RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Japan has always been Yugo Kobari’s home away from home. He grew up there. Once or twice a year he visits family, most of whom live there. He also has early memories of long bike rides not far from the nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan.
Kobari, now 52 and pastor of Chicago Japanese Mission Church in Mount Prospect, Ill., admits he struggles to keep back tears when he watches the news. The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami March 11 devastated towns and villages where many of his relatives live. Two of Kobari’s distant relatives who lived near the beach in the Miyagi Prefecture remain among the thousands missing after the tsunami swept away their village.
Now a nuclear crisis close to where he grew up has created more concern for the pastor.
“My heart is broken,” Kobari said. “It’s really tough. … This is not [some] other country. This is Japan, near my hometown.”
Immediate family members of Kobari and his wife Keiko in the disaster area as well as Tokyo are safe. The couple is keeping in touch by phone as much as possible. Kobari’s 79-year-old mother lives with his brother about 45 miles from the nuclear power complex in Fukushima. Though the house they live in remains intact, concern about nuclear radiation has led to some evacuations near areas at risk of exposure.
“They are not evacuated yet,” Kobari said. “But they are really concerned…. It’s dangerous.”
Kobari asked his mother what he could do to help her and his brother. She responded, “Don’t come … There’s no way through. You are the pastor. Stay there. Pray for me.”
Though Kobari’s mother and brother have shelter, finding stores with food and fuel remain a challenge. One relative went to the supermarket and all that was left on the shelves was mayonnaise and soy sauce. Staple items like bread and rice were nowhere to be found.
“It’s still difficult,” Kobari said. “And it’s still winter there … it’s really cold.
“We have to pray for them.”
Though Kobari admits he struggles with feelings of helplessness, he clings to his faith and to prayer.
This week, Kobari is leading his congregation of about 50 people in evening prayer services. The church, which he started 10 years ago, also is giving money to relief efforts through the International Mission Board, which is coordinating its planning with Baptist Global Response, a global Southern Baptist relief and development organization.
Though most of Kobari’s family is Buddhist, Kobari became a Christian at 19 while attending a Baptist church in Japan. He moved to the United States when he was 25. Kobari remains uncertain when he will be able to go visit family in Japan.
“I want to go soon,” he said.
Kobari believes the crisis will give him more opportunities to share his Christian faith with his family when he does return. His father gave his life to Christ 10 years ago and was baptized a week before he died at the age of 71.
Kobari admits his biggest concern is for the spiritual condition of his family and the people of Japan.
“Revival is going to start from east of Japan,” he said, referring to the earthquake epicenter. “I believe this. I believe that revival will start.”
Alan James is a writer for the International Mission Board. 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 “JapaResponse Fund.” Or you can give online by going to imb.org and clicking on the “Japan response” button. For further information call IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113.