With the rest of the world I have been watching footage of the devastation in Japan with my hands over my mouth. Videos and pictures have shown us the awful destruction and only make us wonder at how many lives are lost or now impoverished in ways beyond our ability to comprehend. Maybe you felt the same, but my prayers have only been groanings, hoping the Holy Spirit can give content to the needs I haven’t been able to articulate for Japan.
Two days ago, my wife rushed into my office and asked, “Do you think Keiko is alright?” Keiko Takahashi is a Japanese woman who was in our small group at church before she left less than a year ago to go work withMichael Oh at Christ Bible Seminary in Nagoya, Japan. After some investigation by email and Facebook, we found out she was fine, but working tirelessly, as you can imagine. I emailed Keiko to see if she could provide information on how the disaster is affecting Christians, local churches, and missionaries. Basically, I just wanted some information to help inform our prayers.
God’s Faithful Presence
Keiko’s response was thick with an awareness that God is present in Japan and that his providence, however mysterious, is good. But there are efforts, dark and spiritual, sowing the seeds of disorder, confusion, and anxiety. “When this kind of massive confusion occurs, some malice spirits spread dark malicious rumors,” she writes. “Evil demagogues on the Internet stir up the dark human desire, normally hidden at the bed of the original sin.”
Thankfully, the majority of Japanese people seem to be trusting the official reports from the authorities about the nuclear plants, aftershocks, and power outages. In fact, Keiko remarks the Japanese people have submitted to the authorities with orderliness and patience. She writes:
Even in the total power outage, nobody robs shops or rapes or anything, except for those who are normally committing such crimes. . . . There are no riots where we have to line up for several hours in the train station waiting to get into a packed-full train cart. They answer to the interviewer, “Compared to those who died or survived the tsunami, this long line is nothing. We want to help them by saving our electricity consumption for them.”
Let’s be thankful to God for this unusual order during a time of such devastation. There seems to be a common grace from God to the Japanese people that, as Keiko puts it, “They know that the power of love overcomes their sense of inconvenience to the extent of suffering.” But she reminds us, “Christianity must show far beyond.” Our love and kindness, Keiko writes, must be rooted in our faith in the atoning cross of Jesus, so that our acts of mercy will give honor to the “God who created and gives unceasing mercies and comforts.”
A Far Greater Struggle
In a nation with such a small Christian minority, the pressure Keiko endures from unbelieving family members is common to Christian workers in Japan. She explains:
My unbelieving family say in “love” that I should leave Japan for the United States because I have some contacts there. They assume that our goal for life is to physically preserve ourselves. But we know that our true goal is to die to the idol of self-preservation, and to be raised into God’s preservation, which is destined to victory.
She explains that what her family “cannot understand or accept is the fact that I see and taste the happiness that is given through the atoning cross of Christ. I came to Japan to die to all my self-dignity to live for Christ who loves to rescue his enemies, who alone can make me filled with all that I could hope for and far more.”
Kieko and her co-workers hear stories of “those who were swallowed by fast, dirty waters, yet never lost hope in the deadly struggle to survive for their loved ones.” But she knows that there is a far greater struggle, an eternal one, that compels her to stay in Japan. She explains:
Yet as we pray with missionaries from John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist Church, we vividly see that even those spectacular survivors still do not know anything about the far more dreadful struggle they must deal with at the end of their lives here on earth, which will be final.
Pray for Christians, who, like Keiko describes it, “shine by showing our full confidence in Christ.”
Devastated ‘Rengo’ Christians
Portions of Keiko’s email were especially heart breaking. One in particular was her report of the “Rengo” Christians. She writes:
Among those killed [were the] many churches planted by the missionaries sent by the same denomination as John Piper’s denomination, called “Rengo” in Japanese. Their church planting efforts have been predominantly focused on these east coast areas that were just swept all away!!!
According to Keiko, biblical Christianity thrived in these eastern regions that were devastated by the tsunami waves. She writes, “People in this area have been traditionally known for poverty and enduring patience due to the severe weather. [They were] well prepared for the God of all mercies and comforts (2 Cor 1).” They were “precious believers” in a country that is less than 0.2 percent Christian.
She asks, without doubting God’s goodness or perfect wisdom, “Why does God do this?” Along with rebuilding churches and ministering to mourning communities, Christians in Japan will be faced with similar questions. Pray for wisdom and clarity.
How Can American Christians Help?
Keiko is clear that it’s not yet the time for material and human resource help. There is simply too much “traffic confusion and congestion due to the scheduled power outage in downtown Tokyo and because of the shattered roads in the areas hit.” But there are “460, 000 survivors who lost everything in a few minutes, including their loved ones, and are impoverished in every possible sense.” So as we wait and pray, let’s pray that when the time comes to help, the means will be ready and effective.
The deep need in Japan from American Christians is prayer. Keiko writes, “Please pray and encourage us to fight a good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith until the Lord makes us home with him.” She is keenly aware that there will be temptations on every side in this fight for faithfulness. She reminds us, “I cannot choose to die to my flesh at all by myself, but only by the Spirit and by the power of his divine grace and his perfect righteousness. That is why prayer counts so much.”
The challenge for Christian workers is the significant biblical illiteracy in Japan. “Most Japanese people,” Keiko explains, “have never heard of the true meaning of God’s grace given through the cross of his Son.” So especially now, when some are offering false hope or claiming apocalyptical doom, many “cannot tell the Spirit from the spirits of evil cults, which are out to be the wolves in sheep skins. So we should not just send Bibles and tracts to the survivors at refugee shelters.”
The temptation, then, is for Christian to labor in their own strength. But let’s pray that they believe and act on what Keiko articulates so clearly:
We sow and water but God is the one who actually brings them to growth, not to death. . . . We shine by showing them our full confidence in Christ, not on our character or our wisdom or even our faith, etc., but in our conviction that there is no sin that he cannot atone for his own pleasure. We must reflect such miraculous generosity of God solely by the living Spirit.
That is why our and your prayer counts so significantly. It makes so much theological sense to pray and express our dependency on him who sanctifies us and saves the lost beyond our imagination.
Pray for the suffering and the mourning. Pray for local church communities to be faithful lights of the gospel. Pray that the hope of God’s grace in Christ will rest upon many hearts in Japan over the coming months.
John Starke is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and managing editor ofTGC Reviews, the book review site of The Gospel Coalition.