In the winter of 2011, nine months after the tsunami changed everything in Japan, I sat with Pastor Jonathan Wilson at a Christian conference in Southern California. While Jonathan Wilson may not be a household name here in America, he is destined to become one in Japan and possibly throughout Asia. As Executive Director of CRASH Japan, it was Jonathan’s team that coordinated the relief efforts of thousands of volunteers from hundreds of Christian organizations coming into Japan to serve after the devastation of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster. Literally days before Typhoon Haiyan took an equally heavy toll on the Philippines, Jonathan Wilson was there, training local Christians on large scale disaster response. But I digress.
The point of this story is how the experience Pastor Jonathan shared with me about Japan changed my perspective of serving there. Until I heard from Pastor Jonathan, I felt, as many American Christians do, that the Japanese people need the message of salvation, that they needed to be saved, one by one, from the error of their beliefs. It was a Western-centric perspective that though well-intended is wrought with judgment and condescension. On the other hand, Pastor Jonathan served many years in Japan before the 2011 triple disaster. He preached the same message to the Japanese people the whole time, but it wasn’t until disaster struck that the message really sunk in for many. What was the message he was preaching? Hope.
If you ask a person who lived through the tsunami what hope means to them, the answers are pretty concrete. Moving out of temporary housing and back into their family home. A community of friends and family who can support them emotionally. Rebuilding a life that was literally swept away from them one horrific day in March 2011.
Apart from those who lived through a tragedy like this one, however, the idea of hope becomes more vague. Japan is, in its own eyes and the eyes of much of the world, a successful country.
Though Japan puts on a facade of a country that has it all together, some serious cracks are appearing in it. The suicide rate in Japan continues to be an epidemic and train service on lines in the Tokyo area are halted daily by suicide attempts on the tracks. Social issues like hikikomori, shut-ins who live in their parents’ home and refuse human interaction with anyone, number in the hundreds of thousands. And problems the world assumed Japan did not have like homelessness, child abuse, and violent crime, have become more visible to the general public. And what can prevent and/or relieve social issues on a scale this large? Only one thing: Hope.
When we view Japan with the lens of our American context, we assume Japan can handle its own problems. After all, that’s how we do it in the West. What we forget is that Japan doesn’t have the infrastructure of churches and social services that America has. For whatever negative things can be said about the churches in America, there are a multitude of positive things that can be said about them. Churches and other religious organizations are the primary providers in America for counseling, serving the poor, and defending the helpless, like the elderly and the orphaned. The same cannot be said of Japan, where the responsibility lies chiefly with the government, a government hopelessly overwhelmed with other issues that demand its attention.
Simply put, it is the church’s responsibility to bring hope to Japan. It’s not something they can manufacture for themselves, nor are we exporting it from America to them. Our hope is in the gospel. It is in the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. We will go to Japan with that message and to partner with Japanese Christians to encourage them to share hope with their communities. Because it’s going to involve every Christian in Japan to get this message out to the people.
And hope is a message that can’t simply be shouted from the rooftops or handed out in tracts at Shinjuku station. It’s a message that requires the messengers to get their hands dirty, to go into the dark places where hope is needed most and to WORK out the message in love and deed. Bringing hope to the homeless means spending time with them, giving them back their dignity, meeting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs simultaneously. Bringing hope to the abused means being a person who is trustworthy and kind, a person who rebuilds the self-esteem that someone else destroyed in them. These are not places we would go by ourselves, but Jesus himself leads us there.
There are a growing number of Christians in Japan who realize the urgency of sharing the gospel in their communities and are finding creative ways to communicate the gospel. These are the people we are seeking as partners. It isn’t our intention to convince those who think otherwise that they need to change what they are doing, but we are happy to work with those whose hearts, like our own, have already been changed by God. They see Japan not as a nation needing to be saved from itself, but a people who need hope in Jesus.
If this message strikes a chord with you, I challenge you to do something about it. Pray with us regularly for hope to come to Japan. Whether in a sentence before eating a meal or on your knees before dawn every morning, every word prayed in earnest is like a fragrant offering to God (Psalm 141:1). Prayer is pleasing worship to God and when He is pleased, He will answer. Join us in this critical activity for bringing the hope of Christ to the many Japanese who need to hear about it.