Discipleship in the Time of Coronavirus

中村佐知(JCFN理事、霊的同伴者、キリスト教書翻訳者)

How are you doing? The US was a few steps behind Japan in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and several states are now under Stay at Home Orders. Schools, churches, restaurants, convention halls, and any places for gatherings are now closed. Even when we go out for grocery shopping or for a walk, we are told to strictly keep a distance of 6 feet away from each other. The turn of events over the last ten days were so fast-paced that everyone is at a loss. As Japan enters into a new school year, will the schools reopen?  Will people finally be able to go back to work? 

As we were suddenly thrown into this situation, I can imagine that many are feeling quite anxious. This morning, I was reading an article titled “Discipleship in the Time of Coronavirus” and came across this passage. 

“What is the way of Jesus in such a time as this? First, we must remember that we are disciples of the living, ascended, and enthroned Jesus. …… The Jesus who said, “And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” remains/abides with us by his Spirit. When we are tempted to isolate and turn inwards, we need to repeatedly turn our gaze to the availability of Jesus. Throughout our days we need to develop the habit—now more than ever—of finding encouragement and comfort in the real presence of Christ’s love (Phil 2:1). ……. Our Lord, savior, friend, and lover is paying attention to us, the human situation, our needs, and the needs of those around the world. We need to pay attention to him—fixing our eyes, setting our minds, abiding—while we attend to the news, our needs, and the needs of those around us.”

What we choose to pay attention to and focus on will influence our emotions,  cognitions, actions and attitudes. (see Philippians 4:8) The author of the above article recommended several disciples such as breath prayer (Japanese only), stopping occasionally during the day to turn our hearts to the Lord, and praying and meditating on the Lord’s Prayer in the morning, noon and evening. For those who are taking this course, those spiritual disciples are probably already very familiar to you. Even in regards to the coronavirus, may we seek the Lord for discernment to clarify the boundary line between the things we can and should do, as well as things that are beyond us that we need to entrust into God’s good hands, since worrying about it won’t do any good.  

The author of the article says,

“Returning one’s gaze to the competent gaze of Jesus throughout one’s day is not simply a nice idea. Discipleship to Jesus is a learning way (Matt 11:28–30). With Jesus’ leading and the aid of his people down through the ages, we make tangible plans to reorient our minds to Christ and his Father’s kingdom resources in the midst of daily life.”

Even when we are anxious and fearful of what lies ahead, or when we are exhausted by the sheer number of things to attend, may we still turn our eyes to the presence of the One who is with us in the midst of them to encourage, help  and protect us. May we be able to comfort those around us with the shalom of the Lord that is within us. I hope that the spiritual disciplines (*) that we have been learning about through this course will be helpful you to do so.  

 

*Please refer to the spiritual disciples that I have mentioned in the JCFN blog in the past. 

 

Post  articles on the eLearning course “Boundaries from the Point of View of Spiritual Formation” (Japanese only) 

To Understand Returnees (5) How can I approach them? ― “Are returnees space aliens”? #4

For the booklet download:  LINK

The previous articles links.

Forward

  1. Who Are Returnees?
  2. How can I approach them? –“Are Returnees Space Aliens?” #1
  3. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #2
  4. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #3

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Point 4. How did the returnee develop their faith? Baptism? – continued#2

During the second half of the meeting, there is a call from the people there to, “please come to a different room if you would like to learn the Bible.” A “word” from worker Whenever we get an opportunity, we tell about “Japanese who cannot say no,” to local Christians who are guiding Japanese. Those who are interested will move to that room. Christians whom they meet there invite seekers to worship at their church, or invite them for other meetings to lead them further. If the person has a high level of English proficiency, it is possible to move further, but if the English proficiency is not high enough, that person cannot have a good understanding even if the same actions are taken.

 

In the US, ministry to international students led by cross-denominational organizations is actively done as well. It is very common that those organizations build friendships and deliver the good news little by little while assisting international students with their reports in English, buying a car or helping them move, on college campus. They also make friends through a party or an event, and offer Bible study for those who have interest. Many churches hold a “Mother-Child gathering.” It is a place where children below preschool age and their mothers are gathered together to have children play together or to exchange information among mothers. Similar to the English lessons mentioned earlier, the Bible and gospel could be shared for in some cases but not others. With this gathering as a starting point, there are quite a lot of ladies who are led to baptism. Yet, if the person does not have much desire to seek for truth, and English proficiency is not so high, in many cases, they may end up just attending the activities. Still, I am thankful if those people are given a heart to want to go to church after their return to Japan, thus we refer them to a church with our wish that “they attend church as long as possible.” When these “seekers” say, “I was attending church outside Japan,” it is helpful if we can find out what kind of meetings he/she attended, what was the expectation of the people who attended the meeting, to what extent he/she heard・understood the A “word” from worker We frequently refer “seekers” who are led by local Christians to churches. In most cases they are led by local Christians rather than himself/herself asking for the information as he/she responds “yes,” when he/she is asked “would you like to go to church after you return to Japan?” by local Christians who are leading the returnee. These local Christians ask us for the information and we provide it. Since there are too many “seekers”who fall under this, we think deeply “how we can connect them to a church.” I think it is a waste that the soul filled with abundant love and service of Christ is completely lost in Japan. I am led to think what is necessary, is it “low-key” ministry.. Rather than delivering a message for ministry as a form of a“ministry meeting,” and inviting people for a commitment, meetings that lead people to come to church and provide them opportunities to have contacts with Christians are needed, such as a bazaar・concert・gospel café. What is surprising for me when I met Japanese who are saved overseas is that significant number of them had never met a Christian in Japan. I think it is meaningful to expand the opportunity to meet with Christians through such “low-key” meeting.  Gospel/Bible and what is he/her looking for to attend church in Japan. It will be easier for them to attend if there is any meeting that is similar to what he/she has experienced overseas.

 

These are the 4 points that help you to find out the experience at church outside Japan and present status of returnees. In the following section, I would like to share my personal comments on returnees and church in Japan from a viewpoint of a person who is involved in Japanese ministry outside Japan.

to be continued….

To Understand Returnees (4) How can I approach them? ― “Are returnees space aliens”? #3

It has been for a while since this article’s up.  I would like to restart the article “Understanding Returnees.”  Please refer the previous articles on the links below.  Hope you enjoy.

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For the booklet download:  LINK

The previous articles links.

Forward

  1. Who Are Returnees?
  2. How can I approach them? –“Are Returnees Space Aliens?” #1
  3. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #2

++++++++

Point 4. How did the returnee develop their faith? Baptism? – continued.

Churches in Europe and the US are individualistic and place importance on autonomy just like their culture. Service at church seems to be voluntarily in many cases. Therefore there are many Christians who do not serve in church, and it does not make them uncomfortable to be at the church. Even among Christians, there are different personalities and the stance that each church takes on where all these people should serve. When those returnees who have such experiences look at a Japanese church, they may be surprised to see that so many members of the church are involved in service. As Japan is the country where harmony has a high importance , it is often the case that the pastor or leader of the church asks members to be involved in necessary services and those who are asked accept it, and because of the relatively small scale of church, church activity is managed by many people involved at church. How about the case for those who have not reached the point of baptism? In the case of a Japanese church, in general, their activities are similar to that of churches in Japan, therefore it is not so difficult to verify the level of the returnee by finding out what type of meetings he/she attended to what degree, and how much he/she is spiritually led. In case of a local church, there are various meetings and activities for foreigners, so there are many different ways in involving church even if he/she says “I was attending church.”. Sometimes church offers English lessons for foreigners in the local area. For some cases they talk about the Bible prior to or following lessons, but depending on the policy of the church, there are churches that never bring in Christianity. At the churches that are seriously working on ministering to international students, dedicated staff takes care of the international students and holds meetings only for the international students. For example, some churches of Cambridge University in the UK host a meeting starting around 7:00 pm as a form of “coffee bar.” The Christian Union of the university is picking up steam, where the students of Cambridge University also take part in. If Japanese students show up there, there is a chance for the Japanese student to speak with those Cambridge students and become friends. Meeting in the form of “coffee bar,” is in line with the concept of friendship evangelism, it starts with becoming a friend, just like Jesus became our friend, and gradually talking about the good news to learn the Bible together. People can have a free conversation in the setting like a coffee shop during the first half of the meeting. Sometimes a skit that conveys the message of Christianity or music is played.

 

to be continued…..

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