One year after destruction, Japan's cherry blossoms announce a growing hope

Cherry BlossomsJAPAN (MNN) ―One year ago this Sunday, a huge earthquake -- the fifth-largest ever recorded -- ripped through the seabed about 40 miles off the coast of Japan.

At magnitude 9.0, the quake shifted Honshu Island 8 feet to the east and made the Earth wobble on its axis. It also sent tsunamis crashing into the coast, tearing a swath of destruction six miles inland and wrecking the nuclear power station at Fukushima.

From that disaster, a meltdown--releasing 600 million times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb--occurred. 15,000 people are known to have died; thousands are still missing a year later.  

President Joe Handley with Asian Access says the repair task was daunting. "86 communities were completely washed away. People lost their homes, lost their jobs, lost their loved ones." Yet, rebuilding quickly began, and the picture of Japan today is painted amidst the hope of the cherry blossoms budding now. "Out of ashes of this disaster, we've seen hope on the rise."

As word of the scope of the disaster spread, so did the number of people who wanted to help. "The Japanese Self Defense Force were some of the first up in the region bringing help and hope, then believers across Japan--Japanese churches in particular--have been the unsung heroes. Then, believers around the world came to rally."

Here's the irony, says Handley. The hardest-hit region was also "the single least-reached region of Japan. Japan is known as one of the largest unreached people group in the world, and this particular region is the single most unreached sector of Japan."

The walls of disinterest in the Gospel began to give way. "Out of this situation, people have been asking, 'Why would you do this? Why would you care for us so much?' and, 'Why are you the ones that are helping us through these emotional situations when many others are doing nothing?' Because of that, many are coming to Christ."

Asian Access mobilized 30 tons of aid with the help of a $1 million dollar matching grant last year. That aid has gone a long way to spiritual healing. "The churches have been at the forefront of providing relief. So, as people have really faced the emotional and the spiritual trauma that has hit them, the Church has really risen to the occasion to meet people's needs."

Asian Access launched a strategic sending partnership with SIM USA to help meet the needs. Handley remarked that for the first time in his 30-year cross-cultural ministry career, "This pastor was asking me to send hundreds of missionaries. I've never in my life seen local pastors from a country practically begging me to send hundreds of missionaries. It wasn't just one pastor. It was a few."

It's just the beginning. Asian Access hopes to continue to provide funds and also missionaries to support them in this work. "Pastors think we have about a two-year window to really invest in Japan, spiritually. This is a unique time for Japan. Some have called it a 'kairos' moment, or a 'God' moment, for Japan."

The good news: A2 just received a second USD$1,000,000 matching opportunity to bring hope and healing to the country. These new funds allow A2 to continue to bolster the strategic partnerships created over the last year.     

Handley explains, "We continue to invest in key pastors and leaders throughout the region, developing community centers that are centers of hope, centers for transformational and church planting efforts, even investing in small businesses that have been completely devastated."

"It's cherry blossom season," Handley says. In Japan, cherry blossoms symbolize clouds, besides being a metaphor for life. In this case, A2 teams have given life meaning through the Gospel. "Through this season of hope, this million-dollar matching opportunity will help us come alongside key churches and send more missionaries to help them share the love and hope that lies within us."

To give toward the match, either send a check to Asian Access marked: "$1M Matching Gift" or give online. If you indicate "For Japan Matching Gift" on your check, your gift will be doubled.

Listen to the MNN broadcast...

{enclose mnn/2min-Mar09-2012.mp3}

(2 minute clip; the 2nd of 3 stories)

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