Fukushima GLD Team Report, March, 2015
“Bringing Hope and Clarity to Fukushima”
The world now recognizes ‘311’ as the day a triple disaster hit the northeastern coastal region of Japan known as Tohoku: a 9.0-magnitutde earthquake, triggering 133-ft tsunami waves, forcing an emergency shutdown of nearby nuclear power plants. Fukushima Daiichi (Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant) suffered the greatest nuclear meltdown, leaking radiation that caused deaths and the largest area evacuation. Operators at nearby Fukushima Daini (Fukushima II Nuclear Power Plant) were able to achieve cold shutdown of the four operating reactors. A third station, Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant, closest to the epicenter of the quake in Onagawa, was very shaken but remained intact. The combined tolls left 18,500 dead or missing, as well as nearly 500,000 temporarily or permanently relocated due to radiation risks. (Source: The Japan Times, March 11, 2013)
For those in Japan, an enormous disaster-relief and recovery process began that continues today. Rev. Jonathan Wilson (a long-time pastor and missionary in Ome, Japan), with a background and an organization ready for disaster-relief, quickly gathered other missionaries and Japanese Christians in the Tokyo area through CRASH Japan. In the subsequent three years, CRASH Japan fielded thousands of volunteer workers from many countries, as well as millions of dollars, to the disaster areas. (Jonathan recently published How Christian Volunteers Can Respond to Disasters: Lessons from the 2011 Japan Tsunami, available on Amazon. CRASH Japan also posts updates on their website.
Four years later, while infrastructure and geographical recovery is visibly improved, psychological and emotional traumas remain. Many evacuees continue to live in temporary housing, resulting and contributing to a complex understanding of radiation risks. The aftermath of the nuclear incident can be summarized as the Japanese concept of fuan – anxiety and insecurity – fed by media rumors (when there is information) and lack of information from the Japanese government and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company). Some of this fuan has evidently reached the US, though most concerns can be categorized as unsubstantiated.
Many non-Christians refuse to believe in God because they cannot accept the idea that a loving God would allow disasters to occur. Christians try to understand natural disasters from the perspective of God’s sovereignty, though for the most part in varying degrees and with finite minds. The process is difficult and painful – to the say the least – and can be misused by careless people to either blame God for a disaster or declare that God is punishing a certain group of people. In the Reformed tradition, there is the belief that God in His sovereignty actually ordains and brings to pass everything that happens on the earth (“Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:9-10). Yet, this belief is balanced by the understanding that Creation, along with humanity, is under the effects of the Fall – and God is working through all events for the redemption of His people and the creation (“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Romans 8:22).
Background: How the Door Opened to Minister in Fukushima
It is in this understanding of God’s sovereignty that we humbly offer this report of our February 2015 trip to minister in Fukushima. Our journey began in Summer 2014 when Bill Server mentioned his impending Tokyo trip (November 2014) for an international meeting on radiation damage mechanisms. He also had a meeting in Tokyo scheduled with CRIEPI, the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry, a non-profit research organization established in 1951. Bill is a metallurgical engineer and has worked in the nuclear power industry most of his career. Bill also happens to be the chairman of the board for Global Leadership Dynamics (GLD).
GLD was formed in July 2011 in partnership with Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International (PRMI). The vision came to Christian while he was attending the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, during his time as National Coordinator for Alpha USA. GLD has three ministry points: 1.) Leader to Leader ministry, 2.) Strategic prayer/training events 3.) Collaboration and partnership development for evangelism worldwide. In short, GLD builds collaborative partnerships between well-established ministries.
In August 2014, the GLD board began to pray about Bill’s meetings in Japan and potentially speaking to people in Fukushima about nuclear radiation and safety. At that point, there was not yet an invitation to the Fukushima area. Christian was a bit nervous about the whole thing because he was already living in Tokyo and observing firsthand the overall sensitivity and political fallout from the nuclear disaster. However, when the board prayed together via SKYPE, Brad Long reminded that Christians were indeed called to participate in these kinds of projects as a sign of God’s sovereignty over all of creation. (Dr. Long’s leadership in prayer and guidance was a mainstay since GLD’s early formative years.) Christian’s fuan was replaced by the sense that pursuing opportunities – no matter how unlikely – would indeed bring hope to many affected by the nuclear incident.
Between August and November, Christian made inquiries into visiting leaders in the Fukushima area. No opportunities opened, so the final event became a meeting to discuss nuclear safety in Tokyo. After much prayer, the decision was made to keep the meeting small and private: some missionaries and businessmen in the international Christian community were invited to attend.
In November 2014, Bill Server and Glen Martin (Baptist pastor in Asheville and GLD board member) were among those in the meeting. Others included Jonathan Wilson (leader of CRASH Japan) and a top Japanese leader at CRIEPI whom Bill had invited to participate. As a result, something very strategic took place to connect relief workers with leaders in the nuclear power industry in Japan. Jonathan later posted an article on LinkedIn (“Rethinking Fukushima from the Outside In”), suggesting that while safety precautions laudably prevented many deaths in the Fukushima incident, research must now be conducted to understand the effect of nuclear disasters on local communities. Jonathan’s insights were offered at a time when the Japan public is still vigorously debating whether nuclear energy is a safe and viable form of energy production following Fukushima. All plants were shut down on a specific schedule following the 311 disaster and none are currently operating. However, the Japanese government has recently approved the reactivation of two nuclear plants by 2016.
Another major portion of the November 2014 GLD Team was a visit to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA) Asia office in downtown Tokyo. We met with Chad Hammond (director) and Niimi-san (Chad’s assistant) to pray for the Franklin Graham Celebration of Hope to be held the following November. When they learned of Bill’s professional background, Chad and Niimi-san immediately alerted us of various Fukushima pastors’ inquiries to the BGEA office for a Christian with a background in nuclear engineering to give talks on radiation safety. The BGEA staff had called universities all over Tokyo but could find no one willing to tackle this sensitive topic. We suggested God had sent Bill for the task! Another strategic partnership.
Fukushima Meetings, 24-26 February 2015 (Koriyama – Ishinomaki – Iwaki)
Koriyama Leaders’ Meeting
Bill and Glen returned to Tokyo in February 2015 for two pastor/leader meetings in the Fukushima area. Christian had been working with Niimi-san in the BGEA office for three months to set up those meetings. Although they were the ones who requested someone specifically like Bill, there was resistance among the pastors because they wanted to know if Bill was “pro-nuclear” or “anti-nuclear.” This simply encapsulates the political discourse in the national life of Japan. The agreed-upon outcome was for Bill to give a message in a neutral capacity, offering a balanced and scientific presentation in the context of Christian faith. Our team also suggested holding smaller ‘leaders only’ meetings rather than a larger public gathering.
This turned out to be the right move, confirmed by events in the following weeks: 1) We received word from the BGEA office of an invitations to a meeting in Koriyama and also to Iwaki, both nearby cities to the power plants. 2) Bill attended a meeting at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and made contact with a colleague who provided a just-issued technical report that had extensive information about radiation levels in the Fukushima area.
All the way from Tokyo and even while Bill was giving his presentation, we did not know what to expect – a cold reception, a hostile environment, or simply apathy. Although one man’s response during Bill’s Q&A seemed to indicate disbelief in safety from radiation poisoning, other participants suggested a new hope for continuing to minister in Fukushima. One pastor (Mine-sensei) shared miracle stories of his community being spared during the tsunami. Our host pastor (Sanga-sensei) told Christian that the meeting had relieved the fuan that had primarily come from lack of information. Given all the anxiety that the GLD team had in preparation for these meetings, Pastor’s Sanga’s comment reflected more than just those living in Fukushima!
Visit to Ishinomaki
In a coastal town near the epicenter of the 311 earthquake is the Ishinomaki Christian Center, led by a team of young missionaries. This center is a joint effort between Mission to the World of the Presbyterian Church in America and the Evangelical Free Church, working as a resource for churches in the area and hoping to construct a new building in downtown Ishinomaki. (Although Samaritan’s Purse and CRASH Japan were involved in relief efforts in this same area,they now have less presence because their focus is on immediate emergency disaster response.) With input from ICC, the number for local churches and house churches had grown from around seven (before the disaster) to nearly nineteen, four years later.
After our visit to the center, Jordan Foxwell (who grew up in Japan as a missionary kid and later attended Calvin College) took us on a tour of the nearby coastal town of Onagawa. He showed us several reconstruction projects and explained the devastation wreaked by unbelievable tsunami waves. By the time we visited, few signs remained of that wreckage – mostly, it looked like a town under construction. Jordan is now waiting for the next steps in his calling as a Christian leader. In the meantime, he is serving in Ishinomaki as a missionary through the Japanese Evangelical Mission Society (JEMS), based on Los Angeles, CA.
Meeting in Iwaki
We arrived at the Global Mission Center and met with Pastor Mori, a leader in the 311 disaster relief. His church has hosted many international teams, including several YWAM teams. Christian had met Pastor Mori during a trip to Tohoku with CRASH Japan for the first 311 anniversary 2012.
Bill had a repeat performance of his excellent presentation in Koriyama to the leaders in Iwaki – this time with a little twist. Shohei Yamamoto, who translated both times, was not only back in his native Iwaki – he also had a special connection to the Global Mission Center. The center’s church building is a former pachinko gambling house (similar to slot machines in the US), which Shohei’s family used to own. We did not hear the full story, but somehow Shohei came to Christ years ago, and the pachinko parlor is now a church (from which he is based as an evangelist)!
Following Bill’s presentation, several participants asked detailed questioned about radiation exposure levels. Pastor Mori later told Christian that the presentation confirmed what he sensed – that outside the plant itself the radiation effects were minimal. Or rather, that they should be taken in context with lifestyle and other sources of radiation (see Bill’s slide comparing exposure levels). Pastor Mori was very pleased with the presentation and suggested that Bill could return to speak to a larger gathering in the future. With his status as a well-respected leader in local communities and in the Church Planting Institute in Japan (where he and Christian can connect), his endorsement of Bill’s work would go a long way to future ministry in Tohoku.
The nuclear radiation exposure issue has been an oppressive weight on the Japanese people, especially those living in the Fukushima area. Many permanently fled Fukushima out of fear, and many expats (and Japanese) living in Tokyo left Japan altogether. Some people as far away as southern California frantically took precautions for possible radiation exposure. The lack of trustworthy information, overblown media reports and general fear and hysteria created an environment where many have since suffered with fuan about radiation exposure. Bill’s presentation was based on historical and scientific analysis of Fukushima in comparison to Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, bringing clarity and relief to the situation. He emphasized that fear and stress contributed more to adverse health effects than actual radiation levels. He showed that other than the initial exposure to the workers in the plant, and a limited area following the accident, the exposure has been minimal, especially in comparison to Chernobyl. Further, there is now no significant exposure to people in Fukushima Prefecture and especially in Tokyo. He will now be putting his presentation into a pamphlet that will be translated into Japanese for easy distribution.
Our preparation for this trip involved nearly six months of prayer, inquiry and waiting for the door to open through the Holy Spirit. PRMI leadership, the BGEA Asia office, brothers and sisters at Christ Community Church-Montreat, Christians here in Japan and others have prayed for and given us needed guidance along the way. When it was time to actually go to Fukushima, our team along with other intercessors engaged in constant prayer throughout the trip. The end result is that Bill’s message brought hope and relief to leaders suffering from anxiety – mostly from a lack of trustworthy information. The matchmaking that took place (from the initial request to all the details being worked out) were often fraught with its own fuan, but the Body of Christ went to work and eventually the hope became a reality. This was an example of God “putting all things under his feet” and demonstrating Christ “as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
This entire process came together as believers in different parts of the world prayed, networked, and ultimately met face-to-face to present factual material and discuss a significant issue oppressing a large group of people. Imagine what could happen if believers took seriously the same approach to issues of terrorism, violence, and poverty affecting large populations of the world? Imagine if it started happening even more intentionally on a global level? Lausanne and other networks are examples of this. Our ministry in Fukushima allowed us to see the process up close. Let us pray that more will be called into the process of participating in God’s sovereign work over all creation and humanity, bringing reconciliation to complex issues in the world today. We are blessed by God to be a blessing to the nations – this time in Japan!
Pastors Christian Zebley and Glen Martin, and Bill Server