1965 was a special year in the history of OMF International.
Not only was it the centenary of James Hudson Taylor founding the organisation – then known as the China Inland Mission – it was also the year OMF opened its doors to cross-cultural workers from outside the West. Christians from Singapore and Malaysia started travelling to other parts of East Asia with OMF.
The following year, 1966, ‘home’, or ‘sending’ teams were established in the Philippines and Japan in addition to the existing ‘field’ teams of OMF workers serving in those countries. Today, 55 years on, we hear more from these two very different nations.
Since an enthusiastic beginning – sending their first three workers in just a few months in 1966 – OMF Philippines Home Council have sent over 30 workers to different locations across East Asia. In 1997 they also began supporting Filipino workers within the Philippines, enabling them to reach those with the fewest opportunities to hear about Jesus Christ. Grace Moron, Philippines Home Council Executive Director says that today, there are 30 workers serving in the Philippines and beyond.
Koyuki Sami, Executive Director of OMF Japan Homeside, says that over the last 55 years they have sent out a total of 37 workers. Although this is not a big number, Koyuki reflects: ’We are grateful to God for allowing us to participate in his world mission.’ There are currently three couples and eight single workers from Japan serving with OMF, including Yuzo Imamura, OMF Cambodia’s first Asian Field Director, whose story of sacrifice and openness to God’s call we shared in the January-April 2021 edition of Billions.
However, Koyuki notes, ‘lately, we are seeing more members leaving (including retiring and passing on) than joining’, reflecting a broader trend in Japan. ‘The biggest challenge’ for the Japanese Church, ‘is the lack of Christian workers. As we face a rapidly aging society, many churches don’t even have pastors to replace the retired ones, let alone sending out missionaries. Some might feel God’s call for cross-cultural work overseas, but they are discouraged to pursue it when they see the vast needs in Japan.’
So why would Japanese Christians consider serving overseas? One reason is that they can make a unique contribution to God’s work around the world. For example, Hiromi Soma, uses her own experience to support Japanese students in Birmingham, supported by OMF since 2018.
Hiromi became a Christian as a student in the UK, and found it difficult to integrate into the Japanese church when she first went home: ‘As I had never met a Japanese Christian in Japan, I thought I would be the first one when I returned home. I discovered I wasn’t the first, but I had a hard time adjusting to Japanese church culture. I realised that this adjustment would be difficult for other returnees as well if they didn’t get specific support for their transition. I felt it would be too late if I waited for returnees to seek help in Japan since they quickly settle back into the busy schedule of life at home and have little time to go to church.’ And so through OMF, Hiromi now supports Japanese Christians in the UK, and, ultimately, the extension of God’s kingdom in Japan as well.
Koyuki concludes that the key reason for anyone to serve overseas is obedience to God’s call. Whether our Christian communities are small or large, rich or poor, we are all called to engage in God’s worldwide plan, for his sake, she explains. Although the challenges Japanese churches face can seem overwhelming, Koyuki notes, ‘those churches that have sacrificially sent workers overseas experience the privilege of seeing their prayers answered and contributing to the expansion of God’s kingdom worldwide, which encourages them to trust God for his work in Japan.’
Back to the Philippines
Sending cross-cultural workers is hard for a different reason in the Philippines. ‘The pressing challenge’ that OMF Philippines Home Council has always faced is in the area of finance.
‘Coming from a low-income nation,’ says Grace Moron, ‘OMF Philippines Home Council, along with its cross-cultural workers, always finds it difficult to raise the required finance’ to serve overseas. This was a special challenge in 2020 when the pandemic and the resulting financial crunch caused anxiety and panic among people, including OMF workers, and many people lost their jobs.
‘However, it is amazing to see churches continue to give amidst economic recession’, Grace says. In fact, OMF Philippines even saw what Grace describes as a ‘breakthrough’ in their sending in 2020. In partnership with local churches, they were able to deploy three new workers – including one to Japan! Mission is truly from everywhere to everywhere.
Pray with us:
- Give thanks for the sacrificial giving of Filipino churches to enable cross-cultural sending. Pray for this to continue and for creative solutions to enable Christians from lower income nations to serve overseas.
- Praise God for over 50 churches in the Philippines attending webinars in 2020 about how to partner in sharing the good news of Jesus globally.
- Pray for four men and two women OMF Japan are currently helping explore their call to mission. May God guide them and their churches.