Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Report on Visit to Iwaki City

I was able to travel north yesterday to Iwaki City, which sustained significant damage in its coastal regions from the March 11 tsunami. It also is near the Fukushima nuclear reactors, but just outside the 20 kilometer evacuation zone. Here are a few thoughts on this experience:

Karen Darda, a friend and teammate, asked me to accompany her as a second driver. Our task was to bring three MTW relief work assessors to Iwaki City so they could determine whether there is a need for medical help from American doctors, health professionals, and counselors. We visited two churches, with whom they could potentially partner, as well as three shelters for people who lost their homes to the tsunami. We left at 3:00 a.m., spending the entire day in Iwaki City.

The two churches we visited were both very happy to partner with MTW, to allow their facilities to be used for clinic work and volunteer housing. One church in particular was very encouraging. "Global Mission Outreach" (?) lost their church last year to a fire. About the same time, one of the young men from the church lost his father to a heart attack. The father owned a pachinko parlor (gambling), and the son inherited it. Instead of continuing the family business, he sold the large three-story building to the church for a low price. With this large facility, the church is now a beehive of activity helping victims around the city. The main floor (worship area) is filled with donated food, clothing, diapers, etc. During our time at the church, several trucks and vans arrived from churches in various parts of Japan, all of them loaded with donated supplies. As these were taken into the "warehouse," other supplies were being taken to shelters in all parts of the city. The second floor office area was also a flurry of activity for church and relief workers.

(Pastor) Mori-sensei spent several hours with the MTW assessors answering many questions, bringing us to three shelters, and even meeting with the mayor of the city (population 350,000) to confirm that foreign medical workers would be welcomed -- something Japan has never allowed in the past. It was wonderful to see the church respond to the many needs of the earthquake/tsunami victims. And yet the need is so great in Iwaki City and for hundreds of miles up the coast.

The first evacuation shelter we visited was an elementary school gymnasium. Approximately 350 people had been housed here immediately after the tsunami. Ten days later, 255 people remained. It was a cold, drizzly day as people of all ages sat or layed on futon mattresses in the cold gym. They looked so hopeless; I can only imagine what they were thinking about: the terrifying experience of the tsunami; the homes, photos, and many things they had lost; the people they had lost or had not yet heard from; what they would do next, and when they would be able to start trying to piece their lives back together.

I spoke with one woman about my age, Hiromi. I asked if her home had been destroyed. She said it had not been, but that it was all wet as the tsunami wave had reached her home. She was there at the time and said it was terrifying, tears welling up in her eyes as she spoke. All I could say is "I'm so sorry."

As we left the gymasium, one of the community leaders made an announcement about who we were. (All eyes had been fixed on us, as we were the only diversion at the time, and foreigners nonetheless.) At the conclusion of the announcement, everyone applauded for us and bowed with gratitude that they had not been forgotten. Outside the gym, about twenty people were busy cooking the first hot meal that these people would have in ten days.

We then visited a beautiful municipal performing arts center where about 100 people were sleeping in the lobby and hallways. It was warmer here, and there were several televisions -- all playing news of the earthquake and tsunami, something that can only further depress these weary people.

The final shelter was a community sports complex, also with about 100 people. The gym was very cold, but the children here had room to run around and play. About five young children quickly ran over to us and said "hello!" That was the extent of their English, but I enjoyed watching Karen speak enthusiastically with them. She reported that they did not talk about their recent experiences, but asked her "Did the earthquake come to your house? Did it make everything a mess?" Although they asked serious questions, it was wonderful to see these kids behaving as normal kids. Yet I know that they will have many bad dreams and other trauma from their experiences and the fear that they have seen in their parents.

We arrived home at 10:45 p.m. It was a long day, but certainly helps me appreciate the magnitude of the disaster, the generosity of Japanese Christians, and the incredible opportunity that we all, as Christians, have to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the people of Japan. For this is truly the only thing that can heal the lives of the people and bring eternal peace to their souls and significance to their lives.

Soli Deo Gloria.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Brent-
    Continuing to pray for you in this time of ministry! You are constantly on our minds and hearts.
    Chris and Dave Finnegan