The conditions are worsening.
That’s the first observation from Jack Munday, director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, as he returned to Japan this week.
Not as much the physical conditions, which are in some parts of northern Japan as bad as ever, but the emotional condition of the Japanese souls.
“It appears to me the trauma and grief is enhancing,” said Munday. “It gets old pretty quick.”
And conditions getting old seems to be the new normal in places like Sendai and Sapporo, two areas Munday traveled to this week to train pastors and church leaders in the BGEA Grief and Crisis Training as the people continue to struggle in the devastation of the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis.
Munday trained 27 church leaders on Monday in Osaka, many who will train other pastors and church leaders in Sendai and northern Japan in how to implement the Grief and Crisis Training to the hurting people in their part of Japan.
“They have no source of comfort, no source of hope,” Munday said. “…The Rapid Response Team’s role at this point is the Grief and Crisis Training.
“Our mission is to train and equip the Japanese people to do the work of the ministry through the local churches.”
And there is an abundance of work to do. But along with great needs comes a greater awareness of the need for Jesus and there is an openness in Japan to hearing about Christ that hasn’t been seen in 20 years.
“We are witnessing unique opportunities for evangelism as the hearts of people are now opened to the Gospel as never before,” said Chad Hammond, BGEA Associate Director of Asian Affairs. “This has been one positive result out of a very horrific situation.”
An important slice of ministry that often goes unnoticed is the desperate recharge and rejuvenation needs of the pastors themselves who are busy ministering to their congregations.
So on Thursday afternoon, BGEA lead the first pastor’s retreat in Sendai, which ministered to 18 pastors and their families. A time of scripture reading and devotions was followed by smaller groups discussing the trials and blessings they have been dealing with including:
- Many new church visitors
- Becoming homeless and experiencing God’s faithfulness
- Awareness of new ways to serve God
- Increased busy schedules helping neighbors
- Increased focus on the Gospel ministry
- Trusting the Lord daily
- Increased prayer life
- Intense grief over losing a child in the tsunami
- Realization of how you can live with nothing
These pastor’s retreats will continue at least once and possibly several times a month through the year.
“This is a critical piece as we know that during disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and others, it really takes a toll on the local churches,” Munday said. “They exhaust their resources to help provide for the community. It makes it very difficult for a pastor to continue their role as pastor of the church.”
‘Resilient in Christ’
Resilience is nothing new in the Japan fabric. Sometimes, however, people are resilient to the point of not being vulnerable.
But that is changing.
“I had asked the pastors and their spouses if they would be willing to share their stories,” Munday said. “Quite frankly, I was anticipating they would share briefly with our understanding of the Japanese culture.
“But it was quite the contrast. These pastors and leaders were very open sharing a deep pain and suffering they have experienced. And for nine of them sharing, it was an hour and a half later and they were still sharing.”
Still, there is a spiritual resilience that Munday has seen at times that nearly leaves him speechless.
In one instance, he visited a house of a family that was preparing to start a home church. The tsunami had flooded the house up to the second floor, first-floor windows were shattered and several feet of sea weed, mud and other debris filled the house.
On top of the mess, 36 of the people they were serving in their community died in the tsunami and another seven bodies had yet to be found.
“But they were resilient in Christ,” Munday said. “They were motivated to get their house cleaned up so they could open doors to serve Christ.”
It’s just one of countless examples of how God is using this disaster to bring people closer to Him.
“I just encourage them that time is of the essence. We’re in a window of need,” Munday said. “I believe the wind of the Holy Spirit is at our back.”