How to keep a passion for mission alive: walking to Japan

Joshua Nixon had been on one short-term trip to Japan before COVID-19 hit and was preparing to go again in 2020. Wondering how to keep focused on his calling, he hit on the idea of walking the distance to Japan across the island of Ireland instead…. 

Joshua shares his story and what he’s learnt along the way:

My name is Joshua Nixon, I’m 23 years old and live in Northern Ireland. I’ve been interested in Japan for as long as I can remember. I was introduced to the popular anime ‘Bleach’ by a cousin when I was about 12 and it quickly turned into a hobby. From there, I started to become more and more interested in the culture that had produced this kind of media, which was my main motivation to study TV and Film myself.

I became a Christian in January 2017 after a seven-year struggle with depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts. One night I reached the limit of what I could cope with and made definite plans to end my own life, but in that moment of darkness, some part of me decided to reach out to God, who was gracious enough to take the burden of my depression away from me.

After that, I resolved to serve God and his Church however I could. I got as involved as I could in a local church, and after a mission trip to Swaziland in Africa, I was drawn to start thinking seriously about serving overseas.

My love for Japan remained, however, and I began to learn about the country from a more spiritual point of view. Hearing how such a small percentage of the population (less than 1 per cent) knew Christ as their saviour weighed very heavily on me. I so desperately wanted to use my own passion to do something to support the church in Japan. That’s when I got in contact with OMF and was able to go out on my first placement in Hirosaki in the north, where my desire to work in Japan was only cemented further.

By virtually walking to Japan I can keep my mind focused, I can keep my passion from burning out… I’m not giving up…

Stand out experiences

Two main experiences stuck out to me from my time in Japan. The first was a small church we visited in Iwaizumi, a town of about 9,000 people, while on a prayer journey. This small church was the only one in town, and had only three people attending on an average Sunday. I’d heard the statistics back home about how few Christians there were in Japan, but actually being able to see how small the Church was with my own eyes made it much more real and helped me truly understand how many Japanese people could be going about their lives never having the chance to even hear about who Jesus is.

I’d heard the statistics back home about how few Christians there were in Japan, but actually being able to see how small the Church was with my own eyes made it much more real …

The second experience was more personal. While I was serving at Nozomi Chapel in Hirosaki, I attended some of the English classes run by the church. At one of them it came up, and I can’t quite remember why, that I’m autistic and also that I really enjoy tokusatsu, a very Japanese television genre (think Power Rangers in the UK). One of the women at the class had a son who was also autistic and also quite interested in tokusatsu. It’s not particularly common for guys my age to still be interested in that kind of thing and it led to us being able to meet up.

While at the time, I was simply happy that after so many years I was actually able to meet someone who shared my interests, I learned that he had never been to the church himself. Although Ruth, who ran the English classes, had heard about him, she’d never met him herself. It was a moment of realization for me. I went to Japan thinking that, if anything, God would use what I’d learned while I was studying ministry and leadership at church, or my passion for biblical apologetics to reach people, but instead, He used my very personal, almost embarrassing, love of children’s superhero shows to make a connection with someone! It’s a lesson that will stick with me: God can and will use what is truly unique about each of us to make connections with people only we can reach.

God can and will use what is truly unique about each of us to make connections with people only we can reach.

Walking to Japan

I’ve always enjoyed walking, or at least, I’ve done it a lot for a long time. To me a 5 mile round trip to the shop just to pick up a single can of soda or something is no big deal. So when I started preparing to go overseas I thought that I might as well use what God’s given me to raise support. So as a fundraiser for my first placement in Japan I attempted to walk the length of the island of Ireland, over the course of 2 weeks, a journey of about 355 miles. Unfortunately, I underestimated the strain on my body and didn’t plan adequately for the weather. I had to throw in the towel about 70 miles short of the goal after my doctor told me not to walk for a few days. As disappointed as I was with myself, people still supported me and I was able to raise the funds for my first placement in Japan.

A few months after returning home from Japan, I began talking with OMF again about a second placement, and the application was going well, until of course, COVID-19 put an indefinite pause on everything. For a while I struggled with what I was supposed to do. I was so sure that God was calling me to serve him in Japan, but suddenly, it was impossible, all travel was shut down and there was, and still is, no certain date of when things will open up again. The cycle of wanting to, but not being able, got me quite down. However, through it an old idea resurfaced, why not walk there? The distance to Japan from my house is nearly 8,500 miles, or about 13,000 kilometres. No short distance and it would take about two years to cover on foot, even with my above average walking speed. But for me it was just what I needed. A way to keep focused on my calling and move towards it, even during a time when it felt like nothing could be done. The worst thing I could do was just sit and mope about not being able to do anything. By virtually walking to Japan I can keep my mind focused, I can keep my passion from burning out, and it gives me something to be engaged in which lets people know that I’m not giving up on this.

As of writing this, I have just passed the 500 mile mark, 546.6.1 being the exact figure – only another 7,894.4 left to go! There have been things that have come up that have slowed me down, or put a pause on things, but I generally get at least a little bit closer each week. I never imagined this would be a short exercise. In winter, it was a little harder. The cold and damp drain my energy quicker than the warm and dry, so going the same distance is harder, and getting to a gym to walk on a treadmill isn’t always possible. Shoes are also an issue. Most aren’t built for walking as often and as far as I make them go, and without decent footwear, I’ve learned it’s all too easy to damage your feet. But all in all things are going well. The walk is doing its job. I’m still moving towards Japan. I get a few miles closer each day, and if God wills it, by the time I’ve completed this goal, I’ll be able to go back.

As is probably the case with many people presently, my hopes are that the COVID-19 pandemic would soon come to an end. Beyond the suffering caused directly by the disease itself, it is causing so much harm to many more people financially, mentally and socially. But as long as this lasts, I would pray also, that the Church would truly know how to be salt and light in the world at this time, and would be able to guide a suffering world to the hope that is Jesus Christ.

Finally, I would simply ask for prayer that God would continue to guide me and give me the wisdom to choose the path forward that is right for me in his eyes.

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