Kellie Nicholas is a missionary for Church Missionary Society (CMS), who has been in Kobe, Japan since 2008. She has been a full-time staff worker for KGK (IFES-affiliated student ministry) for the last 10 years.
This summer (Northern Hemisphere) we hoped that things would get back to more like ‘normal’ for ministry in Japan. Unfortunately, just as the term was finishing up, we hit our seventh wave of COVID. Many things were cancelled or parred back as a result. This may seem strange to those of you living in Australia where things have almost gone back to normal, but people have been more cautious here. Those events that did go ahead required a whole new level of planning with COVID safety measures and contingency plans.
Numerous times over the last few months I found myself saying, “It’s been three years.” This statement sums up how I’ve been feeling about things. It’s been three years … and I have really missed chatting with students at camp. It’s been three years … and I’m not sure I remember what I need to pack for camp. It’s been three years … and I’m not sure that I want to sleep on a hard camp bunk! It feels like it has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, including excitement, hesitance and trepidation. Below are just a few reflections on the ups and downs that have come from these changes.
Sitting in the dining room at camp, filled with 70 uni students but completely quiet, was mind-blowing.
Back in 2020, during the early days of online ministry, one of the things that I missed and was saddened by was the lack of the “little moments”. These are the conversations that you have in the five minutes after prayer meetings or while walking to campus together or on the train on the way home. But it is often these chats when you hear about what is really going on in students’ lives, even if it is just as they jump off the train. These “little moments” have been largely missing from ministry during the pandemic. Online meetings don’t really allow for them. At our Hyogo block overnight camp, I got to have many of those conversations. I heard about students who were dating, those who were having troubles in their families and more. Even the simple act of sitting together and enjoying a cup of tea made me feel like I knew more about how they were going and how I could pray for them.
Another surprise at summer camps was meal times. In Japan since the beginning of the pandemic, people have been encouraged not to talk while they are eating, including in school cafeterias and even restaurants. Sitting in the dining room at camp, filled with 70 uni students but completely quiet, was mind-blowing. In the past, I often struggled to hear the person sitting next to me and sometimes just zoned out because it was too hard to hear. It is funny the things we take for granted and don’t miss until they are gone. Thankfully, once the food was gone and people replaced their masks, conversations resumed to a normal level but were just more difficult to hear through masks and partitions.
Despite changing circumstances, God continues to provide us with opportunities for fellowship and encouragement.
Earlier in the year, Japan started issuing new visas, which meant international students started to arrive. The numbers are still well below pre-COVID levels. But they are coming back and those who have been here throughout the pandemic seem to have resurfaced. With the help of some keen local students, we have been able to restart International Bible Cafe, a monthly meeting for international students. It has been a joy to share fellowship around the Bible and sing in several languages. We have also had a few outings, which have enabled friendships to deepen. We even had two of our international students join summer camp.
Over the last few months, I have been reminded that although ‘it’s been three years,’ God has continued to work in that time, preparing us to work during the pandemic and beyond. He has been teaching us to trust him in the ups and downs of life. Despite changing circumstances, God continues to provide us with opportunities for fellowship and encouragement.