New Year, new optimism for Japan.

By January 3, 2020

Japan (MNN) – In his New Year address, Japan’s emperor Naruhito greeted his subjects, wished them well, hoped for a disaster-free year, and tried to set a tone of optimism.

Emperor of Japan, Naruhito (Photo courtesy Wikimedia/CC)

It was a message that resonated with people now struggling on multiple fronts. Joe Handley, president of Asian Access, said there are various layers on the social issues. “The people are not happy, and even the economy has been dropping.  The depression part of its impacted by the fact that we’re no longer number two in the world.  Because people aren’t getting married, there’s nobody’s having children. And so the aging of society is hitting them.”

Unique challenges of ministry in Japan

It reveals one of the reasons why some missiologists consider Japan home to a large segment of unreached people groups. Also, once called ‘the graveyard of missionaries,’ it seemed out of alignment with the technologically- advanced country. Incredible energy invested into evangelistic programs yielded little harvest.  Handley explains, “They’re the most difficult people to reach in that part of the world. Not difficult because of poverty. Not difficult because of economic challenges or problems of humankind, but difficult because people have everything they need.”

(Photo courtesy Asian Access)

However, that all changed with the triple disasters that struck Japan in 2011.  Christian ministries mobilized with the body of Christ in Japan and saw the response rates to Christ rise drastically. “Not on the front end, (but) just because people kept serving day after day, month after month, year after year. So now, we have some momentum building. Pastors and mission leaders and Christian leaders have incredible optimism about going forward in the country.”

Big dreams of growth

(Photo courtesy Asian Access)

The momentum led to big goals, he observes. “Ten years ago, if I were to ask leaders’  what’s your vision for this next year?’ They’d say, ‘Maybe we’ll baptize one person this year.’ Now we’re having these pastors with massive vision, not just one person in the next year, but doubling the Christian population or multiplying it in incredible ways.” Handley goes on to say that these same leaders have set a long-term vision, “to plant 50,000 churches in the country, which is unheard of. Today, there are 8000 churches in Japan. So to get to 50,000, would be astronomical. But the optimism is incredible.”

God will make a way

(Image courtesy

One way they see that come to pass is through a coordinated effort. There’s now collaboration between ministries like Asian Access, Campus Crusade for Christ, Alpha Japan, and others. That’s especially important with major sporting events coming into Japan this year. First, “Japan held the Rugby World Cup. And this coming summer 2020 is the Summer Olympic Games and the Paralympics, and those present unique opportunities for the Gospel.”

For instance, with the Rugby World Cup, groups of Japanese Christians and foreign workers organized sports festivals. The goal is 500 sports festivals in every province of Japan, starting with the Rugby World Cup. These are phenomenal opportunities to reach out to communities, lots of fun, games, and plenty of Gospel opportunities. Handley explains that “The response rates to Christ during those events were incredible. There’s momentum building leading into the year 2020, and these festivals will continue up until the time of the Games.”

Summer 2020 is a unique opportunity for the body of Christ. It’s a chance to see once impossible dreams become a reality.  Handle issues this invitation: pray. Come alongside, give or consider a visit to Japan. “If there are believers out there churches out there that want to get involved, there’s an opportunity to serve before, during, and after the games, on short term opportunities to come and share your faith built around the Olympic Games.”

(Headline image courtesy Asian Access)

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