Rambling Notes from Japan
Here are some blog posts that we hope will make you feel a part of things, and help you understand how to pray better for us and Japan. Please see our external blog in Blogger, if this page does not display correctly.
Now is the Time
"How are things going in Japan since 311?" Glad you asked. While the physical recovery is still a long way off, the spiritual harvest is here now. A missionary colleague put this video together of interviews from our church association pastors in the north. As you can see, the kingdom of God grows VERY slowly in Japan. In fact, the Christian population here actually shrank the last few years due to deaths and low conversion rate. But...
Now is the time for a great spiritual ingathering of Japanese. As Pastor Kishinami shares in the video, seven or eight out of ten people will respond positively to the gospel message when shared. Five out of every ten will trust Christ. This spiritual window will not remain open forever. And the Christian workers in the north are so few and overworked. Northern Japan's greatest need right now is more Christian workers. Please "ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Luke 10:2).
Jesus Buried in Japan?
There is much more to this silly story if you google for it and can bear the details. One such detail is that the Jewish star takes it shape from a five-point flower that grows wild on the hills of Shingo. The grave attraction even has a small museum where some Hebrew and Japanese artifacts, writings and records are displayed. There is also an annual festival in June that centers around the grave and features traditional Japanese dance.
When I first heard this story of Jesus' grave in Shingo, Japan my initial reactions moved from surprise to outrage to sadness and back again. As a Christian, it outrages me to see legends sprinkled with twisted ideas about my Savior take the place of God's revealed truth in Scripture. As a missionary, it saddens me that Japan has put Jesus in the grave. In many ways it is symptomatic of the historic response of Japan to Jesus. Christ is dead to them. Ninety-nine percent of Japanese have no hope of a living Savior that offers strength for life, and life eternal. They have stopped at Good Friday and left Jesus in the grave as a nation. Lest we be too judgmental, though, let's remember that we also can live as believers as if Christ were dead. Although He is alive forevermore, we can live as if he is dead in our lives. We can forget his resurrection power to transform us, his resurrection promise to secure our future, and his resurrection strength to guide and carry us. We, too, can get stuck at the grave and never move forward to the empty tomb.
It's the empty tomb that encourages me to a more optimistic missiological outlook for Japan. Because He lives, there is hope for this people. Japan can move toward the empty tomb and experience the real Easter joy God desires. God is doing that one by one today. Perhaps He will do so in greater numbers tomorrow.
So even though the Shingo Village seems to have exploited the cross and Christ for personal gain, I see in their foolishness one positive note. In some way these Japanese are trying to make a connection with Jesus, trying to understand His story through their own. As gut-wrenching as their attempt is, it gives some place to start with what the Bible has to say. Perhaps the Apostle Paul's Mars Hill address to the Athenians (Acts 17) is a fitting example of how to lead them to truth from there.
Because Christ is risen, we move forward in declaring his message in Japan. By faith, I see Shingo, and the nation of Japan, celebrating not around the grave of Christ, but at the great message of the empty tomb. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
150 Years Later
Altogether around 14,000 believers attended the Protestant Missions 150th events and memorial over the two-day celebration in Yokohama. I wish the first missionaries could have seen the fruit of their work many years later! B&W photos of the 50th anniversary event show mostly foreigners and some Japanese believers gathered at a YMCA. Photos of the 100th anniversary event show a massive group of new post-war Japanese believers gathered in local stadium. And now the 150th events show even more growth.
Still, the fruit is hard to come by in Japan. Japanese pastors speaking at the event unanimously expressed disappointment that 150 years later, still less than 1% of Japanese are believers. They had hoped Japan would have been more responsive given so much time. One pastor mounted the platform and jokingly said "I think perhaps God must prefer kimchi to Japanese food." God has indeed poured out his Holy Spirit on Japan's neighbor of Korea and grown the church there in numbers and ways that Japanese believers could only dream of. "When will this kind of revival come to Japan? We have been waiting these 150 years. Lord, we are ready for it." cried another pastor in prayer.
In explaining the disparity of the way the church has grown in Korea and Japan, one pastor explained the difference to me this way: "Japanese care too much about what other people think. Koreans don't." I've seen this truth borne out in our church planting work. Time and again what others think makes a powerful difference in whether a curious Japanese will enter a church, or make a decision for Christ. And if they are able to overcome this and make a decision, what others think plays a role in whether they choose to be baptized. And after baptism, what others think affects how they grow in their faith. But I digress...
I was encouraged that the Japanese pastors and speakers at the event also unanimously expressed faith that God was and is carefully preparing a powerful foundation upon which he will build a great revival. "He has not discarded us!" singer and songwriter Chu Kosaka said. "He is SURELY at work in our hearts." The church in Japan received a great call and challenge for the next 50 years ahead. Let's expect that revival!