Nearly three months have passed since much of the northeast region of Japan was completely devastated by what is now estimated to have been a 9.0-magnitude earthquake – one of the five most powerful earthquakes recorded in the world.
Deaths totaled 15,281, while 5,363 were injured, and 8,492 people are still missing, according to the Japanese National Police Agency.
Additionally, over 125,000 buildings are damaged or destroyed. Approximately 4.4 million households are currently without electricity, while 1.5 million are without water. The overall estimated cost of the earthquake and tsunami disaster could exceed $309 billion, making it the world’s most expensive natural disaster on record, reported The Associated Press.
In the face of such overwhelming figures, there’s no denying that the numbers just keep telling the story of a people stricken by disaster, loss, and despair.
But it appears that one hope remains, amid all of the ruin. Described as the “Gospel hope,” Michael Oh, president of the Christ Bible Institute and Seminary located in Nagoya, shared with The Christian Post his perspective on the current, spiritual state of Japan and the challenges that lie ahead not only for his ministry, but for the Japanese people as well.
Providing a glimpse into the mindset of the people, Oh told CP, “The Japanese have a great ability to endure difficulty and also hide their personal struggles. ‘I’m okay’ is a normal response even to challenging circumstances.”
“Recently a friend was speaking with a Japanese businessman; when asked how he [was] and how the Japanese [were], he responded, ‘We’re pretending that everything is okay.’”
But clearly, everything is not okay, Oh stated.
“All throughout Japan, there is a need to lovingly and purposefully engage people relationally and conversationally with the Gospel. The Gospel has only been truly heard when it’s been spoken and explained.”
And the best way to speak and explain the message? Through a practical demonstration of the Gospel, which was most effective, the Harvard graduate explained, whether that included physical, emotional, or spiritual help.
In an affluent nation like Japan, however, where people did not feel a need for any type of help, opportunities for Christians to practically demonstrate the Gospel were limited.
But after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which demolished much of Japan’s northeast coast, exceptional opportunities were opened, giving Christians the chance to offer practical help while sharing the Gospel message.
Oh’s own ministry, Christ Bible Institute, which was not directly affected by the tsunami, in cooperation with two other teams, was able to make a small contribution by renting trucks, purchasing supplies like food, water, gasoline, diapers, etc., and making trips to the heavily afflicted areas in the north.
“It was a great learning experience for our seminary students for very practical ministry to people in great need,” the CBI president relayed to CP. “Spiritual relief efforts [need] to follow up on the physical relief work.”
Possibilities to share the Gospel specifically through relationship building, an effective and key component of missions in Japan, increased as well, with more and more people seeking genuine relationships with people who seemed to have something more to offer, like peace, joy, and love.
“The opportunities for significant conversations about life and death are unprecedented,” the Korean-American missionary shared. “These then allow for sharing of our Gospel hope.”
Along with CBI, several other churches and ministries were reaching out to the people, mobilizing together to provide assistance.
“There has been a very encouraging degree of cooperation among Japanese churches and organizations. This has allowed for a very evident Gospel witness to the nation.”
Oh continued to say, “There have been numerous comments about how the Japanese fled the affected areas and how foreigners fled Japan, but it was also clear to many that at the same time it was Christians who were going into the affected areas to help and it was missionaries who stayed committed to Japan.”
The current challenge for Japan in terms of evangelism and the spread of the Gospel, he believed, was to find, be with, and befriend the younger generations who will set the tone for the future of Japan.
Hoping to engage the youth who mainly occupied the cities, CBI desired to create a “safe space” for young people, physically, emotionally, relationally, sexually, and spiritually as well.
With some disturbing statistics of his own, Oh revealed that nine percent of high school girls reported having participated in enjo-kosai, a form of teenage prostitution or compensated dating. Four percent in middle school also admitted to the same. Moreover, 70 percent of kids were also bullied or bullied others.
“Japan, in many ways, is not a safe place for young people.”
Praying more than six years for a new ministry center at the heart of the city, CBI, by God’s grace, was able to purchase a $20 million building for only $1.2 million in downtown Nagoya, just a five-minute walk from Nagoya station, and pursue their vision.
“Lord willing, we hope to have a building dedication in September and begin plans to open on the first floor an outreach to young people called the Heart & Soul Café,” Oh said. “It will be a place where young people can enjoy coffee, tea, arts, media, and technology, receive tutoring and counseling, and learn about the Gospel. We’ll also begin a new church plant eventually at the new center.”
With the acquisition of the building, CBI now seeks to gain a religious non-profit status for the building and land and raise $130,000 by the end of July to reinforce the first and second floors of their center against earthquakes – with the biggest earthquake called the Great Tokai Earthquake yet to come.
The mission of CBI Japan is three-fold: engage, expand, and equip; engaging Japanese society with the Gospel, expanding the Kingdom of God through church planting, and equipping leaders in the Gospel.
Though another potential tragedy still looms in the future for Japan, it appears that the Gospel regardless will be tirelessly carried out, because as Oh penned on Desiring God, “Every day is a tragedy in Japan for those without Christ.”
Currently, Protestants make up only around 0.21 percent of the population.
“Our burden for the Japanese did not start with this earthquake,” he concluded, “and we hope that your burden for the Japanese will not end as the days pass by.”
Oh will speak at the 2011 Desiring God National Conference. Follow him on twitter at “ohfamily” for updates on his ministry and personal life.