The Southern Baptist relief effort in Japan has moved forward in spite of uncertainties about the ongoing nuclear crisis in the northeastern part of the country.
In late March, a “second wave” team joined the two-member assessment team who arrived March 12, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of the Baptist Global Response international relief and development organization. Two additional disaster relief specialists, in joining the two assessment experts, will facilitate the launch of an initial Southern Baptist disaster response.
�This initial response team includes members of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network from South Carolina and Alabama,� Palmer said. �They are heading into Tokyo to set up a command center for a unified Southern Baptist disaster relief base.�
Because government restrictions prevent a large-scale overseas volunteer effort, the initial relief projects will be conducted in partnership with Japanese Baptists and other humanitarian groups, Palmer said. The projects will focus on earthquake survivors outside the tsunami zone, where the nuclear crisis is most serious.
�Because so much of the U.S. media coverage is on the nuclear crisis in the tsunami zone, we aren�t seeing how serious the situation is in other areas,� Palmer said. �The area devastated by the earthquake is much larger and the conditions in those areas are very serious. We can do a lot to help people in desperate need because of the earthquake while we wait for the nuclear situation to be resolved.�
The area around Sendai in northeastern Japan has been gravely threatened by a nuclear crisis since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. At press time, four of the plant’s six reactor units had experienced fires, explosions, or partial meltdowns. Emergency responders have been dumping tons of water on the reactors in hopes of preventing a disaster.
Based on the disaster assessment thus far, the initial relief effort will focus on life-essential items: basic food items, water, blankets, hygiene supplies and kitchen utensils, said Pat Melancon, Baptist Global Response’s disaster management specialist.
�Based on past experience and what we�re seeing on the ground in Japan, things like this will be the greatest help to people who are just trying to survive while the country�s recovery effort gets under way,� Melancon said. �These are the things our on-the-ground partners in Japan are asking for.�
The first round of relief supplies also was scheduled to include radiation detectors, Melancon added. “We are taking the possibility of radiation exposure very seriously,” he said. “We’re going to be real careful with that part.”
Leadership expected the new team to set up supply channels within the first week so that Southern Baptist relief supplies could begin moving into the country, said Ben Wolf, who with his wife Pam directs Baptist Global Response work in the Asia Rim.
�We know how anxious our Southern Baptist Disaster Relief specialists and other volunteers are to come to Japan and help,� Wolf said. �They know people are in desperate need, and they are willing to take whatever risks are necessary to take the love of Jesus to hurting people.
�The reality, however, is that right now we can�t go ourselves, so we will focus on praying and giving so our partners in Japan can get the job done,� Wolf added. �Because of the scale of this disaster, recovery will be a long-term challenge, and we believe there will be plenty of opportunities to go in months to come. For now, donations to Japan relief, especially to the general fund, are the critical need.�
The senior pastor of Tokyo Baptist Church said he has been amazed at the outpouring of concern from around the world.
�I have been overwhelmed with emails from people and churches from all over the world who want to help, people we know and people we don�t know,� said Dennis Folds. �These are difficult times but it is a time like this that we can make an impact for the greater good, for the Kingdom.�
The disaster is like nothing Makoto Kato has ever seen. Kato, the Japan Baptist Convention’s executive secretary, said the area affected by the disaster is large, but the biggest problem has been simply getting there.
�People are hurting because of a lack of food, water, and electricity,� Kato said. �The devastating part is that we can�t get there yet.�
Kato said the most urgent concern has been the nuclear power plants in the stricken region.
�The fear and suffering sustained from earthquakes and tsunami is being multiplied by the panic of radiation exposure,� Kato said. �We pray for the Lord to provide His peace, comfort, and hope. We pray that those victims suffering alone in the cold will quickly be rescued.�
The Japan disaster relief situation is unlike any other in recent history, noted Pat Melancon.
�When most disasters occur, a single event is normally accompanied by a fairly set list of accompanying effects. Floods will leave mud, destroy crops, damage homes, contaminate water supplies, and cause sicknesses,� Melancon said. �When earthquakes occur, you see some of the same results, with additional problems like interrupted transportation, widespread structural damage or destruction, and the like.
�The Japan event, however, is different. Here we have [had] three catastrophic events: the earthquake, which did much damage in areas not being featured in the news; the tsunami, which hit the low coastal areas of Japan especially hard; and... the demise of nuclear power plants.
�BGR will respond methodically, with the aid of Southern Baptists and other Christians from around the world. To do this effectively, we need your prayers and support,� Melancon said.
�We all grieve about the images we are seeing on television,� said Palmer, echoing Wolf�s assessment. �Our inclination is to jump on a plane and go. When we have a disaster response, we usually tell people they can help by praying, giving, and going. Right now, the best way they can help is by praying, giving, and waiting.
�This will be a very long-term response,� Palmer said. �We need to let our experts, trained people and Japanese partners lead us in our efforts.�
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, Virginia 23230.
In the memo line write: “Japan Response Fund.”
To Give Online:
Click on the “Relief” link at www.sbc.net.
For further information
Call the IMB at 1-800-999-3113.
Compiled from reports by Mark Kelly and Susie Rain.