I met many people in Japan who encouraged me and challenged me in various ways towards missions in Japan, but there was one person that I met who impacted my heart for Japan the most. I hope his story will challenge you like it challenged me.
I met him at the small church at the missionaries’ home one Sunday, and I decided to sit with him at lunch afterwards because I felt that I needed to talk to him. I asked him how long he had been going to the church, and then I asked him how long he had been a Christian. He told me he has been going to the church every Sunday for the past year, and that he was on his way to being a Christian but was not yet there. I thought to myself, “That is a lot of dedication for someone who hasn’t yet made the commitment to follow Christ.”
I asked him a few more questions about what he believes. He told me that he realised God was real a year ago, and after attending church and Bible studies every week and studying the Bible for himself every day for several months he realised Jesus was real too, and so was everything the Bible says.
The more he talked, the more I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t yet made the commitment to become a Christian. Though I so admired his dedication and persistence and intentionality in searching for truth and learning about God.
Later in the conversation, he mentioned that he is currently living with one of the missionaries who works at the church. When I asked him why he decided to move in with the missionary, he explained that he had to move out of his family’s house when they found out he started going to Christian church. As soon as he turned from Buddhism and started looking into Christianity, his family disowned him.
I was so completely shocked by what I heard. I knew that people in other cultures faced much harder obstacles in choosing to follow Christ than we do in N.America, but it’s one thing to hear about it and another thing to actually meet one of those people and hear their story first-hand. I felt like crying in that moment, as he told me he hasn’t spoken to his family in almost a year. He has suffered all this, for simply searching for truth. My heart for the people of Japan, for helping them find God, it grew so much after hearing this guy’s story.
But one thing remained a mystery in my mind. This guy has already been disowned from his family, arguably the worst thing that could happen to someone trying to follow Christ. So why hasn’t he made the commitment to become a Christian, to accept Christ into his heart and life and begin the transforming relationship with God that is made possible through Christ. What more does he have to lose, in becoming a Christian?
I soon learned through meeting many more Japanese people who are drawn to the truth in Christ but can’t seem to make the commitment, that there is more to lose than even your family. Several missionaries also helped me to understand – the major role that society plays, in hindering Japanese people from finding new life in Christ. The Japanese culture values collectivism and sameness and following norms to such an extent that when a Japanese person deviates from the norm (in something as important as religion) they are shunned, socially outcasted, essentially disowned from the rest of the society.
In North America, even if someone is disowned from their family for switching religions (which is not very common) it is quite easy to find Christian community and support from the fellow Christ-followers around you. You would likely even have your pick from a variety of different denominations and church styles in any given city. For a Japanese Christian in Japan, they are lucky to have even 1 other believer in their city. They’re lucky if they have a church as close as a couple cities away from where they live.
Coming back from my missions trip in Japan, I now have a new urgency in my heart for a serious need in Japan. Our brothers and sisters in Japan who are searching for truth, searching for God, searching for home, they need our support. It’s true that there are still many in Japan who have not heard about Christ, who need people in their life to shine God’s light and show them what a life following Christ looks like. But it’s also true that some have discovered the truth, but are so consumed with fear because the obstacles they face in choosing to follow Christ, they are simply devastating. These people are so alone and so unsupported in their quest for truth. They need followers of Christ, children of God to support them and love them with God’s love and make sure they know that what they will gain when they give their life to Christ, is infinitely more valuable than all that they will lose. They need to know that it’s worth it. That God is worth it.
Meaghan was a part of a church planting team during her Serve Asia mission trip to Japan. Check the OMF Opportunities site for current opportunities to volunteer with one of OMF’s church planting ministries in Japan.