Globalization—and the current pandemic—have tied together intercontinental personal relationships and socially distanced ministry in ways we would have found difficult to imagine not so many years ago.
The following true story from one of our Asian Access Japan staff highlights how intercontinental friendships and digital media can partner together in ministry even in a “shelter in place” world. Thank you for your prayers for our Asian Access family as our members share God’s love through every means possible.
Here is their story I wanted to share with you...
A Japanese university not far from our current home in Japan has had a sister school relationship with my alma mater in the USA for over 50 years. Decades ago, before my husband and I responded to God’s call to serve overseas, we were a “friendship family” to four young women from this university who were involved in short-term studies at my alma mater.
The sister school relationship continues today, and every year dozens of international students participate in the USA study program. Thirty-five years ago, little did we know that we would (unofficially) become a “friendship family” again, and this time in the home country of two students in the program!
How did that happen? At the beginning of this year we met Mariko* and Kimiko*, who at the end of 2019 had just completed their USA study program. Even before they returned to Japan, a married couple at our home church in the USA contacted us about these two young women. The couple serves as volunteer InterVarsity staff reaching out to international students at my alma mater.
So when Mariko and Kimiko attended a Christmas outreach at our friends’ home last December, the wife was surprised to learn that Kimiko lives in our city! Mariko lives a bit further away, but she can get to our home within an hour by train. Both said they would love to connect with us and gave permission for us to have their email addresses.
We got in contact with them, but Kimiko was busy with family activities upon her return to Japan. So over the New Year’s break, Mariko, who is outgoing, loves meeting new people, and takes every opportunity to practice her English, came by herself for lunch and a fun afternoon hanging out. During her time in the USA, Mariko had heard the gospel several times. That afternoon, we found that Mariko seems to be noncommittal about faith in general, but says, “My family is Buddhist. I don’t necessarily believe in the traditions we practice, but they are important for me as a Japanese person.”
In February, both Mariko and Kimiko came for lunch. Kimiko was more reserved than Mariko, but she seemed to be more interested in spiritual discussions. Kimiko told us she had been reading the Bible that our friends had given her, but had many questions. At the end of the visit we gave both Mariko and Kimiko Japanese copies of Manga Messiah (a life of Jesus presented in visual book style that so far has been translated into 27 languages).
Our next planned meeting was in March, but as concern about the spread of coronavirus disease had begun to increase, Mariko decided not to come because of how many people she would come into contact with on her train ride to our house.
But Kimiko could get to our home in about fifteen minutes by bicycle, so she was happy to take her turn to come by herself. We were able to share the gospel with Kimiko that day and she seemed to connect intellectually with it. More importantly, she agreed to meet with us again to study more. But with the option of meeting in person no longer possible with the spread of COVID-19, Kimiko welcomed a weekly Bible study with us by video. We’ve already had three meetings with Kimiko, and each time she thanks us for this time of introductory Bible lessons explaining the gospel.
At the same time, we began weekly “keeping in touch” video chats with Mariko and Kimiko together—meeting more often than we would have in person! Amidst all that is terrible about this coronavirus disease, we’re looking forward to seeing how God will “work this together for good” in our accelerated relationships with these two university students.
*Not their real names
Rev. Joseph W. Handley, Jr., Ph.D.