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New Horizons

Japan: The Land of Opportunity

Kazuhiko and Katie Yaegashi

America may be the land of business or educational opportunities, but we think Japan is the land of opportunities to share the gospel. From greeting neighbors with “God made a beautiful day today, didn’t he?” to preaching the full gospel openly and regularly, we feel completely free to talk about the love of God.

Recently we read a reminder that the reason we tell the good news to unbelievers is that Jesus told us to do so. Of course, that is a necessary part of our philosophy of evangelism. But we also believe from the bottom of our hearts that sharing what Christ has done and can do for poor sinners is the most interesting and satisfying way to live life.

Another exciting aspect of missionary work in Japan is knowing that we may be the only ones who will ever tell most of our contacts about the love of God in Jesus Christ. They won’t hear it from their parents, their school teachers, or their friends. They won’t hear it on the radio, on TV, or on the Internet. The information is out there somewhere, obviously, but we have never had anyone say he came to Christ because he learned about him on Facebook.

Yamagata, our city, is considered a rural area (even though it has a population of 250,000!) with traditional customs and attitudes. Because of this, people often tell us they cannot be Christians because they are Buddhists or even because they are Japanese. An interesting example of what it’s like to live in this very conservative part of the Japanese “boon docks” is our neighbor’s decision thirty-five years ago to live in Kagota, our part of the city, because there is no shrine or temple here. Relatives are buried in a family plot at their respective temples. Shrines are for the protection and blessing of the community, and residents “belong” to the shrine.

This is a relatively new part of town, and everyone in Kagota came from somewhere else in Japan! Our neighbor knew she would be considered an outsider and discriminated against in another neighborhood. Katie expressed surprise at that strong word. So another friend explained that, when her mother married and moved to Yamagata after the war, the local shops would not sell to her. There were only enough goods for the people who belonged here! That open discrimination is unusual now, but rejecting anything that is not “Japanese” continues to some extent to this day. However, people are also interested in what’s new or unusual or beneficial in some way.  

When our sister, Gwladys Hare, visited from Texas, she gave two piano concerts in our home, and people came by the dozens! We gave each of them a copy of “My Tribute” to take home and think about. One of the first OP missionary associates, Ruth Ann Graybill (1969–1972), will soon come back and present a seminar on “Women Connecting with Each Other.” We expect about thirty women to attend, most of whom are not believers yet. Children’s programs, which always include Bible stories, hymns, and prayer, are usually attended by parents also.

From Missouri to Yamagata

Even an ordinary activity, such as taking our children out to play, can be an opportunity to share the gospel. Listen to this! A young mother approached our daughters, Megumi and Emi, when they were at the park with Kaila, Megumi’s little girl. The woman and her family had recently returned from two years in Missouri, where they had gone to church with their English tutor. When our girls told her their name was Yaegashi, she exclaimed that her pastor had told her to look up Mr. Yaegashi when they got to Yamagata! The family had been back here for a couple of months, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. The pastor had e-mailed me that a family that had attended his church would soon be returning to Yamagata. But as he didn’t give their name or any other information, Kaz had been waiting to hear back from him.

The young mother said her nine-year-old daughter, who had attended school in Missouri, was looking for a friend who could speak English. There are hardly any foreign children in Yamagata, and those who are here usually have one Japanese parent, go to Japanese school, and don’t speak English. As the mothers were talking, their two girls became friends and went off to play. They were able to play together several more times before Megumi and Kaila went back to Brooklyn at the end of the summer.

Since then, the family (living only two blocks from us!) has been coming to Sunday school and church, and all four of them come to English classes at our house. Especially in the Friday-evening conversation class, to which the father comes, the topic is often Christianity.

That providential event happened just recently, but something else that we and you have been praying for and anticipating for thirty years is coming to pass. A childhood friend of ours, Rie Kato Watanabe, who has loved the Lord Jesus almost all of her life, has asked to be baptized. We wrote about her twenty-five years ago, when Emperor Hirohito died. She refused to participate in the memorial to him at school, and stood up and walked out of the auditorium! “I can’t do this,” she said. “I’m a Christian.”

Why she has waited all this time, why she has decided to take this important step now, we don’t know. Nor do we need to know. We rejoice in her decision, and pray that she will be an encouragement to others to go and do likewise.

Dinners and Weddings

Having families over for a meal is another opportunity for evangelism. It’s rare that families have dinner at their friends’ houses—drinking buddies late at night maybe, or moms and their children for lunch, but hardly ever whole families. So it becomes a special event in their lives—and one more opportunity for us to give thanks to God with and for them and to explain during the evening why there is such joy in our lives. One dad, the owner of our favorite curry place, said that his wife had decided there would be no TV in the dining room of their new house. They would have conversation at mealtime, as the Yaegashis do.

In addition to opportunities such as these, Kaz regularly preaches the sacrificial love of Christ at a wedding chapel operated by a Christian woman. Christian weddings are popular in Japan because ours is the “Love God” and the wedding dress is so beautiful. But at El Sion Chapel, folks learn about the love of God in Christ, and the most beautiful aspect of the wedding is spiritual.

There is a roster of five local pastors, and each one officiates at two to four weddings a month. About a month before the wedding, Kaz meets with the couple and explains that God himself created marriage and brought them together. Often, Kaz says, tears come to their eyes. They had no idea! The wedding is attended by fifty to one hundred guests, most of whom are hearing the gospel for the first time. “A husband must love his wife as Christ loves his church and gave his life for her. He died on the cross so his beloved could have eternal life.” Even if Kaz has preached at only two weddings a month, he has preached to thousands of lost souls over the past fifteen years.

The Japanese have developed a peaceful, profitable society. It seems to work to the advantage of all. But we who know the Lord Jesus know our hearts cannot rest until they rest in him.

The opportunities abound, and the new, unusual, and beneficial are pondered, but the response is slow. We could get discouraged by the small number of professions of faith, did we not find such sweetness and fulfillment in the message we are allowed to bring. The Spirit of our Creator God has called us to be here to tell as many people as we can that Jesus is mighty to save.

We remember that he who called Peter to preach the gospel saved thousands. Then that same Spirit called Philip to leave his work and preach the gospel to save one dear soul. And the very same Spirit called Stephen to preach the gospel, and he was stoned to death. We are blessed to be called to preach that same gospel here in the town of Yamagata.

Persecution has been part of Japanese history, but we don’t expect that to happen to us. We are warmly welcomed anywhere. One by one, precious souls are coming to love our Lord Jesus, and, by God’s grace, when you join us in prayer for Japan, thousands more will follow him!

Kaz Yaegashi is an associate missionary, laboring with the OPC Japan Mission as pastor-evangelist at RCJ Yamagata Church in Yamagata, Japan. New Horizons, May 2014.

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