This is Japan, and Japan is hard.
By Phil Bruce
Sometimes I have wondered what was going thought the minds of Jesus’ followers when Jesus sent them out in pairs with nothing but his word, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3) I expect they would have been experiencing something between fear and eager expectation. Not a comfortable predicament. Yet, they left comfort and security, and sought to declare the Kingdom of God in the dark places. And they did so, trusting his word.
I love the unpredictability of following Jesus. I love that he sometimes puts us in positions where we have nothing, but his word. What is our response? What do we let define us in these moments? Is it our circumstances and experiences? Or is it the unchanging word of God?
In May, I travelled to Japan for the first time in over 10 years, and although I had some idea about why I should go, I was really at the mercy of a very strong impression that I should just go to Japan. Over the years I had heard too much about where God was not moving in Japan, so my prayer was simply that I wanted to see where God was at work.
The first four days of my trip I spent at a conference, which combined teaching, with practical outreach sessions. Over these four days, I saw God touch and heal Japanese people on the street, as we reached out and prayed for them. However, as I became more encouraged and amazed by these stories and testimonies, I grew more aware of the fear that remained inside of me. Fear that I could now see was preventing me from stepping into the fullness of God’s purpose for my life. Sure, I prayed for people and stepped out of my comfort zone a number of times, but it wasn’t enough – I was hungry for more!
On the last day of the conference, when one of the speakers called for confident ones to lead outreach groups, God prompted me to stand up and go to the front. What was I doing; this wasn’t me? Three people came to join me, and we sought God’s direction together. It quickly became apparent that between us we could speak Japanese, English and Portuguese, but our command of each other’s language was marginal, at best. Prayer seemed like the best option, but which language? We decided that any language would do.
After about 20 minutes travel on a very full train, we found ourselves outside one of the busiest train stations in the world. There were literally thousands of people around us, but which one did God want us to talk to? I was asking myself this very question when a young Japanese man said “hello” to me. I replied in Japanese and began a simple conversation. At the end, I offered to pray for him. After I prayed he described that while I was praying he felt as if his heart was warm. We explained that “this was Jesus, he loves you and wants to introduce himself to you”. As a team, we began to share the gospel with him, as he hungrily received the truth. I was excited and ready to say goodbye, when one of my team members asked the man if he wanted to receive Jesus into his heart. He responded with an emphatic YES!
We had a chance to pray for a few others during this outing, and then it was time to go and get some lunch. However, before we could, God highlighted another young man. I talked to him and roughly ten minutes later this man, also, prayed to receive Jesus into his heart. As I was walking to lunch I remember having an internal discussion with God: “This wasn’t supposed to happen. This is Japan, and Japan is hard”. He responded to me with a very simple question:
“Hard for who?”.
Jesus reminds us that He is the Lord of the Harvest and we are workers in the field. At some point, I had taken it upon myself to survey the spiritual landscape, attempt to anticipate and weigh up strategic options, and consider more receptive target groups. Yet, all he was asking of me was to become a “worker in the field”, like we read about in Luke 10. Often this simply requires us to step into the uncomfortable places, the dark places, the places where we feel out of our depth, places where the only thing we have is his word. This is one of many stories that God gave me when I was in Japan, and I was excited to see first-hand that God was indeed moving in this nation.
What I enjoy most about the story in Luke 10, was not how Jesus’ followers were sent out, but how they returned. Luke recounts that they returned to Jesus with joy, as the darkness bowed before them. Participating in the mission of God is something that will ultimately bring us joy when we return to the Lord. While Jesus agreed with his followers when we step out in faith we do have the power to disarm the devil, our source of joy rests in the fact that our names are written in the book of life. We are sons and daughters of the most high God. This is a joy that springs from not only knowing where we are going, but knowing who we are right now. When we know who we are, we know who we possess, and when we know who we possess participating in mission is an incomparable blessing.
This article originally appeared in our October/November 2018 edition of Serving Asia magazine. If you would like to sign up for more articles, stories and testimonies, enter your details below: