TOKYO (BP)–Suitcases and backpacks sit neatly lined up, waiting to be loaded in the vans. International Mission Board missionaries in Tokyo shuffle nervously and make jokes in an effort to cope with their relocation orders.
No one knows how to react to Japan’s nuclear crisis. For more than a week, scenes at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have worsened. While the U.N.’s nuclear agency says there have been positive developments in stabilizing the nuclear reactors, the overall situation remains serious. Thus, all IMB personnel north and east of Nagoya must move to southern Japan.
Questions swirl around the circle waiting to leave: Will our Japanese friends think we’ve abandoned them? How do we leave our friends behind in a time of crisis?
These questions haunt Mark and Wendy Hoshizaki so much that they spend their final hours March 19 handing out the last of their food to the homeless in a Tokyo park. Mark Hoshizaki says the aftereffects of the earthquake and tsunami have greatly affected the people they work with — food shortages for the general public means there’s even less for the homeless.
The Hoshizakis’ ministry to the homeless averages around 80 individuals who come for food and Bible study. Today, however, more than 115 came. Wendy Hoshizaki says there are so many in the park right now. One woman tells her that she just can’t trust anything and anyone since the earthquake. When the woman remains adamant after Wendy encourages her to trust in the Lord, the missionary’s heart breaks.
“It’s horrible. We are leaving,” she says. “They are even worse off because the homeless are always forgotten. We had so little bread to give today, yet, they were so thankful. One man said, ‘We don’t have anything. We are so thankful for the little bit we received today.'”
The Hoshizakis pray with their friends as tears fill their eyes.
“We are saying ‘sayonara’ but it’s not goodbye,” Wendy Hoshizaki says, tears now falling. “We want to be back as soon as the ‘powers that be’ allow us to come.”
Mark and Mie Busby leave on a somewhat higher note, but it’s just as hard for the veteran missionaries. The Busby family is among the last to leave so they can baptize a city councilman and his wife. The baptism was originally scheduled for March 12, the day after the earthquake. The councilman’s wife begged Mark to baptize her before the Busbys relocated.
The borrowed church where the baptisms take place overflows with joy, giving everyone the chance to briefly forget Japan’s triple disaster. This is the first baptism here in five years, and today there are two.
“Leaving right now is a hard pill to swallow. I’m not ready to go,” Busby says. “During a time like this, we just want to do everything we can for our Japanese brothers and sisters. We can listen and share their pain. We believe we will be back to work soon.”
Busby admits there is no way the missionaries can physically get to the survivors right now. Special government permits are required to be in the tsunami and earthquake areas and no one is allowed near the nuclear plant.
Spinach and milk produced near the plant was found to contain levels of radioactive iodine higher than the legal limits, although not at levels that would be a risk to human health. There are even reports that water has been affected.
The missionaries discuss the day’s latest news when veteran missionary Tak Oue gathers everyone to pray before making the trek south.
“Lord, our hearts are broken and grieved over the devastation and loss of lives. God, we know that You are in control,” Oue prays. “We all feel the pain of having to leave when our brothers and sisters are here. Lord, we really don’t know what to do. I pray you give everyone a rightness, a sense of peace.
“I pray that in some way you’ll turn this into a witnessing opportunity.”
Friends and supporters can pray:
— that the relocated missionaries will be a witness in their temporary locations.
— for the ministries and partners they left behind.
— for the relocated missionaries who are living in “tight quarters” and sharing homes.
Susie Rain is an International Mission Board writer/editor living in Asia. 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 you can give online by going to www.imb.org and clicking on the “Japan response” button. For further information, call the IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113.