ISHINOMAKI, Japan (BP)–”Disaster” says it all. Southern Baptist missionaries and volunteers finally distributed relief goods in Ishinomaki, Japan, this week after two weeks of attempting to gain access to the quake-stricken areas. Power outages, gas rationing, an escalating nuclear crisis and relocation of International Mission Board personnel hampered earlier attempts.
Ishinomaki — a small city of around 120,000 people — was devastated March 11 by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Officials estimate that more than 18,000 people died and thousands more are missing along Japan’s northeastern coast.
The 11-member team spent two days distributing relief goods at multiple locations throughout the city, including an apartment complex, a nursing home and a bus station. Everywhere they went, they found grateful Japanese, eager for someone to listen to their stories.
International Mission Board missionary Jared Jones helped one man shovel debris from his home. The day before, the man received a call from local officials to identify his wife’s body. The man — a Buddhist — talked with Jones about how his wife often encouraged him to read the Bible. The couple had been married 40 years.
“He just needed somebody to listen to him,” Jones said.
Missionary Ed Jordan had a similar experience. Jordan, who works with the deaf, was distributing goods in a bus station when a colleague asked for help. One of the victims was a deaf woman who was unable to communicate with the hearing volunteers.
When Jordan talked with her in sign language about her family and her home, the woman was thrilled. “If she shook my hand once, she shook it a dozen times,” Jones said.
Both Jordan and Jones noticed uncommon openness from the Japanese during their trip.
“They look you in the eye,” Jordan said. “They need somebody to talk to and many are willing to let us pray with them. No one turned us away.”