U.S. churches and religious groups are reaching out to help earthquake-striken Japan and tsunami-devatsted coastal areas.

Church World Service and National Council of Churches members responded soon after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck Japan on March 11.

“The damage and loss of life is almost impossible to comprehend,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. “It’s natural to feel helpless in situations as overwhelming as this. But prayer is an important first step — prayer that asks God to be with the families of the dead, the injured, the homeless, and the responders at every level.”

“Spiritual support and healing ministry will be required long after the initial impact of the disaster,” Kinnamon said, citing Haiti as another venue where U.S. churches will have a role for many years to come. “Along with everything else, we pray for the faith and patience to remain committed for as long as it takes.”

Several NCC and CWS member communions have announced responses since the quake:

American Baptist Churches USA announced a $20,000 grant from One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS), to be sent to its mission partner, the Japan Baptist Union, for relief efforts.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) said it was closely watching the situation along the U.S. Pacific Coast and around the Pacific Rim and will respond to needs through its Week of Compassion.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said it has 22 missionaries serving in Japan, working in partnership with the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church. Many of the ELCA’s missionaries in Japan have communicated that they are safe, said the Rev. Y. Franklin Ishida, ELCA program director for Asia-Pacific Continental Desk, the church said.

The Orthodox Church in America said its hierarchs, clergy and faithful are being asked to remember in prayer all those affected by the disaster and to support efforts undertaken by International Orthodox Christian Charities [IOCC], which has assembled its emergency response team to assess needs and possible responses.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) said it has 10 mission co-workers in various cities across Japan. By mid-day March 11, staff in Presbyterian World Mission had received word from four that they were safe. None of the mission workers are based close to the northern coastal city of Sendai, which has taken the brunt of the impact.

United Methodists expressed concern and offered prayers for the people of Japan. The United Methodist Committee on Relief and Church World Service were consulting with partners in the region on emergency-relief needs.