Voices from FUKUSHIMA Vol.10 Rev. Akira SATO

The Message that the Earthquake Left Us


The Earthquake sent us many different messages. There were many sufferings and pains, but also there were beautiful and heartwarming sights. I saw many walls collapsed even though it was for a brief moment. Many of the churches in the Hamadori on the Pacific coast are small, and they have only a small membership. The tsunami hit these churches. However, they received plentiful emergency support both from domestic and overseas Christian churches. I heard that the average membership was 15, so I could easily imagine how tough it was for them to carry all those supplies by themselves. But, the disaster brought them into contact with their neighboring communities. Neighbors who had never stepped their foot in the church came by and helped them carry these goods. It must have been an unprecedented sight in that area. What’s more, they helped each other hand in hand regardless of Christian denominations, say, Baptists or Lutherans.

The difference between the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake is that we could utilize the internet. As soon as I typed in how much I was suffering, there came an immediate response: “I translated your experiences into English. Do you want to use it? Or about in German or in Korean?” I didn’t know the reason why, but I was very thankful for the offer. When I posted my experiences, there was more than 200,000 responses a day in those days. Who on earth visited my page? It was amazing, but I was very much grateful.

In the midst of all of this, about a month from the disaster, an American church member came to the camp in Tokyo with a large sum of donation. When I was speechless with a look of surprise, he explained: “Seeing the videos of the tsunami on the news, we all broke into tears. We wanted to know what happened to the churches in Japan and how they were now. But, there was no more news coverage in the U.S. At first, we thought that there was no church in Japan, but found your web pages in English. We learned that everyone from infants to the elderly were in flight in 15 to 16 cars. If so, we decided to collect for support for these people and brought it here today on behalf of our church to see how you are doing.”  “Oh, God, who are we? Are we somebody? Who wrote the scenario? Who planned the casting? I couldn’t help looking up at the sky.


Our Life’s Mission

The last topic that I wanted to talk is the book of Esther in the Old Testament. The main character of the story is a woman who lost her parents. She lived a checkered life. She happened to be beautiful, and became queen of Persia, that might be a prank of history. Then, the wheel of history turned, and the Jews, the tribe which Esther belonged to, came to the edge of extermination. That’s when Mordecai, who adopted and nurtured young Esther, came and urged her that the reason why she became a queen was for this moment. She was filled with dread, but in the end, she accepted her fate and said, “Understood. If I have to die, I will die.” She stood up. As a result, all was solved. A miracle of God’s salvation had happened.

I believe that the key word for this disastrous time is the quotation from the Book of Esther: “Perhaps you have come to the throne for just such a time as this.” You brace yourselves up and stand up for your mission. After that, all you need is speed and decisiveness.

Now, I would like to talk about a German missionary who welcomed 60 of us in the camping site in Okutama, Tokyo. Immediately after the earthquake and the meltdowns in Japan, his native country, Germany stopped operation of all of its nuclear reactors and ordered all the German residents in Japan to return. However, this German missionary did not leave Tokyo saying “Can I be a missionary, if I abandon and leave Japan when she is in the most difficult time?” Right after the disaster, he had kept sending us messages inviting us to the campsite in Okutama. He even cancelled all the spring camps. Impolite as we were, but we had never responded even once. For, our only thought was to return to Fukushima. However, as time progressed, we could not be optimistic. That was a harsh decision to make, and we went to Okutama. It was a real surprise to find all our names on the list and the room allocation as well. They even put TVs in each room, which were not installed there originally. He truly believed that we would be coming, and was just waiting for us. He told me later that he thought he was called to Japan “for just such a time as this.”

Next, let’s talk about the name of our church. It is called Fukushima Daiichi Seisho Baptist Church (Fukushima First Bible Baptist Church). If you look closely, the nuclear power, just five kilometers away from our church, also is called Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Though the missionary, who named this church, lost his wife here in Japan, he remained and continued his mission in Japan. That was about 70 years ago, but he had an image of the future and talked about it often. “This church will eventually go around for evangelization in Iwaki, a city in the south in Fukushima prefecture.

Leaving our newly built church, we were forced to leave our hometown because of the disaster, went on a long journey via Tokyo, but like a boomerang, now set foot in Iwaki city that the first missionary had dreamed of. Who wrote this story? And when was this written?

Next, I would like to talk to you about a dream that my wife had. My wife was struck dumb with what happened in the disaster, and could not taste food that she ate. The outside scenery looked monochrome. This recalled the dreams that she had. From the start when she got married me, she used to keep a journal of her dreams. In this dream, the church members got on a bus and go on an endless journey. She told me that she felt as if she was walking in that dream. Was that dream a “déjà vu” that God showed her? Maybe this was a way that God told her through her dream: “Long into your marriage life, you would undergo a series of horrific experiences. But do not break down.”

I would like to end my talk with a story about myself. I regretted and was very much frustrated in the midst of the catastrophe, and wanted this nightmare to end. I felt compelled to head straight back home from Chiba to Fukushima with emergency supplies. In any case, I wanted to evacuate those who were in bad health. This was no easy task. Some people advised against my going there, for it was too dangerous because of the nuclear explosion. My daughter told me later that she honestly did not want me to go back, but could not say it because I was pastor.

Having any strength to judge, I went straight to a grocery’s open only for two hours to buy some food. People spoke evil of me that I bought up all available food in the store. Then, I drew some of the donation and went to buy some winter socks at a department store. Around midnight, I   started driving up the road together with a truck, uncertain whether the roads were even connected to Fukushima where everyone was waiting. I drove all night long. I was groping my way toward Fukushima. It was a moonless night. There were many roads that cracked open and/or caved in.

We were about to cross into Fukushima around dawn when I received an email from my second daughter.