‘Tsunami orphans’ struggle for hope

By June 20, 2011

Japan (MNN) — Thousands of people were killed in a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan March 11, 2011. The lives lost have been more than numbers; rather, they were friends, husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers.

All who were killed left loved ones behind. What will become of those too small to care for themselves?

"The latest information that we have been able to ascertain is that there are at least 1,200 children who lost at least one parent to the tsunami and earthquake, and at least 200 lost both," says Tony Haug, a Pioneers missionary to Japan.

The Haugs were in Japan when the tsunami hit, but they returned several weeks later to their initial American home for a few months. They've remained closely connected to the situation and to their friends in Japan.

Tony's wife, Marcia, who was still in Japan through May, says directly after the disaster hit, there were many inquiries about adopting children who had been orphaned. Japan turned down the help. "Japan is kind of historically known as a very closed society when it comes to adoption," notes Tony.

As children grieve the loss of their families and adjust to a new life, however, Japanese culture sends them a hopeless message. "There's an emphasis in Japan to–the word in Japanese is ‘gaman'–just take it, receive it and live with it," explains Haug. "It's a passive way of dealing with tragedies."

Haug adds, "In most instances, the children are going to be taught that this is just a fate that has happened, and that those children themselves can honor their parents by praying to the dead spirits of their parents and by continuing on in the traditions of their parents. And it comes across to them, of course, that they have no choice in this, that their road has been set, and it's a dark road. There's no hope in that."

In addition, most kids have little, if any, concept of a loving God. "The average Japanese child is raised not knowing about a Creator God and believing that their existence is just to not cause problems for other people and not cause shame on their family," says Haug. "They have no idea that God loves them."

Even before this tragedy struck, the Haugs knew this mindset was a problem. They have long been planning to start a preschool ministry to reach kids and their entire families with the real hope of the Gospel.

Funding, location and curriculum are all in order for the school. It will be a full immersion English preschool that is modeled off of American schooling. Due to the desperate desire of Japanese parents for their children to learn English, and the nearly idolatrous passion most have for education, the Haugs believe it will attract a lot of attention–even if they are teaching kids about Jesus.

"If a child could be–for three years–going to an American-style preschool based out of a church, they would get to know those teachers and become fluent in English in a matter of half a year to a year. And we would have the opportunity to minister not only to those children, but to their parents and their grandparents, and to their siblings," explains Haug. "Even if 10 children would come, that represents potentially about 300 Japanese in extended family and friends that we can minister to."

The Haugs live about 600 miles from the tsunami zone, but with children dispersed to relatives, they could well be serving tsunami survivors in their preschool. They will undoubtedly host children who've been affected at least emotionally. Every child will need Christ's hope.

Haug seems confident that God will work. Since the tsunami, "I believe Japan is probably the most-prayed-for country in the entire world. So you have to wonder: if all the world in the name of Jesus [is lifting up] prayers for Japan and the Japanese people, you have to expect that there'll be some great things that happen in the spiritual realm in Japan."

Pray that some of those great things might happen in this new preschool. The Haugs are prepared to leave this year to start the ministry and continue on in their other missions work. All is in order for the preschool except teachers. Teachers don't need to know Japanese; they just need to commit to about a school-year's worth of helping kids in a preschool setting. If you're interested, e-mail the Haugs at [email protected]. View the family's blog here.

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