“God gives us reason to hope and hold on to His promises, in spite of [it] all.”
That’s what Dr. Jonathan Blanke, an LCMS career missionary in Japan, writes at the end of his family’s March 13 update on the situation after the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami there two days earlier.
“We look forward to [seeing] what He has in store for us in the weeks and months ahead,” Blanke states at the end of the update to family members and LCMS World Mission colleagues.
That update is being passed on to readers courtesy of Rev. John L. Mehl, Asia regional director for LCMS World Mission.
Blanke offers three main “bad-news” points — and four with “good news.” Each of those points is marked with an asterisk in the text that follows.
Basically, those “bad news” items, which he provides first, are: (1) indications that the number of people dead and missing are “much higher” as rescue operations continue; (2) concerns over the explosion March 12 at the Fukushima Daiichi (Number 1) Nuclear Power Plant near the epicenter of the quake on the country’s northeast coast; and (3) that, as a result, rolling power blackouts of three hours each would begin March 14 for residents of Tokyo, and could continue for weeks.
For good news, Blanke writes that (1) “there has been no report of even one casualty” in terms of death or injuries among Japanese Lutherans, although there is some damage to church property, and certainly to the homes and businesses of members; (2) all 81 people are “alive and well” on a ship that had been reported lost at sea after the tsunami; (3) seminaries and seminarians are doing well; and (4) quake “aftershocks are almost over.”
To read about Blanke’s and another LCMS missionary’s experiences immediately after the historic earthquake and tsunami, click here.
Blanke’s March 13 update has been edited for style.
Dear family and friends,
Since I sent around my last update so many of you have sent encouraging words and prayers on our behalf. So much is happening here that we thought it might help to give a brief update again.
Bad news first:
* By now you have probably heard news reports that first started circulating during the day on Saturday Tokyo time … that [some]10,000 are believed to be missing in the small fishing villages of Minamisanriku alone. Though it is possible that this figure could diminish over time as Japanese Self-Defense forces find more Minamisanriku residents at local shelters that are still unreachable, the “official” toll of those believed to be dead is just over 1,300 and those missing as reported by family members stands at only a little over 2,000 (as of 7:45 AM, EDT). The devastating impact of this tragedy reported by local police indicates that the figures are indeed much higher.
* The external wall of the Number 1 TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.) nuclear reactor that has been much in the news over the last 24 hours burst after I sent my news around yesterday, and the government and local news media have been struggling to discover what this means for the 12 million residents of Tokyo (not to mention the good people in the neighborhood of the power plant in Fukushima).
Though local media have been less sanguine than the Japanese government and TEPCO officials about the whole business, the official word is that because the internal wall of the TEPCO plant remains intact more than 24 hours after the Saturday explosion, the chances of a major nuclear event are not as great anymore.
There are still concerns that a similar explosion could occur at the Number 3 reactor, but the government and plant officials are heartened that radiation outside the Number 1 facility has not leaked since Saturday, and tests currently indicate that radiation levels remain … normal. We will continue to monitor the situation.
* Prime Minister Kan, in a news conference broadcast at 6 AM EDT, said that TEPCO would be instituting rolling blackouts for residents of Tokyo, meaning that businesses and private individuals would be without power for three-hour intervals beginning Monday, Tokyo time. I mention this in the event that any of you are trying to contact family or friends in Japan.
There could be intermittent telephone or Internet service to places you are trying to reach, depending on the time of day. The blackout times were supposed to have been posted on the TEPCO website this evening by region, but when the availability of the information was announced after the news conference this evening, so many people tried to access the website that it promptly went down! At the moment they are saying that this could go on for several weeks. We will send word around once the blackouts have stopped.
Also this evening, when [my wife] Juli and I went to our usual grocery store, there was almost nothing on the shelves. Can you imagine a grocery store in Tokyo with almost nothing in it? Transportation and agriculture have been disrupted, and we are starting to see the effects.
The prime minister said tonight that Japan is facing the biggest crisis it has ever faced since the end of World War II. While that statement might contain a bit of political cover for his government, one can’t help wondering how Japanese society as a whole will grow and change as a result of these events.
Now the Good News:
* First, we want to report about the members of our Lutheran family here in Japan. There has been no report of even one casualty, even at the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Sendai Church, which was at the epicenter of the quake. Though there was damage to the church structure, there has been no loss of life, and for that we are truly thankful.
Of course, that does not mean that much work still doesn’t need to be done … to bring a sense of normalcy and healing to the lives of people who have lost so much in these areas. But we are grateful that these church communities, which are small to begin with, are OK.
In addition to church members, it appears that people we were concerned for are doing OK. I saw one of my students who is from Sendai at an event this evening, and he gave me a “thumbs up” from a distance. A family we know from Sendai appears to have made a few additions to their Facebook page right after the earthquake, and we suspect that they might be without power or computer access right now, so it might be a while before we hear more.
All in all, though we grieve for so many lost, we thank God that those we know are safe.
* Remember the ship that we mentioned in our last update as being reported lost at sea? It was found. All 81 people on board were alive and well! As of yesterday (Saturday evening), the Japanese Self-Defense forces who have been working tirelessly had rescued over 3,000 people, and they have since been joined by search/rescue teams from Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. This is truly a collaborative international effort.
* On Friday when the earthquakes hit, our neighbors at Tokyo Shingagku Daigaku (the largest Protestant seminary in Japan) were holding their graduation ceremony. Despite the jolts and the shaking, the ceremony continued!
And I hear today from a friend that one of their seminarians will be sent on behalf of his church body to serve in the heart of the area devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.
Our seminary graduated three men.
Tonight I had the privilege of joining with our brothers and sisters of the NRK (Japan Lutheran Church) to give thanks to God for the newest NRK pastor, Rev. Itsuhide Kitagawa. The passage chosen for his baccalaureate service was Isaiah 6:1-8. (For those who can, read this in Japanese to see how appropriate the Japanese wording is for the events of this weekend.) In the midst of an uncertain future, [he is] a man who first encountered Christ through open lectures and worship opportunities at Japan Lutheran College. [He] was baptized a few years later at Suginami Seishin Church, and eventually was led to enter the seminary, saying, “Here am I, send me.” Miracles in the midst of the “stuff” of life really do happen!
* The aftershocks are almost over. I can actually write this all the way through without a single queasy feeling.
So, God gives us reason to hope and hold on to His promises, in spite of all. We look forward to seeing what He has in store in the weeks and months ahead.
Thanks again for your thoughts and prayers.
Posted March 13, 2011