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N. Korea missile launch leads Japan churches to pray

TOKYO (BP) — Following a North Korean missile launch that triggered emergency sirens in Japan and government warnings to seek cover, Baptists in Japan are expressing trust in God and asking fellow believers for prayer.

“Every person I have spoken with has told me how they are praying for the situation here in this area of the world,” said Ben Howard, an associate pastor at Yokohama International Baptist Church, a 200-member congregation in Japan’s second largest city. “Prayers are becoming very specific. Several are praying that God will hold North Korea back and not let them be aggressive.

“Several church members mentioned they were praying for [Japanese] Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe and President Trump as they decide how to respond to these provocations, that they would have wisdom and that they would stand firm for the Japanese people,” Howard told Baptist Press in written comments.

Shortly before 6 a.m. Japan time Aug. 29, North Korea shot an intermediate-range ballistic missile over northern Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. It was the first North Korean missile ever to fly over Japan, leading Abe to call the launch “the most serious and grave threat ever” against his country, according to CNN.

Though the United Nations Security Council and Trump both condemned North Korea’s latest missile test, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un said today (Aug. 30) the launch was “the first step of the military operation of the [North Korean military] in the Pacific,” CNN reported.

Within the region threatened by North Korea’s aggression are at least 11 churches that cooperate with the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention. Five churches in Japan cooperate with the Hawaii convention, as do six on the U.S. islands of Saipan and Guam.

Kim spoke of “containing Guam” as a next step in his military strategy, North Korean state media reported.

Chris Martin, executive director of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention said “a true sense of confidence and trust in God’s sovereign plan prevails” among HPBC churches.

“Our churches in Asia and the South Pacific are seeing this as another unique avenue to share the hope that is only found in Jesus Christ,” Martin told BP in written comments. “In spite of the global tensions, pastors, leaders and members are encouraging others to ask for God to bring peace and to calm the situation — and turn to Christ for the hope that can never come through man’s efforts. It is an exciting time for the brilliant light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to shine in a dark situation.”

Takeshi Yozawa, an associate pastor at Tokyo Baptist Church, told BP “people have been calm in general” regarding the missile that sailed over Japan.

Tokyo Baptist is a 1,000-member, English-speaking congregation in the heart of the Japanese capital.

“We haven’t noticed any difference in the general public in Tokyo,” Yozawa said in written comments. “By the grace of God, as a church, we have peace in His protection and grace. We will appreciate if others can also join us in praying for the security of this region, and for the salvation of the people in Japan.”

Howard said while members of Yokohama International “are not taking any special precautions” in light of North Korea’s threats, “the overwhelming reaction of our church body is that God is in control and this action on the part of North Korea should lead us to more prayer and reliance on God.”

Yokohama International members also are turning their thoughts toward non-believers.

One Sunday School teacher wrote to Howard, “My thoughts were of my daughters who are nominal Christians/nonbelievers in Singapore. I wanted them to know that whatever happens to me, I want them to praise God because I am in His hands.” Another Bible study leader plans to teach on Psalm 46 for the next month to help “the ladies in the group … come to see that our security and peace is found in the Lord no matter what the circumstances around us may be,” Howard said.

In 2015, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, adopted a resolution “on religious persecution and human rights violations in North Korea.” In addition to citing religious liberty concerns, the resolution called all believers “to pray that God will turn the heart of Kim Jong Un to Himself.”

Yokohama International Baptist and Tokyo Baptist both cooperate with the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention. Though the SBC is a domestic network of churches, several state conventions — including the HPBC — recognize overseas churches as cooperating churches with their state conventions.