Pandemic Life and Ministry in Tokyo

2020_05_03 TMC zoom

How are you doing during this pandemic?

Recently we’ve been asked this question quite often. This post attempts to address that question on the personal level of our life and ministry, and then in more detail on the level of general conditions here in Tokyo.

As in any disaster, it is important to take care of yourself before taking care of others. So during the current emergency state in Tokyo and Japan we have been mostly staying at home. However, starting three months ago, long before an emergency state was announced in Japan, Dale has been at home or hospitalized anyway. Due to his recently diagnosed “polymyalgia rheumatica” disease his immune system is compromised. The doc wants him basically at home until he completes his oral corticosteroid treatment—perhaps by mid- to late-June. During these months Ann has done our necessary shopping nearby and has found ways of ordering groceries online.

Although our church planting ministry and people at Tokyo Multicultural Church share in the economic, social, and personal stress of the pandemic, we have been able to encourage one another by holding Zoom worship and small groups on Sundays.

However, Ann’s outreach programs have come to a complete halt. We are not sure when she will be able to start them up again. In the meantime she has found ways to connect with the children and mom’s from her children’s ministry by making and sending them children’s masks, notes of encouragement, Easter activities and a mother’s day card for them to make at home. She has also sent her handmade masks to her English class ladies with notes of encouragement.

As is the case with most churches, TMC is also seeing reduced offerings, making it difficult to pay TMC facility rent and the salary of our Japanese pastor. We are thankful that we can still provide leadership for TMC from our apartment, especially as Dale’s health gradually improves.

Here in Japan a state of emergency was first declared for major cities on Apr 7, later extended to the entire country. It was to last through May 6, aligning with the end of a major one week spring holiday called Golden Week. That holiday period typically sees extensive travel both domestically and internationally. But on May 4, amid nascent signs of the epidemic leveling off, the emergency state was extended to the end of May for primarily the major urban areas of Japan. This semi-shutdown will be evaluated weekly, with the possibility of being lifted before May 31.

During this state of emergency, leaving home to seek medical care, purchase necessary supplies, or commute to an essential job is OK. So we are taking walks, going for a bicycle ride, or doing other things to maintain health. Social distancing is defined as avoiding close spaces, crowded places, and close-range conversations—the “three c’s.”

Japanese law precludes the government from forcibly locking down the country as has been done in parts of Europe and the United States. So in Japan the emergency state is voluntary. Even so, much coming and going has slowed down significantly since the first emergency state was declared on Apr 7. Some cities have seen 70-80% reduced commuter traffic through major train stations, and other cities 50-60%.

Prefectural governors simply call on residents to refrain from going outside if unnecessary and the governors provide instructions and announcements regarding restricted use of facilities. The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, is actually giving a weekly English video update for residents of Tokyo who might not understand Japanese. Click here to take a look.

There are 15,000+ cases of COVID-19 in Japan and 550+ deaths. These numbers are not that high compared to other countries. Europe, UK, and North America have been hit far harder. See But many of the cases in Japan are serious, probably because Japan is doing comparatively little testing. A person must have had a fever for at least four days and trouble breathing, etc. before testing is done. There is discussion about making testing more widely available. One result of the high percentage of serious cases is that the nationalized health care system is almost unable to keep up. There are barely enough ICU beds to handle the current cases. If the number of cases continue to increase the health care system will be overwhelmed. This concern was one of the major reasons the emergency state for cities such as Tokyo was extended through May.

This is all bad news for the world’s third largest economy and for the Japanese people. But according to the external advisors of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet the emergency state is necessary to flatten the curve of the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people are out of work, staying at home without wages/salary or teleworking if possible, while trying to take care of children whose schools have been closed.

We count it a privilege to live in Tokyo and serve in church planting during this difficult time. We are endeavoring to walk (often virtually) in the name of Jesus with the people the Lord has brought to us in our corner of the world’s largest megacity. We are attempting to stay healthy or recover our health. And we are trying to encourage our church people as well as the children and mothers Ann has been reaching in our community.