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.
No members of the team, who are serving in two prefectures in the Tohoku Region, or their hosts from Tokyo Baptist Church were injured.
The quake was felt most significantly by the four Texas volunteers deployed in the Iwate Prefecture who are staying in a multi-purpose facility in Tono City and were preparing a meal for 150 people in a nearby refugee shelter when the quake hit.
The remaining five members were further south in Sendai at the time of the quake.
The epicenter was about 31 miles offshore, according to news reports, prompting public officials to warn of a potential tsunami. Both teams were about 18 miles inland at the time of the quake.
“It was really pretty awesome,” said Dewey Watson, youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Leonard, Texas. “It sounded like a train and it shook back and forth, back and forth.”
Watson laughed about his first earthquake experience and said he and team member R.L. Barnard of First Baptist Church in Duncanville were straddling ice chests and the shaking made it seem like they were riding bucking horses.
Watson’s wife Glenda, children’s ministry director at FBC Leonard, was peeling shrimp when the ground began to move. She reported the entire kitchen shook for 20-30 seconds.
No one panicked, but when the quake settled, everyone called home to let family members know they were OK. As the team awaited further news of the earthquake’s effects, they prepared to shift gears from feeding refugees to operating search and rescue. But the quake passed with reportedly little to no significant damage and the crew continued its work.
The Tono City team members are Dewey and Glenda Watson of FBC Leonard and R.L. and Elaine Barnard of FBC Duncanville. The rest of the team is deployed in Ishinomaki and traveling daily from Sendai to the work site. They are Julian Mareno and Jean Ducharme of the Ulvade-Del Rio Baptist Association; Charles Grastly of Concord Baptist Church in Palestine; Sharon Grintz of Bois D’Arc Creek Cowboy Church; Nathan Pike of FBC Keller; and this reporter, of Nassau Bay Baptist Church.
The Sendai team was in the lobby of their hotel when news of the quake was sent via a text message on the phone of Tokyo Baptist Church representative Yoko Dorsey. The team had just completed their morning devotional when her phone rang. Dorsey looked at the message and announced to the group, “An earthquake is coming.”
Within seconds, the windows began to rattle and a slight shifting of the ground from side to side was felt. It was over almost as quickly as it began.
The SBTC DR team is working in conjunction with Tokyo Baptist Church. The international congregation has established ministries in Ishinomaki and Kamaishi since the March 11 disaster, sending teams to provide meals, distribute necessities and establish personal contact with people in the region, which is culturally influenced by Buddhist traditions.
Their efforts have resulted in two professions of faith, with many other residents open to the Gospel because of the kind acts of Christians, members of the Tokyo church said.
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.com), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.