Stop Asking The Wrong Question

The Christian church in Japan is growing, though much of the growth is at the roots, where it is not easily recognized. In this fast-paced, instant access world, it is easy for churches and missions to look at Japan and ask “why are Japanese resistant to the gospel?” This is absolutely the wrong question. The real question we should be asking is “How is the enemy (Satan) interfering with our ability to communicate the gospel to the Japanese?”

The difference is the first question incorrectly assumes that Japanese are not interested in or are opposed to learning about Christianity. The truth is that Japanese people are open to learning about many things, including Christianity. In a recent Pew survey, the majority of Japanese surveyed  had a favorable view of Christianity and of all the major religions, chose Christianity as the most favorable, even above Buddhism. They may not like the idea of organized religion, but then again, Jesus wasn’t a big fan of it either.

The second question rightly assumes that there is spiritual warfare going on between those opposing God and those doing His work. And this is not just between groups of people but in the spiritual realm of angels and demons, which I am not knowledgeable enough to discuss at length, but I know it goes on around us every day, unseen. Satan does not want the Japanese to hear the gospel message. He does not want Japanese to know the facts about Jesus Christ. And he is throwing huge amounts of resources into battle to ensure they are kept in the dark.

So how is the devil working to oppose the message of the gospel to the Japanese? This post would go on for pages if I tried to explain every aspect of spiritual interference Christians face in Japan, but I’d like to highlight some of the major ones and perhaps dive in to the details in future posts.

The god of Work

Japan is known as an industrious nation and solidified that reputation in the post WW2 era, becoming an economic superpower on the back of manufacturing and quality improvement. However, that reputation has become an idol for many Japanese companies who now insist on a work-life imbalance that most Americans would find horrifying. Though a lingering economic malaise has slightly improved the situation for the average Japanese worker, long hours and six day work weeks are often the norm. If a worker has free time, it is often used to catch up on sleep, spend time with family or engage in a hobby. There is simply no room for learning about Christianity in the schedule of most Japanese once they graduate from college.

Ironically, most Japanese, including those in the government, know that overwork is a big problem in Japan. However, nobody seems able to make any major inroads to change. I believe this is because deep down, Japan is proud of its workaholic reputation in the world and employees are rewarded for taking part in that system of overwork.

Christianity as a “Western religion”

Christians should be aware that Christianity is neither western nor religion, with its roots in the Middle East and its emphasis on a personal relationship with God that is unique to Christianity. Yet because of its obvious differences from Buddhism and Shintoism, this reputation is difficult to shake.

Much of Japan’s cultural identity is based on Buddhist and Shinto concepts. The most central concept of collectivism vs. individualism is one of the strongest separators of Christianity from the Japanese. By its nature, you cannot be Christian and Buddhist or Shinto simultaneously. Becoming a Christian requires a person to renounce their belief in Buddhist and Shinto ideals, an act which separates a person from the collective group. This bond to the collective: society, family, work, social group, is what makes it extremely difficult for Japanese to accept Christ, who says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The Work of Cults

The existence and popularity of cults in Japan is proof in itself that Japanese are indeed spiritual people. Spiritual, yet not necessarily religious. Unfortunately, many cults, including those who identify themselves with Christianity, are active in Japan, preying on people’s spiritual hunger. Even those who are wise enough to escape the grip of a cult find themselves suspicious of any other “religious” group, and perhaps rightly so.

As Japanese people are not well aware of the facts of Christianity, cults which claim to be Christian can be very dangerous to them. For Japanese people, cults like the Mormon church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Unification Church can be indistinguishable from true Christian churches until it is too late. Even in the best cases, these cults create distractions that keep Japanese people from learning the truth about God. In worse cases, it turns them into deceivers of their own people.

The “Powerless” Church

I bring this up cautiously and without pointing fingers at any organization or church in Japan. However, in Japan, just as anywhere in the world, there are churches that exist that are not demonstrating the power of the gospel in changing people’s lives. Some are merely social groups of people meeting together every week to sing songs and hear an uplifting message. Some are churches that treat new visitors as outsiders who are creating an inconvenience to them. Some refuse to acknowledge that the methods used to share the gospel with others has changed dramatically over the past few decades, or that methods that work in the West do not work nearly as well in Japan.

The worst cancer in the Japanese church is the lack of unity between churches. While more partnerships between churches have been forged recently through disaster relief efforts, there are still too many churches trying to do things on their own without any inclusion of other churches or organizations in their area. When disagreements or battles between Christian groups become public (and Japanese people do love their gossip), it puts a stain on our reputation as people who have been changed by the power of Christ.

When we begin to ask the right question, we understand that the most powerful weapon again Satan is prayer. And prayer is something that can be done by anyone, at any time, from anywhere. Would you consider joining us in regular prayer against the activities of Satan to deceive the people of Japan? Would you ask prayer groups you belong to to include this topic in their prayer times? The war was already won when Jesus pronounced “It is finished” on the cross, but the battles for the souls of God’s people are still being waged, and you are a difference-maker.

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10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love To be Asked

10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked

A former missionary kid (MK) we know posted this link on Facebook and I think it addresses many of the issues we anticipate our own children will face when they return to America to “visit” or attend college. Going on two years in Japan, our kids definitely feel more at home here in Japan and less like foreigners. They speak Japlish, the mixture of Japanese and English and sometimes struggle with finding the right word in English (which is understandable since Japanese has many words with no direct translation to English). They have developed some Japanese mannerisms. And they are still changing and growing.

As a family, we’ve stopped referring to California as “home” for some time now. Home is such a relative term, and right now, our home is here in the Tokyo area. But it’s natural for our friends in California to assume we still consider it our home. We already sense the coming confusion for our kids as they contemplate staying in America after college or returning to Japan (assuming, of course, that we are still here).

I think one of the most difficult aspects of missionary life is the constant change in relationships. People come and go in and out of our lives every year, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently (or at least a very long time). Other missionaries go on home leave or leave the field on a regular basis. Friendships are precious because they are fleeting and I think that’s what hits the kids the hardest.

We always ask for special prayer for our children because we know their lives are challenging and they made involuntary sacrifices in the stability of their social lives when they became a missionary family along with us. We are grateful for the grace the Lord has poured out on them in terms of friendships and opportunities to belong. But we also know these friends and opportunities tend to change rapidly. Thank you for supporting our children in this special way as we serve here in Japan.

Five Years

Today marks the five year anniversary of the Tohoku triple disaster. As we remember the thousands who lost their lives in the earthquake and resulting tsunami, as well as the dedicated workers of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant who gave their lives to prevent an even greater nuclear disaster, we also remember  and pray for the many more who survived, but still live with their wounds from that terrible day.

The wounds of losing loved ones, some who are statistically still counted as missing.

The wounds of losing their homes and belongings. Hundreds of thousands still live in “temporary housing”, which looks less and less temporary with each passing day. Many cannot rebuild on the land they own and can’t afford to buy land elsewhere.

The wounds of being traumatized whenever a sizeable earthquake hits their area, which is a common occurrence in Japan.

The wounds of a local economy that still struggles to recover and provide enough jobs for those who choose to stay in their towns or do not have the means to move elsewhere.

Lord God, these are your precious people. You’ve felt every tear shed by them, heard every cry in the darkness. You are their Healer and we ask you to heal them from the things that have wounded them. We pray they would experience your peace, the peace that can only come from knowing Jesus. Lord, would they receive the vastness of your love and mercy. Would you use their trials to help lift others out of despair. Would you restore to them hope for the future.

It’s Not All Fun and Games

We love living in Tokyo. There is no doubt in our mind that God has called us to serve here at this season of our lives. We went through one of the easiest transitions we could have hoped for when we moved here over a year ago. We found a church we could plug right into and hit the ground running with various ministries. We’ve made many wonderful new friends. We eat fantastic food and experience amazing things in one of the greatest cities in the world. And yet, it would be a lie to say things are perfect or easy here.

It’s hard for overseas ministries workers to admit our struggles. Often, we only share the gory details of ministry life among ourselves, with people who can completely relate to what we are going through because they themselves have been there (or are going through the same things). But it would be disingenuous to pretend our lives are good all the time. We go through many of the same struggles Christians have living at home: financial worries, communication breakdowns, self esteem issues, and more. But these struggles are magnified in the field, far away from our normal sources of encouragement and advice.

And spiritual warfare is very real. Whenever you make a priority of sharing the gospel with people who need to hear it, you can bet the enemy will be there to meet you head-to-head, fighting you with every ounce of his strength. And if we make the mistake of trying to take him on with our own strength, he will defeat us.

Without getting into too much detail, this past month has been a tough one for us. We’ve had shouting matches and flaring tempers. We’ve had colds and headaches. There have been days when, for no apparent reason, I feel so useless that I don’t even want to leave the house, even if the day before I was serving the Lord faithfully.

Friends, as often as I express the importance of your prayers in our lives and ministry, I doubt I could ever overstate it. Your prayers are our lifeblood. The Lord hears them and He answers. Conversely, when the prayer coverage gets a bit thin, the enemy sometimes lands a punch and it doesn’t feel good. We don’t want to put all the responsibility for prayer on you because we are also responsible for praying over ourselves and our family, but what we lack in faithfulness, you make the difference.

I tell you this now because the rest of 2015 will be busy ones for our family and our ministry. When we get busy, we often forget to pray. It’s not an excuse; it’s just something we need to get better at prioritizing. But you can help us by praying for us. Pick a day, a time, and just give our family and ministry a few words of mention to God. It makes all the difference in the world to us.

Rikko Kai

Not far from our church is a Rikko Kai, a campus consisting of a large preschool and a dormitory for housing foreign students. Our pastor is the chaplain of the preschool and gives a weekly message to the children as well as a monthly message to the parents.

Though the organization drifted toward the secular over the years, Rikko Kai has a fascinating history as an organization founded by Japanese Christians over 100 years ago. Outside the building stand the busts of two prominent figures in Rikko Kai history; Pastor Hyodayu Shimanuki, who founded Rikko in 1897 under the slogan “Spiritual and Physical Salvation of the Japanese people.” and Mr. Shigeshi Nagata, who changed the vision of the school to train people in mainly agricultural skills in order to send them overseas to South American countries like Brazil and Peru. If you ever wondered how so many Japanese immigrants made it to South America, Rikko Kai was one of the organizations responsible for helping send them.

The Christian foundation of Rikko Kai can be seen in its logo which contains a cross and also in its name 力行 which translates roughly to “Go in power”.

The preschool is very large, almost 500 children. Part of the draw of Rikko is that they are a play-based preschool that is suitable for children of all kinds. Rather than the focused learning type of preschool that not every child is a good fit to attend, Rikko is a welcoming environment for children with special needs or learning disabilities.

In recent years, Rikko Kai had been losing touch with its Christian roots, but lately, there has been a resurgence in a desire to return to them. Bringing in our pastor as the school chaplain was a big part of that, but the staff and parents of the children have been asking for more Christian education and meetings that resemble church service. Our prayer is that Rikko remains a place where kids of all kinds can find the love and acceptance of Christ and that the staff and families of Rikko continue to grow in their desire for spiritual things.

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Experiencing The Power of Prayer

“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.

Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.”

~ Oswald Chambers

Yesterday, a complete stranger who had been receiving our newsletter wrote us an encouraging note and promised to pray everyday this month for our financial support goals to be met. At church yesterday, we talked to many others who committed to pray for our finances as well. Those messages in themselves were inspiring to us. But God quickly reminded us that prayer is not simply idle talk.

Today, I received a message that a single supporter has pledged 20% of our remaining financial needs. I was shocked, even stunned. But then I remembered the promises of those who said they would lift our needs in prayer and that shock was replaced by gratefulness and joy about how the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. The Bible speaks countless times about God’s “steadfast love and faithfulness”, yet when you experience it, you understand why. The Word simply points to the truth, that God is steadfast in His love and faithfulness to us.

I don’t want people to read this and come away with the idea that if we pray for stuff, God automatically gives it to us. There is certainly no Biblical basis for that assumption. Right now, we simply acknowledge that our financial situation is in God’s capable hands. We believe he wants us to go to Japan, and if he wants something, we believe he has no difficulty in making it happen. Our prayers are us saying, “We can do nothing more, but you, O God, can do everything.”

At every opportunity since we committed to going to Japan, God has provided beyond every expectation we had. We’re not there yet, but we are so thankful at how God gives us encouragement at each step in the process. Thank you for your prayers on our behalf; they are certainly being heard.

Sent By the Children

This past weekend our kids (with a little help the parents) shared with their peers about our coming adventure in Japan. It’s rewarding as a parent to hear your own children articulate the importance of sharing the gospel in another country, even at the significant cost of losing their social status at school, the chance to drive a car at 16, and going to Senior prom. As much as we try to teach them about the reasons we are leaving California for Tokyo, I can’t help but think their understanding comes from having wonderful teachers and examples at church who have nurtured a love and understanding of God in them for many years. We have been blessed by the men and women who have taken a personal interest in helping our children grow in faith.

The greatest blessing  was having the other children pray for us. It was moving to hear the simple, straightforward prayers from the mouths of these children and the childlike faith behind those words that gives God such pleasure. We look forward to being included in the prayers of these young prayer warriors from across the ocean.
We just passed the 6 week mark in our countdown to depart for our new adventure. Time is flying by right now with so many things left to do (or so it seems). Praying for the will and discipline to tackle the unpleasant tasks and enjoy the last few weeks of our time in California.
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