Japan (MNN) — It's just three days before the six-month anniversary of a tsunami that rocked a nation, stealing countless lives and forcing thousands of Japanese out of their homes.
The world may have moved on to the next crisis, but Japan has far from forgotten.
Mark Lewis, the director for the Evangelical Free Church of America Crisis Response team, just returned from one of many trips to Japan a few days ago. What he saw included immense physical progress yet extreme emotional devastation.
"The government has done a tremendous job with continuing with cleanup efforts," notes Lewis, who says most of the large debris has now been moved.
"Our teams and our partners recently have been focusing on smaller debris cleanup," explains Lewis. The smaller cleanup includes sweeping streets and cleaning clogged gutters.
Lewis says it will probably be another year until cleanup is complete, but things are so far going along smoothly on a physical scale. Although Japan is slowly starting to look more like herself on the outside, however, the people of the nation are still suffering inside.
"The stress that's evident in peoples' lives is really the most significant thing that we've been noticing lately — a lot of uncertainty and just a huge need [for people] to be able to talk and tell their story," Lewis remarks.
As Mission Network News has observed in previous articles surrounding the Japan tsunami, it's generally frowned upon for Japanese to express their emotions to others in public. The principal of "gaman" teaches them, in a sense, to "get over it." But Lewis says people nevertheless have been keen to speak to outsiders, in particular, about the disaster.
"We've found that outsiders represent a safe place–somebody who's not in the community, not in the group."
And not only are many survivors opening up, but they're eager to listen in return. "We have just experienced an incredible openness that our staff in Japan is saying is just unprecedented: [the] ability to engage with people without the very, very long process of relationship building. Those connections are happening in a very fast manner."
The Gospel is also being shared in unprecedented ways.
To allow people both an outlet to talk and a place to hear the hope of the Gospel, the EFCA is creating a mobile coffee shop ministry. The RV-type vehicle will move from camp to camp every week and will be staffed with believers. People will be able to go in, relax with a cup of coffee, and tell someone about their experience. Believers will be able to provide a listening ear and express the hope of Christ in return.
The EFCA is also working on a few projects with partners, including what will be a multi-denominational ministry center that will engage people in arts, crafts, English lessons and more all for the sake of spreading Christ's love.
Progress is being made like never before in physical cleanup and in spiritual revival in Japan, but many more hands are needed. Your church can send a team, or you can get involved on a personal level. Click here to view all of your options for crisis response in Japan.