Lutheran Disaster Response

Our response to disasters in the U.S. and around the world; look for sections of this blog related to specific disaster locations. Comments are welcomed and moderated.

Japan: Two-Year Anniversary of Earthquake & Tsunami

Posted on March 11, 2013 by Matthew Ley

It was two years ago today that a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the east coast of Japan and triggered a massive tsunami that left nearly 19,000 people dead or missing and displaced another 300,000. Since then the ELCA has been walking with companions like Japan Lutheran Emergency Relief (a joint ministry of four Lutheran churches in Japan formed after the disaster) and the Asian Rural Institute in their response.

In the past two years much work has been done, from immediate housing and feeding for affected individuals to debris removal and spiritual care for survivors and victims. With disasters of this scale the recovery will be one of many years, so as these individuals and communities continue to rebuild their new normal, let us today raise our prayers in solidarity and remembrance.

As we do so, one get a sense of the damage caused by the tsunami and the large amount of recovery work done is presented by The Telegraph newspaper in a series of photos of affected areas title Then and Now. In this small glimpse you can sense the gravity and immensity of the what people in the affected areas and those who have been working on their behalf have been dealing with. You can see the photos here:

Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: Photographs of Devastated Areas Then and Now

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond locally and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Japan: ARI Continues to Meet Needs of the Neighbor

Posted on July 10, 2012 by Matthew Ley

The Asian Rural Institute, located in Tochigi, Japan, has been dedicated to training grassroots rural leaders from Asia, Africa and the Pacific since 1973. In this way they have been living out their calling as global neighbor. Yet, since the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in March 2011 they have also worked to make a concerted effort to be this same type of neighbor at home. The ELCA, through our Disaster Response program, has been working with them in this process, particularly helping to rebuild some of their damaged buildings so that they can continue to be a good neighbor. I thought it would be good to give a quick update on how ARI has been responding.

New buildings that will help facilitate the work of ARI are hoped to be done in August. There will be new community space and classrooms in the new Koinonia (Greek word used to denote intimate community) House. The ARI shop has found a new space to help promote the products produced by the school. There is also a new Administration Annex to proived reception space for visitors, printing, meeting space and a computer lab. This space is made available in part through gifts to ELCA Disaster Response.

Is My Food/Soil/Water Radioactive
One of the affects of the devastating earthquake and tsunami was damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Since that time there has been a fear around radioactive contamination. The question of whether food, soil or water is safe is simple to answer, providing you have a $40,000 Gamma Spectrometer to read the level of radioactivity. Recognizing that this type of equipment is not sitting in everyone’s living room ARI has made their Gamma Spectrometer and training on how to use it freely available to people who want to test their soil, food and water. These people range from local residents testing their gardens, to farmers testing their soil for growing to a Christian school which tests its food each day. In this way they are helping their neighbors have a little more peace of mind in the midsts of a frightening situation.

I’ll Take My Oil Green
Another affect of the radiation leak at the Fukushima plant was Cesium contamination of soil, including at ARI. To address this situation in a sustainable way, ARI is growing soy beans. They are working with local farmers to do the same. The reason for this is that soy bean plants actually take Cesium out of the soil, storing it in their stalks, and leaving the oil void of radiation. So they are growing a crop that can be sold while addressing the problem of contaminated soil. Also, in a sign of knowing their community they are using soy beans, even though other plants like sunflowers have a higher absorption rate of Cesium. This is because the local farmers have a equipment and experience for growing soy beans but not for sunflowers. So they are meeting the needs of the neighbor by first knowning what these needs are and what resources the neighbor has.

Go With What You Know
With these new projects they are still keeping up their work training grassroots leaders around the wider region. They had 27 graduates in the class of 2012 from as far away as Brazil. We give thanks for this great ministry of being neighbor, whether that be across the street or around the globe.

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Japan: One-Year Anniversary Litany

Posted on March 8, 2012 by Matthew Ley

The following litany was translated and shared by Rev. Franklin Ishida, Director for Asia – Pacific Continental Desk. They come from the National Council of Churches in Japan in commemoration of the One Year Anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011.

Prayers for the first year remembrance of the East Japan Great Disaster
L: Let us pray to God the Father, who accompanies us in our sorrows.
O God, hear our voices. These are the voices of those who met their tragic deaths.
C: Lord, hear our prayers

L: O God, hear our voices. These are the voices of those who grieve the loss of loved ones
C: Lord, hear our prayers

L: O God, hear our voices. These are the voices of those who have had to leave their homes, threatened by radiation.
C: Lord, hear our prayers

L: O God, hear our voices. These are the voices of those who are giving their hearts out to embrace survivors in their every need.
C: Lord, hear our prayer

L: Gracious Father, look upon us who cry out to you in pain and sadness. Help us to trust in your mercy from the depth of our hearts. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we pray.
C: Amen

National Council of Churches of Japan
Catholic Central Council

Japan: One-Year Anniversary Bulletin Insert

Posted on March 8, 2012 by Matthew Ley

This Sunday is one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan. We have created a bulletin insert to help remember our brothers and sisters affected. You can download it here. (pdf)

Also, check the ELCA Disaster Response page Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami. We will be posting an online resource highlighting the anniversary and the work of the church in responding to this disaster in the next few days.

Another way of responding is to support the ELCA Disaster Response General Fund which helps us respond immediately in places like Japan when disaster strikes.

Japan: JLER Newsletter No. 2

Posted on September 28, 2011 by Matthew Ley

Japan Lutheran Emergency Relief (JLER), which was formed by the Lutheran churches in Japan following the tsunami and earthquake, has been taking a lead role in responding to the continued work of clean-up and restoration within the hardest hit areas of Japan. This second newsletter from earlier this month gives an update to their work. I would especially recommend the first two articles. the first one gives an overview of the first phases of response and the second a field report from Fumitaka Sato.

The point that stuck with me from the field report were that besides decreased populations in hard hit areas, cities were also dealing with the issue of shifting demographics as younger people choose to leave and older adults, to stay. It was an issue I had not heard before and one I hadn’t thought about and gave me pause.

So give it a read and let us know what you think. And please continue to keep the people of Japan and those working on their behalf in your prayers.

Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Japan: Six Months On, Reflecting and Looking Forward

Posted on September 14, 2011 by Matthew Ley

It is hard for me to write about the six month anniversary of the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami without naming that it actually falls on the same day as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. I spent the past week feeling a strange tension as my personal life was flooded with conversations and media portrayals of the past ten years here at home and my professional life called for a reflection on the past six months halfway round the world. Two pieces that stuck out to me during this time were the Church World Service’s Japan Situation Report and Rev. Kevin Massey’s Disaster Response blog “Field Report: New Jersey and New York City“. I figured the best way to be honest to myself and get the message across was to talk about how these two documents have fit together in my head.

The CWS Situation Report gives a good update on the continuing work going on in Japan and the fact that the need will continue to be there into the foreseeable future. The major areas of work are around providing shelter, food, pest control, psycho trauma care and debris/home clean up. To date the ELCA has committed $975,000 to this appeal and continues to be present with and through our companions and partners. This report reminded me of the church’s commitment and calling to be present with people in their moments of need and how the gifts of our members can have such a powerful impact in places few of us have heard of, let alone been to.

In Rev. Massey’s (Director for Lutheran Disaster Response) post, I heard of how disaster affects us, not just in the destruction it brings physically but for the gap it can leave spiritually and emotionally. Even ten years later, the disaster and tragedy of 9/11 still casts a shadow across many hearts. Yet, through our communal rememberance of the tragedy there is the chance for solidarity and unity, for pain to be released.

And through both documents I saw how the church is present in disaster. Whether it happened at home or halfway round the world. Whether it happened yesterday, six months ago or ten years ago. The church is present to help in the naming of Christ present in tragedy through word and deed. So as we look back on the past six months of work in Japan, and the past ten years here in the United States, let us thank God for sustaining strength, continued resolve and the space for healing.

Japan: 1st Japan Lutheran Emergency Relief (JLER) Newsletter

Posted on July 21, 2011 by Matthew Ley

After the March 11th earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan, which devestated the country, the four Lutheran churches in Japan came together to form Japan Lutheran Emergency Relief (JLER). The purpose of this umbrella organization has been to help coordinate the disaster response to help alleviate any gaps that exist and to eliminate the duplication of work. The ELCA been working closely with JLER as we continue to respond to the needs of the Japanese people affected by this disaster.

JLER has now released its first newsletter giving an overview of the initial phase of their response. This document is a collection of reports describing the work being done and personal stories of staff and volunteers. Take a moment to read through how your church and gifts are helping to support the good work of JLER.

JLER Newsletter (PDF) | JLER Website

Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Japan: ELCA Congregation Helps Raise Awareness & Funds for Japan Relief

Posted on July 13, 2011 by Matthew Ley

Pastor Eric Olaf Olson and his congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and school in Plainview NY were amazed by turnout for their “Cranes of Compassion” event held to help raise awareness and funds for the relief effort still continuing for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Led by current and alumni Japanese families whose children have attend the church’s early childhood center, those who attended the event were treated to sushi and curried rice made by the owner of a local sushi restaurant. They also learned how to make tsuru, Japanese for crane, origami to be shared with one of the Lutheran congregations of Sendai, Japan.

Thanks to many hands making light work the group was able to surpass their goal of making over 1,000 cranes! As another way of showing solidarity with our Japanese sisters and brothers they also raised over $3,500 for ELCA Disaster Response to help meet the continuing needs of those affected in Japan.

Our prayers of thanksgiving go out to Good Shepherd and the attendees of the Cranes of Compassion event as they continue to live out a vision of accompaniment where even the act of folding paper is God’s work being done through our hands.

Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Japan: Video of CWS Response

Posted on May 2, 2011 by Matthew Ley

ACT Alliance has posted a new video from Church World Services (CWS) outlining their work in Japan. This work has entailed distributing materials, setting up stationary clinics, making connections between those seeking shelter and those offering shelter and providing psychological care for women and children affected by the disaster. To date the ELCA has pledged $175,000 to help CWS with its work. To learn more about the ELCA’s response check out the page ELCA Disaster Response: Japan.

Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Relief Efforts Expand in Japan

Posted on April 1, 2011 by meganbradfield

Franklin Ishida, Area Program Director for Asia/Pacific, ELCA Global Mission, was with the leadership of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church (JELC) in Malaysia during the March’s devastating earthquake.  Franklin arrived to Japan one week ago and has been accompanying the leadership of the JELC in their relief efforts.  

The following post is from Franklin, and captures a quick glimpse of the efforts underway to restore lives and livelihoods in the wake of disaster.


Relief efforts, initiated within days after the earthquake and tsunami, have now been expanded with additional plans for entering a recovery stage. As in any disaster, on-the-ground assessment is important.  Earlier this week, a 6-person team from the JELC headed to the disaster area taking with them supplies including food, a motorcycle and a couple bicycles. These latter means of local transportation were important as gasoline is virtually impossible to obtain even three weeks after the disaster. The team visited several cities and towns, many devastated by the tsunami. They talked with local municipal officials and representative of non-profits still sifting through the massive destruction, determining needs, and addressing some of the most critical needs in their communities.

Trying to clean up from the destruction is still going slow as bodies are still thought to be in the rubble. But meeting the daily needs of those who survived, most of whom are in evacuation centers, is still critical.  Food and other daily items have been rushed in from all over Japan but are piling up due to challenges faced with the distribution network. While roads are being cleared, lack of gasoline prevents vehicles from hauling these much-needed items beyond central evacuation centers and storage depots. In some instances, people have been encouraged to come and get what they need; but they, too, don’t have the means to move around.

Relief supplies distributed in Japan.

These gaps in the distribution of supplies are causing some hardships, in addition to unmet needs in some areas. Now constituted as Japan Lutheran Emergency Relief (JLER) — a cooperative effort of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, Japan Lutheran Church, Kinki Evangelical Lutheran Church, and West Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church — the churches chartered three trucks to transport both purchased food items and in-kind donations from congregations around the country. These trucks departed from a warehouse in Tokyo on March 28 and headed to three different areas of the affected region. Coordinating with local municipalities and non-profit organizations, food items such as rice, miso soup, water, juice, and non-perishable food were dropped off at local distribution sites. To expedite and streamline the distribution network, JLER is now going to rent warehouse space in the disaster area, and will utilize a small truck and vans to reach communities with the greatest needs in coordination with other actors.

Meeting food, clothing, and other daily needs are just part of an initial response stage. As people start to rebuild their lives, even if by living in temporary housing, further emotional and livelihood questions will surface.  JLER is preparing to meet these needs as well. Counseling centers will be established, with both professional and trained volunteers prepared to engage people’s emotional trauma. The Japan Lutheran College in Tokyo has social welfare and counseling departments, and the college will take the lead in mobilizing necessary people and resources.

While the government will certainly provide much assistance to rebuild people’s livelihoods, there will certainly be gaps. JLER is preparing to provide grants to help selected individuals and families rebuild their lives. This will come after careful analysis of unmet needs as they emerge. Japan is a developed country, and much is happening quickly to address this catastrophic disaster. The scope of this disaster is presenting the greatest challenges. JLER, with assistance from all over the world, including the ELCA, is attempting to do its part in addressing the many emerging and changing needs, coordinating along the way with other actors to promote an effective response.

Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.