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Amazing perspective from Japan - Shocks, Aftershocks, and Meltdowns

Friday, March 18, 2011

Please take a moment to read this amazing perspective from a missionary family serving in Japan. Then, take the time to pray and please consider giving to help their efforts.

Here's a direct link to Ruth's blog. ruthnasia

Shocks, Aftershocks, and Meltdowns

Six full days have passed since the earthquake and tsunami, and I think I've done fairly well until today. I guess a meltdown was bound to happen sooner or later.

In the past week, life as my family and I have experienced it for the past 25 years in Japan has become almost unrecognizable. We've always joked about not being "real missionaries" because of all the conveniences, electronic gadgets, and luxuries that are available to us. One of our favorite pastimes as students in language school was to try to come up with things to complain about -- it was hard!

With a suddenness that leaves us dazed, we have (like the Velveteen Rabbit) finally become real! Blackouts, aftershocks, alarms and sirens. Grocery stores with no food, gas stations with no gas, trains parked at the station. School closed until further notice because of power shortages and unreliable train service.

Our family of 4 decided to treat it like one big adventure. We got out our bicycles, candles, flashlights, and emergency backs. We cuddled around our pre-charged laptop and watched episodes of "Castle" during our scheduled blackout time. We made stupid and probably inappropriate jokes whenever possible. "All over baby, whole lot of shakin' goin' on"... "Ewww Dad!! I thought you said you didn't have any gas!"

The truth is we were trying to keep things as chill as possible for the sake of our girls. The images coming to us on the news were too horrific to comprehend. At some point we realized that watching the coverage continually couldn't be a positive thing for a 10-year-old. Unfortunately, that point was after she had seen a video clip of the entire town of Minami Sanriku being wiped out and fleeing people being swept out to sea while their neighbors watched, screaming "Run faster! Hurry! Just a little further!"

We learned that our favorite vacation spot near Sendai was destroyed by the tsunami. Our hearts bled for the people of that quaint little seaside town and the loss of the most perfect place we've ever found on earth. "That was my happy place," said one of our daughters. "That was the only thing in my life that I thought would never change!"

Did you know that after experiencing earthquakes and aftershocks every few minutes for several days, you start to imagine things? Every truck that goes by and rattles the windows, every gust of wind, every time a family member walks around upstairs, you become convinced it's another quake. As a matter of fact, when you get really still (and scared), even your own heartbeat can make you think you're having a quake!

We took time throughout the day the gather together and pray for God to pour His mercy and compassion on the thousands who were suffering and grieving. And each night, we calmed ourselves and prepared for bed by praying as a family. For two nights in a row, just as we were ready to go to sleep, strong aftershocks sent us scrambling for winter coats and emergency backpacks. So much for a calm and restful night's sleep.

The first two nights after the big quake, we all slept in the living room. It just felt better to be together. Amy, our high schooler, went to her own bed on the third night. Caroline hasn't been willing to sleep in her own room yet. Each time the ground shakes, she needs Mom or Dad to tell her "It's okay... go back to sleep."

Our neighborhood has an "early warning system" which is designed to sound an alarm to give a few critical seconds' notice of a major earthquake. Day before yesterday, we were unnerved 3 times by the alarm and an announcement on the loud speaker saying "Take cover! A big quake is imminent!" The quakes that followed almost immediately weren't really as scary as the alarm itself.

We've been learning and reading that sustained stress affects people in different ways. At times, some of us have been a little snappy. (That might be a bit of an understatement!) Not only have we all been out of our regular routines and kinda on top of each other, but we're all feeling the tension and uncertainty of our situation. One by one, we've done some really weird things to cope. Caroline didn't cry over the graphic images on TV, the scenes of utter destruction, or the deaths of thousands of people. But to hear that her Saturday outing to the amusement park was cancelled caused an emotional meltdown. (A friend shared that her 11-year-old son hadn't cried either until his Lego project fell apart.) With a hundred things needing to be done, I stopped to pick some flowers from the yard and make an arrangement for our supper table. Why? I have no idea. I just needed to make something pretty.

Meanwhile, we were receiving steady updates on the possibility of a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant.

Actually, we all handled that fairly well for the first few days. Our home in Western Tokyo is more than 150 miles away from Fukushima so we felt we had nothing to worry about. Surely they would get the situation under control soon. We prayed many times for the brave workers that remained at the plant despite great personal risk. We prayed, too, for the people who were evacuating and those sheltering in place in a 30 km. radius of the plant.

I said we were handling that fairly well, and that's true. At least until yesterday when we received this emergency alert: "Remaining workers at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant have been evacuated. All efforts to cool the reactors have been abandoned." What?!!! We could all be in serious trouble here! (They've since sent those brave workers back to their posts.)

Then came the Exodus -- no, not THAT one. I'm talking about reports we started getting of foreigners who had decided to "get out of Dodge!" Caroline cried when, one by one, her fifth grade friends emailed her that they were leaving Japan to go home. I couldn't blame them. Most of her friends are from South Korea, a short flight from Tokyo to safety. The French and German embassies moved from Tokyo to Osaka. Then came word from missionaries with other agencies that they were either leaving or had a contingency plan to leave. Around mid-day today, we were informed that the U.S. State Department was evacuating dependents and some personnel. At 4 p.m. President Obama ordered charter planes sent in to aid in the evacuation of private citizens who wanted to leave.

So... the meltdown in Fukushima caused a meltdown in me. I kinda lost it for awhile there. It was my amusement park/Lego moment. I was ready to hit the "eject" button. "Scotty, beam me up!" It wasn't pretty.

But we spent today volunteering at the command center for C.R.A.S.H. (Christian Relief, Assistance, Support, and Hope) My husband Donnie manned the phone lines, inputing data from those calling to volunteer in various parts of Japan. I was drafted for the Media and Press committee. Amy was asked to serve in the area of Emotional Support & Training. She will be able to lend a listening ear to other children and teens who are trying to cope with this crisis.

We learned that supplies are to start arriving by the container-full tomorrow. Base camps are being set up in Sendai and other places near the devastation to distribute supplies as they come in. A million dollars is needed in the next week to get these life-sustaining items to those in desperation. All of the workers are volunteers, most of them missionaries who never expected to be doing this kind of humanitarian work in Japan.

We ended our day at CRASH with a time of worship. "You're the God of this city... You're the King of these people... You're the Lord of creation, you are! Greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city." There were many tears by many frazzled yet faith-filled people.

One of my missionary friends said, "I'm not going anywhere... I gave my life to Japan a long time ago." And I heard myself say to another friend, "We've spent 25 years trying to find the felt needs of the Japanese in order to minister to them. I would hate to have to leave now, when the need is so great."

I don't know what will happen tomorrow or how the drama at the nuclear plant will play out. I may be on a plane out of here at any time. We are very much in prayer that we will have discernment and clear guidance from the Lord. We take very seriously our responsibility to protect and care for our girls. We also take very seriously our calling to the nation of Japan. It's a complex situation we find ourselves in, fraught with layers and layers of things to consider. We will do whatever God tells us to, whether that means staying or leaving. But I don't feel like "melting down" anymore.

It was great to be reminded tonight: "No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me. From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny."


Jeff said...

I'm amazed at the courage and perseverance of our missionaries. Praise God for this kind of selfless dedication!