Each month we will be focussing on a different mission partner, bringing you up to date news and a prayer you can use at home.
For the month of April we will be focussing on:
OMF INTERNATIONAL DIASPORA RETURNEE MINISTRIES
Tim and Miho Walker serve with OMF International Diaspora Returnee Ministries reaching Japanese people in Greater Manchester. They live in Fallowfield with their 3 children, Kent (13), Naomi (11) and George (8).
One evening in late February 2020 I was talking with two Japanese students of English. One of them explained that his employer had required him to cut his studies short and swiftly return to Japan. At the time this seemed quite a drastic response to the news reports we were hearing about the new coronavirus. The other student was intending to stay in Manchester and was telling us about his plan to go to Ireland later in the year. Shortly after this we began hearing from other Japanese contacts that they would be leaving the UK as soon as possible. It wasn’t long before I was dropping off a group of Japanese university students near their accommodation around Oxford Road for the last time, after a farewell evening meal at our home. They’d all come to Manchester expecting to be here for several more months of study, cross-cultural experience and travel. As the global pandemic unfolded, most of the Japanese students we had been getting to know and sharing the gospel with returned to Japan, in a fog of uncertainty about what was happening and what it would mean for their lives.
For the 6 months or so before this we’d been encouraged by how our new ministry reaching out to Japanese people in Greater Manchester was developing. It had been wonderful to get to know a good number of students and even to begin a Bible study with some of them. Ministry to Japanese students was very much on our hearts when we arrived in Manchester from Japan and was the main reason for locating ourselves in Fallowfield.
It was hard to say so many goodbyes in such a short time, not knowing whether we would see many of these Japanese friends again. But, thanks to the Lord, it wasn’t the end. New and unpredicted opportunities gradually started to open up. Like most people we began to use Zoom regularly. I started an online men’s chat group, getting together some Japanese students with a few British Christian friends with a love for Japan. A weekly online English chat, also getting Japanese students together with local Christian friends, came later. This continues to be a great way to stay in regular and meaningful contact with Japanese we knew in Manchester. And it has led to new connections with others who were invited by them in Japan and have since joined the group. It can be difficult to stay in touch with returnees when they’re back in their busy routines and the pressures and preoccupations of life in Japan. Some connections with returnees may well not have lasted very long without the technology to stay in touch easily.
Several Japanese students stayed in Manchester. One of these, a PhD student, was very glad to keep up a twice-weekly bilingual Bible study with me. Although his accommodation was just a stone’s throw away, coronavirus restrictions meant doing this online. And when he returned to Japan for a visit we continued meeting in this way. During the pandemic we’ve read through and discussed the first chapters Genesis, Mark’s Gospel and other Bible passages together.
The Japanese mothers and toddlers group that had been established in Heaton Moor for nearly 22 years had to stop meeting in person too. This group is the only one of its kind in Greater Manchester and is a lifeline for many mothers. They often travel long distances to attend and look forward to sharing in their heart language with others going through similar challenges. Having to close the group was a great loss for many families. But Miho kept up weekly online meetings and writing posts with Christian content on the mothers and toddlers group Facebook page. This Easter she gave an online presentation for them about Jesus’ death and resurrection and what it means for us all. It was addressed to the toddlers but also meant for the parents. One mum thanked Miho afterwards, saying she had understood what Easter is really about for the first time. A number of these women have expressed their thankfulness that the group has continued and provided vital contact and encouragement through the lockdowns. When restrictions have allowed, Miho has gone for one-to-one walks with women from the group. Some to them have been going through deep trials and have felt able to open up in a context of trust during these times together. However helpful virtual technology is for ministry, real human interaction is essential.
Throughout this time our vision has remained the same: To see Japanese become disciples of Jesus, established in their faith and making disciples of others. Please pray that whatever the circumstances the Lord would continue to make this a reality, to His praise and glory.
For further information on OMF and other mission partners go to the Mission Partners page