World: Churches in Japan recover as ecumenical spirit shines

483px Satellite image of Japan in May 2003 World: Churches in Japan recover as ecumenical spirit shinesAs recovery efforts in Japan proceed, the full impact of the earthquake and tsunami continues to be felt by some of the World Council of Churches (WCC) member churches there. At the same time prayers, letters of solidarity and, in some cases, monetary support are coming in from the ecumenical community in Asia as well as around the world.

In a letter sent to the churches in Japan, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, expressed the “dismay and sorrow” of the world wide church community. Speaking for the 349 WCC member churches Tveit said, “We pray for God’s grace and divine protection for those who are risking their own lives in order to save others.”

The tragedy has also brought together WCC member churches in Japan as they respond jointly to the needs in the disaster area, said the Revd Dong Sung Kim, responsible for regional relations with Asia at the WCC. “The show of support from churches in Asia as well as Europe and around the world is also part of what it means to be the ecumenical community,” Kim said today. This same support was shown during earlier natural disasters in Pakistan and New Zealand: “But it is an important sign of the vitality of the ecumenical community in the region, showing solidarity with brothers and sisters in need,” Kim said. In his letter, Tveit recognized the potential for a nuclear catastrophe and said, “The more recent news of radioactive contamination in food has heightened the apprehension and concern as the fragile web of life in which we live is endangered.”

In a report today from Teruki Takada, staff member of the Commission on Ecumenical Ministries for the United Church of Christ in Japan (Kyodan), it was said that some churches in Japan still have members missing, others are hosting refugees and in one case a group of pastors was part of an emotional reunion. Few of the churches in the earthquake and tsunami region have been left untouched by the tragedy. Some remain damaged by the tsunami, while in others cleanup has begun, according to Takada’s report.

After the earthquake and tsunami some churches continue to live with uncertainty. In the Sendai Kita 3-Bancho Church, seven members are still missing. Another five church members are missing in the Sendai Itsutsubashi Church. Even with this uncertainty, churches that were spared the double tragedy of an earthquake and tsunami are finding ways to reach out to those in need. The Sendai Higashi Church has already hosted 15 refugees, both members and non-members. The Sendai Minami Church has hosted 13 refugees while the Miyagino Aisen Church hosted another 16. In one situation, four pastors from the UCCJ were able to assist a survivor who spent the night on the roof of a three-story building in the snow. The Kyodan team of pastors was able to give the man a ride to the coastal area of Sendai City where he was reunited with his co-workers. “No wonder his colleagues burst into joy when he arrived at his company,” Takada reported, “because his presence had never been confirmed before.”