Global Missions Update - Japan
Africa? Sure. Middle East? Well, of course. But why are you doing missionary work in Japan?
I could give you a few reasons - the fact that, in this country with twice as many people as the UK, less than half a percent of the population know and love Jesus Christ; that even of those half a percent, the church in Japan is experiencing stagnation and decline; or that thirty thousand people a year throw their lives away because of shame, pressure, or through feeling that they can't live up to society's high expectations for them.
But there's another reason we are here: we want the nations to see God's glory, and that means all the nations. We believe that in Christ, God is reconciling the whole world to himself and that He has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. God wants the Japanese to be reconciled to Him! Here in the south of Kyoto, one of Japan's biggest cities, we've set up a number of house churches where people have been meeting God, hearing about His desire to be reconciled with them, and coming back to a reconciled relationship with Him. When we arrived in our apartment block two years ago, one neighbour immediately wanted to start studying the Bible with us, and was baptised around a year later; other neighbours have joined us with varying degrees of commitment, and another member has now begun to take over the group for half the time. But rather than necessarily pulling together new groups of Christians and seekers, we want to use existing groups, networks and friendships so that the Gospel can spread quickly using existing relationships. So for instance, Henrietta has also recently completed a couple of Bible introduction courses for members of a local mother-and-toddler group; conversations and discussions flowed much more freely as all the members already knew and trusted each other.
Another existing group is exchange students: Japan is also a country the nations come to, and opposite our house is a dormitory for foreign students visiting Kyoto. Through a couple of local connections, we were invited into the dormitory and got to meet a few of the students there, and we have been able to start a house church amongst them. This morning we had people from England, Australia, China, Madagascar, and Indonesia - some Christians, some not yet - meet to worship, read the Bible together, worship and pray for each other. It reminded me of Oxford!
We also want to see Japan become a country whose Christians go to the nations. This year is the 100th anniversary of WEC International, and we have decided to mark that by sending 100 Japanese overseas on short-term missions. The church in Japan is small and feels that it has to fight for its own existence, and that it has nothing left to give to others - but I think that looking outwards in mission is the best way for churches, and Christians, to grow! Henrietta has been co-ordinating the "Hundred Overseas Project" (HOP), and encouraging many of our missionaries to lead short-term teams. I (Simon) will be taking a team of Japanese university students to Thailand in September; as well as being a great opportunity to encourage Thai Christians, I think it will also be a really valuable experience in forming the faith of these young Japanese believers. I also see the whole project as a way to begin to create a culture of mission and a mindset of world Christianity within Japanese churches.
The earthquake and tsunami of 2011 unleashed an outpouring of prayer for Japan from around the world, and bring this materially rich but spiritually needy country to the consciousness of many Christians. As missionaries we are now reaping the benefits of that prayer and activity. Last year, for example, our field team received over a hundred short-term missionaries from overseas. I honestly believe we are at a turning point in a country that has historically seen the Gospel progress very, very slowly; that a greater openness is coming, and we are indeed starting to see that already; and that this nation too will see God's glory. Please continue to pray for Japan, and for us as we serve God here.