Reflecting on 3/11 – Hope for Japan

 

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.

Nihon no Koto: Memories of Mishima

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Last week, a little package and letter was delivered to us by someone from our church. When we opened it, we found a cute surprise: two little buttons in ths shape of mushrooms and several handmade bookmarks! But the biggest surprise of all was the letter.

It turned out these little gifts were sent by a woman we met over 3 years ago in Japan. We had visited her church in Mishima, in Shikoku prefecture about an hour south of Mt. Fuji. Her and her husband graciously hosted us in their home overnight.  She was the only Christian in her family. That evening, she invited her daughter and son-in-law over for dinner and before we ate, she prayed for the meal. We didn’t think anything of it until later, when she told us that she had NEVER prayed in front of her family before, but because we were there, she was given the strength and confidence to do so. It was a real blessing for us to know that just through our presence, she was able to witness to her family for the first time.

Also on this trip, we met a woman who had a daughter with special needs. Because my wife and one of our other team members were Special Ed teachers, they were able to make a little conversation with the girl, who was clearly very shy and not used to being spoken to by strangers. But after a while, she began to respond with smiles and a few signs (she didn’t speak). Before we left, her mother expressed great thanks for the kindness my wife and our team member had for her daughter. Nobody had ever included her in a conversation before.

These little gifts brought Mishima back to my heart. There are so many places where the love of Jesus is needed in Japan. But even if we can’t physically reach them all, our prayers can reach them, even right now.

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Japan Update – Another Giant Leap Toward Tokyo

Jayne completed her interview with CAJ yesterday afternoon and apparently all went well. She received a contract offer a couple hours later. Thank you for lifting her up in prayer; she had a great conversation with the administrators she would be working with and there is mutual excitement about working together in the future.

So the rest is now on us. I have started contacting missions chairpeople from churches we feel would be a good fit for partnership, churches who already have a heart for the Japanese and we have a personal relationship with. It’s scary to think we have to raise our full support in less than eight months, but we are confident if God has brought us this far in this short amount of time, financial and prayer support are not going to be a major barrier for Him.

The Japan FAQ: How Do You Prepare for Japan?

With about nine months to prepare for our move to Japan, it still seems a bit far off. The truth is that moving from a place we’ve now called home for over ten years to a place where we technically haven’t visited yet (the neighborhood we’ll try to find a home in, at least) is a bit daunting. So how do we go about preparing to move to Japan.

I’ll skip the logistics. Obviously, there are the boring details of paring down our material goods and separating our worldly belongings into categories: Keep in the house, put in storage, sell/give away, and trash. I don’t think we need to go down into that darkness.

In a more holistic sense of preparation, how are we going about preparing for Japan?

Getting familiar with the language. Notice this is not getting FLUENT with the language. I’ve been studying Japanese off and on for over a decade and a decade from now, I doubt I’ll still be able to claim fluency in the Japanese language. But gaining a familiarity with the language, by using it at least a few times a day in reading, writing or speaking helps get the rusty wheels of language acquisition turning again. Right now, I’ve committed to 30 minutes a day of language study in Rosetta Stone.  I also intend to start attending our Japanese service once in a while so I can get familiar with Christian terms in Japanese, something no language school is going to teach me. Again, it’s not about fluency, but just about getting used to seeing, hearing and speaking Japanese.

Learning the culture. As a frequent visitor to Japan, I know in the broadest strokes the uniqueness of Japanese culture. However, if you’re trying to figure out how to address the deepest needs of a people, a surface level understanding of culture isn’t going to be nearly enough. This past year, one of my Perspectives instructors clued me to a paper written for the Lausanne Conference entitled “Exegesis of the City” by Glenn Smith. The word Exegesis means an exposition or explanation, but in the context of the city, it is the study of various aspects of a city to discover the entire culture and subcultures that contribute to making the city what it is and determining how to address the real spiritual needs of the city. There are 20 steps in the exegesis of a city including, to name a few: studying significant historical events and how they shaped the city, understanding the different zones of a city and their locations relative to one another (financial, industrial, ghettos, blue collar neighborhoods, etc.), power centers and people of influence,  how communication and information flows,  and analysis of currently existing churches and church strategies, especially among successful, high growth churches.

In this area, I’ve purchased a collection of non-fiction work about Tokyo, ranging from pure historical works to what do Tokyoites like to eat and what neighborhoods do they eat in (I have some ulterior motives for discovering that, of course). I am also researching the locations and basic information about the current growing evangelical churches in the city, in hopes of arranging interviews with pastors or other leaders when we arrive. Of course, much of the research required for properly studying a city must be done in person over a considerable length of time. I think my exegesis of the Tokyo metropolis will continue as long as we are living there.

Praying for Japan. I find it’s important to pray for Japan even more now than ever. The tendency for me is to selfishly pray through my own needs and insecurities about our situation, but it should already be clear to us that if God wants us in Japan, He’s going to bulldoze the path for us (or plant the little flowers along the road, however you prefer to see it). We’re  going to be serving the people of Japan for a long time, so we might as well get into the habit by starting now. There are about a zillion things we can pray for Japan about: suicide, broken families, nuclear disaster, but my focus is on one thing that God has set my mind on: hopelessness. There is HOPE for Japan; his name is Jesus. This is what I believe and why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Today, would you join me, if only for a minute or two, in praying for the people of Japan? Christian, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, whatever you are, God hears a sincere prayer of faith. Pray that HOPE comes to the people of Japan in the form of something worth believing in.