Graham: Japan's Tragedy Opening Hearts to the Gospel

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SENDAI, Japan -- Through the efforts of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and his Samaritan's Purse ministry, the Rev. Franklin Graham is helping rebuild the island nation of Japan, both spiritually and physically.

CBN News spoke exclusively with Graham about his vision for Japan's future.

A year has passed since the massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Japan's northeast coast on March 11, 2011.

"There are reminders everywhere in the tsunami and earthquake devastated areas of what happened that day.

Sendai, the largest city in Japan's Tohoku region, is back on its feet. The debris is gone, the roads are cleared, the shops, hotels, and restaurants are open for business and tourists.

It's a story that's being played out across Japan's tsunami-affected areas.

"We've seen a lot of improvements in the last year, lots of changes. The cities have been cleaned up. They are beginning to rebuild," Graham said.

But there's also a dark side to the boom. The suicide rate, illnesses, and unemployment are rising.

A newly released survey shows that 20 percent of those living in the tsunami zone are suffering from insomnia and other psychiatric problems.

"There is a lot of pain and suffering here in Japan," Graham told CBN News.

"You look out the window and you say, 'Wow, everything looks great. Everything is coming together.' But there are tens of thousands of people that are out of work have no hope for the future," he said.

To help change that, the American evangelist held a Celebration of Hope event recently in Ground 21, one of Sendai's main arenas.

"It just so happened that one year ago there were so many dead people in this city that there was no enough space in the morgue and so they took this arena and it was the morgue for the entire area," Graham noted.

For three days, Graham and local church leaders redeemed the grounds by inviting people to listen to Christian music and messages of hope found in Jesus Christ.

"Did you know that God has a plan for your life? He wants to give you peace. He wants to give you joy. He wants to bring fulfillment to your life," Graham preached to the arena crowd.

The event's organizers say some 12,000 people turned out with 400 people giving their lives to Jesus Christ for the first time.

"Our hope and prayer is that is the church will be added to, the church will grow," Graham told CBN News. "We pray that there will be hundreds, maybe thousands of people who put their faith in Jesus Christ."

Christians from around the world have been flocking to Japan since the tragedy. One team from Norway has partnered with a local Japanese church to reach residents living near the Fukushima nuclear plant with the gospel.

There's also greater awareness of the country's spiritual needs. Less than one percent of the population is Christian and historically sharing with others about one's faith in Jesus has been extremely difficult.

"Churches from all over Japan are praying for Sendai. Churches not only in Japan, but in Asia. People have been praying for Japan," Graham said.

Not very long after the earthquake, Graham deployed enormous resources to the devastated areas. And 12 months later, hundreds of volunteers from Samaritan's Purse are still in the region helping the residents rebuild.

"There's something about when a tragedy happens and your world is turned upside down," Graham explained.

"When everything is fine, your business is good, your life is good, your family is good and all of a sudden people are asking, 'Why do I need God? Look how good my life is. It could not get any better,'" he said.

"But when life is turned upside down, everything that you put your hope in, everything that you put your trust in, your faith in -- is gone. It is a time when I believe the Holy Spirit of God will speak to people's hearts," he added.

CBN News spoke with several local pastors who reported an increase in church attendance and a greater curiosity about Christianity. The earthquake also created a spirit of unity among various churches.

"The churches in this area of Japan did not cooperate together. They did not work together before now," Graham noted.

But that has changed.

"They say the church in Japan, in this part of Japan, is one, and even though there are many denominations, they say, 'We are one,'" Graham said.

Graham is planning to hold several more Celebration of Hope festivals in key cities across Japan.

*Original broadcast March 9, 2012. 

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