Many emotional wounds of Japan tsunami still need to be mended

By November 1, 2011

Japan (MNN) — The cleanup efforts of a massive March 2011 tsunami in Japan–expected to take years–have made significant headway in just over six months. Streets have resurfaced from miles of wreckage, fields have been cleared, and homes have been freed of debris. (See photos of the debris removal success here.)

Now most homeowners are going through the difficult decision of whether to repair their damaged homes or to rebuild them. Those who have no choice but to rebuild after their homes were completely destroyed have been relocated to displaced people camps and are getting their physical needs met.

Mark Lewis with the EFCA TouchGlobal Crisis Response has been blown away by the government's quick response to tend to these needs. Interestingly, though, other needs seem to have been neglected.

"The emotional/spiritual aspect is really not being addressed at all," explains Lewis.

This is arguably the realm in which people need healing most. "They have been so deeply impacted, far beyond what we can comprehend–watching loved ones just be swept away right before their eyes," notes Lewis. "There's a long-term process of healing that's needed."

With little or no assistance from the government in this arena, the EFCA has stepped in to fill the gap as thoroughly as they can. The ministry has five permanent staff couples involved in earthquake response and several other short-term workers; they are working with local churches to respond to emotional and spiritual needs.

They have gotten creative. Lewis says the ministry recently purchased an RV to be a touring coffee shop of sorts. The RV will stop at various camps and offer free or very cheap coffee, with the opportunity to talk about what they've been through.

"Normally the culture–particularly in this area of Japan–would be closed to outsiders. But actually, as an outsider, you become a safe person to talk to because you're not necessarily in the group or in the community," says Lewis.

TouchGlobal has also been able to give many Japanese victims the opportunity to laugh and have fun again. Lewis says the ministry sets up tents and tables, provides coffee and meals, and offers a Bingo-type game for people to play. It's a small way to reach out, but the responses to even that have been huge.

"One lady said as she was leaving [the Bingo game], ‘This is the first time I've had fun since my husband died in the tsunami. Thank you.'"

As believers reach out to these less-visible needs, relationships are being built and people are slowly opening up to the Gospel.

Lewis is headed to Japan again next week to continue planning for an inter-denominational community center project, which will create community gathering points across Japan to tend to ongoing emotional and spiritual needs.

Pray that Christians would continue working together, in what is one of the most unreached areas of the world, to build a firm foundation for the Gospel. Pray for wisdom for workers as winter approaches and as the work load overwhelms. Pray, too, that Christians would have increasing opportunities to share the Truth with earthquake victims as they look for hope.

The EFCA is in need of funding, especially for winter needs; but they are also in need of short-term teams. Learn more about both at touchglobal.org/japan.

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