SOMA, Japan (BP)–Just 30 miles from Fukushima Daiichi’s troubled nuclear plant, anyone in the town of Soma who could evacuate did. But thousands still remain, squeezed into a high school gymnasium serving as a makeshift shelter.
Children try to play but there’s not much room. Some people sit and stare off into the distance in a state of shock. Others talk in low murmurs, reliving the horrors since March 11: a massive earthquake that buckled highways, a tsunami that left a carpet of debris — shattered buildings, wrecked cars and washed-up boats — a food shortage, a snow storm, and no electricity or gas.
Then, of course, there’s the nuclear crisis.
Everyone wonders what is going on when an empty bus pulls up outside the shelter and a young, energetic Japanese man jumps out and bounds into the packed gym. The stench of 2,000 people living for days in a confined space startles Koji Imanishi, but it doesn’t deter him from his task — offering a free ride and a place to stay outside of the nuclear danger zone.
Several hundred people gather around the 30-year-old but instead of rushing to get on the bus, they drill him with questions — suspicious of his intentions. Why would a stranger risk his own health by driving into danger to rescue them? Why would anyone offer something for free?
“I am just following God’s leading,” Imanishi answers. “He teaches Christians to show His love.”
The young man assures the group the offer is totally free, no strings attached — all they have to do is get on the bus. After a lot of discussion, 31 people finally decide to board and relocate to Imanishi’s vacant company building just outside of Chiba, about 90 miles away.
The scene didn’t quite play out like Imanishi imagined when the idea first came to him. He envisioned an overflowing bus. But, as he explains, this is the “Japanese way.”
“People do not easily trust here,” he says. “They are suspicious until you create a relationship, even in times of crisis.”
Imanishi first found this shelter two days earlier, after an employee mentioned that some of his friends had not been able to evacuate from the danger zone. Imanishi’s heart ached for their suffering, so he jumped in his small car to rescue them.
The trip was arduous. Because he didn’t have the special government permits needed to travel the expressway, Imanishi drove the back roads, where gas and supplies are scarce.
“It is hard to describe the damage — it’s so massive, but the worst thing I saw was the state of the people,” Imanishi says. “There were thousands in one space. No room to move. It was so cold.
“I felt in my heart that this was not a place of hope,” Imanishi continues. “I left that first day broken because I could only take three people in my small car.”
Imanishi spent the next day petitioning government offices to send evacuation buses to the shelter. He was told 4,000 people had already been relocated from the area. The needs throughout northeastern Japan are so great right now, he was told, the best thing for the people is to stay put.
The answer did not satisfy Imanishi, so he prayed. He remembered the fear he felt after the earthquake and knew people in the shelter needed someone to share their pain and fear.
“I just decided to offer assistance by myself,” Imanishi says. “People don’t trust or think about the meaning of the Lord here in Japan. I’m a Christian and the nature of the Lord is to offer assistance and love.
“I have no money, but I had no choice but to help,” he adds. “I just prayed, ‘Show me the way, Lord.'”
Members of Imanishi’s family and house church rallied to help pull the plan together. One person with government connections lined up permits to travel into the disaster zone. Another found a bus company. Others prepared the empty building for the evacuees.
“I know it is not much, in the big picture of this situation,” Imanishi says. “But if we can help just one person and let him experience the love of the Lord, then we’ve done our part.”
Imanishi is asking Christians around the world to join his house church in praying that:
— victims are able to share their pain and not hold it in.
— supplies, food, blankets and water make it to the shelters throughout the disaster zone.
— the Japanese will learn to trust in the free gift Jesus has to offer.
Susie Rain is an IMB writer/editor living in Asia. IMB has established a relief fund for the Japan crisis. 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 IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113.