Japan

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The Gospel first entered Japan through a Portuguese Catholic missionary, Francis Xavier, in 1549. After fifty years, the leaders of Japan decided to wipe out this “dangerous ideology” which was embraced by over 10,000 Japanese believers. Stephen Neill writes:“Every kind of cruelty was practiced on the pitiable victims of the persecution. Crucifixion was the method usually employed in the case of Japanese Christians; on one occasion seventy Japanese at Yedo were crucified upside down at low water, and were drowned as the tide came in. For Europeans, the penalty was generally burning alive,” (A History of Christian Missions, p. 137). It was one of the most decisive and complete eradication of Christianity in history.  Since then, Japan was literally closed to Christianity and any foreign influence for the next two centuries. The Gospel re-entered Japan when she opened her doors to the Western countries in the nineteenth century but 150 years later, it still remains as a spiritual wasteland.  

Japan is a country of 127 million people with less than 1% of its population calling on the name of the Lord. While it is one of the most economically prosperous countries, it is among the poorest in spirituality after the collapse of its traditional religion, Shintoism, in the wake of WWII. Although the majority of Japanese people prescribe to the views of Buddhism and Confucianism, most of them are oblivious to the need of a spiritual life. Materialism in a moral and spiritual vacuum not only thrives but also continues to undermine the moral foundation of the traditional Japanese society. This is one of the reasons for the successes some cults have had in the recent years, capturing the hearts of the professionals. The rise of prostitution and gruesome violence among teenagers, breakdown of families, aging population, and politico-economic instability are some of the serious problems facing the country today. 

Moreover, the existing Japanese churches face great challenges from within and without. The average size of the Japanese churches has remained around 30. The increasing number of aging pastors, the shortage of young leaders, disunity within churches, and the absence of men and young people in the churches threaten their effectiveness and survival.

Please visit the following link for more information on spiritual and sociological needs in Japan: http://www.asianaccess.org/profiles/japan.html

VISION & STRATEGY

The traditional missions approach in Japan has been single team of missionaries going into an unchurched area and planting a church. After the missionary establishes a viable church, then he looks for a native Japanese pastor who will eventually take his place. While it has been difficult enough to find a Japanese pastor, it is also challenging for the church to go through the leadership transition. People who were attracted to the church initially due to the leadership of the foreign missionary have to deal with the new leadership style. Many churches often lose a significant number of members through this process or even end up closing their door. During my 7 months stay in Japan, two of my former Japanese students whom I had the privilege of leading to Christ were plugged into the church I was serving where the pastor was a foreign missionary. Two years after I returned to US,  he had to return to his home country but they could not find a Japanese pastor to takeover so the church eneded up closing its doors and the two new converts left the church altogether. It was sad to hear the news.

Asian Access has been employing a different strategy for the last 10 years that avoids this kind of leadership transition challenges from the start. They initially approach 3 or more existing Japanese pastors who are visionary leaders to form a network of support in order to plant a new church in an unchurched area. As they start to pray together and plan to plant a new church, they ask the pastors if there is any one at their church who have the potential to become the pastor of the new church. Asian Access, then provides the missionary to act as the partner to evangelize, disciple, train, and develop leaders for the new church. So right from the start, the new members and the pastor know that the missionaries are there for only 3 years and that they must plan to maintain a viable core group of member to form a church. This strategy has proved itself to be very effective resulting in planting close to 40 new churches throughout Japan.

With the language and cultural training that I was able to receive in US working for the Japanese companies, I should be able to hit the ground running as soon as we are in Japan. We hope to reach out to the college students and young professionals. The church needs a new generation of leaders. We must reach out through English, music, and other common grounds to attract them to authentic relationship with Christ.

One of the greatest challenges is to help the Japanese to see that Christianity is not a Western religion. In the past several times I’ve shared with Japanese friends, they all rejected the Gospel because they identified Christianity as being Western. We must help them to see that Christ is the Lord of all nations and not just Western countries. In fact, the majority of Christians are found more in Asia and South America than Europe and North America. Jesus is not a tribal God but the Lord of all nations.

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