At least seven UCC representatives, including two members of the five-person Collegium of Officers, will be among those in the Marshall Islands on March 1 to mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S. government's 1954 detonation of a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb—the largest ever tested—that has severely impacted the health and environment of the Marshallese people for generations.
Bernice Powell Jackson, executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM), and the Rev. JosZ A. (Joe) Malayang, executive minister of the UCC's Local Church Ministries, are among those planning to attend.
Known by its codename, "Bravo," the bomb left a mile-wide, 240-foot deep crater and produced a radioactive cloud that reached 20 miles into the atmosphere.
In its wake, the explosion—five times greater than the government had projected—left thousands of first-, second- and third-generation survivors severely ill from radioactive effects. Portions of the islands are still considered unsafe.
The bomb, experts say, was 1,000 times stronger than the one dropped on Hiroshima near the end of World War II. Moreover, Bravo was only one of 67 such nuclear tests conducted on the Pacific islands, which are located halfway between Hawaii and Australia.
"The Bravo test is the justice issue of the 20th century," says Ron Fujiyoshi of the UCC's Association of Hawaiian Evangelical Churches and a JWM board member, who will attend the commemoration.
"The U.S. military clearly used the Marshallese people living on Utrik and Rongelap atolls as guinea pigs to research the effects of the hydrogen bomb."
The U.S. government has invested only $150 million to rehabilitate and resettle the islands, and residents contend that amount is grossly insufficient.
A 2001 General Synod Pronouncement called for the UCC to petition the U.S. government to justly compensate the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.
"The government has never apologized to the Marshallese people," Julia Estrella told the Honolulu Advertiser last year. "The goal is to focus world attention on the 50th anniversary."
Estrella serves on a UCC task force that has been working to increase attention on the U.S. government's unwillingness to apologize and offer fair restitution.
In September 2002, JWM brought seven survivors to share their stories on Capitol Hill.
"When the Bravo bomb was tested, the military did not relocate us," survivor Aruka Bobo said at the congressional hearing. "We were surprised to hear a loud noise so early in the morning. After a few hours, we noticed the powder falling down on us. It covered our hair, our bodies and everything. Later on we began to experience itchiness all over our bodies, burning sensations and blisters where we scratched. One day later they came to take us to Kwajalein [a neighboring atoll]. It was already too late. My parents died of thyroid cancer. My father also had stomach cancer. I have thyroid cancer."
The United Church of Christ in the Marshall Islands is the major Christian denomination there, and a majority of Micronesians living in the United States are UCC.
"The predecessors of the UCC were the fi rst missionaries to the Marshall Islands almost 150 years ago [who came] to spread the gospel," Fujiyoshi says. "What kind of gospel do we have? One that includes justice? I sure hope so."