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Missionary family bonds with neighbors

SENDAI, Japan (BP)–Donna Qualls is just happy to be alive.

Of the 31 International Mission Board families living in Japan, the family of six lives closest to the areas most affected by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Over the weekend, as authorities rushed to rescue victims, clean up debris and contain two nuclear plant explosions, the Qualls hunkered down in their home with no electricity, gas or running water — unable to contact friends or family and unaware of the tsunami and subsequent explosions.

Shortly after the quake hit at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, Qualls talked with IMB missionary Renae Oue and assured her the family was safe and together. A few minutes later, most of Sendai lost electricity and phone service, leaving the Qualls isolated from the outside world.

“We didn’t know about the tsunami until Sunday,” Qualls said. “We also didn’t know about the explosion at the nuclear plant.”

Though the Qualls had no contact with co-workers or family — who were desperately trying to reach them — their Japanese neighbors offered assistance, food and counsel.

“One of our neighbors told us we needed to turn off the gas because of the risk of fire,” Qualls said. “Another shared a camp stove with me so we could boil water and cook some food.”

When the Qualls ventured a walk to a nearby grocery store on Sunday, they found the shelves nearly empty and strict rationing in place.

“Stores only allowed families to spend up to 1500 yen (about $15). They divided the food into bags that were 500 yen each,” Qualls said. “We bought a meat bag, a drink bag and a cereal bag.”

In spite of the rationing and primitive conditions in Sendai, Qualls said she was okay because her family was together. She also noticed that her Japanese neighbors were friendlier and more willing to spend time talking to each other.

“Usually, Japanese are so focused on their work that families spend very little time together,” Qualls said. “It’s been nice to see fathers playing catch with their sons and neighbors talking to one another. That’s not something we see very often.”

The Qualls took the opportunity to reach out. Shortly after the quake, the family ventured outside with the rest of the neighborhood and Qualls prayed with a friend whose husband had not come home.

“We prayed for him and just as we finished he drove up in his car,” Qualls said. “My neighbor thanked me for praying.”

The family also prayed for neighbors with family members in the affected areas and offered small care packages, including Gospel tracts.

“We don’t have much but we wanted to let people know we care,” Qualls said.

For the next day or two, authorities advised Sendai residents to stay indoors to minimize any risk of radiation exposure from the explosions at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The plant is located about 40 miles south of Sendai.

“Our neighbors told us to wear rain coats, hats and masks if we must go out, especially if it’s raining or snowing,” Qualls said.

Though they have been offered the opportunity to evacuate, for now the family intends to stay in Sendai. Qualls, who celebrated her birthday on Saturday and her wedding anniversary on Sunday, knows that prayer will continue to sustain them.

“Right now, we’re okay,” Qualls said. “We don’t know how long it will last without water, gas and ATM access, but for now we’re going to stay here.

“I want people to pray for us,” she continued. “But I also want them to pray for those in life-or-death situations. Pray for open hearts.”
Tess Rivers is a writer with the International Mission Board based 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 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.

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  • Tess Rivers