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Grace and Peace in the Time of COVID-19

A Letter from Thomas Goetz, serving in Japan

March 2020

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“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

Greetings in Christ from Sapporo, Japan.

Here, on the island of Hokkaido, we have the highest occurrences of COVID-19 in Japan.

Grace and peace. These two words are gaining in importance each day. Japanese are very disappointed with the way their government responded to the current problem. Relying on body temperature camera scans of people entering Japan when it was public knowledge that those infected would not develop a fever for up to two weeks did little to ensure confidence. Then, the government forced all passengers on board the cruise ship stuck in Yokohama, into quarantine. Ships are the worst places to quarantine people. While I am not going to go into detail, other options could have been more effective. Instead, a more negative side of Japanese culture came to the fore, that of rigidity and stubbornness. On a good day, we can overlook those two aspects and rebrand them as a desire for orderliness and safety.

Let’s hope for better days. But those days seem elusive. Here are some pictures from stores where people are now panic-buying. Items of choice? Toilet paper, Kleenex, and face masks.

Here in Sapporo, Hokkaido, a long-time favorite place for Chinese to spend a holiday, nerves are increasingly on edge. The number of visitors from all countries has dropped. Hotels that were once fully booked are empty. The economy is taking a hit. Churchgoers are thinking twice about attendance. Face masks are widely worn. Public service announcements about personal hygiene and handwashing are everywhere.

Hokusei Gakuen University, where I serve, is monitoring the situation here and abroad. Presently, we have been informed that all non-essential meetings are suspended. Thankfully, we are between semesters, but classes start in April, a new academic year. We are in a quiet time of year. Some of our students are on their three-week short-term overseas study programs in Europe, Australia, and Hawaii. Sadly, the short-term Korea trip was canceled. Our entrance exams are over, and all preparations are being made to matriculate a new class on schedule. On a lesser note, a scholarly conference I was planning to attend on the island of Kyushu was canceled. How sad. To think of all the work the organizers put into the event, only to see it disappear is heart-breaking. Graduation has been canceled. All too many students who have worked so hard will never have their big day realized.

All around the island and throughout the rest of the country, all public and most private elementary and middle schools are closed until mid-March. High school classes have also been canceled. There is an eerie stillness that hangs over the campus, and almost everywhere else anyone could go.

The United Church of Christ has emailed a list of directives to all churches on how to promote worship without exacerbating the current problem. Some suggestions included wearing face masks and washing hands, while others suggested that the young and old simply stay home. In a country that has embraced parts of Christianity, the Christian schools and hospitals, one can imagine the challenges. But these challenges can and will be met; resources, financial and human, are at hand. When one considers the challenges faced by the church, where about 1% of the population is Christian, the margin for congregational viability razor-thin. Some, I fear, will be sorely affected. Let us be vigilant in thought, word, and deed, keeping in prayer the areas where we can help. For the things that are beyond our reach, may we, with sincere hearts, let go and let God carry out God’s plan.

Attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, may the Serenity Prayer be a source of strength during these times of change, anxiety, and uncertainty:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as God did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that God will make all things right
if I surrender to God’s Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with God
forever in the next.



Ubi caritas, et amor, Deus ibi est. Where there is caring and love, God is always there.

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