A strong show of solidarity between the global Christian community and the people of Japan is ongoing nearly two weeks after the massive earthquake and tsunami that wreaked havoc in the country.
Prayers, letters of support and monetary support from around the globe have flooded into Japan since the March 11 disaster, which devastated almost 350 miles of the island nation's northeastern coastline.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America donated nearly $750,000 to relief efforts while humanitarian group Church World Service has been on the ground helping to assist the almost 300,000 refugees who are still living in evacuation sites.
Groups such as the Anglican Communion, Christian Reformed Church, Lutheran World Federation, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ have all been active in showing their support for those affected.
"We have been encouraged and strengthened by the many messages of support from our Christian brothers and sisters all over the world," a letter from the Rev. Isamu Koshiishi, moderator of the National Christian Council in Japan, reads. "Our immediate request is for you to continue to keep us in your prayers as we are coordinating a network of local support for those most severely affected."
"At this time of our great need, we want you to know how grateful we are for your expressions of support and solidarity," he said.
The Rev. Dong Sung Kim, head of regional relations with Asia for the World Council of Churches (WCC), which represents over 560 million Protestants worldwide, said last week that the "show of support from churches in Asia as well as Europe and around the world is also part of what it means to be the ecumenical community."
"It is an important sign of the vitality of the ecumenical community in the region, showing solidarity with brothers and sisters in need," he said.
The unprecedented 9.0 earthquake, the most powerful in Japan's recorded history, and the ensuing tsunami have taken a colossal toll on the country despite its wealth as the world's third largest economy.
Over 11,000 people have been confirmed dead sand 17,000 are still missing, while damage to Japan's infrastructure has been estimated at as high as $309 billion - nearly five percent of country's GDP.
A damaged nuclear power plant in the Fukushima prefecture has caused radioactive contamination of some of the country's food and water supply, with dozens of government crews working around the clock to prevent further spread.
The Japanese government has described the destruction as the worst to hit the country "since World War II."
"Words cannot express the dismay and sorrow filling our hearts as we continue to see the pain and suffering of the Japanese people attempting to rebuild lives and restore communities that had been ravaged by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami ten days ago," reads a letter from WCC General Secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit to the group's member churches in Japan.
"Indeed, the crisis and challenge before the people of Japan is one that threatens all of humankind as we are all deeply connected in the oikoumene of God's creation," Tveit noted.
The Japanese Church, which represents about 2 percent of the country's 127 million people, was not spared in the disaster, with numerous church buildings suffering severe damage and some churches still searching for members.
Still many local churches are doing their best to reach those in need.
Churches in the hard-hit city of Sendai have been hosting refugees while other buildings have been converted into relief centers.
In one situation, four pastors from the United Church of Christ in Japan (Kyodan) assisted a survivor who spent the night on the roof of a three-story building in the snow. According to the WCC news service, the group was able to give the man a ride to the coastal area of Sendai City where he was reunited with his co-workers.
"No wonder his colleagues burst into joy when he arrived at his company," a Kyodan officer reported, "because his presence had never been confirmed before."
Still other ministers across the country are dealing with the disaster's secondary crisis – the mental and emotional trauma – that many of the affected are facing.
"It's sobering to think of the needs that are still to be tallied and dealt with and heartbreaking to her of good friends whose spirits are being mauled and energy drained as they deal with unfathomable ministry needs," Lawrence Spalink of Christian Reformed World Missions in Japan wrote in a blog entry yesterday. "It's a great challenge to those of us who are bearers of the Good News to find the right words to say, the right actions to take, to bring comfort and hope to our suffering friends as well as to those who have escaped loss this time, but who have been awakened to their fragility by these events."
"We need diligence and wisdom. We ourselves have been shaken too and have our own issues and vulnerabilities to deal with, so we need grace also, so that we don't become paralyzed by the stresses we are now facing," he said.