Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A letter from President Albrecht

Dear Parents and Loved Ones of Japan Tokyo Missionaries:

Now that things have settled down a little, I wanted to write each of you and provide an update on the earthquake, our mission and your missionary. As you know, the 9.0 earthquake hit Japan at 2:46 p.m. last Friday. At the time, we had 60 missionaries in the church next to the mission home for training. Fortunately, the missionaries from the areas of our mission that were were at most risk because of the Tsunami (Urayasu and the Chiba Zone) were all here for that training. It became obvious very quickly that this was a major quake. We had just finished the training and were saying good bye to each other when it hit. There is a field of grass next to the church without any overhead wires and so I had all missionaries go outside and stand in that field. The major quake lasted a long time--probably a couple of minutes. It was followed by numerous aftershocks, which are still happening today and may continue for some time, but the aftershocks are smaller and becoming more infrequent and probably won't cause any
serious damage.

Because of the size of the quake, the trains all stopped running. Fortunately, we have a lot of extra beds, futons, and blankets in the mission home and so we prepared for a big camp out that night. Immediately after the quake, our attention turned to making sure that all the missionaries in our mission were safe. We couldn't reach them by telephone because the phone lines, while working, were jammed. A few months ago, all our missionaries received new telephones with email capability. The email provided a lifeline to allow us to reach all our missionaries. By 7 p.m. that night, we had contacted all our missionaries and knew they were safe. We told them to stay close to their apartments and away from the ocean and bays. For the two companionships we couldn't reach directly, we had the bishops check on and report that they were safe. Immediately after the earthquake, the Presiding Bishopric's Office started contacting us every hour to see how our missionaries were. As soon as we knew everyone was safe, we notified the Presiding Bishopric's Office and then started putting an email list of parents together so we could let you all know your missionary was safe. You should all have received an email from us the evening of the earthquake.

The next morning, I sent an early email to every missionary in our mission (which they received on their telephones) telling them to (1) buy a week's worth of groceries and water for their apartments, (2) stay away from the ocean and bays, (3) email their parents that day and let you all know they were okay--I'm sure it is comforting to hear from your missionary directly, (4) stay away from any downed wires (if there were any) or broken glass, etc. and (5) let us know of any damage to their apartments or the church.

As you all know from watching the news, almost all of the damage is north of Tokyo in the Sendai Mission. Our mission goes north of Tokyo but not into the major disaster zone. There are 4 sets of missionaries who were relatively close (approximately 81 miles/130 kilometers) to the failed reactors in Fukushima and, just to be safe, I have moved all four sets into apartments with other missionaries further away. The destruction from the earthquake and tsunami in Tokyo was quite minor. There was an oil refinery that caught on fire, there was significant liquefaction from the tsunami in one area of our mission and a few cracks in the walls of some buildings. But, miraculously, there wasn't any significant damage to any of our missionary apartments (two microwaves fell off the counters and broke). Our missionaries are back to doing missionary work and providing service wherever they can. The biggest service project is helping people clean up their yards and get their cars out in the Urayasu Area where the liquefaction occurred.

While I am sure the news you are seeing on television is scary, especially about the nuclear reactors, Tokyo is quite safe. With regard to the reactors, on Sunday I was in a church meeting with two people who are very knowledgeable about the nuclear situation in Japan. One is a lawyer who defends the nuclear industry in Japan and the other is a person associated with the U.S. Air Force security and safety in the Far East. Both of them told me that, while the risk of radiation problems in Tokyo is not absolutely zero, it is as close to zero as you can get. They both said that because of the directions of the prevailing winds, there is probably more radiation risk to Seattle (although probably not much) than there is to Tokyo. Tokyo is south of the reactors and the prevailing winds blow east and north, out to sea.

Last night I personally called every missionary companionship in the mission (right now we have 74 companionships) and made sure they were all doing well and were safe. I told them for the next month or so to always keep a week's worth of water and food in their apartments. They are all happy, content and working hard. They areeven getting used to the aftershocks. The biggest problem we have is that most of the grocery stores in Japan only carry enough food
supplies for a half a day and are restocked twice a day. Our missionaries have all been able to get plenty of food but at certain times of the day there might not be any bread or milk on the shelves. This problem will correct itself soon. Gasoline is also a little harder to get but that isn't a problem for the missionaries because they all ride bikes. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was supposed to be starting rolling blackout yesterday for 3 hours a day in each area of Tokyo but that didn't happen yesterday and we are not sure when, if at all, the blackouts will begin. With several of the reactors knocked out, there will probably be some power shortages. But, we are prepared for that and it shouldn't be a problem.

Overall, the Japan Tokyo missionaries are all happy, safe, working hard and having a great experience. We are constantly praying for the missionaries, members and people north of us. There is much disaster and sadness up there but it all occurred 150 to 300 miles north of us. I'm sure the news makes it look like all of Japan is affected (and maybe of you probably think of Japan as a relatively small island) but we are actually quite far from the destruction and are safe and doing well.

We continue to monitor the situation very carefully. You can rest assured that the church would not do anything to jeopardize the safety of its missionaries. As your son or daughter's mission president, I will do all I can to make sure the Tokyo missionaries are safe, comfortable and continue to have a great experience. The missionaries in the Tokyo Mission are absolutely wonderful and it's an honor to serve with them. Thank you for preparing and sending them to our mission. This is a time to pray for those in the Sendai Mission area of Japan, especially those who have lost loved ones. I'm sure we will see continuous miracles both in the safety and the hearts of the people as the events unfold.

President Steve Albrecht

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