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Is life in Japan easier for missionaries today?

“My first days in Hokkaido were spent in snowy Yayoi and Mikasa. There we cooked with charcoal on a small brazier (shichirin, literally ‘seven rincooker,’ because you could heat your meals with charcoal worth only seven rin*). We went to the common pump belonging to the whole block to draw water and bring it in bucketfuls to the house. The daily fall-out of coal dust from the mining company’s chimneys filled the air and covered the floors so that even the bedding (futon) took on a greyish colour. But it was home, and for me at that time it was the centre of the will of God.”

These are the words a former OMF missionary used to describe her missionary life in the 1960s. In 1989, right at the beginning of the Heisei era, the last coal mine closed. That marked the end of an era of prosperity for this rural town. Along with it, the Mikasa church entered a challenging time as members moved away.

In 1989, the church was pastored by a Japanese lady whose husband had been the pastor until he was killed in a car accident 20 years earlier. Missionaries had already moved on and were involved in planting other churches in Hokkaido. Today, Mikasa’s population has shrunk considerably, but the church is still there and preaching the gospel, albeit to a very small congregation.

Sitting in my reclining office chair in Sapporo, typing on my computer and taking occasional sips out of my PET bottle, the world of these memoirs feel more than a world away. Whereas, in reality, Mikasa is only 45 minutes away by car from my desk, or literally a number of mouse clicks as I fact check my writing. Missionary life certainly has gotten more convenient since these early days. We have new means of communication—but also of distraction. This makes me wonder if life as a missionary is indeed easier today?

We can turn on the tap and get fresh water or go to a nearby, omnipresent vending machine and buy ourselves a drink—but the chatting at the communal pump, the sharing of the burden to bring water to one’s house have gone. The immersion into the society has, in many facets, been replaced with withdrawal into one’s own four walls. This is true for the Japanese people themselves, but also for the missionary.

By Samuel, an OMF missionary

*  “Rin” is an old Japanese coin worth 1/1,000 of a yen.

Will you pray for Japan?

  • Please pray that missionaries can find the communal pumps and the burdens of today, which link and connect them to the Japanese—so that they can still hear the gospel today, fresh and relevant for their lives.

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