Over the past year, congregations and districts in the Kyodan, together with their members as individuals, have been searching for the best ways both to give and to organize aid to the stricken areas and churches of the East Japan disaster area. As a part of our continuing coverage of the disaster response, we want to report on the unique approach of West Tokyo District, as detailed in a talk given by Makabe Iwao, pastor of Soai Church and chairman of the West Tokyo District East Japan Disaster Relief Committee.
In the West Tokyo District, a proposal was made by its core leadership immediately after the earthquake and tsunami to form a disaster relief committee, and this was formally enacted at the April 4 meeting of the district’s Commission on Mission. In addition to forming the East Japan Disaster Relief Committee, the commission also approved the sending of volunteers and the collection of relief funds.
Makabe pointed out three main reasons for this quick action. The first was that immediately after the disaster, on March 21, at a workshop sponsored by West Tokyo District, a report was presented in words and photos by photographer Momoi Kazuma, the speaker, about his visit to the disaster area just one day before. In addition, Kyodan Executive Secretary on General Affairs Fujimori Yuki, who had been sent to inspect the aftermath of the disaster, gave his report. Both of these reports had a great impact on the congregations.
The second reason for the quick action was the result of the report from Noda Taku, director of the Student Christian Fellowship, located within the district, who had been sent as a district pastor to the Tohoku District Disaster Relief Center ten days after the earthquake. His report on the situation and relief activities already in progress formed the foundation for the district’s response.
The third reason was the experience of previous relief efforts organized by West Tokyo District following past disasters, such as the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (1995 in Kobe) and the Chuetsu Earthquake (2004 in Niigata). There were still some unused funds collected for those efforts, so these funds were available for immediate use in specific ways in this emergency.
The first team of district volunteers went on April 25, and three additional teams were later sent, so that by the end of November 2011, more than 200 persons served in various ways in the disaster area. The volunteers were comprised of a wide variety of people, including clergy and lay members, along with students from mission schools, and even some with no Christian connection whatever. The funds to send the volunteers were supplied from within the district, and all together more than five million yen has been contributed to this effort. We can say that this shows the consciousness and concern of each individual of the district.
The specific work is being directed by the Center for Disaster Victims of the Tohoku District of the Kyodan. The places of service are in the Arahama area in Wakabayashi Ward in Sendai City. In the beginning, the work was centered on mud removal but has changed with time, as volunteers are now also helping with projects like house repair.
At first, it was not easy to break through the local people’s preconceptions of the Christian faith, so they were slow to warm up to the volunteers. But together with Noda’s persistent dialog with the people and the volunteers not only providing physical labor but also helping the victims work through their emotions, trust was gradually won.
Finally, the main concern now is the long-term continuation of the relief effort. “Nothing is more important than a long-term continuation of the work,” says Makabe. (Tr. GM)
Summarized by Nishio Misao, member
Suginami Church, West Tokyo District and
KNL Editorial Committee member
Based on a Kyodan Shinpo (Kyodan Times) article