Friday, April 5, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions about My Future Ministry in Japan

I am well aware that most people rarely read 'frequently asked questions'--but I considering the frequency with which I get asked most of these questions I thought it might be helpful to write a blog post addressing them. But don't let this discourage you from asking me any of these questions yourself!

Why Japan? Does Japan need Missionaries? 

Less than one percent of Japanese people know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Despite over a century of mission work in Japan, there is still much pioneering mission work to do!  Japan is within the 10/40 Window and the Japanese are one of the largest Unreached People Groups in the world. An Unreached People Group is a people group with less than 2% following Jesus--this means that the indigenous church is insufficient to the task of evangelizing the entire population. There are still over six thousand UPGs in the world, and the Japanese represent one of the most resistant to the Gospel--so yes, pioneering missionaries are still needed!

When are you going to Japan? Are you in Japan yet?
 
Unfortunately I am not in Japan yet--I get this question more often than you might think. I will be deploying to Japan as soon as I have raised 100% of my monthly support goal (at the time of writing this I am at about 14% of my goal).

I am hoping to have all of my support by the end of 2014! But if I were to be at full support within the next couple of months it would be possible launch out to Japan before the end of 2013! I am trusting in God's sovereignty and provision to dictate when I will be headed to Japan. If you have not already, please consider partnering with me to reach the Japanese.

How much support do you need?
 
My support goal has been set by my organization and is currently set at about 6600$ a month (updated 7/25/13). This amount covers my base salary, ministry funds, cost of living adjustment, housing, organizational overhead, taxes, medical insurance, retirement etc.

This may seem expensive, but consider that Japan is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. There are 'coffin apartments' in Tokyo that can cost as much as 600$ a month. There is an unfavorable conversion rate between the dollar and yen. There are also many of the hidden costs that most people take for granted because their employers pay for their benefits and half of their social security and medicare. In addition to this, there are one-time start-up costs that include language school and transportation within Japan.

How can I support you? Would you prefer to receive monthly/annual commitments?

Unfortunately I don't get these question as much as I would like. Please pray for me and consider partnering financially with me  to help me get to Japan and keep me there. Converge Worldwide has a policy of only sending missionaries that have reached 100% of their support goals. These support goals rely on monthly and annual financial commitments. That means that I will need to have 100% of my 6600$/month support goal actually coming in before they will send me out!

I have been very fortunate to have some supporters give generous one-time gifts, but I need supporters to make monthly and annual commitments to actually get me to Japan and keep me there! I am fortunate to already have some churches and individuals supporting me at amounts of 25, 30, 40, 50, 100 and 200$ a month. Currently I am at about 25%, which means I have only about 1,650$ (updated 7/25/13) a month in monthly and annual contributions coming in. You can set up a monthly or annual commitment online!

How do you pay for your expenses now? Do you have a job in Olympia?

I am currently living out of my savings account. I am reimbursed for expenses related to support raising out of my account with converge--which means that I am living off of the support that is already coming in. Once I get to a more significant amount of support (around 25%) I should be able to start drawing a small stipend on my support. It takes money to make money--and in the case of support raising, I have had to spend a lot of money on traveling, printing and training. Once a month or so I submit a reimbursement form for my gas and expenses and replenish my savings account (however the general trend has been a decline).

To be honest, I am wary of seeking a part-time job in Olympia for two reasons. The first is flexibility, I am currently able to devote myself to support raising full time, and spontaneously meet with potential supporters and be involved in local ministry. In a week I will be going to Minnesota for a training, and if I had a job, even a part-time one, it would be much less likely that I could have found time to go to this training for a week.

The second reason is that while I was in Chicago serving with Trinity International Baptist Mission, I took a part-time job because there was a lull in my support. I believe that taking the job at the library sent mixed signals to my supporters--some of them may have felt that I was not serious about my ministry among the refugees. The result was that the part-time job I took to make up for short-falls in my support actually led to a much steeper decline in giving. So much so, that it was eventually untenable to stay in Chicago, because I could no longer afford to live there even with the job at the library (I ended up having to take many additional odd jobs, like doing landscaping). The truth was that I didn't take a break on my ministry obligations, and was on the verge of burning out mentally, emotionally and physically because I was giving 100% to ministry while working more than twenty hours a week just to pay the bills.

How long will you be in Japan?

I have been appointed with Converge Worldwide as a career missionary to Japan. This means that my first term in Japan will be for four years. This first four year term will be followed by a furlough of one year and then hopefully a lifetime of fruitful ministry among the Japanese. The Billy Graham Center Scholarship which I received from Wheaton College stipulates that I need to serve at least four years overseas as a missionary--this is really the minimum amount of time I will be ministering overseas unless the Lord calls me home or to a different field.

Why not somewhere less expensive/more needy?

 Many people associate missions with starving children and developing nations--but missions is about extending the Kingdom of God to where it has not yet gone. There certainly are many places in the world that one could go cheaply as a missionary, but in truth, many of the places that we continuously send missionaries have already been reached with the Gospel and have churches of sufficient size to reach their own peoples. A focus on Unreached People Groups shifts our thinking away from merely thinking about under developed countries to unevangelized peoples.

Consider that the Apostle Paul grew up in Palestine, one of the poorest and most backward regions of the Roman Empire--despite his education in Greek and Jewish thinking, he would have been considered by many to be a country-bumpkin. Yet he had his eyes set on taking the Gospel to Rome, the most powerful and culturally significant city in the Western world. There was even a famine in Jerusalem at the time of his ministry, and he ministered to people who were economically, intellectually and culturally his superior. A view of missions that is paternalistic and only focused on reaching those 'below' us is not only unbiblical, but also historically naive.

We have been commissioned to make disciples of all nations--I believe that if the Apostle Paul were alive today he would still want to work where he was not 'building on someone elses foundation' and Japan is such a place where there is so much work to be done in making disciples.

Aren't missionaries supported by the church? Why do you need my money?

Unfortunately and fortunately the mission funding paradigm has changed. It started with men like Hudson Taylor in the 19th century who created para-church missions agencies and began seeking support from individuals as well as like-minded congregations. Many deoniminational missions agencies continues supporting there missionaries directly from the church budget until after WW2 when there was a surge of mission sending--today very few organizations have this structure, the Southern Baptists and the Christian and Missionary Alliance being notable exceptions.

For the most part missionaries are expected to raise their own support from churches and individuals. Thirty years ago a missionary could expect to get a lion's share of his support from churches and to a smaller extent directly from individuals--but now that has completely flipped. Most new missionaries get 70% or more of their support from individuals, and if they are lucky the rest from churches.

Unfortunately, many churches have maxed out their missionary budgets--and unless a missionary retires or dies they are unwilling to consider adding anyone new. Churches also have committees and budgets--and it takes a lot of time and effort (and phone calls and appointments) to even be considered. I have gotten many doors shut in my face by churches. The truth is, that Evangelical Christians on average only give about 4% of their income in tithes to the church, and of that only about 2% goes to international missions, out of that, less than 2% goes to unreached/underreached peoples. The majority of money raised for missions in the church now goes to short-term missions and Christian tourism.

These are some of the factors that have contributed to missionaries seeking more support from individuals rather than churches. But it has also discouraged some people from perusing missions as they would rather not 'beg' for money from their friends and family.

Why not get a job in Japan? Can't you serve bi-vocationally?

The truth is that jobs for expats are not only rare in Japan--but getting a job in Japan would most likely keep me from being fruitful in the ministry that God has called me to. 

Most foreigners who live and work in Japan either work with mutlti-national firms or teach English. Most Japanese companies do not hire international employees except as translators. So in order to work in Japan I would need to be hired by a multi-national company (Boeing, GE, Barclays etc.) and hope to be sent to Japan (odds are slim), teach English or learn Japanese to a sufficient level that I could work as a translator. So basically the only option available for me with my extensive humanities background and Masters degree in Intercultural Studies is teaching English.

While some missionaries go this route as a platform to be in Japan and be bi-vocational, I have already seen how difficult it is to minister bi-vocationally. My desire is to learn the Japanese language and minister in the heart language of the people God is sending me to serve among. Working as an english teacher would not only limit my time to master the Japanese language, but it would also discourage me from fully understanding the Japanese culture and making friends with those who are not studying Japanese. Put simply, it would be extremely limiting.

In my view, many people take this short-cut to get to Japan, without thinking about the long-term ramifications on their ministry. There are unfortunately many missionaries in Japan who have never mastered the language or culture--who live isolated from their neighbors because they have been stuck in an English-speaking bubble.

There are of course people that are called to this ministry, and God knows that we need as many Christians in Japan as possible, extending the presence of the Holy Spirit in Japan by a ministry of presence--but that is not the call that God has put on my life. I don't only intend to be present, I hope to be fruitful.

Can't the Japanese Christians evangelize other Japanese better than missionaries?

I asked a question very similar to this to Ralph Winter when he taught a session of the Perspectives class in Seattle a few years before his passing. There has been over the past couple of decades a huge push to support native missionaries because of their cheapness and their understanding of the language and culture. I once supported a well known native missionary organization very generously--and had imbibed this very philosophy. However Ralph Winter's answer knocked some common sense into me.

Firstly, he said something to the effect that one needed to be faithful to the call that was put on their life--God called us to make disciples, not write checks. Western Christians should support native missions as far as the Lord leads them, but that didn't let them off the hook to going themselves. It wasn't a choice between either-or, but of both-and. Until Ralph set me straight, I had never considered God's call upon my life.

Secondly he called into question whether many 'native missionaries' were really doing 'missions,' that is, whether they were ministering cross-culturally. He also questioned whether a cultural-insider was automatically an expert on their culture and language. The truth is, there are very many Americans who are not experts on American culture and the English language--their familiarity does not necessarily make them effective in reaching out to other Americans. This is true for someone from India, Africa or Japan--simply being Japanese does not necessarily mean that that person would be more effective at reaching other Japanese with the Gospel. The truth is, that in Japan in particularly, foreigners can be some of the best evangelists because they are not expected to live within some of the stricter social norms. Gaijin can be much more direct than the average Japanese Christian and usually get away with it.

Thirdly, he called into question the book that I had mentioned by name which I had received for free from the organization that I had been supporting--he said that the book was very one-sided and perpetuated many myths about missions and unfairly characterized western missionaries as wasteful and unfruitful. These three insights revolutionized how I saw world missions. He was correct, and I had never seen native missions in this light before.

We certainly should support indigenous ministries and partnerships when it doesn't develop unhealthy dependencies.

Do you speak Japanese? Will you be studying the language?

I don't yet know Japanese. My first two years in Japan will be spent in intensive language and cultural study. I have lived and ministered in both Korea and Japan in English and have found how limiting it can be not being able to speak a person's heart-language. I feel that it is critically important that I take seriously the task of learning the Japanese language. Some missionaries desire to jump into ministry immediately and don't take time to properly understand the language--but this makes them less effective in the long-run.

In Japan, the language and culture are so tightly intertwined that understanding the Japanese worldview absolutely requires understanding the language--it is therefore of first importance that I gain a working knowledge of the Japanese language.

Where in Japan are you going to be serving?

Most likely I will be serving in central Japan. Converge Worldwide has been ministering in Japan since 1948, and in that time has concentrated its church planting efforts from in the Kansai, Kanto and Chubu prefectures, along the Shinkansen train route and South to the coast. In that time more than sixty churches have been planted as part of the Japanese Baptist Church Association--with whom I will be partnering. This area of Japan is where more than 40% of the Japanese population lives.

Unfortunately at this time I cannot be more specific--my first two years will be spent in language training, after that I hope to partner with either a Japanese pastor or another missionary to help plant new churches.

What will you be doing in Japan? Will you be working with anyone there?
What is your vision for your future ministry in Japan?

My desire is to be used by the Holy Spirit to help catalyze a church planting movement among Japanese young people. I am hoping to work with like-minded people--pastors, missionaries, Japanese and international Christians to establish new churches that have multiplication and transformation in their DNA. 

In order for every Japanese person to have an opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel, we will need to plant tens of thousands of new churches. This can only happen if we move beyond addition to multiplication. But if anyone has been following my blog, they will know that I am quite per-occupied with the biblical study of multiplication. It is not only possible, but it is the desire of the Holy Spirit to multiply our work--some thirty fold, sixty fold, one hundred fold. (Matt 13:23)

Converge Worldwide's main partner in Japan is the Japanese Baptist Church Association (the Rengo)--currently there are about sixty churches as part of the Rengo--can you imagine what could happen if we would take the Lord at his word and believe that he could multiply these sixty churches one-hundred times over! 

Why are the Japanese so difficult to reach with the Gospel?

This post is getting pretty long--and I believe that I have written a little on this elsewhere--but this is a question deserving of its own blog post, one that I should probably write sooner than later.  To Be Continued!

1 comment:

autumn ruland said...

Hi, I just read your article, and wow, it was such a comfort for me! I also have a HUGE love for Japan ever since I was young and I've always felt called there. I'm in college now, and I've decided to change my major from education to youth ministry, because I really feel confirmed by the Lord that ministry is what I should do. I have such compassion for the children who are hurt there, and anyone, really, who is hurting, and I want to do ministry; however, when I read that teaching English would probably hinder ministry, I was shocked! It really opened my eyes, and gave me confirmation for my field of study. So, thank you so much for writing this article. I'm praying for you, and I wish the best for you and your ministry as you go to Japan in the future!!