.

Expanding the Appeal

Takeshi Komino, head of emergencies for the Church World Service Asia/Pacific office, expanded the relief agency’s appeal for Japan after coordination meetings with other organizations, field visits and extensive interviews about the needs of disaster survivors.

Even a country as well-prepared as Japan cannot cope without outside assistance when dealing with the compounding disasters of earthquake, tsunami, nuclear threat and freezing winter weather, he pointed out in a March 27 letter.

“Victims that I interviewed echo the same point that relief efforts reported in the media are not reaching them, which tells us (there is) huge variation on where needs are somewhat being met, and not being met at all,” Komino said.

The National Christian Council in Japan is coordinating its work with the newly-established Christian Coalition in Sendai, operating out of the Emmaus Center. The United Christian Church of Japan established the Tohoku Disaster Relief Center at Emmaus to respond to the crisis.

People from all regions of Japan have sent supplies to the relief center and some volunteers have come from Tokyo to sort and deliver goods and work in the shelters. Deliveries are made by bicycle and by car to churches and shelters in the earthquake area.

On March 22, for example, the pastor of Sendai Kawadaira Church and the acting director of the Emmaus Center headed to Ishinomaki by car to deliver supplies.

Ishinomaki, a city of nearly 165,000 known for its fish market, was devastated by the disaster. Ten thousand were missing after a wave estimated at 20 to 30 feet high swept into the port.

 “The scars left from the tsunami are deep, and we hear that water lines are still out,” wrote Shinichiro Asayama in the disaster center’s blog. “Gas and kerosene are still of short supply, and people are happy to receive any supplies if delivered. Next, they will need volunteers to help carry water and to clean up houses that were flooded by water.”

Anxiety for the Future

The Rev. Jeffrey Mensendiek, a United Church of Christ missionary and the relief center’s interim coordinator, visited the Ishinomaki Eiko Church on March 27. “The water from the tsunami came up to their doorstep,” he reported. “They were fortunate to be on a slight hill. The waters swept around them and beyond.”

Many in the city, however, have lost their homes, their jobs and the schools for their children, he said.

“The pastor and wife of Eiko Church shared with us that the people in their neighborhood are full of anxiety for their future,” Mensendiek said. “Christians are a small minority here, but in a time like this they can make all the difference. I hope that our relief work we provide through the church, and all the volunteer help that we receive will be a sign of love and support for all those people who are now worried about the future.”

Such volunteers are essential to the relief effort, Komino said. When he and other CWS staff went to Ishinomaki, “it was evident that government-led efforts are too slow to cope with such needs on the ground” and that volunteers working with the affected population “will play a key role in identifying needs and matching them with supply.”

To support UMCOR’s assistance to relief efforts in Japan, donations can be made here.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.

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