Washington (BWA)--A Baptist World Aid Rescue24 team comprising rescue, medical and humanitarian relief specialists from Hungary and North Carolina in the United States has reported on the current situation in Japan. The team arrived in Japan on Saturday, March 12, to visit areas devastated by the earthquake that struck the northeastern part of the country on March 11.
Bela Szilagyi, team leader of the Rescue24 team, said that the city of Sendai, one of the hardest hit areas, "was calm and the spirit of the people was shaken but firm." He reported seeing houses that were completely washed away; cars and trucks lying upside down; and railway wagons and boats carried to farmlands and gardens.
The Baptist World Aid rescuers saw cars lined up in one- to two- kilometer long queues, in addition to dozens of persons standing with fuel balloons waiting for three to four hours for fuel. "More than 450,000 people had to leave their homes in the whole northeast region due to the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear explosions," Szilagyi reported.
They visited the Katahira evacuation center where approximately 400 persons were in the gymnasium and classrooms of a primary school. There was need for food, water, and electricity. BWAid Rescue24 helped to provide instant noodles, but indicated that "it was almost 'Mission Impossible' to procure food for the evacuees. All the stores we saw were closed in Sendai, a city with a population of one million."
There are four Baptist World Alliance (BWA) member bodies in Japan: the Japan Baptist Conference, the Japan Baptist Convention, the Japan Baptist Union, and the Okinawa Baptist Convention with a total membership of more than 42,000 in more than 450 churches.
BWA General Secretary Neville Callam sent letters of support and solidarity to BWA member bodies in the East Asian country. Callam expressed concern for the people of Japan and informed Baptists in the country that BWA will make appropriate responses in the wake of the disaster.
"I have learned, with deep concern, of the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami that have affected your country," Callam wrote. "I write on behalf of the Baptist World Alliance to express our solidarity with you at this time and to offer you assurance of our prayers for all affected persons."
Makoto Kato, executive secretary of the Japan Baptist Convention (JBC) wrote that "we are deeply worried about the safety of those thousands whose lives have been disrupted and are suffering from the shock, the cold, the wetness, and the lack of shelter and food." He explained that "even the cities and towns in this region that did not experience much direct damage from the earthquake have still lost electrical power, gas, and water supply, causing a miserable situation for people during this cold weather."
Kato stated that "Japan Baptist brothers and sisters are anxious to provide relief supplies and relief work to help the thousands of victims" but "the vastness of the provinces that have been damaged is overwhelming, compounded by the disruption in transportation, including trains, planes, ships, and roadways. We are anxiously waiting for a means to travel to the stricken area," he said.
The JBC was holding a mission workshop at the time when the earthquake occurred, said Kato. "During the closing worship, we experienced the tremors of the huge earthquake. With transportation down, most of the workshop participants and leaders were unable to travel to their homes, but were able to spend the night in the warm, safe JBC building." He said that, in the morning after the quake, "we gathered to have an urgent prayer meeting for the victims of this disaster. One by one, the participants were able to return to their respective cities."
Kato asked Baptists everywhere to "pray for the efforts to rescue the many isolated people who are suffering in the freezing cold, waiting to be saved from the debris wrought by the earthquakes, aftershocks, tsunami, and fires." He asked for prayer that "the Lord will provide His peace, comfort, and hope for the thousands of persons experiencing grief, despair, and emotional pain," and that the Lord will provide a means for dedicated Baptist men and women to serve in the disaster area."
Makoto Tanno, general secretary of the Japan Baptist Union (JBU) expressed gratitude for the concern and support from Baptists around the world. "We thank you for your prayer and concern for the earthquake attack in Japan," he wrote to Callam. "It is very encouraging for us to receive a message from you.... We need your help and prayer."
About half of the 14 JBU churches along the coast were destroyed or badly damaged, and a number of Baptist members have been unaccounted for. JBC was able to make contact with only two of its four churches that are in Sendai.
Baptists from around the world have been expressing great support for Japan. Joel Dorsinville, coordinator for disaster relief for the Haiti Baptist Convention told Baptists in Japan that "the trial of the Japanese people is bringing back to us sad memories of January 12, 2010, (date of the massive earthquake in Haiti) but at the same time it is reminding us of the worldwide solidarity of the Great Baptist Family through Baptist World Alliance." Dorsinville told Japanese Baptists that "we are praying that our Baptist brothers and sisters in Japan may be assured of the solidarity in prayers of their brothers and sisters in Haiti."
Regina Claas, general secretary of the Union of Evangelical Free Churches (Baptists) in Germany, wrote to Japan, stating, "I want to express my sincere sympathy to you - our fellow Christians in Japan. The German Baptists are deeply shocked about the disaster that has struck your country." Claas, a vice president of the BWA, said "we are also ready to assist you in whatever way possible, through the network of the Baptist World Alliance. As Christians we are a worldwide community standing strong for each other - connected to the Lord who is in control over every situation."
Ilia Osepashvili, bishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia said, "We are all deeply touched by the tragedy in Japan. We have already contacted the Japan Embassy in Georgia to express our condolences and sympathies towards the Japan people in this time of sorrow. We also want to bring our humble financial contribution for the benefit of the disaster for the affected people."
Everton Jackson, executive secretary/treasurer of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, one of six regional fellowships of the BWA, wrote to the JBC and the JBU "expressing our condolences and solidarity."
An earthquake measuring 8.9 occurred in the western Pacific Ocean 130 kilometers or 81 miles east of the city of Sendai in the mid afternoon of March 11. The quake created tsunami waves of up to 10 meters or 33 feet, sweeping aside cars and flooding various buildings as the waves traveled inland. The quake was preceded by several powerful foreshocks and was followed by a number of strong aftershocks.
More than 5,300 persons have been confirmed dead in Japan to date, more than 2,300 injured, and more than 9,300 missing. Many more are feared dead.
Donations may be sent to the BWAid Emergency Response Fund at http://www.bwanet.org/bwa.php?site=general&id=4 or to:
Baptist World Aid
405 North Washington Street
Falls Church, VA 22046