Monday, March 14, 2011

In the Aftermath

My church family in Sendai, Japan, 1981
Like most of the world, I spent the weekend following the news of the recent horrific events in Japan.  Here are some thoughts on the subject.

I lived for a year in Sendai, from September of 1980 till August of 1981, where I taught English and Bible and lived in a house where my church offered women's meetings and children's programs.  It was a wonderful year for me, my third year in Japan and the year that I became conversant in the language and the culture.  I spent many hours a week in church-related activities, but also had plenty of time for neighbors and the few American friends I made.

My house was most of the way up a very high hill, but our church, the South Sendai Free Methodist Church, was across the road from a river.  I have recently become Facebook friends with a pastor in Japan whom I'd known when he was a seminary student.  Through him I have learned that the church relocated 20 years ago and that, since the tsunami, the pastor and family are safe but they do not yet know the outcome for the members of the congregation.  I suspect the building they used to occupy, the one in the photo above, was washed away.

This morning I watched a news report from Ann Curry of the Today Show, reporting from Minami Sanriku.  When asked how people were coping, she replied that they were leaning on each other, sharing what they had with one another, working together.  When asked about looting, she said there is indeed no looting, that "order" describes the character of the Japanese people.  She also remarked on their stoicism, which is a part of the Japanese character.

Our friends Jim and Pat were living and teaching in Taiwan in 1999 when an earthquake there took 2,400 lives, injured another 8,700, and left 600,000 homeless.  I asked what the emotional climate of the country was like -- how did people cope over the long term?

Pat told me that, after the big quake, her kindergartners would dash out the door of the classroom and some of the high schoolers even jumped from the balcony of the second floor to get out of the building if there was any kind of a tremor.  It took her and Jim five months to shop in the big supermarket, in a mall below a four-level underground parking lot.  (Much of the shopping in Japan is also underground.)  And even today, if they enter a building that feels insecure, they do not stay.

Now, as Japan struggles to find any remaining survivors, care for the thousands of victims, deal with the possible nuclear disaster, clean up the devastation, and rebuild, we can pray for wise leaders to make good decisions, for that spirit of cooperation to continue, and for the health and safety of this nation that has lost so much.

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