Stop and Start

Anna, Wed 30 September 2020, Posts

Greetings, everyone!

Looking back on my last blog post, I can see the date reads March 2, 2020. That month marked the beginning of great change for people living all across Japan, and that change was mirrored or even magnified in countries all across the globe. The events of 2020 have created a more connected impact worldwide than most of us, I think, have experienced before in our lives. Japan reacted to news of the coronavirus quickly and early, in a relative sense. As I wrote in my last post, schools, events, organizations, and clubs had for the most part started shutting down. The national media was portraying the struggles in Italy and China. Japan was set to hold the Olympics in a matter of months, and the prime minister of Japan took action before many Japanese citizens, despite concerns about the virus, were prepared to follow any new procedures. Yet follow they did. Any perspectives I write here come purely from my experience as a foreigner living Miyazaki specifically and should not be taken as fact, but in my experience, although Japanese people do not necessarily have a strong amount of faith or trust in their government, the society as a whole tries very consciously to adhere to any expectations others have of them. I have seen this in every area from driving etiquette to the care that most take not to spread even normal illnesses at work or other places.

What, then, were the expectations over the past several months? Many people have asked about what the COVID case numbers, policies, and responses have been like here as well as our experience. For starters, I would say that the government largely began their discussions with the Olympics and later the economy in mind. My experience is that people in Miyazaki would have largely done whatever the government mandated whether they liked it or not, but the prime minister has to date mandated very little. Despite the state of emergency, the federal government never imposed the same sort of lockdown experienced in some other countries. For a short time some businesses closed down voluntarily or shortened their hours. Many people stayed home when they could. But for the most part both on a national, prefectural, and local level, people did not seem inclined to surrender to the strain of an economic shutdown. Restaurants and stores remained open. April and I continued working with the children at the kindergarten, and almost all of them continued their attendance despite the majority having the means to stay home. Due to the prime minister’s suggestions for elementary and high schools, though, Anna’s school took what amounted to two months off of their normally scheduled school year. Anna was able to start teaching again in May (the Japanese schedule is very different from the U.S, as I may have said before). Other than that, the main differences we experienced at work were procedural--temperature checks, open windows, masks, etc. The real misfortune was that our ministry opportunities and our connections with people in general came to a grinding halt. In terms of COVID case numbers, Miyazaki’s statistics look very promising. However, very little testing has been done here. I have known multiple people who have gone into the doctor with severe cold-like symptoms but have not been tested or considered for testing, even when the symptoms have continued for weeks. As long as people followed social-distancing practices and other procedures to give themselves the best chance of keeping the virus at bay, people were able to sit down at a table in Starbucks and have their coffee. But anything that offered no economic value seemed like it would remain a sacrifice to the coronavirus for some time.

However, this month more parts of the city started to open up. Our church, which had started meeting again in July, decided that we could restart our English/Bible ministry from the beginning of September, and we had meetings on the 13th and 27th. Truth be told, we had a bit of a slow start. For our September 13th meeting, only three people, all of them church members, attended. Since we’d made our social-distancing measures clear and most people around the city were starting to participate in normal activities again, we had hoped more people would be able to come. We thought the reason for the absences might have had to do with the fact that our group had only been meeting for about 5 months before COVID, and with inconsistent attendance at that, so we were not able to form as much of a strong rapport as we would have liked before the suspension. Before our meeting on the 27th, I prayed that five people who did not know the gospel would come, although God knew we would even have been happy with one. On that day, one non-church member who had attended the group more consistently before March joined us again. This person had always stayed for the English conversation but left during the break before the Bible reading. That day he forgot to make his usual exit. April presented the gospel in that lesson while Anna translated, and as confused as he might have been, he heard the whole thing! We are thankful to God for giving us that opportunity. I’ve heard so many stories from people back home and even in other countries about how the coronavirus has affected work, mental health, social life, and more. The closure of church and ministry in places I never thought would face adversity in coming together was initially surprising to me. We’re living through a unique moment in history, and as much as I’m sad to hear that people are struggling world-over, I believe that God is calling on His children to rely on Him and to continue to share His teachings in the face of adversity. I would like to end with some words from Paul, who explains better than I can my current prayer request:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison--that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:2-6

Thank you, as always, for your thoughts and prayers!

In Christ, Audra