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'Don't Give Up on Japan'
Image: Courtesy of CRASH Japan

A natural disaster occurs nearly every day somewhere on planet earth. On average each year, there are 3 million earthquakes, 85 hurricanes, and 60 volcano eruptions worldwide, and in the US, 1,000 tornadoes occur. From 2001 to 2011, 7 million people died in natural disasters.

Image: Courtesy of CRASH Japan

Due to its location and geography, Japan has a high rate of earthquakes, typhoons, and other natural disasters. Several years ago, Jonathan Wilson, a missionary pastor in Tokyo, launched CRASH Japan (Christian Relief Assistance Support Hope). The goals of the organization are to train and mobilize Christian volunteers to provide "help and hope" before and after a natural disaster. Wilson spoke recently with Christianity Today senior editor for global journalism, Tim Morgan.

You started CRASH Japan in 2005. Why create another disaster relief organization when so many already exist?

When I got here 25 years ago, there was a bubble economy. The Japanese had medicine. They had technology. They had education. The only thing they actually needed from me was English. But I didn't go to Japan to be an English teacher. I went there to spread the gospel.

When the Kobe earthquake hit 1995, it was a huge event—6,500 people died. Everybody tried to do something, but it really wasn't enough. We did learn that in times of disasters that needs are most prevalent.

In 2007, there was an earthquake in Niigata on the seaside coast. Suddenly mass amounts of people headed to evacuation shelters. I said, "This is getting ugly." Nobody had a clue what to do. I ended up in a truck with a guy from Second Harvest Japan and another guy from YWAM, and they all said, "Yeah, we don't know who's doing anything, but we want to do something."

We ended up renting a truck, filling it with food, driving it up the middle of the night, and we got there with food, went back, got some more, did it again. Through that experience I came back and I thought—this is something that the church does.

We should be involved in disaster, and around the world we're pretty good at it. What's holding us back here in Japan? We identified three things. Lack of information. Nobody knew what was going on. Lack of training. In Japan unless you're trained and you're certified, nobody does anything. Lack of practical leadership on the ground. We started very simply in our own church, and then invited as many others to come along with us as we could. This unfolded over the next eight or nine disasters in Japan.

When the 2011 tsunami hit, we had a room of 120 mission leaders, pastors, leaders of denominations who showed up and said, "Okay. What do we do?"

At that time, was it clear to most people that the government was too slow in responding?

There were some levels of pride: We don't need help. We're an advanced nation.

On many accounts for the tsunami—the scale of it, the area involved, the complexity of the disaster—I would give the Japanese government actually very high marks. I wouldn't say that we're faulting the government at all. I would say that the church brings very unique resources that the government really doesn't have a way to provide: Emotional and spiritual care.

CRASH has a motto: We bring help and hope.

Why use volunteers to provide assistance after a huge, complex disaster? It seems like more trouble that it is worth.

We were able to mobilize volunteers from all over the world and sent them up into rural Japan where people really don't speak anything but Japanese. What we found was that rural people were so impressed that individuals would come from another part of the world to help them. They were encouraged.

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'Don't Give Up on Japan'