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Missionary Work in the Midst of Disaster

Missionary work

Full-time missionary Elder Shori Kurita was serving in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, 170 miles (275 km) from Sendai, visiting a new member with his companion, Elder Dick, when an earthquake alert sounded. Almost immediately he felt shaking stronger than he had ever experienced.

“In the Sendai Mission we have an emergency manual called the Blue Book,” he said. “The day before the earthquake, we had held a zone conference in which we studied what to do in the event of an earthquake or tsunami, so there was no panic. I feel we were watched over by God.”

Following the Blue Book rules, the missionaries returned to their apartment, turned off the main gas valve, and then evacuated to a nearby elementary school.

As night came they were issued just two rice crackers. That was when the elders remembered that they had bought extra food supplies and stored them in their apartment. Miyako had been destroyed in an instant, and water had filled the entire first floor of the apartment building, but the elders’ second-floor apartment had escaped harm. They gathered spaghetti and other food then headed for the Miyako Branch.

“The church was near Heigawa River, so we thought it had been washed away,” Elder Kurita said. “However, when my companion and I went and saw it, we were amazed to see that it had been unaffected by the earthquake.”

Amazingly, while places just 65 feet (20 meters) from the church had been heavily damaged, the Miyako Branch building’s water, gas, and electricity were still working.

The missionaries looked in the meetinghouse refrigerator and, finding many food items, they immediately cooked meat, boiled spaghetti, and took it to the children sheltering in the elementary school’s classrooms.

“We were thanked for giving the food, but we also received many thanks for holding an English class for the children,” Elder Kurita said. “We had many opportunities to explain who we were. . . . We were able to serve as missionaries, even in an evacuation shelter.”

Blankets were given out as night fell, but there were only enough for the children, so the elders fumbled through the darkness toward their apartment. As they looked for the usual road to their apartment, they both felt a need to take a path that went to the side toward a home’s parking area.

“It was a difficult place to move through, but we were prompted by the Spirit to move forward,” Elder Kurita said. “When we had gone about 10 meters (32 feet) we came upon a very large pool that stopped our way. But a strong feeling rose up that we should remain there.”

Taking out a flashlight, Elder Kurita shone it in front of him. A light flashed in return, and a voice from under the rubble called for help.

“We looked at each other and immediately began walking right into the pool,” Elder Kurita said. “We didn’t know what was beneath the surface, but we walked in headlong.”

The person they rescued was a 90-year-old man, whom they carried to the shelter.

Still in their wet clothes, the elders sat in chairs and closed their eyes, waiting for morning to come. When it did come, they were given one rice ball, which they divided between themselves.

Despite the conditions, the elders said being in the shelter was not a trying experience. “Thanks to the gospel, I felt constant peace,” Elder Kurita said.

On March 16, it was a shock for Elder Kurita and Elder Dick to receive word that they were to leave their area, Miyako, and go to Morioka. The missionaries moved to the Sapporo Mission reluctantly.

In Sapporo, Elder Yoon Hwan Choi, First Counselor in the Asia North Area Presidency; President Reid Tateoka of the Sendai Mission; and President Lee Daniels of the Sapporo Mission spoke with affection to those missionaries who had not yet come to terms [with leaving their areas].

Their words bolstered the hearts of the missionaries. Elder Kurita said, “We changed our mission areas with the love of the members and investigators pushing us along. Not a single missionary wanted to leave the mission, even temporarily. There was only one reason we left—because we were called to do so by the Lord’s prophet. That’s it. Missionaries go anywhere they are commanded to go, and love the people there. That is the missionary call.”