Japan (MNN) — March 11 marks one year since the 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami tore through the country of Japan. Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed, 14,000 people died, and hundreds of thousands of people were homeless.
One year later, the country continues to recover. Many are still homeless, yet ministry continues in a nation that is largely unreached with the Gospel. However, the church is still having an impact.
President of Medical Teams International Bas Vanderzalm says Christians have played an important role in the response. Medical Teams actually helped organize CRASH Japan, a Christian disaster response organization.
Vanderzalm says, "We sent in volunteer teams to help with organizing the work they were doing, so that they could do a good job and have good systems in place. We also provided some long-term volunteers."
However, Vanderzalm explains, "The situation, of course, has changed over that time. [Some] people have been able to return home, or rebuild their home. The tsunami areas are still difficult as far as restoring homes, so some people are still living in temporary shelters."
While Japan was prepared to meet the physical needs, they haven't been as prepared to help the emotional needs. Vanderzalm says Christians are going into resettlement areas where many have lost loved ones. "What these Christian volunteers are doing is setting up mobile cafés, serving coffee and meals — not so much to provide food, but a place to talk. They need to be able to tell the story of what they experienced. That's a unique opportunity for the church."
Less than 1% of Japan's population claim to be Christian. Reaching them has been difficult — until now. "The people who are in the area there will never forget that Christians came and helped clean out their houses, helped stand with them while they were needing to talk to someone, and showed compassion to them. Already we are beginning to see people opening their hearts to Christ."
Medical Teams is committing to stay for a while. Vanderzalm says, " We're going to help them with the work they're doing, to equip churches to continue to reach out into those transitional communities. I think it'll be another year or so of support and involvement for us."
Vanderzalm says it's a new day for churches and ministry in Japan.
For $25 or $50, you can help local churches reach a family in Japan. If you'd like to help, click here.