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Religious groups mobilize to aid Japan

AS THE extent of the death and destruction from the massive disaster in Japan comes into focus, religious relief organizations are sending and supporting teams to assess the damage.

Groups such World Vision and Baptist World Aid have teams on the ground determining what kinds of experts and supplies will be needed in the recovery from the earthquake and tsunami that struck 11 March, Religion News Service reports.

Rachel Wolff, a spokeswoman for World Vision, said a relief manager who worked on the scenes of earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan was stunned by the extent of the destruction.

"He told me that this was unlike anything he’s seen anywhere around the world," she said.

A team of Baptist World Aid workers from the U.S., Singapore and Hungary have arrived in Japan and others are on stand-by, said Eron Henry, a spokesman for the relief organization Baptist World Alliance.

Team members have sent photos of scenes from the tsunami’s aftermath, with people housed in shelters and cars covered in water and debris.

Henry said the aid organization expects to cooperate with other Baptist organizations in its response. "We have learned the importance of coordinating a response so that there’s not duplication, so there’s not overlap and no confusion," he said.

Melissa Hinnen, a spokeswoman for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, said her organization is taking the same approach, though it has been difficult to reach partners many time zones away who already have their hands full. "We’re just waiting to see what they tell us their needs are," she said.

Meanwhile, U.S. congregations a world away are starting to respond to the crisis.

Michael Endo, executive assistant to Bishop Koshin Ogui of the Buddhist Churches of America, was drafting a letter on 14 March to national leaders about donating to a relief fund for victims of the quake and tsunami.

Some congregations were already making plans to raise funds for the cause. "I think people are still trying to take in … how extensive the damage is in Japan, the number of lives lost, the ongoing nuclear problems," said the Rev. Gerald Sakamoto, minister of the San Jose Buddhist Church, a predominantly Japanese congregation in California.

"There is great empathy for the people of Japan and wanting to do something to help ease the difficulty."

The Osaka-based Japan International Food for the Hungry, a member of the Japan Evangelical Association, announced that it has begun accepting donations for emergency relief. It dispatched two staffers to the affected areas to see the damages and prepare for its emergency assistance program.

In Taiwan, the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation said it has set up a command center to prepare for launching relief aid to Japan.

(With additional reporting by Hisashi Yukimoto in Japan.)

(c) Ecunemical News International