March 20, 2011--Today at church we had a little under half the usual attendance, with most of the foreigners gone. We average between 60 to 70 people each week, and today had 28. There were no children; they had been evacuated or sent out of Tokyo on an early school break (the international schools are off March 21-25 for spring break anyway).
Those in attendance were mostly the Japanese members, especially the dads, and it was so it was nice to have a chance to talk to them. Among the foreigners were one person from Britain, three missionaries, including myself, one Canadian, and two Americans. It was still a good community experience--to gather to pray and worship and also celebrate Communion. We also sang Taize songs during Communion, including "Bless the Lord my Soul." As we took the bread and shared, we were reminded of the bread of life that sustains us all through whatever we are facing.
I used the previous Sunday's lectionary reading (Matthew 4:1-11) for my sermon on the temptations of Christ in the desert, since I had scrapped it last week due to the circumstances. I had preached on Psalm 46 instead: " God is our refuge and strength…."
This week, we shared some personal stories about the blackouts. My sermon focused on how this was a Lent forever etched in our memories…. We have our fears and doubts, not to mention blackouts and radiation concerns…. We do not know what is there in the desert. But God does not leave us. I talked about the temptation to doubt God during a time of crisis but how in our doubt there is God.
The news from many sources contradicts itself. Worrying will not change a thing, but we can be comforted as we realize that we are not alone, just as Jesus was never without God in the desert. We too have God with us. Lent is a journey, and this year is no exception, but more a journey than we ever expected or realized! We journey toward the cross, the tomb, the empty tomb, and the risen Christ.
My son, Koh, and husband, Toshi, came from Kobe back to Tokyo yesterday, and in the evening, to celebrate Koh's 14th birthday, we ventured out to an Italian restaurant that was open. Lights were being used at half capacity to save energy. We enjoyed our pasta, but no cakes were being made or sold. I believe we are getting back to normal, but are not in a celebratory mood, so things like cakes seem like a luxury. Anyway, later at home I made a coffee cake--Koh's favorite--and we celebrated together with ice cream that was already in the freezer.
On Sunday, I was able with only a 40-minute wait to buy gas to fill an almost empty tank. The station, not far from West Tokyo Union Church, was one of few open, but it closed later on. I had called many places the previous day to find gas.
Some concerts, sports events, and other gatherings have been canceled. People are trying to cut back. It seems frivolous to celebrate or go to a sporting event (which uses so much electricity if it is a night game) or a concert when 8,000 are confirmed dead and 12,000 people are still missing. Every day the numbers increase.
Relief work is focusing on areas where food, water, sanitation, electricity, and fuel needs are not being met. I have heard that Church World Service, which works with UMCOR and the United Church of Christ in Japan, is helping some 25,000 now living at 100 evacuation sites in northeastern Japan. On the news, we see a group of volunteers (maybe the Red Cross) giving foot baths to some of the elderly people in shelters. Also, Japanese baths have been set up.
A barber shop opened up and was washing people's hair, saying they would stay open until the shop ran out of heated water. A shelter in Sendai (worst hit by the earthquake and tsunami) was serving a warm local vegetable soup made by another prefecture and sent to the shelters. It was the first time for these people to have had a hot meal in a long time.
Earthquake news dominates every channel, but there is some coverage of the situation in Libya and the military intervention. Many channels are still covering live stories about the "Tohoku Kanto quake"--"Tohoku" meaning northern Japan and "Konto" the greater Tokyo region.
The news reported that the Fukushima nuclear plants were built to withstand a magnitude 8.5 earthquake; but the March 11 Tohoku region quake was 9.0- or 8.9- magnitude, depending on what sources you are reading. However, no one expected, or even dreamed, that huge tsunamis could destroy its back-up cooling systems. The tsunami washed into inlets, gaining force and sweeping away everything in its path. (The tsu in tsunami means "inlet"; nami means "wave.") Trees, people, boats, cars, houses were all destroyed in the areas hardest hit. Minami Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture recorded the highest tsunami at over seven meters.
People have been muttering to themselves and questioning why the Fukushima nuclear plant and others were constructed on the quake-prone places, and why so close to Tokyo. Good questions and ones not yet answered.
Therefore, as people concerned about God's creation and the well-being of humanity, we must protest the nuclear power plants worldwide because they are dangerous; they do damage to the environment and can never be proven to be entirely safe. May we continue to pray and take action so that the message of nuclear risk will get through to all the nations.
Claudia, a missionary assigned to the National Christian Council of Japan, is a pastor at the West Tokyo Union Church. Her husband, Toshi, is a Mission Volunteer, former Global Ministries missionary, and former general secretary of the National Christian Council in Japan.