UCC missionary in devastated Japan pursues silver linings
Written by Jeff Woodard March 29, 2011
UCCJ Tohoku Disaster Relief Center - Loading Supplies
It took time to witness through catastrophic ruin and colossal anguish, but at least one United Church of Christ missionary says hope is alive in Japan.
"I am amazed by the grass-roots power that has given birth to the Tohoku Disaster Relief Center," said the Rev. Jeffrey Mensendiek, director of youth ministries at the Emmaus Center and the Sendai Student/Youth Center. The Emmaus Center has essentially been transformed into the relief center.
Sendai, a northern coastal city a two-hour drive north of Tokyo, took a devastating hit March 11 during the 9.0-magnitude and resulting tsunami.
"The earthquake happened on a Friday, and by Sunday three pastors had gathered, each of whom had their own experiences with earthquakes," Mensendiek wrote in an email March 25. "They were quick to call on capable volunteers to gather and set up camp. They called on the local district leadership to include them in the decision making. They included me because I provided the space to start up the relief center."
An estimated 350 miles of coastline have been swept clear by the tsunami.
"Many people will not be able to return to their homes, much less to the coastal area that has proved to be vulnerable to the tsunami," wrote Mensendiek. "It will take years before the families will regain their daily life."
As of March 28, the death toll was nearing 11,000, with more than 16,000 people still missing.
Mensendiek had reported on March 20 the staggering sight that spanned landscapes for untold miles.
"Refrigerators, cars, houses, beds, televisions, telephone poles and trees were strewn out across the land," he wrote. "An elementary school stood strong, but the mark of the tsunami could be seen reaching to the fourth floor."
UCCJ Tohoku Disaster Relief Center- Delivering supplies through Shichigahama
Inevitable questions arose. "Did the children make it to safety?" he wrote. "Did they stand on the roof and watch the tidal wave smear their beloved neighborhood? What kind of noise, what kind of destructive power did they tremble at? What trauma must have been left on the innocent heart?"
Cities have begun the process of placing bodies into mass graves to prevent disease outbreak, and early on March 28, officials reported that the containment structure surrounding one of the reactors at an earthquake-battered nuclear power plant was damaged.
"We have been advised to not go out into the rain if possible as it carries higher concentrations of radiation," reported Steve Cutting of the American Friends of Asian Rural Institute (AFARI), a U.S.-based non-profit fund-raising and support organization for the Asian Rural Institute (ARI). An international training center in Japan, ARI is a partner of Global Ministries and One Great Hour of Sharing in providing scholarship assistance to students worldwide.
"Oh, what have we done to this earth when even we farmers have to start fearing the rain?" he blogged on March 23.
Ten days after the quake and tsunami, tremors rumbled under the city of Nasushiobara. "Both small and big, every day and every night," wrote Cutting. "I still can't help feeling like I am running around in some kind of movie. The reality is too unbelievable."
Both Mensendiek and Cutting are keeping an eye on any silver lining that arises.
"We have plenty of food, including fresh vegetables that we harvested early last week, and plenty of good cooks," wrote Cutting. "The food, preceded by our traditional meal grace songs, have kept everyone in good health and spirits. We pray . . . and this helps keep us together and gives us strength."
Adds Mensendiek, "Joy happens each day when we discover a familiar face and embrace from someone saying, 'You are alive! I'm so glad to see you!'"