One of our interests here at Beneath the Tangles has to do with outreach to Japan. We’ve posted about missionaries to the country before, and we even have two writers who are currently in Japan in some missionary capacity. Today, I want to introduce you to another individual who is planning mission work in Japan. Stephen has an intense interest in reaching the Japanese people, as well as manga-style art. I was able to interview him recently – please read our interview below!
1. How did you and your family become interested in doing ministry in Japan?
My wife, Kaytlin, and I actually met on a summer missions trip to Japan and the Philippines when we were sixteen years old. That was a major turning point in my life; I got to experience first hand a taste of what missionary work in a foreign country and culture was like. It opened my eyes to what missions was all about: sharing the love and person of Jesus Christ with other people.
We spent the first two weeks of our trip in the Philippines, where people would flock to speak with us and it seemed like everyone wanted to know more about who Jesus was. When we got to Japan it was such a stark contrast. Not only was there a greater language barrier to overcome, but the Japanese people were far less responsive to what we were doing. It was an interesting comparison.
I personally saw how the ability God blessed me with to draw, especially in more of a Japanese style, was able to break the ice with the students I spoke with. It got me thinking about how comics could be used to communicate who God is, who Jesus is and what He has done for them.
By the end of the six days we spent there, God had broken my heart for the people of Japan and I felt home sick as we flew away. I’m thirty-three now and my life since then has been directed to this point. We’re really excited to be so close to finally going! My wife was always willing to go, but her heart for the Japanese really developed and took an identity of its own through the relationships with exchange students we’ve hosted over the years.
2. Can you tell us a little about TEAM?
TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) is a missions agency that has been around for 125 years and facilitates the sending of missionaries from the local church to over forty countries around the world. Their goal is to produce churches all over the world that are able to reproduce themselves. They do this by engaging people and cultures in real, practical ways to show them Jesus’ love. Then we focus on equipping them and encouraging them to do likewise, because we firmly believe the best way to reach a country is through its own people.
3. That sounds like a great approach! And what kind of missions work are you planning to do in Japan?
That’s a great question because I think the first thing that people often think of regarding missions work is providing basic, fundamental needs for people in third world countries. Things like potable water, proper health care, food, shelter, etc.
Those are awesome, necessary ministries, but Japan as a nation doesn’t really need that stuff; they already have it. That’s not to say there aren’t poor people there, but they aren’t a third world country by any stretch of the word. In that way, as a friend of mine put it, Japan isn’t really a sexy place to be a missionary. What could you possibly do there that’s worthwhile?
The overarching mission we have is to strengthen the church in the country. Japan is a beautiful, wonderful place with amazing people, but there is a lot of shame and hopelessness that runs beneath the surface of the things many of us admire about their culture. Jesus Christ is the source of hope and life that can dramatically change that, redeeming those gorgeous aspects of their culture and transforming the nation into one that clearly displays His character in a way that is unique to them.
However, statistically there isn’t even one Christian to every two hundred Japanese. So how do they hear about what Christ has done for them with so few people to share that redemptive message? The hopelessness and shame that permeates their society bubbles up to the surface in a variety of ways and it’s here where the gospel really becomes practical for them.
One percent of their population is clinically diagnosed with a social disorder called hikikomori in which a person completely cuts themselves off from the rest of society for months or even years at a time generally because they can’t bear the tremendous shame that comes from not fitting into Japanese society the way they are “supposed” to. Some researchers even go so far as to say that up to 60% of Japanese exhibit some aspect of this disorder even if they aren’t clinically diagnosed with it.
Suicide is so prevalent that it is the leading cause of death among men between the ages of twenty and forty-four and women ages fifteen to thirty-four.
Fathers are mostly absent from the home due to intense demands placed upon them by the companies they work for. Because of that, it isn’t at all uncommon for them to only see their children for a total of less than a day per week.
In fact, intimacy at every level is in a state of decline in a variety of relationships. This is most noticeable in the birthrate that is below the rate of replacement, leading researchers to project that Japan’s population could drop by about 30,000,000 people in the next twenty-five years with some localities even bordering extinction.
We tend to think of eastern philosophy placing a large emphasis on balance, and yet Japan is completely out of balance. They are a country isolated from the rest of the world in a lot of ways. They are separated from each other and ultimately, they’re separated from God.
Japan might not be a third world country economically, but they are spiritually destitute.
I envision the church, through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, stepping outside of itself and breaking through the walls that Japanese society has placed upon its people which have fostered a sort of national apathy. The church, functioning as the body of Jesus Christ can be a light and a comfort to the people of Japan as they share the hope that He has to offer them, but right now they’re very dependent on missionaries to support them.
God has laid hikikomori and other outcasts of Japanese society on my heart, so I would really like to work with them in a personal way. God’s heart breaks for people who have been mistreated, therefore our hearts should break for them as well. To that end, my wife is compelled to love women who are victims of sex trafficking the way that Jesus loves them.
Another ministry dear to my heart, that I touched on earlier is using manga to communicate the character of God and how He has directly involved Himself in our lives, most significantly through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is something that is being done in Japan currently, but I believe it can be used to an even greater extent.
Sorry, that was a really long answer to your question!
TWWK: Not a problem, Stephen! Thanks for answering!
I hope you found Stephen’s missionary activity as captivating as I did! I had a few more questions to posit him – you can see his responses Thursday on part two of our interview!