SENDAI, Japan—At age 15, Naoki Noguchi devoted his life to the Japanese empire. He joined the ranks of Kamikaze and vowed to destroy the "American demon beast"—no matter the cost.
But the war ended two weeks before his scheduled mission. Two years later, he received a Bible and devoted his life to Christ.
Now 82, he lives in an upstairs room of a building where he serves as pastor of Yoshioka Baptist Mission Church in Sendai, Japan. In the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that claimed more than 15,000 lives, Noguchi remembers how he continued to trust God.
"I really longed for the morning sunrise all through the night since I had no light and little fuel for the heater," Noguchi said. "I had a strange expectation that the sun would come out trembling from the hill because of such big earthquake. But the sun was the same as ever, full of the dignity and full of the light.
"I felt the existence of the creator God who reigns and keeps all subjects in the universe. Even such a big earthquake is only the happening in the corner of the universe. Without his will, one leaf of the tree won't fall. But by his decision, even the sun loses its light. The entire universe comes to the end."
The universe did not end that day, and Noguchi began to think about how he could assist in relief efforts. He began to make his church available to house volunteers—more than 2,000 from all over the world in about 15 months.
Recently, a 12-member Baptist General Convention of Texas disaster recovery team spent a week at Yoshioka Baptist while providing follow-up care to Japanese tsunami victims in some of the most seriously affected disaster areas in and around Sendai.
"The disaster is really threefold in Japan—the earthquake, the tsunami and the radiation accident caused by the nuclear plant," said Marla Bearden, disaster recovery specialist with the BGCT Executive Board staff.
Reports show although one year has passed since the disasters, solitary deaths and suicides, as well as long-term diseases and sleeping disorders, continue to increase drastically. Many people suffer depression over the loss of family and property. Economic recovery is slow, making it difficult to find work. Pain, sadness and suffering linger among survivors.
The trip raised awareness of the need for volunteers in Japan.
"The clean-up seems to be done, but rebuilding has been slow," Bearden said. "The folks living in the temporary housing units will need assistance with rebuilding."
The Japanese government has established 48 public-housing community sites for people displaced by disaster. Each family lives in a 600-square-foot apartment consisting of a kitchen, toilet and a common area that serves as both bedroom and living room.
BGCT volunteers served with Texas missionaries Michael and Yu Towery from First Baptist Church in Arlington, who coordinate volunteer teams in the Sendai area and work with the Japan Baptist Convention.
"The biggest fear the survivors have is that they'll be forgotten," Yu Towery said.
The Texas Baptist team joined with Sendai Baptist to distribute fruits, vegetables and gift bags to residents of temporary housing compounds throughout the week. They sat and listened to the stories of survivors.
Each church ministers to a different group of housing compounds. Japan Baptist Convention's Tohno Volunteer Center holds a monthly fellowship gathering, providing activities such as tea times and sing-alongs in order to establish trusting relationships.
These activities—as well as a weekly worship service— are held in a community center at one of the temporary housing complexes. The complex houses 64 families or 151 individuals, but the community center only accommodates 22 people.
The community centers will remain even after the temporary housing units are removed. As both a community center and church, they serve as a place where people can gather to provide support for each other. The Japan Baptist Convention hopes to add to the current community center and plans to build an additional community center at a temporary housing complex where 132 people live.
BGCT disaster recovery has partnered with Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief to assist the Japan Baptist Convention with the community center projects. To date, the BGCT has sent $80,000 toward the project, and an additional $20,000 is needed in order to complete the second community center.
"We have been encouraged by our fellow Baptist churches from around the world and by each individual who has sent us relief supplies and offerings from abroad," Japan Baptist Convention President Toshio Okumura said. " The sight of each volunteer who has travelled so far to share in our work has strengthened us."
Bearden hopes Texas Baptists will continue to support the recovery efforts in Japan.
"The volunteer opportunities that are discovered in the recovery stage of the disaster have been a welcome opportunity to Texas Baptist Men volunteers," Bearden said. "Our goal is to build an even greater awareness among our churches about these opportunities."
Pastor Noguchi opened the doors to his church to volunteers in obedience to God. Despite being brokenhearted for the people who lost everything, he continues to have faith in God.
"I still don't have the full answer to the reason why God caused the tsunami and so many deaths, but I think only the God who is the creator and controller of whole universe is worth asking."