Punching above their Weight
Traveling the north east coast of Japan, walking the devastated areas washed into rubble by a mighty tsunami is overwhelming. Physically the trauma caused by the earthquake and 50 foot high waves is incalculable 20,000 deaths. Areas now contaminated by radiation that will be unused for thousands of years. Land sunken by the weight of the sea, is vulnerable to flooding with each tide. People from the Fukushimaarea, the location of the nuclear reactor are treated as lepers. Products sold from that area are treated with suspicion, understandably vegtables, but steel bearings? People live in fear.
A sports metaphor came to mind as I watched people working to bring hope to hopeless times and places. Boxers, taking on another in a heavier weight class is said to be “punching above their weight,” taking on more than one would expect.
In the middle of these sad and hopeless communities, Christians have set about to do what most would never have believed they could do. They were considered too small to do much.
Christians have done what was not expected of them. A small organization to help with disaster, ingeniously called CRASH (Christian Resource Assistance Sharing Hope) in hours after March 11, sprang into action. In the wildness of those early days, as people and money and resources poured in, nothing would happen unless it was coordinated. Samaritans Purse brought in a military 747 loaded with supplies, but unless distributed to those in need it would sit in warehouses.
Aided by the Japan Evangelical Association (JEA; http://www.jea.org), CRASH brought together people from all streams of Christian life. Seasoned missionaries dropped what they were doing and joined. Young people arrived from around the world, over 1700 of them. Japanese Christians set aside their work many moved into the five camps set in the north east to save lives.
Seven months later, Lily and I spent a week with the JEA leadership, General Secretary Rev Kenishi Shinagawa and Mark McLeod and other leaders of CRASH (www.crashjapan.com). We met pastors, Christian aid workers, and young people from around the world. as they moved into the next phase. Considering winter will soon arrive, people are in resettlement camps. Machines continue to clean up the carnage. Life is trying to get back to normal. But this isJapan. A world in which family and community are everything. Now separated from friends, and brutally separated by death, many are lonely, completely unprepared to face a winter without family.
CRASH as a coordinator of churches and resources, has moved into a new phase, providing emotional aftercare. While the machines do their work, Christians are now giving focus to the soft underbelly of human trauma, people living alone without hope. Here the potential suicide rate (already high in Japan) could spike this year if people are not reached in time.
A pastor told me of a Japanese of another faith who said, “I’ve watched you Christians. When people from other faith arrived, they worked to clean up their temples and help their people, but you Christians help anyone. You didn’t just stay with your own. And I’ve noticed now that most of the others have left, you Christians are still living and working among us.”
Japan, one of the most difficult countries of the world in opening to the Gospel is a curious mixture of intensely focused family and community lifestyle and a high regard for ancestors. As well the various phases in which Christianity was introduced has left most, if not disinterested, wary of the Christian message.
Three forces may conspire to change this marvelous and complex national and people. The shock of the earthquake and subsequent disaster of the tsunami has up set the status quo, putting more weight on an already weak economy. Materialistic asJapanis, this might help to get their attention. The second is the manifest emotional disease infected by a materialism that builds no interior understanding of spiritual life, meaning or value. The third is a shift in Christian and church leadership. A younger set of leaders are taking their place. The paradigm of small and cell-like congregations may break into new models, especially in urban areas where people live far from the ancestry places of family.
What we can see, and give thanks to God for, is that within these past seven months, the Christian community has given powerful witness of love and care for those in need. The consequence of that witness will be visible in the coming years. Some soil has been prepared. May seed now find a hospitable place and with careful nurture, we pray for a harvest, assured by the Father,.
But there are three request: continue to pray. This is an issue needing the power of the Spirit to break the strongholds that keep Christ from being known. Second, send your best young people, and if possible for more than 30 days, preferably 30 years: to build into the culture, language and people, to bring a new paradigm of church growth and help in renewing the people. Third, continue to invest. Yes the currency makes it expensive. Yes the work has been slow. But if I know one thing about people of faith, when the going is tough, we hang in there, giving and praying all the more.
Hurray to those who punched above your weight.