Pure religion: 'Move forward'

The Church responded immediately when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and powerful tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011. The disaster left 15,000 dead — including two Church members — displaced thousands and destroyed more than 551,000 homes. Some 8,146 people remain missing.

Within hours of the tragedy, Church leaders sent water, food, blankets and fuel to the disaster zone. Scooters were purchased to help local priesthood leaders tend to their flocks.

In Nagamachi, Japan, for example, Bishop Tatsuya Otomo had no way to reach all the members of his ward. So he placed a large board outside the LDS meetinghouse and asked members to sign in and report their status and the status of fellow Church members.

"This was a fast method to confirm the safety of people," he said.

Members would look at the list and then "walk or ride bicycles to check on other members."

Within weeks, local leaders had accounted for every member.

"It was difficult. ... We didn't know where they were," Bishop Otomo said.

When everyone had been located, Church members then rallied together to help each other. On March 20, a week and a half after the disaster, ward members brought their food storage to the meetinghouse for use by members in need.

"We had one sister whose husband was not a member of the Church," Bishop Otomo said. "Still, she donated all of their rice. Her husband said, 'Go ahead.' The members really helped and cooperated. We were all victims of this disaster, but everyone came to help each other."

Bishop Otomo said he saw hope and resiliency rise from the destruction. "One sister said to me, 'My house is completely gone. But I can't take it with me to God. So it is not important.' "

What is important, she added, is that " 'I have had the opportunity to serve others.' "

Bishop Otomo said there were many Church members that have been hard to contact for years. "After the earthquake we were able to contact them," he said. "They were happy to see us."

Naoki and Setsuko Yamada are two members of Bishop Otomo's ward that needed help after the disaster. Their home was completely destroyed.

When the catastrophe struck, the Yamadas were separated. They were not reunited for four days.

Sister Yamada had spent the time apart in an evacuation center, where she passed the hours studying the scriptures. "I read that we have to move forward," she said, "we have to move forward with God." — Sarah Jane Weaver

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed