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FIRST-PERSON: Why we are in Japan

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written by Marsha Woods, an International Mission Board missionary for nearly 35 years, about what it was like in Tokyo the day the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan.

TOKYO (BP)–What started out as a relaxing picnic lunch in the park on Friday with my husband Tony ended with us taking cover from an earthquake and tsunami warnings.

I don’t think there’s any way to describe the feeling of watching 10-story buildings waving and touching the others above you. Some rocked side-to-side while others swayed front-to-back. I expected them to crumble down on us any minute.

People shouted “Kamisama! (God!)” at the top of their lungs. The evangelist in me kicked in. I had to make sure they knew there really is a God and that I trusted Him during those long minutes.

When the quake ended, we walked around the jostled cars in the road and hurried to safety. We thought the park along the port would be a nice open space. We were nearly trampled on our way as people rushed out the door of a hotel. We heard a huge cracking sound and looked up to see the hotel building literally coming apart. Tiles were falling onto the street. Fortunately the building did not collapse. When we finally reached the park, we felt safe again, only to hear a loud tsunami warning.

We took off toward the Yokohama train station, where we were herded into a dark unlit stairway. Policemen shouted that a big tsunami was on the way.

We were about 100 feet from the ocean, but we had nowhere else to go except down the stairs. Tony said he had never felt so frightened. When chased by a wall of water, going down into a hole seems the worst thing to do. As it turned out, the tsunami didn’t materialize in our area.

Policemen now told us to head for the mountains. But being unfamiliar with the area, we thought the Sheraton would do. We barged through the hotel doors, only to find that a thousand other people had the same idea. I worked my way to the very back corner and made camp for about four hours on the hard marble floor. We made some friends and comforted some worried singles separated from loved ones with no phone signals … or worse yet, moms with babies and no food.

Somebody told us there was shelter in a sports arena about a mile away. So began the next march. We pictured plush seats, a concierge with a warm blanket and a bottle of water. Hardly. After standing in line for more than an hour at a convenience store and finding the only things left for sale were potato chips and cheese, we sauntered over to our new shelter, to find 15,000 equally displaced people struggling to get comfortable on a gym floor.

We opted for the stairwell because we thought it might be warmer. Did you know stairwells act as cooling vents? After four hours, we heard the news that “some” train lines opened up again.

We rode the train to its end, pushed thru massive crowds of outgoing people also trying to get home and made it onto another train, which took us closer to home. Around 2 a.m. we started the long walk home in freezing temperatures. We came to a 24-hour Denny’s restaurant — which unfortunately wasn’t serving food since gas lines all over the city were either broken or purposely shut off. That didn’t prevent us from joining the crowd already inside trying to get some feeling back in their hands and feet. Everyone was well behaved, sitting and standing quietly. The manager looked perplexed, and I thought he might throw us all out. Instead he came around with a tray of cold toast and rice balls. Nothing had ever looked so good.

We stood in there until we could feel our extremities again and then started walking. Two hours — and what seemed like 506 miles later, (probably only five or six miles) — we were home.

I’ve learned some things about myself through this ordeal:

1) People say we live daring lives, but that’s not by intention. If the Sheraton had an open room at any price, I’d probably have been soaking in a hot (albeit it rocking) bath.

2) There is a reason we are in Japan. Today we made so many new friends, just by talking about the earthquake.

I’ve learned some nice things about the Japanese as well:

1) They’re mostly prepared.

2) They don’t want to be rude, ever.

3) We are all alike. During the aftershocks, people prayed and clutched pictures of their family. Everybody last night wanted to be loved and safe.

4) They need a Savior.

Some of you have asked how you can help, but as I said, the Japanese had worked to prepare for such events and everything possible is being done. The best thing you can do is to keeping praying. You can’t imagine what a comfort that is.
The International Mission Board has established a relief fund for the Japan earthquake. Donations may be sent to: Office of Finance, International Mission Board, 3806 Monument Ave., Richmond, Va. 23230. In the memo line write “Japan Response Fund.” Or visit http://imbresources.org/index.cfm/product/detail/prodID/3352 to give online. For further information call the IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113.

    About the Author

  • Marsha Woods