Written by James Kwan for Go Asia (Sep-Dec 2018)
Photography has always been a passion of mine, and I desire to glorify God by serving in the media and photography ministries in church and Christian organisations. Travelling and photography have also been something I’ve been doing during my school breaks, but coming to Tohoku in Japan as a photographer for short-term missions was something I felt challenged to do.
I asked myself, why not explore missions in Japan and make use of my photography skills on the mission field instead of spending the entire month for travel and leisure? I guess I was drawn to Japan because I had studied Japanese for a year a couple of years back. Moreover, a group of us in my church had recently started coming together to pray and reach out to Japanese people in Singapore. As we prayed, I sensed the Lord calling me to go. This short-term mission trip was eye-opening and renewed my perspective of missions.
In travelling with the prayer journey team through the Tohoku region, this was what I took away from the trip:
Being able to serve alongside a diverse group of believers from different cultures and ethnicity impressed greatly on me how the Gospel transcends differences in cultures and unites us in Christ. In Him, we have a common salvation and hope. Observing and hearing about the relationships between the Japanese and missionaries and other believers also taught me how relationships with the Japanese people require time, even years of discipleship for them to come to faith. It reminded me to dismiss the tendency to expect big momentous conversions in a short span of time and of the great commission, in which Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples,”—not, Go therefore and make decisions.
Being part of the prayer journey team and experiencing the culture of prayer during morning devotions at Nozomi Church taught me much about prayer. It revealed to me how little I know about prayer, and how lacking in faith I was. I was really challenged to engage in prayer and to expect God to work through the prayers of His people. Although God is sovereign, He has foreordained that His work would be accomplished through the work of our prayers to bring about change. I also learnt to pray specifically instead of giving general prayer requests. After all, how will we know God answered our prayers if we never pray specifically for things?
The needs of churches in Japan
Travelling with the prayer journey team gave me a greater understanding of missions and the needs of the Japanese churches in the Tohoku region, practical workings of their ministries, and demographics in the region. I have heard from friends or people involved in mission work in Tokyo that churches in the Japanese capital tend to be more international, or at least draw a more international crowd, and that most of them had services in English or in both English and Japanese. So I wondered, what about a local Japanese church?
On hearing about the work in the local churches in Tohoku, I found that there is a great need for more pastors or younger people to shepherd their flocks. It really affected me when I heard from some missionaries and pastors that there was a serious shortage of pastors and leaders. This challenged me to seriously consider taking a step beyond merely being involved with missions as a photographer, and to be involved in church planting, revitalisation and leading. Before this, I had a general impression that there was a need to reach out to the Japanese community as there are so few Christians. But now, I have come to realise that churches there need much support, prayer, practical help, laborers and pastors.
As the trip drew to an end, I had a good opportunity to photograph and document images that could be used for media or mobilisation-related purposes. More than that, I was able to observe and support in the daily rhythm of missions in Japan. I witnessed how God used the mundane and daily moments to bring about change. To discern if God is calling me back to Japan, I plan to take some practical steps such as praying for Japan. I pray that God will give me a greater burden for Japan, for more opportunities to be involved with Japan down the road, and to continue reaching out to the Japanese people with the group in my church.