Today March 11th marks the 9th anniversary of the triple disaster, earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Northeast Japan (Tohoku). That disaster directly affected over 82 cities and towns in three Prefectures and affected the whole nation and still does today. That crisis transformed the church in Japan and mobilized Christians to be engaged in mission.
Today everyone Japan battles against a possible epidemic of Covid-19. The nature of this current crisis is preventing the normal gatherings and memorials for the 3.11 crisis. Due to coronavirus health concerns the government has encouraged the closing of public schools, encouraged the restraint in public gatherings like events and sports (The Osaka Sumo tournament is proceeding but without a live audience). Even the long-awaited Cherry Blossom celebrations will be curtailed. Yesterday’s 75th memorial to the firebombing of Tokyo was attended by only 10 people.
Today 1189 cases of the virus are reported in Japan with 19 people who have died. The number is increasing slowly but the health care system is capable of dealing with the threat at the moment. There are a few hot spots like one in our next-door city of Sagamihara where over a dozen are infected and 2 have died, but some prefectures have yet to report the first case. Japan is not as bad as countries like China, South Korea, or Italy but now 27 countries and regions have restrictions on people traveling from Japan.
Since I wrote a week ago people seem not nearly as panicked, but we are not anyway near normal. We continue to be well. We have been in our neighborhood and this week I was in Saitama Prefecture and in Fuchu city. I was surprised that things seemed fairly normal, and traffic was no less backed up. I think we are experiencing a new normal which continues with ongoing stress about potential rapid outbreak and care to take all precautions. We attended a funeral yesterday where everyone was requested to wear a mask. This is not normal. Kids today went back to school to pick up their things, but only in very small groups. Even a new kind of personal harassment has developed in society because of this virus crisis.
We continue to pray for Japan as a nation, for its leadership, for healthcare workers, for those sick, and those caring for them. But we are most concerned for the churches. Nearly all churches have suspended public worship services. Many have gone to online venues.
When you cannot congregate with other people, how do you do evangelism, disciple people and have public worship? This is a real challenge to church leaders in Japan. For many Japanese churches that are clergy-centered, building-centered, and Sunday worship-centered this crisis presents incredible challenges. But for other churches that are focused on a dynamic organic community (the body of Christ), have broad leadership, and disciple and gather in small groups this crisis could actually be a great opportunity and encouragement to them. For those following those church models obeying Hebrews 10:24,25 can more likely occur in small groups in person or online.
So continue to pray for the church that like in the Tohoku Crisis it may discover what is a church and how to relate to its community. Even weeks ago while we heard of the rapid spread of the virus in China news was coming out that Chinese Christians were very engaged with their neighbors sharing the good news of Christ and meeting practical needs. May God raise up His church in Japan during this crisis as well.
Personal Prayer Items
1. Pray for the Nation of Japan, especially the 99% who do not know Jesus. Fear and concern are good openers for sharing about the love, hope, and joy in Christ.
2. Pray for the churches in Japan. All our church planting friends have gone to online worship temporarily. After March 15th they will have to decide maybe on a week-to-week basis whether to resume public worship.
3. We need wisdom regarding our son’s coming March 29th. He is planning to come help us move but he and we are not sure he should come. If Tim cannot come, we will be without his physical help, his two suitcases for more stuff, and his ability to carry important papers and computers. We hope to make a decision early next week as we await news on the crisis.
4. We are already tied up at home trying to get ready to move to Illinois on April 9th. Our shipment to the US left on 2/28. On 3/12 some friends came to take a lot for a new missionary coming to Japan. In three weeks we will take our first truck to the recycle center. We have a lot to do, but God is blessing each step and we are not overly stressed, at least at this moment. Our flight out on April 9th we are confident we will to be on it.
5. In less than 1 month we will be on Home Assignment visiting our partnering churches beginning May. We are concerned these meetings may be canceled as well due to possible spikes in outbreaks in the US.