Jesus has been knocking at the door of Japan for centuries, but only in recent years has TWR’s ministry team seen clear signs of a new era of openness.
Probably because of its long history as a mission field combined with its highly successful assimilation of Western-dominated industry and contemporary culture, many are surprised to learn that Japan still has one of the largest populations of people unreached by the gospel. That means only a tiny portion of its nearly 130 million people – significantly less than 1 percent, in fact – are evangelical Christians.
After a 2011 earthquake and tsunami overwhelmed the northeastern region of Tohoku, killing nearly 16,000, sparking meltdowns at nuclear reactors and driving more than 200,000 from their homes, many Japanese felt the certainty of their worldview had been undermined. The people seemed more open to hearing the gospel presented; the previously stony ground had begun to soften.
Another development at the same time facilitated the door opening: Radio, which had played a key role in informing the public during the crisis, gained renewed respect.
Door Opens for Airing Good News
In the past, when asking about securing airtime on local FM stations, TWR’s regional ministry director for Northeast Asia was told such a thing was impossible. Religious content simply wasn’t aired on the radio, Samuel Tan recalled hearing.
In the aftermath of the crisis, station managers were willing to sit down with Tan and discuss the airing of TWR-provided programs. Eventually, 13 stations agreed to participate and even made their facilities available for recording the programs. They broadcast a total of at least 50 hours of TWR programming every month.
A Japan ministry team had to be built almost from scratch. Along with people to handle organizational and technical matters, 25 pastors were recruited to develop and present the programming. The pastors were new to radio and had to get used to delivering their messages to an empty studio.
“We told them to preach a Christ-centered gospel message boldly,” Tan said. “Anything not Christ-centered, delete. This is what people in Japan need.”
The team has concentrated on four locally produced broadcasts: Season of Hope, which offers Bible-permeated trauma counseling for survivors of natural disasters; Blessing, a morning program; Power of Gospel; and Praise and Worship. The programs are tailored to suit the FM format and the characteristics of Japanese society, Tan said, where churches are few, small and unfamiliar to the average person.
“We are just sowing, sowing, sowing because many of the Japanese have not even heard the name of Jesus. It’s a sad thing,” he said.
Domestic-Foreign Partnerships Formed
Building on TWR’s primary mission to assist the Church, TWR’s Japan team is striving to help local churches grow stronger while reaching out to their communities. Partnerships with churches in other countries are being set up, and volunteers visit the Land of the Rising Sun to join local believers in distributing tracts about the risen Son. With the tracts are copies of the Gospel of John and fliers telling about the radio programs and the local churches.
In addition to helping 350,000-plus tracts distributed, the 16 church trips so far result in two-way benefits. The visitors develop ties with their Japanese brothers and sisters and come to understand their needs, and the local churches, often feeling somewhat isolated within their society, receive welcome encouragement and renewed passion for evangelism.
The steps taken in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake served as precedent when a series of earthquakes struck southwestern Japan in April 2016. Tan visited an FM station in Kumamoto and played Power of Hope for the manager, who later wrote to say he would add it to his schedule
Tan and the rest of the Japan team are praying that the Kumamoto station will soon be receiving responses like this one sent to a station that signed up earlier.
“I used to go to church, but I stopped going four years ago,” the listener wrote. “The feeling grew stronger that God had deserted me with the passing of time. I happened to listen to your program today and was able to listen to the pastor talk from the Bible. Tears naturally came down while listening to it. I was reminded of God’s love that covers my rebellion and rejection. I was the one refusing him. I feel like going back to church once again. Thanks very much for the good story. I will listen again.”
Photos and video: The Singapore church team prepares and embarks on an August 2016 ministry trip to Japan.