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Hope out of a train accident

March 28, 2006

Martha Mensendiek - Japan

Spring is a time of new beginnings. In my work in Japan, April means a new school year, a new group of freshmen to get to know, all with their own hopes and dreams for their new life at University.

This year, April will have a special sadness for some at our University. April 25th will be the one-year anniversary of a train accident that took the lives of 107 people, and over 400 injured. Four of those killed and over 20 severely injured were students of Doshisha University where I teach. Two freshmen were killed in this accident just three weeks into their new college life.

It was one of the worst railroad accidents in Japan's history. The cause of the accident had to do with exceeding the speed limit, with the train derailing at a curve. In Japan, where trains are expected to be on schedule, the train conductors are under severe pressure if there is any delay - even a matter of seconds. Other issues have come to light including extremely tight train schedules, and the emphasis on convenience and efficiency at the expense of safety.

Though train accidents happen in other countries, this particular accident perhaps could only have happened in Japan. I believe it reveals something about a society so time conscious and efficient that a minute's delay cannot be tolerated. The accident spurred some soul searching about how we in Japan are driven by time, efficiency and profit.

Another aspect that came out of the accident is more positive. With the entire campus being engulfed by grief, Doshisha University, held several worship services the week after the accident and then continued to hold daily prayer meetings during the lunch hour. Over 3500 people attended the services. Doshisha is one of the oldest Christian schools in Japan, with 130 years of history. There was a real sense that the Christian faith brought the University community together, uniting us in a common bond, in the midst of our grief and pain. Three months after the accident, a memorial service was held with over 500 people, including the families of the victims. Though most of these people are not Christian, the Christian worship brought us together. This was another moment when the Christian witness made a difference. My hope is that we continue to witness to the Good News in times of grief as well as joy - and in the in-between times too.

May this Easter bring new joy and hope to our world!

Martha Mensendiek
Martha is a missionary who serves at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan through the Council on Cooperative Mission. Martha is a Teacher of social welfare.

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