Editor’s Note: I have been trying to write a post about Japan for the past week. But what can I say about a land and people who are enduring the impacts of a massive earthquake, tsunami, and developing nuclear crisis? In the face of such loss, suffering, and devastation, what right do I have to offer any thoughts or wisdom from the outside?
Each time I sit down to write I end up praying instead. “LORD have mercy, Christ have mercy, LORD have mercy.” Because sometimes the words just don’t come.
And yet, in this small way, I have the mysterious privilege of standing with my brothers and sisters in Japan, believing and declaring that the God of the Resurrection is the God of my life, is the God of every life, and is the God of Japan.
Then, later this week, I received the following update from a friend here in America who grew up in the earthquake zone and whose family was on the ground when it started shaking. Her name is Alanna Foxwell-Barajas, and she gave me permission to share her reflections here:
There’s a very different sort of dial tone that a phone gets when the lines on the other end are just gone. The news reports didn’t make me lose my calm, but that suspended note did.
I don’t quite remember what I said to my husband, only that it was more panicked than coherant: “Gerson, it isn’t—I can’t—what is happening? Where are they? They…they…” I started to lose control and my chest began heaving.
My family was in my beloved Tokyo, where I was born, raised, and schooled. When the earthquake and tsunami hit my country I was sound asleep here in America and only heard about what happened five hours later.
By some miracle — and shortly after my initial panicked phone call — I was able to get through to my dad. He was on a train when the earthquake hit and said it had felt like the train hit a house. Since then, he had also been able to reunite with my mom. Mom works as a school principal and had shepherded her 500 children out of the 50-year-old school buildings and out into the soccer field where they huddled together for hours as the aftershocks rolled on.
The rest of our family? Auntie Martha is OK. Uncle Gaius is stranded downtown, but he’s OK. Nelle and Ryan are OK and so is Baby Ezra.
OK. OK. We’re all OK. Now is when the tears start.
But what of our home and community outside of Sendai? I grew up there. My father grew up there. Fishermen who can tell the weather with their noses. Islands. Quiet harbors. Boats whose ridges and paint chips tell a story of generations who know the ripples, currents, and tides.
No word. Nothing. No word from the Cummings family in Nattori. No word from the Bromans who started the elementary school in Sendai. No word from the missionaries in the 100-year-old cabins on cliffs by the sea. And nothing from the fishermen, my neighbors, my other family.
Little miracles, everywhere, but all undergirded with such great sadness. Slowly, my father was able to reach Sendai; to find our beloved community; to see our village transformed into a never ending expanse of debris.
This is the worst in life and the best in life. An indescribable triumph of human life and spirit and optamism; and the tragic loss of a way of life for eternity. Relief comes agonizingly slowly to the shoreline in northeastern Japan. But I was raised in this culture: when you have enough, you share.
Snow flurries, fuel shortages and widespread damage to the airports, roads and rails have hampered delivery of badly needed assistance to nearly half a million refugees trying to stay fed and warm. Without electricity and running water, our community is cobbled together in schools and other public buildings, or simply under tarps on high ground, as my dad found our neighbors from Shichigahama.
In Tokyo, my friends and family are standing in line for hours to get fuel, food, and water, only to turn around and load it onto trucks to head north. Christians from our Tokyo churches are driving for hours through back roads to get supplies to the north—one drove a truck of water to the city of Fukushima two days ago since, because of its proximity to the nuclear reactors, relief teams generally bypass the city at all costs. My former school has become the operational headquarters of CRASH Japan a network of evangelical churches and missions responding locally to the needs around them. “For such a time as this,” we say.
Meanwhile, some people are simply fleeing to save themselves. It makes me sigh: “What were you doing here in the first place?”
But there is no time for sighs or my usual cynicism (or “cynfulness” as my dad calls it). And those who remain have become my heroes forever. You are saving my country. And, I? Stuck here in America, all I can only talk about it. But I will do that, I promise. From my safe circle here, I promise to tell our story.
For updates and ways to contribute to the relief efforts visit www.crashjapan.com
Alanna Foxwell-Barajas contributed to this report.