Perhaps the best-prepared nation on earth, Japan struggles to deliver on relief to quake survivors—up to half a million displaced—and faith-based groups are finding ways to step into the gaps.
Less than 48 hours after a cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami decimated Japan's northeastern coastline, Luke Cummings managed a feat that many relief workers initially struggled to accomplish: He rushed headlong into the devastation. The 25-year-old American—who grew up in a missionary family in Japan—drove a van from his home in Tokyo to the hard-hit Sendai region, where his parents live and work, to deliver food and supplies to reeling communities. Four days later, Cummings offered a chilling firsthand account of the overwhelming devastation in coastal towns: "It's as if the atomic bomb went off."
The unfolding disaster was particularly striking for a country considered the world's best-prepared for earthquakes. The island nation in the so-called Ring of Fire—an arc of volcanic and earthquake zones in the Pacific where some 90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur—maintains high standards for quake-ready structures and an advanced earthquake warning system. Japanese rescue and relief workers cultivate meticulous disaster-response plans. But the best-laid plans couldn't prepare for a trio of simultaneous disasters: quake, tsunami, and a nuclear power plant in meltdown. That left gaps the government couldn't fill, and opened opportunities for select aid groups and individuals to help with needs that will last far beyond the initial disaster. The World Bank estimated that the disaster caused $235 billion in damages, and that reconstruction may take five years. (The country's 1995 Kobe earthquake killed 6,000 victims and left $100 billion in damages.)
The most acute needs remained humanitarian, and one of the biggest sources of help came from one of the nation's smallest minorities: Christians working through churches to deliver aid and hope to a nation confronting profound needs—both physical and spiritual.
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Church planting and growth has been a focus for most of my ministry. I frequently lecture and speak on church planting and have been actively involved in many church plants. Under God's hand and direction, my wife, Kaye, and I planted the