It was 1 am Sunday morning, but Emiko couldn’t sleep. She sat in her Tokyo apartment thinking of her friends in the UK. Right now they would be at Ruth’s house drinking tea and eating home-made cookies at Saturday afternoon fellowship group. How she longed to be with them . . . to see their smiling faces, to talk about the Bible, to share her thoughts, and pray together. Then tomorrow they’d all be worshipping at St Peter’s. She really missed the stimulating teaching, the passionate singing, and the deep fellowship. She’d spoken to Lisa by Skype earlier in the day, but it had only made her miss her life in the UK even more. She knew the Lord was with her, but she didn’t feel his presence any more. Had she really been back in Japan only three months? It seemed like an eternity—she felt so isolated and alone.*
This is a common scenario for new believers returning to Japan. These returnees may have been told they should find a church in Japan where they can make new Christian friends. But there are problems.
There may not be a church close to where they live or they have to work on Sundays. Or the church they’ve tried has an unfamiliar style of worship, the people seem unfriendly, or there’s no one their age. They try to read the Bible by themselves, but there are many things they don’t understand, and no one to explain it. On top of all this, their family may strongly disapprove of a faith that prevents them from participating in the various Buddhist or Shinto traditions.
These are some of the issues returnees face when they return to Japan, a high-pressured, materialistic society. It’s a culture that encourages people to fit in and be the same as everyone else. And if they are also without fellowship and good Bible teaching it is no surprise that they often drift away from the Lord.
However, there are exceptions, and many returnees ultimately grow in their faith through the pain of separation from their overseas Christian experience.
Those who survive spiritually are generally those who, with the support of local missionaries or other Christian returnees, persevere in going to church even when it’s not the same as their overseas “home church”. It can take a long time, but eventually the new church in Japan can become a second spiritual home.
Why do some persevere in this way and not others? Again, there are many contributing factors. But it helps if they:
- are forewarned that returning to Japan will involve significant challenges,
- receive ongoing support and prayers from their overseas Christian friends, and
- are linked with Christians—Japanese or foreign—who understand what it’s like to live overseas.
But most essential of all is that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, returnees keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, remain in him, and stand strong in their faith whatever happens. This is what we pray for our returnee friends.
*A fictional story representing real experiences.
By Liz and Mike
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray for returnees that they will keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, remain in him, and stand strong in their faith whatever happens.
- Pray for those ministering to Japanese overseas that they will prepare them well for returning to Japan.
- Pray for those ministering to returnees in Japan that they will know how best to encourage and disciple them.