(Photo: Philip Foxwell)
Three days after a tsunami tore through Japan's Miyagi prefecture, American missionary Philip Foxwell drove a truck into the disaster zone to access the damage. Having grown up in Japan, Foxwell had childhood friends amongst local residents – whom he feared had died.
As he surveyed the devastation, he picked up a fragment of a sign. On the piece of wood, he saw the characters, 'Shu Wa Waga' (The Lord is my), and guessed the sign in its entirety read, "The Lord is my Way."
"You know Japan does not have a whole lot of biblical references of any kind," he said in a testimony posted on YouTube. "I don't even know how this [sign] caught my eye."
The majority of Japanese identify themselves as Buddhist or Shinto, while only 1.5 percent of the nation's total population is considered Christian.
On March 11, an 8.9-magnitude earthquake generated ocean currents that leveled entire cities and towns. It is estimated that at least 10,000 people are dead or missing. During the tremor, four nuclear plants lost power and on Friday the threat of a nuclear meltdown has reached level 5 (out of 7). Japan's capital Tokyo has become a near ghost town as tens of thousands of people flee in fear of radioactive poisoning.
The international community, including governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), has sent rescue teams and supplies in the days following the quake. U.S. military teams allowed the delivery of supplies by air after clearing up the Sendai airport, in the Miyagi Prefecture – the region closest to the quake's epicenter.
Nonetheless, overland routes remain the more direct link to harder hit areas. Many roads have opened in the past days, facilitating the flow of supplies.
Christian Outreach in Japan
Christians have begun mobilizing alongside non-government and government entities to bring much needed aid to survivors.
One such group includes CRASH (acronym for Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope), which has coordinated relief work amongst Japanese churches. The organization works closely with the Japan Evangelical Alliance (JEA) and the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA).
"CRASH is the second-to-none relief network in Japan. No other agency is able to assess the needs on the ground like CRASH, and then take steps toward meeting those needs," said JEMA President Dale Little.
"The effectiveness of CRASH includes linking closely with local churches in Japan."
Quake survivors who cannot leave have set up makeshift shelters and tent communities on hills overlooking the disaster site. Residents gather in long lines at the markets to scrap up bare essentials.
"There were 150 people waiting in line at the grocery store for simple ramen, rice, and toilet paper," said CRASH hospitality worker Bola Taylor. "The shelves were all empty – it was very unnerving."
Since Thursday, CRASH teams have established its first base camp in a kindergarten in Sendai city, the Miyagi prefecture's capital. The routes the teams will take will be within 40km (24.8 miles) of the stricken nuclear reactors, according to CRASH. CRASH plans to move two 40-foot containers filled with enough rice and soy products to make more than 500,000 meals. However, such donations require significant resources to distribute the food from crates to survivors, a CRASH spokesman revealed. The organization continues to seek addition funds for its work in the region.
In addition to addressing physical needs, CRASH coordinators voiced the desire to see spiritual work fulfilled in Japan.
"Many of us are wondering how we can best respond to the news of the earthquake and tsunami that have devastated Japan," said Jonathan Wilson, CRASH Japan director. "As the television screens pour out images, we pour out our hearts to the Creator to take care of this great nation."
Reaching the disaster zone, Philip Foxwell was relieved to discover familiar faces amongst the survivors.
"Many of my neighbors are like aunts and uncles to me," Foxwell said. "I was expecting to find that twenty-five of my close friends had died-but instead I found all of them sitting together in a shelter."
He concluded, "There was more hugging and emotion than I've ever experienced in Japan. It was one of the happiest moments of my life."