Japan: A Response to Suffering

Over the past couple of days, I've gotten a lot of phone calls, facebook messages and general expressions of concern over my well being. If you didn't know, however, I'm back in the USA and was not affected (at least not physically) by the earthquake. Where I was living in Japan is okay as well, though this event has forever changed the Japanese people as it is one of the largest natural disasters to ever hit the island nation.

Where I was living in Japan is a good 600 miles from where the earthquake hit - a good six hours by the fastest bullet train. Even with the tsunami, Shimonoseki was unaffected. Which is good. Oddly enough, if I had kept my original plans to go to Australia during the summer break, I would have been in Tokyo at the time of the quake. So there's that.

The photos coming out of Japan are stunning and scary. Over 600 people are already confirmed dead, thousands are missing, and millions have been displaced from their homes.

So the question is: What the hell do I do? What do you do in disasters such as this? And I don't mean physically - survival techniques and all that. I mean how do you, as a person not directly involved, respond?

You could make terrible jokes like a CNN anchor apparently did.

You could blame the victims.

You could bring up Bible verses about how it's the end of the world.

But none of these things are forms of comfort. None of these things actually provide any sort of help - emotionally, physically OR spiritually (especially not the last one - the whole end times thing sort of turns God into a manipulative bastard in these situations).

What you can do is be there for the people of the area affected. If you can't travel to help (and you shouldn't if you're not qualified for these situations), then help fund those organizations who do (list below). Pray for the people there. Offer your comfort in any way you can, even if it's just the word equivalent of a pat on the back.

And for God's sake, don't diminish their pain. This goes for any type of suffering, in any situation. The worst thing we can do to people is to tell them their pain is somehow non-existent or imagined or somehow deserved. To deal with another person's suffering is to take their pain upon ourselves, to ease the burden a little by taking some of it upon ourselves. Each time we empathize, each time we take another person's pain and make it our own, we do a tiny, tiny bit, a little reflection of what Christ did when he died on the cross.

If you want to help the people of Japan, my friend Hitomi from Shimonoseki said on Facebook this morning that they need people to donate blood. One of the ways you can help with that is to donate to the American Red Cross. The Red Cross is a very trustworthy organization, and donating directly online is a good way to make sure the money gets used quickly - all those phone text donations can take up to 90 days to process.

Another organization I can recommend is Shelterbox. Shelterbox provides food, shelter and medical supplies for people in disaster areas, including tents, tools and water cleaning supplies. They're a good organization, and can do some good in Japan.

Those are two that I recommend who I know have responses going on in Japan right now. If you have another organization in mind, feel free to leave it in the comments.