Southern Baptist missionaries and volunteers finally distributed relief goods in Ishinomaki, Japan, this week after two weeks of attempting to gain access to the quake-stricken areas. Power outages, gas rationing, an escalating nuclear crisis and relocation of International Mission Board personnel hampered earlier attempts.
Ishinomaki -- a small city of around 120,000 people -- was devastated March 11 by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Officials estimate that more than 18,000 people died and thousands more are missing along Japan's northeastern coast.
The 11-member team spent two days distributing relief goods at multiple locations throughout the city, including an apartment complex, a nursing home and a bus station. Everywhere they went, they found grateful Japanese, eager for someone to listen to their stories.
International Mission Board missionary Jared Jones helped one man shovel debris from his home. The day before, the man received a call from local officials to identify his wife's body. The man -- a Buddhist -- talked with Jones about how his wife often encouraged him to read the Bible. The couple had been married 40 years.
"He just needed somebody to listen to him," Jones said.
Missionary Ed Jordan had a similar experience. Jordan, who works with the deaf, was distributing goods in a bus station when a colleague asked for help. One of the victims was a deaf woman who was unable to communicate with the hearing volunteers.
When Jordan talked with her in sign language about her family and her home, the woman was thrilled. "If she shook my hand once, she shook it a dozen times," Jones said.
Both Jordan and Jones noticed uncommon openness from the Japanese during their trip.
"They look you in the eye," Jordan said. "They need somebody to talk to and many are willing to let us pray with them. No one turned us away."
On Saturday International Mission Board missionaries living in and relocated to the Osaka area loaded a 2-ton truck and three mini-vans with rice, vegetables, baby food, cleaning supplies and other relief goods. Then they drove the nearly 600 miles from Osaka to Ishinomaki.
The group was overwhelmed by the scope of the destruction that greeted them. A large fishing boat leaned against a damaged power line in the middle of a city street. Battered cars sat atop mounds of trash and debris. Black mud, the color of crude oil, filled the streets and the ground floor of homes and businesses.
"This is not like any other disaster I've ever seen," Jones said.
"There was a debris field everywhere you looked," Jordan agreed. "Cars were stacked on top of each other. One car had washed through the plate glass window of a 7-11."
As they make plans for future relief work in the quake area, the team asked for prayer that they would have opportunities.
"Our biggest prayer is, 'What can we do in the next few weeks to get reorganized and get back up there?'" Jordan said. "There is such great openness, and we want to be able to respond."
Jones agreed, adding that the scenes and experiences from this trip will continue to affect him.
"I'm not done weeping yet," Jones said.
Tess Rivers is a writer with the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia. The International Mission Board has established a relief fund for the Japan earthquake. Donations may be sent to: Office of Finance, International Mission Board, 3806 Monument Ave., Richmond, VA 23230. In the memo line write "Japan Response Fund." Or you can give online by going to www.imb.org and clicking on the "Japan response" button. For further information, call the IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113.
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