In Japan, the three Cs have been heavily promoted as the way to minimise the spread of COVID-19: avoiding closed spaces, crowded places, and close contact.
But for Christians, it often feels like there is another set of three Cs that has kept Japan inoculated against gospel spread:
Complacency: for centuries Japan has adhered to the Confucian tenet of accepting your lot in life without asking questions. Religion is generally formulaic. Critical thinking and spiritual hunger are not naturally encouraged. Most Japanese people don’t consider matters of eternity unless something happens to shake their complacency.
Conformity: the highest virtue in Japan is keeping group harmony, and most Japanese people wouldn’t consider acting in a way that might jeopardize their sense of belonging.
Compartmentalisation: with the lack of a belief in absolute truth, many Japanese people have no scruples about behaving in a contradictory way in different situations. They tend to pick and mix from different religious and moral codes without being concerned about compromise.
How can we even begin to penetrate these walls of resistance, these national strongholds? Missionary work in Japan can often feel like tapping around a defensive shield, looking for any possible entry point. Frequently it feels futile, but recently God has reminded me that he is well able to work in and through the culture to draw people to himself.
In December a non-Christian contact Yuko brought her friend Tomomi to meet me. Tomomi was seeking spiritual answers.
It was refreshing to find her not at all complacent; the Holy Spirit had stirred up a strong hunger in her for spiritual understanding. She also appeared relatively free from a desire to conform. However, compartmentalisation was an issue for her—she shared about a number of different forms of spiritualism she was involved in. She was used to picking a bit of this and a bit of that.
I asked her, “If God really is almighty, don’t you think that it is an insult to him to have other gods and spiritual icons as add-ons?” Both women nodded, and it seemed that from that point a new standard had been established. An hour or so later Tomomi surrendered her life to Christ, and went home buzzing with the light and warmth she was experiencing.
When the cost of following the “COVID” three Cs outweighs the benefits, the people groan, and likewise many find the unspoken three Cs too heavy a burden to bear.
Toshiko is an example of that. She didn’t fit in. She wouldn’t or couldn’t conform to the way things were done in the rural area where her husband’s company was located. Feeling shunned, she chose to move with her children to the city to be free from the pressure, even though it meant only seeing her husband at weekends. She reluctantly put her daughter into a Christian kindergarten, since that was the only place with an opening. To her surprise she began to experience a totally different community there.
During that time, she was introduced to me and started attending Bible studies and English groups at our house, sometimes cycling an hour each way three times a week. Discovering God’s heart over the past three years has changed her worldview and relationships. She is now planning to get baptised, along with her 12-year-old son.
We hear a lot about the “new normal” in the face of the unrelenting pandemic. Challenging the status quo has never been easy in Japan. But my prayer is that this time of hardship would be a catalyst for these unspoken three Cs to be exposed and broken down, making way for a new and mighty move of the Holy Spirit. Please join me in praying that the gospel will be so contagious in 2021 that nothing will be able to curtail its spread.
By Alison, an OMF missionary
All names were changed.
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray that the gospel will be so contagious in 2021, that nothing will curtail its spread in Japan.
- Pray that this time of hardship will break down the unspoken barriers to the gospel in Japan.
- Pray the Holy Spirit will be at work at this time.