2011: Crisis in Japan

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Age 60 & homeless, he taps rejuvenated faith for fulfillment

TOKYO (BP) -- A mother and her 7-year-old son pick through a stack of clothes piled on the parking lot pavement. After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami wiped out their house, the only clothes they owned were the ones they were wearing. The somber-faced duo can't find what they need and stop a man sliding back and forth between the stacks and the truck filled with supplies. Masashi Takahashi nods when the mother asks for children's underwear. The 60-year-old man tugs his soiled baseball cap so low that it touches his smudged glasses before digging into the piles. He never thought he'd see the day a child in Japan stood in a distribution line. "That's what old homeless men like me do, not children," he mumbles, tugging his cap even lower in an effort to hide a tear as he finds the item. Takahashi is one of the 4,000 homeless living in Tokyo and no stranger to distribution lines. He spends part of each day waiting for food donations or other supplies. He isn't on the giving side of the line very often. So when the chance came to leave his sidewalk "bed" outside of Shinjuku train station to volunteer with Tokyo Baptist Church in one of the hardest-hit tsunami areas more than 240 miles away, Takahashi took it. Who better to minister to those who just lost everything than someone who has nothing? It was through church distributions like this one that Takahashi's heart slowly opened to Christ. After losing his job nine years ago, he took to the streets with only 2,000 yen -- $25 -- in his pocket. He soon learned the only way to survive was by standing in line at church distributions. The only drawback was that they always preached before handing out the food. But as Takahashi points out, you don't have to listen. He didn't for the first seven years. Everything changed the day IMB (International Mission Board) missionary Josh Parks asked him to pray. As the former factory worker spoke to God, childhood memories of giving his life to Christ flooded his heart. From that moment, his faith grew, as did a desire to share it -- leading him to minister in Japan's worst disaster since Hiroshima. The scene around him looks as if a bomb, instead of crashing waves, blew up the fishing village. Houses are splintered into thousands of pieces. A single train car sits mangled in the middle of the town's cemetery. The devastation is overwhelming, yet Takahashi barely slows down to absorb it. He supplies the distribution line until everything is given away and he's utterly exhausted.

Japan quake survivors learn to laugh again

OFUNATO CITY, Japan (BP) -- A hush falls across the room when the odd-looking Americans arrive. The Japanese discreetly check out the bright red hair. They whisper about the oversized clothes in primary colors. They touch their own noses, mentally comparing to the round red ones of their visitors.

‘Yellow shirts’ give Japan’s quake/tsunami survivors hope

TOHOKU, Japan (BP) -- Everything changed on March 11 for Eiko Tanno. It was the day a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the northeastern coast of Japan -- the day she lost hope. Tanno was working in her home office when the ground started shaking and shimmying. She ran outside and huddled with her neighbors. Then came the tsunami warning. [QUOTE@left@185="The day the yellow shirts came to my neighborhood, my life changed and I felt hope again."
-- Japan quake survivor]They rushed to higher ground and watched as powerful walls of water took out entire neighborhoods and anyone in its path. Some houses dislodged from their foundation and floated away. Others simply splintered into scraps from the force of the waves. Tanno's house, however, remained intact. The water overtook the first floor but didn't climb higher. "The tsunami took away my livelihood," the middle-aged Tanno says seven months after Japan's historic triple disaster that included an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. "My business was downstairs, and it was ruined. My house was not totally destroyed so I was not given access to temporary housing. I didn't know what I was going to do." For months, Tanno traipsed through the mud and toxins in her home. She climbed the stairs to a bedroom where she and her family had begun living and working. She always closed the door, trying to shut out the constant reminder of her fate. No matter what she did, though, she couldn't escape the rotten smell of dead fish or the piles of rubble outside her windows. It was a depressing living situation until a group of strangers knocked on her door. "The day the yellow shirts came to my neighborhood, my life changed and I felt hope again," Tanno says, pointing to a group of workers wearing yellow shirts, hats and vests. Month by month, the yellow shirts slowly help transform her neighborhood. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams, known in this part of Japan by the yellow clothing they wear, cleaned out the mud and toxins caked over Tanno's bottom floor as well as every house left standing on her block. A few weeks later, another team pulled out rotten boards. Today's team -- "yellow shirts" from Missouri -- installs insulation and hammers in flooring. They laugh and tease as they work. They stop to bow in respect to neighbors coming in to inspect the progress and soon have their new Japanese friends laughing. David Price of Calvary Baptist Church in Neosho, Mo., marvels over the fact that disaster relief teams from different states have come to Japan during the past six months ...

In Japan, ‘ground presence’ makes impact

KAMAISHI, Japan (BP)--The woman closely examines the handmade doll. On one side, the doll's face sports a big smile and exudes happiness. She flips it over and sees the facial expression is a frown, symbolizing sadness and grief.

6.7 Japan quake buffets Baptist workers

ISHINOMAKI, Japan (BP)--A 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck at 6:51 a.m. June 23 off the northeast coast of Japan -- rattling the communities devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami as well as a nine-member Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief team.

Weeks later, Japan survivors still beg: ‘Please help us!’

ISHINOMAKI, Japan (BP)--The handwritten note practically cries out: "Living here! Please help us!" The volunteers from Tokyo Baptist Church almost miss the dirty scrap of paper, attached to the battered door. It blends in with the rubble and debris left behind by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Major parts of the house are gone, washed away a month ago by the crushing tsunami waves. Not really believing anyone will answer, volunteer Satomi Ono calls out to see if anyone is there. A young mother cautiously pokes her head around the corner. When she sees the volunteers' warm smiles, relief rushes over her and she excitedly yells to her father. They are the only two left in their family. Her two children were swept out of her arms in the tsunami wave. Her mother and husband also died on that fateful day. The young woman invites the team inside. Despite broken dishes standing up in the mud-caked floor, Ono can see that the pair had worked hard, cleaning their disaster-stricken home. Piles of papers, toys, rotting clothes and splintered wood are ready to be bagged and deposited on the street for garbage crews. The volunteer slides off her backpack and asks if there's anything they need ...

Japan fireman searches rubble to ease pain

SENDAI, Japan (BP) -- Masayuki Yamaki slowly picks his way through the slippery black mud toward his crew of yellow- and orange-clad firefighters. He deliberately tries to stay off the debris. It would be easier and faster to walk on the piles but he just can't bring himself to do it.

FIRST-PERSON: Flowers amidst the rubble

Naomi Paget, a Southern Baptist disaster relief specialist, reflects on her desire to help Japanese people see the beauty that is Jesus in the midst of ugliness caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Japan relief: ‘Let’s do it together!’

TOKYO (BP)--It's a lot different this time. So much so that Southern Baptist disaster relief specialist Don Hargis looks incredulous if you try to compare Haiti's earthquake or even the 2004 South Asia tsunami to Japan's March 11 triple disaster.

In Japan, weekly relief caravans, training under way

ISHINOMAKI, Japan (BP)--Japan's Baptist leader has expressed heartfelt gratitude for the assistance Baptists worldwide have provided in the aftermath of his country's March 11 earthquake and tsunami -- and has made specific requests for continued prayer. Southern Baptists working in the disaster response say they are pleased that weekly caravans can now make their way into the disaster zone and that training efforts are helping Japanese Baptists mount effective relief initiatives. "Please accept my deepest gratitude for your kind expressions of comfort, encouragement, prayer support, and love offerings, following the earthquake that has wrought devastation to Japan," Makoto Kato, executive secretary of the Japan Baptist Convention, said in an April 1 letter. "The warm response from Christian brothers and sisters around the world has sustained our broken hearts. Japan Baptist churches appreciate the marvelous support system of Baptists around the world united in prayer for Japan." The increased availability of gasoline has made it possible for "the most critical necessities for human existence, such as water, food, clothing, gasoline, and kerosene," to be delivered into the disaster zone, Kato said. The Japan Baptist Convention has placed temporary crisis management staff in the area to support the work of local churches in helping ease the emotional trauma disaster survivors are experiencing. Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization, and its partners are moving to establish bases of operation in the primary impact areas of Sendai and Ishinomaki, said Jeff Palmer, BGR's executive director. "We have partners committed to establishing and staffing bases of operations in Ishinomaki and Sendai, and plan to build housing in Sendai for Japanese Baptist volunteers coming out from Tokyo," Palmer said. "The operation now has the capacity of feeding hot meals to up to 3,000 people at a time, and our stateside disaster relief specialists have trained Japanese Baptists in areas of disaster response administration, grief counseling and logistics."