Mark Lewis is director of EFCA Crisis Response. He and his family live in New Orleans, from which he travels to Haiti or Japan or wherever needed, to make disciples and multiply transformational churches in the wake of crises.
What Are We Doing?
Without a doubt, a unique mission field follows in the wake of crisis. We’ve all seen it happen: a door of opportunity for the expression of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
Haiti is an example of compelling, ongoing human tragedy. But Japan is on our radar too—a threefold strike of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
How do these two particular tragedies compare when it comes to the Evangelical Free Church’s response?
Haiti: a crisis of injustice
In Haiti, the majority of TouchGlobal’s focus has been holistic crisis response and recovery. With 1 million people living under tents and tarps with no foreseeable change, they need crisis response. But TouchGlobal, working intentionally with EFCA ReachGlobal, is also beginning to identify and equip Christian leaders for the future. (Read about more dreams for Haiti’s future in “New Leaders Rising.”)
I believe that it breaks God’s heart that Haiti has existed in injustice and poverty for decades and decades. So our time in Haiti becomes more than building homes but of pursuing gospel transformation: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Japan: the missing Christian witness
Japan’s religious history makes for a different story—and response—altogether. There, you’re looking at less than 1/10th of 1 percent evangelical population. And it’s never been anything more. It’s not a European country where, at one point, there was a Protestant movement, with believers and vibrant churches.
Let me tell you about Minami Sanriku.
Most people have heard news reports of Minami Sanriku, which took a direct tsunami hit. “The town that disappeared,” some have called it; a town that now only exists in a car’s GPS, according to one correspondent1.
About 18,000 people lived there at 2:45 p.m. on March 11, and by 3:45 p.m. there were almost 10,000 missing. When ReachGlobal ministry partners visited Minami Sanriku, they found no evidence that a church ever existed. No one has heard of any believers either. It’s highly likely that there’s never been a Christ-follower living there, never in the history of the world.
And it’s true all over—one report listed 1,700 cities in Japan, greater than 30,000 people each, that have never had a church2.
The Evangelical Free Church has been active in Japan for 60 years—with 14 staff members serving via ReachGlobal and more than 60 congregations active under the EFC of Japan. But spiritually, it’s been slow going.
Now, thanks to an earthquake so powerful it moved the island 8 feet laterally and shifted the axis of the earth by nearly 4 inches3, doors are open wide to our presence.
Tailoring our crisis response
Yet our crisis response will be different in Japan from our response in Haiti—just as it has been different in every region where we’ve sent help, from tsunami-ravaged Southeast Asia to Katrina-flattened New Orleans.
Our response will be contextualized to culture. For example, members of one Japanese church we partner with have been taking large pots of clean water and washing the feet of people crammed into the shelters. In a country where the people always take off their dirty shoes upon entering a home, this is the Great Commandment being lived out in a uniquely Japanese manner. These are Jesus’ hands at work, speaking the heart language of the people.
That contextualization is spiritual as well, because people’s spiritual awareness is different in Japan than in Haiti. Not only are there few churches, and even fewer Christian leaders to help rebuild the society, but it’s also an incredibly shame-based culture. Each year, more than 30,000 people in Japan kill themselves4—a number even higher than the death toll from the March 2011 tragedies themselves. The concepts of mercy, grace and forgiveness seem nonexistent.
So in Japan, we’ve got to do some pioneering work to build churches. To do so, we’re working with the Evangelical Free Church of Japan, as well as with any like-minded Christian ministry that wants to advance God’s kingdom.
In both Japan and Haiti, we want to see intentional, sustainable disciple-making movements flourish. And that happens, we’ve learned, by putting boots on the ground and engaging in long-term relationships. That’s also what we’re doing in New Orleans and Manila, Philppines; in Myanmar and Chincha, Peru.
Wherever God has opened the door for us, post-crisis, to bring that Great Commission and Great Commandment focus, we’re in it for the long haul.