Thursday, July 23, 2009

Yearbook Experience - Earthquake in Kobe, Japan

(Kobe, Japan - 1995 earthquake / photo & experience on pgs 142-145 of the 1998 Yearbook)
*I'm gonna look for more yearbook info about the brothers in Zimbabwe, but in the meantime, I wanted to post this yearbook experience that took place after the earthquake in Kobe, Japan in 1995, to show how important it is to actively demonstrate our love and support for our brothers during a time of crisis, and how much can be accomplished when we all work together to get things done.

Love Coupled With Organization
As foretold by Jesus Christ, in these last days great earthquakes continue to strike in one place after another. (Matthew 24:3, 7) One of these struck the Kobe area on Tuesday, January 17, 1995. The earthquake, measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale, took over 5000 lives and left thousands homeless. Among the 9,000 Witnesses living in the affected area, 13 baptized Witnesses and 2 unbaptized publishers lost their lives. Hiroshi and Kazu Kaneko, a special pioneer couple serving in the Nishinomiya Central Congregation, were found under the rubble of an old apartment that morning. It took more than four hours to dig Brother Kaneko out, but his wife, Kazu, had been crushed to death. Because Hiroshi had been under the weight of the rubble for a long time, his kidneys stopped functioning, leaving him in critical condition for many days. "It hit me hard how useless material belongings are," Hiroshi said. "In contrast, I realized the importance of inner qualities such as faith and hope. Those qualities help us overcome the worst of conditions that we may face."

Moved by intense love for their brothers, Witnesses quickly acted to provide help. Providentially, the circuits around Kobe had been organized to cut across the city from north to south. Since the quake hit the area along the coastline from east to west, each circuit had unaffected congregations that could assist those in need. Elders in the unaffected congregations nearby took the initiative in organizing the relief work. On the day after the first jolt, a convoy of 16 motorcycles delivered food and water to the congregations in downtown Kobe. Circuit overseers at once set up temporary relief centers to care for Witnesses in the affected area. The branch designated six Kingdom Halls that were not destroyed as depots for relief supplies. "Within five hours, those halls were filled to capacity," recalls Yoshihiro Nagasaki, a member of the Branch Committee who got into the affected area by riding on the back of a motorcycle belonging to a fellow Witness. "We had to ask the brothers to reroute the relief supplies to nearby Assembly Halls." Supply centers were set up where representatives from the local congregations could pick up the needed items, and the elders in each congregation would then distribute the supplies to its members.
The Bible encourages Christians to "work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith." (Galatians 6:10) The Witnesses gladly shared with their neighbors what they received. Two days after the Kobe earthquake, when a Witness elder realized that the relief supplies for the Witnesses were sufficient but that other people were in desperate need, he quickly dispatched two vans full of food supplies to a local refugee center.

Further Assistance Extended
Attention was given also to emotional and spiritual needs. Arrangements were promptly made to continue the congregation meetings. One congregation met in a park on the very day of the earthquake. By the Sunday following the quake, most congregations in the area held their regular Watchtower Study. To care for the emotional and spiritual needs of those affected, seven circuit overseers were sent to the five affected circuits in addition to their regular circuit overseers. They made special visits to strengthen the brothers and to help them keep the Kingdom interests first in their lives in spite of the disaster. Ten Kingdom Halls had been rendered unfit for use. The homes of many of the brothers had been totally or partially destroyed. The 11 Regional Building Committees in Japan each organized teams of about 21 workers to repair the damaged houses. A relief team of Witnesses from the United States came at their own expense to share in the work. Before these teams had finished their work, they had repaired 1,023 houses and cleared away 4 houses that had been destroyed. Five Kingdom Halls were rebuilt, and four were repaired by self-sacrificing brothers who came from all over the country.
Unbelieving family members were treated with the same kindness as was shown to the believing members of such households. A sister with an unbelieving husband and four children lost her second son in the earthquake. The family stayed in the Kingdom Hall with 70 other Witnesses for one week. Observing how the brothers showed concern and gave practical help, the husband began to appreciate Jehovah's organization. One day he visited the relief headquarters in Suita. There he saw many brothers working hard for the benefit of people they did not know. Emotion welled up inside him, and he could not hold back his tears. That very day, he agreed to a Bible study.