Japanese Christians pray for mission opportunities at Olympics without spectators, Gospel Focus
A survey published in May by the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun showed that more than 80% of the population of Japan was not in favor of the celebration of the Olympic Games in Tokyo in this pandemic context.
In recent weeks, images have been seen of groups of protesters calling for the Olympic event to be suspended due to the rising number of Covid-19 infections. Among them was Kayoko Takahashi, a 53-year-old citizen who tried to extinguish the Olympic torch with a water pistol.
Not even the last-minute formula to celebrate the competitions without an audienceappears to have helped ease disagreements in a country that has more than 4,000 daily infections, according to the Our world in data Platform.
“Right now, we have a critical situation, especially in the capital area: Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures. The rate of infections is quite high compared to last year and we as a country are in the 5th wave due to the delta variant,” Takahito IwagamiEmmanuel General Mission pastor and leader of evangelical churches in Japan, the Spanish news site told digital protestant.
the debate around the Tokyo 2020 celebration does not appear to have divided the country’s Christian communities, according to local evangelical leaders. “This problem has not affected the churches much. It is rare for Japanese churches to take a certain stance on a social issue like this,” says the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA) office administrator, Atsuko Tateishi.
Photo: Dick Thomas Johnson, Wikimedia Commons
“Of course, each church has some who are for the Olympics and others who are against,” she adds. “Different opinions are tolerated and do not have a divisive effect within a church.”
The pastor of Immanuel General Mission agrees that “not all Japanese Christians host the Games. However, anti-Olympic sentiments in the Covid-19 situation are more like personal responses,” says Iwagami. “There is no official statement against the Games issued among evangelical churches in Japan.”
He adds, “Some Christians are very worried that the Tokyo Olympics will become a super-spreader event. But Japanese Christians wait and see how it goes.”
In the past, the Olympics have been an excellent opportunity for local churches and international mission agencies to intensify their evangelistic efforts in the city hosting the Games. But the decision not to allow the public during competitions was a game-changer.
“Japanese churches and evangelical organizations support the ministry of Japanese International Sports Partnership for the Tokyo Olympics,” says Iwagami. “They are organizing a prayer movement among the Christian churches in Japan”.
“Since we have almost no opportunity to meet and get to know the Olympic athletes, we focus now on prayer“says Tateishi. Some of the initiatives that have been organized are the 1 million hours of prayer for the Olympic Games, online daily prayer gatheringsspecial Bible reading plans through the YouVersion app and the publication of specific material for athletes and fans, such as the Olympic Bible and manga comics with a message about sport and the gospel.
An evangelical pastor from the city of Tokyo who also responded to this report but preferred to remain anonymous, added: “Due to less personal encounters with people caused by the absence of spectators in the games, I believe that the spiritual impact will be reduced. But it gives believers more time to pray for Japan and the Japanese people. We can see the spiritual result after the Olympics as the Lord answers our prayers.”
Vaccination in Japan is progressing with more difficulty than in other regions of the world. As of July 22, the country had only vaccinated 36% of its population. “I think the government is doing well in executing the vaccination, but because of the limited vaccine stock, the phase has gone slower,” says the evangelical pastor from Tokyo.
Iwagami adds that “many old people (over 65) have already been fully vaccinated. However, Japan is currently short of vaccines.”
Photo: Yasir Taher, Unsplash CC0
Evangelical churches are not exempt from the discussions vaccines have sparked around the world. “There are debates among Japanese Christians (as in other countries) whether people should be vaccinated or not. This is mainly because of their concern about side effects on health,” says Iwagami.
But JEMA office chief Atsuko Tateishi thinks “most people in Japan, including evangelicals, seem wanting to get vaccinated as soon as possible”.
The timing of vaccination also affects the life of the churches. Although “no restrictions have been put in place to prevent churches from having face-to-face meetings” and “each church decides for itself”, the state statement he emergency in Japan’s Capital District has led many churches to opt for online streaming only. option.
“Most churches meet online, or with a hybrid format combining online and offline gatherings. The pandemic has forced many churches to go digital. Some churches have grown during the pandemic periodsays Tateishi.
As the Olympics enter their second week of events, evangelicals in Japan are asking to pray for “Security” in these times of pandemic.
“Pray for Christian athletes to bring glory to God. And pray that sports in general, in which 80% of Japanese people are involved, will be used as a tool for missions,” says Iwagami.
Tateishi prays that “many will know the Lord through the tools of evangelization on the theme of sport. Pray also that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will not be a factor of division between people”.
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— Japanese Christians pray for mission opportunities at Olympics without spectators