Rev. Akira Sato, Pastor, Fukushima First Bible Baptist Church
Fukushima First Bible Baptist Church was located about 2 miles from the infamous Fukushima nuclear power plant that melted down. Everyone was forced to evacuate their homes in Fukushima. Pastor Sato led about half his 160 members to a Christian retreat center in Okutama, west of Tokyo for a year. He has been journaling their experience on his blog, and here are recent posts from January 2012.
My second book, a sequel to Exodus Church, will be published in March in time to commemorate the first anniversary of the March 11th disaster. I hope that it will be read by many people.
From the Preface of Exodus Church II
It will soon be a year since the March 11th disaster. The pain from the wounds left by the disaster doesn’t get any easier. In fact it seems to be getting deeper. We have no solution to our problems but a new year has come and the Lord has kept us. I see this publication as a milestone and an encouragement.
When Exodus Church was published two months after the disaster it strengthened us to hear that many people had bought it and read it. We had been lonely but while we felt terribly shaken by the disaster projects like this kept us going and gave us strength.
Deep fear, sorrow, anxiety and darkness overwhelmed us and made us feel as if we might disappear, engulfed in a whirlpool, without anyone realizing. What a great encouragement it was to discover that so many people were interested in us and watching us. In a situation that pushed us to our limits those warm looks helped to move us forward and keep us going.
Sales of Exodus Church went to relief efforts in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. The kind thoughts of readers have developed into a support network. This second book tells of how we continued on our journey and how we have been helped. In Chapter 1 you can read my diary. Chapter 2 has testimonies of those who helped us when we evacuated and writings by my assistant pastor and church members. Chapters 3 and 4 record what I said at meetings in various places and also talk about our plans for the future.
I hear that the disaster is not spoken about so much these days. I hope that many people will take an interest in this book and will read it. That would be an encouragement for us all.
Three days after the disaster on March 11, during the night, my wife and I gathered gasoline, blankets and some food and drove from Chiba to Fukushima in a relief truck with heavy hearts. I wasn’t sure what was waiting for us in Fukushima. Everything began with that drive.
Almost a year has passed, and we are about to set off again. It has been a series of hard decisions and moves to the next place. We crossed a mountain in a blizzard, a convoy of 16 cars travelling from Fukushima to Yamagata. Two weeks later 60 of us headed south to warmer Kanto. I wonder if that was the beginning of the new start, which a year later has resulted in us building a new chapel and an apartment block for the elderly.
Just prior to the disaster, our church was planning to start a day care service for the elderly. We have long been interested in caring for them and had been led to make this decision. Now we are going to meet with our brothers and sisters in Fukushima and start to build a new community.
On Sunday 25th July we discussed where we should go in 8 months time when we must move out of the retreat centre in Okutama. There were some who were waiting in Fukushima so we decided to return there. Our hometown is still in the restricted zone so my wife and I started looking for a new site 60km south from there. But we couldn’t find anything.
However one month later, the building project started. It was an unexpected development. In March a nice apartment block will be finished and in August, two hundred meters away, our new chapel will be built. It is designed to look like a bird spreading its wings, signifying prayer and resurrection. A cross faces our hometown.
Our church members are reduced to a quarter of what they once were. 150-160 members are now spread all over Japan but are united by prayer. There will be accommodation for them so that they can come back any time. May this church with wings bring hope to all of us who still live in a state of evacuation, and be a symbol for recovery and restoration just like an eagle soaring into the sky.
I am grateful to so many people inside and outside Japan for their support so far. Being encouraged by all the prayers, we shall pray in our new church. I would like us to become a church that serves others in response to the wonderful blessings showered upon us.
The Diaspora and the Remnant
Time moves us along. All we can do is to do our best in the time and space given to us. It looks as if we will have less people returning to Fukushima than we first thought. I miss them but each person has to make their own decision. Those who got jobs in Tokyo will remain there. Some will join family and relatives who live in other areas.
Over the past 10-12 months since the disaster, we have all had to make decision after decision at a fast pace. It is understandable that some people feel tired and the decisions that kept them going in the initial stage soon changed.
After a whole year those scattered take root wherever they went, going to nearby churches. In the Old Testament after 70 years in exile, some of God’s people went home, some remained and others went on to a third destination.
Diaspora people: those who were scattered by the disaster. The Remnant: those who were left behind.
As they moved on to the next leg of their journey I suppose they were divided into smaller groups. Our life now overlaps with theirs. I wonder how long it will last.