"We Sent Soldiers" - Gospel Ministry To and In Japan
“We sent soldiers, to invade; but you send missionaries, to love”. From the lips of a gentle and humble Japanese pastor to a surprised Australian Presbyterian minister … this unexpected admission got my attention.
Although almost all those who took up arms against us in that dreadful conflict of WW2 have passed away, they haven’t forgotten. It’s more a Japanese trait than Australian, but a national corporate memory of shame comes to the surface every now and again, and my friend’s comment to me reflects just that. It’s noted with deep gratitude that we have returned to Japan with love in our hearts. It’s seen as a sign of God’s grace that we are so committed to them. And, it’s true, the Presbyterian Church of Australia loves the church in Japan, and through the faithful interpreting service of Tomoko Stewart I was able to convey that to 150 ministers and elders meeting in General Assembly in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Fifty years ago, although we had dozens of workers in places such as New Hebrides (25), Korea (12), India, Indonesia, Papua and Thailand, there were no PCA missionaries in Japan. I searched for any mention of “Japan” in our official church records (GAA Blue Books), and we have to trace back 70 years to read of any PCA work in Japan – but that was when we sent Defence Force chaplains to serve as part of the occupying force (BCOF) serving our own post-war troops who were stationed there. With accounts of war-time atrocities fresh in mind, I don’t think our church had much thought of loving the Japanese to win them for Christ.
But today, there’s a surprising work of God’s grace in Japan, and Presbyterians are at the leading edge of it.
Overall, the number of evangelical Christians (for this purpose, excluding Catholics) does not even make 0.5 % of the population. Out of this, the Presbyterian Church in Japan (PCJ) consists of 6 presbyteries, 70 churches, 65 ministers and a total of between 3 and 4 thousand worshippers.
“Who despises that day of small things?” asks the Lord (Zechariah 4). Not the PCJ. Consider these works of faith:
Is a 15-member church viable? What about Osaka Christian Church – where two of our APWM missionaries (Nathan and Tomoko) are embedded? Here’s a congregation of barely 15 members who work hard at establishing friends in the community, building long-term relationships and demonstrating community. Though their pastor is retiring early next year, they have, in faith, called a new pastor to lead them. Viable? I fear we’d have closed this church years ago. But there’s the sweet work of grace at work. Souls have been converted. The congregation is reaching out. This is what “works” in churches in Japan: food, relationship and speaking the Gospel.
What about 0 members – is that still a church? I’m guessing that we would have pulled the trigger on Kashiba Grace Church (Nara prefecture) – where a Korean pastor and his wife serve. There are no members. They’ve served for three years without obvious results. But they devote themselves to the Lord’s ministry in the community and in their home. With no Sunday worship services yet, they give themselves to love, food and hospitality ministries such as Sunday afternoon children’s craft, monthly café invites, Korean language class, Christmas celebrations, Easter in the park, children’s camps away from the city and a Thursday Bible study to which often no one comes. Relationship building is the key: offering food, green tea and love.
A 32-year Presbyterian American missionary tells of wanting to quit and go home several times, especially after four years of hard work without even a single convert. But now, in the Honda (Chubu) region there is a thriving congregation that’s already planted two other churches and has a community bi-lingual Christian school on site. The pastor did think of going home several times, but now the work has flourished.
A university campus ministry (very much like our AFES ministry) where the ratio is 1 worker to 20 universities. We’d be exhausted by this and wondering how to keep going.
My observation is that it’s especially difficult for the Japanese to warm to Christian faith. I don’t think that the Japanese are particularly religious. So, it’s not that worshipping Christ is an insult, to be resisted at all costs, as it is in religious Thailand or India, rather, I think it’s seen as primarily a Westerner’s religion – one that has not even the remotest connection to them.
The Japanese believe in a large pantheon of spiritual beings such as spirits, ghosts of dead ancestors, power within inanimate objects and impersonal forces such as fate that controls their lives.
In a community where you are defined by your group and by pride in success of the group, it’s no wonder that the Japanese do not readily warm to Christianity. I heard that the Japanese are taught from day one to conform, to obey and to suppress thoughts of individual rights, and even to sacrifice one’s own advancement for the good of the whole.
So, we rejoice that there IS nearly 0.5 % of the population claiming to be born again in faith in Christ Jesus. This is a miracle of God’s grace. And we rejoice over the 65 Presbyterian churches that are in partnership with us. Let’s be encouraged by this – the PCJ is well worthy of support by all of us in the PCA.
Are the Japanese the largest unreached nation of the world? Join in prayer for this great nation. Love Japan by sending and supporting gospel workers and church planters. Join with us in that oft-repeated prayer: “Lord, may the people of the land of the rising sun come to know and love the risen Son.”
And for all of us who serve the Lord here, remember what we can learn from our Japanese friends who plant churches through food, relationship and speaking the gospel.