East Japan Earthquake    March 11, 2011

On-site Report from Pastor Marre

March 29, 2011

"Send Love" Project in Sengawa city, Tokyo

Thank you so much for all your prayers and support.

We visited the cities of Morioka and Rikuzen-takata of Iwate prefecture from March 28th to 30th. Since the bullet trains for Iwate prefecture are not yet back to normal operations because of the earthquake, we went by airplane which only goes to a nearby prefecture, Akita, which is about 70 miles away from our first destination. Another team from Committed Japan headed by car with a load of supplies on the same night. This was the second time we brought relief supplies to the city. Those supplies were mainly donated from the local residents of Sengawa city, where Kick Back Café is. Many people in the local area are now in cooperation with the "Send LOVE" project that Kick Back Cafe is holding.

Committed Team delivering relief supplies to the city's headquarter.

The morning of my departure I was, by phone, on a live radio/TV program by Iwate Broadcasting Network and talked about our relief efforts. That night we arrived in Iwate prefecture after a very long and tiring trip, and we met with the director, a radio personality of the station, and Mr. Kamiyama, an announcer who has been tirelessly reporting the conditions of the affected local areas every day.

Cooperation with Iwate Broadcasting Network

The local radio station is going through a very tough time. They report the terrible reality of the disaster and receive complaints from people saying they've had enough of it. They stop reporting and people complain that they are not getting enough information. They have been struggling to find out what they can do from their standpoint of the press and media. However, they told me that they have shifted their focus from only reporting facts and information to communicating messages of hope to the listeners. This resulted in the production of the recent radio show that Committed Japan was invited to produce with them.(About this radio program, please read the on-site report here.

The city of Morioka, where Iwate Broadcasting Network has its station, is located about 63 miles inland, so the damage in this area is minimal and not many houses have structural damage, but they have been suffering from a lack of supplies. It is partially due to the "buying out" in Tokyo triggered by the news reports that the tap water is contaminated by radiation even in Tokyo. Though this is expected to be a temporary problem, they have a severe shortage of daily necessities and gasoline right now. The situation still has long lines of hundreds of cars waiting for gas day after day. Other than that, however, people in Morioka seem to be back to their peaceful daily lives. I could not help but notice the great difference between Morioka's peacefulness and and the nearby devastated coastal cites' turmoil.

Rikuzen-takata---Once a scenic city is now only piles of rubble.

The next morning, we left Morioka and got on the local train to Ichinoseki where we were to join the car team that drove up from Committed. We got in the car there and drove on a mountain road for about 90 minutes to the city of Rikuzen-takata. As we drove through the beautiful green Japanese mountains, suddenly devastated houses and rubble came into view. This area is 3 miles inland from the ocean but the tsunami reached and destroyed the houses and buildings by the back flowing of the river. Starting from there, all you see are piles of rubble that go on as far as the eyes can see.

Most of the city was destroyed. Now all that remains for those of us who never knew what it looked like is a landscape of rubble. Kana, a native of Rikuzen-takata, said she used to not be able to see so far from where we stood because the busy downtown area with its many stores, houses, and buildings obstructed her view. Now, we can even see the resort hotel on the coast that was greatly damaged but is still standing. The scenery just tells us how devastating the destruction was. Everything was swept away.

Main street stretching from the station

A girl looking at her devastated hometown

This is the City Hall building Kana's mother evacuated. People who fled to the building on the left were swept away by the tsunami.

Leaving the downtown area, we headed for the city's Headquarters for Reconstruction and had a meeting with the city administrators there. Generally, city officers do not pay much attention to small private-sector volunteer groups like ours, but because Kana's mother is one of the City Hall workers who survived the tsunami miraculously, our request to meet with them was granted.

Meeting with the city administrators

We exchanged information with the city administrators and talked about the areas where we can support the city's recovery effort. There is a great gap between what the private-sector volunteers on the ground see as needs and what the city offices see. Cities have the information on how many evacuees are in their cities and distribute food according to the number. However, there are have been situations where a family of 5 has to share one rice ball. We renewed our desire to meet the needs of people where city administrations fail to reach.

Since the food distributions are entrusted to the leaders of each neighborhood, when some leaders decide to not to distribute all of the food, people in the area do not have enough. The situations differ in each neighborhood so we need to collect on-site information. Please pray that we will be able to reach where there is need.

Embracing Destiny and seeing the unseen Presence--- in the midst of cataclysmic catastrophe
Kana's mother is a City Hall worker and she works tirelessly everyday for the local victims in the city. She does not have time to shed tears. She works at the death registration office and receives literally hundreds of death notifications every day. It has been such a painful job but she says that the local people are saying to each other, without crying, "everything was swept away". This has become part of their everyday conversation. We visited the city wanting to bring encouragement, but we were actually encouraged by the people there. They are not being pessimistic, and they just embrace this cataclysmic catastrophe as their destiny, accepting it as something the unseen God divinely permitted.

Marre and Kumiko meets Kana's mother at the city's headquarter

Having lost everything and suddenly finding themselves in the severe reality far from materialism, they seem to be close to the presence of God. Standing amidst the vast, nothing-but-debris city, one can feel as if there is a big hole in the sky connecting him directly to God. While being aware that easy words of comfort will just bring more disappointment, I have never felt such a great door opened for the opportunity to speak of the existence of the great, invisible One.

Realistic challenges--- Long road until recovery
There are, however, great realistic challenges the city is facing. The city of Rikuzen-takata lost all the members of the board of education except for two. City officers are wondering how the city administration can get back to its normal operation with one third of the city hall workers dead. With a limited work force, the workers that remain must continue to do their jobs and take on many additional duties. The City Hall is also greatly damaged and they are working in temporary building right now. Thanks to Kana's mother, we were able to know about the realistic challenges that the city faces.

There is a long road ahead until the city will be able to fully recover.

Christ's Love put into Action --- Mobile Kick Back Cafe

Even though there is a long road ahead, we are determined to support them continuously and put Christ's love into action. This Friday, our "mobile Kick Back Café" will be in action for the first time in Rikuzen-takata. It will go to an area where the city told us that supplies are scarce and provide the people there with warm curry and rice, muffins, scones, and hot coffee. With our limited capacity, we will only be able to provide 500 meals but please pray that, through this opportunity, we will be able to build good, heart-to-heart relationships with the affected people in the city.

There is a book I authored which is entitled "The Sun Will Always Rise." It is a kind of self-help book based on the words of the Bible, and the content of the book is perfect for a situation as this. The publisher courteously gave us 700 copies for free, so we will be bringing them as well. Please pray that we will be able to distribute the books effectively.

We will be continuing this ministry of "mobile Kick Back Café," so please keep praying and sending your support.

Also, we are planning to hold what we call "Kids Fest" in May in Rikuzen-takata. It is a popular and locally accepted outreach event for children that we hold every year at Kick Back Café in Tokyo. We will be bringing the cast and crew for the entire event to the city of Rikuzen-takata. Please keep this event in your prayers as well.

On-site Report ----------------------

Kana's Hometown
A building stands in the rubble in Rikuzentakata, northern Japan after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck the area, March 13, 2011.

Rikuzen-Takata:5,000 Homes Under Water and 15,000 People Missing

On March 12th, the Self Defense Force of Japan started its rescue efforts of most all of the households of the city of Rikuzen-Takata that has been demolished by the recent earthquakes which is estimated at 5,000. From the rescue efforts in Takata area, the most damaged area, 52 bodies were recovered on the 12th, and on the 13th, 114 more bodies, totaling 166 in the 2 days. The rescue effort, however, has been slowed because of the debris blocking all traffic to the city whose population is 23,000. According to the task force of the city, roughly 8,000 people are staying in emergency evacuated areas. The city is doing what they can to locate the the rest of the population. The City Hall, a 4-story building, was engulfed by the tsunami and out of 300 workers there, the whereabouts of 100 employees hav not been determined. Also, the city resident registry has been lost causing difficulty in identifying who the victims are.
There has been some positive news as the Self Defense Force of Japan has been successful rescuing 37 people isolated from roofs of buildings. Rescue efforts will continue. (March 13, 7:48PM(JST), NHK)



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