Something Worth Serving for the Lord (EPJM)
Updated: Nov 1
On 11 March 2011, a tsunami hit East Japan, leading to significant loss of lives and damage to property. In response, EP Mission Comm organised the EPJM (EP Japan Mission) to provide ministry and other support to affected victims. As affected areas went through a redevelopment phase over the years, the avenues for more ministry partnerships has been opened.
Mission of EPMC
The EPMC was set up with the following objectives:
To serve as a platform to Educate, Empower, Encourage and Engage EP (English Presbytery) churches in extending the Kingdom of God through missions. Its activities include:
• Organizing and promoting Missions, Consultations and Missions Festival.
• Facilitating mission partnership among EP churches through shared projects, personnel and finances.
• Building Japan mission networks in collaboration with the Synod Mission Committee and other mission agencies.
• Sending out missionaries to harvest fields in Japan in collaboration with their sending churches.
As of January 2020, EPJM has sent a total of 75 teams (comprising 531 members from 48 different churches in Singapore).
The first team was sent in July 2011. In 2011 and 2012, EPJM partnered Crash Japan, a local Christian relief organization. Some activities included removing of debris, cleaning of roads, doing mud-outs at houses, and delivering supplies.
In 2012, as immediate relief work was less required, EPJM’s focus shifted towards serving survivors and local communities at churches, temporary housing (katsetsu), etc. to provide emotional care, spiritual relief and community re-building.
From Dec 2012, EPJM partnered with another local Christian organization, The 3.11 Iwate Church Network (311 ICN), details of which can be found here: http://311.ichurch.jp/en/.
In 2014, together with the local partner 311 ICN, EPJM has been concentrating its work on the coastal areas of Iwate prefecture, which is in Tohoku (northeast) Japan. This area was badly hit by the tsunami disaster. From 2015 onward, EPJM has also been doing ministry in the inland churches through the operation of the English café and other ministry openings. However, the needs on the ground are constantly evolving and EPJM remains open to ground opportunities according to God’s leading. Regardless, the goal remains the same, namely to bring love, hope and encouragement in Christ, not only to the survivors, but also to the churches and Christian workers who form an overwhelming minority in the general population.
In 2021 and 2022, during the Covid 19 pandemic years, EPJM continued the work of outreach to the community in inland and coastal cities via zoom e-missions. 13 online sessions were conducted for the elderly folks in partnership with the coastal church. English café outreach via zoom was also continued in partnership with the inland church until it was discontinued in 2022.
State of Affairs
Although the roads have now been cleared, and much of the debris has been removed, full restoration to the state before the disaster is a long way off. Beyond this, Japan, particularly the Tohoku area, needs to hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. Japan as a whole is less than 0.5% evangelical Christian, but the coastal area of Iwate is less than 0.054% Christian (154 out of a total of 285,602 people, as of 2013). This 154 people are those on the church membership roll, and actual numbers are likely far less, due to a lack of updating as well as people moving away from the disaster area.
EPJM’s presence provides assistance and support not only to the survivors, but also to churches, missionaries and Christian lay-workers/volunteers in the area. These can be supported not just through the trip themselves, but also EPJM monthly prayer meetings, and donations of financial aid or supplies to Japanese churches and Christian organizations.
What Kind of Work is Done by EPJM?
Work is varied, ranging from conducting English lessons, art and crafts classes, cooking classes, light carpentry work, farming, children after-school programs, helping our local partner/churches in conducting ad hoc activities/special events. With mutual trust having been established between EPJM and its partner in mission 311 ICN, EPJM is now taking an active role in devising its own programs, with prior vetting and approval by 311 IC. EPJM provides advance information to the 311 ICN about the unique capabilities and gifts of the mission teams, which will then be taken into consideration into trip planning.
2023 Recce Trip
After the pandemic was over, an EPJM team was formed to conduct a recce trip in Japan, as previous trip was made by the 2020 January team. Many changes had happened on the ground during the period. Hence, the recce trip’s purpose to evaluate the logistics on the ground, with the aim of restarting the monthly EPJM trips in the last quarter of 2023.
At present, Japan churches remain small and struggling. Small churches struggle with slow growth, drop of attendance, financial burden and discouragement. Big churches struggle with stagnancy, pastors being overworked, inward-looking congregations, and some worshippers’ preferring to worship online. A pastor named Kondo shared that 30 churches shut down annually in Japan. And many churches are without pastors, resulting in the need to share pastors among churches.
A New Area of Focus
EPJM senses that its teams could contribute not just to outreach, but also encouraging Japanese churches in discipleship. Many of the trippers are laity actively serving in their home churches, and they can collaborate with Japanese pastors in building a culture of servanthood in the churches. The team schedule can be adjusted to build connections with Japanese Christians to equip them in discipleship during weekends, while carrying out outreach activities during weekdays.
The 311 ICN conducted a survey amongst coastal churches on the most needed areas of support. “Fellowship” is ranked the most important need, reflecting the isolation and loneliness faced as churches persevere in their gospel work. 311 ICN hopes to rope in more members of inland churches to go around these rural coastal churches to encourage them weekly. EPJM teams can also fill the same gap, being a channel of encouragement to these small churches.
Approach going forward
On the whole, the overall sentiment on the ground is positive, due to pioneering teams who have laid a strong foundation. EPJM teams are welcomed and have established a good reputation for being independent and experienced.
EPJM’s aims to send smaller teams (3-4 is good size for the rural area) for new trips; which involve less commuting across cities. Iwate Prefecture will remain as the core ministry location with 311 ICN as its main partner. Yamagata and Aomori may be standalone trips so that teams do not need to cross prefectures.
If more individuals sign up for the trips, teams can be split and dispatched to the different ministry locations as and when needed. Pre-trip training and team bonding may also take a different approach if there are multiple teams in a month in the future.
Who can sign up?
As EPJM is organized under EP Missions, the priority to join the trips is given firstly to members of the English Presbytery churches. Nevertheless, this mission is open to all Christians.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we bring up the EPJM work for your prayer and consideration.
The above article contains extracts from the following documents:
a. English Presbytery Japan Mission- Frequently Ask Questions (ver 2.0)
b. EPJM Recce Trip Report 13 – 24 Apr 2023