Walking the dog on a drizzly morning, and I can’t get Japan off my mind. It’s been nearly a week since a gargantuan earthquake shook northern Japan and a raging tsunami ravaged cities and obliterated fishing villages. No one yet knows how many died, and we may never know. Estimates are currently around 10,000.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands are living in temporary shelters or trapped indoors due to radiation leaks from nuclear power plants that failed when the upheaval knocked out power to their cooling systems. The plants remain in a precarious position, not yet stabilized, their future uncertain. 

It is a bleak scene. Yet, news reports consistently show survivors reacting calmly. They stand stoically in long lines for the necessities of life: 12 hours to buy gasoline, two hours to purchase a limited number of food items — and they’ve been standing in the cold, as a frigid air mass settled over the area. 

I’ve always had a tender spot for Japan. I’m not old enough to be among those who grew up hating the “Japs” for Pearl Harbor, some of whom have been suggesting unkindly that the tsunami was well-deserved punishment. I first learned of Japan as a nation of industrious, disciplined people who loved beauty and were determined to make their country a better place. 

When I was 12 years old, I felt quite certain that God had called me to become a missionary to Japan. That didn’t work out, but my interest in the country remains. The people of Japan worked long and hard to move beyond World War II and to make their country an economic powerhouse. Now, they have another long road to recovery. 

Japan may be on the other side of the world, but its people are no less our neighbors because of that. As we move through the reflective season of Lent, let us grieve for those who suffer in that land, and pray for the presence of God to comfort those who mourn.

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