Japan archbishop urges ongoing prayers, commits to providing relief and restoration

Young Adult Service Corps volunteers are safe following earthquake
March 13, 2011

As Japanese officials estimate that the death toll could far exceed 10,000 after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated parts of the country's northeast coast on March 11, Anglican Archbishop Nathaniel Uematsu underscored the importance of prayer and said that he is working to establish a structure to respond to the disaster.

Meanwhile, two Episcopalians serving as Young Adult Service Corps volunteers in Japan are safe and currently assessing ways that their ministries can be most helpful to the local community.

Uematsu said on March 14 that the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Anglican Church in Japan, is committed to "providing relief and sourcing volunteers and funding to help with the restoration of the affected areas."

The archbishop also is "trying to find more accurate information about our church family and the relief efforts, and to communicate that information as quickly as possible."

One of the YASC volunteers, Steven Hart from Kentucky, was working at the Asian Rural Institute -- an ecumenical training center for sustainable agriculture, community development, and leadership about 62 miles south of the Fukushima prefecture in northern Japan -- when the earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time (12:46 a.m. EST) on March 11. The epicenter was 80 miles offshore of Sendai.

In a March 12 e-mail to church partners, Hart explained that the earthquake caused much damage at ARI, but that no one had been injured. "Saturday morning, we spent the day beginning to put ARI back into order. We are having all the buildings checked for their safety and we still don't know what their situation is," Hart said.

But as news emerged of an explosion and increased risks from nearby nuclear power plants, Hart and others evacuated the ARI premises late afternoon on March 12. Hart, along with five colleagues, drove to Shiki City, in Saitama prefecture, and stayed with a friend of ARI more than 124 miles from the nuclear plants, and away from the coast and any severely affected area.

"I am safe and feel I am in a good place. I am mentally OK right now, if a bit shaken up," Hart said in the e-mail. (A second explosion has since hit the Fukushima plant.)

By March 13, Hart made it to Nagoya, some 200 miles west of Tokyo, where Christen Mills, another YASC volunteer from Massachusetts, has served for seven months as a nursery teacher and program trainee at the Nagoya Youth Center. In a March 14 e-mail to Episcopal News Service, Mills said that the region where she is living and working had not been impacted by the earthquake.

"We felt the earthquake slightly here but there was no damage as far as I know," she said. "As for me, I am continuing my ministry here and I plan to help with however the church here calls on its members to help."

Mills said that many people are concerned about friends and family members who live in the affected areas, still largely without communication more than three days after the earthquake. "The disaster is on everyone's hearts and minds and we are keeping everyone in the areas that were hit by the earthquake and tsunami in prayer," she said.

A daughter of Utah Bishop Scott Hayashi who was in Japan at the time of the earthquake also is reported to be safe.

The death toll currently stands at more than 3,500 people, but Japanese officials are estimating it could far exceed 10,000.

The Anglican Diocese of Tohoku covers the most northerly region in Japan and as such was most directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The provincial office had difficulty contacting the diocese, but on March 12 Bishop John Hiromichi Kato of Tohoku reached Uematsu by telephone.

"Bishop Kato explained that he himself had not been able to find out much about the other churches in the Diocese of Tohoku … largely due to the fact that neither power supplies nor telephone lines had been restored in areas most badly hit by the tsunami," said Uematsu, who noted that there is particular concern for two churches and a kindergarten near the coast.

Uematsu reported that Christchurch Cathedral in Sendai and churches in the Diocese of Kita Kanto have also been badly damaged.

On March 13, the cathedral congregation held its Sunday service in the diocesan office. The Diocese of Tohoku is planning to establish an emergency relief center at the diocesan building.

"Prayer has power," Uematsu said. "I hope and request that you pray for the people who are affected, for those who have died and for their families. Pray for the people involved with the rescue efforts, and in particular pray for Tohoku and Kita Kanto dioceses and their priests and parishioners during this time of Lent."

Messages of prayer and solidarity continued to pour in from around the Anglican Communion.

In the United States, the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries Office and the Partnership Office for Asia and the Pacific announced it will lead a prayer service for Japan at 4 p.m. on March 18 at the Chapel of Christ the Lord in the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

Episcopal Relief & Development said March 14 that its Japan Earthquake Response Fund will provide support to the province and the Diocese of Tohoku, including the planned emergency relief center at the diocesan building and the provincial response structure capable of dealing with a disaster of this magnitude. That structure will include organizing and supporting a network of volunteers to carry out the relief and restoration work, according to the agency.

After the emergency phase, Episcopal Relief & Development said, it will continue to support the restoration and rehabilitation of affected areas in Japan. It will liaise with other Anglican and international bodies, "sharing information and working to ensure that the overall response is coordinated and follows the vision of the [province]."

Episcopal Relief & Development has collaborated with Nippon Sei Ko Kei in the past through broader regional partnerships to address climate change, peace-building and humanitarian initiatives. The agency also said it has been in contact with dioceses affected by the tsunami in Hawaii and on the U.S. west coast and is standing by to offer assistance.

Some congregations in the Episcopal Church have announced fundraising initiatives to help with the relief efforts in Japan.

All Saints Cathedral in Albany, New York, will sponsor a Jeans for Japan day on March 20, when the congregation is invited to wear jeans to church for a $2 donation, with all proceeds going to help Japan. The initiative is spearheaded by the cathedral youth group.

Christ Episcopal Church in Poughkeepsie will hold a Japan Benefit Concert, to include Mozart's Requiem, on Saturday, March 19 at 7:30 p.m. with proceeds being donated towards the relief efforts.

In Hawaii, which was spared significant damage from the passing tsunami, Bishop Robert L. Fitzpatrick issued a special appeal to the diocese's 37 congregations on five islands to take up special collections on March 13 and March 20 at all worship services to help the church in Japan.

"I will forward the funds collected to the church in Japan as soon as we are informed how best to support the ministry and the impact area. I issue this call for prayer and a special collection, confident in your compassion, in the name of Jesus Christ," he wrote in a statement posted on the diocesan website.

"I also send it with gratitude as we were able to send $5,000 (US) to Bishop Kuru Gray and Kite Wai Pounamu from the appeal at the end of February for recovery efforts in Christchurch, New Zealand," which was rocked by a magnitude-6.3 earthquake on Feb. 22.

At Epiphany Church in the Kaimuki section of Honolulu, special thanksgivings and prayers were offered for the churches and people of Japan and New Zealand, and also that the Oahu coast was spared the full brunt of a tsunami.

Frank Lange, 72, told ENS March 13 at Epiphany that he spent 12 hours with three others riding out "vigorous" six-foot waves and avoiding collision with hundreds of other boats in deep waters offshore from the Ala Wai Harbor near Waikiki.

Lange, who is retired from the U.S. Coast Guard, said he helped a friend save his houseboat from possible damage from rough waters slamming it against the harbor.

"We took it out at 12:06 a.m. And we didn't come back till 12:06 p.m."

He spent much of the time struggling to keep the boat "on a comfortable course and avoiding other boats. On a normal day you might see half a dozen boats. That night there were at least 400. There was a lot of confusion, trade winds and showers from wind-driven waves. It was a rough ride."

The Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project (KEEP), a faith-based economic and community development program located approximately 220 miles from the northeast coast of Japan, endured minimal damage and all staff members are reported to be safe, according to Sandra McPhee, who serves on the American Committee for KEEP board and as a member of the Episcopal Church's Standing Commission on World Mission.

The board, which was meeting in Berea, Kentucky, when its members learned of the earthquake and tsunami, passed a resolution expressing "sincere condolences to and concern for the region of the Tohoku and Kita Kanto dioceses and offered assistance for any relief work that KEEP might undertake in the affected region in partnership with the Nippon Sei Ko Kai," McPhee told ENS. A second resolution encouraged students from Rikkyo (St. Paul's) University to volunteer with relief efforts.

KEEP will be working with authorities in Japan to determine how they can best help with relief efforts, said McPhee.

In South Africa, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba issued a statement on March 14 expressing his deep shock and sadness in learning of the "human tragedy, displacement and the physical damage to so many structures in many communities" throughout Japan.

"On behalf of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, I send our condolences to the families of those who died or are missing and the assurance of our prayerful support in the days ahead," said Makgoba. "Though we are far away in the southern tip of Africa, we are one in Christ, you remain our neighbor and we are touched by your pain and loss."

Makgoba visited Haiti shortly after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that devastated parts of that country. Since then, he said, "we have seen severe climatic changes with resultant flooding, demolition of property and also sadly the tragic loss of human life ... While we don't have certainty about what is causing the severe climatic changes we are witnessing around the world, their impact is devastating to all."

Makgoba's statement follows messages of condolence issued on March 11 by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Archbishop Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The Rev. Winfred Vergara, missioner Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries, said on March 14: "Our hearts reach out to those who lost loved ones and properties and are struggling to get their lives back. We also thank God for the United States government and all other nations in the world supporting the efforts of the Japanese government in their search and rescue operations as well as efforts to contain any further danger. Every adversity brings new opportunity; every tragedy brings new hope; every challenge brings new victory. In the midst of calamities, destruction and death around us, there are values that endure: faith-community, family and friends. We believe that our humanity, with God's help, will not simply survive but shall prevail."