In the Aftermath of the Japanese Disasters

Short-term missionary, Michael Chan, responds to the changing conditions in Japan.

  • by Michael Chan
Photos courtesy Michael Chan

I have been living as a missionary with Cru in Tokyo for the last year and a half.

But as of right now, I am safely in Kyoto with the rest of my ministry team.

This decision to move was made after concerns began to arise over the recent events regarding the nuclear power plants. Kyoto is over 600 miles away from Fukushima and we are a safe distance from the radiation.

As you already know, on March 11, a massive earthquake hit Japan in the Tohoku region. The current death count is around 8,450 and the number continues to rise as bodies wash up on the shore.

Officially, there are 12,931 people still reported missing. Hundreds of thousands of people are left homeless in the wake of the earthquake and resulting tsunamis.

Just last week we ended our yearly student conference with Cru. Although I was reluctant of how many students would come to the city of Tokyo, I was amazed and humbled to see about 100 students come from all over Japan, even one coming from Sendai.

Since some of the seminars (and even one of the main events) were cancelled, I had ample opportunity to talk with many students and friends. My heart broke as I heard of family members being in Sendai, homes being completely destroyed, and lives that will never be the same as a result of the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis.

Soon after, I heard about the situation in Fukushima and the problems regarding radiation. Things just seemed to be getting worse and worse and there was rumor being put around that I might have to evacuate out of the country.

When some of my friends in Japan asked me what I would be doing, it was so difficult to tell them that I might be leaving Tokyo and perhaps Japan. Soon after, we were directed to leave for Kyoto from our leaders.

My heart broke as I heard this decision, because if I were given a choice, I would have wholeheartedly decided to stay with the students and friends that I have met in Tokyo. I was seriously considering ways of how I could remain in Tokyo and perhaps make my way to Sendai.

I consider my friends in Japan like my family. I have shared so many occasions of laughter and joy that they have made my last year and a half in Japan seem like a minute.

I wanted to be right at their side with them during, probably, their most difficult trial of their life (and now that I’m 600 miles away from them, I can still recall one of the students saying “No, don’t go Mike! Don’t go!”).

But as I began to plan what I was to do, I realized I couldn’t act so rashly on emotions.

I needed to just stop and pray.

Although I so desperately wanted to stay in Tokyo, I also knew that this would take a toll on my parent’s mental health (they were urging me to come back to the U.S. or at least to Hong Kong).

I finally came to a conclusion that I probably should’ve reached much sooner: there is absolutely nothing I could do to mess up God’s plan.

I heard a whisper in my heart to have faith, faith that the God who made the country of Japan shake is the same God who sent His son to die for Japan.

I’m reminded of a quote Mother Teresa once said: “God hasn’t called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.”

I originally thought that going to Kyoto was an act of fear, escaping from the danger of the radiation and earthquake, and by staying in Tokyo I would be “proving” my faith. But a Christian brother I just met quickly reminded me that I have nothing to do to “prove” my faith.

Becoming a martyr doesn’t give you a badge of faith; unnecessary suffering is just masochism rather than faithfulness. God knew how desperately I wanted to stay behind, but I also know that God wanted me to trust in Him.

Plus, if my leaving for Kyoto was an act of fear, I knew that God would just send a whale to swallow me up and spit me back in Tokyo (it’ll at least be cheaper than taking the bullet train and probably more comfortable than taking the night bus. I’m secretly praying for this to happen).

So I took a deep breath, and began to pack.

I understand that not everyone who is reading this letter shares the same faith in God as I do, but that’s ok. What I do want to do is ask is this: what do you have faith and hope in?

Because we just saw an earthquake and tsunami completely destroy in an instant what a person may have worked their entire life for.

For the last 4 months I’ve volunteered at a weekly food distribution to the homeless community in Tokyo. One of them was a manager in a prestigious Japanese investment firm who made one mistake that landed him homeless.

We are heading into the Sakura (cherry blossom) season. For a couple weeks these leaves will bloom, and when they all do finally bloom it will be beautiful. Yet it only lasts like this for 3 days until they all slowly begin to fall down, a symbol of the ephemeral nature of life.

One of the parables that Jesus taught is of 2 men who built castles, one on stone and the other on sand. In an instant, the castle that was built on sand, what was once a symbol of pride, was wiped away from rain and wind.

For me, I have a foundation built on God, in hope, and in love (all things that, in my vocabulary, are synonymous.). This foundation of mine is rooted in things that nothing on this earth could ever take away from me, neither natural disaster nor small little mistake I am so prone to making.

And when my life is over, it will be far from the end, rather the beginning of eternity. I will be face to face with God in an eternal party (and there will be dancing) where I long to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

My friends and I have already signed up and taken the steps to head straight to the Tohoku area to help with relief efforts. While there are people heading the opposite direction, we’re going straight towards the exact places they are fleeing from.

Everyday I read different reports of the varying dangers that might be involved, whether it is radiation or strong aftershocks.

Some people take this as crazy, but do you know what I think is even crazier? To look at the photos and videos of all the destruction, to look into the eyes of the tens of thousands of people whose lives will never be the same, and do nothing about it.

When I applied to come to Japan with Cru in 2009, God knew that this earthquake would happen. And so here I am.

Many, many, people are wondering why this has happened; how can anyone even say that there can be a God amidst all this suffering? I can’t really give an answer to that as there is probably a different answer to everyone, but to just trust and know that God knows what He’s doing.

And as His hands and feet, I am to do something about it.

This all sounds well and good written on a computer screen, but I know that it’ll be a million times harder to actually go through with it. So please pray for God’s continued wisdom and faith, faith that remembers there is absolutely nothing I can do to mess up God’s plan.

Please continue to pray for Japan, that amidst all the suffering, they will remain hopeful.

And finally please pray for my team and myself that as we go out, we will be filled with an infectious attitude of love, hope and grace.