[Note: The most recent updates are at the bottom]
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God interceding for us. This is Mark Bube, reporting for Telenews from the Committee on Foreign Missions of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
By now many of you have heard of the major earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan today, and are wondering about how our missionaries and our brothers and sisters in Christ there are doing. Shortly after 11:30 p.m. on Friday evening in Japan (9:30 a.m., EST), missionary Woody Lauer was able to contact us in the home office. He reported that the Lauer family members living in Japan are all fine following Friday afternoon's devastating earthquake and tsunami. The earthquake's epicenter was located near the city of Sendai, where the Cummings and Uomoto families live. We also received two e-mail communications from Woody, one updating events shortly after the earthquake struck:
We are fine, though I heard that Narita [Tokyo's airport] is closed and Laurie is to land in about 10 minutes. Delta will probably have to divert to Nagoya, I imagine. I have not yet gotten through to Cal [Cummings], Kaz [Yaegashi] or Murray [Uomoto], though once Murray's phone rang about 30 times. We left the house for about 1/2 an hour when the Tsunami was expected, even though here in Numazu they were only predicting 50 cm. We are back, now, but the warnings are up again, so we are going to leave again. We will keep trying the Tohoku missionaries from our cell phone. That's all for now. Woody
Several hours later, Woody wrote:
By now you may know that at Japan Standard Time, 2:46 p.m. today (Friday; 12:46 a.m. EST), there was a massive earthquake off the coast of Sendai, followed by a Tsunami that peaked at about 10 m or roughly 35 ft. A number of seaside villages were devastated; Sendai airport was inundated. We are sad to have to report that after hours of trying on the phone, we have been unable to reach either of the Sendai OPC mission families, the Cummings or the Uomotos. Sendai was among the hardest hit communities, both by the quake and the Tsunami that followed. I did get their telephones to ring once or twice each after dozens and dozens of tries (I am continuing to try, even as I write). Alas, there was no answer on either. The Japanese TV reports that power is out throughout Sendai. It was snowing there this evening. Given that most heaters nowadays rely on AC power, it would be likely they might go to a shelter, even if their homes were still otherwise livable. Please pray earnestly for these two families and the many members of the Reformed churches throughout Sendai and Tohoku. We have no information about them at this time, either.
I have heard indirectly that the Yaegashis in Yamagata and their son, Morris (in Sendai), are OK, but I have been unable to confirm that report. Yamagata is well inland from the coast and up in the mountains. Sendai is roughly 200 miles up the coast from Tokyo. The David Lauers (our eldest and his family) live outside of Yokohama, just below Tokyo. (David was actually in Kobe far away at the time.) We, the Woody Lauers, live another 80 miles or so down the coast farther. The Lauers are all fine. Laurie is now in Hokkaido. She was almost to Tokyo, flying from Detroit after a visit with her mother in Tampa, when the earthquake hit, closing the Tokyo area airports, at least for the day. Her flight was diverted to Chitose airport where she was still on board about 4 hours after landing, since she was told the airport said it could not handle their flight. She hopes to fly down here, perhaps via Tokyo tomorrow. We will send out more information when it is available. Coveting your prayers, Woody
At the time of the quake, Woody was in his study in the Numazu Chapel building. The earthquake immediately felt different than others of his experience; it was stronger and lasted much longer. He went to the manse and got his children so that they could stand outside in the street until the earthquake was over. As they waited, he watched his car moving in the driveway. The Tsunami wave that hit the shoreline near Numazu was about four feet high and was held by the retaining wall. When asked about the location of the Cummings and Uomoto homes in Sendai, Woody said that the Cummings' house was 3–4 km. north and west of the Sendai Airport, which had been closed following the earthquake and was surrounded by water from the tsunami. The Uomotos live in a house that is quite high and Woody felt confident that the flood waters would not have reached it. His area of concern was for the damage that they might have suffered from the earthquake itself.
Please continue to pray for the Cummings (Sendai), Lauer (Numazu), and Yaegashi (Yamagata) families laboring in Japan, together with the Coulbourne (Urayasu) and Uomoto (Sendai) families, that our Lord would guard and protect them, and our Japanese brethren, in the days ahead and that it might please him to grant them many opportunities to share Christ in both Word and deed with those whose lives have been turned upside down.
Friday, March 11, 2011, 11:30 p.m. EST
Please join with us in thanking our Lord for news that, in addition to the Lauer family, about whom we heard earlier, the Cummingses and the Yaegashis are also safe.
Late this afternoon (EST), Cal and Edie Cummings' son, Luke, posted the following:
Mom and Dad are alive!!!! I'm talking to them on the phone right now. Their house is still standing. They have no electricity, gas or water so they can't contact anyone. Somehow my call went through after a million tries.
And later this evening (EST), we received the following update from Woody Lauer on the Yaegashis:
I spoke with Kaz Yaegashi by phone about an hour ago ...
Praise God that he and Katie are both fine, physically, and have confirmed that Morris, too, is OK. Morris was in Sendai when the quake struck (perhaps 30–40 miles east toward the coast, where quake and wave damage were severe). Their house is OK, too, though his bookshelves and other shelves have "dumped" their contents all over the floors. They are without electric power, hence unable also to use their gas heaters; a kind neighbor has lent them an old style kerosene heater that does not require AC current, so they can keep a room warm.... The gas stations are all closed since they have no power to pump gas. He cannot therefore travel much by car. (He was to preach in Fukushima for the Lord's Day service tomorrow morning.) He has been unable to contact the members and seekers of the chapel; the phones are jammed or otherwise unusable in his area (which is why it took me so long to reach him). Please pray that he will be able to do so.
Please join us in giving thanks that the Lord has spared the Yaegashi and Cummings families; pray for members of the various Reformed churches in Tohoku, especially Yamagata, Fukushima, Watari, Sendai, Ishinomaki, and Morioka All of those areas have experienced significant damage and much loss of life. Pray that we may soon be able to communicate with OPC missionary family, Murray and Tsuruko Uomoto.
May the Lord bring blessing and salvation in Christ out of this disaster.
Please continue to remember your missionaries when you take your burdens to your heavenly Father in prayer.
Saturday, March 12, 2011, 10:05 a.m. EST
We now have confirmation that the Uomotos are safe. They were the last of the OPC personnel to be heard from.
Murray writes: "We are OK. Tremors continue. No water, utilities, internet yet. ... Thank you for your prayers."
Please continue in prayer for the people of Japan and especially for our sister churches there. Many difficult days are ahead.
Saturday, March 12, 2011 1:00 pm EST
We are grateful to our Lord for the news that OPC affiliated missionaries Craig and Ree Coulbourne, who are laboring with the MTW mission team near Tokyo, are also safe. They write:
Thanks to many who have called or sent e-mail to express your concern for us after the major earthquake on Friday, March 11. It was by far the worst we have experienced. We are all OK. When the earthquake hit, we had just assembled for our first Urayasu Church Plant planning meeting, which was soon transformed to an under-the-table prayer meeting. Hannah and Mary were at school a little more than an hour away. Relatively speaking, damage in our area was fairly minor—buckled streets and sidewalks, broken water pipes, fallen fences, lots of mud that has come up from underground. Other parts of the country have experienced much more terrible damage. I (Craig) just returned from standing in line for 2.5 hours to get a few containers of drinking water (we still have no running water). Ree is standing in a long line at the supermarket. Hannah and Mary have not yet been able to return from school (as of Saturday afternoon), but were able to stay with friends near the school. In God's providence, this terrible tragedy has provided opportunities for us to meet new people in our community and to take another step in relationships with new neighbors we have already met. Please pray that God would use even these circumstances to open Japanese hearts and to further His kingdom.
As we gather this coming Lord's Day to worship him, we again find that we have so much for which to be thankful. Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Japan and for our missionaries who labor there to bring the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sin in Christ's name, that it might please our Lord to use the earthquake and the tsunami to open doors for us to show the compassion of Jesus and to proclaim the Word of life.
Monday, March 14, 2011 9:30 a.m. EDT
This morning, Woody Lauer (who lives in Numazu, south of Tokyo) sent the following update on the missionaries living in the Tohoku region (the northern part of Honshu, the "main" island of Japan):
After three days of trying, we finally got Murray and Tsuruko [Uomotos'] phone to ring today. After calling it repeatedly and letting it ring many times, we finally connected with them about 3 hours ago. Electricity had just been restored for them for the first time about 5 p.m. Here in Numazu and around the nation unaffected areas are having 3-hour scheduled power shutoffs daily (starting today) so as to be able to send power north where nuclear reactors have been shut down and insufficient electricity is available, even once power lines are restored. Gas and water, however, are still unavailable.
Murray and Tsuruko are still without water service, but Pastor Ogata, the Japanese minister who works as a cooperating evangelist with our mission at Megumi Chapel along with Cal and Murray, has begun bringing bottles of water to the Uomotos from further north where his son lives, and where there is running water. He reported that gasoline is hard to find and limited to 5 liters when available. Murray said that their facilities (church-manse combined) sustained minimal damage; they have only noticed cracks in the concrete and stucco having fallen off the side of the rental unit next door where a church member lives. He thinks their house/church may now be slightly tilted.
As we talked, Murray was attempting to restart their DSL modem—without success. For the time being they have no E-mail. (The Yaegashis, on the other hand [who live in Yamagata, about an hour away over the mountain], now have both power and internet service restored.) Murray asks for prayer for the Newtons, another missionary family who lived in Fukushima prefecture, south of Sendai. Their house and car were washed away in the tsunami, though they themselves escaped unharmed. As I previously reported, Pastor and Mrs. Shiratsu of the Ishinomaki RCJ on a peninsula, just up the coast from Sendai, also escaped before the tsunami, but their church building and manse were severely damaged
Murray also reported that Luke Cummings, the youngest son of Cal and Edie, was able to get permits needed to deliver a car full of supplies to Cal and Edie, no small feat given the unavailability of gasoline in much of the Tohoku region. We still have not been able to reach the Cummings personally.
We give thanks that the OPC Diaconal Committee has offered assistance to our missionaries and RCJ brethren who have suffered loss or injury in this disaster. It is the mission's intent to use any offerings given for immediate relief emergency needs and to save the rest until a thorough evaluation of losses among Tohoku brethren can be assessed. It appears though at this point that at minimum, the Ishinomaki building will be a total loss.
Thank you all for your prayers and join us in thanking God for sparing the lives of so many of his people.
Please continue to keep our brothers and sisters in Christ in Japan in your prayers.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011 3:30 p.m. EDT
Earlier today, Woody Lauer reported (from Numazu):
I just bought cell phones for Murray and Cal; getting in touch with them has been quite difficult. Luke [Cummings] is planning to drive a truck from Tokyo to Sendai tomorrow, so Laurie and I will drive the phones to him tonight, and give him [some diaconal funds] to use for buying supplies for the future for Cal and Murray to use or distribute as they see fit.
And within the past couple of hours, Woody followed up with:
We just got back at about 2 am from the trip to Tokyo. Why? While we were away and our 13 and 16 year old boys were minding the church/manse, an earthquake of 6.4 struck (10:30 pm), centered two towns over from Numazu, in Fujinomiya. ([Our son] Jonathan, 18, was at a retreat for [university] students below Nagoya). There is no internal evidence of structural damage, though of course our shelves did dump enough contents to make a mess. Thankfully, our kids had labored all afternoon to pack away breakables, especially the valuable ones. We will have to wait for dawn to examine the outside of the building for damage.
As is routine after a medium or large earthquake, the expressway was closed, forcing us and all of the other night time traffic from the major artery between Tokyo and Nagoya onto a 2-lane highway on which one can in theory travel 35 mph. Last night it was stop and go for much of the way. At any rate, we are deeply thankful that the Lord took care of us and our brood. …
One other report that gave great joy to our hearts: Mr. Omizu, whom I baptized about a year after arriving here, is native to Iwate prefecture, just above Miyagi. His roots are in a small seaside town that was pretty well wiped out, we have heard. We had been joining him in praying for his older sister (60) and her husband who live(d) on the family homestead. As the days had passed and he had heard nothing, he was obviously suffering, but continued to resort to prayer. He called me before we left for Tokyo to tell me that his sister had called from a shelter; they made it out in time!!! PTL
Last night, we also heard from Craig Coulbourne (in Urayasu):
We continue to be OK. We don't have water at the moment (expected to be restored by Thursday) and there are planned electrical outages to conserve energy, but all of that seems relatively minor compared to what people in other parts of the country have suffered. Please continue to pray for opportunities to build relationships with our neighbors in the wake of all that has happened.
We were excited to see three non-Christian husbands of church members at Sunday morning worship at Makuhari Church. One said that he came to worship because he felt that perhaps God was saying something to Japan and because he wanted to pray for those who suffering so much from the earthquake and the tsunami. That's exactly the kind of response we are hoping to see. Please pray that God would open the hearts of many Japanese through these difficult circumstances, and that it would be more than a passing openness that fades when the crisis has passed.
The missionary team in Chiba was able to deliver a truckload of supplies to one of the hard-hit areas. They are working in cooperation with a church in that area so that the relief is clearly being given in the name of Christ. They hope to make multiple runs to this location, and other Christian groups throughout Japan are seeking to show Christ's love through relief. Pray that such opportunities would speak clearly of God's existence and His love and that the Japanese would have ears to hear.
Please continue to pray for the missionaries laboring in Japan, especially that it would please our Lord to open the hearts of many to the saving grace of Christ.