Six Reasons Japan is Overlooked in Global Missions
I've been thinking a little bit recently about why Japan, with having the largest city in the world and being one the most densely populated nations in the world has been overlooked in regard to Christian mission. A tweet from the Gospel Coalition International Outreach feed yesterday further affirmed my suspicion that most Americans just don't have Japan on their missional radar as a nation to be reached. So why is that? I have a list of a few reasons I believe Japan has been overlooked by American churches and mission groups. This isn't a criticism for why we have overlooked Japan in favor of other places (the whole world needs the gospel so we better go to the whole world) but I think these are some prominent reasons Japan has largely been ignored.
- Racism. To my grandparent's generation Japan was the enemy. They blew up and killed thousands of Americans at Pearl Harbor and brought us into a World War. Shortly after WWII the American Mission Movement occurred sending career missionaries all over the world with the gospel. Except Japan. I think there is a link.
- Affluence. Japan is wealthy, technologically advanced, literate and industrious. There won't be any photo ops with starving children there. You don't have anything to take to them or fix for them other than their souls. Bummer.
- Thrill Factor. You won't get killed or even kicked out of Japan for sharing the gospel. At the most you might get ignored and left alone. If anything we like the thrill of the dangerous place where we can say to our churches "I can't tell you where I'm going because I might get killed." That's not to say that doing mission in dangerous places isn't needed or good. We must be in those places too. However, Japan doesn't afford that kind of reality. So, where's the fun in that?
- Long-Term. You probably won't make 30 converts in your first week of mission in Japan, let alone your first year. Maybe if you spend ten years there you might. But, we like our mission trip trophies ("I preached to 500 and saw 534 get saved while I was in South America for two weeks"). You won't have any merit badges of ministry in Japan unless you're there for a long, long time.
- Expensive. Yes, Japan is expensive. Ridiculously so. You have to raise a lot of money to go there for a long-term assignment. Housing costs a ton. It's just not cheap to do mission there. American churches can probably only send a small handful of missionaries to Japan whereas they could send a ton of money to other places and have a larger number of workers in other places. In the land of "more is better" you can see how that value works itself out.
I mention these things, again not to downplay the other places in the world where missionaries are going and are sent. I am glad they do that. But for the American church there is a value of "Bang for the Buck, Get A Ton of Convert Trophies, Thrill-Seeking" Mission. Japan won't give you any of that. It won't even give you poverty to take a picture of and say "I can fix that!"
If anything mission in Japan looks more like what William Carey had to endure going to India for the first time. A rejected, long-term, low-fruit, costly-life. This is so counter-intuitive to American discipleship that I believe it is one of the main reasons Japan has not seen a large amount of missionaries sent to work there. All you can do is take the gospel and be there for a very long time. Maybe the American church needs mission to Japan to teach us about discipleship more than Japan needs American missionaries.
There is one more reason Japan has been overlooked in regard to Christian mission. Calling. Maybe it hasn't been the right time. Yet, I think today we're on the cusp of that calling being worked out. Today the Lord is raising up and calling men and women everywhere to go to Japan with the gospel for the glory of Jesus. Today is the day of salvation. So for us today we can go to Japan, labor there for the long-haul and see the name and fame of Jesus gloriously spread in the Land of the Rising Sun. Christians, let's put Japan on our radar as a place to pray, support and send people for the duration of their lives, for the sake of the gospel.