It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a month since a magnitude 9 earthquake rocked Japan on March 11, shaking our house enough to cause the kids and I to run outside to the park next door. As we walked out into the street, our neighbor Mrs. Ueda also came out of her front door, quite shaken and not sure what to do. We walked (briskly!) hand in hand to the park where a few other neighbors were gathered and continued to feel the ground shake for quite some time. Mrs. Ueda and other grandmotherly and grandfatherly types in our neighborhood agreed that this was definitely the biggest quake they had ever experienced. After the shaking stopped, the kids and I went back into the house and saw that there was no damage and we breathed a sigh of relief. Soon after, though, we had several very strong aftershocks that sent us back to the park a couple of more times (this time with the kids’ arms loaded up with their favorite stuffed animals). However, our house never sustained any damage and we also never lost any electricity, gas, or water, for which we are very thankful.
Later, I turned on the news to see that a tsunami had hit northern Japan and caused great devastation and loss of life. It was heartbreaking to watch the interviews with people who had lost everything and to hear about Navigator staff we know near Sendai who were missing. Thankfully, all of our staff were eventually found to be physically safe, though one staff couple’s parents’ house was washed away and everyone in the area had to do without water, gas, and electricity for quite some time. Right after the quake, gas stations were closed and I was stuck at home for several days because I couldn’t fill my almost empty gas tank. During this time, I wasn’t able to personally see many friends on the other side of town or take the kids to school, but I was able to talk with and email people through my cell phone to find out if people were okay. On the opposite side of town where most of our friends live, everyone was without power (and some were without water) for several days.
It wasn’t until we had an early birthday party at our house on the Saturday after the earthquake that I first heard about the damage at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Our house is quite far from the plant (about 150 km), but reading the news reports it was hard to tell if the power plant problems would affect us here or not. That began several days of high-stress for me, with Bryan on a trip to Michigan so I was here alone with the kids, scary news reports coming in, aftershocks at night that kept me awake, and hundreds of emails pouring into our inbox asking if we were okay or warning us to flee Japan or run out and buy iodine tablets as soon as possible. I looked out my window, and the Japanese and our city were going about business as usual — walking to school, riding bikes, walking their dogs, etc. but the news was telling me that all of Japan was in grave danger. Others warned me to wear a mask when I went outside to protect from radiation or tape up the seams between our windows and cover up the vents in our kitchen and bathrooms. Others warned of impending acid rain. I spent several days afraid of letting the kids play outside for fear of radiation exposure. For about a week after the earthquake I was unable to sleep more than a few hours a night and I lost several pounds because I had no appetite. I eventually had to stop looking at the news because it was too scary and some dear friends checked the news for me to give me the bottom line, screened my calls and took my cell phone from me at night so that I wouldn’t be woken up by emails from well-meaning friends and family. When the telephone rang, I would feel afraid and start shaking and I had a deep fear of even looking at the headlines on the internet news.
Bryan cut short his trip to the States to be with us during this very stressful time. When he returned, friends showed us a website that told the hourly radiation levels in the air in our city and we discovered that Utsunomiya’s radiation levels had been slightly higher than normal since the power plant was damaged, but well within healthy levels. A few days later, we also learned about a website showing the radiation levels in our water each day, which also had been safe. I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief, realizing that we had been safe from radiation all along. I wish I had known those things earlier.
Just as we were starting to feel good about our safety level, our missions organization decided to have us evacuate to Shizuoka, just to be extra safe from radiation and to make sure our kids were not in any danger. We feverishly unpacked Bryan’s suitcases from his trip to the States, did our best to tidy up our house, and repacked our car with what we thought we would need to be in Shizuoka for an undetermined amount of time. That was a stressful experience, but in the end our time in Shizuoka ended up being a good break and time of rest for our family. We were able to spend time with good friends and our kids were able to play with other staff children who they love but usually only get to see once or twice a year. We were able to take a break from rolling power outages, gas lines, and stores with not much on the shelves. One friend even treated us to a super delicious steak lunch! After five days, we were given the the okay to return to Utsunomiya and now we are back home. Radiation levels continue to be within the healthy range, gas lines are now gone, and except for a few items (like yoghurt) the grocery stores are back to being stocked with all the normal foods we were used to before the quake occured.
The nuclear power plant is still not fixed, but we are confident that they will be able to fix it and that things will continue to get back to normal. Bryan and our teammates here have been planning and carrying out trips up to Sendai to take supplies and offer man power for service projects to help people we know and their contacts who have been affected by the quake. Bryan hopes go up tonight for his first overnight trip to Sendai to be involved in a service project. I would love to be involved in that as well, but need to stay back and take care of the kids. We are praying that God will use this terrible tragedy to open the hearts of Japanese people to the good news and love of Jesus. We are praying that good things will come out of the destruction that has occured.
I have learned a lot through the experience of going through this earthquake. I’m learning not to take the basics of life for granted and to remember that our lives can change at a moment’s notice. This has been a good chance to develop some personal “toughness” and to trust God in scary and uncertain circumstances. There were some nights when I would be awakened by a strong aftershock and I had a hard time going back to sleep. It was then that I would reach for my Bible and start to read in the book of Psalms, which reminded me that God is an everpresent help in trouble, that He is my stronghold, and that I can run to Him when I am scared. Those words took on new meaning for me and helped me to take courage. I am so thankful for the Bible and how it is such a living book that speaks personally to my heart in all kinds of circumstances. That is why we are here in Japan, encouraging our friends to discover Jesus through this wonderful book God has given us.
Here are a few photos from our time in Shizuoka. It was especially a wonderful time for our kids, who saw it more as a vacation than as an “evacuation”.