Out of the Rubble: Survival Stories from Japan

Russ Jones

Out of the Rubble: Survival Stories from Japan

Susan Morrison sat in her Arlington, Texas, home for almost a week after Japan’s earthquake, praying and waiting. Her biological mother lives by herself with only her cat in a small, government-funded home just outside the region hardest hit by the twin catastrophes of the earthquake and tsunami. And Morrison couldn’t reach her.

Good news finally came almost a week after the disaster – her mother was unharmed.

“It is a big relief to know she is okay,” Morrison said. “I worry about the town. It is such a beautiful place. It is so sad to see all those poor people going hungry and cold. We are praying for them.”

This mother-daughter relationship is a complicated tale. The man who delivered the recent news of Morrison’s mother is the same person who helped find her mother nearly 15 years ago.

‘Okasan’ (which means mother) Toshiko Okazaki, 85, gave birth to Morrison just after World War II, but two years later, poor and broke, gave her up for adoption. A Christian couple adopted Susan and brought her to Dallas, Texas, where they lived.

“Growing up at home my adoptive mother always told me that my mother was dead,” said Morrison. “But I knew she wasn’t. I don’t know how you know those things, but I didn’t think she was.”

Years later, Morrison’s husband, Bob, began a search to unite the long-lost mother and daughter. With the assistance of Saburo Aida, a reporter with the Kahoku Shimpo newspaper, Okazaki was located in Sendai in 1997 after a year-long search. Morrison also learned that she has a half-sister.

Aida was also instrumental in finding Susan’s mother after the earthquake. He emailed the Texas couple after confirming that she had been picked up by friends, who took her to their own home. Over all these years, and especially in recent days, Morrison sees God’s hand at work through the newspaper reporter who reunited them.

“After Bob told me the news I slept like a baby,” said Morrison. “Things are totally different now. The worrying spirit for her is gone and she has people to take care of her. Of course, we still don’t know about the radiation, but I’m happy.”

As horrific images continue to capture the attention of concerned onlookers around the world, Morrison is thankful her mother is alive. Morrison prays for others who hold onto hope more survivors may emerge from the ruins or be safely housed in a shelter.

The two women have exchanged letters to one another every month since their initial reunion. Unable to speak Japanese, Morrison has the letters translated by a friend who works at Southern Methodist University. Since her mother doesn’t use email and rarely uses the telephone, Morrison had anxiously waited to receive a letter telling of her safety.

Over 15 years, the two have only seen one another on three occasions. The Morrisons were planning to go see Okasan Okazaki next year, but the down economy may have them staying at home. They’velaunched a website in an attempt to raise funds for a plane ticket to bring Okasan Okazaki to the US.

“I think she would like to spend her final years with me,” said Morrison. “I mean, we bonded when we met. It was like it had always been there between the two of us. And when we see each other, it’s like, ‘I’m home.’”

Missionaries Pick Up after Quake

Despite frigid temperatures and the growing threats of a nuclear crisis, Christian relief workers and NGO agencies are forging through the wreckage to search for those who still may be alive. Stories are also surfacing of those who endured the destruction.

Mary Jo Ruck, a missionary with the Japan Mission Project, remembers exactly what she was doing when the tremors began. Ruck says the earthquake is a moment that will forever “stand in time.”

“Everything was shaking. It was getting worse,” said Ruck. “I held on, scared. I started praying. I asked God to make it stop. Let the shaking stop. It kept going. I said to God, ‘Lord, if it’s my time to go, then so be it. But if it is, let it be fast. Take me quickly Lord.’”

Ruck lived to tell about her harrowing experience. She and her ministry associates were also far enough inland from Sendai they didn’t get flooded by the tsunami.

"God is good. He is in control. His mercy endures forever,” said Ruck. “May the hearts of the Japanese people be ready to hear the gospel and to listen, to give their lives over to a creator and a savior who cares for them. Just yesterday we had a new person come to church – a young woman who lives nearby. She’s seeking.  It’s amazing. God is working in the little things.”

After the earthquake hit last week, George Young, a missionary serving with the Christian Reformed Church, says he knew it was bigger than anything Japan had yet experienced. He dove under a sturdy dining room table.

"As soon as the major shaking and rocking subsided, I knew I had to seek higher ground. Six blocks or so from our house is a hill, maybe thirty feet above sea level, which I climbed, and was soon joined by many others," Young wrote in an email.

Young teaches English Conversation and Japanese Bible at a church camp. Sunday morning, he led a small worship service in the home of a family that lives in Ushibori and members of the local Choshi church.

Donna Qualls and her family of six are among 31 International Mission Board families living in Japan. Baptist Press reports, as authorities rushed to rescue victims, clean up debris and contain two nuclear plant explosions, the Qualls hunkered down over the weekend in their home with no electricity, gas or running water -- unable to contact friends or family and unaware of the tsunami and subsequent explosions.

"We didn't know about the tsunami until Sunday," Qualls said. "We also didn't know about the explosion at the nuclear plant."

Qualls and her family ventured on a walk to the grocery store Sunday only to find the shelves nearly bare and strict rationing of what items were available. Store operators are only allowing families to purchase up to 1500 yen (about $15) worth of goods.

The Southern Baptist missionary also reports that her Japanese neighbors were friendlier than usual and more willing to spend time talking to one another.

"Usually, Japanese are so focused on their work that families spend very little time together," Qualls said. "It's been nice to see fathers playing catch with their sons and neighbors talking to one another. That's not something we see very often."

The country’s national police agency reports the number of people unaccounted for is over 7,500. Nearly 500,000 people are living in shelters.

Humanitarian aid experts contend the disaster in Japan is unlike any other in recent history and requires trained relief experts opposed to eager volunteers. Most disasters encompass a single occurrence, but Japan’s recent calamity combines three catastrophic events – the earthquake, a tsunami and compromised nuclear power plants leaking radiation.

“We all grieve about the images we are seeing on television. Our inclination is to jump on a plane and go,” said Jeff Palmer Baptist Global Response executive director. “When we have a disaster response, we usually tell people they can help by praying, giving and going. Right now, the best way they can help is by praying, giving and waiting.”

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Kristin Butler has visited with Christian communities throughout the Middle East and Asia. She is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to religious freedom, human rights, and philanthropy. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.netor email [email protected].    


Russ Jones is a twenty-year award winning journalist and correspondent who freelances for a number of media outlets including CBN, TLN, Travel With Spirit, The Washington Times, the American Family Radio Network and Crosswalk.com. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites such as ChristianPress.comand MissionTravel101.commedia consultant.Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology.  As a former NBC TV reporter he enjoys reporting where evangelical Christian faith and news of the day intersect.  To contact Russ Jones email [email protected]or see russjones.me.