Saturday, March 06, 2004

Is the Price of a Japanese Soul too high?

We live in a Christian world where it is popular to be talking of, and in some practical way to be seen acting towards, the fulfillment of taking the message of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ to all nations and all peoples.

From Alpha courses to the 10/40 Window and people daily using the latest edition of Operation World. It's exciting to see small groups of Christians, a whole church or even denomination, either discover or “rediscover" the fundamental call to “mission” that the gospel is. Praise God for this. Praise Him too for technology, including the Internet and well-produced videos etc. that inform of need and present us with, even compel us into action, to support projects aimed at meeting those needs. Massive growth in high-powered and exciting short-term mission programmes also mean an increasing number of Christians who have had some experience of front-line “cross-cultural mission.” No previous generation (you might often read) has stood so close to seeing the great commission fulfilled as we are now. Wow, what a privilege!

Are we really a part of the generation that might collectively act as churches and groups of Christians to fulfill the great commission, or is someone just talking us up with over-optimistic hype? We may indeed live in a privileged generation, but privilege is part of the problem! Much of our mission involvement is token, rather than consuming. If we are honest, a lot of our activity or short-term mission involvement is done by us as we (unmentionable word) “selfishly” seek experiences rather than “selflessly" give service. All too often, we give only a little out of our own abundance. As someone once put it, we give what's left rather than what's right! As our churches (here's a line to alarm!) “copy and mimic the world" with talk of cost effectiveness, return on capital etc. we are coming close to setting target budgets for costs on everything including “a convert". Is this just seeking to be good stewards of God's money (the bit we give back to Him) or is it simply conforming to the world and seeking to reduce unit costs ... and improve profitability?

Hence my question about the price of a Japanese soul. Less than 1% of the Japanese population is genuinely Christian. For generations, Japanese were caught up in Shinto and Buddhist traditions, practices and obligations. They've been slaves to education, pleasure seeking and materialism. What they rarely appear to be is responsive to the gospel. This means that a missionary working in Japan faces high living costs, that is more than twice those in the U.K., and yet despite needing much more funding than a missionary in, say, Africa, they will probably see a smaller response rate. In the language of church growth, it's resistant ground. So, realising this, what should the missionary to Japan do? Pack up and go home? Or pack up and head for the "easy mission ground"?

My question isn't hypothetical! As the value of the yen rises yet higher some missionaries have found themselves unable to live on the funds they get and have moved on. Some have been ordered to. A young missionary candidate we know was counseled by his church to go to Africa, where he could enjoy a comfortable life on the support they could offer him rather than to Japan (where, incidentally, he felt God was calling him) as his support there wouldn't go so far.

Other challenges the missionary to Japan has to face include spending years learning Japanese, a hurdle that daunts many. One generation of missionaries believed it was "the devil's language", that is, his tool to stop Japan being reached!

Then there's the heartbreak of working in Japan, as discouragements can overwhelm, and especially as it's a "resistant country", disappointment with individuals will often come. For some missionaries this and the pressure to "succeed" (a worldly not a Biblical term) have even led to breakdowns.

So, weighing all this up, is the price of a Japanese soul too high? Can we ask that question to a Jesus who, “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”? Mission for Jesus carried a price. He had to leave a comfortable heaven. He had to sacrifice to an extent beyond the understanding of most, such that they would have counseled him not to do it, but he did it because each one of us was more precious to him than that which he left. We know some fine Japanese Christians and we have no doubt that it is on God's heart to see more Japanese become Christians …..but where are the workers?

If we are to be a part of the generation that fulfills the great commission we need to be prepared to leave our comfortable world, not out of duty but out of a willingness to act in love ….. and reach out. We, and most of the world's mission fields, need people who are ready to give not just a little of their time or a little out of their abundance but people ready to give themselves. It saddens me that we live in a world where McDonalds has reached some places that evangelical Christians haven't. A world where even Christians consider it unacceptable that they should enjoy anything less than a better standard of living than their parents. Sacrifice is no longer a fashionable word. We don't like the concept of having to give something up, even if it’s to receive something better! Perhaps then our generation, more than any other, needs to hear C.T. Studd’s words and testimony:

“If Jesus Christ be God and died for me

then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him."

Is our God big enough, our faith genuine enough, that we would give up some of our privileges for the sake of reaching others for Him?

Meditative study: Some Bible verses that you might like to remind yourself of;

Proverbs 21:3
2 Samuel 24:24
Romans 12:1+2
Jonah 2:9

From WEC Japan