Six Reasons Japan is Overlooked

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

First World Resources for First World Problems

One of the observations that I've been able to make while here in Japan is the complete lack of need for anything, except the gospel. Japan, like so many parts of the West doesn't have a need for the physical resources that developing countries do. You can drink the tap water, WiFi and cellular service are abundant. Japan has one of the lowest unemployment rates of anywhere in the world. We've heard several times that the average Japanese family has somewhere close to forty thousand dollars in savings alone. While not every person in Japan is affluent and rich, the physical needs of the country and not as noticeable as they are in other places.

So often, in the West we then assume that since this country has plenty in terms of material possessions that there is then no spiritual need. However, the lack of physical need, to me anyways, makes the spiritual need all the more pressing and abundant. They have come to the climax of the book of Ecclesiastes. They have everything but all of it apart from Christ is meaningless.

I have no beef to pick with churches that support and send and work with missionaries in developing countries. These are essential and needed. The gospel is for the whole world, especially the poor, orphaned and broken. However, as I have come to see, there is enough bandwidth for First World churches to reach First World countries. In fact, the burden of responsibility in my book is on countries like the United States to direct their resources in both people and finances towards these places that are so hard to reach.

Japan is expensive to live in. We stood in a small three bedroom apartment in Tokyo that cost $3600 a month to rent. The apartment was less than one thousand square feet. For a church in the middle Africa to send financial support and means to Japan just wouldn't work or be remotely enough. Yes that can be multiplied by the power of the Lord, but it seems to me that the provision Christ has given in the church is for wealthy nations to reach the most expensive, financially difficult place to reach. Christ has raised up First World churches for his glory, and he has gifted First World churches with financial resources to supply the mission to the First World countries like Japan. So let's do it.

As I met with Michael Oh, the CEO of the Lausanne Movement, today he made it abundantly clear that now is the time to financially resource the mission of God in Japan. Now is the time to put all our chips in and see the Lord of the Harvest go to work in bringing people from death to life. So let's do it. Let's be obedient to the call of God and give what we have for the sake of the gospel among the largest unreached people group in the world.