Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Mission Center in Tokyo Housing Evacuees

Mar 25, 2011

New York, NY, March 25, 2011--A Tokyo mission facility related to United Methodist Women provided short-term housing for evacuees from the hardest hit earthquake and tsunami zones in Japan.

The Wesley Center hosted varying numbers of people on successive days as the crisis continued around the nuclear power plant damaged by the March 11 quake. As of March 24, there had been 725 aftershocks; the death toll surpassed 9,000, and thousands of persons remained missing.

Many evacuees reaching Wesley, including families, a group of five scholars, and 20 shipyard welders, were Filipinos from the city of Sendai, according to reports from Wesley staff. The center is located near the Philippine Embassy, and the resident Filipino community was helping to provide food. Individual United Methodist Mission Volunteers based in Japan helped with logistics and direct care of the displaced people.

"We are so gratified that the new Wesley Center can serve displaced sisters and brothers during this time of crisis," said Harriett Jane Olson, deputy general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries and chief executive of its Women's Division, the corporate entity of United Methodist Women. "So much United Methodist work in Japan relates to migrants and disadvantaged minorities--we thank God for the opportunity to provide refuge for some of the most vulnerable people."

Serving the Displaced

Thousands of Filipinos come to Japan to work, some for long periods of time. Many of these persons have now lost their homes or jobs in the earthquake; some want to go back to the Philippines, causing a flood of temporary refugees. The embassy was successful in finding new employment for some of the men who wanted to remain in Japan, according to Sarah Oba, program director of Wesley. Counseling was offered on the spot by professional volunteers.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) indicated on March 25 that it was in conversation with Wesley about funding for the work with evacuees as well other forms of community-based relief.

Among the first Filipino refugees to reach Wesley, Ms. Oba reported, were five research scholars from Tohoku University (Tohoku is the region most devastated by the natural disaster), 11 people from Japanese-Filipino families, and 17 workers of the Yamanishi Company who witnessed the tsunami first-hand. Among the first 33 refugees were a three-month old baby, a small boy, a four-year-old girl, a 12-year-old girl, and two teen-aged boys.

Global Ministries missionary Kathy Barton-Lewis has a key administrative role at Wesley. She was in the United States when the earthquake hit, but took an active part by email in responding to the requests to house refugees. "The center should be used in whatever way is needed in this crisis," she wrote.

Global Ministries and the Women's Division were apprised of developments at Wesley by Ms. Oba, a missionary of the Presbyterian Church USA, who is employed by United Methodist Women to assist with programming there.

Wesley Center

Wesley Center occupies four floors of a new 12-story building that stands on property once owned by what is now United Methodist Women. Missionary housing originally occupied the site. The center is near the Tokyo campus of Aoyama Gakuin University, which was founded by the (Methodist) Women's Foreign Missionary Society missionaries in the 1870s.

The new building was constructed by a commercial builder under a long-term land lease from the corporation that holds title to properties in Japan owned in pre-World War II days by five American mission agencies. Eight floors are rental apartments that belong to the builder.

The four floors of the center, dedicated about a year ago, houses offices of the foundation related to the center and programs and groups that promote public welfare, deepen international understanding and mutual respect, and develop physically and mentally healthy citizens. The latter goal relates especially to the acceptance of persons of other nationalities, races, cultures, ethnicities, and creeds.

The plan for use of the center includes childcare, seminars, and space at a reasonable rate for nonprofits in an expensive location in Tokyo. Wesley affords such groups a place to create complementary programs for public benefit. Two current tenants are the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and a suicide-prevention hotline.

Wesley Center is developing ministries of outreach to young adults in university settings, a long-term objective of Methodist work in Japan. Earlier this year, Wesley selected young university women from Japan to join students from Korea and the US for a seminar on Women and Migration at the Church Center for the United Nations, a facility of the Women's Division in New York City.

Three other young women were sent through Wesley to New York in February 2011 to take part in a session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Those gathered focused on the access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science, and technology, and women's equal access to full employment and decent work.

Wesley Center is hosting a regular series of seminars on best practices for "public benefit organizations" in Tokyo. One of the initial events--in August 2010, just a few months after the Center opened and as its first tenants were moving in--drew representatives from the United Church of Christ in Japan and the Korean Christian Church in Japan. Kathy Burton-Lewis and Sarah Oba participated, along with Harriett Olson and Jennifer McCallum of the Women's Division.