WASHINGTON—A Baptist World Aid disaster response team who visited Japan, described the challenge of getting food for people who had evacuated their homes in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami and the threat of nuclear radiation as "almost Mission Impossible."
The BWA Rescue24 team — including rescue, medical and humanitarian relief specialists from Hungary and North Carolina — reported seeing houses that were completely washed away, cars and trucks lying upside-down, and railway wagons and boats carried to farmlands and gardens.
Bela Szilagyi,leader of the Rescue24 team, said the city of Sendai "was calm and the spirit of the people was shaken but firm."
The Baptist World Aid rescuers saw cars lined up in one- to two- kilometer long queues, in addition to dozens of persons standing with fuel balloons waiting for three to four hours for fuel.
"More than 450,000 people had to leave their homes in the whole northeast region due to the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear explosions," Szilagyi reported.
They visited the Katahira evacuation center where approximately 400 persons were in the gymnasium and classrooms of a primary school. The team observed a need for food, water and electricity. Baptist World Aid Rescue24 helped to provide instant noodles, but indicated that "it was almost Mission Impossible to procure food for the evacuees. All the stores we saw were closed in Sendai, a city with a population of 1 million."
There are four Baptist World Alliance member bodies in Japan — the Japan Baptist Conference, the Japan Baptist Convention, the Japan Baptist Union, and the Okinawa Baptist Convention with a total membership of more than 42,000 in more than 450 churches.
Makoto Kato, executive secretary of the Japan Baptist Convention wrote that "we are deeply worried about the safety of those thousands whose lives have been disrupted and are suffering from the shock, the cold, the wetness, and the lack of shelter and food." He explained that "even the cities and towns in this region that did not experience much direct damage from the earthquake have still lost electrical power, gas, and water supply, causing a miserable situation for people during this cold weather."
"Japan Baptist brothers and sisters are anxious to provide relief supplies and relief work to help the thousands of victims," he continued, but "the vastness of the provinces that have been damaged is overwhelming, compounded by the disruption in transportation, including trains, planes, ships, and roadways. We are anxiously waiting for a means to travel to the stricken area."
The Japan Baptist Convention was holding a mission workshop when the earthquake occurred, Kato noted.
"During the closing worship, we experienced the tremors of the huge earthquake," he said. "With transportation down, most of the workshop participants and leaders were unable to travel to their homes, but were able to spend the night in the warm, safe JBC building."
The morning after the quake, "we gathered to have an urgent prayer meeting for the victims of this disaster," he recalled. "One by one, the participants were able to return to their respective cities."
Kato asked Baptists everywhere to "pray for the efforts to rescue the many isolated people who are suffering in the freezing cold, waiting to be saved from the debris wrought by the earthquakes, aftershocks, tsunami, and fires." He asked for prayer that "the Lord will provide his peace, comfort and hope for the thousands of persons experiencing grief, despair and emotional pain," and that God will provide a means for dedicated Baptist men and women to serve in the disaster area.
Makoto Tanno, general secretary of the Japan Baptist Union expressed gratitude for the concern and support from Baptists around the world. "We thank you for your prayer and concern for the earthquake attack in Japan," he wrote to Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Neville Callam. "It is very encouraging for us to receive a message from you. … We need your help and prayer."
About half of the 14 Japan Baptist Union churches along the coast were destroyed or badly damaged, and numerous Baptist church members have been unaccounted for. Japan Baptist Convention was able to make contact with only two of its four churches that are in Sendai.
Baptists from around the world have expressed support for Japan. Joel Dorsinville, coordinator for disaster relief for the Haiti Baptist Convention told Baptists in Japan that "the trial of the Japanese people is bringing back to us sad memories of January 12, 2010, (date of the massive earthquake in Haiti) but at the same time it is reminding us of the worldwide solidarity of the great Baptist family through Baptist World Alliance."
Dorsinville told Japanese Baptists that "we are praying that our Baptist brothers and sisters in Japan may be assured of the solidarity in prayers of their brothers and sisters in Haiti."
Regina Claas, general secretary of the Union of Evangelical Free Churches (Baptists) in Germany, wrote: "I want to express my sincere sympathy to you – our fellow Christians in Japan. The German Baptists are deeply shocked about the disaster that has struck your country." Claas, a vice president of the BWA, said, "We are also ready to assist you in whatever way possible, through the network of the Baptist World Alliance. As Christians we are a worldwide community standing strong for each other — connected to the Lord who is in control over every situation."