ATLANTA (ABP) — A Japanese Baptist leader predicted the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster would leave its mark on Japan the same way that America was changed after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
"3/11 will be etched on our heart and psyche just as 9/11 is imprinted on the American psyche," wrote Makoto Tanno, general secretary of the Japan Baptist Union. "The reasons are totally different, but it is a single event which determines how we as a nation will live for many years to come."
Two Baptist conventions in Japan assessed damage to churches and awaited word on the safety of many pastors and church members in the days following the disaster.
Makoto Kato, executive director of the Japan Baptist Convention, said in a letter dated March 14 that attempts had been made to communicate with all 17 churches in the stricken area of northeast Japan. In general, inland churches and mission points suffered earthquake damage in smaller structures but larger buildings were not severely damaged. Several members of Baptist churches living near the Pacific coastline remained unreachable due to communication and travel outages.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship set aside an initial $5,000 for the Japan Baptist Convention, which formerly related to the Southern Baptist Convention and now has a mission partnership with the Atlanta-based CBF. Future aid will be divided between the convention and Asia Baptist Pacific Aid, the Asian arm of Baptist World Aid in order to maximize the effectiveness of disaster response.
Kato said the "most urgent concern" facing the Japanese people right now is the danger of a nuclear disaster from nuclear power facilities. Making matters even worse, temperatures plunged to sub-freezing levels immediately after the storm, while many people lay trapped in debris awaiting rescue.
A Baptist World Aid rescue team comprised of members from Hungary, North Carolina and Japan, arrived Saturday, March 12, at Narita International Airport north of Tokyo, but with all means of transportation broken down did not arrive in the main stricken city of Sendai until late Sunday, March 13. Early Monday morning, the team immediately began inspection and assessment of needs.
The Japan Baptist Union, which relates to American Baptist Churches USA, worked to compile a list of churches reporting damages to buildings and tolls of human suffering. As of Saturday, March 12, leaders still had not heard from six pastors, reported Tomoko and John Armagost, International Ministries missionaries in Japan. American Baptists have already sent $20,000 for relief efforts in Japan through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering for humanitarian aid.
Another American Baptist missionary, Roberta Stephens, noted with sadness that victims included Tomoko Kamada, the only charter member of a preaching point in Shichigahama still able to attend. Baptized with her husband — who later left Christianity to become a Buddhist — around 1960, she was driving to or from helping her disabled older sister when her car was washed away and overturned into a pond. Her body has not been found.