Similarities & Differences – exploring mission in Japan

You can listen to this article by scrolling to the bottom and clicking on the ‘play’ button

Short-term workers receive an immersive crash course in another culture. Plucked out of their home contexts, they are dropped somewhere very, very different. They eat strange food, they sleep at strange times, they speak strange words, they experience strange weather.

Nonetheless, as well as these differences, there are also similarities.

Students have many shared experiences the world over. There is a need for dogged resilience to express learning in the written word. There is a gradual unveiling of the adult world as late teens learn to live away from family. Often there is a search for truth and a desire to shape one’s own beliefs and worldview.

For this reason, when students encounter peers with a different worldview, there is curiosity before judgment. There is acceptance of diversity before being unwilling to change. Strategically therefore, encouraging Christian students to engage with students with different worldviews can lead to interesting conversations.

In Northern Japan, OMF workers are active in student ministry. They love to welcome students and recent graduates to visit and help them as they engage with local workers.

In recent years, as well as a regular stream of Singaporean, American and British volunteers, there have been visitors from less traditional missionary-sending countries.
Imre came from Hungary. A talented musician, who has also made his own guitar, he was the first short-term worker sent from his church in Miklos. He was on the same team as Anastazia from Trinidad. She has a graphic design background and runs an online store called “Jesus is my Sensei”1. Imre, Anastazia and the team spent three weeks in 2016 surveying students on their religious beliefs, hosting parties and BBQs, and grabbing every opportunity to share their faith with Japanese students. Sometimes they came across students with very similar problems to their own and were able to explain how Jesus helps them – not always with a solution, but always with kindness and peace.

Their time in Japan was not the end of their missions adventure as Anastazia continued working with student ministry in Trinidad and Imre, after getting married and starting a family, is now looking for the right Bible college to go to.

More recently, Martina, from Milan, fulfilled an ambition to serve in Japan. Although only in her early twenties she was already very experienced in student ministry having been the president of the Gruppo Biblico Universitario, the Christian union, in her home town. Martina spent three months in Japan serving with the FmZERO student outreach team.

Although she found similarities with the way students respond in Italy and Japan, there were also big differences. Once a team member asked her to prepare a game for the students to play. Being very experienced at doing this in Milan, Martina took on this task enthusiastically. However, when she presented the game to her team member, she was very disappointed to be told that this would not work in the Japanese context. Instead, she was asked to make it much less challenging and, from her point of view, too childish for her Italian friends. Nonetheless, she complied, and was then thrilled to discover how effective the game was amongst the students in Sapporo. In the same way, how Bible studies were done was quite different from home in Italy, but very effective in Japan.

Martina is now spending a year in England improving her English before a year at Bible College near Glasgow. She is still very interested in pursuing the idea of more time in Japan, but is waiting patiently for God’s leading.

As well as these three, the Japan field has welcomed students from Brazil and Lithuania in the last year to serve in different ministries. It is noticeable across Europe, and in other parts of the world, how there is a tremendous interest in Japanese culture amongst twenty-somethings. This is a generation exposed to anime, Pokemon and manga from an early age – another experience shared with their Japanese counterparts. Pray with us that these cultural interests will transfer into an awareness of the needs of the Church in Japan and continued missionary sending and going from all over the world.

Andy Stevens

OMF New Horizons Mobiliser for Europe

1 Sensei is the Japanese term for teacher.