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3/11 Disasters: Two Years Later

Many relief workers have come and gone. Thousands of blankets, bedding and heaters have been distributed.  Tons of mud and contamination have been cleared. Millions of dollars have been used to support those in need. Many lives have been touched by caring people.

Although the world has moved on and the triple disasters which hit Japan on 3/11 two years ago are now considered ‘history’, the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those who lost family, homes and all their belongings continue to be a huge challenge.  People are still living in temporary housing. Once lively communities are still like barren wasteland. Many are depressed and don’t know what to do.  Many are desperate to find any kind of hope in life.

TEAM is still there in Iwate prefecture, northern Japan, sharing the light of Christ.  Missionaries Jim and Eileen Nielsen, together with their dedicated team within the Iwate Ministry Initiative (IMI), continue to sacrificially serve the affected people at their real point of need.

The IMI team has two primary outreach approaches - café work and visitation.  Their café work is focused on building a new sense of community for those living in temporary housing, giving emotional care as a group. Their visitation work is focused on spending time with individuals "one-on-one" for their personal emotional and spiritual care.

"As part of our café outreaches, along with serving light snacks and drinks, we regularly bring crafts and other activities along with us. We also ask each volunteer and volunteer team which comes with us ahead of time to serve with whatever gifts and abilities they might have. As a result, we have seen various forms of service expressed through music, art, puppetry, crafts, Japanese origami, calligraphy, etc.", says Jim Nielsen, the IMI team leader, with great thankfulness to God.

“We see the recovery of many of the survivors of the disaster moving ahead "step-by-step" in a positive, forward looking direction. However, there are still many who are not doing well emotionally and with the continuing seismic activity off the coast, they are the ones most at risk for struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and committing suicide.”

The IMI team have purposed from the beginning to develop trust and a close working relationship with the leaders of each temporary housing community and the city workers in order to best reach out to those who are suffering. With these individuals less likely to come out to café activities and thus the hardest to reach, the IMI team has purposed to place as much emphasis on their visitation outreach as their café work in order to bring help, healing and hope to those who need it most.

“It''s amazing how powerful the love of Christ is and how by loving those whom the Lord has called us to serve, we have seen many trusting relationships established and opportunities to share Christ as a result”, explains Jim with much passion.

When asked why he and the IMI team are still in northern Japan, he answers, “The single most significant factor which accounts for why we are still here after so many have moved on can be summarized by 2 Corinthians 5:14,15:

For Christ''s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

As a result of Christ’s love at work both within the team and through their outreach efforts, we are experiencing an ever deepening love for the many, many residents of the temporary housing communities we have the privilege of serving.”

"3/11 in Retrospect", by Eileen Nielsen

“Help, Healing, Hope”... these three words epitomize our goals among the survivors of 3/11’s earthquake, tsunami and reactor leaks.


The “help” of the first year was challenging but easy to measure. Helping meant assisting as many people with their physical needs as much as possible. When the donations, i.e. blankets, food, clothes, etc., ran out, we were finished with that stage.


The second stage “healing” has been more challenging to measure, but is well under way. The following are some of the survivor’s stories which highlight this healing process:


Mr. T. is one of our regulars at the café we run for survivors.  He is a talented artist. He often stops by the cafe to talk to Jim who studied art in college. He shyly brought a few pictures initially to show everyone. Fast forward to this past fall, where his enthusiasm bubbled over about a drawing class he was attending and an art show that was exhibiting some of his work. “Last year, I could hardly lift a brush...”, he shared excitedly. He has also shown an interest in the gospel, since many of his talks with Jim have centered on the beauty of God’s creation, a subject of many of his art pieces. 

Mrs. Y. has seen healing on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start. Her house was partially destroyed by the tsunami. Her health greatly deteriorated during her time in the evacuation center, and was still poor when she and her husband eventually moved to a temporary housing unit. Her one bright spot was her poetry writing and the books she received from our staff written by a famous Japanese Christian author. Fast forward to this past fall, where she is back in a beautifully rebuilt home, her health improving daily and proudly proclaiming her new found faith in Christ. After a recent afternoon spent studying the Bible with two of our team members, she said, “Spending all afternoon talking about Christ made it feel like Christmas.”


Mr. O. is a middle aged man who lost his home during the tsunami. He is a caretaker for his elderly mother and a regular at our cafes. Our cafe sign displays the Japanese characters for “faith, hope and love”. He mentioned to one of the staff how much the words encouraged him. The staff member shared that the words were from the Bible. He responded, “I need to hear more about that love”. 

This love was a theme again for our recent Valentine’s party. As part of one of our craft classes, we made waffles with strawberries. This ladies’ group was one of the first classes we started after 3/11. Since there are limitations in sharing the gospel in the public facility we use, printing 1 Corinthians 13:13 as a hand-out was a subtle way of communicating our purpose. One lady read the hand-out and asked “How can I receive this kind of love?”. Our staff worker told her, “Just like you received these waffles today, God’s love is always free.” The ladies all came up to get the hand out to take home.

Recently we were reflecting on how often the survivors use “family” words in regard to our relationships with them. “You’re like a son/daughter to me” have been words heard by many of our staff members time and again. In a closed culture like Japan, which often takes years to build any meaningful relationships, this building of personal connections is a positive sign of the healing that is taking place here in Iwate prefecture.


Finally, “Hope” infuses every aspect of our lives here in Tohoku. “Dynamic, active, directive and life sustaining” 1 is a Biblical definition of hope which sums up how we believe God has been working in this needy area during the past two years. The process continues, and we continue to be thankful to be part of God’s provision of “help, healing, hope” for the survivors of 3/11.






1 Keathley, J. Hampton, “Hope”,


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