Every Nation in Post-Tsunami Japan

Tohoku region of Japan before and after

by JAMES COBLE — To restore hope to people and rebuild homes in areas devastated by the tsunami. This is the twofold mission of Every Nation relief teams sent over the last year from the Grace Bible Churches in Hawaii to Japan. That includes three teams in recent months that have joined efforts with  Samaritan’s Purse.

The Heart-Breaking Devastation

March 11, 2012 marked the one-year anniversary of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Japanese  refer to this national catastrophic as their  3/11 because of the similar impact of the United States’s 9/11 attack.

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake was the most powerful ever to have hit Japan. The subsequent tsunami triggered by the earthquake reached heights of 133 feet and traveled up to six miles inland, wiping our several towns and villages in the Tohoku region located on the Northeastern coast of Japan. It killed almost 20,000 people, left hundreds of thousands homeless, and caused one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. And these are just the fact that are easy to tabulate. It is hard to measure the sense of hopelessness, fear, and emotional devastation is reverberating even until now.

Picking up the Pieces

__it’s been said that the people of Tohoku assume everyone coming to their aid is a Christian.

Most of the debris has been cleaned up,  convenience stores and supermarkets have reopened, and the ground is sprouting forth new life. However, along the coastal towns vast section are barren, dotted with the remaining foundations of houses swept away by the massive wave. The only other thing you see is the occasional mountain of debris still waiting for someone to carry them away.

The world cannot begin to comprehend the issues with which the people of Tohoku are trying to cope.  Even those of us here in Japan have a hard time getting our heads around it. Even after one year, many of the survivors haven’t been able to start the recovery process. Thousands are still living in some type of temporary shelter with their lives on hold. Their homes remain in the same state as they were the day after the disaster. So many have lost family and friends. Within their communities there is no one to help because they’re all in the same boat.

The “Mud Out”

We’re working with Samaritan’s Purse (SP) rebuilding homes up and down the coast in several areas, usually staying in one or two towns. Two types of teams work with SP: skilled teams of carpenters and regular volunteers. We’ve had a few skilled teams (one of our guys from Hawaii is on construction staff), but mostly, we supply volunteers to do “mud outs.”

__We can translate or engage them in conversation, but you have to brace yourself because each story is a jaw dropper.

A mud out is the first step towards getting a family back into their home. It means clearing the yard of debris, taking out furniture and appliances, and occasionally removing a dead cat. Anything the water touched is still covered in mud and has to be torn out and discarded. Next, the floors, walls, and ceiling are taken out if the water went that high. If houses are not stripped, power washed, and then bleached, black mold will begin to grow, rendering the home unlivable. The process can take a week or so. Then the carpenters come in to install floors, walls, and ceilings.

Many times, we work side by side with the owners. Most overseas volunteers don’t speak Japanese and you won’t find much English in the area. But it’s been said that the people of Tohoku assume everyone coming to their aid is a Christian. They recognize the sacrifice we make and are forever grateful. Pastor Scott Douma, of our Every Nation church in Japan, said:

“Sixty percent of the volunteers in Tohoku are Christian, which is amazing considering only around two percent of Japanese are Christian. It is as if every Christian in Japan and a large number from other countries are heading to Tohoku. What a great witness!”

Restoring Hope to the People Who Have Lost Everything

We start each day at the site with prayer, and if the owners are there, we invite them. I’ve never seen anyone refuse prayer. We often eat lunch with them, which is when our bilingual people are so important. We can translate or engage them in conversation, but you have to brace yourself because each story is a jaw dropper. Everyone lost someone close to him or her, often a family member.  There are some who lost families, homes, neighborhoods, jobs, and all their possessions. Many of these heart-wrenching conversations result in homeowners giving their lives to Jesus Christ.

James Coble with Mr. Kimura and his wife

James Coble and Mr. and Mrs. Kimura

Our mission is best understood through the faces and stories of the people. Mr. Kimura was a fishing boat captain, a real man’s man. He lost his boat; the company where he worked no longer exists. After the tsunami, he and his wife lived in their tiny truck for three days before going to a shelter. Mr. Kimura led a vigorous life as a fisherman, but when we first met three months after the disaster, he slept late, drank sake until the afternoon, took an early bath, then slept again.

The first day of work he stood and watched. The second day, he picked up a hammer and joined in the work. Everyday after that we worked, ate, and prayed together. My last conversation with he and his wife, he told me of his new plans to rebuild their house with a big family room downstairs so family and friends could visit. Hope is what they need, but that comes when they can see a future for themselves and their families.

Continuing the Mission

One important note: Samaritan’s Purse, by far one of the most effective ministries to serve in Tohoku, will end its commitment to the disaster area in early August. This team from Hawaii is the last we are sending until we can find another avenue to bring hope to the people of Tohoku. Come October, the winter chill will be in the air while many will have to brave the elements without a car and the comfort of home. Please pray for direction and provisions as the Every Nation churches in Japan and Hawaii continue assist in the tsunami relief mission.


James Coble attended the Every Nation School of World Missions—Manila in 2004 and was sent as a missionary to Japan in 2005.  Currently, James serves an associate pastor at Yokohama Grace Bible Church, the Every Nation church in Yokohama, Japan. He also coordinates the tsunami relief teams from his home church, Grace Bible Church Honolulu.


Every Nation News / North America 

Every Nation News / Asia


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