For me, it all started on Friday afternoon, March 11, after our annual student-led conferences at Okinawa Christian School International. A member of our church and a fellow worker at OCSI said that all the public schools had been released early due to the danger of a tsunami. He said that the first reports were of a strength of 7 on the Japanese Shindo scale. We all said that it couldn’t be; that it must be the magnitude 7. A 7 on the Japanese scale is unheard of and is the top indicator for an earthquake. It turned out he was right....an earthquake with a 7 on the Japanese scale and a 9.0M struck the northern part of Japan on Friday causing an unbelievable tsunami and devastation in its wake.
Okinawa is about 900 miles from the area struck, but we were under a tsunami alert for about 24 hours and folks living in low-lying areas here were evacuated. As the news reports started to trickle and then pour in, we saw the footage that left us broken-hearted and crying. We were like many of you-glued to our TVs as we tried to take in the scope of the disaster, and then seeing image after image the wall of water over 10 meters in height, destroying everything in its path. After that came the images of those affected; of the crying children, the mothers and the elderly with faces reflecting total disbelief that this could be happeing. It was heart-wrenching.
David and I lived in Yokohama for 13 years and we have many friends there so I was on the phone and emailing many of them to check to see if they were okay. Thankfully, our friends in that area were only scared but fine, but as to our churches and acquaintances in Sendai, there has been little word. At last count, over 310,000 people are staying in shelters and there is now the possibility of over 10,000 deaths. As we look at the devastation, it is not hard to see why.
Our American Baptist missionaries are beginning to work on helping with relief. John Armagost, missionary in Osaka, will be going to the area on Tuesday to evaluate the damage and to try to connect with Baptist churches and pastors there. Roberta Stephens has already begun to use her house as a safe-haven and we imagine that in coming weeks and months, may be used more for that purpose. Here is a portion of a letter written by John Armagost to International Ministries on Saturday, 3/12:
"It is Saturday evening and we had a full day, but we wanted to update you just a little. Again we are all safe, as are all other ABC-International Ministries missionaries here in Japan.
"The leadership of the Japan Baptist Union (JBU), our sister denomination here in Japan, has spent the day trying to make contact will all the pastors of the churches in the areas devastated by this earthquake and the following tsunamis. We have not heard from 6 pastors (Hachinohe, Kuji, Tagajo, Shichigahama, Matsushima, and Kashimadai churches). Other pastors and their families have been evacuated, and some have reported damage to their church buildings.
"We know these wonderful folks personally, yet I know that your hearts go out to them just the same as ours. Steps are being taken by the leadership of the JBU to find ways to reach out to those in need. The several Baptist denominations of Japan are working together to provide help and support. American Baptist Churches have already released $20,000 from the One Great Hour of Sharing fund for relieve support."
Pray for the leaders of the Japan Baptist Union as they find ways to reach out to those in need.
Pray for the pastors and families not yet heard from.
Pray for those responsible for bringing relief to the suffering people of Japan.
You may ask how you can help and first and foremost, we ask that you pray. Pray that as the physical and emotional needs of so many are being taken care of the Word of God will go out as well to give the Japanese a source of hope for their future. I also ask that as you feel led, you give to charities that will also give out the hope of the Gospel along with physical help. We know that our American Baptist International ministries is already receiving funds to send to the churches in Japan for relief work. David and I have donated and we feel confident the funds will be used in the way I have mentioned. Here is the link:
As a way to help people stay informed, I have also been trying to post information and photos on our Facebook page.
Thank you for your prayers. As I think about all of us working together to help, I am reminded of the simple praise song that goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love”.
David and Leslie