TAIPEI, Taiwan

The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) said it is inviting pastors from Japanese communities affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami to study disaster relief and community reconstruction projects in Taiwan.

“Pastors suffer in three ways when a disaster strikes their congregation,” the Rev. Lyim Hong-Tiong, PCT’s senior executive responsible for church and society programs, said in an interview. “They are traumatized themselves, they have frightened families to look after, and they are responsible for caring for their congregations.”

The church’s general secretary, the Rev. Andrew Chang, announced the program in an address at the annual general assembly that met from April 26-29 here. Lyim is handling plans for the visit on behalf of Chang. A group of five to 10 pastors from PCT’s partner churches is expected to arrive in Taiwan within the next month.

The Japanese pastors will tour two church-supported projects ― the Morakot Taitung Reconstruction and Caring Center in the coastal city of Taitung and the Bunun Foundation in the eastern mountain region near the city of Hualien.

The Morakot Center was established in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, which struck in August 2009. Damage to the region was extensive. However, based on its experience with previous natural disasters, PCT was able to move quickly to develop plans for rebuilding lives and livelihoods.

The center’s reconstruction and recovery program was designed by Lyim to meet the community’s social service needs and provide job skills training and marketing support to small businesses. The objective is for people in the community to become self-sufficient.

A key part of the center’s work focuses on post-disaster trauma counseling, support of elderly people who lost their families in the disaster, and after-school programs for children. Assistance is available to all members of the community, regardless of their faith.

During their visit to the Bunun Foundation, the Japanese pastors will see a long-term economic development project that has grown under the leadership of an aboriginal PCT pastor to become an internationally-recognized model for combining financial investment and job creation drawing on local natural resources.

The foundation, created 16 years ago, also features residential retreat facilities. Lyim believes some of the visiting Japanese clergy will be suffering from exhaustion and need time to rest and recover.

In making the announcement about plans for the pastors’ visit, Chang told assembly delegates that the church has raised nearly $1 million for disaster relief in Japan. The funds will be used for immediate needs such as water, food and clothing as well as for rebuilding houses and the 20 church buildings that sustained major damage in the earthquake.

PCT’s church partners in Japan include the United Church of Christ in Japan (Kyodan), Kirisuto Kyodai Dan/Brotherhood of Christ Church, Jesus Christ Church in Japan, the Church of Christ in Japan, the Asian Evangelical Mission Fellowship and the National Council of Churches in Japan.

The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan is a small but significant force in Taiwanese society. Its members make up just under one percent of the overall population that is primarily Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian,or secular. Known for its human rights, social service and mission, the church is closely connected to the country’s aboriginal peoples.

Kristine Greenaway is director of communications for the World Communion of Reformed Churches, based in Geneva.