I first decided to go to Japan for a short-term missions (STM) trip because I was interested in Japanese culture like manga, anime and their food.

It was during each trip that God revealed to me more of His heart for the Japanese.

In particular, during one of the trips in July 2019, I extended my time in Japan and decided to spend a day with God.

I did a prayer walk in Kabukicho, the red-light district area of Shinjuku. It was there that I encountered a lot of Japan’s brokenness.

I saw buildings and buildings of video-watching cafes where you could watch adult videos or pornography.

A pimp even came up to me and asked me if I was interested in engaging in sex services. 

When I experienced all these, I asked God why He showed me these things. 

God revealed to me His heart for the Japanese and brought me to think about the needs of these people; why they chose this lifestyle and the vices that were going on. 

“Jackson, I love the Japanese people. They have all these different vices and brokenness, and I still love them,” I felt God say to me. “Would you partner with Me to love them?”

It was then that I was convicted to be involved in God’s work in reaching the Japanese.

The need for companionship

“I don’t really like being alone, so I feel the happiest when I am enjoying something together with my friends, like having a good time together.” (One of Jackson’s Japanese friends)

Japanese people attribute a lot of importance to finding a group that they belong in.

Yet, when you walk the streets of Japan, you’ll come face to face with maid cafes at Akihabara, social escorts at Shinjuku or different red-light district areas in Japan.

Seeing these, you can’t help but feel a sense of loneliness that the Japanese are experiencing. 

Most people try to find purpose in the communities that they belong in, but aren’t able to find it.

So they seek it elsewhere – they look at maid cafes and social escorts as a way to feed the need for companionship in their lives.

As we go through life, we’re bound to feel lonely at times.

Thankfully, we have God as our companion and God’s church as our community, which is what the Japanese really need.

If only you knew the Gospel. If only you knew who God is; that God is a God who is willing to journey with you, and do life together with you. There is a community we call the church that we can come and experience God’s love together. 

God broke my heart for the Japanese. This loneliness that the Japanese experience really reveals a need that the Japanese have for the Good News in their lives.

Stress and the Japanese’ need for joy

“Because if it is just a once-off happy thing, then even if I am happy from doing that thing, this happiness will eventually disappear. I think to be able to continuously feel happy is success.”
(One of Jackson’s Japanese friends)

In Japan when we bid farewell to each other, we often say this word otsukare. It translates to the English word “tired”.

In some sense, you’re recognising each other’s tiredness and thanking each other for being tired.

The Japanese carry around a mindset of: “You have to work hard and give your best so that you can fully belong in this community.” 

That’s why I think a lot of Japanese experience a lot of stress; it’s a very fast-paced and demanding society.

Sometimes when you board the train in Japan, there’ll be train delays which can last from forty minutes to an hour. 

The cause of these delays is jinshin jiko, which means “human accident”.

It’s a very nice way of putting that someone took their own life by jumping onto the train tracks.

The thing is, it’s not uncommon. It wouldn’t even be too far a stretch to say that it would happen every two days.

That’s the level of stress in Japan. The Japanese value hard work so much, so they push themselves so much.

Yet they don’t find any purpose from the work that they do or belonging in the communities they are in.

From there, they end their life.

Developing personal convictions and short-term missions

When I was preparing to go to Japan, God led me to think about two important questions.

  1. Is God real?
  2. Is God still calling me to His purposes and what He intends to do in Japan?

After reflecting, my answers were yes and yes.

This made the decision to go to Japan less of a “huge sacrifice” and more of a logical and simple step of submission towards what God is calling me to do.

I remember when I watched a documentary about the great Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

As I sat in my room watching the video, I began to weep. I broke down, looking at the number of casualties from that disaster.

Almost 20,000 souls. Less than 1% of them are with Jesus now, and the rest of them will never be able to be with Jesus again.

That grew my conviction to further the Gospel in Japan.

Additionally, as a personal project of mine, I joined a homeless ministry. We meet together to pack food and distribute them to homeless people at Ikebukuro. 

Staying in Singapore, we experience God in a very local sense. But being on the ground in Japan, I see how God isn’t just God in our hearts or in our cell groups.

He is managing and taking care of all His creation in this whole world. 

If I hadn’t been on the ground in Japan in Shinjuku witnessing all the brokenness, I probably wouldn’t have been able to make the decision to commit to missions in Japan.

As such, there is a special place for short-term missions; God can meet you there and physically show you the need of the people and how much He loves them.

There is a great need here in Japan. As a Christian, I want to step up to meet this need.

What keeps me going

Ministry is not always smooth sailing. In fact, I think the Devil will always try to discourage us as we continue God’s work.

So, it really is the daily spiritual discipline of coming back to God that keeps us going.

As someone in the field, I have come to realise and learn how indispensable my daily devotion to God is, and how harmful it can be when we don’t upkeep our spiritual walk.

We can do all we can to motivate ourselves and strategise, but ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who empowers and strengthens us. It is God who sustains us on the field.

Thinking back to all the moments when I was discouraged, it was always the Holy Spirit who came and pulled me out from my lowest points through a divine encounter.

It is also important to keep close and stay accountable to a godly community who loves you, and who consistently supports and prays for you. This helped me know that I am not doing this alone.

I am always super thankful to those around who have encouraged me in my weaknesses, prayed for my needs, and loved me enough to correct me and pull me out from the Devil’s lies – faithful are the wounds from a friend!

Personally, while being in Japan, God opened my eyes to the absolute privilege of being able to serve Him.

Grace abounds for someone as lacking as I am, to be able to even participate in His great plants. 

It is not my strengths or abilities that He requires; humility and quick obedience are what God uses.

In terms of ministry, I have seen how God is really stirring up a revival here in Japan, and how He is leading the ministry Himself.

At the same time, God is also showing many of us how there is a great need here in Japan the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few

To those who want to go for missions 

I was struck deeply by something my professor in NUS, Dr Tan Lai Yong, said in a conference once.

We must recognise how privileged we are that we are able to even consider and plan to go for global missions.

It’s true, not many around the world are able to practically consider going overseas to participate in global missions.

As Singaporeans, we must recognise how it is truly a privilege that we are able to go.

For prospective missionaries, I wish to share what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that has always encouraged me in my moments of weakness:

“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Nothing comes close to being able to intimately depend on His grace, and nothing is more humbling than being able to participate in God’s work globally.

Yes, there is a great need in the mission field, but the real work starts in us before it goes through us – oftentimes, it is really more beneficial for us than for those whom we serve!

So don’t hesitate like the Reubens and Dans, but instead step out in faith like the Naphtalis and Zebuluns.

You won’t regret it, I certainly don’t!

ANTIOCH SUMMIT IS HAPPENING THIS WEEK

The ANTIOCH SUMMIT is taking place on 7-9 September 2023 at ACS Barker Road Campus. Registrations are now open — and there are two tracks.

  1. SENIOR LEADERS: Senior leaders of local churches and missions agencies should join the Leadership Conference which starts a little earlier on Day 1 (7 Sep, 9am to 5.30pm)
  2. ALL OTHERS: For all who are interested, preparing to go, eager to explore. This official programme starts in the evening of Day 1 at 7.30pm

The registration fee for Students and NSFs is $20 and the Adults’ fee is $40.

Come and be a part of the moment where Singapore is re-fired and re-tooled for God’s global missions in the years to come. See you there!

THINK + TALK
  1. Are you planning to go for a STM trip? Where to, and why?
  2. How has this article changed your heart towards the spiritual needs of the Japanese?
  3. Pray for Hope Tokyo, and for God’s will to be done in Japan.