TOKYO (BP)--Japanese Christians, although a small minority of the battered Asian nation's populace, gathered in churches and Bible studies Sunday to pray for those still missing after the March 11 earthquake -- now listed as 9.0 in magnitude -- and tsunami.
Teresa Seelen, a Southern Baptist missionary, worshipped at one church where believers spent the entire service praying for friends and family by name, as well as collecting a love offering for disaster relief following the country's strongest-ever earthquake and the tsunami's walls of seawater that destroyed vast numbers of neighborhoods and villages along Japan's northern Pacific coast.
"Through tears, they called out names and lifted them to God," Seleen said of the members' prayers. "We prayed for courage for the believers to reach out with the Gospel. … It was precious to see the generosity of this small group of believers."
With most stores and gas stations closed, the main task for many in the hardest-hit areas Sunday was just getting by. Scores lined up at the few gas stations and grocery stores that were open. International Mission Board missionary Sharon Bennett said shelves were largely empty amid the rush to get food.
Christian organizations gathered Sunday to figure out a game plan for distributing aid strategically as they minister to the needs of the Japanese. A Baptist disaster relief assessment team is on the ground evaluating needs and opportunities for response.
Japanese authorities were continuing to operate on the presumption March 14 that meltdowns may be underway at two nuclear reactors after the earthquake and tsunami. However, government officials said there are so far no indications of hazardous emissions of radioactive material into the atmosphere. About 180,000 people have been evacuated from the area.
No International Mission Board personnel live within the area affected by the evacuations, said Renae Oue, another IMB representative in Japan.
IMB missionaries to Japan spent most of their weekend shoveling tons of sand and sludge with their neighbors. Almost every street near the home of Sharon Bennett and her husband Mark in northern Japan was buckled, cracked and covered with gray sand. A few children played in the park as adults worked together.
The Bennetts were homeschooling when the largest earthquake in Japan's history hit. They took shelter under a table and watched as items fell off shelves and walls.
"I prayed out loud," Mark Bennett said. "In my heart I was preparing for the worst. I honestly thought the house was going to come down on top of us. After 20 years in Japan, this was the worst and longest earthquake I have ever felt. I was preparing myself to meet the Lord."
The Bennetts went outside after the initial quake, joining others in their neighborhood as the aftershocks started. Their block literally moved in one direction while the park across the street moved in the opposite.
"I felt like I was standing on a small boat," Mark Bennett said.
Two of their boys were in classes at the local elementary school when the quake hit. The road was so buckled that no cars or public transport could get through, so Mark Bennett, like millions of others throughout the country, walked through the rubble to the school as aftershocks continued to shake the area.
When Bennett arrived at the school, he found his two younger children standing outside with classmates, waiting for parents. The trio walked through gray sludge and debris to get back to their house.
During the walk home, "we watched as wave after wave of aftershock did more damage to the roads and our park," Mark Bennett said. "Four concrete power poles fell onto a house a block from us -- but we arrived safely home."
A seemingly endless barrage of aftershocks shook the country all weekend. The U.S. Geological Survey reported more than 140 such quakes -- magnitude 4.5 and higher, including a 6.2-magnitude quake Sunday morning.
While Japanese officials mounted efforts to avert a possible nuclear crisis, rescuers continued to frantically scramble to find survivors. Rescuers dug through mud and rubble, rescuing survivors and recovering bodies. So far, more than 3,000 people have been rescued but many more thousands are still missing. Japan's National Police Agency says that in one coastal town, Minamisanriku, around 9,500 people -- half the town's population -- are unaccounted for.
Susie Rain is a writer for the International Mission Board living in Asia. The International Mission Board has established a relief fund for the Japan earthquake. 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 visit http://imbresources.org/index.cfm/product/detail/prodID/3352
to give online. For further information call the IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113.