Our hearts are saddened at the damage caused by the massive 9.0 earthquake that rocked Japan to its core on March 10. The visual images of destroyed villages, imperiled nuclear plants, mountains of debris left by the tsunami–and the stories of personal tragedy as well as heroism–have touched our souls deeply. The 24/7 news coverage has etched the devastation indelibly upon our minds.
I was in Salt Lake City when the earthquake struck–involved in board meetings with the National Association of Evangelicals. We immediately went to prayer, and followed things closely throughout the entire day.
One of my favorite verses when confronting natural calamities is Isaiah 26:9 – “My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.”
This is a time for great learning in the Japanese nation. It is time for them to yearn for God during this time of “night.”
Here’s how we can pray and help them.
First of all, a personal reflection. I have been to Japan a number of times. My first visit was in the 1980s when I visited and taught in Osaka and Tokyo–a massive metropolitan area with millions of people. I was amazed how Japan had miraculously rebuilt its nation and economy after a crushing and humiliating defeat in World War II.
Yes, it was true that “Made in Japan” carried a stigma in the 60s and 70s. But by the 80s and 90s it stood for quality, innovation, hard work, self-reliance and the world’s third largest economy.
But below the successful surface was an unhappy nation that did not enjoy a robust relationship with the God who had blessed them.
For many centuries, Japan was a graveyard of Christian missions.
Here’s the quick history. In 1549, Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier was the first missionary to Japan. Under his ministry, many were converted and the church grew rapidly. But Japanese officials saw Christians as a threat, and severe persecution began. The opposition to Christianity grew. In cities like Unzen, Christians were boiled in volcanic lava. Others were crucified on wooden crosses in the town of Nagasaki. Japanese soldiers rounded up all known Christian in 1637, around thirty thousand of them, and killed each one.
Following this, the church went underground in hopes of protecting those who managed to survive. The church struggled for several years. However, by God’s grace the church survived. Faithful missionaries did not stop coming. They heard about the monstrous persecution and answered the call to minister to the few faithful believers who were left.
Japan now has only 1.7 million active Christians out of a total population of 126 million. Whereas neighboring South Korea is over 25% Christian, and Christian evangelism is exploding in nearby China, Japan remains, according to the Joshua Project, “the second largest unreached people group in the world.”
I hope that is about to change.
Let’s pray that God will use many means of compassion and restoration to bring scores of millions into his Kingdom in the coming years.
Maybe God can use an earthquake to bring a mighty revival to the nation of Japan.
According to one source, Japan is often overlooked as a country that is has little exposure to the gospel because it is a rich nation with a high standard of living. The high cost associated with living in Japan actually contribute to what keeps Japan as one of the most unreached countries in the 10/40 Window having a Christian population of less than one percent. Many missionaries from America to Asia fly right over Japan completely unaware of the lack of exposure to the gospel it has. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world to live but it is also one of the most spiritually dark. The following are just a few facts.
• There are about 7,800 protestant churches in Japan and the average church size is 35 people… that is one church for every 16,000 people.
• There are only about 270,000 people serving the Christian population of Japan. Thats one Christian for every 477 people.
• Nearly 80% of Japanese pastors are in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s with there not being many Japanese Christian men to replace them. In 15 years many Japanese churches will have few pastors.
• Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. More than 30,000 people have committed suicide each year for the past 13 years (about a 100 people a day or one every 15 minutes).
• Japan has 183,000 known cult groups registered with the government and is known by some as the cult capital of the world.
• Abortion is the most common form of birth control.
• Japan is the #1 provider of child pornography.
• Shinto & Buddhist world views prevail.
Due to Shinto & Buddhist world views Japan has over 8 million gods and almost every house has a little altar where food is offered, incense burnt, and prayers are offered to false gods. Japan quite possibly could have the highest concentration of demonic activity in the world in light of what the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:20, “what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not God.”
Japan is a very hard place to do ministry and help is needed to plow the soil. Having the world’s 3rd largest economy, significant political influence, and a resourceful and diligent population, Japan has tremendous potential to reach countries American missionaries have no access to in the 10/40 Window… should the Lord work in Japan as he has in other nations such as South Korea.
The Lord wants to reach the younger generation of Japanese. A 2001 poll on Japanese teens revealed that 85% wondered why they exist but only 13% percent believe they exist for a reason. 11% wish they never existed and some tragically contribute to the 100 people per day who commit suicide in Japan.
Jesus tells us “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
Let’s pray for a revival among youth to sweep across Japan.
American pollster George Gallop, Jr., has an interesting perspective. He recently said about Japan:
“The findings of the study show that the [Japanese] populace is somewhat insular, uncomfortable with diversity and “outsiders”, and possibly, in some small degree, “racist”. In terms of reaching out to help others, the focus is primarily on one’s own family group and not on persons outside these groupings. Broader altruistic motives are not so apparent.”
“Most Japanese, judging by their responses to scales on happiness, are neither “very happy”, nor “very unhappy”. Their responses tend to fall between these two extremes. In earlier Gallup International surveys, responses for many nations fell more heavily in extreme positions than is the case in Japan.”
“While at least moderately happy, many Japanese seem resigned to being caught up in ‘the system’ or ‘the cycle of life’. There is a degree of fatalism in their somber mood. Teen’s perspectives on life tend to a sense of nihilism to an alarming degree. A note of hopelessness is found in the responses to a number of questions. And there is little evidence of eternal hope, although a considerable number do believe in some form of life afterlife.”
“Like much of the rest of the world, the Japanese tend to take relativistic view on ethical matters. There is little belief in ‘absolutes’, and this is true across the all-generational groups. In the ‘hierarchy of crimes’ (things that are wrong), those related to economic and family matters far outweigh those related to sexual activity.'”
“Seven in ten among adults, and half of teens, say they do not know enough about Christianity to express a favorable or unfavorable opinion about this religion. Corresponding, seven in ten adults, and half of teens say they do not know enough about the teachings of Jesus in order to give an evaluation.”
“In summary, then, we see challenges or obstacles to presenting the Gospel in a number of ways: in the insular feelings and somber mood and feelings of hopelessness of the Japanese people; in the relatively little importance they give to religion compared to other aspects of life, yet at the same time their attraction to other religions (namely Shinto and Buddhism) and “new religions”, as well as their attraction to the paranormal.”
“In some respects there seems to be a solid, impenetrable wall that could prevent the spread of the Gospel in Japan. Are there any possible openings in this wall? In seeking to reach people for Christ, the Christian message of hope and reassurance in times of darkness would likely be paramount.”
Japan has now entered such a season of darkness and trial . After years of self-sufficiency and the despair and death that it brings, we need to light up the Japanese nation with compassion, care, rebuilding and hope.
RescueNet, a YWAM Relief team out of Australia, is sending a team to Japan this week. If you are interested in supporting this outreach effort, please contact Josh Harmsworth at (360) 774-1181.
And let’s pray for Japan’s first great spiritual awakening as a result of the devastating earthquake.
It is could light up all of Asia in the 21st century.
“My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.”