TOKYO – It’s a
lot different this time. So much so that Southern Baptist disaster relief
specialist Don Hargis looks incredulous if you try to compare Haiti’s
earthquake or even the 2004 South Asia tsunami to Japan’s March 11 triple
Of course, there are the obvious differences – a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, a
tsunami that brought in three walls of waves measuring 50 feet high and then
don’t forget the invisible radiation threat of the ongoing nuclear crisis.
And then, there are the not so obvious differences – Japanese government
restrictions early on didn’t allow international agencies to help with the
search and rescue or meeting basic needs, a snow storm set in hours after the
tsunami hit, parts of the disaster zone are closed off due to radiation and
then the ingrained Japanese culture of stoic perseverance summed up in one
There are no English words or phrases that properly describe this “ganbatte”
mentality. The closest might be “be tough,” “do your best,” “hang in there” or “try
harder.” However you interpret the phrase, it comes down to one thing: The
Japanese will do whatever it takes to persevere, with or without help.
“You can’t even compare this to anything we’ve ever responded to,” says Hargis,
from Copper Springs
Church in Clovis,
Calif. “This is our first time to respond
to a place that had three major disasters hit one area all at the same time.
Then, when you add in the fact that we can’t just fly in and set up shop, we’ve
had to figure out other ways to help and make an impact.”
Because of these unique differences, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is taking
a slightly different role in Japan, providing support and training for Japanese
Baptists. Specialists who train disaster relief volunteers in the U.S. are
doing that in Japan. Tokyo Baptist Church asked the specialists to come
alongside to train their volunteers in everything from feeding stations to
Dee Gulledge of South Carolina feels this new role is culturally appropriate.
She teaches an introduction to crisis counseling to 70 relief workers crowded
into the fellowship hall.
“In my wildest dreams I couldn’t imagine what it is like” living through a
9.0-magnitude earthquake, Gulledge tells the group. “It’s better for me to be
here training you. You know how to fit this into your culture so it will be more
The veteran crisis counselor stresses the need for victims to share their
stories. She suggests volunteers learn to listen closely. She asks what the
appropriate cultural response should be in Japan when hearing stories of the
A low murmur rolls through the room. One word – “ganbatte” – is repeated over
and over until one brave soul speaks up.
“I think it might be better if we try to avoid the ‘ganbatte’ mentality and
phrase,” the participant suggests. “I think we should try ‘ganbarimashou.’ It
means, ‘Let’s do it together.’”
Gulledge smiles at the phrase. It’s the perfect compassionate phrase to use
with victims and evacuees, followed by actively meeting needs – physically and
spiritually. It’s also the perfect analogy for Southern Baptist and Japanese
Baptist disaster relief workers – working together to show God’s love through
Hargis and Naomi Paget, a disaster relief trauma counselor from First
Baptist Church in Bellville, Texas, mentor
a volunteer team from Tokyo Baptist as they prepare food and distribute
supplies in Ishinomaki. The duo is impressed with the easy way the volunteer
team works together and adapts to the elements.
Volunteers slave all morning over four 80-quart pots on wood fires. The soup
and rice are only enough to feed the first 1,000 people lined up. As one pot
empties, cooks prepare the next batch of soup, until almost 4,000 eat a hot
“It’s neat to watch them cook over wood fires. I haven’t ever done that. We use
transportable industrial kitchens in our disaster relief in the States,” Hargis
“I’m impressed with their ability to adapt to the situation. There’s no potable
water and no electricity in this area. Only way to heat something is over the
wood fire, yet they managed to feed almost 4,000 people a hot meal.
“They have an open spirit and are learning quickly,” Hargis adds. “I hope we
can increase their vision – and I hope other Southern Baptists will be able to
help them reach out. This is going to be a long-term project. There’s plenty of
work for everyone.”
The volunteers take turns cooking and circulating through the crowd, listening
to stories and praying with individuals. Hargis and Paget work alongside the
Japanese Baptist team. When a woman walks past, struggling to carry a 10-liter
bottle of water, Hargis and a Tokyo Baptist volunteer jump to her aid.
“Ganbarimashou!” the volunteer says as he and Hargis grab the heavy load.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susie Rain is an International Mission Board writer/editor
living in Southeast Asia. The IMB has established a
relief fund for the Japan disaster. Donations may be sent to Office of Finance,
International Mission Board, 3806 Monument Ave., Richmond, VA 23230. In the
memo line write “Japan Response Fund.” Or you can give online by going to imb.org and clicking on
response” button. For further information, call the IMB toll-free at
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