In Wake of Earthquakes, Tsunami, 'Celebration of Our Faith Continues'

March 16, 2011

By the Rev. Motoe Yamada
Japanese UMC, Sacramento

"Did you hear about the earthquake?" My sister's shaking voice over the phone was when I learned about the largest earthquake in Japanese history and the fourth largest in the world. I called her to brainstorm ideas for my mother's birthday gift, and my heart sank hearing she could not get hold of our family. Phone lines were intermittent throughout Tokyo, and it took some time to reach both of my parents. My father answered the phone and said, "It's still shaking!" Although I was relieved to find out that my family was safe, the phone lines suddenly went down and remained down for the next 14 hours.
Sacramento's Japanese United Methodist Church has more than 540 members and many of them are of Japanese descent, although born in the United States. Some of the members have family in Japan and so our office called Japanese-speaking people to assist in finding out if their families were safe. On Friday, March 11, the day after the earthquake, the church held a special prayer service for people who were affected by the earthquakes and tsunamis. Rev. Aart Van Beek from Parkview Presbyterian Church (a historically Japanese American church) joined us. The service included members who have not been able to find their family in Sendai, the area most affected from the quake.
Rev. Atsuko Fujinami, the Japanese-speaking former pastor of Pine UMC, sent an email to the Japanese American Clergy to report her earthquake experience in Tokyo, and gave a link to the Kyodan (United Church of Christ Japan) church list. There are churches completely flooded by tsunami, where dirt and oil cover the floors. A pile of five cars was left in front of the sanctuary door of one, stacked on top of each other. At that church, 30 of its members were missing, and the church's kindergarten playground was destroyed. The structural walls of the sanctuary were cracked. With all of the destruction and chaos, some churches were still able to have Sunday worship services. Worshipping in their gardens with a damaged sanctuary, losing altars ripped away by the tsunami, and having sanctuaries without roofs or ceilings – worship services were still held and the celebration of our faith continues. 
We are hearing that the people in earthquake/tsunami-affected areas are facing shortages of food and clean water. Many areas are experiencing rolling blackouts, and thousands are living in fear in shelters. Many are still trying to find their loved ones. 
Rev. Isamu Koshiishi, Moderator of National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ), wrote in his email, "We are still in the early stages of assessing the damages, but have been encouraged and strengthened by the many messages of support from Christian brothers and sisters all over the world." 
Please continue to support the Japan Relief Effort through UMCOR.
[Conference Treasurer's Note: Please make checks payable to California-Nevada Annual Conference and note Advance # 3021317 on the memo line, and mail to: CA-NV Annual Conference, P.O. Box 980250, West Sacramento, CA 95798 or donate on line at]
If you are interested in joining a mission team to Japan, send an email with your name, phone number, and email address to Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church is working on sending team(s) to Japan through Volunteers in Mission. We are also planning fundraising events for Japan Relief. The church is very thankful for prayers, phone calls, emails, and personal visits from people from the community.
We continue to pray for victims and survivors of this terrible disaster. Situations are changing even as I write this article, due to the uncertainty at the nuclear power plants. Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) Let us reach out to people in need. 
Rev. Yamada is Senior Pastor of Japanese UMC in Sacramento, California, a World Council of Churches Central Committee member, and Chair of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Clergywomen Association (AAPIC).