There are historic opportunities to share Christ’s love and compassion with the Japanese shaken by a once-in-a-thousand-years combination of a 9.1 magnitude earthquake, tsunami as high as 78 feet reaching as far as six miles inland, fires and a nuclear accident resulting in a $265 billion worth of damage.
With a death toll that has surpassed 25,000, the largely non-Christian nation is in dire need of hope, says the Foursquare area missionary who oversees North Asia, which includes Taiwan, Japan, the Koreas, Mongolia and China.
“The Chinese characters used for ‘crisis’ combine the ideas of danger and opportunity,” says Corey (last name withheld for security reasons), who has designed a two-year-long plan for relief, compassion and church planting based on what he calls a missiology of relational equity.
“The Japanese were ready for an 8.0 earthquake, but then along came a 9.1 earthquake that rocked their world,” Corey explains. “I’m hearing and reading many reports about Japanese, young and old, who are very open about praying to the Christian God.
“The Japanese word for ‘prayer’—’inoru‘—speaks to a belief that prayer is ‘drawing close to God,’ ” he continues. “And in this season of crisis, the Japanese are open to Christians coming alongside to help them.”
Members of U.S. Foursquare churches have responded generously to the crisis, donating nearly $200,000 through Foursquare Missions International (FMI) for Japan relief in the six weeks following the March 11 disaster. Some of that financial and material aid faced unforeseen difficulty (from the U.S. side) and delay in reaching its intended destination, at least partly because of the major damage inflicted on infrastructure, the sweeping away of trucks and vehicles, and even the unavailability of ATMs in the wake of the tsunami.
“What has been done so far is the laying of the groundwork so that Foursquare teams can know where they can go, what the needs are, where they can stay and who will partner with them,” Corey elaborates. “There is a continually changing dynamic and evolving list of needs. It changes every day in some places.”
Consequently, partnership with people on the ground in the affected areas of Japan is essential.
Going to Japan
At present, Corey knows of five local churches in the Hawaii District that are preparing to send teams into Japan. They will partner with local Japanese Foursquare churches and CRASH Japan, which stands for Christian Relief, Assistance, Support & Hope.
“We’re sending people in through CRASH,” David Wheeler of FMI Go Teams affirms. “If anyone is interested, they can get in touch with me via e-mail, and we can put a team together.”
The first phase of the relief plan involves Corey bringing Foursquare pastors and leaders on “vision and compassion” trips into the affected regions to “given them an opportunity to see the needs for themselves and hear the voice of God for themselves as to whether they should pray, give or go.”
Thirteen pastors from Washington and Hawaii have signed up for the first trip, set for June 20-25. Two or three others are planned this summer.
One thing the vision and compassion teams will see is a trail of destruction. Even though he trained years ago to help after fires, floods and other disasters, nothing prepared Corey for the magnitude of what he observed when he went to Japan in April.
In addition to the physical damage, many Japanese are suffering from emotional shock. Numerous church members, police officers, firefighters and rescue personnel pulled hundreds of bodies out of the wreckage initially—and are still finding victims.
“And if they shed a tear or express pain or remorse, they’re slammed,” says Corey, who formerly pastored in Japan for 18 years. “A lot of people are going through post-traumatic stress disorder, but Japanese society has no place or provision for such counseling.”
Reaching Out in Love
Foursquare has a modest presence in Japan, with 42 congregations. Four of these churches were in areas struck by the disaster, including one congregation whose entire town was swept away by a 30-foot high tsunami.
In the face of such daunting challenges, however, Foursquare members have responded with a spirit of love and compassion. Several Foursquare churches sent out relief teams, including medical personnel, within one week of the disaster.
Even though one church had to shut down, that didn’t stop members from taking action. Another congregation, led by FMI Missionary Renee Williams, has been making a weekly, 16-hour roundtrip to deliver goods and offer encouragement in five cities where they had established personal relationships. One of those cities has never had a Christian presence.
“Several hundred people were evacuated and have been living in shelters,” Corey notes. “Renee has been going in every week, bringing whatever they need. People are blown away by this white missionary who speaks their language, cares for them and drives eight hours one way to see them. That’s one place where I believe that we can get a church started, just because of that witness.”
David Wheeler notes that many Americans of Japanese ancestry are already taking steps to help their homeland. Because of their familiarity with the nation, they act without contacting FMI, he says.
“Our own local church [in Hawaii] will go in July,” Corey adds. “We believe that when we come with a contextualized message of hope—making it clear that the tsunami and earthquakes were not the judgment of God, by sharing the promise of the rainbow made to Noah and of God’s judgment coming with fire, not water—we can make some serious inroads into that country.”
On June 1 at Foursquare Connection in Columbus, Ohio, Corey, Ted Vail (associate director of FMI—U.S. Missions) and Chad Isenhart (of Foursquare Relief and Compassion) will make a presentation on Japan relief.
Corey offers an important suggestion to U.S. Foursquare supervisors, pastors and leaders: “If you have someone in your church with a passion for the Japanese; if you have people with experience living in Japan or even speaking Japanese; if you have people in your congregation who have family, friends or homestay students living in the areas directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami; then God has probably chosen and prepared you to go.”
By: Ken Walker, an award-winning freelance journalist in Huntington, W.V.