Well the Japan trip is in the books. I have been privileged to see what God is doing around the world in a number of different ways over the last couple of decades, but this trip will stick out. Here are a couple of observations:
- Gospel work in Japan is hard and slow, but God is on the move … There is a reason why Christianity is so small in Japan. There are so many social and cultural obstacles for a person to overcome to become a Christian, that you really do recognize God’s work when it happens. There are so many pressures: the individual pressures on the need to work long and hard, the familial pressures on honoring the family name and legacy, and the societal pressure to conform and not step out of line; as each of these mounts it is far easier to say “no” to an invitation to explore Christianity than it is to say “yes”. But God is not deterred. And oftentimes one by one, he builds his church.
- Gospel workers, missionaries and nationals, need our prayers and encouragement. It follows that with the work being hard and slow, that we really do need to do all we can to come alongside these brothers and sisters in the Lord with encouragement. In an era where we like our success to be instant and we judge the validity of a work by numbers, Japanese workers need to take a long view and realize that it might be years before an individual makes a commitment to Christ. Add to that the expense of ministering in Japan (particularly a place like Tokyo) and the challenges that come with adjusting to a foreign culture (for missionaries, particularly newer ones) and we have ample opportunity to partner.
- Tragedy begets energy. I was struck by the impact that the earthquake and ensuing tsunami of 2011 had on the Japanese church. In many ways it delayed ministry plans, put church plants in other parts of the country on hold and generally threw a pall over society. But it also united the believers, churches have sprung up in the wake of relief efforts, and the name of Christ has grown in Japan as a result of this tragedy. It was a reminder to me of God answering our prayers in his own way and time!