Churches across Japan are responding with prayers, donations, and relief operations to the impacts of the 11 March earthquake and its subsequent tsunamis and nuclear power plant accidents - writes Hisashi Yukimoto from Tokyo.
As of 16 March 2011, more than 3,700 people were confirmed dead, more than 7,800 missing, and about 2,000 injured, according to the National Police Agency. More than 400,000 people have been evacuated from the disaster zones in northeastern Japan. The earthquake also damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where workers have been struggling to contain radiation leaks.
On 15 March, the first meeting of the interdenominational Earthquake Christian Disaster Centre was held at the United Church of Christ in Japan's (UCCJ) Northeast District Centre in Sendai near the epicentre. The UCCJ also said church members, including Moderator the Rev Hideo Ishibashi, are visiting disaster areas. The denomination's two local congregations near the Fukushima nuclear power plants were evacuated to one of them but are unable to escape from there, the report said.
Caritas Japan, part of the Roman Catholic Church, has launched a national donation campaign and is working with dioceses and Caritas Internationalis to support disaster victims, according to its website.
The National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ), a grouping of Anglican, Protestant and inter-denominational organisations, is asking for emergency relief donations. "We are coordinating a network of local support for those most severely affected," said the Rev Isamu Koshiishi, the council's Moderator. The Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) has released a pastoral letter calling for donations to be sent to the NCCJ via the CCA Emergency Fund.
The Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church said it is working on relief operations with its two congregations in Sendai, a city particularly hard-hit, as well as with other denominations. The Anglican-Episcopal Church in Japan has set up relief headquarters at its office in Tokyo.
The Japan Baptist Union (JBU) reported on 15 March that one of its members and the grandmother of another member were killed and the house of another member was washed away by the tsunami. The JBU and the Okinawa Baptist Convention are working with a team from Baptist World Aid for their relief operations.
On 15 March, the Russian Orthodox Church announced that it started fundraising to help the Orthodox communities in Japan and the earthquake victims.
The YWCA of Japan is calling for donations to support victims and survivors, particularly "women, children, elderly and those who are marginalised," as well as calling for the shutdown of nuclear power plants in Niigata and Shizuoka in central Japan that the group says "are within the area where there are risks of aftershocks and another earthquake."
The Japan Evangelical Alliance and its member Protestant churches and organisations, such as the Salvation Army of Japan, the Japan Alliance Christ Church, World Vision Japan, the Japan Evangelical Church Association, Jesus Christ Church in Japan, are also engaged with relief operations, communicating through Facebook, websites and the online information board of a Japanese Christian news publisher named The Christians.
The World Conference of Religions for Peace, the world's largest multi-religious coalition, has begun to collect donations, along with its Japanese committee, to support municipalities in the affected areas and non-governmental organisations that are conducting rescue operations.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]