Church members resilient after disasters

Published: Wednesday, March 23 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Anything can happen, so be prepared.

That’s one thing Rei Shimizu and other Mormons have learned in the days following the recent natural disasters in Japan.

When the earthquake hit, Shimizu was shopping with friends on the fifth floor of a building in Tokyo. No one was hurt, but she was stranded. As a result of the damage and devastation, the BYU student was unable to travel from Tokyo to her hometown of Toyama. Food and basic supplies have also been difficult to obtain.

“My family had prepared emergency supplies, and we thought that was enough,” Shimizu said in an email. “However, after this tragic earthquake and tsunami, we really felt it was not enough. We never expected this horrible disaster to happen, but now we all know that anything can happen, so we need to be more prepared.”

President William McIntyre, who presides over the Japan Kobe Mission, said the country has a history of being prone to natural disasters and thus has a strong cultural sense of preparedness. Evacuation points are well-marked, and periodically local governments conduct disaster readiness training through drills and rescue practices. School children are taught how to react in an earthquake. Coastal cities all have tsunami warning alarms, he said in an email.

Food storage is another story.

Lack of space is a problem, especially in cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Homes and apartments are much smaller than what is common in America. Mormons do what they can, President McIntyre says, but at best all they can save is a 72-hour kit and a few weeks of non-perishables. Local leaders, under the direction of the area presidency, have already been gathering food, supplies and fuel and personally traveled to the affected areas to deliver and offer assistance.

“The Japanese are a very resilient people. They have endured hard times, and they usually do so with patience and order,” President McIntyre said. “Church members add to that their knowledge of the gospel, particularly their hope in Christ and an eternal perspective of things. Many of us can learn a lot from these attributes and attitudes. Perhaps we can also learn we can probably never be prepared enough.”

Before the earthquake, the Kobe mission had more than 130 missionaries. Another 42 were recently added from the evacuated Tokyo mission. This has kept the mission home busy, but the McIntyres have managed by knowing their family members are safe.

President McIntyre’s in-laws live in Fukushima City. The days passed slowly until they received a text message with news of their survival and safety. Other relatives living in the Miyagi prefecture were not affected by the tsunami or the nuclear power plant crisis. Their daughter is serving in the Japan Fukuoka Mission and working in Okinawa, but is doing well. They also worried about a tsunami hitting Hawaii because a son is attending BYU-Hawaii.

“It seemed unbelievable that an earthquake in Japan would affect and even pose potential danger to nearly all of our immediate family, all living in three far parts of the world,” President McIntyre said. “It makes you think about how connected the world really is and the importance of always being prepared. We are grateful, but we gained a firsthand lesson in the need to always be prepared.”

Ricky McIntyre, the son at BYU-Hawaii, coordinated the making of 72-hour kits for all the missionary apartments in the Kobe mission last May for his Eagle project.

Kent Derricott served a mission to Japan in the 1970s and has worked in and out of the country for more than 35 years, becoming a television celebrity. His family lived in Japan for 10 years before making a permanent home in Utah. His wife, Barbara, said her husband’s plane was descending into Tokyo when the earthquake occurred and was diverted to a nearby U.S. air base. His business trip was challenging to say the least, but he is doing OK, Barbara said. Their thoughts and prayers have been focused on the suffering people, especially friends and members of the church. She knows one member who huddled in a blanket for two days after the electricity went out.

She has been impressed with how the Japanese have maintained order through it all.

“They are great, hard-working people," she said. "No rioting. No looting. It’s refreshing to see. They are showing the world they can come through and recuperate from a disaster.”

President McIntyre has often pondered about the great destruction that took place before Jesus Christ appeared to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. He wondered how that level of devastation could occur.

“After the events of the past week, I do not wonder any more. The Earth is fragile and so are our lives,” he said. “I have always loved the Boy Scout motto, ‘Be Prepared.’ After all, this life is a time to prepare to meet God.”

email: ttoone@desnews.com

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