There are several anniversaries that the Kyodan cannot and must not forget. One of them is the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that struck early on the morning of Jan. 17, 1995. So this past Jan. 17 was the 20th anniversary of that tragic event. The Kyodan’s Hyogo District held a memorial service that evening at Kobe Eiko Church, which was totally destroyed during the earthquake and rebuilt as a beautiful church in the years immediately following.
The 350 worshipers listened to the call to worship from Jonah 2:6: “To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.” It was a time of remembrance for the 6,434 lives that were lost, including more than 500 children, as the people contemplated that event.
Miyamoto Makiko, a member of Koto Church in Nishinomiya, gave a message entitled, “Continuing to grapple with it in the midst of encounters.” She told of the many experiences she had as a volunteer in the months following the earthquake as a member of the support group for handicapped children affected by the earthquake. She also then described her gratefulness for being able to utilize these experiences in helping mothers facing similar suffering following the East Japan Disaster and the accompanying nuclear accident.
As I recall, on the fifth anniversary of the 1995 earthquake, Hyogo District made this statement in a report on its mission as an affected district: “We believe that the God of history, who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, has stood with us during this disaster. As we face the realities of the aftermath of the earthquake, our efforts have been based on the realization that ‘without the rebuilding of the local community, the restoration of the local church is not possible,’ and so we view this as our response of faith as we stand before God.”
Immediately following this 20th anniversary memorial service, Hyogo District Moderator Sugane Nobuhiko expressed in his greetings the stance of the district towards the future. “During this past year of 2014, we need to be cognizant of the fact that 40 people among those still living in the temporary housing facilities set up after the quake died lonely deaths, so we should not think of this 20th anniversary as a closure. We need to continue to extend the hand of support to those still suffering, with no sense that this episode is now simply a thing of the past.”
In this land of frequent natural disasters, the Kyodan has had to deal with the aftermath of several earthquakes in recent years. Since the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995, the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake occurred on Oct. 23, 2004, the Noto Peninsula Earthquake on March 25, 2007, the Niigata Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake on July 16, 2007, and of course, the East Japan Disaster on March 11, 2011. In each of these situations, the Kyodan has rallied behind those affected, conducting fund drives to help with rebuilding and offering support in the pain and suffering of the people affected. This has particularly been so in the relief efforts following the East Japan Disaster, when the earthquake and tsunami were accompanied by a nuclear catastrophe, with its ongoing threat that has no clear resolution in view. Nevertheless, the Kyodan’s Tohoku District Nuclear Disaster Relief Task Force “Izumi,” the current response, will be formally ending its nationwide funding campaign at the end of March 2015 and phasing out its other activities in the Sendai, Ishinomaki, and Kamawishi areas by the end of March 2017. (Tr. TB)
—Nagasaki Tetsuo, general secretary