While Japan has become aware of many new friends around the world concerned about her pain, who want to stand by her on her journey, they still stagger under the burden of her losses. There are over 15,327 confirmed deaths with 8,343 people unaccounted for. Many bodies remain unclaimed because whole families were wiped out. There are 99,592 displaced people living in shelters and temporary housing in 2,446 locations. Over 700 children were lost or are missing. More than 125,000 buildings were washed away with a number of these being school buildings, with children unable to escape.
A high priority of the government was to first give the children hope. Students in schools where the buildings were destroyed began to attend classes in make-shift buildings set up close to evacuation centers as early as late April. Some schools were being used as evacuation centers, thus delaying the beginning of school because of having to move hundreds of evacuees out or into a different area of the school to create more of a school-like atmosphere. In Shichigahama, temporary houses are set up on the playground. Some other communities have combined two or more schools together. Children who have evacuated from the nuclear radiation zone in Fukushima Prefecture are attending different schools all over Japan. Japan Baptist Union’s Shokei Gakuin, for example, where 115 students lost family members, homes or income, began classes at the beginning of May and like other schools will continue without a summer vacation.
Of course, the psychological impact on all surviving young people is a continuing concern. Fifth grader Shiina of Shichigahama has adjusted to the rhythm of school-life and no longer has bad dreams. In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, seventy-eight children were lost. Sixty-eight bodies have been recovered but six remain missing. Parents of the six continue to search in an attempt to come to terms with their loss. “If I find her remains I can say ‘welcome back, my daughter’ and then move on,” one father said.
Seminars on this subject are being held for all educators from nursery school teachers on up through university professors by trained professionals. There are qualified trainers in our Baptist congregations who are being kept busy giving seminars in various locations, in between helping the children themselves.
The emotional impact of this disaster still affects us all. There’s no “getting back to normal” if you live here. EW came to me and said, “I’ve got to talk to you.” It would soon be her turn to teach the primary age children at Sunday school. The story she was given was The Flood and the Rainbow. ‘I just can’t do it’ she repeated over and over through her tears. “God promised not to flood the earth again, but He did. Think of the pain of all those mothers who lost their children. I have a child, too. How could they possibly believe in a God that would punish them for not believing? And, to add insult to injury, I heard that as the tsunami hit Chiba Prefecture, people could see a rainbow.”
I knew that this was going to be a tough one. But she is not alone in asking such questions. Kids in Kanto Gakuin elementary school have been badgering the principal with the same questions, and he doesn’t know how to answer them. EW and I worked hard at trying to understand the meaning of this disaster, breaking down each element through the Word of God, of her misunderstanding of God as a vindictive-control freak, of man’s freewill and sin, and of Christ’s redeeming love. A mutual friend’s letter to her about the subject was vital to her coming to terms with this issue. It seemed cathartic to copy the letter a number of times by hand and pray. In late May, she came to me smiling and saying, “Do you want to hear my lesson?” She did a beautiful job; but more than that, her journey of faith was reaffirmed and she gained assurance that the road of faith she had chosen was the right road.