To my embarrassment, the ride home on the train today had me in tears. No other passenger could have understood the reasons for my tears which I wiped away on the back of my knitted gloves. Sitting across from me on the train was a young father with his daughter, perhaps 5 years old sitting on his lap. Near the door, a mother and father stood with their 2-year-old daughter, the father watching with eagle eyes to make sure his little girl didn’t take a tumble as the train bounced along the tracks.
I was returning from the second day of the first national 4/14 Window Movement Conference in Japan. If you are unfamiliar about the 4/14 Window Movement, the simplest explanation is it seeks to give a higher priority to children’s ministry among churches, especially from the ages of 4 to 14 years old, a time frame when 70% of people make decisions for Christ as well as form their overall moral values, worldview and religious views for life. Moreover, the 4/14 Movement seeks to treat children as partners in the gospel, as many children will have a major role in bringing their parents, family members and peers to Christ.
The past two days were spent hearing from leaders in the Movement on the urgency in reaching this generation with the gospel as well as many others who have successful ministries in this age range and what they are doing. While the content of the conference was great, it wasn’t the primary takeaway for me the past few days.
The primary takeaway for me was how quickly the landscape is changing in Japan with regards to the importance of reaching children with the gospel. Over the two days, probably over 500 adults and children came together to learn about and pray for this new movement in the Japanese church. A decade ago, I can imagine there would have been a small fraction of that number concerned about children’s ministry. Over the past two days, I heard from many leaders and pastors who are absolutely passionate about reaching children with the gospel. I am also grateful that the pastors at our church understand the urgency and importance as well. Now, I can take some of the things I’ve learned about and engage in serious discussions about how we can leverage some of these strategies at our church.
Another important takeaway for me was that the 4/14 Window Movement is happening in Japan not because of what people are doing, but in spite of it. The movement is Spirit fueled, not created by human hands. And this became so apparent to me on the train ride home that I shed tears of joy over what the Spirit was doing already, without help from the church, government or any other man-made devices.
You see, as I watched the father across from me delight in his daughter and the parents near the door lovingly dote on their child, I was witnessing something that I had rarely seen in Japan until recent years. When I first visited Japan in the mid-90’s, the culture of Japan was very much that children were raised by their mothers, but fathers, while providing the income to support the family, were generally physically and emotionally absent. But in recent years and especially over the past few months we’ve lived here, I have seen more and more fathers participating in weekend outings with their wives and children. I have seen fathers carrying their children and looking upon them with pride and love in their eyes. God has turned the hearts of the fathers to their children.
And as I considered that amazing fact with wonder, I began to see that the Holy Spirit has already begun to lay the groundwork for spiritual revival in Japan. If churches could minister to children, they would minister to entire families. Before, it was possible to reach young mothers and their children with the gospel, but extremely difficult to reach fathers, who were not interested in spending time with their families or in their activities. Today, fathers are interested in and engaged with their families, which means if their child invites them to come to church, they will come. Finally, entire families can be reached for Christ, but the ones who will be most effective in sharing the love of Jesus with the parents will be their own children.
Though there is much work to be done, we should rejoice in the fact that God Himself has already been executing His plan for Japan for many years. Please pray for the pastors and leaders who are ready to reach the little children with the wonderful news of Jesus!