Technology-Minded Volunteers at Calvary Chapel Kokubunji Assist Elderly in Japan During Covid-19 Shutdown
Story by Tom Price
Photos courtesty of Calvary Chapel Kokubunji
When Calvary Chapel Kokubunji’s services went online in Japan because of the COVID-19 virus, its members volunteered to visit and help older members set up online communication to stay connected with the church, located in Tokyo. Japanese Senior Pastor Chizuo Sakurai said, “We were able to help everyone in our church join in on every online service, Bible study, and our three-times per week gathering for communion.” The church leaders began calling this group of technology-minded volunteers the church’s “Web Ushers.” Chizuo added, “I am so grateful to God that the Lord Jesus is very strong in the midst of all of these recent circumstances and we praise Him for the technology to do it.”
Calvary Chapel Kokubunji, located in Tokyo, Japan, had its younger members go to the homes of the older folks in the church when the covid-19 shutdown began and get each person set up on social media. Each congregant was able to join in on every online service, Bible study, and their three-times per week gathering for communion.
When news of the pandemic began, Chizuo prayed and asked the Lord what He wanted the leadership to do. He sensed that the answer was two things—to share the love of Jesus with others and serve the weak in their community. In response, they provided online worship services, assisted the elderly to watch these services, and even produced a YouTube video series proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. Additionally, technology made it possible for the 2020 Calvary Chapel Japan Conference to be held through YouTube Live Streaming on May 4th, with great success and participation.
Those assisting others with the church’s online presentation became known as “web ushers,” according to Japanese senior pastor, Chizuo Sakurai.
Volunteers in the church produced a YouTube video series and advertised for it with 14,000 flyers that they distributed to mailboxes during their prayer walk. Before the pandemic, they made flyers inviting people to events or services at their church, but now it has been difficult for Japanese people to go to religious events. Thus, Chizuo said this video series was a great way to reach people staying home, since anyone can easily watch it on their computer or smart phone.
Participants gather online for a teaching at Calvary Chapel Kokubunji.
Chizuo also declared this as a blessing because some people would be more comfortable watching a YouTube video to learn about Jesus than going to a church. Quoting the apostle Paul, Chizuo emphasized that these people need to hear the Good News of Christ in order to believe in Him: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). This video series had a big impact on one woman. Chizuo said that a lady recently showed up at their church and told them she had watched many of their short Gospel messages on YouTube. Chizuo reported that through these videos, she had learned about Jesus and was fascinated by Him, sometimes watching the videos all day and even into the early hours of the next morning.
Amid the Tragedy of COVID-19
Chizuo recounted a story about a woman who lost her husband to the virus while suffering through COVID-19 herself. Yet, she was able to find hope in God through this. He reported that the husband, who was in his mid-seventies, was infected with the coronavirus in February while he was traveling to help his son establish his new business. The woman caught the virus from her husband, and both were hospitalized together until he had to be moved to ICU to use a respirator. Even though they were in the same hospital, she was not even able to see her husband before he died.
The elderly and those not comfortable with technology were thankful of outreach of the church to make sure everyone was able to access the teachings online.
When she finally returned home, she received two boxes—one with the ashes of her husband, the other with the ashes of her little dog, which has also died during her absence. And yet, despite this heartbreak, Chizuo conveyed, “The Lord strengthened her through prayer with my wife and the other sisters in our fellowship.” The women from their fellowship “called her almost every day and they fervently prayed together. God miraculously protected and sustained her heart and mind,” so that “in the midst of her tragedy,” she was even able to minister to and pray for other women who had roomed with her in the hospital while they all battled COVID-19.
Church Ministry During an Economic Depression
Chizuo stressed that Japan’s economy is shrinking because of the response to the virus and that many economists estimate it could take three years before it recovers. He prayed that God would provide for those in need—and Calvary Chapel Kokubunji is one of the ways God has ministered to the needy. “Besides setting widows and the elderly up with online devices,” Chizuo said, “We also began a ministry for single moms who lost jobs and have a hard time living in our community.”
Volunteers stuff food items into boxes to be distributed to those in need.
The church has also provided a food bank ministry, and Chizuo described how the Lord opened doors to the city council’s social and welfare commissioners, who volunteered to hand out flyers to the other districts in Kokubunji City. Through them the information about this ministry reached those in need. “The Lord has already provided enough financial support to continue helping people in need through this ministry,” Chizuo expressed. “It is my joy to observe that the congregation is very excited to do good things for those in need and please God because they understand what the Bible says,” he declared, referencing Hebrews 13:16, But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Chizuo recalled the story of a single mom who recently showed up at their church with her daughter and was so thankful for the food from the pantry they offered her. He relayed that, when she looked in the box, she was so delighted and excitedly told her daughter about what was inside.
The church celebrates communion together online three times per week during the Covid-19 shutdown in Japan.
“When I saw them off at the door, I was so thankful to God that He has given us this opportunity,” Chizuo reflected. “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” And yet, he added, he is so grateful that God has given us this duty to serve others.
God has provided well for CC Kokubunji. The congregation has met for over 21 years in a rented space in a highly visible location near the local railway station. The various outreach ministries receive the donations needed. But there are no appeals to the congregation for donations. There is a donation box where they meet, called an “agape box”, like many Calvary Chapels have.
Chizuo, right, and his wife Mari, left, are pictured with a lady from Calvary Chapel Kokubunji, in Tokyo, Japan, who lost her husband to COVID-19.
Chizuo explained how donations are handled: “We don’t have checkbooks in Japan. Everybody in our fellowship donates with either cash or bank transfers. When they do a transfer through their bank account to the church’s account, we label it as ‘agape’ or ‘food bank’ so that we don’t know who or how much is given. That frees us up from ‘money bondage’—only God knows who gives or how much. We have been doing this since the beginning of our fellowship. It’s a great gift from the Lord Jesus. Our Father in heaven has provided more than enough so that we could serve, share, and give what we have to others, and the name of Jesus is glorified and magnified.”
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