Reading Comics and Saving Lives
by Chris Lumsden
Sweat pours down his face. He stares at the oncoming subway train. After all his suffering and despair, this is Kenji’s ticket to escape.
He takes one last breath of fresh air. This is it. The train roars his way but Kenji pulls back at the last second to avoid the collision. Someone runs in his direction to pick him off the cold concrete floor.
This depiction of a Japanese man filled with sorrow is found in an unsuspecting place: a Japanese comic book, or manga. Written by Dr. Andy Meeko, “Risk Ride” is a comic book in the popular style of Japanese manga that is changing thousands of lives and training ordinary people to spread joy and hope throughout Japan. Dr. Meeko, CRASH Japan, and Medical Teams International are partners in a life-saving suicide prevention program in Japan that stems from the popularity of Japanese manga.
“You don’t have to encourage someone in Japan to read the manga”, says Meeko. “The book will be sitting on my table while I’m talking to someone, and they will inevitably pick it up and begin reading. Not only children but adults as well.”
Kenji, the main character in “Risk Ride”, is full of despair and without hope. In the midst of his sorrow, a friend comes alongside Kenji to provide comfort and compassion. Volunteers are trained to be like this friend and provide care to individuals that try to cope with their sadness.
“When I designed this program, I wanted it to be as simple as possible”, says Meeko. “It’s not meant for just highly qualified caregivers, but for anyone who wants to learn how to care for people in need.”
| |To read the full version of
"Risk Ride", click here.
On March 11, 2011, the most powerful known earthquake in Japan’s history sent waves higher than 130 feet crashing onto shore. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant released potentially deadly radiation into the air after facing damage caused by the quake. More than 25,000 people died or were reported missing.
In the following two months, more than three hundred volunteers from CRASH Japan put 14,000 hours of work into bringing relief and hope to Tohoku, a city that faced severe damage.
The earthquake caused great physical damage, but the emotional damage may have had equal magnitude on the survivors. Suicides in Japan jumped 21.2 percent in that same two-month period after the disaster. In Fukushima there was a 40 percent increase in only a few weeks.
“After the disaster, there was a growing sense of gloom in Fukushima. Giving people books to help survivors did not make sense because many people could not comprehend them in their current state of shock”, says Meeko. “The beauty of the ‘Risk Ride’ manga is that it’s easy to read and an escape that people need. I remember being in Fukushima with a man who had attempted suicide three times. There have been a lot of tears shed when people read this story.”
As a result of Medical Teams’ partnership with Dr. Meeko and the incredible impact of the Risk Ride program, hundreds of volunteers have been trained to care for survivors of the disaster. Thousands more benefit from the selfless service of these ordinary community members.
Not only is the program having success training community members, but the culture of Japan is changing in the wake of the disaster. Local churches report 7-8 out of every 10 people who hear the gospel give their lives to Christ.
“I’m really excited”, says Meeko. “We are able to help people both emotionally and spiritually when they are without hope. Japan is becoming a better place!”