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How Fragile We Are

October 25, 2011

It has been seven months since the fateful earthquake of March 11. Every day since then seems to revolve around that moment. I have tried to keep our community of friends informed through periodic reports that can be found on the UCC website: http://globalministries.org/news/eap/japan-missionaries.html.  In this letter I want to share my reflections on living through this triple disaster. The unifying theme for my reflections is stated in the title I have chosen.

The Earthquake

As you know, Japan is a land of earthquakes. Since I have spent most of my life in Japan, I have become quite accustomed to the occasional tremors. However, the earthquake registering a magnitude of 9, robbed us of our daily lives in a way that I had never experienced before. Electricity, water, gas, kerosene, telephone access, as well as access to food and supplies were terminated. In some cases it took up to a month before we could receive the services which until recently we had taken for granted. Once all lifelines were down, we were sustained by the presence of one another. As the tremors continued day and night, we stayed close together. Our connectedness with a community was the strong foundation that supported us through the difficult times.

We had close to ten people staying at our house that first night. Our children were thrilled, and the family was comforted, to have so much company. We were huddled together in the large living room using all the blankets we could find. I stepped outside that night and experienced the darkness of a city which had robbed of electricity. Pitch dark! At the same time I was struck by the beauty of the stars. Was this God’s silent way of blessing us with a gentle light to guide us through our darkest night?

It was reported that 14 million people were stranded in Tokyo that night with no means to get home. Many walked for hours to reach their homes. Families were divided, and with no way to contact each other. At some point in those first days, I think all of us experienced fear, anxiety, panic and loneliness. When man-made society was brought to its knees, we were all made aware of how fragile our lives are.

The Tsunami

The Emmaus Center quickly became a beehive of activity. The Christian community from all around Japan started to access our website, asking for ways they could help. Pastors with experience in earthquake relief gathered from afar to offer assistance. In no time, ours became a Relief Center through which the United Church of Christ in Japan would reach out to people in need. Information, supplies, and money were gathered, and people were mobilized all for a common purpose. In the past six months, we have focused our energies on coordinating volunteers from all over Japan to work in the tsunami stricken areas. We have hosted over 1300 volunteers to date. Money has been donated from both domestic and international sources. The big challenge ahead is to continue in our commitment to be involved in the lives of those who were stricken by the tsunami.

On the eleventh day of each month, at 2:46, our volunteers gather out by the coast near Sendai to offer a moment of silence. We hold hands as a symbol of our solidarity with one another, and with the victims of the tsunami. Even out of the terrible destruction, new bonds of trust and solidarity have been forged. After all the debris has been removed, streets have been cleared, houses have been fixed, and communities resume their daily lives, we want to continue to hold hands as a symbol of the bonds of trust.

Radiation

We are in over our heads with this reality. No one knows how devastating the damage is. No one believes the government is telling the truth. There is anger for those who have been evacuated from their villages. There is anxiety for the residents in Fukushima who know that their neighborhood is too dangerous to allow children to continue to live in the area. Families and communities are divided by this issue. Some groups are very active in educating the public, and protesting against the government. Others are in denial. Sendai, where we live, is only 100 kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear reactors. We are only just now beginning to set up a system for monitoring the radiation levels in food items we eat. Fear of the unseen dangers of radiation, are an ever present part of our daily lives. We feel vulnerable.

The Kamaishi Church

In September, retired pastor Rev. Yanagiya came to preach at our evening worship service at the Emmaus Center. He has been spending much time at the Kamaishi Church which was one of the churches damaged by the tsunami in March. At present, the floor boards, walls and ceiling of the sanctuary have all been removed. The community of faith gathers there each Sunday for worship. Concerned people from around Japan suggest that they quickly rebuild the sanctuary with new flooring, walls and ceiling. During the summer, the church community was content to worship in the ruined sanctuary. When they do the renovations, they are discussing the possibility of refinishing the sanctuary so that the damage from the tsunami will be clearly visible. They want the scars of the tsunami to be a living reminder of how fragile our lives are.

It can blessing to be reminded of how fragile we are. Never before, have so many people been praying for us in Japan. Never before, have I felt God’s sustaining presence as in these past several months. Seven months later, people are still finding ways to express their solidarity with us. For this we are deeply grateful. Arigato!

 

Jeffrey Mensendiek

 

Jeffrey Mensendiek serves with the Council on Cooperative Mission, assigned to the Gakusei (Student) Center in Japan.  He serves as Director of Gakusei (Student) Center in Sendai, Japan.

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