The following three accounts, taken from Kyodan Shinpo (The Kyodan Times), describe the initiative and involvement of the Kyodan, its district, and its churches and members in disaster relief, with ecumenical and sometimes international cooperation, during 2018.
Carpenters from Taiwan Volunteer for Okayama Relief
by Osawa Motomu, pastor
Yamaguchi Church, Nishi-Chugoku District
When western Japan experienced disastrously heavy rain in July 2018, the Nishihirashima area in Okayama Prefecture, was the second worst in terms of aftereffects of the disaster, with 2,230 homes being damaged by flooding. Immediately after the devastation occurred, Kato Makoto, executive secretary of the Kyodan Commission on Ecumenical Ministries, among others, inspected the damage on several occasions. The commission began activities in August in the Nishihirashima area to promote relief efforts that met the needs of the people in the most appropriate ways.
We always keep in mind that it is "the person-to-person connection" that makes it possible to provide support. On Friday, July 6, heavy rain fell continuously, resulting in the overflowing of Suna River’s banks, and NGO Team Haru Haru entered the area on Sunday, July 8. The relief efforts continued nonstop, without taking even one day off, so a relationship of trust was established with the district. Wake Church Pastor Nobuto Yoshihide had already been participating in this work for several days, so the commission too was able to begin relief activities.Some people said that compared to other nearby disaster areas, reconstruction of the Nishihirashima area progressed more quickly. This was partly due to the help received from experienced volunteers. They soon finished removing mud, disinfecting, and drying floors. By August, they were at the point where the carpenters could begin necessary repairs. With the help of the Kyodan, volunteer carpenters from the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan were dispatched to the disaster area.
During a period of 39 days, from Monday, Aug. 27, through Thursday, Oct. 4, major and minor repairs were carried out on about 20 homes by a total of ten volunteers and three inspectors. I cannot forget the sight of the members of one family shaking hands with a carpenter from Taiwan, their eyes filled with tears as they said, "When we were looking at the ground covered with mud every day, we could not motivate ourselves to do anything. But now it seems that we can finally take one step forward." During this same time period, a lot of damage was being caused by natural disasters occurring also in Taiwan. I want to thank the members of the family of God in Taiwan, who sent the carpenters to help Japan.
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Kyodan Churches Join Interdenominational Relief in Hiroshima
by Kobayashi Katsuya, pastor, Kure Heian Church,
Steering committee member, Hiroshima Christian Church
Disaster Relief Projects Planning Headquarters,
Kure Volunteer Center
The flood-causing rains also severely damaged Kure City in Hiroshima Prefecture. In cooperation with several churches in Kure, the Hiroshima Cooperative Mission, Hiroshima Disaster Response Office, which had worked hard to offer support during another muddy disaster five years ago, launched an interdenominational organization called the Hiroshima Christian Church Disaster Relief Project Planning Headquarters, Kure Volunteer Center, which provided immediate support following the disaster.
The center provided housing for volunteers, limited to the first four weeks. This time limit was decided before starting so that the pastors and other people in the damaged areas would not collapse from exhaustion by doing relief work. Kure Heian Church also became a place that offered lodging. Many Christians, and many people interested in Christianity, crossed denominational lines and came from all over Japan, and from overseas too, to participate in the volunteer work. They met the needs of the victims, first helping churches, church members, the families and acquaintances of church members, and the regions where the churches are, in that order, by removing mud, disinfecting, etc. They carried out activities that included cooperating with the Social Welfare Council to bring in heavy equipment, like excavators and dump trucks, etc. In addition, since Akitsu Christian Church of the Nihon Fukuin Senkyodan (an independent evangelical denomination) was damaged, the volunteers also helped with its reconstruction project.
The volunteers intended to take responsibility for all the areas to which they had some connection until the end of the crisis. So they continued activities, such as removing mud and disinfecting, volunteering two days a week until the end of September. After that, the focus of volunteer efforts shifted to providing support for daily activities and providing emotional care. They started by giving out blankets to meet the needs of people in temporary housing. The circle of fellowship got bigger until it included the people in temporary housing and the members of the residents' association who had experienced a lot of damage. The volunteers were able to send kotatsu sets (a small table with an electric heater underneath and covered by a quilt) and insulation sheets, along with Christmas cards. Akitsu Christian Church finished the construction, and on Dec. 24 a celebration was held to give thanks for the work completed and offer praise for the Lord's mighty deeds.
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Kyodan Churches Work with Ecumenical Relief Group in Okayama
by Otsuka Shinobu, moderator
Higashi Chugoku District
Pastor, Okayama Church
One week after the downpour in western Japan, the Okayama Prefecture Mission Gathering, a group made up of several evangelical churches in Okayama Prefecture, held a meeting. I was invited and attended as moderator of Higashi Chugoku District. There was discussion about how to support the churches in the prefecture that had been damaged, and the Okayama Mission Gathering, Okayama Christian Disaster Support Headquarters was set up. After the meeting, the Kyodan’s Higashi Chugoku District also confirmed that it would assist with reconstruction together with the other churches. The Support Headquarters was moved into Nihon Seiyaku Kyodan Hiroe Seiyaku Christ Church. Volunteers gathered there at 7:30 a.m., and after holding a worship service, headed toward Mabicho, one of the disaster areas. Oda River and Takama River had overflowed, so some houses were submerged in water up to the second floor. Volunteers removed mud, cleaned the inside of the houses, and between periods of work, listened to the voices of the people who had experienced harm. In the Hirashima area of Okayama City’s Higashi Ward, both the Kyodan and the Taiwanese Volunteer Team assisted with reconstruction. Support work was continued until November, and as a result of discussions among the Okayama Christian Disaster Support Headquarters, the YMCA Setouchi, the Kyodan and Kyodan Nishi-Chugoku District, it was decided that the base of activity would be located in Mabicho, so it has served as our base of operations. On Saturday, Dec. 8, a ceremony was held to celebrate its opening. It was decided that the base would be active in the disaster areas for two years. Some of our volunteers who had started in the last half of July 2018, were baptized at Christmas. It was a source of great joy for all of us, too. As we listen to the voices of the people who have suffered harm, praying and talking with them, we want to follow through on the task that has been given to us.(Tr. KT)
大塚忍 東中国教区総会議長 岡山教会牧師