By BosNewsLife Asia Service with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TOKYO/NEW DELHI (BosNewsLife)– America’s largest Christian aid and evangelistic groups are among those rushing to Japan after Japanese churches appealed for help amid fears of a major nuclear disaster and further aftershocks in a country already coping with the aftermath of its strongest earthquake on record and subsequent tsunami.
U.S.-based Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) said they are “partnering with churches in Japan to bring Christian relief to hurting people.”
It came as rescue workers found 2,000 bodies and a new explosion shook Japan’s earthquake-stricken nuclear plant Monday, March 14, raising fears of massive radiation.
The cooling systems of the three-reactor Fukushima Daiichi plant, 274 kilometers (170 miles) north of the capital Tokyo, were knocked out after Friday’s magnitude 8.9 earthquake, the worst in Japan’s history, and subsequent tsunami.
The Monday blast in the Number 3 reactor follows a similar explosion Saturday that destroyed part of the Number 1 reactor. Reactor Number 2 us also threatened with an explosion, with plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. saying that fuel rods there were “fully exposed” at one point after its cooling functions failed.
Amid massive evacuations in the area around the plants, Kyodo news agency said rescuers also found 1,000 bodies on two shores in Miyagi Prefecture and another 1,000 in the town of Minamisanriku, where 10,000 people, more than half the local population, has not been accounted for.
Samaritan’s Purse and the BGEA, rushing to the scene, are led by Franklin Graham, a preacher and son of famed evangelist Billy Graham who has experience in troubled regions. The relief efforts now planned “is the latest in a long history of outreach to Japan, dating back to Billy Graham’s Crusades in 1956, 1980 and 1994, as well as a tour during the Korean War,” the BGEA said in a statement.
Franklin Graham conducted an evangelistic “festival” — the name now used for ‘crusades’ — in the Japanese city of Okinawa in 2006 and in the city of Osaka last October.
Samaritan’s Purse said it has deployed a five-person disaster assistance response team to begin responding and determine further needs on the ground. “Team members departed on Sunday, and all are expected to arrive in Tokyo Tuesday afternoon.”
Several Christian leaders appealed for help, including Reverend Chad Hammond, who served as the Franklin Graham’s Festival Director in Osaka, and Reverend Yoshikazu Takada, who supervised the Osaka Festival committee.
“I was in [the coastal city of] Sendai two weeks ago and flew out of the airport that is now submerged. There are 1,000,000 people in Sendai yet only 40 churches,” Hammond said in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.
It remained unclear Monday, March 14, how much damage there was to churches, but witnesses said they saw huge devastation as a towering wall of water generated by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake — the seventh biggest in world history — sent shipping containers, cars and debris crashing through the streets of the coastal city of Sendai and across open farmland.
Christian mission group Asia Harvest, the Japanese Evangelical Alliance and New Delhi based Asia Evangelical Alliance are also among groups involved in relief operations or supporting churches in devastated areas, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
Although the disaster pulverized especially northeastern areas and impacted churches there, Christians in the capital Tokyo, including missionary workers, also expressed concerns amid often violent after shocks there.
Reached by telephone, Dutch missionary family De Boo said they have faced frightening moments in their apartment on 51th floor of of Tokyo’s countless skyscrapers. “This was an aftershock,” said Eline de Boo, a missionary of Netherlands based Gereformeerde Zendingsbond, or Reformed Mission Alliance. She interrupted a live aired phone call with Dutch evangelical broadcaster EO.
She said they were told to stay indoors as elevators didn’t work any longer. She acknowledged that the family would prefer to go home and asked Dutch Christians to pray for them. “There is more than this earthquake and demons playing with this world. There is a loving Heavenly Father,” she said, a reference to God.
Other Christians also expressed their concerns, including American professional baseball player Matt Murton, who plays for Japan’s Hanshin Tigers. Writing from the city of Kobe when the earthquake hit he said “On most days I would still be at the field, but on this particular day we didn’t have a game, just a practice. I arrived back to my apartment in Kobe at around 2:30 pm and was upstairs on the 19th floor when the quake hit. The amount of swaying back and forth was tremendous given the fact that the epicenter was hundreds of miles away.”
He added that “It was a truly frightening experience for the family as we gathered the kids, huddled and prayed, ” Murton added. “When we arrived downstairs and found that the epicenter was in the Sendai region I immediately began to pray knowing that if we felt that much they surely were in trouble.”
Yet, he said, “When all of this occurred it was no doubt very unnerving and there were moments of doubt. “However I know God has a plan and a reason and only through Him can we remain strong.”
Japan’s Meteorological Agency says there is a 70 percent chance of a magnitude-seven or stronger earthquake striking in the next three days – and a 50 percent chance in the three days after that.
Experts said any big aftershocks could present a danger for buildings already weakened by last Friday’s quake. State-of-the-art design meant Tokyo’s countless skyscrapers withstood the huge tremors so far, but the quake has caused power outages in the world’s largest metropolis of over 30 million people, witnesses said. (BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent Santosh Digal in New Delhi contributed to this story).
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