Missionaries Are Always in Mission: Reports from Japan
by Elliott Wright
New York, NY, March 17, 2011--What do missionaries do when their world shakes and crumbles? They continue in mission as best they can.
This is the message received from United Methodist personnel in Japan in the days immediately after the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and radiation seepage from nuclear power plants.
The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries had eight missionaries, six full-time mission volunteers, and several retired missionaries in Japan when the quake struck. It makes up a community of some 20 persons, who also have close ties to the personnel of other churches and to Japanese Christian organizations. All were safely located within 24 hours of the disaster. A ninth missionary was in the United States on March 11.
Concern for Neighbors
A first reaction of these stalwart persons was to check on their actual neighbors and on one another. The missionaries and volunteers are located primarily in the Tokyo and Osaka area. One missionary is north of Tokyo, some 80 miles from the damaged nuclear plant at Fukushima.
"We are all okay," reported missionary Claudia Genung-Yamamoto in an email to Global Ministries, which was also in direct touch with each of its missionaries and volunteers. Claudia, who works with the National Christian Council of Japan, made it her mission to check in with all of the mission partner organizations in the Tokyo area.
Claudia was the one who finally, after unsuccessful attempts from New York, reached the leadership of the Korean Christian Church in Japan, which started during the World War II years to serve Koreans brought to Japan. Claudia reported that a fair number of recent immigrants were able after the earthquake to return to Korea through the church's efforts. She reported that one Korean pastor, the Rev. Seo Eongill, a missionary from the Korean Methodist Church, had elected to remain in Sendai, a coastal city in the north that sustained the greatest damage.
"Things Are Not Easy"
"Please know that things are not easy here but we are okay," wrote missionary Jonathan McCurley and his wife Satomi, who were busy tending to the immediate needs of students and the community around the Asian Rural Institute, which suffered extensive physical damage. The nearest to the power plants, the facility was badly damaged.
In their letters and blogs, Jon and Satomi made it clear that their concern was greater for the people in their community than for themselves.
Paul Tsuchido Shew, a volunteer, reported that Aoyama Gaukuin University, a Methodist-founded school where he works, was significantly affected by the crisis, with considerable damage. The night after the quake, however, the university made an unprecedented decision to leave the campus and some buildings open as places of refuge for stranded persons. Students and faculty "welcomed the weary travelers" who had no place to go or could not get home. From his contacts, Paul could report that the churches in Sendai were working to "be beacons of light and hope amid the darkness."
Paul later indicated that Aoyama Gaukuin was engaged in organizing volunteer efforts for the areas most affected by the earthquake and tsunami, notably in Sendai.
Paul, Mike Sherrill, and David Reedy are now formal Individual Volunteers in Mission at Aoyama Gakuin.
Did Not Expect Such Love
George Gish, a retired missionary who now serves as a mission volunteer, continued his responsibilities as an elected vice president of the Christian council, which is made up of a range of Protestant groups, including Korean and Chinese. Noting the flood of messages coming from around the world, he wrote, "It is so encouraging to see all these expressions of solidarity for our small minority Christian community in Japan…from many places that we would never expect such an outpouring of love and support."
By March 17, food shortages were reported in some areas as stores ran out of supplies. Missionary Kathy Burton Lewis was in the US at the time of the earthquake but was getting reports on food shortages "back home" in Japan, where she has served for 40 years. Interviewed by telephone, she said she had told her colleagues at the Wesley Center in Tokyo to enter her apartment, take any food there, and bring it to those who were hungry.
Sharing Whatever People Have
"People are sharing whatever they have," said Kathy, who also noted but downplayed her concern for two sons, their wives, and one grandson in Japan, one in Osaka at present and the older one in Tokyo, where he was working with a rescue team from the United Kingdom.
The Wesley Center, she said, was housing displaced people and could probably accommodate 50, maybe more, by using guest rooms and large meetings rooms. The center is affiliated with United Methodist Women.
Claudia Genung-Yamamoto wrote on March 16 of how "calm, patient, and helpful the people of Japan continue to be during this crisis. Even throughout interminably long train, taxi, and store lines, there is rarely an impatient word or complaint heard. And when the call went out to conserve energy, virtually everyone responded. Non-essential electricity use was stopped. Escalators were stopped, neon signs were turned off, store lights were stopped or dimmed, and in the evenings, in most of the houses, you see only one light burning."
Date posted: Mar 17, 2011