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Keeping the faith: from English to heart language

About 25 years ago we were attending a conference in the US when a tremendous thunderstorm hit and everyone scrambled to get inside. It was only a couple of years after we’d come back to the States after serving for ten years in Japan. We unexpectedly found ourselves in conversation with a Japanese student who had been impacted deeply by her experiences with Christians at her university and through attending church services. She had accepted Jesus as her Savior.

My husband and I shared from our Japanese Bible and prayed with her in Japanese. That troubled her. It was her first encounter with anything “Christian” in her heart language. She found it disturbing to hear the words “Jesus” and “God” in Japanese and to her the Japanese Bible seemed difficult to understand.

It was our first encounter with a Japanese person who’d become a Christian overseas. We were shocked.

After we’d spent about two hours with her we gave her our Japanese Bible and left with heavy hearts. We prayed that her faith in Jesus would remain the strength of her life.

We still wonder what happened to her when she returned to Japan. Did she find a place in a local church? Was she able to believe in Jesus in the depths of her heart where only Japanese truly communicates? Or did she drift away because she couldn’t find her place in a Japanese church that knew how to welcome someone like her?

This was, and is a common story. When they are away from their home culture and its pressures many Japanese are open to learn about Jesus and explore Christianity. But even those who take steps of faith in English or another language often struggle to connect with Christians, the church, and even the Bible in their heart language and culture. Many people who make commitments to the Lord while overseas do not follow through when they return home (some say it’s eight in ten people or higher).

The key to making a good transition is discipleship. Ultimately, growing deep in Christ requires talking with him and hearing from him in our heart language.

Ways we can help

We were also in Denver, Colorado (US), when the Japanese Christian Fellowship Network was conceived and developed in the 1990s. That development has led to a solid ministry of mentoring, counseling, and discipling Japanese students in the US and Canada. I especially love to hear about their Equipper Conferences. At these Japanese-language gatherings, students are discipled and prepared to return to Japan. What a great way to help new believers and connect them with the Christian community in Japan when they return!

In the same time frame, from the mid-1990s, the internet developed and has become a tool to help returnees. There are now myriad creative ways to help the diaspora returnees to connect with the good news in their own language, to find resources to help them when they return, and to know where there are churches and other Christian activities. These resources are available to everyone, everywhere, including those who are connecting with diaspora returnees.

So, let’s not lose heart. I have seen so many amazing, creative, helpful things happen in the past 25 years to encourage Japanese diaspora returnees to move back into their home situations equipped, strengthened, and connected with healthy Christian communities.

I also know that many have disappeared from our view. But, each one is known to Jesus and he is with them. Let’s continue to reach out to students and other diaspora returnees with confidence in the love of Jesus for them.

By Beth, OMF missionary

Will you pray for Japan?

  • Pray for Japanese people who have become Christians overseas, that they will be able to link into the Christian community soon after they return to Japan.
  • Pray for those who are part of a new Japanese Christian’s life overseas, that they will seek ways to prepare their friend for return to life in Japan.
  • Pray for churches and Christians in Japan, that they will utilize the many resources available to them to help returnees in their area.

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