Japan: Thick and Thorny – Page 2

Japan: Thick and Thorny – Page 2

Akira Hirose

Japan is one of the richest countries in the world. But the Japanese are one of the poorest nations spiritually. Jesus Christ ordered us “be my witness to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:18) So we go out to preach the Gospel in Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and now mainland China. Obviously these places are also the “ends of the earth,” but Japan is one of the most remote places in the world. Yes, spiritually Japan is one of the ends of the earth where the Gospel should be preached.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now in the land of thick thorned bushes, the tree of the kingdom is growing and bearing fruit. It is truly amazing grace shown at the ends of the earth. This tree was planted as a tiny seed years ago and has grown up in the triangle of Ibaraki Christ (IC), Oklahoma Christ (OC), Mito. In 1975 two young students from OC, Jeff Hesseltine and Tim Denton, came to IC as exchange students. It was the start of OC-IC student exchange program. During the past thirty years nearly 1000 OC-IC students have studied at the other university. Here I will quote from the message given by president O’Neal at the occasion of the 30 year anniversary of the OC-IC exchange program, “The friendship and inter-cultural education among those students and visitors has magnified into lifelong relationships, the establishment of permanent homes and bi-cultural families. The enrichment of an educational experience for many hundreds of students on this campus and the fostering of goodwill and peace between our cultures has been wonderful.”

This relationship and interaction grew up proudly as the friendly tree of friendship between OC and IC, but who knew that this tree would have spread its branches in the field of thorn bushes? Beyond human thoughtfulness and actions, the invisible hand of God has worked on the problem.

The first branch sprouted in 1990. In the late 1980’s the Japanese government decided to employ native English speakers at public junior high schools to enrich its English education. The Mito city education committee started to employ native English teachers for their 15 public junior high schools. Soon they realized how difficult it was to recruit good teachers and they asked for help from IC. IC passed the matter on to professor McCormack. As he started to send OC graduates to Mito as Assistant English Teachers (AET), he chose them with the qualifications of not only being good English teachers, but also faithful Christians. In 1992 six AETs came to Mito and became members of the church. Soon after they became members of the church they proposed to start English Bible classes. At that time the Mito church was searching for better ways to reach out to the surrounding area. We had tried various methods, but few came. So we decided to start the English Bible Class (EBC) program in April 1992. We started with 6 English teachers, 6 Japanese Christians assistants, and 25 readers.

In ten years, this branch has grown to include 18 teachers, 18 Japanese assistants, and 120 non-Christian readers. It is almost unbelievable to see 120 non-Christians come to the church building to study the Bible. It is truly unbelievable.

The second branch is Let’s Start Talking (LST). In 1993 the first LST team came to Japan and to Asia. This is the second branch which has sprouted from the OC-IC-Mito trunk. Now the LST program in Mito is successful because EBC readers can have one on one Bible studies with the LST team and EBC classes follow up with the LST readers. Since that time the Mito church has invited a LST team every year. In these ten years 17 LST teams have come to Mito for summer projects. The LST program proved to be effective in inviting non-Christians to the church. This has now sprouted many sub branches throughout Japan. Other churches of Christ have started the LST programs. This year 12 churches have invited LST teams.

The third branch is Adventure In Missions (AIM). We now have more than 100 readers at the EBC classes, but our LST team can have only one on one classes several weeks in the summer. So in 1998 Mito church decided to invite an AIM team from Sunset International Bible Institute. Under this program three or four young Christians come to Mito for 18 months to have one on one Bible studies with LST readers. Now the fifth aim team is working with Mito church. They also regularly visit neighboring churches and have English Bible classes.

These mission efforts have produced rich fruits. In these ten years more than 2000 have come to the church building to study the Bible and 60 people have been baptized. You may think this is not very spectacular, but in Japan where the thick thorn bushes choke the branch of the Gospel, this is quite a blessing. Before we started the English Bible study program we had at the most one baptism in a year. Without these programs the church at Mito would have become weaker. In 1992 the average Sunday worship attendance was 65. In 2002 it was 130.

It is doubtless that the tree planted in the midst of the OC-IC-Mito triangle has spread its branches and bore plenty of fruit. During the last 10 years 84 Christians have come to Mito as AETs. They all worked zealously for missions at Mito church and by doing so they were strengthened spiritually. It is another blessing that 27 of these 84 have decided to work in various mission fields after they finished their AET jobs in Mito. Three couples have become missionaries for the Mito church.

In the Mito church a lot of young people have become Christians. We asked Ken Hysten to become youth minister 1998. He was the first youth minister in Japan. Through his ministry the church at Mito is now bustling with young people.

Matt and Kara Huddleston, former missionaries to Mito, have launched a new ministry to reach out with English Bible via the Internet. This is the youngest branch of the tree in Japan. They need more readers and teachers.

EBC and LST programs are not the only way of evangelizing, but after 10 years of use we can be sure that this is an effective way to evangelize. The Japanese government is now wanting native speakers in the elementary school. Japan is still the ends of the earth. There are more than 100 million souls in Japan. A tiny bud has grown into a big tree of the kingdom. It has spread branches and bore many fruits. Even our greatest vision for what God has done in Mito is actually smaller than what he has done. We are thankful that God did not just settle for our plan. We thank all the Christians who sowed the seed and watered it, but praise and thanksgiving should be given to God who made it grow.

Eph 3:20-21 – “Now to him who is able to do immeasurable more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

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