Japanese relief efforts get valley boost

FRESNO, Calif.

The images of destruction in Japan have been difficult to watch for the valley's Japanese-American community. The United Japanese Christian Church in Clovis held a special prayer service Wednesday night for the tsunami victims and their families.

Reverend Craig Yoshihara said, "We've been really blessed that most of our congregation has been able to reach family and friends and so far most of them have been okay. There's been a few that we haven't heard from and I know that brings a lot of stress."

Yoshihara said worshippers will be asked to donate to a relief fund, which will be distributed through Japanese church groups.

The church service he said will help the local congregation heal. "There's also the sense of community, bringing people together for shared purpose. To be with one another during a time of stress and time of anxiety."

People have also been quick to donate 37-million dollars to the American Red Cross.

Central valley American Red Cross CEO Ellen Knapp said checks worth over 12-thousand dollars have been collected at the local office. But a growing number of people have been texting in donations or going on-line to contribute to relief efforts. Knapp said, "It's phenomenal how quickly and how easy. People go, I can do that. It's so easy."

The Japanese Red Cross has already received ten-million dollars from the American Red Cross. Knapp said "The humanitarian spirit is still here even in that tough economic time."

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Prayers for devastated Japan

Prayers are being offered for the victims of last week's earthquake and tsunami.

Much of the congregation from the United Japanese Christian Church in Clovis showed up to a special prayer service Wednesday evening. Church members said prayer is what will help those in Japan get past the long road ahead of them.

A song, a prayer and the lighting of candles bring comfort to the congregation at UJCC. Many church members have been lucky enough to make contact with loved ones in Japan.

"Everyone is okay," said Eiko Holmes, who grew up in Sendai, Japan. "I said 'oh my gosh, that's my home.'"

Holmes has family still living in Sendai. On Wednesday morning Holmes finally found out her family is okay.

"[It was] such a relief," she said. "I didn't sleep good ever since I heard about the quake."

Many of her friends at church haven't been able to sleep well either. "The people there, they're homeless," said Fay Nakaguchi. "They don't have anything."

The church's Senior Pastor, Craig Yoshihara said his special prayer service is a way to show the Central Valley that, with Japan's looming nuclear problems and cities left in rubble, people there still need prayer.

"All of these different factors, still play into having fears and doubts and worries," said Pastor Yoshihara.

The pastor hopes his prayer service will ease those worries, and help give gaman, the Japanese spirit that teaches patience and strength in the most challenging times.

"I think it's that kind of perseverance that allows them to manage, even in the difficulties," Yoshihara said.

The church is also collecting donations.

On Saturday, March 26, there will be a fundraiser in The Shinzen Garden at Woodward Park in Fresno. The event will run from 9am to 3pm. It's sponsored by the Central Valley Japanese School and International Office of Merced College.

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