An update from Director of Emergency Response Peter Howard, who was in Japan last week and met with our partner organization Friends with the Voiceless International (FVI).
Today while traveling with Friends with the Voiceless I met Yoshia and Toyomi Sanga of Grace Garden Chapel. It was truly encouraging to meet two leaders who are pouring themselves out on behalf of those displaced by the nuclear fallout from the Fukushima nuclear plant. With a heart of compassion matched by action, Yoshio shared how they have been called to minister among the displaced people living at the Fukushima Convention Center shelter. Many of these people are from Tomioka, a town that is currently empty because it is located two kilometers from the damaged nuclear plant.
I was able to visit with the people of Grace Garden Chapel in Fukushima prefecture and hear how their pastor asked each church member to research the earthquake and nuclear fallout needs of their communities. Yoshia Sanga (the senior pastor’s wife and a pastor and mobilizer herself) told me about the childcare, young mother care, and starter packages they are organizing as a church. It began when they visited the shelter, which was housing over 2,500 people, and they saw some children in a corner without anything to engage their attention. Yoshia soon mobilized volunteers from her church and elsewhere to begin organizing playtime, study and music for the children. This soon got the attention of the government, which provided a bigger space for the volunteers to create these child friendly spaces. More importantly it got the attention of the children and parents as the numbers grew, and so did the gratitude. One woman shared how her nine-year-old daughter could not sleep through the night, but after she began joining in the activities she was soon sleeping through the night. The calming effect on children brought greater peace not only to young mothers but also to grandparents and neighbors who are all doing the best they can, living close together in the shelters. Additionally, Yoshia started the Young Mothers Support center through which she tries to bless young mothers by helping to provide childcare for babies so mothers can get some time alone to run errands or to be with friends. As part of this, Yoshio was able to get a beautician friend to come and cut hair at the shelter and enlisted Starbucks to come and serve free coffee. Finally, through these relationships Yoshio and her church and team of volunteers have begun compiling and distributing “Life Starter Packages” to families in need, which allow those families who are moving into temporary housing to start a kitchen with supplies like bowls, plates, mixers, refrigerators, etc.
In the course of such intense relational ministry, Yoshio and her team are regularly asked ‘why are you here?” It is especially unique because she and her husband are not from the area and when many or most people who could leave did so, they stayed. This presence is having a significant impact. Young mothers, grandparents and others continue to express gratitude for how their children are adjusting better and sleeping at night without nightmares because of the child centers. The elderly find relief through simple things like massages that relieve stress. Even the Mayor has taken notice and expressed deep gratitude for the ministry and hope-filled support of Yoshio and her team of volunteers through Grace Garden Chapel.
I asked what the impact was on the church members and was not surprised to hear how it has bound them together as a ministry. People are joining together to serve while others are meeting regularly to pray and intercede for God’s mercy. But the hours, the stress and weight of such ministry does take its toll. Please pray for the leadership and parishioners of Grace Garden Chapel. Pray that God and others in the body of Christ minister to their needs even as they pour themselves out on behalf of others. They have a vision that the Christian church can truly meet physical and spiritual needs as it “stays behind” and ministers among those living with the real and imagined dangers of nuclear radiation.