Is God sowing seeds for revival in Japan?

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Japanese ChristiansBy Michael Ashcraft and Mark Ellis

With less than 1% of the nation Christian, Japan has been called the “missionaries’ graveyard.” In Africa missionaries died from exotic diseases, but in Japan Christian workers often face burn-out and leave with very few conversions after major commitments of time and money.

Yet many missionaries have hope that recent events bode well for revival.

“The Japanese are not antagonistic toward the gospel at all,” said Gary Case, pastor of the Potter’s House Church in Tokyo. “If anything, they seem mildly avoidant and politely skittish.”

For months, Case met with Mr. N., an atheist retiree who attended his church to learn about being a better person. The two studied the Bible together over coffee, discussing God, Jesus and salvation until Mr. N. finally accepted Jesus as his personal Savior and Lord.

The church of Jack Garrot.
The church of Jack Garrot.

Japan is one the most secularized nations in the world, according to a World Values Survey. Because loyalty is one of their core values, Japanese see leaving their traditional Buddhism and Shintoism as a family betrayal. The average church has only 30 members. A brief revival after World War II netted significant converts, but many of those are graying, and some of the churches left behind are dwindling.

The Japanese wear crosses as a fashion statement but have no idea what the cross signifies. They celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus and gift giving but ignore completely the story of Christ’s birth.

Amid the bad news, many see cause of hope. Japanese Christian leaders point to the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant meltdown of 2011 as a time that began to soften the self-reliant Japanese character and open the Japanese to the need for the gospel.

“There’s a sense of hopelessness for the future. You can see it in their faces,” said Stephen Matsumura, pastor of the Mizuba Community Church, in a Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade video. “There’s a high suicide rate here in Japan – issues of loneliness and isolation – which is a huge indicator of a bigger need.”

Christianity in JapanIf natural disaster brought greater openness, so too is gospel music. The 1992 movie Sister Act starring Whoopi Goldberg popularized the musical genre. Since then, there have been workshops and gospel choirs formed, attracting non-Christians. In 2011, CBN reported that some 50 churches had formed gospel choirs.

“It opened the church to the community,” said Pastor Masahiro Okita. “And it’s a very unique ministry because the target of the outreach are the choir members themselves.”

In the 15th Century, Portuguese traders brought priests, based in the port of Nagasaki. These Catholic Christians won converts but eventually were expelled by the ruling class who reverted to isolationism. Many converts became “hidden Christians” and worship Christ in their hearts while at the Buddhist temples. They passed their faith on to their children, a UCAnews video on YouTube reveals.

Some 40,000 Christians who failed to hide their faith were boiled to death in many of the nation’s scalding thermal mudpots, the video says.

Tokyo
The Tokyo skyline.

Jack Garrott’s dad was part of the missionary movement in 1930s and 40s, landing in Fukuoka, Japan. In 1981, he returned to Japan as a missionary himself in Omura, Nagasaki.

“I am told that the number of committed Christians is growing, but that appears to be in metropolitan centers, where people are perhaps more loosened from their traditional roots,” Garrott said. “There are growing, vibrant churches in major metropolitan areas like Tokyo and Osaka, but they are virtually nonexistent in the ‘boonies,’ which could be described as the ‘soul’ of Japan.”

For Mayumi Veda, learning to believe in the supernatural did not come easily.

“Before I became a Christian, I had fear and anxiety,” Veda said in a YouTube video testimony. “In Japan some people think it’s not good to rely on something, to believe in something. But I think we need to believe in Jesus. Now I have hope and peace in my heart and mind. I want to tell the gospel.”

jack garrot baptism
Pastor Jack Garrott baptizes.

Eriko Suzuki was born to a Buddhist temple priest but became burned out on the pressure to live an exemplary life. “In Buddhist thought, salvation is achieved more through your own power,” Suzuki said in a YouTube video. “That’s a really tiring way of living.”

As a high school student, she enrolled in a Christian high school in Canada and became intrigued by happy believers and worship music. In one service, her friends asked her if she wanted to receive Jesus.

“If I said yes, I understood I would betray my family,” Suzuki said. “At that moment I understood that God had drawn close to me. My heart had changed, and I wanted to believe in Jesus. This Jesus who loves me as I am is what I’d been searching for.”

21 COMMENTS

  1. We spent two years as missionaries in Japan, 1983-85. We returned for a three week visit this past May. I agree completely that Japan is more open to the gospel now. The church we served at in Nagoya, Japan 30 years ago now has five services on Sunday and is looking to add a sixth service to accommodate the growing numbers. Pray for a great in gathering. The wind of the Spirit is blowing.

  2. Great to hear about what God has begun to accomplish in Japan through His committed servant by the power of the Spirit. We’ll keep praying for Japan. Please pray also for the lost souls in Myanmar.

  3. My daughter took 2 college semesters in Tokyo, Japan. She is now back home in TN. Two girls she met there (one from Japan, they other from France) came here for the week of Christmas. I bought both girls a Bible with their name’s on the cover. The girl Pauline from France knew of the Bible. The girl Ai from Japan had no idea what the Bible was. I tried to explain about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. She said she never heard about anything I was talking about. Wow! I was shocked. Please pray along with me that God reveals Himself to Ai. Also, Pauline said she first heard who God was when she was around 13. So again I pray that God will reveal Himself to Pauline also.

  4. Good subject to the article, but as a missionary to Japan I would like to see better research done than You Tube videos. This is a huge topic, with many informed sources available both in print and in person.

  5. Mercy,love,peace and gracebe with you and yours in a bundancy.We are independent Christian Fellowship Church in Kenya with no a ffiliation to any Church and without good ground in Jesus’name.We would love to preach good news of Jesus Christ to the broken hearted,poor and the captives to God’s Kingdom.Therefore we need good ground of Lord’s business serving Him and saving the lost.Please send us some Christian books to use them for teaching God’s people help us some Bibles .We look forward to hear from you soon.

    God bless you.

    Holace

  6. For f___ sake! Leave the people to follow what the heck they wish to believe in! None of you have no right to tell anybody what they believe is wrong! God this is why i hate die hard christians…..

    • They aren’t holding a gun to their heads? Leave us to do what we will with our faith. Who says a Christian can’t go to Japan and share faith if there are Japanese who find a sense of purpose in it. You have to accept Jesus in your own heart to be saved. It can’t be forced, therefore, your argument is just biased because you for whatever reason despise Jesus and feel the need to search out Christian articles like this and insert your opinion. This desire you feel to fight against Christianity is only self destructive, Jesus is the only path to true freedom, and He loves you even if you don’t feel the same.

    • Random BS..People have the right to believe and share what they believe…just as u have right to disbelieve or unbelieve..whatever you dont want to believe…

  7. Random realist, we have a duty to see souls saved and in heaven, because God changed us and we know the truth of Jesus Christ. If you really got saved, you would be doing what we’re doing, without a doubt.

  8. Trying to incite civil war in another peaceful country by abusing the emotionally weak by converting them to a middle Eastern desert cult by trickery and cheating……
    Good job!!

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