Christians minister to physical, spiritual needs in decimated Japan


LOS ANGELES — Four hundred people —hearts broken over a catastrophic disaster across the Pacific—gathered together for a March 24 fundraising concert at Biola University for Japan and her people.

The university has 21 Japanese students enrolled at the campus. In addition, nearly 90 Biola alumni live in Japan, some near the epicenter and others far from the devastation. Early reports showed that none of them were injured in the disaster.

University President Barry H. Corey immediately asked for prayers not only for those affiliated with the campus, but also for "the nation of Japan during this time of sorrow and uncertainty." He's also been meeting with the Japanese students to walk them through the crisis.

"May our prayers reflect the hearts of Christians in Japan which is for the people to know the God of comfort and peace in this most trying time," the president said.

The March 24 fundraiser netted $1,000 for Japan and showcased Judith Hill, a former backup singer for Michael Jackson, who sang a duet with the "King of Pop" in the 2009 hit movie "This Is It." A graduate of Biola, Hill's mother is an immigrant from Japan.

In the wake of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunamis that struck on March 11, the needs are vast and pressing.

Lillian Shinoda, a member of Los Angeles Holiness Church who now lives in Tokyo and is affiliated with One Mission Society and serves as dean of women at Tokyo Biblical Seminary, wrote in an email that thousands of people are suffering.

"The destruction is of catastrophic proportions," wrote Shinoda, a native of Los Angeles. "I can't even begin to explain the needs of the people as well as the emotional and mental trauma. The injuries are experienced by all, whether it's physically visible or invisible."

Among the most frustrating aspects following the calamity has been getting accurate information on the scope of the disaster. Outside of the earthquake zones, many of the transportation services have resumed normal operations, although food and electricity continue to be unstable commodities.

Spiritual drought
Even as major Christian humanitarian organizations begin to distribute essential supplies to the region, concerns have centered on the vast spiritual needs of the country, where the number of Christians is estimated to be less than 1 percent.

"More than the buildings falling apart, it was the tsunami which simply swept cars, houses and hospitals," said alumnus Akira Endo, who lives in Tokyo. "The disaster is large, the psychological affect is extreme and we hope that this might be an avenue to open the spiritual thirst of the people."

Fellow alumnus Al Juve, living in Miyazaki Prefecture on Kyushu, the southernmost of the four main islands, said they did not feel the earthquake, but did have a 1.6-meter tsunami come into the harbor near them. He, too, is hopeful the disaster will soften the hearts of the Japanese people.

"In the 27 years that we have lived in Japan we have never experienced anything like this," Juve said. "The mile-after-mile damage we are seeing on TV staggers the imagination. Please pray that we will be ready for those who may begin to look for answers."

Supporting relief work
In addition to the university-sponsored concert, individuals have also begun some fundraising, including freshman Matthew Little, a Japan native who raised more than $800 outside Biola's Café. Little has partnered with the organization CRASH—Christian Relief, Assistance Support, and Hope—Japan, which is endorsed by the president of Japan Evangelical Missionary Association, who is Little's father.

CRASH was providing logistical and ground support to Samaritan's Purse, which shipped 92 tons of aid to the country March 18. The airlift supplemented earlier cash donations made by Samaritan's Purse. The cargo plane was loaded with plastic sheeting for shelters, as well as water filtration systems, blankets and hygiene supplies.

"You look at all of that rubble and you just wonder how many people are clinging to life waiting and hoping that someone will discover them—and the many thousands of others who have lost everything in this disaster," said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the international ministry.

Targeting children
Also on the ground in Japan is World Vision, which is focusing its efforts on the emotional needs of children.

"We're planning to see how deep the needs are in the affected areas and begin to bring relief to families," Kenjiro Ban, World Vision's humanitarian and emergency affairs manager in Japan, said in a news release.

"I've served on disaster response programs in Kenya, Sudan, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Haiti, and the needs I'm seeing in my own country are as bad as anything I've seen globally."

Early on, a team of emergency responders was mobilized and dispatched from the United States, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, with more on standby, to assist the efforts of World Vision's Japan-based staff.

World Vision's global pre-positioning response network, a logistics system that includes warehouses of relief supplies in Dubai and Frankfurt, is poised to ship urgent items to Japan as needed.

Several truckloads of World Vision supplies were distributed in Minami Sanriku, a devastated town where 9,600 people were displaced into 40 shelters. Japanese authorities organized the distribution, which included items to serve 6,000 people, including 4,800 bottles of water, 4,500 blankets, 130,000 wet wipes for children.

For more information, visit the Christian Examiner's Disaster Relief list.

Biola's Jenna Bartlo contributed to this article.

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