These past weeks have brought a host of activity outside my office window. Through the summer, I have often looked out into the fields from my office window to watch the bright green rice plants wave in the wind. Soon, the stalks began to bend downward with the weight of the heavy white grains. Finally, farmers while enlisting the help of family and friends (and anyone else who was willing) began to quickly harvest their precious crop lest it spoil.
While watching the harvesters collect their crops, the memorable words of Jesus about another kind of harvest come to mind. “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. – John 4:35 Then [Jesus] said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” – Matthew 9:37-38 (Similar verse in Luke 10:2)
So, it raising the question: is there a “harvest field” in Japan? To be honest, at one time, I might have said no. I really couldn’t see the need for missionaries in such a productive, industrialized nation like Japan. In fact Japan is filled with all the modern conveniences and necessities (running water, electricity, hospitals, etc), literacy is about 99%, and most folks are employed; it’s a pretty nice place to live actually. However, out of the over 126 million people in Japan less than 1% would even label themselves “Christian”. Of that small group, it’s said that only about 268,000 people actually attend a church regularly were the gospel is preached. That means that for every 1,000 people in Japan, maybe two might be healthy, effective Christians.
Based on data from the original Joshua Project List which provided the demographics of the 10/40 Window, Japan\’s four largest population centers or “megacities” are ranks in the top 50 “Least Evangelized Megacities” in the 10/40 Window (Tokyo-Yokohama area ranked first; Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto area ranked 13th). However, Buddhism and Shinto don’t seem to be meeting the spiritual needs of Japan. Although many still participate in the same idolatrous practices taught for generations, it seems the typical Japanese tends to label themselves as “nonreligious.” So although Japan is a highly industrialized and modern society and is one of the few 10/40 countries still open to missionaries, today 2,300 Japanese people will die without the Lord.
So why are there so few Christians in Japan? One reason could be the various social and spiritual barriers a Japanese faces to become a Christian in Japan. One formidable barrier seems to be the extreme pressure on the individual from the homogeneous Japanese culture to conform to the society around them. Another is that Shintoism (belief that non-living objects have spirits), Buddhism, and evolutionary dogma are ever present in all forms of the society (education, media, and even entertainment) hamper many from even considering the existence of the Creator God. Also in the past fifty years, many Japanese appear to have become disillusioned and even skeptical of any established religion and have turned instead to the emptiness of materialism and the obsession for financial success. In the light of all these barriers, the unique claims of Jesus (whom being one with the Father came in human form to be our sin substitute because there is no good deed we can do to earn a place in heaven) is, at times, labeled as “foreign,” “weak,” and “narrow-minded.” This is especially true when discussing God’s Word about avoiding sins like: idolatry, sexual immorality, and the love of money.
Although it is said that few Japanese are lacking physical needs, with the economic bubble burst in the 1990’s there are now in Japan greater sociological needs (as well as spiritual needs). Often the news reports that Japan is now experiencing a top heavy aging population, increasing middle-age burnout among businessmen, growing family instability, and a shocking collapse of the youth culture; to name a few. Of course, as a believer, I see Japanese greatest need is a relationship with the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. So why aren’t Japanese running to Christ in the midst of such a crisis? Thankfully, a precious few have. However, many have never even heard that there is a God who is willing and waiting to save them and heal their land.
Romans 10, verse 14 and 15 says “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS …!'”
In October 1945 after seeing firsthand the great need for social reconstruction in post-war Japan, General Douglas MacArthur as the commander of the U.S. occupation of Japan made an impassioned appeal for “10,000 American missionaries” to come to Japan with the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreement to provide support for the missionaries. However, it seems clear that the American church struggled to see Japanese no longer as an enemy but as a crushed people who were in desperate need of the Gospel. Eight years after MacArthur’s plea, only about 1,500 missionaries had answered the call.
Sadly, although there is now no longer any apparent animosity, even today there are still few workers here. The book Operation Japan: Edition 2000 tallied only 2,362 Christian workers nation-wide to minister to over 126 million people. That means, on average, every Christian worker is responsible to minister to 53,375 people (That’s about the population of Monroe, LA). Compare this to America, where every full time Christian worker ministers to only about 235 people on average⁽¹⁾. Also because of the high cost of living, there are a number of Christian workers who are not here as a fully supported workers but tent-making missionaries (like myself) with sometimes rather demanding jobs. Needless to say, workers for the harvest are still greatly needed.
Just as the farmers harvest their precious rice crop, the workers that are here in Japan have been in the field harvesting for God\’s Kingdom. For example, some are providing for the Japanese people’s felt need for bilingual education (like at KIU Academy). Other avenues for comradeship and conversation are through the English clubs and a weekly coffeehouse. In doing so, we are also providing those who attend with the good news of Jesus Christ.
On a personal note: through prayer and God’s goodness, we are beginning to see a group of young men join on a somewhat regular basis. Many come because they feel a sense of belonging and friendship here and are beginning to sense an yet unspoken need in they lives. Even through my lack of Japanese and their lack of English, we are able to communicate on a very basic level (although I long to talk to them without such barriers). I praise God for these opportunities.
What can you do to help?
First, please pray …
- Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest field in Japan.
- Pray that God will raise up teams of intercessors with a God-granted burden to labor in prayer these precious people.
- Ask the Lord who owns cattle on thousand hills to provide for the workers in Japan so that they can focus more on Kingdom work.
- Pray that Christians here will have open doors to share the Gospel with the Japanese and that the Gospel will effectively go forth and reach the Japanese in all manners; (personal evangelism, Christian literature, Christian broadcasting, etc)
- Pray that God would prepare the hearts of the Japanese with good soil so that they will be receptive to the Gospel and that the Japanese people could get a clear vision of our Creator God and their need for a Savior.
- Pray that Japanese believers (many young in Christ) will be greatly built up in their faith and to withstand the strong attack of the Enemy and the pagan culture around them and will have opportunities to share the love of Jesus with their families and friends.
- Pray in Jesus Name against the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Japanese bound.
- Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Japanese and that there would be unity in the church but without a loss of biblical integrity.
- Please pray for the beginnings of a young men\’s outreach here in Kyoto and for the men who are now coming to know about Jesus.
- And for me personally, please pray that God will continue to use and guide me in His Ways and greatly increase my ability in Japanese.
Ask the Lord how else you can personally help…
- Are you being called to join the workers here in the harvest fields of Japan?
- Are you to help in a short-term mission?
- Is God burdening you to pray and intercede for these precious people on a regular basis?
Thank you always for your prayers and encouragement.
With much love in Christ,
- Information taken from International Bulletin Of Missionary Research, January 2000 (Volume 24) “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission: 2000”, David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, p. 25