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Originally planned to help a church in the Sendai Prefecture, a small group of local students and chaperones is in Japan helping to clean up after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Nine residents are part of the local Calvary Baptist Church group that had planned, as early as November, to go to Japan. Following the natural disaster of March 11, those plans have had to be altered slightly. Steve Stutler, leader of the group, said travel and other restrictions have been lifted only in the past few weeks and the group is still excited to go.
â€śOur focus has changed from helping the church to helping the country,â€ť Stutler said. The group â€“ including students Chris Schmidt, Cody McKinley, Craig Erickson, Jessica Fairly and Katie Mitchell and chaperones Stutler and his wife Shannon Stutler, Marty Bradley and youth leader Jessica Ellington â€“ arrived in Tokyo on Monday.
Stutler explained last week that the group will be working with the Japan Assemblies of God in Tokyo a few days before traveling north to a sister church in Sendai. He added the church is north of the Fukushima Daiichi and far from any potential harm from the compromised nuclear power plant facility. Stutler said travel restrictions around the power plant area have recently been reduced from a 50-mile radius around the plant to 37 miles.
The group will be cleaning â€“ wherever needed, Stutler said.
â€śThey said donâ€™t be surprised if we put a broom in your hand the minute you get here,â€ť Stutler said. He said there is so much work, so much cleaning up to be done, he said pushing a broom around â€“ simply clearing the debris â€“ is one of the biggest undertakings the country is facing. Stutler said that reports from the churches in Japan are of entire housing tracts destroyed or washed away and fields littered with cars.
Stutler added that the Bishop group is just one of many dozens of small groups planning to help the Japanese people. He called it a happy coincidence and a â€śpainful yet perfect thingâ€ť that so many will be going to assist the Japanese people. He said he expects the groups to act as respite and encouragement for the people who have been literally living in the nightmare since March.
â€śItâ€™s a mix of emotions,â€ť Stutler said, â€śweâ€™re nervous and excited.
â€śIt should be a total culture shock for the kids, and the adults,â€ť Stutler said.
Stutler has been on youth church missions before in Eastern Europe, but this will be the first time anyone in the group has been to Asia.
Stutler said he was especially proud of the young people. He said it should be a life-changing experience, much like his first trips to Herzegovina and Bosnia.
In addition to raising money for the trip, the group also raised a couple thousand to donate to relief charities in Japan.
The group can be followed via a blog at cbctojapan.blogspot.com. The group plans on posting photos and stories along the way.