Missionary says emotional stress in Japan taking its toll

April 11, 2011

ALLEY FORGE, Pa. (ABP) – Three weeks after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake
and massive tsunami hit northeast Japan, transportation had opened up
to allow some aid to flow into affected areas but gasoline shortages and
fear of radiation from a damaged nuclear power plant were taking their
emotional toll, an American Baptist missionary reported April 1.

“The emotional strain can be easily overlooked,” missionary John Armagost wrote
in an update on the International Ministries website. Armagost, who
works with children and youth ministries in several Japanese churches,
said Baptists there are working to help meet basic needs like food,
water and shelter.

He said one pastor told him that food is slowly appearing in stores,
but lines are long. People wait four or five hours for heating kerosene,
and gasoline had not yet been restored. “People are getting tense and
rundown,” the pastor said, as people spend so much time searching for
daily necessities.

Roberta Stephens, a long-time American Baptist missionary to Japan, wrote
that conditions in the North are improving, but the lack of gasoline
and fears related to the damaged nuclear reactor at the Fukushima
Daiichi power plant remain as the top two problems. 

Stephens
said the Japan Baptist Union has established a “conservative”
fund-raising goal of $250,000 for its emergency plan needed by the end
of May. She said that barely takes into account the needs of a single
church where she served for 18 years. She said the Skokei church was
meeting in a tent because its building is structurally unsound. The
Itako church north of Tokyo had a similar problem, she said, but they
will not have to rebuild totally.

“The JBU churches are
bewildered by this figure, and yet it is far too little,” she said.
“Many cannot even fully support their pastor.”

American Baptists have worked in Japan since 1873 and are partners with
the Japan Baptist Union. Roy Medley, general secretary of American
Baptist Churches USA, wrote a letter to Japanese Baptists saying
everywhere he goes he hears expressions of concern about the situation
in Japan.

“In these difficult days, we want you to know that
you are in the prayers of our churches and people as you mourn the loss
of so many thousands and as you contend with the precarious nuclear
plant situations,” Medley wrote.

Angela Sudermann, International Ministries’ coordinator of volunteers in global missions, said many people have called and e-mailed offering their time and talents to serve the people of Japan.

“Right now, the Japanese can’t turn attention to volunteers from
overseas until there is a way to sustain them with water, gas,
electricity, toilets.” She said the best way to help for the time being
is financial donations to help Japanese Baptists provide basic needs for
families who have lost everything they owned.

“Your time and
talents will be needed in the future as needs are determined, priorities
sorted out, and strategies are made,” she said.

The
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not have any global missions field
personnel in Japan, but it does have a partnership with the Japan
Baptist Convention, started by Southern Baptist Convention missionaries
who first arrived in Japan in 1889.

Makoto Kato, executive secretary of the Japan Baptist Convention, reported
that transportation was so severely damaged by the March 11 disaster
that it was nearly impossible to deliver relief supplies for the first
two weeks.

Since March 25, he said the convention has been making daily deliveries
of basic necessities like water, food, clothing, gasoline and kerosene.

“This winter has been much colder than in recent years, making
the comfort and health of the refugees a major concern,” he said.  “We
anxiously pray for the many victims struggling in severe living
conditions.”

Kato said that none of the convention’s churches
received heavy damage and all were outside the evacuated area around the
nuclear power plant, but some church members in the area could be
affected by radioactivity. Small children and pregnant women are most at
risk.

The Japan Baptist Convention is seeking to raise 50
million yen -- the equivalent of $595,000 -- for relief work until March
2012.

One Japanese Baptist pastor has gotten attention for posting an online diary,
one of the few voices addressing concerns from a Christian
perspective. Pastor Akira Sato evacuated the 60-member Fukushima First
Baptist Church, located three miles from the damaged power plant. The
church was established by American Baptist missionaries before the power
plant was built in the 1960s.

Sato is living in a makeshift shelter in a church 60 miles away with about 50 other people.

“Living
with 50 people -- cooking, eating, and sleeping with them -- is out of
the ordinary,” he logged March 21. “It has been 10 days now and I can’t
even tell what is ordinary and what is not. I am trying to accept it and
go with the flow. By doing so, I might be charging my battery for the
days to come.”