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Fukushima First Baptist Church – an evacuated pastor’s diary 1

This report is from Pastor Akira Sato, who is the pastor for the Fukushima First Baptist Church, near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. He is the pastor of the church where the project leader Mr. Sato is a member. Please pray for this congregation.

13th March – Report 1

Evacuation report by Pastor Akira Satoh

Dear members of churches and pastors,

Praise the name of the Lord. I truly appreciate all your prayers and thoughts for us.

On March 11th, when the earthquake struck, I was in Chiba to attend the commencement ceremony of Tokyo Christian University. I am still in Chiba because of the rough conditions of the road and the lack of gasoline. I have been trying to contact with church members who were stricken by the quake, as well as with Rev. Masashi Sato, and finding out how they are doing.

This has been triple disasters. Because of the quake, some member’s house was partially destroyed. I still haven’t been able to get in touch with the families who live near the beach. JR Tomioka station has been washed away by the tsunami. The city was utterly destroyed. You have already heard of the accident of Fukushima first nuclear power plant. All the residents were forced to evacuate, and my church members had to get on a bus without any belongings and sent to schools and gyms separately. It’s been hard to find out how they are doing. I heard that there were not enough blankets for everyone, and some couldn’t sleep all night because it was cold in the shelter. In some shelters, no water or food were distributed all day. I’m very concerned for Bro. Suenaga, 95-year-old, who was in a hospital due to pneumonia was forced to leave the hospital to evacuate. There are also people who have broken bones, in need of dialysis, with little children or children with disabilities…

I heard that onigiri (rice balls) have been distributed 3 times a day, one each at a time. Nevertheless, I can’t help worrying about those who are elderly and sick. They must have been exhausted by now. I covet your fervent prayers for them.

In addition, my biggest prayer request is that there would be no more radiation leaks. The worst possible scenario would be that people would never be able to go back to their town and homes, and that the church would be closed down and the history of mission in this region would end. Please pray this wouldn’t happen. Please pray that people would be able to come back to the city and church doors would be opened again and we can praise and worship the Lord there again.

Today’s service was canceled as well as a baptismal service and an engagement service which was planned to be held today. I have no idea for how long church members have to wander being unable to go home… I feel depressed to just think about it. However, I do believe and confess that our almighty God and the Lord of the history who reigns everything including nature WILL open a new page of mission and lead us on.

Rev. Keiichi Mori has requested prayer after receiving my phone call this morning. I really appreciate it. Some 10+ people have moved from a shelter to Aizu Chapel. They will stay there. I’m very grateful for it. Others will have to stay in shelters where they are now. Many people have offered help and even to donate. I’m so grateful. The church has been closed and we can’t even go into the city, but if you could use the account number which is listed on the Conservative Baptist directory, I’d appreciate it very much. (To give through post office, the account number is Koriyama 1-2199 Fukushima First Bible Baptist Church 郡山1-2199福島第一聖書バプテスト教会)

Lastly, my last Sunday’s message was titled “Hezekiah, an urgent prayer,” Even though I never expected something like this would happen the following week. When about to destroyed by Assyria, Hezekiah put on sackcloth, prayed, and requested an urgent prayer to prophet Isaiah as they faced the life or death crisis of the nation. Then, the king of Assyria went back to Nineveh and killed by his own son. Before Hezekiah knew it, the crisis has passed… We were reminded that God of the history works in a wondrous way. I have never thought I would have to request an urgent prayer just like Hezekiah, and that we would be scattered to different shelters, and read the Word at wherever we were placed.

Again, I humbly request your fervent, urgent prayers that our church would survive this crisis and the work of mission would not be stopped, that we would rise again, and that the radiation leak would be stopped. I covet your prayer.

14th March – Report 2

We have contacted 150 church members and they are safe. Hallelujah! One sister told me that waves approached her but she was able to swim to safety. My eyes fill with tears as I call members from a pay phone – fifty or sixty still need to be contacted.

As we travelled to Yonezawa we bought quite a few materials. I heard other shoppers say, “He is panic buying” but I didn’t feel like defending myself. Buses took us to the rescue centres. One of them is quite comfortable with hot springs nearby and some shops too.

Another place has no heating, and very little food. To protect ourselves from cold, I bought many pairs of warm socks. At a mobile phone shop, I asked for a charger and extra cables. They spoke words of encouragement which was quite moving.

When I hear news of rescue teams coming from abroad, it moves me to tears. To avoid congestion, we will leave in two hours time, after midnight.

16th March – Report 3

Travelling with two other trucks we stopped at some shops at about 1am on March 15th and bought whatever was there. We arrived at a church in Aizu at 11am – 10 hours drive from Chiba. We will take shelter here for a while.

About a third of our 60 church members live close to the Fukushima power plant. They had to go through radiation checks, so we all gathered in the afternoon for a time of worship. I could hear people sobbing and saw that they had been through hardship. In the evening I went to a nearby hot spring. What a relief to have a soak after five days! People are so glad to find each other, which again led me to tears. Our nomad life has started. When I asked people whether they had any laundry, their reply was that there were no clothes to wash. All they have is what they are wearing.

Now we need to find petrol and a place to stay. Sixty of us decided to move north to Yamagata hoping to be able to stay there longer. Nothing is clear to us – Will be able to go back home? If so, how long it will take? Will we ever be able to worship in our church again, or will the town simply be abandoned? Like the Israelites in the desert, all we can do is follow God as He leads us with pillars of fire and clouds.

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber;

4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The LORD watches over you — the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

7 The LORD will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life;

8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. ’

(Psalm 121)

18th March – Report 4

I feel upheld by the prayers of our friends. Listening to the stories of people here I see that each one arrived through fire and through tsunami. One church member who I was very concerned about contacted me yesterday. He had a heart attack immediately after the earthquake. If he had not had emergency surgery 30 minutes later, he would have died. He was very grateful that God had saved him.

A female member escaped death by sitting in her colleague’s seat at work. Later, as she was driving, the roads had been affected by liquefaction. She gave a lift to some who were running for their lives and one of these people was able to tell her how to drive in these conditions. Many cars were stuck in cracks on the road. She arrived at a rescue center, and then went on to another one. Now she is staying with relatives.

The most miraculous thing to me is that I never get asked questions like ‘Why did God allow this?’ or ‘I can’t believe in God. There is no God.’ From the 160 members I have been in touch with, all I hear are words like, ‘God is great. I want to trust Him as I walk with Him from now on.’ I marvel at the strength of their faith in the Lord.

Yesterday, three of those who are with us prayed to receive Jesus into their hearts. Hallelujah!

Two days ago, when we were moving from Fukushima to Yamagata, some decided to stay with their friends and family. Once more, I was moved to tears, fearing we might not see each other again. It is very sad to say goodbye to members of God’s family.

Yesterday a total of 12 cars drove through a blizzard to the next place. The church facilities here in Yonezawa are blanketed with snow. In extremely cold weather, church members welcomed us with hot udon and soba. I ate a rice ball trying not to cry. ‘Lord, make our hearts as white as the snow that surrounds us.’

Are we going to be diaspora people? Are we going to be led to a stable life? What is obvious is that God is shaking everything through these extraordinary events. Some people are receiving the Lord Jesus without question. Others are repenting saying their belief in God was dormant. They say that what sustains us as human beings is actually very little. We don’t really need many material possessions. The Lord challenges each one, shaking them from the bottom of their souls. Is this a beginning of an Exodus into a new frontier that the Lord is opening for us?

19 March – Report 5

Day 3 in Yonezawa. I am grateful for the prayers and support of our brothers and sisters. People around me say they left home thinking they would only be gone for an hour or two. They literally have nothing with them. Brothers and sisters are bringing us food and clothing from all over Japan. I feel like Elijah, sustained by God with food carried by a raven. Our group of 50 is kept well by kind donations. Many of us are tired, and go to see the doctor. I have had a fever.

Yesterday I had my mobile in my hand but couldn’t remember what I had been going to do. I felt numb. My heart ached. Two or three layers of loss suddenly engulfed me. My home was gone, so was my church. I was driven from my town. My ministry is gone. I can’t see what is going to happen next. I am trying to grasp the whole thing, but find myself unable to.

My church was planted by an American missionary long before the power plant was built. Fukushima First (part of our church name) was the name given by the missionary in accordance with the practice of his church at home. The power plant has the same name, but ours was named first. Two days ago, a brother who works at the plant but has been with us, was called back to work. We prayed together with his family and sent him off. Other church members are working there risking their lives. ’Lord, please protect them with your mighty hand.’ In 1 Chron. 4:10 we read, ‘Jabez cried out to the God of Israel‚ Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.‘ And God granted his request.

21st March – Report 6

We had a worship service yesterday, the first in two weeks. Yonezawa church let us use their musical instruments, PA and video equipment. I cried, blaming the leader (the assistant pastor) who was also in tears! It seems that if you have to cry, you should do it without embarrassment. I will cry 50 years worth, or a life-time worth of tears.

Living with fifty people, cooking, eating, and sleeping with them is out of the ordinary. It has been ten days now and I can’t even tell what is ordinary and what is not. I am trying to accept it and go with the flow. By doing so, I might be charging my battery for the days to come.

Is. 42:3: ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out‘ May the Great Shepherd embrace this flock and carry them on His wings.

Report 1 translated by Sachi Nakamura, Report 2-6 translated by Yoshie Yokoyama


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January 2023



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