Staff working with Christian Reformed World Missions and Back to God Ministries International in Japan are safe in the wake of a major earthquake and tsunami that hit the country today, Christian Reformed Church officials say.
Bob Heerspink, director of BTGMI, and Gary Bekker, director of CRWM, reported that all ministry personnel and their families have been accounted for and are safe.
The Reformed Church in America reported that its missionaries in Japan also are safe following the most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in more than 100 years.
The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee is launching a response to aid earthquake and tsunami survivors, working in concert with Back to God Ministries International, Christian Reformed World Missions, the ACT Alliance and other partners.
CRWRC has started a fund for earthquake and tsunami relief. To make a donation, please visit www.crcna.org/Japan
Bill Adams, CRWRC’s director of Disaster Relief Services in the United States, will be talking to U.S. relief officials to make plans to respond should a tsunami spawned by the earthquake cause damage in Hawaii, other U.S. islands, or along the West Coast of the U.S.
The earthquake brought the bustling city of Tokyo to a standstill as buildings swayed and thousands of people filled the streets.
BTGMI staff was staying in the ministry office, near Tokyo, since no buses or trains were running. Staff there reported that the office shook and papers and pictures and other items flew through the office.
"When the earthquake occurred, Ms. Shimada and I were in the office,” said Masao Yamashita, BTGMI’s ministry leader in Japan. “It was the biggest earthquake I ever experienced in my life.
“We are all right, but we can't go home because all the trains are stopped now,” Yamashita said. He said that while the Tokyo area is not so badly damaged, in the northern part of Japan, where the BTGMI radio program ‘Morning Word in NE’ is broadcast, damage is great.
Larry Spalink, CRWM’s field leader in Japan, said this was the strongest earthquake that he and his wife, Ruth, have ever experienced in their many years in the country. “And we are hundreds of miles from the epicenter.”
Spalink said that huge waves have been hitting coastal areas, “and I expect the damage will be beyond imagination. File cabinets in my office have fallen over and are damaged, but that is nothing compared to the loss that is going to be reported.
“Aftershocks are happening almost constantly as I write. Please pray for Japan.”
Brian Vander Haak at the Christian Academy in Japan said, “We are OK …. Now to get all our students home with the trains not running. School has been spared major damage.”
In a report to World Missions staff and board members, Bekker wrote: “At 12:46 a.m. Eastern Standard Time this morning – 2:46 p.m. Japan time – a massive earthquake … struck about 80 miles off the eastern coast of Japan, 240 miles northeast of Tokyo.”
Although the area affected is not as densely populated as Tokyo, there are still many communities and many people who live in the area where the quake hit hardest.
“As you can imagine, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the destruction caused by the quakes, tsunami, and resulting fires. You can get far more extensive and current information from news sources,” says Bekker.
“For almost 60 years the Christian Reformed Church has served in Japan at the invitation of the Reformed Church in Japan. The needs for prayer in this situation are obviously enormous,” says Bekker.
CRWM has five career missionary households and three partner missionaries in Japan. BTGMI has a ministry leader and a handful of staff that work out of the Tokyo-area office.
News reports said the earthquake, measured at a magnitude of 8.9 on the Richter scale, slammed Japan's northeastern coast, unleashing a 13-foot tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland and prompting the government to declare a nuclear emergency because of possible damage to nuclear power plants.
Preliminary reports say that at least 300 people were killed and hundreds more are missing. In Tokyo, more than 200 miles away, buildings shook violently through the main quake and the series of aftershocks.
CRC officials are continuing to assess the health and safety of personnel in Japan as well as linking with partners who can help in responding to the earthquake and tsunami.
For updates, visit: www.crcna.org/Japan