By Kim Plummer Krull
Printed e-mail messages and pictures from the congregation’s many friends in Japan cover the bulletin board outside the International Ministry office at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Walled Lake, Mich., updating how they are faring since the horrific March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
“We’re getting lots of reports from people in Japan letting us know they are OK, what they experienced and how some are still waiting to hear from their extended family,” said Rev. Rob Nelson, St. Matthew’s associate pastor who oversees the church’s popular International Friends ministry. “We’re very concerned about our friends who have gone back to Japan.”
The majority of the 350 “friends” — as St. Matthew calls international ministry participants — are Japanese who come to the church for English language instruction, children’s activities and Bible classes. As soon as church staff learned about the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami, they began planning a prayer service for that night.
“We were watching the news and seeing everything that was happening and wanted to do something to help our community to respond,” Nelson said.
About 40 people attended the prayer service, including many international friends and reporters from three local television stations that covered the service on newscasts in this northwest Detroit community.
Many participants requested prayers for specific friends and family in Japan. Nelson led the service, focusing on Psalm 46, talking about how “God is our refuge and strength” in times of trouble when waters roar and mountains quake. “God gave those words to encourage people long ago, and those same words still apply to you tonight,” Nelson said at the service.
In a telephone interview March 15, Nelson said, “We wanted our friends there that night to know that God has a plan for us. That plan is that He sent Christ into the world to save us from the brokenness being experienced in Japan right now.”
St. Matthew is a multi-campus church that began its international ministry in 1995 through tea with local Japanese. While today’s international activities are open to people from a variety of cultures, Nelson says they are especially popular with Japanese employed in the area’s automobile manufacturing industry. Many tend to stay in Michigan two to five years before returning to Japan.
“We want to build relationships and help them become accustomed to life in the U.S.,” Nelson said. “When they leave, we feel very strongly about keeping our relationships going and always ask for their e-mail addresses so we can share what’s going on.”
The church’s international ministry includes basic English language “survival” lessons on necessities such as answering the telephone and buying gas. Advanced English and Bible classes also are offered. “We want anyone who comes here to learn English to also know that they have a friend here and have a chance to meet Jesus,” Nelson said.
In addition to those international friendships made through St. Matthew, church staff members have other ties to Japan. Nelson, fellow associate pastor Rev. John Merrill and International Ministry teacher Rebecca Masters worked in Japan with LCMS World Mission’s Volunteer Youth Ministry program. Nelson’s parents are former career missionaries Rev. Richard and Sandra Nelson, who served in Japan for more than 10 years.
“We’ve all been in communication with people we know at different sites in Japan. There are a lot of people who are frightened and wonder what’s going to happen next,” Nelson said. “We want them to know that we will continue to pray for them, and we ask for prayers on our ministry as we point people to the hope we have in Jesus.”
To learn more about St. Matthew’s International Friends ministry, visit www.st-matthew.org.
To contribute toward the Synod’s response to the Japan earthquake and tsunami:
* mail checks (noting “Japan Disaster Relief” in the memo line) to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
* call toll-free 888-930-4438.
* visit online at Disaster Relief Fund for Japan.
For more information and resources, visit www.lcms.org/help.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted March 16, 2011