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James went to Japan as a photographer and he learned these 3 things

The coast of Shichigahama near Sendai – the coast which the 3/11 Tsunami swept through.


Prior to going to Japan on a Serve Asia short-term placement, mission work was something I gave consideration to, but I always felt somewhat detached from the reality or practical needs of those who are laboring on the field.

Photography is a passion of mine which I use to glorify God, such as helping to serve on the media and photography side of my church and Christian organizations. Travel and photography are things I’ve always done during my school breaks, but going to Tohoku, Japan with OMF as a photographer was something I felt challenged to do. I asked myself why not explore missions in Japan and make use of my photography skills instead of using the entire month for travel and leisure.

I guess I was drawn to Japan because I studied Japanese for a year a couple of years back. I also recently started praying for and reaching out to Japanese people in Singapore with a group of people in my church. I felt this was a sign of where God wanted me to go. Going on this short-term mission trip was eye-opening and renewed my perspectives on missions.


I took away three main things from this trip:

1. Relationships
Being able to serve alongside a diverse group of believers from different cultures and ethnicities impressed greatly on me how the gospel transcends variance in cultures and unites us in Christ with a common salvation and hope.

Observing and hearing about the relationships between foreign missionaries and Japanese people taught me how building relationships with the Japanese requires time. Often it takes years for them to come to faith. Being able to observe this helps to brush off the tendency to expect big momentous conversions in a short span of time. It reminded me of the great commission where Jesus said Go therefore and make disciples, not Go therefore and make decisions!

Behind every decision is a real individual whom we must invest in relationally & genuinely. It’s vital for missionaries in a different culture to be willing to assimilate into the culture and see or relate to them from their perspectives instead of in an ethnocentric manner.


One of the ways the church in Tohoku reaches out and builds relationships is through the weekly English Café for Japanese students where they gather to have fun but also meaningful conversations.


Helping out in practical day-to-day tasks such as cooking meals and cleaning made me realize how ordinary the daily lives of missionaries are and how such practical help is part of God’s work as we enable the missionaries to focus on their primary tasks.


2. Prayer
Taking part in a prayer journey through the region and experiencing the culture of prayer during the morning devotions at Nozomi Church really taught me so much more about prayer. It revealed to me how little I know about prayer and even how I can lack in faith.

I was challenged about how much I engage in prayer and expect God to work through the prayers of His people. Although God is sovereign, yet He has foreordained that his work would be accomplished through the work of our prayers to bring about change. I also learned to ask God specifically in faith about particular challenges and prayer requests, after all how will we know God answered our prayers if we never pray specifically for things?


We gathered at Yonezawa with other OMF missionaries and short-term workers in the region during our prayer journey, to share challenges and ministry needs and pray together.


Our missionary host took us around Hirosaki on a prayer walk and told us about the work they have been doing in this city.


3. The needs of churches in Japan


Bustling city scenes in Tokyo at the famous Shibuya crossing.


Travelling around with the prayer journey team gave me a greater understanding of missions and the needs in the Tohoku region. Coming from a city background and having previously heard from those from my home church who are involved in mission work in Tokyo, I saw how different the Tohoku region is. This is true especially with regard to the needs of the church, practical out workings of ministry, and the local demographics.


Elderly people at an exercise class as we were visiting a community centre in Yonezawa


It really affected me when I heard from several missionaries and pastors that in the Tohoku region there is a lack in pastors. There are many churches who have no pastors or people to lead the church.

It challenged me to seriously consider going further in my missions involvement, and rather than being a photographer for mobilization work, to be involved with church-planting, revitalization, and leading.

Before knowing all these needs, I just had a general impression that there’s a need to reach out to the Japanese community as there are so few Christians. However, I have come to also realize now that the existing churches in Japan are in great need of support, prayer, practical help, labourers and pastors.


Ashina-Sensei, the pastor of Aomori Evangelical Church is also an avid photographer and we shared with each other about our passion for photography. He also shared how countless churches in Aomori struggle with the lack of younger pastors to succeed them in ministry.


Famers harvesting a field full of onions in Aomori as we were making our way to a church during our prayer journey. It was a vivid picture that reminded me of when Jesus said to pray for more labourers as the harvest is plentiful but few are the labourers.


As my mission trip drew to an end, I think I got a good opportunity to explore using my photography skills to document and produce images that could be used for media or mobilization related purposes.

I felt that I also got more from the experience – being able to observe and support the everyday rhythm of missionaries and witness how God uses ordinary daily moments to bring about change.
Some of the practical steps I want to take to further discern if God is calling me back to Japan are:

  • to continue praying for Japan
  • pray for God to give me a greater burden for Japan
  • praying for more opportunities to be involved with Japan in the future
  • To continue to reach out to the Japanese people with the group at my church

If you sense the Lord is leading you to short or long-term work in Japan, take time to seek the Lord for what His desire is for your life. If you’d like to talk to someone about the next step, send a message to your local OMF centre here.




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