Methodist Church

Mission work continues in Japan despite fears

NEW YORK – It’s planting time at the Asian Rural Institute in northern Japan, and members of the staff are in the fields when they are not cleaning up damage caused by the powerful March 11 earthquake that shook the region.

But they keep an eye on the coast, where efforts are ongoing to contain radiation leakage from the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

“We continue to be worried about the power plant, which has now become the major obstacle to recovery,” Mr Jonathan McCurley, a United Methodist missionary assigned there, wrote on his March 16 blog. He said that he, his wife, Satomi, and others at the school were taking precautions to avoid contamination from radiation, even though he noted that the radiation levels there, while above normal, were “nowhere near the levels to harm one’s health”.

Later that day, the head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned Americans to stay 80 km (50 miles) away from the Daiichi plant, which is about 270 km north of Tokyo. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed on March 17 that the Japanese military “carried out four helicopter water droppings” over Reactor 3 at the plant.

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has given all personnel permission to evacuate from Japan if they wish to do so. A few have left.

The London Telegraph reported that people have been leaving the district around Koriyama, the major town closest to the stricken plant, and travelling 40 km away to the railway station at Nasushiobara, in the Tochigi Prefecture, so they could travel farther south. Nasushiobara is 145 km from Tokyo and 162 km from Sendai.

At the Asian Rural Institute, located in Nasushiobara, the staff have set up shop at the Nasu Seminar House, a retreat centre for the Student Christian Fellowship in Japan.

The ecumenical institute – founded in 1973 by the Rev Toshihiro Takami – conducts a nine-month Rural Leaders Training Programme each year from April to December, focusing on sustainable agriculture, community development and leadership. e United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has had Asian and African participants in the programme.

“As Japan still has the occasional aftershocks, we continue to clean up in and out of the buildings,” Mr McCurley wrote in his blog. “ at’s a difficult task. Although we have been told the buildings are safe to enter, any shaking makes us all run for cover; the shock from the first quake still isn’t gone.”

In an e-mail to United Methodist News Service, Mr McCurley said most of the staff that left the institute after the earthquake have now returned.

“ The institute has accepted three people who have come seeking shelter from the evacuated areas near the nuclear plant.

“We continue to meet, pray and see what we can do to help those who are in the middle of the really affected areas.”

Blackouts and aftershocks
A former missionary, the Rev Michael Southall-Vess, has been contacting friends in the Fukushima area, where he and his wife, the Rev Marable Southall-Vess, served from 2001 to 2005.

The Rev Southall-Vess, now pastor of Arlington (Va.) Forest United Methodist Church, said he is hearing concern over a lack of food and fuel, even kilometres away from the main disaster area. One friend in Kitakata, 96 km from the coast, said “the grocery store shelves are empty and they have no gasoline”.

Without petrol and with train travel disrupted in the northeast, he added, it is difficult to move supplies. “ ere’s no panicking or rioting, but they’re starting to hoard food,” he said. Residents of Tokyo continue to endure rolling electrical blackouts and aftershocks from the earthquake.

Some Koreans evacuating
The Rev Songwan Hong, the top executive of the Korean Christian Council in Japan, a partner organisation of e United Methodist Church, reported that most “newcomers” – Koreans who have not lived in Japan as long as those who are second- or third-generations there – have returned to Korea, as have many of the Korean students.

Five churches affiliated with the council were badly damaged by the earthquake, and the Korean Consulate is helping to evacuate Koreans from the Sendai area close to the epicentre.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is working with the United Church of Christ in Japan and GlobalMedic to bring immediate relief to the affected communities in Japan. – United Methodist News Service.

Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.


Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference

Kuching District divided into East and West

KUCHING – Considering its vast area spreading across 200 km with a considerable population, and that there are 20 financially self-sufficient parishes within the area, Kuching District’s appeal to be geographically divided into two districts was unanimously resolved.

This decision was arrived at during the 35th Session of the Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference (SCAC) held here recently.

Kuching East District and Kuching West District each comprises 10 parishes.

The SCAC now has three District Superintendents (DS). With Kuching District divided into East and West, the Rev Chin Sai Hin was appointed the new Kuching West District Superintendent, while the Rev Ting Diu Kiong the Kuching East DS. The Rev Wong Hin Jung was appointed the new Bintulu DS.

The Rev Hii Kong Ching, the outgoing DS, and his wife will be missionaries to England to minister to King’s Cross Methodist Church in London. Another outgoing DS is the Rev Pang Neng Soon. Having served his six years’ term as DS of Bintangor District he will enjoy his sabbatical this year. The new DS for Bintangor District is the Rev Tong Chu Yiung.

The Conference received six new pastors.

Three preaching centres have been upgraded to full church status. Sebiew Preaching Centre is now a full church and named Sebiew Church. Matang Malihah Preaching Point, established in 1987, is now Malihah Church. Tong Nan Poh Preaching Centre, downgraded in 1988, has resumed its church status carrying its previous name Zhen Guang Church, which means true light.

After 12 ballots, carried out over two days, Dr Yao Sik Chi from Faith Church was elected as the new SCAC Lay Leader, replacing Mr Hii Ching Chiong.

Connection, a fortnightly English station of e Chinese Methodist Message, Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference.