In the violent March 2011 earthquake, the island of Japan shifted eight feet to the east. Jonathan Wilson ’89 thinks it may have shifted theologically as well. “There is a new openness to the gospel here,” he says. “Everything the Japanese people relied on has been stripped away, and they are seeking hope. We’ve seen idols thrown on trash heaps and a new realization that Christians are the ones coming to help.”
Jonathan is one of those Christians. Six years ago, he established Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope (CRASH) as an outreach of Grace Christian Fellowship, the church he and his wife, Rie, planted in the western outskirts of Tokyo in 2001. A network of churches and missions, CRASH encourages volunteers to bring the hope of Jesus Christ to their country during natural disasters. “It quickly grew into a way to encourage the church at large in Japan to be involved in compassionate ministry,” Jonathan says. “We’ve responded to disasters in Japan and provided training for missions and denominations. The fruit of our labor is being seen now as each of these groups is mounting large-scale relief efforts and working in cooperation with each other like never before.”
Jonathan remembers the frantic chaos of the hours immediately following the earthquake and tsunami. Trying to reach their children in school in Tokyo about an hour away, he and Rie also had to care for students at the church’s school and discover what was happening further north in Tohoku. Happily, their children returned home that evening, and Jonathan focused on mobilizing CRASH. “We started contacting churches in the Tohoku region and preparing our response the next day with full-time volunteers arriving that day. On the second day, we held an informational meeting for pastors and missionaries and borrowed a room to start our command center. Over the next days, hundreds of volunteers arrived, and we took over the campus. We had never imagined such a large-scale disaster, but through the hard work of these volunteers, we have been delivering practical help, emotional care and hope every day through five regional bases throughout the disaster area.”
Jonathan says that CRASH has served as a link between the Christian world and the church in Japan. “We’ve been humbled by the great outpouring of love and prayer from Christians around the world — including students at Westmont — who have held events, raised money, encouraged prayer and organized teams to come. Through at least the next year, we will be coordinating teams to help with the relief effort. The needs are ongoing, and already the attention of the world is shifting to other things.” Follow their progress at www.crashjapan.com.
Jonathan arrived at Westmont in 1985 as a religious studies major. “The focus on liberal arts and the connections between different areas of knowledge has helped me as a missionary involved in church planting and disaster relief,” he says. “I’ve had to be a jack-of-all-trades. Westmont also exposed me for the first time in a more interdenominational environment. The lessons of mutual respect I learned at Westmont are important as CRASH is cooperating with scores of Christian groups both within and without Japan.”
Jonathan and Rie arrived in Japan in 1989 and worked with a Japanese pastor for 11 years before planting their church. Building on decades of ministry, they now seek to help Japan recover both physically and spiritually.