Japanese Christians Begin Relief Work


(NEWSCOPE) The United Church of Christ in Japan has established a disaster relief center in the Tohoku District in northern Japan, which was severely affected by the Mar. 11 earthquake and tsunami. The Rev. Jeffrey Mensendiek, a United Church of Christ missionary who serves as director of youth ministries at the Emmaus Center in Sendai, helped set up the center.
The UM Committee on Relief (UMCOR) already has sent an emergency grant to the United Church of Christ in Japan, which is using the funds “to distribute food, clean water, clothing and heating fuel,” wrote UMCOR’s top executive, the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, in a Mar. 21 letter to The UMC. The Japanese government has requested that outside groups not come to Japan, she noted.
As of Mar. 21, Japan’s National Police Agency put the number of dead and missing from the earthquake/tsunami at nearly 22,000. About 350,000 evacuees, including those who fled areas near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, have occupied about 2,100 shelters set up by 15 prefectures, the Japan Times reported.
Sendai lies within the 50-mile radius of the reactors, and Mensendiek said he remains concerned about radiation levels. Although many have left the area, as of Mar. 19, about 10,000 people remained in the evacuation centers in Sendai, where, Mensendiek reported, “the needs far surpass our ability to provide,” particularly with “no gasoline to visit the areas hit by the tsunami” and limited food supplies.
At the Asian Rural Institute in Nasushiobara, the staff is taking precautions but believes the institute is far enough away from harmful radiation levels from the nuclear power plant, even if a meltdown occurs. Abundant provisions allow the institute to help others, said Jonathan McCurley, a UM missionary based there. Through connections with a former staff member, the institute has arranged to donate food to help feed refugees staying in a hall and gymnasium at a local park.
An indefinite ban on leafy vegetables and milk produced by Fukushima and neighboring prefectures—announced Mar. 21 by Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan after samples were found to be above the allowable radiation limit— will have a “double whammy” effect on farmers, McCurley pointed out, placing both their livelihoods and their health in danger. Near the Asian Rural Institute, radiation levels are about a third of what they were the first week but still above normal.
In Tokyo, Second Harvest Japan, a food bank, has gathered supplies for those displaced from their homes in northern Japan. The Rev. Claudia Genung-Yamamoto, a UM missionary, and her husband, Toshi Yamamoto, are on the organization’s board of directors. Members of West Tokyo Union Church, where Genung-Yamamoto is pastor, also volunteer with Second Harvest Japan. The church itself is a sponsor of the organization, which, she said, “has worked non-stop since the quake getting out needed food and supplies.”
—Linda Bloom, UMNS

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