This article was first published here on 3 April. It was last updated on 18 June.

Find out how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected churches, as well as our workers and their ministries, across East Asia. Updates and prayer requests from several parts of East Asia are below, with more information to follow.

We’ll be regularly updating this page as we receive new information and prayer points.

Cambodia

Yuzo Imamura, Cambodia Field Director, writes:

‘The COVID-19 situation in Cambodia has become quiet. The total number of cases (on 18 June) is 129 with 3 active cases, no deaths and 126 recovered. Most of cases are imported. The government keeps its vigilant posture against COVID-19 to avoid putting pressure on our medical infrastructure. All school, KTV, and pubs are still closed. The tourism and textile industries, which are main income for the country, are severely affected by the global COVID-19 situation. Many people have lost their jobs. The government is preparing to allow businesses to open soon and made stricter entry restrictions for foreigners (COVID-19 negative medical certificate; Insurance cover of more than US $50,000 in addition to US $3,000 deposit for COVID-19 test and, if co-passenger’s positive, forced quarantine cost). This does make things more challenging for OMF workers who are stranded overseas to return or those seeking to return from home assignment.

A house group meeting (less than ten people) is now allowed by the Ministry of Religion and churches in cities have been meeting together online to worship. Meanwhile, many Christians in more rural areas have stopped physical meetings, although they are keeping connected through phone calls. We’ve been encouraged to see more people interested in listening to the good news of Jesus at this time. Pray that the Holy Spirit guides and leads them to know Jesus the Saviour.’

Please pray:

– Pray for those who have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic. Ask that Christians will be able to show love and support to their neighbours in this situation. May they find that God is the one who provides for their daily needs
– Pray for every Cambodian Christian to display the good news of Jesus and help communities (such as by educating about COVID-19, teaching how to wash hands effectively, etc.) inspired by the love of Christ
– Pray for OMF workers to can spend time wisely and use these unique opportunities to proclaim the gospel of Christ
– Pray for OMF workers who returning to Cambodia to get all necessary documents and to be COVID-19 free during their trips

Thailand

OMF Thailand Field Director Ulrich Kohler writes:

‘In general, Thailand has weathered COVID-19 fairly well. As of the 3rd of June, there have been 3,084 cases of infection and only 58 deaths due to COVID-19 (this with an overall population of 68 million). The reasons why Thailand has been spared a more significant outbreak is not clear at all. But whatever it might have been, we just praise the Lord!

Lockdown is currently easing in Thailand. The state of emergency is still in place and so are the curfew hours during the night.

We are very grateful that none of our missionaries has been infected and none of the Thai ministers we are working with either (as far as we are aware of).
Many churches are involved in supporting the poor during this period of time. Pray for much wisdom to help in a truly helpful way

One of the biggest issues for OMF Thailand right now is how to get our workers who were out of the country when the pandemic began back into Thailand in a timely way. Restrictions on international travel are still very severe. It is unlikely that any foreigner will be able to re-enter Thailand before the 1st of July. A number of our workers have not been able to travel back to Thailand in time to renew their visa and work permits. This means we will need to start the application process for these, which takes additional time and money.

However, we would particularly ask for prayer for a missionary family where the parents and children are currently separated. The parents have been on a short ministry assignment in their home country with the children remaining at school in Thailand. Now, due to the crisis, the parents are not able to return to Thailand. Please pray with us that permission will be granted soon for them to return so the family can be reunited.’

Update 18 June: The application for the separated missionary family is still pending – please pray for this to be granted soon.

Please pray for:

– The missionary family to be reunited soon.
– Thai Christians as well as missionaries to be beacons of hope. Let us be faith-guided, not fear-driven.
–  Churches to see the opportunities to serve.
– Many Thais to be asking questions about life and faith during this time of crisis and for many start to follow Christ
– For OMF Thailand and the Church worldwide to hear what the Lord is saying, what he wants to teach us in this time. Ulrich reflects: ‘I doubt it is only how to go more high-tech and how to go on with business as usual on other platforms or with other means. Is the Lord saying things we have not yet picked up on?’

Vietnam

Vietnam has successfully contained the COVID-19. This is a country with a population of 97 million people. However, there have only been 335 cases (as of 18th June) and no deaths. Only a small handful are still ill. The worst case, Case 91, was a 43-year old British pilot who works for Vietnam Airlines. He almost died but is now recovering and is expected to be released from hospital soon.

There are a few new cases among Vietnamese who have recently returned from overseas and who are in strict government-controlled quarantine. However, there has not been a new case by local transmission in the community since the middle of April.

As a result, life within Vietnam has returned to normal with the usual crazy traffic, packed public transport, full stadiums of screaming football fans and all internal travel fully functional (including domestic flights). This includes churches meeting as normal and welcoming everyone with a hearty handshake.

Vietnam is able to stay virus-free as very few people are being allowed into the country. Those that are, are subject to a strict 14-day government-controlled quarantine.

That has two challenges:
• For our team mates …
o who want to come back from home assignment, but there are no visas
o who are scheduled to leave for home assignment, but there are very few flights
o who need to renew visas and would normally have to leave the country to do that
• For the country …
o Tourism was a significant part of the economy but new foreign visitors have been reduced to zero
o How to start readmitting foreigners, without readmitting COVID-19

Please pray:

For wisdom for the government dealing with these challenges
– Pray for Christians to be a good witness to those around them and always be ready to give a reason for the hope that they have in Jesus

Japan

May saw a gradual lifting of the state of emergency across Japan as the number of COVID-19 cases fell. On Monday 25 May, it was fully lifted from the whole nation.The government is asking that residents adapt to a “new lifestyle.” This includes measures to help prevent infection such as physical distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands. People are also asked to avoid gathering in crowded places, close-contact settings, and closed spaces, known as the “three Cs”. Japan will gradually restart activities and most prefectures are following a phrased reopening. In-person ministry, including church services and other meetings are an important part of OMF Japan’s work and will be cautiously resumed while taking appropriate precautions.

Japan’s borders are still closed to most countries that our missionaries come from, so a number of missionaries have been unable to return as planned from home assignment or to take overseas trips for work or for important family events. Short-term workers are also not able to come at the moment.

Our Japan field leadership has encouraged us to pray that we will stay secure and rooted in God’s love through these changing times, trusting that he is at work.

Pray for:·

  • wisdom for each of our missionaries as they make decisions in these coming weeks about their daily activities and ministries
  • all of us as we grieve the losses of the previous months, and·
  • that we will not be driven by fear, but keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Taiwan

David Eastwood, OMF Taiwan Field Director, writes:

‘It seems strange that we have been worried about coronavirus in Taiwan since the start of the year but while the Taiwan government has put in place restrictions on people arriving from overseas, normally society is only slightly changed. Meanwhile we have watched the huge changes in the rest of the world and wonder when and if it will happen to us. The main issue for us has been the disruption for OMF workers’ home assignments, when they would usually return to their sending countries to personally connect with their sending churches and other supporters.

Please pray:

– Pray for OMF members who have had to cancel their planned home assignments, and for those who are ‘stuck’ on home assignment and unable to return to Taiwan. Pray particularly for those who had planned to return home to visit sick family members and are now unable to do do.
– Pray for OMF workers to have all of the prayer, financial and practical support they need to continue in their ministry – home assignment is usually a vitial time to renew connections with supporters and to engage with new churches.
– With all Short term teams cancelled over the summer many special outreaches are cancelled and teams are wondering what they can do with limited help to reach out to local schools or communities during that time. Pray for wisdom and creativity for how to make the most of whatever opporutnities arise.
– Churches and Taiwanese Christians to be ready to share the hope and peace they have in Christ.

The Philippines

Mark Chapman, International Director for East Asia Central and acting Philippines Field Director, writes:

‘I am quite stretched at this time seeking to lead the team through this crisis while maintaining my International Director role for the East Asia Central area and helping the other six leaders in this area to navigate this difficult season. I am at the OMF Manila center in Quezon City, so the situation here does vary from those on other islands in the country. Here in Metro Manila we are all under a community quarantine with a strict travel ban. The OMF office is operating virtually. Households are given a pass for one person per household to leave in order to purchase food or medical supplies. Everything has closed down except grocery stores and pharmacies. The streets are quiet. There are checkpoints on the roads with police and military enforcing the travel ban. In Davao city where many of our workers are based a similar lockdown is being rolled out with increasing restrictions. In the provincial areas, the restrictions seem even more tightly controlled with little flexibility.

The reported cases of infections keep climbing, but it’s likely the real number is much, much higher.

The hospitals are at capacity, there are limited testing kits and many people cannot afford to go to the hospital when sick.

Most churches have moved to on-line services and are either using a platform like Zoom or streaming their services via the internet. Many Christians are at the front line in the medical services sector. Some churches are distributing food to poorer communities.’

Please pray:
– Pray for the poor who are always most affected by these pandemics. They are getting food distributed from the government, but it is only the bare essentials.
– Pray for wisdom for the government to know how and when to begin to allow businesses to open.
– Pray for Christians throughout the nation that this would be a time to draw near to God and consider their priorities in life.
– Pray too for churches and mission agencies to consider how they can use social media to offer a message of hope to the nation.
– Pray too for new opportunities and open doors for ministry to emerge out of this crisis and that God’s people will rise up to be his agents of grace.
– Pray that Christian communities would continue to be beacons of hope and love to people around them during this difficult period.

Mongolia

Mongolia responded promptly and aggressively to Covid-19, and as of this writing (1 April), there has been 14 cases with 2 recoveries and zero deaths.

International flights have stopped through 30 April, and much of the country has been shut down, including a ban on domestic travel. So far, no community transmission has been documented; all cases have been either foreigners traveling to Mongolia or Mongolians returning home.

The Mongolian Evangelical Alliance, which represents most churches, met with government officials in cooperation, and donated hand sanitizer and masks.
To prevent further spread of the disease and following government directives, churches have stopped assembling.  Some churches have been meeting online on Facebook and Union Bible Theological College (UBTC) continues offering its courses online.

Please pray:

– Pray for the health and safety of all Mongolians.
– Pray for Christians in Mongolia to remember the steady hope they have in Christ and to share that hope with others.

Our practical response

We have also been responding to this outbreak in practical ways. Click the button below to read an update from Assistant General Director Sam Wunderli about the steps we have been taking to protect our workers at this time.

Responding in prayer

We know it can be hard to know how to pray at times like these. So we have prepared this short resource ‘Four ways to pray in light of COVID-19’, which includes a brief reflection from General Director Patrick Fung.

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