Hope in the Crucible of Disaster

February 24, 2012 (about her experience in May 2011)

Dolores “Dee” Wirz, Asian Access/Japan Missionary

Following the triple disaster of epic proportions that struck Japan March 11, 2011 while the Asian Access missionaries and staff were gathered for their annual conference in Karuizawa, we began to think and plan how to respond. Some of our missionaries from the Kansai area immediately mobilized to gather supplies and deliver them to the severely stricken areas to meet the physical needs of people for food, shelter and clothing.

Meanwhile, I returned to my home in quiet Tokorozawa and met with my classes and community groups as scheduled, but adapted the lessons to deal with the profound shock and stress of the overwhelming catastrophe portrayed so vividly day after day in the mass media. Since many foreigners left Japan as quickly as possible in the face of such an unstable, ongoing threat of further disaster, my Japanese neighbors, students and friends expressed surprise and appreciation that I did not join the exodus. This provided a base for sharing the more important security we can have because God is with us—Immanuel. In the midst of the crucible of disaster we are not alone or abandoned. God is with us—the foundation for hope. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

By late March the most critical physical needs of people for survival were being addressed by first responders, the Japanese government, international aid groups and many local and global volunteers. However, it became clear that another deeper more long term level of care was called for in the crucible of post-traumatic stress triggered by the disasters. Anxiety, disorientation, depression and despair loomed in the hearts of disaster survivors. The Christian group CRASH (Christian Relief, Assistance, Support, and Hope) continued delivering physical aid, but expanded their ministry to “kokoro (heart) care” focusing on the spiritual needs of people.

In April I was asked to join the first CRASH Kokoro Care team sent to visit disaster victims sheltered in the Koriyama Big Palette Exposition Center in Fukushima. After a brief, but intensive training, teambuilding, prayer and fellowship time together, we headed into the imposing structure housing more than a thousand people displaced from their homes due to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plants. I was overwhelmed with the scene of people crammed into small spaces separated by makeshift cardboard partitions, people waiting patiently in line for their rice ball rations, others plowing through boxes of donated clothing, some signing up for a chance to take a bath in the facilities set up outside the hall by the Japanese Self Defense Force.

Our team fanned out to connect with the people in their little cubicles. I listened one after another to heart-rending stories of loss, bewilderment, sadness and fears as people remarkably opened up to share their pain in the crucible of disaster. They were so appreciative and grateful for my presence and listening ear that I felt humbled and deeply moved. Though I could not provide them with a safe home, recover their losses, assure them of a bright, secure, stable future, I was able to encourage them by caring enough to listen and bring a little hope. One 83-year old woman smiled and insisted on sharing her lunch with me and my Japanese teammate.

Each evening when we returned to our base camp exhausted after much care for hearts, the words of Isaiah 40:28-31 about putting our hope in the Lord to renew strength, to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint was a great encouragement. I was also inspired and refreshed by the joy of partnering with our team of twenty dedicated Japanese Christians from different denominational backgrounds and the five missionaries who worked together in unity and harmony to bring hope in the crucible of disaster. I identified with Paul’s feelings when he wrote, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-6