Prepared for Pandemic
COVID-19 has brought about challenges for the recovery effort in Japan, including drawing government and media attention away from any tsunami recovery efforts in the northeast. But the church has been able to use wisdom gained after the disaster to offer help during this new crisis.
Support methods such as pastor networks and crisis management plans that were created in relief efforts have been reactivated nationwide this year to support those in need. Establishing networks and building local community trust were necessary in addressing both the 2011 disaster and the 2021 pandemic.
“Networks we had set up in 2011 allowed us to share ideas and wisdom in the midst of the pandemic, and since we had built trust with the community and local government after the tsunami, people sought help from churches during the pandemic,” said Yukimasa Otomo, pastor of Shiogama Bible Baptist church in a small fishing town between the large cities of Sendai and Matsushima. For example, his church provides food for those who have lost their jobs or working hours amid public health measures.
“All Japanese were impacted in some way by the disasters in 2011. For some, it may be just a superficial change, but for others, including pastors and churches, it has caused deep and significant changes,” said Hari. “I pray that the pandemic causes similar deep changes in us—including myself.”
“Japanese Christians are once again re-examining what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ because of the pandemic,” said Takazawa. “The church has moved out of the ‘come in’ mindset to be more missional.”
The increased sensitivity to outsiders and commitment to holistic care prompted several churches to reach out to internationals who came to Ishinomaki for fishing jobs and were stranded with limited options or made to work harder to make up for factories losing workers because of COVID-19.






Let the Walls Fall Down
Many people came into contact with Christians for the first time through their presence after the 2011 disaster. The Japanese church consequently learned to go beyond its walls and to serve people physically and emotionally as well as spiritually.
“They learned that its task is not only to proclaim and persuade, but to communicate the gospel through acts and to meet the social needs in front of them,” said Takazawa.
This holistic approach to the gospel in Japan is an exciting development growing from the seeds of disaster, sources told CT.
“We’re starting to sense a greater awareness of the needs of those ‘on the outside’ who often remain invisible or do not have as much of a voice at the table, like women, those with disabilities, foster and adopted children, and immigrants,” said Sue Takamoto. She and her husband Eric serve with Asian Access on a team in Ishinomaki, one of the worst-hit areas, and have created a community with other international Christian workers from a variety of organizations. They moved into a rural area where there was no local church to try to live out the gospel there, and ended up helping to plant a new church.
At the very least, pastors agree that the massive disaster brought issues to light and challenged the church in Japan.
“Some people realized how out of touch their churches were with their communities, others that they did not have the proper vocabulary to explain the gospel to rural Japanese people with no Christian background,” said Makito Matsuda. Born in Miyagi Prefecture, where more than 10,000 people lost their lives in the 2011 earthquake, the pastor hosted 15,000 volunteers from all over the world at Oasis Chapel Rifu, providing much-needed relief in the tsunami-affected areas around his church.
“Some, like myself, realized that serving in unity with Christians from other parts of the world with different languages and cultures can have a great impact on the community,” said Matsuda. “Prompted by these realizations, we gradually began to change.”
A common opinion among pastors is that the post-disaster networking has caused the Japanese church to be more unified than ever.
“I have seen churches across denominations coming together for training, but it was not until after 2011 that I saw such a unified effort for the sake of the suffering and those in need,” Takamoto said. “While the immediacy has lessened in recent years, I don’t think this desire for unity has dissipated.”
Denominational divides were a huge issue prior to the disaster, and although the walls between churches and communities have been torn down, there is still much work to be done in bridging the gaps.
“Networks are beautiful, but hard to maintain,” said Otomo.
“We need to cultivate a better kingdom mindset and develop appreciation for diversity within the body of Christ for the mission to accelerate,” said Nagai.
Neighborhoods remain lost, scattered, or neglected even 10 years after the tsunami, so current ministry has shifted from immediate relief to building relationships and community. Many leaders have taken to creative, entrepreneurial community-building solutions.











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