What Christian Missionaries and Aid Workers (and Each of Us) Can Learn from the Fukushima Fifty

From the Japanese nuclear tragedy, three excerpts worth our deepest reflection.

(Yes, I know this is a long piece. Please read it anyway.)

The first excerpt, Brett Michael Dykes’ Japanese nuclear plant worker discusses choice to sacrifice his life:

As Japan continues to grapple with catastrophic radiation leaks at the quake-damaged Fukushima Daichii nuclear complex, the plant’s remaining workers have shown heroic dedication in the face of a task that amounts to a likely suicide mission.

The global audience following the Japanese nuclear drama has learned a little about these selfless heroes. But some of the most basic questions about them–who they are and what has motivated them to make the ultimate sacrifice–have gone unanswered. Now, however, the Agence France Press reporter Kimi De Freytas has published an interview with one of the Fukushima workers that sheds considerable light on how they understand their mission–and how they are holding up under under the extraordinary, mortal stress they are facing.

Hiroyuki Kohno, a 44-year-old plant worker who’s been employed in the nuclear industry since he was a teenager, promptly answered the emergency call issued by his employer, a subcontractor for the Tokyo Electric Power Company. Shortly after last March’s devastating earthquake and tsunami produced a power outage at the facility, Kohno’s employers sent out an all-hands appeal via email.

“Attention. We would like you to come work at the plant. Can you?” De Freytas reports the email read. Kohno, who has worked at the Fukushima facility for the past decade, said he knew what the implications of heeding the call would be.

“To be honest, no one wants to go,” Kohno told De Freytas. “Radiation levels at the plant are unbelievably high compared with normal conditions. I know that when I go this time, I will return with a body no longer capable of work at a nuclear plant.”

Kohno told De Freytas that as a single man with no children, he felt obligated to answer the call and join the team that the media has dubbed the “Fukushima Fifty.” Better that he face the risk, he explained, so as to spare his colleagues who have dependents counting on them. Besides, he added, the workers in the plant are his brothers and sisters, and he feels an allegiance to them.

“There’s a Japanese expression: ‘We eat from the same bowl.’ These are friends I shared pain and laughter with. That’s why I’m going,” he explained to De Freytas.

The second excerpt, from Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, quoted via Adelle Banks’ piece in CT, Missionaries Grapple with Leaving Japan:

“Missionaries in general, who are tied very closely to local situations, are often the last people to leave or to evacuate,” [Johnson] said. “Tsunamis and earthquakes and even war or pestilence — they historically have been the very last people to go because this is their home, so to speak, where they work. But radiation is just a completely different thing.”

And finally, from The Whole Life Offering:

Hospitals owe their origin to the plethora of plagues and epidemics that struck the ancient world with alarming regularity and force. Observes author Rob Moll, “When an epidemic struck in the ancient world, pagan city officials offered gifts to the gods but nothing for their suffering citizens. Even in healthy times, those who had no one to care for them, or whose care placed too great a burden on the family, were left out to die.”

The early church responded not only out of compassion, adds Moll citing Christian Medical History Professor Gary Ferngren, but out of a worshipful recognition that every cast-out body bore the Imagio Dei—the image of God. The church sought to restore that image to vitality through the practice of the Works of Mercy, first in private homes and then, as the tide of desperation and disease swamped the ancient world, in “hospitals” designed for comprehensive care. If restoration proved impossible, Christians provided comfort and burial at the cost of their own health, safety, and finances:

When the plague of Cyprian struck in 250 and lasted for years, this volunteer corps became the only organization in Roman cities that cared for the dying and buried the dead. Ironically, as the church dramatically increased its care, the Roman government began persecuting the church more heavily.

Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote, according to Ferngren, “that presbyters, deacons, and laymen took charge of the treatment of the sick, ignoring the danger to their own lives.”

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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