Visit to Natori Church
Tohoku HELP, supported by everyone’s prayers, has been able to continue to support the recovery and reconstruction efforts.
As part of these efforts we proposed the “Church Visit” plan as a way to obtain reports on the present situation and through visiting Churches in the disaster affected areas it is our hope that you will be able to sincerely reflect on the plight of all those affected when offering prayers. Our first visit under this project was to the Natori Church, The United Church of Christ in Japan, Tohoku District.
The Natori Church is a Reformed Presbyterian Church within the United Church of Christ in Japan.
The Natori Church is located on the inland side of Route 4 near to Yuriage beach and Sendai Airport, two areas that were extensively damaged by the tsunami.
While the church was not directly damaged by the tsunami, two members of the congregation and a number of their family members perished.
Part of the Church’s roof collapsed and cracks appeared in the floor and walls. The chapel having been repaired to the greatest extent possible by the congregation itself can now be safely used as a place of worship.
Reverend Isaku Arai was appointed as the leading pastor of Natori Church in April.
On March 11 the day of these disasters, he was serving as a reverend at the Sendai Kawadaira Church a member of the same church alliance.
It has been heard that three days after the disaster Rev. Arai being worried about the condition of that Church decided to visit Natori. He made the journey not by car but by bicycle to find that the leading pastor at that time, Rev. Tsukamoto, was struggling to support the relief efforts.
Rev. Tsukamoto was organizing the collection of food and other relief supplies to pass out to all members of the local community. As gas in the area was provided by bottled propaned gas, supply of this essential commodity was not an issue. In addition water supply had not been cut off meaning that this area was relatively well off immediately after the disasters when compared to some other areas.
However, Rev. Tsukamoto had still not been able to confirm the safety of the congregation members.
Subsequently he received the unfortunate news that two members of his congregation who lived near the coast had perished in the disasters.
The deceased a mother and her daughter were highly respected members of the congregation, with the daughter being the only congregation member playing organ at the Church.
Further he also learned that the husband of another woman, who also played the organ at the church, had lost his life when the tsunami swept through Onagawa.
In addition to those who perished, the homes of two congregation members were completely swept away, one member’s home was severely damaged and another’s faming livelihood had ended due to the effects of radioactive fallout.
Since his appointment in April, Rev. Arai has looked after volunteer acupuncturists, moxibustion practitioners and students who generously approached the church with offers of help and has been spreading the message of the ongoing need for support both within the Church community, at services and also through attending sectarian seminars. He has also continued other support activities including regular visits to temporary housing complexes.
Since autumn this year he has also been busy with other Church activities.
For Natori Church, the piano donated by one of those who perished serves as a constant reminder of all those who passed away on that day. In November a concert featuring performances on that piano was held. A student from Tokyo University of the Arts (the daughter of a congregation member) whose house in Yuriage was swept away was featured as a leading vocalist. The concert was a great success with 140 people attending.
Since the disasters the number of congregation members has decreased.
Other still attending congregation members are also talking about the huge difficulties they are facing in their daily lives. Under these difficult circumstances the church is finding it increasingly difficult to continue its work.
However despite these challenges, some bright news has emerged.
Firstly Sunday School which had been forced to close down prior to the disasters has now reopened.
The first student to be enrolled was the grandchild of a new congregation member who moved to Natori after the disaster, followed by more of the former students. At present there are 8 or 9 regular Sunday School students.
Further last summer, with the support of Yamagata Gakuin student volunteers, a successful camp was able to be held.
Even those students who ordinarily don’t attend Church have been helping out.
Rev. Arai said that “Since the disaster valuable experience has been gained by observing how each area responded to this crisis. While I have seen many positive things I am happiest that the Sunday School has reopened.” The Reverend continues his work in the disaster affected areas.
On March 11 from 4p.m a free, Church sponsored concert, will be held for the local residents featuring Tomoe Sawa as the solo pianist and vocalist. She will be playing the donated piano that has become a symbol of the disasters.
In conclusion I am grateful to have had this opportunity to report on the situation of one church in the disaster affected areas. We humbly request your continued prayers of support.
（Report by Masaki Toeda and Naoya Kawakami. February 9, 2012 ）