Saturday, September 10, 2011

Japan Disaster Revisited

In my posts on the earthquake disaster in Haiti, I returned several months later to revisit the disaster aid to Haiti and to focus on several charitable organizations that are not frequently brought to public attention.  This week I received the Fall 2011 issue of the Trinity International University Magazine and upon reading an article there, I was prompted to do the same thing about the disasters in Japan resulting from the 11 March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plan disaster.

But, more than that; to reflect on why I am even interested in following these kinds of events, and why I have participated as both contributor and volunteer in the sector.  For those of us who have lived through similar disasters, such as earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and floods, the scenes are familiar.  But, it is the raw emotions that bury themselves deep in the psyche of everyone that have the capacity to touch us as humans with the realization that the length of our lives here on earth is fleeting and unpredictable, and that each of these disasters have the capacity to raise a spiritual dimension on our responses to them.  That is what interested me in these stories that simply go beyond the images we see on television and the calls from large NGOs to donate money or goods to the relief efforts.

Moreover, during times of disaster such as the recent disasters in Haiti, Pakistan, Japan, and elsewhere, the focus is on the needs immediately following the earthquake, flooding, tsunami, and the like.  As a result, image tends to produce the manipulative drama to encourage giving, especially to well-known and large charities and to international efforts.  Moreover, there is little attention to those who labor faithfully, year after year, in the areas in which these disasters have occurred.  Furthermore, as studies over the years have suggested, there is little attention and a general absence of data concerning the work of religious organizations, charities, and churches.  These, then, are some of the reasons, I have decided to focus on this part of the story in this post.

In a recent (April 2010) edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs, there was an article, "Volunteerism, Charitable Giving, and Religion: The U.S. Example," the author Brett G. Scharffs, wrote:
Since Alexis de Tocqville's prescient observations about American society in the 19th century, it has been well known that the United States has quite a high rate of volunteerism and charity.  A variety of cultural and structural characteristics of the United States have played a role in fostering this high rate of voluntary contribution to the common weal.  I this article, I will limit the discussion to one particularly important cultural factor (namely, the strength and diversity of religion) and one particularly important structural factor (namely, the legal framework of nonprofit organizations).
As Brett Scharffs pointed out, religious groups are the single largest recipients of both money and time.  One Independent Sector survey indicated that individuals who consistently attend church are much more likely to engage in volunteer activity.  Independent Sector also reported that church attendance had a pronounced effect on the rates of charitable giving.

Moreover, in the United States, many religious organizations are involved in charitable activities that do not explicitly have religious content.  Examples include running soup kitchens for the homeless, operating thrift stores, sponsoring service groups, etc.  In all these disasters we have observed over the last several years, such as the major Central Asia tsunami, the earthquake in Haiti, the floods in Pakistan, and now the triple disaster in Japan to name a few, religious communities, including mission organizations have been involved heavily, both in the emergency relief efforts, but more importantly, over an extended period with investment in the community and lives of those in the community.

We are all familiar with World Vision, Salvation Army, Compassion International, Food for the Poor, and Food for the Hungry, but there are many others that have been in these countries for years, who know the people and labor for both their physical and spiritual welfare.  For all of my early life, this was my world.  And so now, these are some of the stories describe the work of these religious organizations and missionaries, and volunteers laboring in Japan.

Trinity International University has given me permission to essentially reprint this article in this blog.  And with few minor deletions, including references that are particularly relevant to alumni, the article is reprinted in its entirety here.  But, first, this.

In a recent research and policy symposium in Sydney, Australia, we focused on the what regulatory models should be considered for the 21st Century for the nonprofit sector. (See, my blog post, 22 August 2011, Regulation for Not-For-Profit Sector in the 21st Century,  The final point in my presentation was that our giving to charity, or involvement in charity as a volunteer, should be regarded as more than simply a financial transaction.  Rather, it is an expression of generosity, which marks both the individual and the character of a community or country.

The focus in this piece is how very personal these kinds of disasters can be, and the importance of personal involvement in the lives of others and of a community or nation.  It is a story told from that perspective and not from the perspective of the importance of large, international non-government organizations (INGOs) raising funds and dispensing funds and services to those in need.

Where God Was During Japan's Earthquake
Providing hope -- spiritually and physically -- where it is desperately missing.
By Joseph Kim*

Sendai, Japan. March 2011. An 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit the coast of of Sendai, and a massive tsunami hit the eastern coast of Japan.  As most of the world watched nearly 30 foot waves crash into the coast of Sendai, horrified by the ensuring destruction, many were wondering aloud: How would Japan cope with this?

Some economists have called this the "most expensive natural disaster ever," and the total finance cost could be in excess of $350 billion with more than 25,000 dead or missing.  The earthquake left the country with a nuclear plant meltdown on the scale of Chernobyl.  However for those of us who live in Japan, this disaster was much more than another crisis.  It was personal.

It hit me the moment I was able to go to Sendai and Ishinomaki, two of the areas hardest hit by the tsunami.  The ocean's devastation was not only on the roads, homes, and trucks that it had tossed aside like toys, but on real lives.  A young man and woman were looking through a nearly destroyed car, not leaving an inch of the car untouched.  The car's windows were smashed in and the hood of the car looked as if a giant hammer had smashed it several times, and then poured mud and seawater into the entire car.  They had blank emotionless faces.  A fellow member of our team and I approached them and asked them if this was their car?  The young man responded that it was his father's car.  His father had been missing for several weeks and was presumed dead.  He found it by the side of the road, and was going through it to clear out his father's belongings.  I realized right there and then that the tsunami was much more that the destruction of roads, homes, schools, and businesses.  It was about lost family members, lost lives, and living without hope in Jesus Christ.

I had not given any thought to Japan while I was a student at Trinity.  I had spent the next 10 years after graduating from Trinity finishing my PhD in philosophy and gaining experience teaching in academic settings.  I had planned on teaching somewhere in Asia in a creative access nations, but the Lord had other plans.  Nearly a decade after I left Trinity, the Lord reunited me with an old friend from Trinity, Michael Oh.  He had recently founded a seminary and ministry in Japan, CBI Japan, and was serving with two other Trinity graduates, Craig Chapin and Tomoaki Shimatani.  CBI Japan had been praying for someone to found a new international university in Japan and asked if I would consider serving alongside them for the task.  After much prayer and several years of preparation and raising financial support, my family and I arrived in Japan to begin our journey.

Why Japan?

Japan is currently the third largest economy in the world, after the U.S. and China.  Japan is also home to some of the world's most successful and respected companies, including Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi, and Nintendo.  The yen is the strongest currency in Asia, and its islands are some of the most physically beautiful in the world.  It is a large nation of 128 million people, and Japanese is the 12th most spoken language in the world.

However, there is a dark side.  Japan is a nation where child pornography is readily available.  It is a nation that has a significant percentage of young teenage girls who participate in compensated dating/teenage prostitution with men in their 40s and 50s, even though they do not need the money.  It is a nation where a significant proportion of the population suffers from depression and many married couples are 'in-house divorced,' a term that refers to a couple who is living together but for all practical purposes are divorced emotionally.  It is a nation where more than 1 million young men are Hikikomori (withdrawn from society and refusing to speak to others or work).  It is a nation where the Protestant Christian worship attendance, including all Protestant groups, is 0.22 percent according to the most recent Church Info Service 2009 data.  However, unlike most nations where the Christian percentage is so low, Japan has complete freedom of religion, equivalent to the USA.

Missionaries first established a church in Japan nearly 450 years ago, and there are many churches in Japan that are more than 100 years old.  However, the church is a tiny minority.  The majority of its members are graying, with an average age over 50.  Nearly 80 percent of all Japanese churches are led by pastors that are in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s.  This number does not include the more than 1 in 7 churches who are currently without a pastor.  Several prominent missiologists have claimed that Japan is the most difficult and challenging mission field in the world.

There is hope, however,  This current generation of young people have mostly rejected their parents' values.  They are looking for new hope and new ideas amidst the spiritual chaos that is leaving behind its own kind of devastation.  Many young Japanese who have studied abroad have become Christians overseas and have come back to serve God in their nation.  Although the average church size is only around 20 or 25, there is a new movement toward church planting in urban centers.  Through new media outlets, many Japanese are hearing the gospel and interacting with churches for the first time.  Finally, there is a growing sensitivity among church leaders to a proclamation of the gospel which speaks directly to contemporary Japanese.

* * *
It is with this backdrop of hope in the Lord's work in Japan that our mission organization Mission to the World (MTW) has worked through its teams in Japan to send several truckloads of food and supplies.  On one of the trips up north, I was able to go with several leaders from Mission to the World Japan and other partner organizations.  We had learned of a key young pastor, who served as an associate pastor at his father's church in Sendai.  This young pastor was leading relief efforts throughout the affected areas of Sendai and the Tohoku region.  He organized several groups of people in creative ways to serve the people in the area.  MTW Japan had gone to see how we could support his work, knowing how overwhelming it must have been amidst such devastation.  When I met this pastor, I realized we had already met at the Trinity alumni gathering in Tokyo only a year earlier.

Yukimasa Otomo serves at his father's church, Shiogama Baptist Church, and is also Director of Hope Miyagi, in Sendai.  Yukimasa is a key leaders in providing spiritual and physical relief to those who have suffered from this great tragedy.  The needs are great.  Along with his wife and three young children, his entire family and church have been working night and day in response to this great disaster.  He and his family need much prayer and financial support.  They are in the process of raising funds to renovate an old house near their church to serve as a volunteer center to help those in the area.

* * *

* Joseph Kim is the executive vice president of CBI Japan in Nagoya, Japan, serving with Mission to the World.

Mission to the World (NTW) is the foreign mission board of the Presbyterian Church in America.  One of its ministry emphases is its Disaster Response Ministry.  As we see from the story above, Joseph Kim is an educator and involved in ministry not directly related to the disaster in Japan.  Yet, he became very much a part of the Disaster Response ministry of MTW.
MTW's Disaster Response Ministry (DRM) is a unique area of ministry that is both physically and spiritually demanding.  Our volunteers respond rapidly to calls around the world to bring medical care, crisis counseling support, engineering/construction assistance after a disaster strikes.  We partner with church planters already in the field to strengthen church plants and gain access to areas that may not have been previously open to the gospel.
MTW is totally engaged in Japan, not simply to address the immediate needs resulting from the earthquake, tsunamic, and nuclear accident, but as an investment in the lives of the Japanese people for eternity. 

This story has led me to further reflection and the desire to present some sense of the personal and spiritual dimension of the response of religious organizations to the disaster in Japan.

As Catholic Relief Services stated shortly after the earthquake and tsunami, "long-term recovery will recovery, though, will require that Caritas Japan play a much larger role.  In a recent statement, Caritas Japan says that the damage is not only physical, but also psychological: 'We will accompany people who have lost their loved ones, who lost everything and may stay in temporary shelters, and who have no one to rely on.'"

Shortly after the earthquake, Caritas Japan launched a national donation campaign and worked closely with the dioceses to support those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. This included the diocese of Sendai.  Bishop Isao Kikuchi, president of Caritas Japan said:
We have received so many emails from all continents, filled with word of compassion and prayer.  We are very grateful for this solidarity.  We believe that aid activity is needed, but prayer is also important in such a situation.
Nevertheless, Caritas Japan did not intent to engage in large-scale response operations to the disaster, working closely instead with the dioceses and other organizations in the affected areas to support vulnerable people affected by the disaster.  Indeed, the focus will be more on the rehabilitation phase with a big focus on providing moral and psychological support for those affected by the disaster.

In the US, Catholic Charities in various dioceses worked with Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, in responding to the disaster in Japan by supporting Caritas Japan.  "Our faith calls for us to live our life in solidarity with the victims of this catastrophic disaster and Catholic Relief Services asks all to give their prayers and support to the Japanese people at this difficult time."

Shortly after the earthquake and tsunami hit the eastern shore of Japan, World Relief reached out to several long-time partners.  These included: the Japanese Evangelical Alliance (JEL), Christian Relief Assistance Support and Hope  (CRASH), and Food for the Hungry (FFH).  These organizations had mobilized local churches and volunteers from Japan and around the world to distribute emergency food and supplies, clean up neighborhoods, and meet survivors to listen to their stories and needs.
As the need for physical and material assistance are met, the long-term mental health and emotional wellbeing of these coastal communities that lost family members and livelihoods will be the greatest concern for pastors and World Relief's local partners.  JEL is bringing awareness to this need for "emotional care" to local church leader, and continues to advocate the Japanese to provide continued and expanded material assistance to the more remote and least aided towns in northern Japan.
Immediately after the earthquake and in the wake of the tsunami and subsequent nuclear threat, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church, entered into a partnership with Food for the Hungry and other members of the Global Relief Alliance.  Also collaborating with the Reformed Church in Japan (RCJ) Diaconal Action Committee to help engage local Christian churches as witnesses to Christ's love in the disaster response effort.

Collaborating with these groups and with CRASH, CRWRC was able to assist in providing blankets, rice, clothing, and handwarmers from its relief base set up in Sendai.  It also was involved in mobilizing ground transportation and volunteers within Sendai and across Japan through local churches to help deliver donations to aid disaster-affected communities.

While removing soil contaminated by seawater in family gardens, volunteers from CRWRC's Japan partner, CRASH, learned of a grandmother named Sumita-san who "hasn't been able to sleep since the earthquake on March 11.  When she closes her eyes, she has flashbacks and finds it impossible to block the sounds of people screaming as they were swept away by the tsunami."

"Some of these evacuees are from areas that were subject to high levels of radiation, and they are labeled almost untouchable.  Giving massages involves a personal touch that many survivors had not experienced in months -- loosening pent-up emotions and opening conversations that change lives and provide opportunities to share the Gospel."

A retired Japanese-speaking missionary couple, Ray and Sharon Hommes, arrived from the United States and provided needed psycho-social and spiritual support even as they planned a more extensive "kokoro no kea" (heart care) training for those suffering from post-tramatic stress.

The General Assembly Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) responded to the disasters through it Presbyterian Disaster Assistance organization, and in cooperation with the Church World Service. 

The Church World Service (CWS) was founded in 1946 and is a cooperative ministry of 37 Christian denominations and communions in the United States, providing in part, disaster relief.  When a disaster hits, such as the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown, CWS works with its partners on the scene to provide shelter, food and water, blankets, recovery kits, and counseling.  However, in addition to its rapid emergency disaster response, CWS also helps vulnerable families and communities prepare for and recover from natural and human-caused disasters.

CWS is a founding member of ACT Alliance, a coalition of 100 churches and church-based humanitarian organizations, bringing together approximately 30,000 staff and volunteers in 125 countries.  ACT-Alliance members retain their individual identities while working collaboratively.

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance continued to respond to the needs in Japan with its mission partners, including a consortium of 32 Japanese non-profits, to provide a coordinated response to the basic needs of those living in evacuation centers.  Takeshi Komino, the Response Director of CWS Asia/Pacific, reflecting on the disaster and what it meant to Japan, said:
"Is this really happening in my country of Japan?" was my initial thought.  Japan is considered one of the richest nations in the world with probably the best disaster risk reduction measures in the region.  And this was certainly my first time responding to an emergency in Japan as a staff member of CWS.  As the extent of damage became clearer, I learned that this is actually four disasters happening at once.  First, a 9.0 Richter scale earthquake, then 20m+ tsunami, then nuclear power plant reactor explosions, all happening in the harsh winter weather of Tohoku region, where temperatures nowdays go down below freezing point on a daily basis.  Can my government respond adequately?  The answer, unfortunately, is no.
As reported in the CWS Situation Report of 13 August 2011:

Since moving into temporary housing from evacuation centers, many survivors have become more susceptible to depression and alcoholism, since many of them now live alone.  A team of mental care specialists from Kyoto prefecture treated 262 people at seven evacuation centers in the disaster-affected area until July.  The team said 51 evacuees, or 19.5%, were suffering from reactive depression.
Post-traumatic stress syndrome is also a problem.  In Fukushima prefecture, suicides in May and June rose 20% over the same period the previous year to 118.  According to Cabinet Office, in June there were 16 suicides directly linked to the disaster across the country (mostly in Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate prefectures).  Press reports as recent as this month [August 2011] cite anxiety over joblessness and fears of being a burden as major factors for the increase in depression and suicides.  
 So much of this harks back to the observations of Joseph Kim in his piece, Where God Was During Japan's Earthquake, published herein.  We see the images of the damage wrought by these events in news reports, but we don't often here of these personal emotional traumas, or see pictures of people standing in front of display boards searching for information about missing loved ones.

Although not uniquely the case, Samaritan's Purse, was present in Japan with hundreds of volunteers from around the world.  While Samaritan's Purse was present to provide immediate humanitarian relief to those in need (and indeed, distributed 93 tons of supplies through ministry partners in the tsunami-affected areas), it was there for the long-haul.  It sent out a call for skilled carpenters for rebuilding projects in Japan and around the world.  Since it began this work in April, 1,647 volunteers have helped over 170 families.  Moreover, Samaritan's Purse is providing housing and supplies for volunteers from all over the world, including South Korea, Brazil, and the Philippines.  Such is the story presented in this short video clip from Samaritan's Purse.

What is interesting in these stories is that all of these religious organizations and churches submit themselves to various forms of accountability.  Some denominationally-based churches have their own internal controls and accountability to their respective consituencies.  For example, mission organizations accountable to their denominations and churches.  Others, are accredited by bodies such as, ECFA and BBB Wise Giving Alliance in the U.S. or by Charity Navigator.

Perhaps what catches the spirit of much of this journey of faith for those victims of the disasters, for those volunteers, especially, those who have been in the areas directly affected by the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, and even for those who have donated monies, goods, and services, was the prayer for the people of Japan by His Eminence, Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, International Orthodox Christian Charities:
Almighty Lord, You Who are most merciful and compassionate, we beseech You to calm the earth and waters and bring peace and healing to all those who are suffering from the devastating earthquake in Japan.
Grant them Your strength to endure the hardships they are facing and the courage to rebuild their country.
We also ask, O Lord, that you grant eternal repose to all those who have lost their lives and receive them into Your kingdom.
May You stretch forth Your mighty hand upon their families who are suffering not only at the loss of their loved ones, but for the loss of their homes and homeland.
You, O Lord, are the calm of every storm and You are the Hope for all those who call upon Your name, and to You we ascribe glory, together with Your eternal Father, and Your All-Holy, Good, and Lifecreating Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages to ages. Amen.


  1. Stop killing Whales.

  2. Thank you for this encouraging post! Praying for Japan.