By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
TOKYO, JAPAN (Worthy News)– Churches in areas impacted by Japan's worst earthquake on record and tsunami have reportedly lost pastors and Christians were still searching for other believers unaccounted for Friday, March 18, while Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan warned that a major nuclear crisis may further complicate rescue operations.
"There are more than 300 churches in the affected area; many have suffered the loss of pastors and church members, while other believers are still unaccounted for, and church buildings have been destroyed," said advocacy group Barnabas Fund in an electronic alert message obtained by Worthy News and its news partner BosNewsLife.
"The number of confirmed deaths continues to rise. The figure now tops 5,000, with over 8,000 people still missing. Hundreds of thousands are staying in temporary shelters and are in desperate need of food and water," Barnabas Fund said. It was unclear how many members of the impacted churches were counted among those killed.
Many of the Christians who died were believed to be in and around the coastal town of Sendai, but there was also wide spread devastation in other areas of Japan's north-eastern region, witnesses said.
It came as Prime Minister Kan said the situation at the earth-quake crippled Fukushima plant was "very grave" with officials raising the severity rating of its nuclear disaster from four to five on a seven-point international nuclear event scale.
Other experts have suggested the real severity rating should be at least six, just one notch below the rating of the world's worst nuclear plant disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986.
The troubles at the Japanese plant began when power was knocked out and back-up generators needed for the reactors' cooling systems were destroyed following the earth quake and tsunami. Desperate attempts to cool the overheating reactors, which have been rocked by a series of explosions, are continuing amid fears of a total meltdown and dangerous radioactive fallout.
Kan said on Friday, March 18, that police, fire department and military were "putting their lives on the line" to cool the highly radioactive fuel rods at the complex. Officials did not rule out burying the plant with concrete and sand, a similar method used to contain radiation at the Chernobyl plant.
So far firefighters were dousing water on damaged reactor buildings with powerful hoses. But they have to limit their time inside the complex due to the high radiation levels.
The risk of radiation poisoning has already forced the evacuation of more than 200,000 people who lived within 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) of the reactor site. Many are in makeshift shelters, with inadequate food, water and other supplies, in frigid winter weather.
For anyone still living inside a wider radius from the plant – 30 kilometers (29 miles) Japanese authorities said everyone should remain indoors and take measures to minimize the amount of outside air entering their living quarters
Barnabas Fund said amid the ongoing disaster, Japanese Christians urged prayers. "Pray for the churches in northeastern area, many churches lost their pastors, members, and buildings," Barnabas Fund wrote in an electronic 'prayer alert' .
"Pray that they can stand strong in faith in Christ who stood on the raging water and who calmed the sea. This could be a wide open gate for the Gospel. We will conduct our rescue/relief mission through local churches. Need a lot of prayers from Barnabas Fund."
Christian leaders in Japan have said that people are “traumatized and shocked” after Japan’s most powerful earthquake since records began – 9.0 magnitude – hit on Friday, March 11.
Barnabas Fund said that Japanese Christians also asked prayers that "the Japanese authorities will have wisdom as they attempt to reach those in the greatest need and allocate supplies" and "that efforts to cool the reactors at the Fukushima power plant will be successful and a full-scale nuclear disaster will be averted."
The group said it was also important to pray for "Christian organizations and churches who are distributing" aid. "Pray that Christians will stand strong in their faith and be distinctively Christ-like in the way they help and care for the suffering, that they will be salt and light in this situation."
Only one per cent of Japanese people consider themselves Christians, Barnabas Fund said, adding that it hopes "this unprecedented disaster will prompt others to turn to the Lord Jesus".