Redeeming Disaster in Japan
The concept of "developmental relief" grew out development experts' desire to set in motion lasting changes. This means setting the disaster-stricken community on the path of sustainable development.
But in Fukushima, triggered by the nuclear crisis and disaster, Christians have realized that it is not enough for development programs to try to "push the reset button" by returning the nation to where it was. Our research was driven by one question: How could relief groups help communities out of chaos and promote human flourishing, not economic pursuit and individual success?
Our research led us to Usuiso, a tiny coastal fishing village heavily damaged by the tsunami. Some 200 homes were lost, and many villagers died. Before the disaster, Usuiso was aging, economically declining, and socially inactive. After the tsunami, the only landmark of the village was a pile of radioactive debris that stood out on the flattened landscape like a mountain.
In this desolation, the leadership of one church, Global Mission Chapel, in nearby Iwaki City brought vision and hope to local survivors. While the mayor fled after the disaster, church members started serving all over the city, even though the church had also lost families.
In contrast to the slow action by Iwaki City officials, the church quickly gained the trust of the city's remaining residents. As church members served in disaster-stricken areas, they met evacuees from Usuiso. Christian volunteers began to visit the village to pray over what remained. Church elders proposed a design for a new village with restored homes, businesses, educational and cultural facilities, and commercial centers.
In response to the disaster, Global Mission Chapel changed its name to Global Mission Center because, they said, "A church is people, not a building." Members committed themselves to relocate to Usuiso when appropriate and to stand with villagers for generations to come. After two years, there is fresh momentum for restoring Usuiso. The members of Global Mission Center saw this vision of a new Japan rise out of their prayers with their suffering neighbors.
Where does hope arise for disaster survivors? Where does the power to restore and sustain a community and nation come from? Perhaps one secret to sustainability and lasting impact comes from a community of resilient people in a local church and the convictions they are willing to uphold at all costs.
Disaster relief is complex. Theologically, it involves restoration of all things that were broken and all relationships that are in need of reconciliation in order for a community to flourish in all areas of life (Col. 1:15–20).
Fundamentally, this is not the work of a professional agency, but of ordinary people in a local church loving their neighbors out of love for Christ. Christian relief work happens only when the local church realizes its mission to serve the world, giving themselves for others and restoring the fabric of a broken society.
Disaster Relief 3.0—Relational Relief
At the end of the yearlong process of assisting and partnering with local churches in Fukushima, we developed the idea of Disaster Relief 3.0—Relational Relief.
In Disaster Relief 1.0, relief slowly was secularized and taken over by professional and bureaucratic leadership. In Disaster Relief 2.0, market-driven strategies and metrics further sidelined volunteer acts of charity, mercy, and justice.