“Dawn Reveals Scope of Destruction in Japan”. That’s what the headline reads this morning. Yesterday I watched breaking news as the destruction of earthquake, tsunami and fires swept the East coast of Japan. I had to pray for the people of Japan. A proud, cultured, isolated people with a decadent history.
I had to pray, in part because of another tsunami that has hit Japan and its people. I was there just a week and a half ago, in Osaka on a visa run. When I got off the train from the airport and down to the street at Namba Station I noticed a stream of people walking along the already crowded sidewalk. Some carried signs, some placards, some had ribbons or banners tied like scarves to their bodies or bicycles. There were huge banners draped across some of the immense buildings surrounding us. High on one of the tallest buildings there flapped a giant banner in English: “Stop AIDS Now”.
When I found my hotel I got to talking with the two young, twenty-something girls working behind the reception desk. They were sweet, bright, talkative, and I was surprised at their English. I was more surprised by their candor. Between asking them about the hotel breakfast and local restaurants I asked them about the people who had been so politely marching with signs and banners down the street. The younger desk clerk blurted out, with her eyes wide and shining: “Japan is dying of AIDS!”
This kind of forthright honesty was all the more shocking coming from one of the notoriously demure Japanese. Her companion’s eyes went wide, and she had reluctance written all over her face, but when I asked if this could be true, she dropped her gaze and told me that it was very true. “Many of our friends have died of AIDS, and parents too.” It hit me hard, wondering how something like this could be, in a modern nation, in the age of retro-viral drugs… and no one around the world has heard a thing about it.
“Many are trying to make the truth known…” the younger girl said, “the government under-reports the extent of the problem. They say it’s to keep people from being alarmed, but we think that it’s to keep us from knowing the truth.” I felt the spirit of prayer rising up inside me for Japan. I marveled that these two young Japanese women were telling me, a visitor to their country, something this difficult and this profound. I told them that I knew how they must feel. I, too, had lived through the AIDS epidemic in the San Francisco Bay area in the nineteen eighties. I had also lost many friends to AIDS. I had cared for some of those friends who were dying. I had stood, untouched, while so many around me were dying — and then gone.
They were very interested that this had happened in the US. It seemed like news to them. Suddenly I wondered how far away the eighties were for them; …and how far away the rest of the world is in a relatively isolated society with government-controlled news. I remarked that this was tragic, but understandable in the light of Japan’s history of relatively open sexuality. The younger girl agreed: “It’s like only the nice people are left.”
Now, a week and a half later the earthquake and tsunami has hit; with devastating flooding, fires and disruption of normal life. Japan is living through two tsunamis — a natural disaster, and a disaster of their own making. This is a wake-up call; but it is also a call to pray. God loves the Japanese people. He wants them to know Him, and wants to bless them. This is a call for those of us who care, to rise up and pray for the people of Japan. They need God now more than ever.