MIYAKO, JAPAN (July 11, 2011) – Japanese citizens whose homes barely missed being destroyed by the tsunami in March now are dealing with survivor’s guilt, and most of the people left homeless are still living in evacuation shelters or government-built temporary housing, says Dave Husby, director of Covenant World Relief.
Husby, who once served as a missionary to Japan, recently returned from his second trip to the island nation since more than 400 miles of coastline were devastated March 11 due to the 9.0 magnitude quake. The tsunami struck about 30 minutes following the earthquake.
“We visited many places where houses a few feet beyond where the destructive waves hit were left virtually untouched,” says Husby. “Everyday those people look at the destruction that used to be their neighbors’ houses and feel guilty that they still have a house.” More than 125,000 buildings were destroyed – most of them houses. Two thousand people were reported killed – most of them drowned.
“Food and basic living supplies are often difficult to obtain because there are no longer shops nearby,” Husby says. Many are faced with massive cleanup work around their houses.
“I was overwhelmed by the degree of destruction and loss and haunted by what must have been the terror that gripped those who fled the tsunamis, and those who died trying,” adds Husby.
Husby had a sense of the fear that continues to be felt by the Japanese. “The morning after we arrived in Miyako City there was a 6.7 aftershock,” he says. “Actually there have been more than 60 aftershocks measuring more than 6.0 on the Richter scale.”
One of the coastal cities visited during the trip was Rikuzen Takata. Covenant missionary Jim Peterson, who accompanied Husby and several others, writes on his blog. “Every time I pass through this city, I am completely overwhelmed by the massive scale and totality of the destruction. There is almost nothing left.
“Miraculously, the one Christian church in this city was spared, but not by much,” he continues. “The church is a little ways up a hill, near the end of a dead end street. The killer waves came within 10 or 20 meters of the church. Only 11 homes were spared on their street and everything below them is simply gone!”
The pastor and his wife have provided 42 years of continuous ministry at the church, which has remained small throughout that time. Since the earthquake, numerous people in desperate need have come to them for supplies.
Husby was heartened by the work of the Japan Covenant Church, which is partnering with other churches in the 3.11 Network (named for the earthquake date) to meet the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of the survivors. Covenant World Relief is partnering with the Japan Covenant Church to help provide that support.
The network has developed a strong relationship with the government, which is providing food and supplies to those living in the evacuation centers. However once the people enter temporary housing, they are pretty much on their own. The 3.11 Network volunteers have been providing food and other necessary supplies to those people.
In addition, local leaders have provided detailed maps and encouraged the 3.11 Network volunteers to care for those who still have their houses but are dealing with hunger and a shortage of basic items.
Some of the volunteers are helping to run after school programs for children, trying to help them work through the trauma they experienced since March 11.
Ministering to people often involves simple acts such as just listening – or cooking. Peterson organized a group of young people from California to put on an American style barbecue at the high school in Otsuchi, where 200 people still are living in the gymnasium. Nearly all of the town had been destroyed.
The workers fired up three industrial sized charcoal grills and served lunch. Another person brought his portable coffee shop, which includes cookies and pie. “They happily received the lunch, even claimed it tasted good, and seemed to genuinely enjoy any conversations that we struck up with them.”
To make an online donation to the work of CWR in Japan, click here. Donations also may be mailed to the Evangelical Covenant Church, 8303 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL, 60631. Designate the Japan relief fund on the memo line.