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U.S. Churches reach out to Japan

New York, March 13, 2011 -- As news from earthquake-stricken Japan and Tsunami-devastated coastal areas worsens, U.S. churches and religious groups are pulling out all the stops to assess how they can help.

Church World Service and National Council of Churches member communions responded within minutes after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck Japan on March 11.

"The damage and loss of life is almost impossible to comprehend," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. "It's natural to feel helpless in situations as overwhelming as this. But prayer is an important first step -- prayer that asks God to be with the families of the dead, the injured, the homeless, and the responders at every level."

But Kinnamon said it is also crucial for persons of faith to provide financial support to Church World Service and other relief organizations that are providing food, water, shelter and comfort on the ground in Japan and other stricken areas.

"Spiritual support and healing ministry will be required long after the initial impact of the disaster," Kinnamon said, citing Haiti as another venue where U.S. churches will have a role for many years to come. "Along with everything else, we pray for the faith and patience to remain committed for as long as it takes."

Church World Service said its emergency response staff are monitoring the unfolding situation around the Pacific Rim, where CWS has programs. The CWS Bangkok office is following the situation in Japan and across the region, while in Hawaii, where tsunami waves reached the islands, CWS’s domestic team is monitoring that situation, working with local contacts in Hawaii.

In Indonesia, where Church World Service has extensive operations, a tsunami of about 10 centimeters was detected in the North Sulawesi and Maluku islands.

CWS Indonesia staff report they are staying in contact with two of the agency’s local partners in North Sulawesi who say that communities who have been under tsunami alerts were advised to take precautionary measures and many people have done so. Wave heights of up to 8 feet had been expected in some of those areas. Further reports, assessments and emergency response as needed will be issued as the situation unfolds. Information about how to help can be found at

Several NCC and CWS member communions announced responses over the weekend.

American Baptist Churches USA announced a $20,000 grant from One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS), to be sent to its mission partner, the Japan Baptist Union, for relief efforts. See for developments.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) said it was closely watching the situation along the U.S. Pacific Coast and around the Pacific Rim and will respond to needs through its Week of Compassion. See for developments.

Writing on behalf of the combined world mission of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Global Ministries co-executive directors told mission partners in Japan that the churches "will continue praying for you and seek ways to accompany you in the path that lies ahead." See for developments.

The letter to the Rev. Aobora Taemae, general secretary of the United Church of Christ in Japan, was sent by the Rev. David Vargas, president of the Division of Overseas Ministries in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, executive minister of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries. Following the devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resultant tsunami, Global Ministries staff have been actively attempting to make contact with mission personnel in Japan.

The Church of the Brethren’s Mission and Ministry Board was meeting in Elgin, Ill. when word of the earthquake and tsunami came. The Board immediately issued a call to prayer and announced that Brethren Disaster Ministries has begun planning to support Church World Service (CWS) and its partners in relief efforts in Japan. See for developments.

The Brethren board called on its members to join in the following prayer:

Merciful Lord, in their hour of anguish, hear and answer the cries of the Japanese people. Hear our prayers as our tears exclaim our compassion for all people who suffer. May your love, grace, and compassion bring a sense of comfort for those who mourn. Be with the many who work to bring relief, food, water, and shelter to those in need. And gracious God especially touch those mourning the loss of loved ones.

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.... The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Psalm 46:1-3, 11).

Anglican Communion churches and agencies said they are planning how best to respond to the earthquake. An Episcopal priest in Kailua on the east cost of Oahu, the Rev. Kate Lewis, told ENS via e-mail that warning sirens began sounding at 10 p.m. local time. She had not heard of any damage to Episcopal churches, some of which are very close to beaches. See for developments.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said it has 22 missionaries serving in Japan, working in partnership with the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church. Many of the ELCA's missionaries in Japan have communicated that they are safe, said the Rev. Y. Franklin Ishida, ELCA program director for Asia-Pacific Continental Desk, the church said. See for developments.

The Orthodox Church in America said its hierarchs, clergy and faithful are being asked to remember in prayer all those affected by the disaster and to support efforts undertaken by International Orthodox Christian Charities [IOCC], which has assembled its emergency response team to assess needs and possible responses.

"The devastation being experienced in Japan is numbing, and it is only appropriate that we respond in kind with our prayers for the suffering and departed and support for any and all humanitarian efforts," said His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah. "Not only has the earthquake -- the strongest in Japan's recorded history -- caused incalculable damage, but the tsunami it released and the attendant destruction of much of the nation's infrastructure are almost beyond comprehension. In addition to our prayers, our support of IOCC's efforts are crucial at this time." See for developments.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) said it has 10 mission co-workers in various cities across Japan. By mid-day March 11 staff in Presbyterian World Mission had received word from four that they were safe. None of the mission workers are based close to the northern coastal city of Sendai, which has taken the brunt of the impact.

Denominational leaders have issued a call to prayer. The Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk; Elder Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the 219th General Assembly; and Elder Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council urged Presbyterians to pray for all those affected by the disaster — victims and their families, aid workers, faith communities and leaders. “The magnitude of this kind of tragedy is difficult to grasp. Yet, our faith leads us to affirm that in even greater measure is the presence of God in the midst of the devastation,” states the call. See for details.

Reformed Church in America missionaries said, "Japan has just experienced the most significant earthquake in decades, some sources are saying the worst in 100 years," RCA missionaries Nathan and Nozomi Brownell said in an email to RCA Global Mission staff, "The worst hit area is Sendai City, the Miyagi Prefecuture and North Eastern coastal areas. The tsunami wave has been estimated at up to 7 meters (23 feet) high and reached up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) inland. There is significant damage and fatalities." See for developments.

United Methodist reporter Linda Bloom filed this story after the earthquake:

The Rev. Claudia Genung Yamamoto was having a late lunch with two church members in west Tokyo when the restaurant was shaken by the most powerful earthquake to strike Japan in at least a century.

As they rushed outside on what was a Friday afternoon in Tokyo, the earthquake stopped but the aftershocks began.

“The ground kept moving and the telephone lines were swaying, so we were afraid,” said Yamamoto, a United Methodist missionary and California native. “By this time, everyone had come out of the buildings to wait in the street. I told my members to keep praying, and I did the same.”

Hours later, Japan was struggling with the aftermath of a combined earthquake and tsunami that killed several hundred people, touched off dozens of fires and raised concerns about a possible radiation leak at a nuclear power plant. The impact was felt around the globe as tsunami alerts were posted in other countries.

United Methodists expressed concern and offered prayers for the people of Japan. The United Methodist Committee on Relief and Church World Service were consulting with partners in the region on emergency-relief needs. See for developments.

Most of the member communions of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service were assessing their best responses to the earthquake this weekend and will announce their plans as they develop.

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

NASA photo of Japan

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