Is Missions For the Young?

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This past weekend I had an opportunity to speak on Missions at a youth conference. Though the conference itself was nostalgic for me (I remember attending a similar event as a teenager many years ago), I have to admit, I initially struggled with how I should present Missions to teenagers. Two thoughts immediately came to mind when I thought of youth as missionaries: most teenagers aren’t thinking of participating in missions and most adults, including their parents, prefer it that way. I realize these are broad generalizations, but I am talking about the majorities, not the total. So stay with me here.

It took me several weeks to even formulate what I felt God wanted people to hear about youth as missionaries and I want to summarize it here for those who weren’t able to attend my workshop (in bullet points, naturally).

  • God has endowed young people with special gifts for missions ministry that adults rarely have.
  • Young people have a powerful advantage in sharing the gospel with other young people, and 50% of those who are yet unreached are under the age of 20.
  • Missions is not just for missionaries. If you are a Christian, you have already been called to Missions.
  • So what are you waiting for? Go to the world and shine!

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The critical point for the youth was that if they weren’t thinking about missions, they need to think about it because as part of multi-generational missions teams, they play a critical role in ┬áconnecting with people their own age. But as parents of teenagers or leaders in the church responsible for missions, we also need to change our thinking about involving youth in missions. Youth are not a burden to a multi-generational missions team. They fill a role that adults cannot fill adequately: as connectors to people of their own age group. Adults preach the gospel to children through words; children preach the gospel to each other through their lives.

I’ve served in missions long enough to realize we create a lot of barriers to involving youth in missions. We designate specific missions to the young: low risk, low cost, “easy” ministry. This is a disservice to our children. Instead, we need to consider how youth can be integrated into multi-generational missions teams to give those teams greater reach and impact in the world. As parents, we loathe to send our children into situations where there is an element of danger. As natural as that tendency is, what message are we communicating to them? That our faith is so small that we can’t entrust their care over to God? Believe me, I’m not condemning any parents for thinking this way. I don’t like the idea of sending my children into potentially dangerous situations and I have yet to be tested on this. But when the opportunity comes, I need to be prepared to be obedient and faithful and let them go.

The highlight of the weekend for me was Pastor Tim’s altar call, when he asked the high schoolers who would be willing to serve as missionaries or even full time ministry workers. At least a dozen students stood to commit themselves. Looking back at myself at that age, I would have remained sitting. But the commitment of these young people ready to serve the Lord in missions and ministry just blew me away. These are our future church leaders, our future missions deacons, our future missionaries. As I parent, I felt a great sense of joy that no matter what the world tries to tell us, the world is safe in the hands of this generation.

Faithfully pray for this generation, that they will carry out the task they have committed to and that they will courageously shine the light of Christ into the world of darkness.

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The Japan FAQ: What Are You Going To Do In Japan?

Breakfast at Tsukiji-ny's (with apologies to Blake Edwards)

What are we going to be doing in Japan? Hopefully, eating a lot of this.

The question de jour for us right now is: So…what are you going to be doing in Japan? I have to admit that I struggle for a good answer right now, one that is not too vague. leaving the person asking to wonder if I even answered his question and not too specific, leaving him wishing he never had asked.

No offense to missionaries, but in describing ourselves, I hope to avoid the “M” word completely. Not that I don’t admire and value the work that missionaries have done and are doing, but the word comes with so much historical and religious baggage these days, that once you tell people you are a missionary, they start thinking of religious intolerance, cultural imperialism and a number of other half formed facts about the work missionaries have done throughout the course of history. (Worse still, they imagine a couple of happy fellows in white short sleeve shirts pulling up in their driveway on bicycles that send them scurrying into the house for cover.)

Our organization, JEMS (Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society), has a very simple vision: “Jesus for every Japanese, Jesus everyday.” I love our vision because it says some very important things that everyone, not just Japanese people, and not just non-Christians, should know about Christianity.

Jesus is a person, not a religion. We aren’t going to Japan to bring them religion. Japan has quite enough religion as it is, probably too much, if you define religion as a set of traditions and rules that one must follow to be considered “good” and live without fear of something “bad” happening to you. Jesus is a person, whose life on earth was lived perfectly as an example to all mankind and whose voluntary death on the cross was done as a perfect sacrifice for the wrongs we have done. The only “rule” of Christianity is faith in Jesus, that he is whom he claimed to be. Anything else we do, including moving to another country to share about Jesus, is what we choose to do in response to the love of God through Jesus.

Jesus is for everyone. There is a big misconception, not completely unfounded, that Christianity is a Western religion. While this is definitely untrue (after all, Jesus was a Jew and Christianity began in the Middle East and spread through both Europe and Asia from there), the entanglement of Christianity with Western culture, particularly American, is difficult to unravel. That’s why I like the idea that we aren’t bringing Christianity to Japan. We are bringing the story of Jesus, also known as the gospel, to the Japanese people. Everyone should have an opportunity to know who Jesus is and decide for themselves if he is worthy to be believed. But the fact is the majority of Japanese people, even in the largest metropolitan areas, do not have an accurate depiction of who Jesus Christ is.

“Jesus everyday” is a manta we could all live by. It’s become a bit of a cliche, but I think the best thing any Christian could do when they wake up in the morning is spend a few minutes pondering this question: “What would Jesus do today?” It’s not a question of “What would I do if I were Jesus?” but “What would Jesus do if he were me?” In other words, if Jesus had my career, my location, my material goods, what would he do today? If we answered this question each day with brutal honesty and actually did what Jesus would do, what a huge difference it would make in the world. Because Jesus wouldn’t walk by the homeless woman begging for change in the subway station; he would stop and talk to her and give her some dignity. Jesus wouldn’t spend his whole day trying to make himself look good to his manager at work; he would look for ways to help others succeed. Jesus wouldn’t fall asleep on the sofa watching a baseball game (this hits home for me); he would spend time building up his family and leading them by example to be godly people.

So back to the question “What are you going to be doing in Japan?” In the most basic sense of the question, we will be living out the vision of JEMS: Jesus for every Japanese, Jesus everyday. When I wake up each morning, I want to ask the question, “What would Jesus do today?” and then go and do it. I want to share the love of Jesus with every person I meet and paraphrasing Saint Augustine, when necessary, use words. It is not necessary to be a master of a language to show love and compassion to people.

Yes, I actually do have a plan beyond wandering around Tokyo sharing the love of Jesus with people. I know many people, particularly my parents, would be uncomfortable if I didn’t have any plans beyond that. But the details of that plan are another blog entry unto themselves.

Jayne will be interviewing to serve at the Christian Academy of Japan for a position much like what she does now, helping kids with speech and language issues and learning disabilities (and their families). This is a role that has been needed for a long time at CAJ and she is thrilled to be able to fill the need. We know of friends who were serving abroad who chose to come back to America because help for children with learning disabilities is not easily found in many countries, including Japan. In a larger sense, Jayne desires to contribute to a positive change in the stigma that Japanese culture has toward those with mental and learning disabilities. If Jesus was in her position, that’s what he would do.

So there you have it. That’s what we’re going to be doing in Japan for the next few years. Hopefully, as you follow our exploits, you’ll get a better sense of HOW we are doing what we are doing.