Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Korean Missionary Mandate to the Japanese

Oftentimes I have been asked why Christianity has grown significantly in China and Korea while in Japan, their close neighbor, less than one percent of the population has a Christian faith. To answer this question requires a great deal of background in the history of East Asia, culture, politics, economics and spiritual matters--however, in this blog post I would like to add one more factor towards the numerous list of reasons why Japanese haven't responded to the Gospel message yet.

If I pretend like he isn't here, maybe he'll leave.
One significant reason why Japan has yet to be reached with the Gospel is because the Korean church has yet to make it a top priority. 

I hope to outline some of the reasons why Koreans and Korean Americans might be the key to reaching the Japanese with the Gospel, as well as some of the ways in which the Enemy is preventing this from happening.

Big Brother (Prepare to be Offended)

Korea and Japan have a long and storied history--before Korea was a 'dagger pointed at the heart of Japan,' the Japanese and Koreans shared over a thousand years of friendly and prosperous friendship as closely related peoples. With the exception of the attempted Mongol Invasions of Japan (launched from Korea), the Imjin Wars (1590's) and the Colonization of Korea by the Japanese in the late 19th and early 20th century, Koreans and Japanese have for the better part of their history been on friendly terms. In total, these three conflicts are an aberration in the overall peaceful and fruitful relationship between Japan and Korea that has existed as long as the Yamato (Yamatai) people have lived on the Japanese archipelago.

Confucius says, honor your parents!
In Confucianism (an ideology consciously or subconsciously affirmed by virtually all Koreans), one of the five key relationships is older brother and younger brother. From a historical perspective, one can say that the Koreans are the older brother of the Japanese. Chinese language, art, culture, science, agriculture and religion reached Japan via Korea. It was the Koreans who brought the Japanese Chinese writing, it was the Koreans that brought Buddhism and Confucianism, it was the Koreans that brought agricultural developments including tea cultivation.

There is some evidence: historical, linguistic, genetic, and archeological to suggest that the Koreans and Japanese are even more closely interrelated than most people groups in East Asia. Korean and Japanese are the lone Altaic languages in East Asia, Paekche and Kaya peoples freely traveled and lived in both Korea and Japan, members of the Paekche royal family even married into the Yamato royal family, meaning that the Emperor of Japan is partially Korean.

It is unpopular to suggest such a close relationship between the Japanese and Korean peoples--especially considering the icy relationship these two peoples have had for the past century. However it ignores the broader historical precedent of cooperation, peace and close ties the peoples once had.  Korea has a responsibility to the Japanese as the older brother (hyung), which they gladly embodied earlier when it suited them better.

Romulans and Vulcans

Evil Spock isn't Romulan, but you get the point right?
It is a dangerous mistake to play up the historic closeness of these two peoples without making it clear that they are also distinct from each other. Despite a shared genetic, linguistic and cultural history, the Japanese are not Koreans and the Koreans are not Japanese--they may have had common ancestors, but years of isolation from each other (Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom for a reason, and Japan isolated itself from the rest of East Asia during the Tokugawa Period) have only exacerbated the differences between them. Korea's unique relationship with China and Japan's trade with SE Asia have also added to the differences.

One significant difference between the Japanese and Koreans is the idea of Han. Han is something like a cultural disposition of anger towards perceived injustices mixed with a victim complex. The flip-side of Han is a pride, arrogance and boldness that are unique to the Koreans among the people of East Asia. Koreans are passionate--and they tend to get passionate and serious about anything they engage in, whether that is business, religion or politics.

There is no doubt that among the younger Christian churches in the world--the Korean church is by far the most active in evangelism and missions. This is not unique to Christianity among Koreans though--the same zeal can be seen among the Communists in the North and among other religious and political groups in the South. Koreans are extremely proud of their history, while at the same time acknowledging that they have not always been a historically significant people--instead of being stuck in a state of dejection though, they have leveraged that national feeling of being slighted to achieve some great things over the past half century--the South went from being among the poorest nations in the world to being one of the top economies in the world in just under forty years.

Where Koreans are passionate and bold, Japanese have tended to be passive, pragmatic and indirect, with the supreme value of preserving harmony. One of the significant reasons that many Japanese will never seriously consider the claims of Christ is because of the culture of homogeneity in Japan--"if the nail sticks up, hammer it down." In this way, Japanese and Koreans are fundamentally different--while Koreans value harmony within community, the pursuit of truth trumps it. Japanese on the other hand are more likely to avoid conflict, choosing compromise instead of insisting on one way or another. Professor Kenneth Pyle once said something to the effect that to understand the Japanese, one must understand that they are a people living on an archipelago--living on an island with others means that finding compromise to work out conflicts is of utmost importance.

Why Koreans?

With that background established, I will list a few reasons why I think that Koreans, and particularly Korean Americans have the most potential towards reaching the Japanese with the Gospel.

Forgiveness

DeShazer and Fuchida
One of the most powerful testimonies is of grace and forgiveness--the missionary and WW2 veteran Jacob DeShazer was used powerfully of the Lord in post-war Japan because he had every reason to hate the Japanese, but because of Jesus' love, he himself renounced any grudge he had against them and extended the grace of God instead. God blessed Jacob's ministry and he became one of the most beloved missionaries of the post-war period. God providentially used a tract that he had written, entitled "I was a Prisoner of Japan" in the conversion of Mitsuo Fuchida, the pilot that had led the attack on Pearl Harbor--he later became a Christian Evangelist! The two became friends and worked together to advance the Gospel among the Japanese.

Fuchida and Billy Graham
Not every American has such a powerful story of grace and forgiveness--both of my grandfathers fought the Japanese in WW2, but that has had little impact on my views towards them. However, most modern South Koreans have grown up being taught about the atrocities committed against them during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The animosity between Korea and Japan today runs hot, and frequently boils to the surface. A single mention of the word Dokdo is usually enough to bring about some anti-Japanese sentiment.

The average Korean today has a very negative view of the Japanese--I was astonished to find that this was true even among Christians! It was shocking to me to hear the things said about Japanese among professing Christians when I lived in South Korea. It was then that I realized how successful the Enemy had been in building animosity between these two peoples.

How incredible would it be, if every Christian in Korea were to commit to pray for the Japanese--and to renounce their unforgiveness and bitterness towards their Japanese neighbors! What an incredible witness that would be to the Japanese. It is clear that God extended forgiveness to us before we repented or sought His grace, "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

The reason that many Koreans have yet to forgive the Japanese for their occupation and wartime atrocities is because they have yet to receive a sufficiently contrite apology--however many times Japanese leaders apologize, it never seems to be enough. However, Jesus teaches that we are to love our enemies! "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:43-45)

My earnest desire and prayer to the Lord would be that the Korean church would extend unconditional forgiveness and mercy towards the Japanese! This I believe more than anything else would have a powerful impact on both the Japanese and Koreans for the legitimacy and power of the Gospel! 

However--while I was in Korea, I witnessed the reverse. A group of Japanese seminary students came to Korea, and in church after church they were confronted with the grievances of the Korean people--and in tears repented for the role that their ancestors played in the mistreatment of the Koreans. While these public repentance sessions seemed to be good--they only served to reinforce the divisions between the Japanese and Koreans. The Korean Christians were more than happy to watch a hand full of young men and women tearfully repent for their people, but it reminded me more of a scene from the Chinese Cultural Revolution than one from the early church. 

It would have been more powerful, if say, these young Japanese Christians had come to Korea and been received warmly by the Korean church and, while being told about the wartime atrocities (something many Japanese are blissfully unaware of) also being told that there was no ill-will or bitterness towards them--because they were made brothers and sisters through the blood of Jesus Christ!

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility...  that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace (Ephesians 2:14-15)

Language and Culture

The Korean and Japanese languages are both Altaic languages, meaning that they have a subject-object-verb (SOV) structure as opposed to the subject-verb-object (SVO) structure used in languages like Chinese and English.  In order for a native English speaker to learn Japanese fluently, it takes between three and five years of intensive study. For a Korean, this time is more than halved--for many Koreans it only takes about a year to learn Japanese to fluency! 

There is already a large minority of Koreans in Japan--and for a Korean fluent in Japanese it is possible to live in a much more incarnational way than for a Western missionary. The Japanese are a very xenophobic people--especially towards Koreans and Chinese. However, a Korean with perfect Japanese can in many cases pass as a Japanese. 

Korean and Japanese cultures are different--and so are the ways in which they perceive the world around them. However, different they are though, there is still much commonality between the two. Even though a Korean person may personally clash with many aspects of Japanese culture, they will be able to understand the motivations and thinking of the Japanese better than the average Westerner, because they are often working with the same cultural building blocks, even if assembled differently. 

Korean Wave

South Korea and Japan are close trading partners--for the first time in centuries the Koreans and Japanese are on mutually beneficial grounds economically. Beyond that, they are just close in proximity! Korea is a major sender of short-term missionaries; however many of these missionaries are going to far-flung places like India, Central-Asia, Africa and SE Asia. Very few of them perceive the strategically important mission field in their own back yard! 


Yon-Sama! Winter Sonata Video Game?! Only in Japan.
With the growing economic ties between South Korea and Japan though, more opportunities will open for missions minded young professionals to go to Japan. Unfortunately, missionary visas are only available to Koreans in limited quantities, and are restricted to ordained seminary graduates and limited to a one-year length. For this reason, many Korean missionaries tend to go to Japan with tourist visas, and are only able to stay in country for a few months at a time. 

I was surprised to find out how differently missionaries from Korea were treated than those from the West by the Japanese government! An American can get a missionary visa without ordination, and these visas are often given for periods of three to five years. There is definitely an element of discrimination towards Koreans--possibly because of the large illegal Korean immigrant population in Japan.

But the winds favor Korea--Korean popular culture and cuisine are becoming increasingly popular in Japan, especially among women. With the changing demographics in Japan (an aging society, low birth rate etc.) young Korean professionals will find an increasing number of open doors in Japan in the business world and beyond. Korea missionaries already have a strong Business As Missions (BAM) segment--and it would behoove them to concentrate on this further.


Michael Oh at the Desiring God Conference
Korean-American missionaries to Japan on the other hand can get the longer missionary visas--and their experiences as a minority in America may help to prepare them for service in Japan. Korean missionaries tend to use cookie-cutter approaches to missions (one-size-fits-all), however this is less the case for second-generation Korean American missionaries. They are much more likely to use contextualization and to appreciate the unique culture and context of the place in which they are ministering than their parents would. I am painting with a broad brush here, I hope you will forgive my generalizations.

One of the most influential missionaries alive today is Michael Oh, the current Executive Director of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. This 42-year-old Korean American missionary to Japan has served as a church planter and helped to start the Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya Japan in 2004, sensing the need for a strong evangelical seminary in Japan. My hope would be to see many Korean American Christians follow in Michael's footsteps and invest in reaching the Japanese with the Gospel!

Some Possible Hindrances
  
Hate, Bitterness and Pride


The ongoing animosity between the Korea and Japan only serves to keep the Japanese from encountering Jesus. Hate, bitterness and pride on behalf of Koreans is a wall that keeps them from extending the grace of Jesus in a significant way to the Japanese. While a small segment of the Korean church has made a conscious yet inconsistent effort to reach out to the Japanese, this token effort will not turn into a tidal wave unless the broader church begins to imbibe the mercy and grace of Jesus and extend it to the Japanese!

Forgiveness is not easy--the offenses against the Koreans on behalf of the Japanese are real. The colonial history, war crimes, comfort women and forced conscription are not easy to forgive--Jesus never promised that forgiveness was easy, but he commanded it! He says to love our enemies, and in 1 Cor 13 it says that love keeps no records of wrongs. The Korean church needs to stop resurrecting the injustices of the past and start extending grace and love for today! We cannot expect non-Christian Koreans to extend forgiveness, but the Korean Church can show them another way than bitterness. 

A major hindrance to this happening is the Korean 'Han.' While it serves to promote zeal and boldness among Koreans, it also continually returns to the injustices of the past to prompt action in the present. Instead, a grace filled Christian response on the behalf of Koreans would look past the injustices of the colonial period and the Imjin Wars, and to the historic friendship held between the peoples of Korea and Japan--as the older brother, Korea has the opportunity to love Japan in a new way! 

The Gospel will prevail against this island of animosity!

Korean Methodology

Conformity--we know you're good at it!
Another hindrance to a successful missionary outreach on behalf of Koreans and Korean-Americans to Japan is the tendency to fall back on Korean methods of evangelism, discipleship and church planting. (Something which is a tendency of all peoples--what is familiar tends to be what we do). Japanese are not Koreans, and what works in Korea doesn't necessarily work in Japan.  New missionaries to Japan must be flexible and adaptable. 

Japanese culture, even with its foibles, is beautiful and worth affirming. In the same way that it was an injustice when the Japanese tried to erradicate Korea's culture during the colonial period, it is unjust for a Korean missionary to Japan to insist on doing everything in a Korean way. A Japanese church will look distinctly Japanese, and a Japanese believer will be distinctly Japanese--even if they have been discipled by a Korean missionary. 

Korean seminaries and missionary training schools need to strongly emphasize contextualization and incarnational ministry. Because of the numerous similarities between Japanese and Korean cultures, there is a tendency to play down the differences--but the differences are important, and beautiful to God. Because of that, all missionaries, not just Koreans, need to be sensitive to affirm what is good in Japanese culture.

Ease and Apathy 

Missions in Japan is hard! What has tended to happen when a Korean missionary goes to Japan is to gather together members of the Korean diaspora rather than making inroads among the Japanese. While there is a need for missionaries to the Korean diaspora in Japan (percentage wise, Koreans in Japan are some of the least evangelized and churched Koreans in the world--they tend to mirror the Japanese they live among in this way), missionaries from Korea must be willing to draw a line and prioritize the Japanese even if they do not see as much bang for their buck as they would reaching out to Koreans or internationals. 

Prayer

Lord, I pray that the Korean Church would sense their responsibility to the Japanese people as their older brother. Koreans have been responsible for bringing false religions to the Japanese, would you use them to bring your Gospel to their neighbors.

I pray that you would help the Korean Church to repent of their bitterness towards the Japanese--help them to see that it is not Christlike to insist upon Japan's repentence, but that they are commanded to love their enemies (even the Japanese)! Lord, I pray that you would raise up within the Korea and Korean American churches men and women with a heart for reaching the Japanese--open the doors for fruitful culturally-affirming Gospel ministry among the Japanese on behalf of the Korean church.

I pray that you would raise up more missionary leaders and roll models among the Korean American church, so that young Korean American Christians would pursue your calling among the nations rather than settling for worldly, materialistic pursuits! I pray that a great harvest would be brought in among the Japanese by the Korean church.

Help us to repent of withholding your forgiveness from others like the unmerciful servant! Lord, we have been forgiven a far greater debt than anyone owes to us. Let us live with unhindered grace towards others since we have received so much more than we can every comprehend from you! In the name of Jesus I pray.

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