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Florida Methodist missionary reports from Japan

Florida Methodist missionary reports from Japan

A building in Ibaragi Prefecture was swept by the tsunami in northeastern Japan.
(A UMNS web-only photo courtesy of UMCOR.) 

Donations for the United Methodist relief efforts can be made to Pacific Emergency, UMCOR Advance #3021317.  UMCOR news reports can be found here.

(Editor's note:  Jonathan McCurley was raised in Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church in the Orlando area and is a candidate for elder's orders in the Florida Annual Conference. He and his wife, Satomi, are currently on assignment in Japan as United Methodist missionaries at the Asian Rural Institute, an agricultural school. The following report from Jonathan and Satomi about the quake and their situation, which was posted on their blog, was sent to supporters and friends in the United States.)

Jonathan McCurley's Correspondence from Japan

I send you greetings in the name of Christ. Although we are still in the middle of a bad situation, we know that our God is able to deliver us from this and more.

Thank you for all of your prayers, love and words of encouragement. They have been much strength to us as we have struggled here for the past 3 days. We are sorry to not have gotten a message to people sooner, but I'm sure you understand. I want to let you know what happened here at the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) and a little information that we know from what's going on throughout Japan.

On Friday, March 11, a little before 3 p.m. the biggest earthquake in Japanese history hit Japan, a magnitude of 9. It was a couple of hundred miles north of us, but it still gave quite a strong shock.  With our students for this year not yet arriving, most of the staff were in the middle of a planning meeting for this coming school year, beginning in April, and most of the volunteers were out in the field planting for the coming year. This ended up being a blessing from God as we were all able to stay out of harm's way with no injuries among our community and the people in the houses surrounding the schools. But as we escaped, fearing the wires overhead and the trees all around, we watched as windows busted and buildings shook around us here at ARI. After the first tremors stopped we started checking the buildings and houses around to make sure everyone was out and ok. Several staff and volunteers came crying and running out of the main building where our offices are, and others came out of their houses and the tremors continued. Satomi was at home at the time with a friend and her children. When I went to check the house another tremor had started, and I helped them to get out of the house. They waited in an open field for the next hour.

That evening we brought what we could outside, began a fire (all in 30 degree weather), and tried to make the best of the situation. We invited neighbors and had dinner there. We would remain without water, gas and electricity into the next day (there are still some towns in the immediate area without electricity and water). We didn't know the damage here or around Japan because it was getting darker and it was hard to get any information, much less make phone calls. We relied on radio reports and many of us decided to sleep outside or all together at the Nasu Seminar house, which we normally use as a guest house and didn't seemed to be damaged. Throughout the night tremors continued, and we didn't get much sleep; but Saturday morning did come.

The next day, as the tremors continued, we all gathered at 7 a.m. as usual and decided that we needed to take care of the animals and get the buildings checked to know what was safe and not. We helped out with several of our neighbors, who also had the insides of their houses pretty much fall in, and we also tried to clean up the things we could, especially broken glass and busted water pipes around the campus. Electricity returned that morning, but water has remained down because of busted pipes on campus. The Seminar house had water, as did some of our neighbors. So we used those to get water for the animals, toilets, etc. We discovered that most of the buildings had some damage, and that the building that houses our dining hall and kitchen, chapel, meeting room and PC room had much structural damage and is unsafe for use. That will be a big undertaking to replace, as we don't have any earthquake insurance. Also since all the shelves in our offices imploded into the room, it will be some time before we can find any important papers that we might need.

Unfortunately, things got worse as we got more news that the nuclear power plants, about 80 miles northeast of us, were unstable and an explosion had occurred. At that time we didn't know what the explosion was, which sent much of the community into panic. We still are following the situation, as there have been no warnings to our area; but because the plants are still unstable, we know that there is a chance of effects coming to our area. Please pray that God will give protection to us and this area and give the ability to the engineers to get the situation under control.

That night we got a call from the pastor of the local church, Nishinasuno church, saying that the church had structural damage, and we could not have worship the next day. This led us to have worship on Sunday at ARI, again inviting people from the area to come and be with us. This was a chance for us to share the gospel, a meal and gather information from one another. The rest of the day we spent sharing about how we are feeling and what we could do both for the community and each other.

It is now Monday and we have set up a temporary office at the Nasu Seminar House and continue to monitor the situation of the power plant and the school, as we have been warned of another very large aftershock in the next few days. We have heard there was another explosion at the power plant; but as of now the wind has continued to stay away from us, as well as the rain, and the government is saying that the radiation that has been blown north of the power plant from the last blast had potency about 1/30th of a regular x-ray, which gives us some, if little, comfort. But, we also were told that from today Eastern Japan will have controlled blackouts, meaning we will have 3 hour blocks without electricity; for how long, we still don't know. There are so many things, so all I can say is please continue to pray for us here at ARI. We will also need financial and physical help in the future, and we thank you for those who are already asking what they can do to help. For those in the US, there is a group named, AFARI, American Friends of ARI, and they can accept tax-deductable donations.

In regards to the rest of Japan, the information we have is that there is a possibility of over 10,000 people to have died, mainly from the tsunami that hit the east coast after the earthquake. In some places it was 30 feet or so. Three prefectures north of us were most hard hit with most of the deaths happening in coastal towns in Iwate and Miyagi, again because of the tsunami. The Japanese National Guard and self defense forces are working hard along with international groups and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to rescue people. But as we are still not able to connect some people up in Miyagi and Iwate, we don't know all that is happening. I saw in the paper this morning that in another town there are 10,000 people missing, so obviously the death toll might continue to rise. Our prefecture, Tochigi, as of today (Monday, March 14), had 4 people die and about 70 missing, a very small number compared to the north, but still sad news. As far as we know, no one from the local community died or was seriously harmed; but, again, we are still in the process of seeing what is happening around us. Some local gas stations have run out of gas, and others are only giving our 3 or 5 gallons of gas at a time. We have heard that in the cities people are waiting for hours at gas stations and supermarkets. We thank God that we're an organic farm; maybe the silver lining in all of this is seeing the importance of trying to be more self-sufficient in our food sources.

So how can you pray for us:

    • Pray for the continued safety of our community and others in Japan as tremors continue.
    • Pray that God would bring control to this power plant situation and protect us and others in Japan.
    • Pray that God would give us wisdom as to the future. We have to decide soon about accepting new students, as well as cleaning up the campus.
    • Pray that God will use us to help in this community for the furthering of His Kingdom.
    • Pray for the various rescue teams that are working around the clock to rescue people, especially in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures.
    • Pray that this situation would lead to the salvation of many in Japan and that people would have a chance to think of what is life really for.

I'm sure there is plenty other news we have left out, but this is all we could think of at the moment. Thank you again for all of your concern and prayers. Please continue to ask our Father to protect and provide for us and to use this horrible situation for the salvation of the Japanese people. May the Love of Christ be with you and us, and may we continue to praise God for all of his supply.

Jonathan and Satomi McCurley

P.S. We've added some pictures of the damage at the school on the blog page.  It's a miracle that no one was hurt! Praise God!

Editor's note: As reports filtered in following last week's devastating earthquake in Japan, the Florida Conference learned that there were two United Methodists with ties to us that were affected by the quake.

Jonathan McCurley's blog also has a few pictures of the aftermath of the quake at the Institute. A biography of Jonathan McCurley can be found at the GBGM website.

Also, a report from United Methodist News Service mentions Sarah Alsgaard, the 25-year-old daughter of the Rev. Erik Alsgaard, former director of communications for the Conference, who has been teaching English in the vicinity of Tokyo. The report tells about other United Methodist missionaries in Japan.


Missionaries in Japan cope with quake’s toll -A UMNS Report, March 14, 2011

News media contact: Cary McMullen, 800-282-8011,, Lakeland

*McMullen is managing editor of the e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.