Though from a non-Christian family, Akiko went to a Christian school in Japan where she’d heard some Bible stories. She came to our home for one Bible study where she asked a lot of questions, and seemed interested in knowing more, but was nowhere near becoming a Christian. Soon after she went to study overseas and I connected her with Christians—within six months she’d decided to follow Jesus and was baptised.
Machiko also went to a Christian school in Japan, and heard many Bible stories. For the last four years she has been coming to our Bible studies in Tokyo two to three times a month. She now understands the gospel well, and said recently that if she lived alone on a mountain, she might well become a Christian. She’s attracted to Jesus, but feels she can’t commit to following him—at least, not yet.
These stories are fairly typical. Japanese people living overseas often become Christians relatively quickly, but Japanese in Japan generally take much longer to decide to follow Christ. Why is this?
There are many factors involved, but a Japanese friend once told me “Japanese people like to make choices that feel natural.” It seems this might be part of the answer. In Japan—where the Christian population is a tiny minority, and there is a cultural overlay of Buddhism and Shintoism—to become a Christian feels unnatural and uncomfortable. For a Japanese person, the reality of making a choice like this in the context of Japan is scary and can seem plain wrong. But for a Japanese person surrounded by many Christian friends in a country with a Christian heritage, it feels much more natural to decide to follow Christ.
As Ichiro, a returnee seeker, said to me recently “When I was overseas I had many Christian friends and I began to think it would be nice to become a Christian and join their loving community. But since coming back to Japan I feel like there’s no reason to become a Christian.”
What returnee seekers like Ichiro need are Christian friends. Of course they also need prayer that the Holy Spirit will give them true faith that can overcome the desire to only do things that feel natural. But Christian friends, especially missionaries or returnees who understand what it’s like to live overseas, will help the process tremendously. Friends who will reach out to them with genuine love and connect them to a Christian community in Japan which they can become a part of.
The Christian community here may be much more of a minority than in other countries, but the love of Christ is no less real and, in time, returnees can find a spiritual home in Japan. But they need Christian friends who will walk with them as they continue on their journey towards faith.
Returnees who come back as Christians, like Akiko when she returns later this year, also need loving Christian friends to support them as they adjust to living as a Christian in Japan.
Names changed for privacy.
By Liz, an OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray for Japanese people who have encountered Christ overseas, that they will find good Christian friends when they return to Japan.
- Pray for returnees who have found a Christian community in Japan, that they will be active in reaching out to others who are struggling.
- Pray for wisdom for missionaries in Japan in helping those who come back to find community.