“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
2 Timothy 2:2
My journey towards becoming a staff worker with KGK (the Christian Union movement in Japan, like UCCF in the UK) started when I met former OMF Japan worker David. I was a student in the UK at the time, being given loads of help to follow Jesus and serve him where I was. I nonchalantly asked David what kind of people serve God cross-culturally, expecting the reply that it required a particular ‘type’. He surprised me by saying there is no one ‘type’, but that all followers of Jesus should think about what part they can play in God’s worldwide gospel plan.
That conversation led to me serving for 11 months in Japan as an English teacher in an OMF supported church plant. During that time, I met KGK students who invited me to some of their meetings. This gave me a strong desire to help them grow as disciples – and to share the gospel with Japanese students who’d never heard it.
A long-running partnership
KGK is part of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), which it joined as a partner movement in 1957. Since that time, there have always been OMF workers working alongside Japanese staff. At one campus I served on, a former member told me how he fondly remembered his group being told by OMF and KGK Staff Worker Michael Griffiths (and later OMF General Director) to ‘stop being like a monastery’ and get out and share their faith with others! Nearly half a century later, there are around 25 full-time Japanese staff workers, plus colleagues from Taiwan, Germany, and Australia. I was privileged to work alongside them for just over three years. I can truly say that each day I got to do so felt like a gift.
Even though 20 years had passed since my student days in the UK, I constantly found myself thinking back to them. The core values I learned as a student – Christian Unions being student-led, evangelical, valuing unity in diversity – are central to KGK’s identity, and for IFES worldwide.
All of us have blind spots. So one of the greatest benefits of collaborations between local, and cross-cultural, workers is to learn from one another. There were several issues that I had to engage with and develop or change my thinking about as a result of working with KGK. For example, I had to learn the importance of staff workers like myself giving time and energy to building personal relationships with local church leaders. On the other hand, one of the things I brought to the table was a level of intentionality in encouraging and preparing future gospel workers.
Raising up leaders
This is a significant need in Japan. For example, although the church plant I served with short-term grew large enough to become independent from OMF, it has struggled ever since to have a full-time Japanese pastor. In fact, 30 per cent of churches in Japan have no pastor. Moreover, nearly half of church leaders are over 70 and only 10 per cent are under 50, so there is an increasingly acute need for more full-time paid gospel workers in Japan.
Figures like these mean my overriding passion over the last 20 years has been to see young Japanese men and women raised up to be gospel workers – pastors, evangelists, youth workers, and cross-cultural workers. This was what, more than anything, led me to want to work under Japanese leadership at KGK. By partnering with KGK, I hoped I could make an impact in helping to encourage some of these workers.
One way I was able to do this was by helping expand the ‘222 Club’ in the greater Tokyo region of KGK. The name comes from 2 Timothy 2:2, and the group helps students to think about being full-time paid gospel workers after graduation. It’s been great to see members of that group going on to Bible college or starting work as KGK staff themselves. Three years later, when we left KGK to come back to the UK, Japanese staff not only carried on the initiative, but have expanded it and increased the frequency of meetings.
The special relationships formed and trust won are likely to help my wife Catherine and me in our new work of making disciples among Japanese people in London. If you know of anyone going (or returning) to study at universities in Japan, we would love to help connect them with KGK students and staff who can meet with and encourage them. Meanwhile, our partnership with KGK continues as I translate their prayer requests into English so more of us can support the work of KGK in Japan through prayer.
A global perspective
‘As a student, I met an OMF missionary, who was helping the regional meeting of KGK I attended. I got to know her and loved her personality. At that time, I was not confident as a follower of Jesus. She kept challenging me to think and live big as a follower of God: “Why don’t you serve in IFES Cambodia as a staff member in the future?” It felt like a joke, but her encouragements helped me trust God, who entrusts us with the wonderful challenge to make his name known around the world. She’s one of the reasons why I’m now serving in KGK as a staff worker for international student ministry. As a minority in Japan, we find it quite easy to feel isolated and discouraged. But the global family of Jesus’ followers always help us be encouraged to continue. Working alongside OMF workers and connecting with IFES colleagues reminds us that we’re not alone, and challenges us to broaden our horizons. When we are reluctant to share the good news with our closest neighbour, you invite us to proclaim the great news to the ends of the world. I’m truly thankful for the partnership and friendship with OMF and IFES. I can go and take up my cross today, knowing that we have millions of prayer supporters behind us through the visible examples of OMF missionaries or IFES friends.’
Yuya Shimada, KGK Staff Worker
Find prayer requests for KGK at go.omf.org/prayforkgk
Hear more from Yuya and learn more about Japan in episode 23 of the Serve Asia Podcast ‘Discover: Japan’