Japan is known by many to be a difficult mission field. But for those who know missions in Japan well, the phrase “hard mission field” is merely a euphemism for a grimmer expression that was previously used about Africa, one that has been recently applied to Japan: “the missionary’s graveyard.” One would expect such a bleak designation to be used in reference to a land known for physical hardship or violent persecution, and there have been martyrs in Japan’s Christian history. That is not the case today, however. Religious worker visas are readily available, and the Japanese often politely thank missionaries for coming to their country.
This missionary graveyard reputation does not result from missionary deaths; rather, it results from the death of missionary careers. Serving for years amid great spiritual oppression with little to no apparent spiritual fruit has led numerous missionaries and entire agencies to abandon Japan or transfer the work to another field. Supporting churches and sending agencies have often discouraged missionaries from pursuing ministry in Japan. The words of one recruiter for another mission field summarize the thoughts of many: “Japan had its chance.”
Meanwhile, Japan is more spiritually needy than ever. Remarkably high suicide and depression rates attest to the inward longings and deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. The people long for refuge from earthquakes and nuclear catastrophe and desire rescue from rampant bullying and sexual exploitation.
What does it look like just before an unreached people group becomes reached?
What does it look like in the moments preceding a movement of large-scale renewal generated by God’s Spirit?
Could God do the great work he has planned for Japan in our time even after so many have given up hope?
As missionaries in Japan, these are the kinds of questions we are asking today with mustard seed-sized faith and steadfast hope in our great God. We have already witnessed a glorious revival in South Korea, and we are currently tracking it in China. Why do we not expect to see it in Japan? Surely the great multitude of Revelation 7 will include many Japanese worshiping and joining the chorus, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!”
Throughout the country we hear more and more testimonies of responsiveness to the gospel. Many mission teams and local churches throughout Japan attest to a greater openness to hear and quickness to respond among the Japanese than has been seen since the end of World War II.
God at Work in Japan
The ministry continues to be difficult, but we are seeing a wonderful season of fruit-bearing in Japan. That is also true within our own ministry, Christ Bible Institute (CBI), Japan. Our seminary has more than tripled in size over the past five years with many of our students being first-generation believers. We have the glorious privilege of seeing young men and women join investigative Bible studies and pray to receive Christ in the Heart & Soul Café, a safe space for young people in our building. We are now making preparations to send out young men to plant churches in our city of Nagoya and in the almost entirely unchurched prefecture of Toyama with hopes for other locations in the future. To bolster this movement, a new generation of missionaries from churches around the world is beginning to join the work in Japan. God is at work in Japan, and we have reason for great hope.
One of the most encouraging signs of renewal is a three-day conference called Love Japan, set for October 11 to 13 to unfold simultaneously in Japan’s three most prominent metropolitan areas—Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. The purpose of the conference is to celebrate and proclaim the glorious love of God for the Japanese people. Love Japan will introduce the preaching and teaching ministries of John Piper and Don Carson and, in conjunction with this event, CBI has partnered with TGC International Outreach to translate and give away 2,000 copies of Piper’s The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Attendees will also hear the gospel preached by Japanese, Korean, and Chinese pastors paired up with Piper, Carson, and Michael Oh.
As this event draws near, we ask that you would join us in praying for Love Japan and for the Japanese people. Pray that God will open a window of opportunity for the Word to be proclaimed to many who might otherwise never hear it. And pray for the day to come soon when Japan will no longer be known as “the missionary graveyard” but as “the missionary springboard to the world.”