Church passing the plate for Japan's quake victims

The earthquake that killed more than 4,000 people in Japan this week reverberated a bit in Columbia as well, stirring a minister and his Japanese-born wife to launch an effort to send aid to her country.

The Rev. James M. Shields and his wife, Seiko, plan to collect money Sunday from the more than 600 members of the Christ Episcopal Church in Owen Brown, the county's oldest congregation.


"We'll collect as much as possible," Mr. Shields, 63, said in his church office yesterday. "It's not a one-time thing." He said the collections will continue "as long as we can get aid . . . because the need is so great."

The aid will be forwarded to the Columbia church's Japanese sister church for the last 10 years, the Church of the Resurrection in the Tokyo suburb of Hachioji.


That 107-member church -- about 250 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake near Kobe -- will channel the donations to Kobe and Osaka.

The couple have chosen to collect only money because shipping clothing and food to Japan would be more difficult, they said.

In addition, Christ Episcopal Church will participate in a national Episcopal Church's campaign to raise money across the country.

The couple's son, Samuel, 37, and daughter-in-law, Margot, 25, have been in Japan teaching English for the last 2 1/2 years, but they are living outside Tokyo and were not affected by the temblor.

Mrs. Shields, 63, has sisters in Osaka and in her hometown of Kainan, southeast of Osaka. She also has a niece living in Kainan. All were uninjured. "They were very fortunate," she said.

The couple learned about the earthquake during dinnertime while watching network television news in their home in Columbia's Long Reach village.

But downed telephone lines made it difficult for the pair to contact her family in Japan. "I was worried about my family down there because usually tidal waves accompanied the earthquakes," Mrs. Shields said. "This time the epicenter was on the land, rather than on the water, so there were no tidal waves.

"It was really a very helpless feeling, not being able to get through," he said, explaining they tried six times a day to reach family members. When they finally got through, "that was a real relief."


The amount of damage caused by the earthquake surprised Mrs. Shields. "More and more . . . you realized how big it was," she said.

The earthquake -- which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale -- rocked Kobe Tuesday, killing more than 4,000 people and

injuring more than 21,000. The destruction created a tremendous need for emergency supplies.

Kobe's mayor said the port city of 1.4 million residents has only a third of the food needed for those in emergency shelters.

Mrs. Shields compared the destruction to just short of an "an atomic bomb." A Japanese minister told her that several churches were badly damaged, she said.

Anglican churches are few in the predominantly Buddhist country. Christians make up just about 1 percent of the Japanese population, Mr. Shields said. "It's most unusual to find Japanese Christians and even more unusual to find Japanese Episcopalians," he said.


Mrs. Shields is one of at least 376 Howard County residents of Japanese descent, according to the U.S. census in 1990. Her husband's church has no other Japanese members.

The couple visited Kobe in April during a three-week visit to Japan to see their son, his wife and Christ Episcopal's sister church. "It's very beautiful," Mr. Shields recalled. "It's on the water and it has big cliffs, mountains."

The couple met at a U.S. Army hospital in Osaka, where he was assigned as a sergeant and she was an interpreter.

This week's earthquake reminded Mr. Shields that earthquakes are part of living in Japan. "There are earthquakes everyday in Japan, mostly mild ones," he said.

Mrs. Shields added, "They still have earthquake drills in the schools. Just like we have fire drills, they have earthquake drills."