This article was first published here on 3 April. It was last updated on 9 August.

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.

Taiwan

Taiwan has passed over 100 days with no locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, although have been a few imported cases recently. Everyone coming into Taiwan are either residents or have residency status. On arrival they are immediately put into quarantine and monitored closely. Several OMF workers have been able to return to Taiwan after home assignment in recent months and have been given the all clear to start back in ministry.

Most churches have resumed and schools plan to open as usual at the end of August. All this is with the precautions of temperature testing, masks and potential closure if anyone is found to have COVID-19.

OMF ministries have been able to continue as usual with the Shopworkers Church Camp running a couple of weeks ago with many new people coming who are not Christians.

We are thankful we have been able to run summer outreach camps the last few weeks in different parts of Taiwan. Since we could not receive short-term workers from overseas, each team has found local Christians who are willing to help out. This has been a great opportunity to partner more closely with Taiwanese Christians – please pray this partnership can be continued.

We are also thankful for how we’ve seen God’s grace at work at this time. One of our church planting ministries, the Hope Team, will baptise four young people in a few weeks. One of these girls has been connected with the Hope Team since she was 13. Now, eight years later, she wants to make a public commitment to follow Jesus. Her boyfriend has also decided he wants to be baptised. They plan to invite his friends, some of whom are part of gangs, to the baptism service. Please pray for this ministry and give thanks for God’s amazing love for all people.

Please pray:

– Give thanks for over 100 days with no locally transmitted cases.
– Give thanks for the recent Shopworkers Church Camp and especially for the new people who came along. Please pray they will want to find out more.
– Pray for growing partnerships between OMF workers and local Christians working on summer camps around Taiwan.
– Pray for the four young people being baptised by the Hope Team.

Vietnam

After successfully containing an outbreak of COVID-19 in the spring of this year, Vietnam has enjoyed a 3 month period of relative normalcy. However, in the last week of July a second outbreak has occurred with 30 new cases in the city of Danang, a popular tourist destination. Currently, the city is engaged in self-quarantining and social distancing in an effort to contain this outbreak. A few cases linked to it have also appeared in a few other locations recently.

Vietnam has been restricting travel into the country in an effort to prevent future outbreaks, which has shut down the foreign tourism industry. Other aspects of life have returned to mostly normal since that time until now. Currently, it is unclear what the full response to contain this new outbreak will entail.

This new outbreak has created a number of emerging challenges.

For our team mates:
– who want to come back from home assignment, but there are no visas
– who need to renew visas and would normally have to leave the country to do that

For the country:
– Now local tourism and in-country travel will be disrupted in several places as a response to contain the new outbreak.
– Foreign tourism, a major source of income for the country, has completely disappeared.
– Other businesses, particularly those engaged in manufacturing have suffered from reduced orders

For the church:
– Adjusting to the return to COVID-19 after it had effectively been contained and potentially needing to bring meetings and other ministry online again

Please pray:
– For wisdom for the government dealing with these challenges, particularly the new outbreak
– For wisdom for our team mates who have expiring visas to know what opportunities may be available for them to stay in country
– 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

The Philippines

OMF Philippines Field Director Irene McMahon writes:
‘Like so many nations, the Philippines has also been deeply affected by COVID-19. While there have been more than 1,000 fatalities, the recovery statistics are very encouraging. (See the latest government figures here)

The Philippines government have been diligent and conscientious in feeding the poor since the onset of COVID-19 in March. They have endeavoured to give a monthly allowance to those contracted workers who have lost their jobs and now they are doing their best to support small businesses with grants and loans. The challenge is that since the beginning of this pandemic many government offices have been closed and not all taxes, health insurances and other governmental incomes have been collected. Great hopes are set on the government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ program to help restart the Philippine economic recovery but that requires government spend.

A further challenge to the economy in the Philippines is the return of thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers after losing their jobs in places such as Dubai, Canada and the UK (as detailed in this news article). This brings two challenges for the Philippines: firstly there the loss of earnings flowing into the country from these overseas workers and secondly, these workers are now joining the growing lines of unemployed. Income from Filipino workers overseas last year was more than P200 billion (approximately $4 billion) which not only augments the incomes of many families but enables them to send children to high school and college increasing their chances of improving their socio-economic situation.
The churches are now beginning to open up again. However, with limited numbers, some are choosing to continue online. Pray that churches will use this opportunity to reach out to those on their doorstep whom they do not normally connect with, especially those who have lost their jobs or return home from overseas. Pray that churches will encourage one another.

Please pray:
– Pray for people to be honest and diligent in paying their taxes on time.
– Pray for wisdom for the government in restarting the economy.
– Pray for overseas workers returning home and adjusting to a simpler lifestyle.
– Pray for the families of those affected through loss of income and adjusting to having more people around the kitchen table.
– Pray for local churches to learn how to share the gospel cross-culturally to those on their doorstep who are different than they are ethnically, religiously and socio-economically.
– Pray for the strengthening of partnerships between OMF and a variety of denominations and parachurch organisations as we explore how best to support them during these difficult days.

Mongolia

Since Mongolia borders China, many expected that the country would be overrun with Covid-19. But this nation has done remarkably well.

Mongolia closed its border on 27 January to China and later halted all international flights and passenger trains, closed schools, conferences, theaters and other public gatherings. Slowly the country reopens. As of 2 July, there have been only 220 confirmed cases, 177 of which have recovered, and zero deaths (https://news.mn/en/793257/). All cases have been imported from abroad: Mongolians returning from abroad and a few foreign citizens. There has been no reported community transmission.

There are other reasons as to why Mongolia has done so well besides closing borders and restricting gatherings: strict quarantine for Mongolians returning to the country and diplomats entering Mongolia, and people diligently wearing face masks. According to the respected Dr. J. Chinburen in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, “Chingiis Khaan’s [Genghis Khan’s] army was very disciplined. And this discipline travels down to us today” (https://news.mn/en/793087/).
This discipline extends into compassion. Mongolia sent flights to repatriate Mongolians from overseas. Recently there have been some 600 Mongolians staying in monasteries in India training to become lamas [monks] of the Tibetan Buddhist faith. 357 of them are under the age of 18. Many of them are from rural Mongolia and their families cannot afford to fly their children home to avoid the risk of coronavirus that was found in a nearby Indian village. We are thankful that the Mongolian government took steps in to repatriate 219 of these children on 1 June (https://news.mn/en/792752/). Some families send their children away to monasteries because to become a lama is believed to bring good merit for the family and good social standing for their future. Pray that these children who recently returned to Mongolia can receive a good education.
On 24 June Mongolia flew a historic first-time flight to the USA, donating 60,000 items of PPE (personal protective equipment). The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) received this equipment in Seattle and donated it to the Navajo Nation of the American Southwest (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/coronavirus-mongolia-ppe-us-infections-rise-latest-a9583996.html).
We pray that Mongolians would know the ultimate source of discipline and compassion, the Creator God. And when the time is right in the future, perhaps Mongolians could reach out in love with the gospel of Christ to the Navajo, who are presently very hard hit with COVID-19. Mongolians and Navajo share cultural similarities, and possibly there is a historic connection via the Bering Strait. Mission is from every nation to every nation.

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.
– We pray that Mongolians would know the ultimate source of discipline and compassion, the Creator God.

Thailand

OMF Thailand Field Director Ulrich Kohler writes:

‘In general, Thailand has weathered COVID-19 fairly well. As of 7 July, there have been 3,195 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!

Churches all over the country are now getting back to meeting at their normal venues, though with limited seating capacity as social distancing is still required. It is still too early to really assess the impact of this past couple of months. Churches which have started to meet (physically, not just digitally) tend to see a drop in people attending. Judging from social media activity and commenting it appears that many Christians have rather been following the preaching and teaching of some ‘big-name pastors’ and not necessarily their local congregation. How this will affect the gathering of the flock in the local congregation after COVID-19 remains to be seen.

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.

A few weeks ago we asked for prayer that a missionary family separated by COVID-19 travel restrictions could be re-united. The parents had been on a short ministry assignment in their home country of Switzerland with the children remaining at school in Thailand. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the parents were not able to return to Thailand. The family are now re-united in Switerzland as it did not seem to be possible to gain permission to enter Thailand in time for the parents to renew visa and work permit (which has to be done within Thailand), the decision has been made to fly the children out of Thailand to be with their parents. We praise God that the family are back together.

Please pray:

– Give thanks that the missionary family are reunited in Switzerland.
– For Thai Christians as well as missionaries to be beacons of hope.
–  For all our workers – whether within Thailand or abroad – to seize every God-given opportunity to joyfully serve the Lord in whatever circumstance they are in.
– 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?’

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

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.

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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