Hearts changing in Japan following natural, nuclear disasters
by Kathy Heinrichs Wiest
Located just four miles from the nuclear power plant in Fukujima, Japan, First Fukushima Baptist Bible Church felt the full force of all three disasters March 11. The quake rocked the church itself, scores of church members were lost in the tsunami and the radiation leak from the power plant forced the evacuation of many who remained.
Prior to March 11, Chieko Satou, the wife of the pastor, had a dream in which she and her husband, Akira Satou, traveled across the country with their congregation. Following the disasters when 60 members of the congregation (mostly seniors) were forced to find refuge more than 200 miles away at the Christian Bible Center, they recognized that Chieko’s dream was God’s message of reassurance, preparing the way and strengthening their faith.
Hajimu Fujii who pastors two Japanese Mennonite Brethren churches in California, is a close friend of Pastor and Mrs. Satou. He sees his friend’s church’s experience as one of many ways that God has been moving in and through the disaster to speak to the people of Japan.
Fujii had the opportunity to see many aspects of God’s work first-hand as he and his wife, Kayoko Fujii, traveled to Japan just three days after the earthquake. The occasion of their trip, which had been on their calendar before the disaster, was twofold: Kayoko’s graduation ceremony at JTJ (Jesus to Japan) Seminary and an opportunity to meet their newborn grandson. The national disaster added a third purpose to their trip—visiting churches and bringing encouragement to the Christians there.
One church he preached in, Tokyo Shalom Chapel, had suffered severe damage and was meeting in the home of one of the members. Many members could not attend the service because they couldn’t get gas for their cars. But despite their troubles, Fujii encouraged the congregation to look outward.
Preaching from Jesus’ teaching on the end times in Matthew 24, Fujii challenged the churches he preached in to revive and be alert for Christ’s coming. Noting that only one percent of the people in Japan are Christian believers, he admonished them to boldly share their faith and take this opportunity when people are looking for answers.
“My impression is that after the disaster people’s hearts are changing,” Fujii says. He tells the story of one middle-aged man who heard his sermon. More than a week later, the man drove two hours to try to visit him and tell him about the change in his life.
Though Fujii had already returned to the US, the man visited Kayoko. He told her that he had been dealing with a serious problem, but after hearing Fujii’s message he saw that his problems were meaningless in light of the gospel. He presented a gift to the Fujiis in appreciation for what he had experienced.
Two men who had been Fujji’s friends from his Hiroshima high school many years ago also called on him during his stay in Tokyo. To his surprise, “they were open to hearing about the Lord.”
He says, “The time has come. People are opening their hearts.”
On his return to the U.S., Fujii mobilized his Mennonite Brethren congregations in fundraising to assist First Fukushima Bible Baptist Church and support other Christian relief efforts. North Fresno Japanese Chapel and Sacramento Bible Church as well as the monthly Bible study group Fujii leads in San Jose, all pitched in to give and raise funds in their communities. They collected donations at local universities, a Japanese school and Japanese gardens. They sold oranges and baked goods and planned a benefit piano concert. To date, they have raised $12,500.
Five thousand dollars went to meet the needs of the First Fukushima Bible Baptist Church members. In addition to the 60 members who found refuge at the Christian Bible Center, many have evacuated to other locations in Japan and some have had to remain in the disaster area because of their employment. All are in great need, says Fujii, having lost homes, jobs and loved ones in the disaster, and many “have no hope to come back because of the terrible radiation.”
The remainder of the funds was given to the Evangelical Christian Federation, a non-denominational evangelical group assisting disaster victims.
While raising funds for the urgent needs resulting from the Japanese disaster, Fujii remains committed to his primary goal of spreading the gospel to the Japanese people. Just as he sees a new openness to the gospel in Japan, he also notes that even before the earthquake, Japanese who are living outside their home country tend to be more open to Christianity. “In one year about the same number (of Japanese people) are saved outside Japan as in Japan,” says Fujii.
The challenge he brought in his messages to the Japanese churches is the same message he drives home to his California congregations. “Our church is small, but we have big responsibility,” he explains. “It’s a good strategy for Japan’s evangelism to preach the gospel to Japanese while they are outside Japan.”
After the March 11 earthquake the airline had contacted the Fujiis about whether they still wanted to take their March 14 flight to Japan. There would be no penalty if they chose to cancel, the airline representative told them. “We prayed after that,” says Fujii, but they decided to go ahead with the trip.
In spite of the multiple earthquakes they experienced during their visit (one while dining at a restaurant on the 25th floor of a Tokyo skyscraper), they are glad they made the trip and had the opportunity to be part of God’s work through the disaster. “People’s hearts are softening now,” he says. “I think that this is the last chance for Japanese people to be saved before the second coming of Jesus. Now the time has come.”