This article was first published here on 3 April. It was last updated on 13 May.

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 recieve new information and prayer points.

Cambodia

Yuzo Imamura, Interim Cambodia Field Director, writes: ‘The COVID-19 situation in Cambodia has become quiet. The total number of cases (on 7 May) is 122 with no deaths and 120 recovered. There have been no new cases for more than three weeks now. The government still 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.

A house group meeting (less than ten) is 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 that those fearful of COVID-19 will have opportunities to hear the good news of Jesus.
– Pray for OMF workers to can spend time wisely and use these unique opportunities to proclaim the gospel of Christ.

Vietnam

Vietnam has a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases and there has been no known community transmission for several weeks. After strict social distancing for three weeks, measures have been relaxed a little, but a ban on large gatherings, including religious gatherings, looks set to continue for some time to come. City churches have mostly managed to move services ‘online’, either live or pre-recorded. A few smaller, more rural churches without the technology to do this have repeated services many times on a Sunday with members coming in shifts of under twenty people at a time. Elsewhere, churches simply had to stop meeting.

One challenge for churches is providing for children at this time. In the largest denomination, some materials have been put online, but not all churches have the resources to do this. Please pray for parents at this time as they share their faith and the Bible with their children. As everyone spends more time at home, pray too for Christians’ witness to their families and friends.

Please pray:

– Pray for churches in Vietnam – whether they’ve been able to take services online or have had to stop meeting. Pray church members would meet with God personally and grow in their faith
– Give thanks for those producing Sunday school materials for children – pray these would we well used
– 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

On Monday May 4, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe announced an extension of the nationwide state of emergency until the end of the month. The government continues to ask people to refrain from going out and for non-essential businesses to shut. Abe said, “The number of new cases has declined, but unfortunately the decrease has not reached the targeted level.”

At this point the outbreak is relatively small compared to areas of Europe and the US, but there is concern about hospital capacity. The state of emergency does not include powers to punish those who don’t comply with requests to stay at home or businesses to shut. Many school have been closed since the start of March and it remains unclear as to when they will reopen.

OMF Japan’s COVID-19 task force continues to give our members clear guidelines on how they should conduct themselves during the current crisis. Missionaries are only to go out for essential activities and most ministry has been cancelled or moved online.

Crisis circumstances often provide opportunities to witness and minister beyond the “normal times.” Our experience in previous disasters such as the 2011 earthquake has been that the Lord has put us here for such a time as this.

At this time, please pray for Christians to imitate Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20) in calling on the Lord, recalling his faithfulness, fixing their eyes on him, standing firm, and seeing his deliverance. May they also use every opportunity to share their faith with family, friends and colleagues.

Please pray:

– For the leaders—in our nations, organisations, school, medical communities—that they would have wisdom in this current climate.

– For missionaries—that we would know what God requires of us at this time and that we would rely upon him for strength.

Thailand

OMF Thailand Field Director Ulrich Kohler writes:

‘During the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic Thailand was only slightly affected. This, however, changed by mid-March when cases started to increase dramatically. On March 26 state of emergency was imposed. On the 28 April, the Thai government decided to extend the emergency decree until at least the end of May. Parts of the lockdown might be lifted in coming weeks, but details are not yet known. The ban for incoming flights has also been extended. This affects a number of our missionaries waiting to return to Thailand. Patience is required and wisdom, paired with practical help, to navigate these unplanned, prolonged stays in home countries.

With a meeting ban in place, churches have shifted to online platforms from bigger style Facebook live broadcasting to Zoom meetings or Line chat groups. This is working out so-so. After initial enthusiasm about the high-tech possibilities, people now start to realize the limitations and drawbacks as well.

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. May not only the ‘squeaky wheel get the oil’. But the truth is that the general population now sees hunger as the bigger threat than the virus.’

Please pray for:

– 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?’

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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