Mennonite Church Canada logo
News » Releases » Japan disaster relief: update

Japan disaster relief: update


Pastor Minay Gishe and his wife Yasocho of Bible Baptist Church, one of the Baptist churches that has received help from JMF, in Kesennumu City with Paulus Hartono (right).

View or download full sized image.


July 15, 2011
-from Mennonite World Conference reports by Ferne Burkhardt and Byron Rempel-Burkholder

Waterloo, ONT. — Although the tsunami-affected area is still covered in debris, footsteps of recovery are gradually being heard.

So said Takanori Sasaki, chair of the Japan Mennonite Fellowship (JMF) to a Mennonite World Conference (MWC) delegation to Japan, May 21-30. Delegates heard that the visit brought hope and support to Japanese Anabaptists still traumatized by the earthquake, tsunami and  nuclear plant meltdown in northeast Japan last March.

“It is good that you have come,” one participant told the delegation. “We do not know [our way forward] yet, but we will listen to each other. The problems are complex. Solutions will take time.”

In the course of the visit, however, it became clear that JMF was ready to organize itself to initiate a response. On May 28 JMF took a significant step forward by forming the East Japan Great Disaster Relief Assistance Committee to provide relief and early rehabilitation. JMF had received $55,000 from their member churches for disaster relief.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has received more than $954,000 for Japan relief and earmarked a portion of those funds to support the Anabaptist churches’ coordinated efforts. It has already given $700,000 to long-term ecumenical partner, Church World Service, and donations are still being accepted. The relief agency is currently in communication with JMF regarding joint initiatives.

Some Mennonite and Brethren in Christ initiatives are already underway: The JMF is recruiting volunteers and has already sent more than 60 people in short-term teams, including doctors, to deliver medicine, clear debris and care for elderly nursing home residents in devastated areas.

The JMF has sent financial support to two Baptist churches in the affected area. Mennonite Village (MV) in Sapporo, Hokkaido, hopes to accept evacuees from areas near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Long-term dislocation of farm families is a serious concern in Japan.

Two congregations of the Hokkaido Conference are planning initiatives: Betsukai church will host Fukushima children during treatment for radiation exposure, and the Bekhai church is planning summer camps  for children affected by the disasters.

Mennonite Brethren have visited devastated areas and sent money through Japan Evangelical Association and Japan Food for the Hungry International. They are considering longer-term assistance.

The MWC delegation heard overwhelming expressions of anxiety about food supplies,  dislocation and radiation. According to Canadian delegation member Bert Lobe, “The impact on those close to the Fukushima Daiichi reactors remains of great concern.”

There are 70 nuclear power plants in Japan. “Are there atomic energy experts in the Anabaptist communion with whom we might be in conversation? Can you send us a theologian who can help us address the nuclear question?” asked Takanobu Tojo from the Tokyo Chiku Menonaito Kyokai Rengo (Tokyo Area Fellowship of Mennonite Churches).

Since the delegation visit, the JMF has begun a study process, and would like to work with the MWC Peace Commission to address nuclear energy concerns among Japanese.

Meeting participants saw volunteer recruitment as essential. Japanese would serve for up to four weeks and international volunteers could be invited to come for several months. Indonesian delegation member Paulus Hartono was keen to have Indonesians volunteer due to their experience following the 2004 Sumatra tsunami. Hartono shared lessons the Indonesian church learned after the Sumatra disaster: talk less and do more; focus on program and unity, both geographically and programmatically; work in teams; see that teams are accountable to the conference and that the conference monitors and evaluates the teams.

The MWC delegation came at the invitation of JMF to listen to the churches’ concerns, visit affected areas, explore opportunities for response to disaster victims and to express the global church’s solidarity with Japanese people.

The MWC delegation included Deacons Commission secretary Bert Lobe, Paulus Hartono of the Indonesia Mennonite Diaconal Service, and Willie Reimer, Food, Disaster and Material Resources director for Mennonite Central Committee. Japanese hosts who accompanied the delegation were Takanori Sasaki, JMF chair; Yoshihira Inamine, MWC Asia Caucus member and JMF treasurer; and Ishido Mitsuru, a Nihon Kirisuto Keiteidan (Brethren in Christ Church  Conference) member experienced in relief and development work.