“If you really want to reach Japanese for Christ, you shouldn’t live in Japan.” Early on in our preparation for missionary service, I was told this rather shocking statement by a Japanese pastor in Chicago. I understood that he wasn’t trying to discourage me from mission service as much as he was trying to encourage me to open eyes for the Japanese mission field locally. There is a greater harvest work that God is doing in Japanese lives abroad that goes largely unnoticed.
In this postwar generation, God has mercifully blessed Japan with great economic wealth. This wealth has empowered many Japanese to be able to work, study, travel, or live overseas. And with advances in technology, communication and transportation, never before in Japan’s history have SO MANY been able to experience life firsthand outside their country. In North America alone, nearly 500,000 Japanese live temporarily. Every year nearly 300,000 move away or return to Japan. In my heart, I wonder why God chooses to enable and move so many Japanese overseas? I have come to believe it is his plan for the harvest of Japan for this generation! God knows that Japanese are less inclined to welcome the gospel message while in their own country. There are many cultural, social, historical and spiritual reasons for this. But when a Japanese goes abroad, they are away from many of those reasons. Living outside Japan, they are able to reflect on their life in Japan more clearly. Many come to the conclusion that there is something more out there, more to life. They come across the strong religious faith of foreigners who befriend them. They are welcomed into a church that cares for them. And many embrace this faith and receive Christ as Savior. In fact, JCFN, an organization in Japan that works with returnees, states that a Japanese is 30 times more likely to accept Christ overseas, than while in Japan. A great harvest of Japanese is occurring overseas! But how well are we welcoming this harvest back home? This is a critical issue for the church in Japan in this era of globalization.
In February and March I had an opportunity to see both sides of the issue. In February I attended the annual Reaching Japanese for Christ (RJC) conference in Seattle. Here, 150 people, organizations and missionaries that work with Japanese in North America, gathered. Many see frequent decisions for Christ and work hard to prepare these new believers for life and faith back to Japan. In March I attended the All Nations Conference in Saitama. Here, many organizations and churches that welcome home returnees, and many returnees gathered, more than 500 altogether. The common reports I heard at these conferences was this: unfortunately, not all returnees feel welcomed or understood by the Japanese church. Many churches don’t know how to accept these slightly different Japanese new believers. Many new returnee believers, in the middle of re-entry shock and adjustment, don’t know how to blend themselves into an unfamiliar Japanese church culture. The result is that many returnees feel rejected, become discouraged, and turn away from the church. A great harvest is lost!
Our church plant, Denen Grace Chapel, is 8 years old this spring. We began with 6 individuals that had the shared the experience of living abroad, and then return to Japan. Over the years God has sent us others that have been saved or lived abroad. This past January, we called a Japanese pastor. Kondo Izumi sensei and his wife, Mikiko, also have an experience of living and serving abroad many years, and then returning to Japan recently. Together with them, we have a vision as missionaries, and as a church to intentionally tap into this great harvest work of God in the lives of his precious Japanese. We want to be a receiving church that understands thoroughly the issues returnees face, how we can welcome, and grow them up in their new faith. How about yourself? Let’s pray that we can be churches and people that better welcome home the harvest.