Asian Access has been training pastors in Japan for over 40 years, largely through gatherings of cohorts who come together as a learning community, grounded in deep relationships. The current pandemic, which requires social distancing and a period of shutdown, has challenged this model. In the process, it has accelerated our development of online learning platforms and opened the door to new opportunities and even greater reach.
As Japan was dealing with the outbreak in April, churches across the nation were increasingly limited in how they could meet. Much like the persecution of the early church, which resulted in the gospel spreading around the world, our A2 Japan National Director, Rev. Joshua Hari, saw this “shut down” experience as a unique opportunity to see the Church in Japan expand beyond the borders of its building and through the internet into homes and lives across the country.
His team began looking for ways to equip the Church for this dramatic change with hope and expectation that God is working in this time of fear and uncertainty. They decided to make connections and create a new learning community through monthly webinars using a simple, two-person panel format. Through Facebook and email, they invited leaders to the first webinar in a series designed in response to the new coronavirus, “How is the Church Supposed to Be in Times Like This?” The only requirement for registration was to answer a brief questionnaire on how their church was responding to the new coronavirus situation.
On May 5 the team was amazed to have almost 90 participants from northernmost to southernmost Japan and the U.S.! For 74% of the participants, it was their first time to experience a webinar. As moderator, Pastor Hari facilitated learning from each other as he shared from his personal experience as a pastor and polled participants live. They also took time to imagine possible risks and opportunities to come. Rev. Makio Kodaira (below left), A2 Japan Board Chairman and a pastor whose church in Kobe was hit by the Great Hanshin Earthquake 25 years ago, brought his experience of major disruption and spoke to the question of what God might be doing through this situation.
Takeshi Takazawa (above right), A2 VP for Strategic Engagement, brought a challenge to consider the possibilities of seeing church in a new way, drawing from lessons learned after the 9.0 Great Tohoku Earthquake and resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011. Pastor Hari also presented results from the questionnaires submitted at registration and collected comments and questions throughout the talk, looking ahead to plans for future seminars.
Pastor Hari was deeply involved in disaster response after the 2011 triple disaster in northeastern Japan. During that time, when the local communities were reeling from the devastation, many from outside the region and around the world came to help. In today’s crisis, every part of the world is reeling in some way or another. He believes that today’s crisis requires partnership—to share knowledge and experience and learn from one another as we go through this together—and as Christian leaders, to embrace what God is teaching us in ‘such a time as this’.
It is encouraging to see how the church in Japan, even as a minority of around 1% of the population, has survived and served through so many natural disasters and is now, in the current crisis, finding ways to grow and continue to serve. This is a great example for other churches to not just get through this season but to learn from one another, and together seek God’s heart and fresh opportunities before us.
Please pray for this series of webinars. The second seminar, “Church Leadership in the Midst of the Coronavirus Crisis” was held Tuesday, June 9, from 10AM to noon, Japan time (6 PM Monday PDT).
Mary Jo Wilson was in Japan with Asian Access for 20 years, partnering with local leaders in church planting and developing new workers for cross-cultural ministry. Now, as VP for Missional Engagement, she serves our strategic partnership with SIM and continues to support the work of multiplying churches and developing leaders in Japan and Asia.