Less than 1 percent Christian.
This one statistic about the nation of Japan may be the most critical number as the earthquake/tsunami rebuilding effort starts to unfold.
More than the 25,000 believed to be dead. More than the 250,000 still homeless, living in deplorable conditions.
So how do you reach the other 99 percent of hurting people in Japan with the love of Jesus?
How do you organize a relief effort through the churches, whose congregations average 30-50 people?
And how does God grip a nation that has been so overwhelmingly unreached or unresponsive?
“They are searching for meaning,” said Tom Phillips, vice president of crusades for Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Phillips recently spent some time in northern Japan, finding the images even more devastating as shown on TV and the people more confused than ever.
He can sense a need for God that is palpable.
“Are they vulnerable? Yes,” Phillips said.
“Are they fragile? Yes.”
“Are they open to the Gospel? Probably.”
“But do they know they are seeking?” Phillips paused, underscoring perhaps the biggest challenge in reaching the nation.
BGEA’s response has been widespread, as they combine with Samaritan’s Purse in a relief effort that has no end in sight, especially with all the radiation fears coming out of the Fukushima plant.
“For us to understand is very difficult,” Phillips said. “Here’s a nation the size of California that has four times the number of people, 128 million, but most of the land is mountainous, so you can only use 30-40 percent of it. So what do you do? Where do you move them?”
Chad Hammond, associate director of Asian Affairs for BGEA, along with Kenney Isaacs of Samaritan’s Purse, has been working side-by-side with local pastors to continually evaluate the pressing needs in Japan. Isaacs sums it up best: “It’s a moving target every day.”
The physical and emotional drain during the relief effort is seemingly never-ending: “Every day feels like two months,” Isaacs said.
But the transition to a long-term care program is starting to develop with the help and guidance of BGEA. Hammond is aggressively working to get materials for crisis and relief training translated into Japanese.
In the meantime, the BGEA Rapid Response Team Director, Jack Munday, is leaving Saturday on an exploratory trip to meet with pastors and conduct some grief and crisis training.
“He’s going to meet with the pastors and see what the needs are,” Phillips said. “The pastors are asking for the training.
“This will help strengthen the church and leave a legacy in the community.”
And ultimately, as the grief and crisis counseling is given out, people will find there is a hope that is stronger than any of the hundreds of aftershocks that has shaken their foundation.
“I can give a guy a bag of rice, but he’ll be hungry again tomorrow,” Phillips said. “We’ll keep giving them rice, but we also want to give them Abundant Life.”
BGEA will continue to work with the pastors and church leaders developed through the Kansai Franklin Graham Festival in October, through the grief and crisis training program. And there’s a possibility of a united nation-wide effort to share God’s love next year, at the invitation of the church.
Phillips can only imagine what would happen if that 1 percent started growing.
How a movement of God could grip this hurting nation.
“There is a great need,” he said. “If the church grew quickly, anything could happen.”