In Japan, weekly relief caravans, training under way
ISHINOMAKI, Japan (BP)--Japan's Baptist leader has expressed heartfelt gratitude for the assistance Baptists worldwide have provided in the aftermath of his country's March 11 earthquake and tsunami -- and has made specific requests for continued prayer.
Southern Baptists working in the disaster response say they are pleased that weekly caravans can now make their way into the disaster zone and that training efforts are helping Japanese Baptists mount effective relief initiatives.
"Please accept my deepest gratitude for your kind expressions of comfort, encouragement, prayer support, and love offerings, following the earthquake that has wrought devastation to Japan," Makoto Kato, executive secretary of the Japan Baptist Convention, said in an April 1 letter. "The warm response from Christian brothers and sisters around the world has sustained our broken hearts. Japan Baptist churches appreciate the marvelous support system of Baptists around the world united in prayer for Japan."
The increased availability of gasoline has made it possible for "the most critical necessities for human existence, such as water, food, clothing, gasoline, and kerosene," to be delivered into the disaster zone, Kato said. The Japan Baptist Convention has placed temporary crisis management staff in the area to support the work of local churches in helping ease the emotional trauma disaster survivors are experiencing.
Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization, and its partners are moving to establish bases of operation in the primary impact areas of Sendai and Ishinomaki, said Jeff Palmer, BGR's executive director.
"We have partners committed to establishing and staffing bases of operations in Ishinomaki and Sendai, and plan to build housing in Sendai for Japanese Baptist volunteers coming out from Tokyo," Palmer said. "The operation now has the capacity of feeding hot meals to up to 3,000 people at a time, and our stateside disaster relief specialists have trained Japanese Baptists in areas of disaster response administration, grief counseling and logistics."
Palmer said he has been deeply moved by the generosity of Southern Baptists in responding to the Japan crisis.
"We are now somewhere over $500,000 in donations through IMB and BGR and have appropriated almost $200,000," Palmer said. "Funds are still coming in at a fairly steady pace, thanks to churches that have not forgotten Japan's suffering people, and to partners like LifeWay Christian Resources, which has designated the 'change buckets' in their stores nationwide for Japan relief. Southern Baptists continue to demonstrate they are people who care about people in need."
The disaster response in Japan is about connecting with people in need and caring about them as individuals, said Pam Wolf, who with her husband Ben helps lead BGR work in the Asia Rim.
Wolf joined a team headed into Ishinomaki on April 5 that helped a woman named Sato who wanted to return to the city in search of family members. Sato wound up helping with a distribution of relief supplies on the parking lot of a convenience store. While they were handing out supplies, Sato recognized one woman as an old friend, who also was searching for her family. The two women were deeply moved to find each other.
Sometimes just listening to someone's story is even more important than what you give them, Wolf reflected. She told about a boy they met in Ishinomaki who had been swept away with his dog by the tsunami. The boy struggled to cling to his dog in the raging water and finally was able to catch hold of a ladder -- but found himself forced to let go of the dog so he could climb out.
"He told us his story with tears in his eyes," Wolf said. "You might think there are far worse tragedies than losing a dog that happened during the disaster, but for this boy, his loss is as traumatic as anyone else's. Because Southern Baptists cared enough to send us in to do disaster response, we were able to be the love of God for this boy."
Kato asked believers around the world to pray for the thousands of disaster survivors who need to experience the love of God for themselves: "Pray for the people struggling to survive under difficult conditions. Pray for the refugees living in relief centers, the sick, the grieving. Pray for the people who have been evacuated from the radioactive danger, and the many more that live in fear of contamination. Pray for the Lord Jesus to fill them with His comfort and strength."
Mark Kelly is assistant editor and senior writer for Baptist Press. The International Mission Board has established a relief fund for the Japan disaster. Donations may be sent to Office of Finance, International Mission Board, 3806 Monument Ave., Richmond, VA 23230. In the memo line write "Japan Response Fund." Or you can give online by going to imb.org and clicking on the "Japan response" button. For further information, call the IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at gobgr.org. Join Baptist Press' Facebook page or Twitter feed to comment on this and other articles. Visit facebook.com/BaptistPress or Twitter.com/BaptistPress.