Participants at the “Inter-religious Conference on Nuclear Issues” held in Fukushima, Japan in December 2012, had a chance to visit and hear first-hand accounts of the suffering inflicted by the nuclear disaster in Japan. The following is an excerpt from a statement which came out of the conference.
We heard of a three year old child who has learned to fear playing in the sand; we heard from a husband whose wife had to lie repeatedly to community members about their decision to move for the sake of the children to avoid pressure to remain in a contaminated area; we heard from a fisherman who does not know when or whether he will ever again be able to fish for his living; and we heard how residents of Fukushima are discouraged from seeking independent medical diagnoses. We saw the different readings of the government and independent radiation monitors; we saw photographs of livestock abandoned to die; we saw the last words of a man who took his own life; and we saw slogans promising a healthy prosperous life based on nuclear energy in a town abandoned because of high radiation levels. As one Buddhist priest observed “Fukushima has become a place where those suffering inflict pain on each other. Fukushima is crying out, the land and sky are weeping. Please listen to the voice of Fukushima, and please listen to the cries of the lives of the children who are silent.”
These are heavy words for me, because they speak about my people – the people I have lived with my whole life. The nuclear incident has become a traumatic experience for all of us. It touches every part of our life, and it affects our environment, health, relationships, communities and sense of security. You can imagine the multiple layers of trauma, and the tremendous emotions this new reality has set into play. It is such an overwhelming experience, that I am even now grappling with the appropriate words to express how I feel, and what implications this may have for the future of Japan. One thing is clear, however. We are in a period of mourning; praying for guidance from God as to how we, the church, are to respond in such circumstances.
I am reminded of the Psalmist who mourns in Babylon; “How can I sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” I am drawn to the words in Lamentations; “To what can I liken you. Your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you?” I can identify with Jesus who looked out over the city of Jerusalem and wept. There is nothing wrong with mourning. It is a part of our human experience. Yet I also know that we must not dwell on grief, but find ways toward resilience. Our faith tradition gives us tools to move beyond our emotions and brokenness, to discover ourselves in God’s embrace, and to be lead into a radically new future. I suppose that is the beauty of a resurrection faith – it transforms us to be “a new creation.”
These past few months I have visited many churches in the US, and have met so many wonderful people. I was touched when in a few settings, after I had shared, the pastor called the community together into a circle for prayer. We held hands much in the same way that we do with my colleagues in Japan. We bowed our heads in silence, and offered up supplications for mercy, comfort and guidance. Sometimes words will never be enough to fill the vacuum caused by loss and grief. At such times all we can do is come together in a circle with hearts directed toward the One whose suffering love heals and transforms.
As we now enter this Lenten season, I look back upon my visits with you and see myself as a wounded visitor in your midst. I felt upon my back, the many heavy burdens which my Japanese colleagues carry on their shoulders. In a sense, I tried to speak on their behalf here in the US. And you, the church, welcomed me into your midst, with open arms, and held me and the Japanese people in prayer. That is in my mind the ultimate sacred ministry of the church. Sometimes the wounded healer comes to us and embraces us, and yet at other times we are the ones who welcome and embrace. But in either case, it is through our wounds and vulnerabilities that we are bound together, made stronger, and called to be faithful. I want to thank you for your ministry to me, and want also to ask that you continue to keep the people of northeastern Japan in your prayers.
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.