Japan (MNN) — It’s been three years since a devastating tsunami and corresponding nuclear crisis hit northern Japan. Survivors are still struggling today, but Takeshi Takazawa of Asian Access (A2) says hope remains.
“We have seen many, many people becoming Christians. They have seen the tangible love, and they’re responding to it,” Takazawa states.
A2 is looking to plant more churches in disaster-affected areas to support these new believers.
“We establish that hope is center and comes from Jesus Himself, and Christ’s body, which is [the] local church, must be established in the midst of those areas,” Takazawa explains.
On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the coast of northeast Japan triggered a catastrophic tsunami. Entire families were killed as giant waves swept through coastal cities and villages; the disaster claimed some 15,884 lives. Another 2,633 people remain missing.
The tsunami’s waves also destroyed three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, causing core meltdowns and releasing massive amounts of radioactive material. Around 134,000 people were evacuated from communities near the Fukushima plant; most are still living in temporary housing today.
“Many disaster-hit victims are still leading a difficult life in the afflicted areas and places where they have evacuated to,” said Emperor Akihito at last week’s memorial service. “My heart still aches when I think about the fact that many people have yet to have prospects of returning to their homes.”
Nearly 270,000 disaster evacuees are still living in temporary housing throughout Japan.
“Most of the people want to just forget about it and move on,” says Takazawa.
“For the victims, it’s still every single day you have to face it, especially [those in] the nuclear zones. For the people who have small children, the concern for contamination is severe.”
Despair surrounds these survivors; some 3,000 have died from stress-related factors, including suicide. But A2 is shining the hope of Christ to these communities, and has been since the start.
Asian Access responds
A2 leaders were gathered together in Japan for their annual retreat when the disaster struck. In what could only be God’s timing, these leaders were prepared to hit-the-ground-running in the days and weeks following the tsunami.
A few days before the tsunami, A2 leaders had taken part in disaster response training. The all-day session was specifically designed to help Christians know how to respond in the case of an earthquake.
By the end of March 2011, A2 was working with 400 pastors and 1800 churches — roughly 20-25% of Japan’s total congregations–to help meet the spiritual and physical needs of survivors.
“When the Global Church came to the disaster area and tangibly served victims, people said, ‘Oh, Christ has come! Jesus people [are] there!'” Takazawa shares.
“Some people said, ‘Grandma, Jesus is doing barbeque and distributing food and blankets.'”
The ministry set up a special relief fund and partnered with SIM USA to meet ongoing needs. Two $1 million matching grants were launched and met for 2011-2013, and a multitude of projects are successfully underway.
In addition, A2 has a vision for transformation that will counterbalance the 2011 disaster.
A new future
Takazawa says the Lord continues to show A2 leaders that the local church is key to moving forward in post-disaster Japan.
“We want to see this church established, Christ’s body established, all over this disaster area in the midst of the hopeless people,” he says. “If we leave this area and leave nothing [behind], it’s ‘Christ came, Christ gone’ for the non-Christian people.”
By coming alongside A2 financially, you can help them plant more churches and train pastors to lead them.
“Continue to remember us, continue to pray for us,” requests Takazawa. “As people forget about it, people stop coming to visit us.”