Rambling Notes from Japan
Here are some blog posts that we hope will make you feel a part of things, and help you understand how to pray better for us and Japan. Please see our external blog in Blogger, if this page does not display correctly.
Returnees in Kanagawa (RIK)
AND, we expect the need for RIK will grow. With the sharp, sustained increase in yen will come come increasing globalization of Japan's workforce. The Japanese diaspora will surely grow in the years to come, and so will the opportunity and need for returnee ministry.
Would you pray that God will use RIK to encourage returnees, regardless of whether they have yet made a decision yet for Christ, so that a great harvest of souls result, and the church in Japan would grow strong?
Welcoming Home the Harvest
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.
Many Happy Returns
You might have guessed that about the guy at the far left in the photo (yours truly). But the rest of this bunch? Yes, this is a group of midwest "Returnees." Every year thousands of Japanese travel overseas to live as students, businessmen, and educators. Separated from the entanglements of their home culture, many Japanese become Christians while overseas. And every year, after 1 year or many years abroad, thousands of Japanese return back to their homeland as changed people.
The fact is that MANY MORE Japanese become believers while outside their country, than those who remain in Japan! Nearly 80% of all Japanese who become Christians, became Christians while they were overseas. The difficulty becomes connecting these new believers to a church where they can continue to grow when they eventually return home. Often, Japanese "Returnees" find that they cannot really relate well to a traditional Japanese church. They are not understood, and not accepted. Often shortly after returning they uproot their faith from a local church altogether and blend back into society.
This is a great spiritual tragedy in the evangelization of Japan! If all these new believers were to remain in the church and grow strong in their faith, the Japanese church would be many times it's paltry 1% of the population size.
This past week I attended a conference here in Saitama, Japan that focused on the Returnee challenge. Naturally it was attended by returnees of all ages, including many young returnees, new believers and just back in their homeland. "All Nations Returnee Conference" had some 500 returnees in attendance for three days of sharing, worship, message, and strategy. I was blessed and encouraged, and renewed in my effort and desire to reach out to this unique demographic in Japan.
We want to be a receiving church for Returnees. Our church has at its core Returnees: probably 70% of the church has the experience of living from one to ten years overseas. Would you pray that we would continue to bring in and care for returnees, regardless of whether they have yet made a decision yet for Christ, so that a great harvest of souls result, and the church in Japan would grow strong?