Nordost-Japan: Japanische Mennoniten organisieren Hilfe


Mennonite World Conference
A community of Anabaptist-related churches  (

Japan Mennonites and Brethren in Christ
organize for ongoing disaster relief

Ein Bericht vom 27. Juni 2011

Tokyo, Japan

A Mennonite World Conference (MWC) delegation to Japan, May 21-30, brought hope and support to Japanese Anabaptists still traumatized by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown in northeast Japan last March.

The MWC delegation came at the invitation of Japan Mennonite Fellowship (JMF) to listen to the churches' concerns, visit affected areas, explore opportunities for response to disaster victims and to express the global church's solidarity with Japanese people.

The group included MWC Deacons Commission secretary Bert Lobe; Paulus Hartono of the Indonesia Mennonite Diaconal Service; and Willie Reimer, Food, Disaster and Material Resources director for Mennonite Central Committee.

The delegation held three main meetings in Tokyo and the northern island of Hokkaido, meeting with representatives of the JMF, which includes the four MWC member churches (Nihon Kirisuto Keiteidan, Nihon Menonaito Kirisuto Kyokai Kyogikai, Nihon Menonaito Kirisuto Kyokaikaigi, Tokyo Chiku Menonaito Kyokai Rengo). They also met in Osaka with representatives of the Nippon Menonaito Burezaren Kyodan (Mennonite Brethren Conference), who is not a member of MWC.

"It is good that you have come," one participant told the delegation. "We do not know [our way forward] yet, but we will listen to each other. The problems are complex. Solutions will take time." In the course of the visit, however, it became clear that JMF was ready to organize itself to initiate a response.

On May 28 JMF took a significant step in forming the East Japan Great Disaster Relief Assistance Committee to provide relief and early rehabilitation. JMF had received $55,000 from their member churches for disaster relief.

MCC, which has received more than $954,000 for Japan relief, has earmarked a portion of their donations to support the Anabaptist churches' coordinated efforts and is currently in communication with JMF regarding joint initiatives that are taking place. MCC has already given $700,000 to ecumenical Church World Service, a long term and ecumenical partner of MCC. Donations are still being accepted.

"The tsunami-affected area is still [covered in] the debris," said JMF chair Takanori Sasaki, "but we gradually hear the footsteps of recovery."

Some Mennonite and Brethren in Christ initiatives are already underway:

  • The JMF is recruiting volunteers and has already sent more than 60 people in short-term teams, including doctors, to deliver medicine, clear debris and care for the elderly in nursing homes in devastated areas. Since the delegation visit, two volunteer teams helped clear houses of mud and bring supplies to the Emmaus Centre, a Christian ministry in the Sendai district; another brought storytelling and music to nursing homes and an elementary school in the Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.
  • The JMF has sent financial support to two Baptist churches in the affected area.
  • Mennonite Village (MV) in Sapporo, Hokkaido, hopes to accept evacuees from near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. It hopes to work with town officials and envisions building a meeting place for locals and evacuees to gather and talk. MV is in conversation with Nihon Menonaito Kirisuto Kyokai Kyogikai (Hokkaido Mennonite Conference) and JMF regarding supporting people who leave the nuclear plant area. Long-term dislocation of farm families is a serious concern in Japan.
  • Meanwhile, two congregations of the Hokkaido Conference are planning initiatives: Betsukai church will host Fukushima children suffering from radiation while they get treatment, and the Bekhai church is planning summer camps for children affected by the disasters.
  • Mennonite Brethren have visited devastated areas and sent money through Japan Evangelical Association and Japan Food for the Hungry International. They are considering longer-term assistance.

While issues around food and dislocation were overwhelming, the MWC delegation also heard concern about radiation. According to Bert Lobe, "the delegation sensed general angst with regard to nuclear energy. The impact on those close to the Fukushima Daiichi reactors remains of great concern." There are 70 nuclear power plants in Japan.

"Are there atomic energy experts in the Anabaptist communion with whom we might be in conversation? Can you send us a theologian who can help us address the nuclear question?" asked Takanobu Tojo from the Tokyo Chiku Menonaito Kyokai Rengo (Tokyo Area Fellowship of Mennonite Churches). Since the delegation visit, the JMF has begun a study process, and would like to work with the MWC Peace Commission to address the nuclear energy concerns among Japanese.

Meeting participants saw recruiting volunteers as essential. Japanese would serve for up to four weeks and international volunteers could be invited to come for several months. Indonesian delegation member Paulus Hartono was keen to have Indonesians volunteer due to their experience following the 2004 Sumatra tsunami.

Hartono spoke of lessons the Indonesian church learned after the Sumatra disaster: talk less and do more; focus on program and unity, both geographically and programmatically; work in teams; see that teams are accountable to the conference and that the conference monitors and evaluates the teams.

Japanese hosts who accompanied the delegation were Takanori Sasaki, JMF chair, and Yoshihira Inamine, MWC Asia Caucus member and JMF treasurer; and Ishido Mitsuru, Nihon Kirisuto Keiteidan (Brethren in Christ Church Conference) member experienced in relief and development work.

In the wake of the visit, the East Japan Great Disaster Relief Assistance Committee will function under the JMF. Members include: Takanori Sasaki, chair; Shintaro Okazaki, representative coordinator; Mitsuru Ishido, field coordinator; and Shozo Sato for public relations of JMF. In addition, Yoshihira Inamine is assisting MWC, MCC, and the Asia Mennonite Caucus with communication.

- Ferne Burkhardt and Byron Rempel-Burkholder, for MWC News service

Japan Mennonite Fellowship (JMF) hosts with the MWC delegation (left to right): Yoshihira Inamine (JMF treasurer and MWC Asia Caucus member), Michio Ohno, Ishido Mitsuru, Paulus Hartono, Takanori Sasaki (JMF chair), Bert Lobe, Willie Reimer.
Photo credit: MWC delegation to Japan  

JMF meeting in Tokyo (left to right): Front row: Shintaro Okazaki, Paulus Hartono, Takanori Sasaki, Bert Lobe, Willie Reimer, Michio Ohno. Back row: Kho Jo Katano, Yoshihira Inamine, Ishido Mitsuru, Shozo Sato, Takanobu Tojo, Yuko Tojo, Shigeyoshi Kimo, Keisuke Oshikiri.
Photo credit: MWC delegation to Japan

 Paulus Hartono of Indonesia with Mitsuru Ishido, field coordinator of the JMFâs East Japan Great Disaster Relief Assistance Committee.
Photo credit: MWC delegation to Japan

Pastor Minay Gishe and his wife Yasocho of Bible Baptist Church, one of the Baptist churches that has received help from JMF, in Kesennumu City with Paulus Hartono (right).
Photo credit: MWC delegation to Japan