Mission Personnel Secretary (MPS), Chris Mitchell, visited CMS workers in Japan on a three-week pastoral visit in May 2017. He writes about his first impressions of Japan and why there is such a strong need for gospel workers in a society which seems to have it all together on the surface.
I’ve just come back from my first pastoral visit to Japan – actually, my first visit to Japan, full stop! – and although I have to confess that I didn’t know a lot about Japanese culture, nor much about the country, I did learn a lot. Here are some of the things that surprised me:
Firstly, Japan is probably the safest and most comfortable country I’ve ever been in. Certainly it is much safer and more comfortable than Australia. Young, primary school-aged children walked the streets on their own. People left their bags on their seats while going up to order food in restaurants. I had the feeling that if I dropped my wallet on the train, people would come running after me to make sure I got it back – intact!
Secondly, everything worked at the push of a button or the triggering of a sensor. The toilets were amazing – one even opened its lid as I walked in the door! The missionary owner was a bit embarrassed by it and said it just came with the house. But truly, every toilet I met had at least a dozen buttons to operate it – most of which I never worked out. My wife did enjoy the warmed seat; I thought it was a bit creepy.
Lastly, everything was so clean and attractive to the eye. Even nature was aesthetic! I loved seeing Mount Fuji float above a lake near where we stayed during a retreat for all the CMS workers. I really enjoyed seeing the clean cars, the roads lined with beautiful flowers, and even the stylishly designed number plates on the back of vehicles.
So if it is such a nice place to live, why are our missionaries there?
Well, the first answer is probably obvious to most CMS supporters: Japan might look safe, comfortable, convenient, clean and attractive, but Japanese people still need the gospel. One of our partner organisations, MTW Tokyo, say on their website:
“Japan looks good on the surface. Japan is rich, has very few poor people, and low unemployment. There is 100% literacy, health care for virtually everyone, a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S., and the longest life-expectancy in the world by a good bit. Everything works. Japan is clean, and service is great.
"Wow! They must be happy.
"Wrong! Japan also has the highest suicide rate in the industrialised world. More than a million young people are so traumatised by the pressure of the society, or something, that they refuse to even leave their homes. “Zero-defect” thinking and pursuit of perfection may be great for building cars, but it is terrible for families and human relationships. Beneath the surface, Japan is hurting deeply.
"Japan’s greatest need is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why we are here.”
Clearly, Japan needs the gospel, not only for the next life, but also for this one.
The second answer is maybe not so obvious. So many of the Japanese Christians I met had stories to tell of opposition, even outright persecution, because of their faith. I met a woman whose husband walked out on her, partly because she had converted. I heard of a teenage girl wanting to be baptised but her grandparents hired a private detective to investigate the church she’d been to. After being told it was a sect, they charged the parents for the cost of the detective and forbade the granddaughter from ever attending any Christian activity again.
So why are our missionaries there? Because Japanese Christians need our support!
“Japanese make much of human relationships [i.e. a strong community mindset tied to a strong honour-shame culture] more than the truth. Consequently, we can say that as for Japanese, one of the most important things is harmony... [They] are afraid of disturbing human relationships of their families or neighbourhood even though they know Christianity is best.”
I am so glad I am the MPS for Japan. It is CMS Australia’s second largest field (after Tanzania), with 15 adult missionaries working to share the good news with the Japanese. They need our support and prayers, as do Japanese Christians and the country as a whole. May God bless them!
Pray that Japanese Christians boldly live out their faith and proclaim the gospel even when they face opposition. Pray that God would use missionaries and Japanese Christians to bring many more Japanese to faith in him.