Australian Baptists are focusing their response to the unfolding crisis in Japan on the Baptist community.
An evacuation center at the Katahira Primary School in Sendai, Japan. (Photo: Baptist World Aid Rescue 24)
"Japan is one of the world's largest and most advanced economies. It does have significant capacity, supported by many other governments and major international aid agencies with strong disaster response expertise," wrote Brian Winslade, national director of Australian Baptist Ministers (ABM).
"So, we are concerned to find the right niche to participate in a way we believe will be meaningful in a practical sense."
Winslade shared in his March 16 letter to Australian Baptist pastors and churches that ABM had been in consultation with Baptist World Aid Australia and Asia Pacific Baptist Aid (APBAid).
From that consultation, ABM decided "to gather funds to support Baptist churches and communities in the affected areas," wrote Winslade.
Japanese Baptists number some 42,000 and have more than 450 churches. Japanese Baptists have four different bodies – Japan Baptist Union, Japan Baptist Conference, Japan Baptist Convention and Okinawa Baptist Convention. All bodies are members of the Baptist World Alliance.
"We understand that some of these churches have been destroyed, along with significant displacement and casualties among church members, and their local communities. There will be an extensive process of rebuilding these church communities, both physically in terms of facilities, but also in terms of other personal physical and trauma/counselling support," he said. "The opportunity may also exist for churches to provide assistance to the general communities in which they are based."
The letter said the APBAid would send an assessment team to determine the appropriate actions.
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Bela Szilagyi, CEO of Baptist World Aid Rescue 24, wrote in a March 14 email that his organization "was the first international team to arrive at Tokyo Narita airport on Saturday morning, just one day after the earthquake and the tsunamis. The team consisted of rescue, medical and humanitarian relief specialists."
The Rescue 24 team left on Sunday for the northern Japanese city of Sendai, said Szilagyi.
"The city was calm and the spirit of the people was shaken but firm," he wrote.
One member of the team, Laszlo Pavelcze, said the devastation looked like a "picture from the Moon."
Noting that stores were closed in a city with a population of 1 million, Szilagyi wrote: "After talking with several store managers, one of them opened their back door and served us so we can cater for the 400 displaced children and adults [at the Katahira Primary School]. We provided instant noodles and bread to them."
UN Dispatch reported on March 16 that 3,100 people died and 3,118 were missing from the earthquake and tsunami. More than 843,000 people were experiencing a disruption of electrical service, while 1.4 million were without water. More than 55,000 buildings were damaged and more than 3,000 were destroyed.
A day earlier, the U.N. reported that nearly 416,000 people had been evacuated.
The 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that struck on March 11.