Initiatives in the Church Amidst the Current Situation in Japan

Initiatives in the Church Amidst the Current Situation in Japan

At my church (Fukuoka Baptist Church), all meetings except for the Sunday worship, prayer meeting, and deacons’ meeting have been cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19. We encourage attendance at our Sunday services by all except the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions, and those with fever on the day of the service. As a result, since last April, worship attendance has been about half of what it used to be (about 20 people). In addition to streaming the service online on the day of the service, we are also distributing audio data and CDs containing the audio of the service. Due to problems with the internet and a limited number of service staff, we are only able to provide a very unstable service, but we are doing our best.

In the midst of this situation, we are very thankful that we have encountered several people who are interested in the Bible and Christianity and have come to our church for the very first time. One of them asked to learn more about what is written in the Bible, not only in worship but also interactively. At present (February 2021), our Sunday School classes have been suspended, and the effects of COVID-19 are not likely to end for some time to come. So with infection control measures in place, there is a movement to start personal Bible studies. Instead of just listening to a sermon in worship and accepting the words of the Bible passively, we  need to create an environment conducive to questions. We are regaining the lost art of dialogue. I feel as if I have seen the essence of Sunday School. It is a great loss to have less time for dialogue about the Bible, and if the current situation of not being able to have Sunday School time continues for two or three years, it will have a great impact on future church formation.

Last July, there was a torrential downpour in Kumamoto Prefecture, near Fukuoka Prefecture, and one of our church members was affected. He was running an architectural office, and his office was covered in mud. Eighty-four people died and four are still missing from this disaster. Just like our church member, many people needed a helping hand, but due to the COVID-19 situation, there were fewer volunteer workers available who would cross prefectural borders to help. Therefore, since August last year, I have been going to Kumamoto on a regular basis with the pastor of our church as well as seminary students and pastors from other churches to volunteer through cleaning and demolishing houses. Every time I go to Kumamoto, I realize there is an overwhelming lack of disaster volunteers compared to the size of the damage. Most of the people affected by the disaster are cheerful and energetic, but they seem to have great anxiety about the future. In such a situation, the number of COVID-19 infected people in Fukuoka Prefecture where we live has risen since the beginning of 2021. We decided that moving across the prefecture to Kumamoto to help would increase the risk of infection, so we have now stopped this activity. A small group of staff from Kumamoto is continuing to work in the area. Those of us who live in Fukuoka Prefecture are praying and waiting for the resumption of activities.

At Fukuoka Baptist Church, we have been preparing to start a “Children’s Cafeteria” in response to the recent increase in the number of poor families in Japan and the increase in the number of households with two working parents. The plan was to have a pre-opening in 2019 and start once a month in 2020. However, since we cannot have a congregational dinner right now, we are working on distributing food provided by the food bank at the church about once a month. Dozens of people have received the food each time. At the same time, we are preparing for the future by purchasing a large refrigerator and a large number of plates. We are setting them up in the church. We are also considering making and serving lunches.

In the wake of the recent spread of COVID-19, there are many theological issues with which Christians within and outside the church are being challenged. Where is the Kingdom of God that Jesus showed us spreading to? What feeling have we been walking in? In Matthew 9:36, Jesus looked at the crowd and had deep compassion for them. This compassion is described in the Greek as σπλαγχνίζομαι. This means “to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity). It was out of this compassion that Jesus sent his disciples to further expand his ministry. The question now is, “How have we walked with this compassionate heart?” In terms of “activities,” we may have said and done many things. While we may have talked and done many things as “activities,” were those activities for activities’ sake?  

As Jesus’s compassion is a strong feeling, we too need to walk with a feeling that shakes us up. Now that many activities and meetings have been canceled in the church, we have been given time to think about what the Gospel is that we share with our neighbors. In order to do that, we must first have the Gospel resonate in ourselves. I believe that at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus is his compassion. The proclamation of the Kingdom of God is something that God himself does, and we participate in it. At the center of the mission of the Kingdom of God are those who have nowhere else to go and are suffering the most. We are small and weak, but we still need to receive Jesus’s compassionate heart and follow him.

For Reflection and Discussion

  • In the past, the church has been evangelizing, but what has been at the center of that evangelism? Have we ever been expansionist or managerialist?
  • Have we or have we not been satisfied with the busyness of our activities? 
  • What kind of attitude did Jesus have toward people? Are we listening to the needs of those outside the church in a way that reflects Jesus?
Equipping Youth and Children to Be Worshippers

Equipping Youth and Children to Be Worshippers

Since March 2020, we have not been able to gather for worship some Sundays. Currently, as of February 2021, we are not able to gather for worship due to the Otaru City officials’ request for its citizens to refrain from going out except for school, clinic visits, or minimal grocery shopping to prevent further spreading of COVID-19. 

The deacons and I discussed over the phone how to conduct worship services for the Sundays when we cannot gather at our church building and decided to record the Scriptural reading, a sermon, and a pastoral prayer and broadcast it for those who could watch on the internet. Since there are also those who do not have any access to the internet in our congregation, we mailed the bulletins and sermon scripts to those members so they could worship on Sunday at the same time at home. 

At our church, the children’s group had just studied about worship in the children’s summer camp, so we asked them to take part in Scriptural readings for our worship videos. Their parents recorded their voices as they read the Bible, and we put that together with some captions. The deacons and I did not have enough knowledge or skills to do everything on our own, so we actively asked younger people in church to help us record sermons, add captions, and edit videos to put them on the internet. 

Though the number of children and youth are very few in our church, this change of approach enabled all of them to be involved to some degree in worship preparations. In addition, there were some unchurched people who have never been to our church who now watch the video and worship. They typically had some connections to our church and watch because someone they know was involved in the project.

Although we cannot see each other in person now, our prayer is that those youth and children inside and outside our church will become the worship leaders of the future. Their relatives near and far also enjoyed listening to the voices of their little ones reading the Bible.

Upon reflection, there are three factors that seemed to have contributed to the development of worship style changes at this transitional time.

  1. Our church has been focusing on and praying to minister to and educate youth and children to become good Christians. Their names appear on our monthly prayer calendar.
  2. Most youth were happy to be asked to help adults in the areas that they are good in, such as video editing on their smart phones. One youth I called and talked to for the first time, seeking advice in this area, makes a living broadcasting his own video programs on the internet.
  3. Connections to neighboring churches across city borders improved. As Otaru City issued a request to limit comings and goings, I as a commuting pastor from a neighboring city could not go into Otaru even for recording sermons. However, the mother church of our church happened to be outside Otaru, so they offered to provide their sanctuary for recording the sermon. A first-grade student at the age of seven recorded my most recent sermon there!

For Reflection and Discussion

  1. What steps have you taken or could you take to involve youth and children in your worship services?
  2. How could we overcome our cultural norms in order to bring children closer to God?
  3. What are electronic devices or apps you already have but are not familiar with? How could you enlist the help of the younger generation to learn more about this technology and how to use it for ministry?
  4. What is the history surrounding the birth of your church? Does your church take time each year to remember and recognize the history and intergenerational connections?
Sponsoring of Youth Work

Sponsoring of Youth Work

BWA World Congress Resolution 1970.7

The Twelfth Baptist World Congress of 1970, held in Tokyo, Japan, resolves to offer its great appreciation to the Program Committee of the BWA, the Local Arrangements Committee of Japan Baptist Domai (Union), the Japan Baptist Renmai (Convention) and the Japan Baptist Church Association for the labor of love, in bringing this significant Baptist Congress, held on Asian soil for the first time, into great success.

To mention just a few of the demonstrations of their love for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: The painted curtain of a world scene with white clouds in the blue sky is so real to nature.

The flower arrangements and the beautiful stage decoration under the leadership and guidance of Mr. Meikof Kasuya are to be admired.

The music produced by the Tokyo Symphony, the choir singing of the youth, the solos that brought home so vividly the message of love of Jesus are to be cherished and remembered.

The panorama scenes and the Bible episodes planned and produced under the direction of Mrs. R. L. Mathis caused us to rededicate our lives for greater service for Christ, our Master and Lord. The speeches prepared prayerfully, delivered so eloquently, moved by the Holy Spirit for inspiration will remain with us forever. We commend the graceful courtesy of the Japanese people.

Citations

Original Source Bibliography: Bryant, Cyril E., editor. Reconciliation Through Christ: Official Report of the Twelfth Congress, Tokyo, Japan, July 12-18, 1970. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1971.

Original Source Footnote/Endnote: Cyril E. Bryant, ed., Reconciliation Through Christ: Official Report of the Twelfth Congress, Tokyo, Japan, July 12-18, 1970 (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1971), pp. 255-256.

Online Document Full Citation: BWA World Congress Resolution 1970.7 Appreciation for Committees and Program Personnel; https://o7e.4a3.myftpupload.com/resolutions.

In-text Online Document Citation: (BWA World Congress 1970.7).

Sponsoring of Youth Work

Appreciation for Committees and Program Personnel

BWA World Congress Resolution 1970.7

The Twelfth Baptist World Congress of 1970, held in Tokyo, Japan, resolves to offer its great appreciation to the Program Committee of the BWA, the Local Arrangements Committee of Japan Baptist Domai (Union), the Japan Baptist Renmai (Convention) and the Japan Baptist Church Association for the labor of love, in bringing this significant Baptist Congress, held on Asian soil for the first time, into great success.

To mention just a few of the demonstrations of their love for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: The painted curtain of a world scene with white clouds in the blue sky is so real to nature.

The flower arrangements and the beautiful stage decoration under the leadership and guidance of Mr. Meikof Kasuya are to be admired.

The music produced by the Tokyo Symphony, the choir singing of the youth, the solos that brought home so vividly the message of love of Jesus are to be cherished and remembered.

The panorama scenes and the Bible episodes planned and produced under the direction of Mrs. R. L. Mathis caused us to rededicate our lives for greater service for Christ, our Master and Lord. The speeches prepared prayerfully, delivered so eloquently, moved by the Holy Spirit for inspiration will remain with us forever. We commend the graceful courtesy of the Japanese people.

Citations

Original Source Bibliography: Bryant, Cyril E., editor. Reconciliation Through Christ: Official Report of the Twelfth Congress, Tokyo, Japan, July 12-18, 1970. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1971.

Original Source Footnote/Endnote: Cyril E. Bryant, ed., Reconciliation Through Christ: Official Report of the Twelfth Congress, Tokyo, Japan, July 12-18, 1970 (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1971), pp. 255-256.

Online Document Full Citation: BWA World Congress Resolution 1970.7 Appreciation for Committees and Program Personnel; https://o7e.4a3.myftpupload.com/resolutions.

In-text Online Document Citation: (BWA World Congress 1970.7).

Sponsoring of Youth Work

Sponsoring of Youth Work

BWA World Congress Resolution 1970.6

Because the Baptist World Alliance has shown concern for Baptist young people throughout the world as evidenced by its sponsorship of Baptist Youth World Conferences, and because young people in this age have developed a keen sense of awareness to the need of applying Christian teachings in practical ministries in efforts to heed the call and commands of Christ,

Therefore, it is resolved by the Baptist World Alliance that we demonstrate our continued concern for the opinions of our youth by endorsing the following actions:

—Increasing representation of young people on all BWA Committees.
—Electing mature, responsible young men and women to some of the key BWA offices. —Involving youth in all phases of program planning and participation at future Congresses. —Maintaining open avenues of dialogue with young people of the Alliance.

Citations

Original Source Bibliography: Bryant, Cyril E., editor. Reconciliation Through Christ: Official Report of the Twelfth Congress, Tokyo, Japan, July 12-18, 1970. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1971.

Original Source Footnote/Endnote: Cyril E. Bryant, ed., Reconciliation Through Christ: Official Report of the Twelfth Congress, Tokyo, Japan, July 12-18, 1970 (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1971), p. 255.

Online Document Full Citation: BWA World Congress Resolution 1970.6 Sponsoring of Youth Work; https://o7e.4a3.myftpupload.com/resolutions.

In-text Online Document Citation: (BWA World Congress 1970.6).