Initial contact with LCMS missionaries and partner church staff in Japan indicates that they are safe after the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck the east coast of the island nation March 11.
Also, no major property losses among Lutherans have yet been reported from contacts in Japan or in the wake of the tsunami that surged from the epicenter off the Japan coast toward Hawaii and the Pacific Coast of North America.
The earthquake struck Japan’s northeastern Honshu island, also resulting in tsunami waves as high as 30 feet, strong aftershocks and as many as 80 fires, according to news sources.
As of March 14, the official death toll exceeded 1,800, and thousands more are missing or injured. At this time, Japanese officials are estimating the final tally of deaths will top 10,000.
“Our hearts go out to the citizens of Japan as they are in the midst of great grief from the loss of life and their homes and as their lives are filled with chaos,” said Rev. John Fale, interim executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC).
LCMS World Mission has confirmed that all LCMS missionaries in Japan are safe: career missionaries Dr. Jonathan and Juli Blanke, and GEO missionaries Matthew Hass, Justin Kumfer, Peter Pfaff, Kim Sherwin and Jenae Siebarth. GEO, or Globally Engaged in Outreach, missionaries assist career missionaries and partner churches and serve for one to two years.
Preliminary reports from the Japan Lutheran Church, an LCMS partner church based in Tokyo, also affirm that its staff are OK.
Dr. Naomichi Masaki, associate professor of systematic theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., was born and raised in Japan, and has family still living there.
His brother, Dr. Makito Masaki, is president of Kobe Lutheran Theological Seminary in Kobe, some 300 miles west of Tokyo, and his parents live in Kakogawa, some 20 miles west of Kobe. Naomichi Masaki told Reporter March 11 that he had spoken to his brother and mother, and that his parents and brother and his family were safe, with no earthquake damages.
In an e-mail message to LCMS leaders in St. Louis, sent March 12, Makito Masaki said, “We are OK here in the west side of Japan. But there are many earthquakes, big and small” still affecting the country “everywhere,” and the “tsunami is still attacking the coasts.”
“There are many Lutheran … congregations and a seminary [not related to the Japan Lutheran Church] in the area that the earthquakes and tsunami hit.”
Naomichi Masaki’s wife talked to her parents in Yokohama, a suburb of Tokyo, who said “they felt the earthquake longer and stronger than ever before.” His in-laws are fine, he said, but as their house shook during the initial quake they said it was so severe they felt the house would come apart. It was not seriously damaged though.
But, says Masaki, almost 200 miles of the coastline north of Tokyo — “harbors, cities, villages, rice fields, etc., have all been destroyed completely.” His brother, he said, believes there could be as many as 3 million people in those areas without power, water, food and transportation — and there is still snowfall.
“It is unimaginable,” he said, and “it may take perhaps 30 years to fully recover.”
Having lived through many earthquakes in his native Japan, Masaki said the Japanese people always knew there would be others. But a series of aftershocks of 5 to 7 magnitude — “that was something Japan never expected,” he said.
Only 1 percent of Japan’s 120 million people are Christian, according to Masaki, and that includes about 30,000 Lutherans. He is keeping the country and its people in his prayers, and he invites all Lutherans to do the same.
He also prays that this disaster provides opportunities for Japan’s pastors — and Christians — to share the Gospel with all those who are hurting as a result of the disaster.
A tsunami warning also was issued for most of the U.S. West Coast, stretching from Oregon to California. Three- to seven-foot waves struck the Hawaiian Islands shortly after 8 a.m. (EST) and were expected to strike the mainland shortly after. Reports indicate that impacts were less than expected.
“As this tragedy continues to unfold, we are in contact with our Lutheran partners and colleagues throughout the Pacific region. As they assess needs, we will respond appropriately as requested,” said Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of Disaster Response with WR-HC.
Fale said WR-HC “will respond with our partner church, the Japan Lutheran Church, and LCMS missionaries in Japan to bring tangible hope through Christ and tangible relief through our response of mercy.”
LCMS President Rev. Matthew C. Harrison encouraged Lutherans to “please join me in prayer for the earthquake and tsunami victims and their families. I would suggest the ‘Litany.’ And let us also during this Lenten season make use of the historic discipline of caring for the needy (Matt. 6:2-4).”
To view a videotaped message from Harrison, visit the “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” blog. In the video, Harrison asks LCMS congregations to collect donations so that “we can show mercy and love to our brothers and sisters in Christ in Japan.”
“There is no better time than the season of Lent to show mercy to people in need,” he says. “In Lent we remember that Jesus came to us. He was present with us, took on our flesh, and took it to a cross for us, to rise again for the forgiveness of all of our sins.
“I would ask you to help us be present with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Japan as they reach out to many around them — many who don’t know Jesus like you and I do.”
Also available is a special bulletin insert on the Japan earthquake and tsunami that offers suggestions for helping victims of the disaster. To download a PDF of the bulletin insert, which may be copied and distributed by congregations, go to http://www.lcms.org/help and click on the link under “Resources.”
To benefit Japan’s earthquake and tsunami victims, please give to LCMS World Relief and Human Care’s Disaster Relief Fund for Japan (click here).
Updated March 14, 2011/Updated March 12, 2011
Posted/updated March 11, 2011