Missionary finds reward amid muck of earthquake, tsunami disaster area

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Christina Huber, whose missionary work is supported by Canyon View Vineyard Church in Grand Junction, shows photos from the region of Japan where an earthquake and tsunami struck in March. Huber and her husband, Tim, were in Japan when the disaster occurred and went to Fukushima prefecture to help with cleanup efforts. Huber returned to Japan today to continue helping victims of the disaster.

For much of Japan, the word “Fukushima” has become taboo, reflecting the taint of a nuclear disaster.

Missionary Christina Huber can hardly wait to get back to it, though.

She and her husband, Tim, who are supported by Canyon View Vineyard Church in Grand Junction, hope to continue their work in Fukushima for at least another year.

Huber, 60, still remembers fondly mucking out the yard of a badly damaged house in Iwaki City in the Fukushima prefecture, about 30 miles from the melted-down reactors along the Japanese coast, not long after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of March 11.

Under the watchful eye of the suspicious owner of the house who questioned why Huber was at what was left of her doorstep, Huber dug out piles of sand, shattered glass and myriad other debris. She was sweaty and thirsty, the water smelled like a sewer, the air bore a whiff of rot, and her traumatized hostess was none too friendly, Huber said.

The woman stared at her with eyes just peeking over a face mask, eyes that Huber said she can’t forget, and, again, “She asked me why I was there.”

Huber was ready.

“I said, ‘God told me to come here,’ ” Huber said, recalling she still was shoveling sand. “If I needed help, I’m sure that you would help me, too, right?”

The woman didn’t exactly break down, but she did consent to let Huber into what was left of her backyard and continue her work cleaning. Eventually, she allowed Huber to pray for her.

That was but one of a multitude of moments Huber said she can’t wait to experience anew in Fukushima.

One of the people she knows there is related to a man who is one of the so-called Fukushima 50, employees who volunteered to remain at the power plant after the tsunami to limit the damage to the nuclear reactors that supply much of Japan’s electricity.

Huber was at a grocery near Tokyo when the earthquake first struck.

“It feels like you’re on a big boat” rolling in heavy seas “with things falling all around,” Huber said.

Though aftershocks rattled the island, members of her congregation, which gathered in the first floor of her building, made their way to the church and began looking for ways to help.

Soon they settled on Fukushima because other people were avoiding it, she said.

“Nobody wanted to go to Fukushima” because of the radiation, she said.

No one but Huber and the members of her church, that is.

In Iwaki City, the church members found a vast swath of destruction. Houses and other buildings were reduced to piles of lumber. The residents were devastated, unable to take in the level of damage. Many had been along the shore where they were retrieving bodies, “so many of them children,” Huber said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Huber and the other volunteers remained in the city despite orders to evacuate, she said.

“This is where we’re needed,” she said the group decided.

In any case, many of the residents also remained, she said.

“You can’t evacuate if you have nowhere to go,” she said.

The group did set up a Geiger counter and listened for it to tick off higher radiation levels.

“It never got real high,” she said.

At one point, they were told winds would scatter radioactive material above them overnight, only to wake up the next day and learn the winds shifted, taking the cloud to sea.

For them, the change of wind was proof they were under God’s protection and doing his work, Huber said.

This morning, Huber left Grand Junction, where she also visited one of her daughters, Sarah Walgren, to return to Japan and resume her work.

Huber said she can’t wait to continue helping in Fukushima.

“If somebody gave me a choice between doing this and going to Disneyland,” she said, “I would choose this every time.”


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