Cal-Nevada Churches Respond to Japan Disaster With 'Love and Generosity'

March 17, 2011

By Cate Monaghan
Director of Communications

Many United Methodist churches in the California-Nevada Annual Conference have taken a special offering or plan to take a special offering to benefit the victims of the natural disasters in Japan.
In response to a survey emailed to churches and clergy this week, 32 of those responding to date – 82% of the total – said they will take a special offering or already have done so.
"Our congregation's love and generosity are quite apparent!" said the respondent from First UMC, Napa.
The Rev. Mark Wharff reported that at Farmington and Riverbank churches, "We did take a special offering on Sunday, March 13. We will continue to keep the opportunity to support UMCOR's [United Committee on Relief] relief efforts in front of our people, with updates over the next few weeks."
Orland Federated Church, FUMC Richmond, and Elk Grove UMC, among others, provided information about special giving to their congregants and encouraged people to give to UMCOR for earthquake relief.
FUMC Reno and Hollister UMC will continue to take a special offering for at least the next two weeks, as will Wesley UMC in Fresno, where a March 13 special offering generated $1,224 for UMCOR.
The situation in Japan was front and center in churches last Sunday.
"I included the disaster in part of my sermon, and we lifted it up during our time of prayer and concerns," reported the Rev. Robin Mathews-Johnson, pastor of FUMC Watsonville, where the Cabinet's letter and a page from the UMCOR website, noting the Advance number for Japan relief (3021317), were added to the bulletin.
The Rev. Theresa Mason, a Cal-Nev Conference member serving two Nebraska churches, said, "We changed the order of worship from the planned service around the lectionary passages, with prayers, call to worship, and Lament Psalms 42 and 43, and I preached a sermon that addressed this disaster."
At St. Paul UMC in San Jose, "We will lift up the ongoing story in worship and opportunities to pray and share through UMCOR on a regular basis," according to the Rev. Jerry Fox.
And at Etna UMC, the Rev. Marylee Sheffer said, "Our youth are interested in doing a fundraiser for UMCOR/Japan."
Churches have responded in other ways, as well.
"More health kits, layettes and birthing kits are on their way to UMCOR West," reported the Rev. Tina Ballagh of St. Paul's UMC in Point Arena.
The Rev. Gabriela Perla of Trinity UMC in Bakersfield said she will coordinate donations of emergency items from other churches in her area. The Rev. Tina Haynes at Federated Church in Orland reported, "We have offered daily prayers, and our Outreach/Missions Commission will be addressing other things we can do." She said there are several individuals from her church who are interested in serving on a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team, "in Asia or on the north coast."*
St. Paul UMC in San Jose has invited its members and students to attend a candlelight vigil today (Thursday, March 17) at 6 p.m. at the Buddhist Church in Japantown, 640 N. 5th Street in San Jose, sponsored by the Japantown Community Congress of San Jose.
A very personal story
For many churches, the Japan story is a highly personal one. Twenty-two of the 39 churches which have responded to the survey thus far have congregation members with family and/or friends in Japan.
"My father's relatives all live in Sendai," reported the Rev. Barbara Horikoshi-Firebaugh, pastor of Faith UMC in Sacramento. "My brother said that all our relatives are all accounted for. He didn't say if their homes were damaged or not."
A former Nichigo pastor at Pine UMC in San Francisco, the Rev. Atsuko Fujinami, was in Tokyo when the earthquake occurred and since has shared on Facebook that she and members of her family are well and that she has safely reached Kyoto, according to the Rev. Brenda Vaca at La Trinidad UMC in San Jose. She adds that Rev. Fujinami "continues to be concerned for so many people who are suffering."
"Most family and friends in Japan have been heard from. All of these are reporting they are OK. No one has reported loss of life or injury. Some are even from the Sendai area," said the Rev. Roger Morimoto of Aldersgate UMC in Palo Alto. However, he added, "Property [losses] are not known."
And at FUMC Napa, "We have three families in our congregation with most of their families living in Japan, in the Tokyo area, with one exception; one is teaching school 300 miles from Tokyo. All of them are safe, on higher ground – however, they are experiencing the lack of services but all are happy to be alive!"
Not all the news was good, however.
"One of our members lived with a family in Japan for a school year – one of the towns most badly hit. As of March 13 she didn't know whether they are safe or not," said Barbara Haley at FUMC Richmond.
"I have been concerned about a colleague: Rev. Izuru Aratani, under appointment as a chaplain at the Student Christian Fellowship, Kyoai Gakuen Girls High School (San Jose, Wesley UMC CC)," wrote the Rev. Brandon Austin of St. Paul UMC in Manteca.
Tina Ballagh said members of her church and Evergreen UMC have personal friends in – and have visited – the Japanese town of Otsuchi, the sister city of Fort Bragg, where thousands were reported killed or missing. "We are grieving for Japanese and American friends of Otsuchi today and for the community/culture itself," Ballagh wrote.
The Rev. Judith Stone of Sebastopol UMC reported that Sebastopol's sister city is Yamauchi, Japan, and that a planned early April visit by a delegation from Japan is now on hold, "and we do not know if they will be able to make the visit."
Prayers and reflections
What follows is a sampling of the reflections and prayers offered by those who have responded to the survey. We invite you to add your own reflections and prayers by commenting below.
"The danger is not over. Pray for them." – Pastor John Kimbell (Tuolumne and Soulsbyville UMCs).
"What happened is really, really sad. It is in this kind of situation that we need to show God's love. Let us work together with passion, love, and compassion." – the Rev. Gabriela Perla.
"Thanks for the [Cabinet's] well written, prayerful letter." – the Rev. Ardyss A. Golden (Hollister UMC). 
How would you like us to pray?
"For people to find their loved ones who are missing, and the strength and resources (food, water, shelter) to survive the weeks and months to come." – the Rev. Barbara Horikoshi-Firebaugh.
"Pray for the Church in Japan, which is eager to be in ministry with fellow brothers and sisters in Japan who are suffering." – the Rev. Brenda Vaca.
"Our first prayer is that the nuclear reactors will get under control before any more devastation occurs. The next is that the world will help Japan through their very difficult times and that the love and friendship we all feel toward them will strengthen their hope, and that their strong human spirit will shine." – respondent, FUMC Napa.
"For strength for the survivors, resolution of the nuclear crises, and continued compassion for all the people of Japan." – the Rev. Roger Morimoto.
"Please continue fervent prayers for the situation with the three nuclear power plants on the northeastern Japanese coast and the lives at risk, for those offering aid and tangible human compassion." – the Rev. Tina Ballagh.
"For safety, comfort, healing, and for the world not to grow weary of helping those in need." – respondent, Elk Grove UMC.
"For the wellbeing of the people of Japan, that our resources and prayers may be a source of strength and healing, and a visible extension of God's love." – the Rev. Judith Stone.
"For peace of mind in troubling times; that many will come to Christ as a result of this disaster; that the Church will be God's hands and feet in response to the need." – Pastor John Kimbell.

*Two California coastal communities suffered disastrous effects from the Japanese tsunami reaching U.S. shores – and Cal-Nev churches have not forgotten them. Read related story here.