By Kim Plummer Krull
“Incomprehensible even after witnessing it firsthand” is how LCMS President Dr. Matthew C. Harrison describes the miles of rubble where Japanese homes and businesses once stood, a bleak reminder of the triple disaster that devastated that country’s northern coast three months ago.
Harrison and LCMS ministry leaders grasped for words to express the enormity of the devastation from the deadly March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power accident after their return June 19 from an often somber trek that included meeting with leaders of the Japan Lutheran Church (JLC) and making available an additional $1 million to assist with long-term recovery.
“In all my experience I have never seen such widespread destruction affecting the lives of so many people for so long,” said Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of Disaster Response with LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC), who was among those accompanying Harrison to assess damages and support relief efforts in the battered Miyagi prefecture. (To see video and pictures from Japan, visit the LCMS World Relief and Human Care Facebook page, Harrison’s Mercy Journeys blog and WR-HC’s YouTube channel, MercyTube.)
Along with devastation, the LCMS team also witnessed hope through the ongoing work of Japanese Lutherans who continue to share Christ’s mercy with those who are suffering after the disaster that left some 24,000 dead or missing, according to news reports, and tens of thousands homeless.
“Japan offers perhaps the most unique disaster response situation I’ve seen,” said Harrison, a disaster response veteran who traveled to Asia soon after the 2004 tsunami and arrived in New Orleans four days after Hurricane Katrina.
While the Lutheran community is a small part of the very small Christian minority in Japan, Harrison said, “Our Lutheran partners have established a presence and are partnering with specific communities where there is no Christian presence. Because of the great generosity of the people of the Missouri Synod, we are able to vastly increase that presence in the name of Christ.”
This new grant to the JLC, the LCMS partner church in Japan, follows the initial $200,000 in emergency funds previously provided to two Japanese Lutheran church bodies: the JLC and the West Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, which operates Kobe Lutheran Theological Seminary in Kobe along with other church organizations. Those two Japanese Lutheran church bodies are among the partners working collectively as the Japan Lutheran Emergency Relief organization, which continues to provide food and water at an emergency distribution center in Sendai.
Harrison and the LCMS team visited the relief center on June 17. In collaboration with church and community leaders, they identified key needs that Japanese Lutheran partners will focus on during the long recovery, including assistance for:
- grief counseling,
- tuition for students,
- support for the elderly and shut-ins,
- basic needs of underserved Japanese populations and
- strengthening communities affected by the disaster.
Japanese Lutheran partners will concentrate those efforts in the hard-hit areas of Maehama, Kesenuma, Ishinomaki and Higohinatsushima.
“While the needs for housing and jobs are great across the region, these are slowly being addressed by the government,” Merritt said.
The LCMS team’s work in Japan concluded a busy June 11-19 trek that began in Seoul, South Korea, meeting with leaders of the Lutheran Church in Korea.
Along with Merritt, those traveling with Harrison included Darin Storkson, Asia director for WR-HC; Dr. David C. Birner, associate executive director with LCMS World Mission; Rev. John Mehl, regional director for Asia for World Mission; Dr. Naomichi Masaki, associate professor of systematic theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Al Dowbnia, communications director, WR-HC.
To date, caring LCMS supporters have given more than $2 million for LCMS relief efforts in Japan that will continue for years to come.
“The Japanese will recover, and the Lutheran Christians will be there to help,” Merritt said.
To contribute to the Synod’s disaster response in Japan:
- mail checks (noting “Japan Disaster Relief” in the memo line) to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- call toll-free 888-930-4438.
- give online to the Disaster Relief Fund for Japan.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
This story was produced by LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
Posted June 20, 2011