This past summer, I led a group from Woodridge to go serve alongside IMB missionaries in Osaka, Japan. Having traveled to and studied about Japan in the past, I was eager to see how God might use our team to make an impact amongst the people. On this trip, I saw both the darkness in Japan as well as the hope that Christ offers the Japanese people.
That's why I'm excited about an upcoming training for those interested in reaching Japanese people in Japan as well as here in Houston. This free event is Friday, September 13th at the UBA offices from 10am-12pm. We'll hear from Pastor Ken Milhouse, who not only grew up in Japan but has also spent over 20 years ministering to Japanese people across the world. At this event, we hope to equip Christians to meet the needs of a people who have largely never heard of Jesus.
An Overwhelming Task
The “lostness” of Japan was something that I was well aware of—as is probably any believer who has spent time observing Japanese culture. The quote that’s been popularized for Japan is that it’s less than 1% reached with the Gospel.
Try to think about that—less than 1% of the roughly 126 million people there have a relationship with Christ. Even as you wrestle with that number, you can't really grasp the power that it holds. That was something I would come to realize during this trip.
Fortunately for our group, God didn’t call us to preach to ALL of Japan during this trip. Instead, we focused on the roughly 20 million people in the Greater-Osaka Metropolitan area in Kansai.
When you arrive in Osaka, there’s something that just feels different than other places in Japan. Sure, you’ll be enamored by the typical things that would catch a foreigner's eyes—seeing Kanji in neon lights and dancing people wearing costumes of a certain red-cheeked yellow mouse. However, Osaka is more than that.
Osaka is just…..more Osaka. It's loud. Bold. Proud. There's Osaka-style music and Osaka-style food (And I don’t just mean Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki). Whatever you do, though, don’t you dare compare them with Tokyo!
Despite these differences, Osaka still had one observable thing in common with the rest of Japan: People there don’t know about the God who made them and loves them.
Observing these things about Osaka, I was excited to be able to work alongside our IMB partners to try to reach out to the people in the city. This is what we had prayed for, and this is what we had trained for.
The missionaries informed us that one of their biggest ways to meet people and share about Christ was to do 5-minute English practice with people outside of train stations. The strategy was simple—go to the train station as people are getting off of work, hold up signs that invite them to practice their English with us for 5 minutes, work through a series of 5 questions, and hopefully build relationships.
To any skeptics out there, this strategy works extremely well. People were more than excited to come and meet strange-looking, smiley-faced Americans. Some people were better with their English than others, but they all had a great time. We got to talk about culture, food, movies, and even about Jesus & the Bible.
Despite these incredible exchanges, my heart began to grow heavier and heavier. For most of the people we talked with, none of them had ever heard the name of Jesus or the Bible. The only person who had was one man, who only knew of Jesus from an anime he couldn’t remember the name of.
This was the moment I finally understood what less than 1% truly meant.
As I walked back to the Airbnb that night, my Western mind was struggling. On our street alone, there was a casino, a 24-hour video parlor, 2 strip clubs, and a “Love Hotel.” As I looked into these businesses—which were already full of patrons by 9pm—the only thing I could think was how none of them had probably ever heard.
In a place that seemed to have every resource and modern convenience in the world, the one thing they didn't have was the truth. My heart felt as dark as those alleys that night. The people of Japan were drowning in distractions and thirsting for true love.
God didn’t let my heart dwell in sadness, though. Two weeks after we returned, the missionaries informed me that several of the people we had the chance to meet with had begun attending their small house church and even reading the Bible! Just as God tells us in Isaiah 55:10-11:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, it shall accomplish that which I purpose.
God has a plan for the people of Japan. He is calling those of us who have believed to carry out that work and to serve faithfully amongst Japanese people who haven’t heard. Even though the work might be tough and the labor may seem long, God will still produce fruit.
If you have felt burdened for Japanese people, either in Japan or here in Houston, I hope to see you at the training this Friday. If you have any questions about this training or Japan in general, feel free to reach out to me or the staff at UBA anytime.
Joshua Hill has served in the missions ministry at Woodridge Baptist Church for the past five years and is a current graduate student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Over the past 10 years, he has also served with churches and ministries across the country from New York City to New Mexico. In addition to serving overseas, he and his wife enjoy camping and painting together.