International Ministries

News From Japan

March 11, 2011 Journal
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Dear Friends,

The news changes minute by minute, so that it’s hard to know what to tell you about the earthquake,tsunami and fires in Japan. First, God is my refuge and my strength, an ever-present help.  May it be double so for those in harms way.  All of our IM families are safe here in Japan but our hearts remain broken.  We are in a place fairly far from the epicenter of Miyagi and Fukushima Prefecture.  The center, Sendai, is where I spent 27 years so I know it well.  It registered 8.8 on the Richter scale.  But the tsunami and fires are what has taken so many lives.  I am in Yokohama which is about 7 hours drive on toll way to the affected area.

THE RUMBLE  It started with a rumble yesterday with a 5.0 shake that I thought would not stop.  If it is this close, it must be a lot stronger some other place, I thought.  Within the next hour and after several other quakes, the school officials where I live came knocking on my door to say that a tsunami is expected, so that evacuation is required.

TSUNAMI   I live near a channel which drains water from a corner of Tokyo Bay.  That channel was the danger point.  I gathered with about 500 students and 150 staff on the 4th floor of the university building.  We watched the water as it reversed direction out to sea before it began to swell just two meters below the car bridge.  This repeated itself twice.  When the way seemed clear, we were divided, staff in one room and students in another.  The faculty was allowed to go home or back to their offices and students were given meal tickets and a place to sleep.

EVACUEES  There was no train service and the highways were totally blocked.  Many spent the night in their offices.  I received two women whom I’d never met before as “refugees.”  We spent the evening together, and then they left by 10 am today. It was a little like Noah sending out the dove and waiting for a green olive branch to be brought back.  Apparently the two women found the train service running to a certain degree (their olive branch) because since they left, they haven’t returned.

LITTLE NEWS FROM THE NORTH  In the meantime, the prefectures in NE Japan continued to experience their own hell much different than ours.  You know the rest by what you’ve seen on TV. The hardest thing has been to not hear from people due to the phone lines being down and service being too crowded.

The figures keep skyrocketing, but as of 9 am today, the day after the tsunami, the official figures are as follows:

confirmed dead: 236

missing                725

injured              1028

damaged homes 2713

destroyed           2290

(Provided by the Japan Baptist Union Office)

They are still finding villages and hamlets destroyed by the quake &/or tsunami.  Police are now going house to house in their district to get a more accurate account.


NEAR TO MY HEART  I worked in the seaside town of Shichigahama for 10 years.  Part of that time I lived up on a hill in a run down cabin in an area that missionaries go for rest and relaxation.  There are seven ports or beaches out of which 10,000 of the 21,000 population, fishes and cultivates seaweed for a living.  Most of my friends and church members lived close to the shore or in the port areas.

There has been no direct communication that I know of with people here.  I have continued to telephone many who are there.  TV provides little information on specific, tiny areas such as Shichigahama.  However, I did decipher one figure that 1300 people are in evacuation shelters. 

Then, recently, the secretary of the missionary cabin organization called Takayama, managed to send us an email saying that the few who were in the missionary cabins are all accounted for, melting snow for water.  The tsunami reached the Takayama store, about 15 meters above sea level and just below the closest missionary cabin. They cannot make it off the hill.  However, at the base of the hill, the hamlet of Omote hama has been completely wiped out. We know of one Japanese family in the house right by the gate to this hill was able to escape but we don’t know about the others. I’m so, so sorry to hear all this news, but glad that I’ve heard something.

I suspect that the word is the same for Hanabuchihama where Shichigahama Preaching Place began. There also, are the houses of four different members of our church.  No word is good, perhaps one could say.  Knowing how high the water came, it’s possible that it rolled in near the church which is about 2 km from the ocean.

SOME HELP  Two rescue workers from Baptist World Alliance's  Rescue 24 - Hungarian Aid  arrived safely in Narita airport this morning.  They are being hosted at the Japan Baptist Convention offices (formerly So. Baptist related).  We are discussing how to get them to NE Japan.  We are looking into joining a volunteer group of many denominations called C.R.A.S.H including many relief groups as a way to at least get up to NE Japan.  We may split off at some point to follow the needs of people in the neighborhood of our church members.  We will decide this tomorrow (Sunday) at a joint gathering.  However, perhaps I will go as interpreter, get them settled with a pastor up north and then return.  HOWEVER, we cannot contact key pastors who would have the most need and use of the volunteers.

We have not heard from the following churches: Hachinohe, Kuji, Tagajo, Shichigahama, Matsushima, Kashimadai. We have heard from the rest of the churches directly or indirectly that they are safe, even though some buildings are questionable.

So appreciate your gifts through One Great Hour of Sharing.  Japan will receive $20,000 of it for relief.  Thank you so, so much.

Have you checked your "foundation" lately?  I pray that your faith is strong enough to hold no matter how much you are shaken. 

Please pray:

  1. That we can get ahold of the pastors in the affected area to receive volunteers
  2. Protection of those there with earthquakes continuing
  3. Search for people who are still alive
  4. Stamina for people who are getting information out
  5. Healing for my back IF I am to get involved.  Healing for my back even if I am not to get involved.
  6. Patience for all those who have been comparatively inconvenienced by all this.

In Christ, Roberta Stephens

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