“Then the master said to the servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind”. (Luke 14)
Blossoming Trees at Green Park
Winter is finally starting to wane here, and with it, the bitter cold nights (and days). The temperatures only go as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit or so, but there are a couple of factors that make cold’s effects more pervious. We are literally surrounded by water, live about 25 minutes from the ocean, and with the lack of westernized heating, it can be a task just to use the toilet in the next room! A majority of the space in living and work areas are usually not conditioned in the winter or summer, leaving sometimes a huge temperature difference between rooms. Even after a certain time of the evening, if workers aren’t done working yet, bosses will completely turn off the conditioning, forcing employees to work faster in sometimes difficult conditions. Actually, that’s one thing I wanted to mention in this month’s post.
The Japanese have an incredible work ethic – certainly the greatest I know of in the world. They rarely allow idleatry into their lives; laziness and selfishness as extremely frowned upon. Mia and Hannah have both been sick recently, so I needed to postpone an evening class this past week. This was such a big deal, that Hiroko personally contacted the company’s manager to make an apology, and I also made a formal one in person. Hiroko fell in a convenience store a little while ago and also recently slipped a disk in her back, but has refused to stop working even though she can hardly sit down. Moriai, my Japanese counterpart, has spent a few nights this past month almost entirely without sleep because of work. While the ethic is very admirable, it is also extremely hazardous. Many employees are expected to work six days a week, and over 12 hours a day.
Fencing to help prohibit suicide jumping.
Moreover, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Recently, a man who worked for a well-known company committed suicide. The authorities declared it “death from overwork” – and this is not an unusual occurrence. There is a forest named あおきがはら (aokigahara) at the base of the famous Mt. Fuji, and is nicknamed the “Suicide Forest”, where hundreds of people a year go to end their lives. Japan as a whole, has almost 10 people commit suicide every day. The country has been taking measures to lower the “workaholic” situation, but it isn’t working. They even started a new initiative recently called “Premium Friday”, where workers are expected to go home early on the last Friday of each month. This past Friday I was in a supermarket and they were advertising this over the loud speakers. I asked one of the clerks how they liked it – she responded, “oh, unfortunately, we don’t do that”. I have gotten that response from every person I’ve spoken to in Japan about it.
Perhaps somewhat correlated, many young people in Japan don’t want to get married, and the country has acknowledged that is now in a population crisis as a result. Marriage is practically treated as a handicap (even in our situation), and the family relationship that we know is almost unheard-of in Japan. I have a class of older ladies that I teach, and when discussing the topic of “Premium Friday” as an English lesson, we discussed the pros and cons of being a workaholic. One of their answers was that the husband is never home; he has to spend a majority of his time away from his family and can’t even eat together with them. I was surprised by this answer, but not because it was a con, but because it was a pro. On top of it, they unanimously agreed and further elaborated. They all explained how the family is more like a pragmatic relationship than an affectionate one, and how the marriage relationship is more of a negative burden than anything – it gets in their way. Despite their general acknowledgment of this problem, they are still stuck in a cycle of life with no purpose or goal that they cannot get freedom from. This is a big obstacle for us to break through, but “if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed”. Please continue to pray for their hearts to be opened.
Many past missionaries have stated throughout time that Japan is different from other mission fields. The Japanese are persistent, isolated, and driven in their work-related goals. This is extremely true. It is so true, in fact, that it is not rare to be “cut-off” by a Japanese person, both in person (like at a store) or in a vehicle, and they not even notice (this is something that still perplexes us both)! Therefore, missionaries have proposed that you cannot publically reach-out with out-reach ministries, but must take a different approach, to show them Christ. We’ve been told that preaching and traditional, Bible-based methods “just don’t work”.
We’ve prayed about and considered this thought for some time. Against my feelings, I couldn’t help but agree. Even the apostle Paul became like who he ministered to (I Cor 9:19-22). So we’ve conceded to the thought that we cannot reach many for Christ in traditional ways, but must slowly, reach the few through personal relationships. However, with somewhat better Japanese and the coming of Spring, the Lord has given a couple of opportunities to witness to children. It was enlivening. It was refreshing. It was also terribly burdening. Several times thoughts have come to me in prayer about the many that we “cannot reach”. It’s been said that if we try to reach those that we don’t first have a strong relationship with, that it will be a waste of time, and probably not work. This has never stopped bothering me, until a recent conversation Mia and I had.
It may be fact that 98% of the country is on their way to hell without Christ. It may be fact that a majority of our efforts will return unfruitful. It may also be fact that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt 19), but does that mean we ignore the rich? Absolutely not. It is also true that, “if you shoot for nothing you will get it every time”. If we focus on only our influence on our inner-circle of people, the otter-circle will never hear. But if we obey God’s command to “preach the gospel to every creature”, the Word of God will not return unto him void. If we spend a lifetime in “our father’s business”, and only one or two people ever accept Christ as their Lord, is that a “waste of time”? Men look “on the outward appearance”, and “mega churches” fill the globe. But God is not concerned about numbers. As in the tale of Gideon, or Saul, or when David numbered the people, and it was treated as sin against the Lord; we cannot concern ourselves with the outward probability of “success”. Many a missionary have left Japan discouraged because of the lack of visible fruit, but if God’s Spirit is working on a person’s heart, does it matter what culture or statistics say? Is not God able to break through any barrier, no matter how strong? As we receive courage, we hope that you too will be encouraged to do what you can to actively tell others about Christ, no matter what you see or don’t see. God is pleased to see his children love and serve him. We must leave the results to God.
I have been so grieved lately about seeing people in the park, or elsewhere, conversing with them, and them leaving without sharing the hope of the gospel at all, afraid of what nearly everyone says will be the expected result. I remember walking away from a particular group of young people thinking, “I didn’t witness to them, and now probably no one else in the world will, either”. In Japan it’s really true – if you don’t do it, no one else will – because there is no one else. From this point on we’ve decided to disagree with what statistics say, and do what we can to reach them, even if “narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life”. Though, without denying that Japan needs a difference approach, I’ve been asking God for just the right thing. Though the Japanese people may be closed for the most part, they have a large interest in English. Children are especially excited to try their hand at what they know when they see us. It’s not uncommon to hear an enthusiastic “HAlow!!!”, when passing a group of boys or girls. Young adults and families, too, are intrigued to interact with a foreign speaker. A gospel tract from my youth came to my mind. It was a very simple and tiny booklet entitled, “Smile! God loves you!”, with nothing but a yellow smiley on the front. Each page contained either a spiritual thought or Bible verse. So I prayed and asked God to clearly show me the way if it was his will as I began to search for this long-lost tract. It turns out that it’s been out-of-print for five years, but during my search I came across something different – “Motion Tracts”.
Motion Tract: Is Sin Separating You From God?
Motion Tracts use what’s called lenticular printing. You’ve probably seen something like it on advertising materials or different things, but it is a great idea for portraying a short gospel message while teaching a couple of English words like Sin, Separate, Death, and Life. We contacted the company that makes these, and it looks like it was the perfect timing, for a few reasons. We are currently waiting for the company to receive a shipment of several brand new types of these tracts in the next week or so for us to review, and it looks like we have a green light to order them in a couple of weeks. We are extremely excited to start using these, and we ask for your prayers for wisdom, and for the Holy Spirit to work on the hearts of people to receive them.
This has already been a long post, but we thank you so much for your support and your time to read it. I would also like to solicit your prayers for Hannah. Mia and Hannah have both gotten sick recently, but Hannah has something more. She has, what we’ve believe to be whooping cough, for the last two+ months, but it isn’t getting better as expected. We took her to a doctor and got medicine, but it doesn’t seem to be helping. At brief times she actually has difficulty breathing after sometimes a long bout of coughing, and it doesn’t seem to be the traditional things that most have considered. We’ve been recommended to take her to a specialist if it doesn’t get better once the medicine is used-up in a couple more days. Thank you for your prayers for her, as well!
Again, blessings to you as you serve the Lord where you are, and if you need prayer for anything as well, please let us know here, on Facebook, by phone, e-mail, or however!
“If just one more soul were to walk down the aisle, it’ll be worth every struggle, it’ll be worth every mile. A life time of labor is still worth it all if it rescues just one more soul!”