Pastoral Perspectives

The Anchor within the Veil

In the blink of an eye, 2 years have almost passed since my family and I left Singapore for Japan. However as this was no normal year, I thought I would take this opportunity to share how our plans have been affected by the pandemic and some thoughts for the future.

By many measures, 2020 has been a challenging year for most everyone. For myself I was surprised to discover how important routines are for my sense of well-being such as when all the schools closed and all 5 of us were stuck indoors. At times I would question the Lord’s purpose of sending us to Japan at this particular time. To make matters worse, the pastor of Seiwa Church (the church we are attached to this year) made the difficult decision to suspend all services for a time, shifting to online sermons instead. In addition, Sunday school, prayer meetings and bible studies would be suspended indefinitely as were evangelistic events. This left us with few opportunities to get to know church members or be involved in ministry work at all.

However, unlike other neighbouring countries, there has been no strict enforcement of social distancing or ban of mass gatherings in Japan. As a result some churches have continued holding services while mandating their own set of rules to ensure safety. Since we were not able to contribute much at Seiwa church, we decided to grab the chance to visit other churches instead. Through this, we got to meet with other Christian workers and hear their stories. In spite of the very unusual backdrop for our visits (plus not being able to see their full face!) it was really very encouraging to witness how the Lord has been providing for His church here in Japan and it certainly broadened our perspective.

Some of our friends have been using Zoom to conduct bible studies targeting mothers and youths. The flexibility afforded by online meetings completely suits these two groups and allows them to do so in the comfort of their homes. Another missionary couple recently converted their house into a meeting place and once things seemed stable, began inviting people over for fellowship. Starved of human contact, many non-Christians have welcomed their invitations and through these meetings have heard the gospel for the first time. In another case, missionaries from a church had been trying for years to build relationships with their neighbours with little success. However, during a nationwide mask shortage, hundreds of neighbours came to the church as the missionaries gave out masks which had been donated from churches overseas. Through this humble act, God instantly improved the standing of the church in the eyes of the surrounding community opening doors for future outreach. So,despite the many setbacks that have happened, God is still miraculously making ways where there seemed to be no way.

On the other hand, I wonder if this this relative freedom —being able to travel around and hold gatherings —within the country that has resulted in the number of infections rising again. Without stricter enforcement it could be quite a while before things finally settle down and so the immediate future, while hopeful, remains uncertain.

For us we were certainly looking to put our Japanese to good use once we graduate! 2021 was to mark the end of our 2years of full time language study and we are meant to prepare for an internship in a church or other form of ministry. However, given the very changing climate, we do not yet know when proper services, bible studies, prayer meetings and other ministries will resume so it is difficult to say if this plan will be realised or in what way or fashion. Perhaps, once again, we need to listen to what other plans the Lord has in store for us and obediently follow those instead.

Throughout our time in Japan, the Lord has faithfully provided for us,sometimes in miraculous ways. He has also opened doors for us to build relationships with Japanese people and supported us through everything. Deep down we are thankful that our children are settling in well to their new life here and are grateful for all the prayers and thoughts of those who have chosen to walk alongside us on our journey.

We may not know what the future holds but,in the meantime, we can rest on God’s graces. The lyrics of the song ‘The Solid Rock’ are a good reminder in times like this:

“When darkness veils His lovely face,

I rest on His unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gail,

my anchor holds within the veil.”

I would like to end now with some thoughts about the future both for the church in Japan and in Singapore. What other challenges the Lord has in store for 2021 is anyone’s guess but by God’s grace many churches have adapted to the outbreak so that sermons and bible studies can continue almost uninterrupted. With this achieved, the church now needs to focus on the important matter of fellowship. Even with technological advances in video calls and online meetings, for some there is no substitute for the simple act of catching up in person. Such simple yet valuable interactions occurred naturally in between Sunday services, or after bible studies. Now people need to take that extra effort to meet up or call one another just to know how others are doing. The pandemic has exposed many weaknesses in our social systems leaving some people more at risk of isolation than others. This is especially so for those who are struggling to adapt to this ‘new normal’, such as older persons who have nobody to turn to or those who have lost their jobs and means of supporting their family, just to name two examples. When one is in pain or struggling, Christ’s presence can feel so distant. Then we as His people need to help shine Christ’s light into their lives by connecting with and supporting them. As such, this is a key moment for the church to rise up and consider how it can be an encourager through prayer and deliberate acts of kindness.

As we stand on the precipice of a new year, may we together as God’s church, be that light to a darkened world. Let us hold firmly to our Anchor in the veil as we weather this stormy gale together so that others may see the love of Christ demonstrated even amidst these uncertain times.

Sean Tan

December 27, 2020