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Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver
Three months after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Presiding Bishop H. David Burton walks through Higashi Matsushima, Japan, a once thriving coastal community. June 15, 2011

WATARI, Japan — Prominent signs placed amid the miles and miles of devastation and destruction in the Japan's Miyagi prefecture send a one-word message of the resiliency of the people here: "Ganbaru," which means hold out, stand firm and hang in there.

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hoped to send the same message Wednesday to a group of fishermen who have not been able to work since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami destroyed or damaged their equipment and all but two of their 90 boats.

In an official ceremony, LDS Church Presiding Bishop H. David Burton presented members of the Miyagi Prefecture Fishing Cooperative with a certificate pledging help from the church's humanitarian fund.

Bishop Burton explained that the fisherman's plight could not have been resolved without support from an outside organization. Even as they were rebuilding their boats, the tsunami destroyed an ice maker that allowed the men to preserve their daily catch.

"Ice and refrigeration are very important for fishing," said Shinetsu Kikuchi, chairman of the cooperative.

Bishop Burton said the Church will provide the ice maker, a refrigerator, a cooler truck and other equipment and supplies.

"We are honored to make this donation," he told Kikuchi during the ceremony. "But along with the donation we offer our hearts and prayers as you press forward in building for your future. We hope in some small way this will assist you. We wish you well."

Kikuchi said the donation has "motivated our fisherman to feel like we are ready to go."

Bishop Burton said the effort is just one of many the Church is making in the disaster zone.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and powerful tsunami left 15,401 dead, displaced thousands and destroyed more than 551,000 homes throughout Japan, according to the National Police Agency.

Immediately the church sent water, food, blankets and fuel to the disaster zone.

The organization is now undertaking efforts — like the donation to the fishing cooperative — that will help the community rebuild.

In addition to donating funds to each of the three prefectures impacted most by the disaster and to the Red Cross, the church will also use humanitarian dollars for education and employment initiatives, and for an agriculture effort in which leaders hope to use a new technology to restore fields damaged by sea water, said Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Seventy and president of the church's Asia North Area.

But, he added, the greatest Latter-day Saint relief in the area has come with the more than 10,000 volunteers who have donned helping hands T-shirts and given more than 100,000 hours of service.

Elder Stevenson said the yellow vests and T-shirts have become well known in the disaster zone. Residents say, "If you see a yellow vest, grab them and get them back to your house."

The church will continue to send volunteers into the impacted areas until the work is done, he added.

Elder Stevenson said that throughout the summer, local missionaries and LDS Church members from across Japan will come to the area. "Two to three groups a week will be here," he said.

Bishop Burton said helping in the area through humanitarian work and volunteers is a priority.

"I don't know where we could spend our money any better," he said.

Looking at the breadth and depth of the destruction left by the catastrophe, Bishop Burton listed some of the other disaster sites he has visited around the world.

Then, speaking of Japan, he added, "I have never seen anything like this."