Until a few days ago, the coronavirus was just a spectre lurking in the shadows. I knew something was out there and it made me uneasy, but when it came to everyday life, it had little real impact (apart from washing my hands much more often).
That all changed a few days ago, when Japan as a nation went into full panic mode. The Prime Minister “requested” all public schools to close until early April to contain the spread of the virus. Hokkaido in the northern part of Japan announced a state of emergency as new cases of the virus were detected in which they could no longer ascertain where people were contracting the virus from. And the rest of the world became wary of Japan’s situation and tightened controls on travelers from Japan.
Suddenly, the school my wife works at and my daughter attends was moving to a remote classes model, meaning all students and most staff would be staying home for the month of March. A church mission trip to Thailand that I have participated in for 4 years has been postponed until further notice, mainly for fear of being quarantined upon entry by Thailand, Japan or both. Ministry events at church have been temporarily cancelled, in the period leading up to Easter. My Japanese conversation lesson is also cancelled for at least the next two weeks.
Seemingly overnight, the virus became real to us, real to everyone in Japan. Stores are sold out of paper products and many household items (face masks have been unavailable for weeks already). Half of Japan’s major companies have asked employees to work at home, though many people with school-aged children would have to make arrangements anyway because schools were closed abruptly. Even Tokyo Disneyland, along with many major attractions in Japan, has closed down for two weeks, during what would normally be a peak season.
In challenging times like this, discouragement can come easily. All of our plans, even just the everyday events of our lives, have been cast into chaos. Top it off with concerns of the long term effects of the virus on our health, on our local and world economy, and things unrelated to the coronavirus that are in turmoil, and you have the perfect storm for despair, or even disbelief. Why does it feel like there is no good news in the world and no hope in sight? Why do I feel completely helpless? Where is God in all of this?
Things I Notice While Walking the Dog
This past week, while taking our dog for her daily morning walk, it became apparent how warm this winter has actually been. Normally in mid-February, we start to see the blossoming of the plum trees, the earliest of the blossoming fruit trees. But as I walked along our river, I noticed it wasn’t only plum trees that were blossoming, but also some of the cherry trees, which in a normal year, do not blossom until late March.
The cherry tree is revered in Japan, not just for its beauty, but for what it represents. Cherry trees blossom before leaves form on the trees. By the time the cherry blossoms fall, the leaves have sprouted, leaving the once bare trees full and green. It truly represents the transformation from winter to spring, and its no wonder the cherry blossom season has almost every Japanese person in a relaxed, jaunty mood.
In any other year, the early blossoming of the cherry trees might not be seen as a good thing. But this year, when there seems to be nothing but a barrage of bad news and uncertainty, the cherry blossoms seem to hold a greater promise than most years. I see them as a message from God reminding us that although the world now seems locked in the dead of winter with no end in sight, there will be an end to these trials. Spring will come; all things will be made new again.
Of course, we see this promise not only symbolically but in very real ways. The virus will eventually be controlled and life will go back to some semblance of normal. Toilet paper and face masks will once again be in stock at all supermarkets and drugstores (kidding, of course, sort of). And the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus overcame the power of sin and death, restoring our relationship with our loving Heavenly Father. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
As Christians, we need to be reminders to the world that Spring is coming, no, it is already here. We need to tell others that a loving relationship with God is already possible through Jesus Christ, who gave his life as a ransom for ours. And because of his sacrifice, we can live boldly, not in fear, proclaiming this great news to the world through our words and actions.