Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Breaking the Silence

こんにちわ!ひさしぶりですね。Hello! It has been a long time.

For the past three months I have been busy studying Japanese--and while I haven't been short of topics to write about, I have been short of energy.

In two weeks I will be on winter break--and hope to write a few things between now and when class starts back up in January.

These days I have been reading the writings of a very provocative theologian by the name of Roland Allen--suffice to say, I have been thinking very deeply about the role of Western missionaries in Japan and in which ways they can either be helpful or harmful.

Stay tuned for some of these upcoming posts!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Suitable Field Vehicle

So recently I discovered that it was standard operating policy for a career missionary with my agency to have a field vehicle. Prior to this I had just assumed that I would buy a 100$ bicycle and do most of my commuting by mass transportation, by bicycle or by walking--just think of the health benefits! That is probably what I will still do, but having a vehicle will help me to travel more freely, give rides to others when I need to, and in case of emergency be able to help others without access to a vehicle.

In setting up a starting budget, we asked around to find out what I could get a quality used car for in Japan--and it wasn't all that more expensive than in the USA. However, there are additional costs. Gasoline is much more expensive in Japan, there's insurance and keeping the car licensed which is significantly more complex (and expensive) than in the USA.

However, as I thought about what kind of car I would like to get, a few things popped into my mind... thus this blog post, what would be a 'suitable field vehicle,' for a missionary in Japan.

Kei Cars

Vanilla flavored car.
These super-compact cars are the entry model for many Japanese drivers. They are economical, efficient and environmentally friendly. Considering how much narrower many streets are in Japan compared with the USA, they might actually be a good choice for me. However, if you recall how funny the 'Big Man in a Little Coat' scene was in Chris Farley's movie 'Tommy Boy?' Well that could be me in one of these tiny tiny cars. Which reminds me...

video



Bosozoku

Dragon Ball graphics add to its appeal.
Bosozoku literally translated to 'reckless tribe.' It describes a distinctively Japanese youth culture that revolves around motorcycle gangs. Part of this culture is about making outrageous modifications to motorcycles--which was relatively inexpensive for young people back in the '70's and '80's. However, as these young people grew up, they began to modify cars also. Some of these cars can be quite gaudy by Western standards, but that is part of their appeal.

Recently I attended the Reaching Japanese for Christ Network Annual Conference in Kirkland WA. The main topic of this year's conference was contextualization of the Gospel for Japanese. I have been thinking a lot about contextualization for the Japanese and in thinking about a suitable field vehicle I couldn't help but wonder if in order to reach Bosozoku with the Gospel, one must become Bosozoku.

Drifting

The decals add to the mystique.
The drifting subculture really began to take off in the 1990's and has become something of a worldwide phenomenon. One of the most significant ambassadors for drifting was the Japanese manga and anime 'Initial D.' The story, which started as a bit of a parody of itself is about a young man who drives a Toyota AE86 into the mountains every night to delivery Tofu for his father's business--as a result he becomes an expert at drifting, and ends up racing his stock road car against much more iconic Japanese sports cars. Because drifting is more about technique than speed, he overcomes great obstacles to beat much better cars with his humble Tofu delivery vehicle. There is only one car worth considering if one is going to embrace the drifting culture in Japan.

'Murica!

Don't mess with Texas!... in Tokyo.
Not all Western missionaries are known for their sensitivity to local cultures. In fact, more often than not the Western missionary is caricatured as someone out of touch with the locals (this unfortunate stereotype has its basis in reality) and lives lavishly compared with those around them.

If you can't beat them, then why not join them. Believe it or not, you can buy an H2 Hummer in Japan--this would be absolutely one of the worst vehicles to drive in Japan because of the narrow roads. But just imagine all of the Japanese that would look on with envy at the totally awesome display of American superiority
(oh wait, did the Chinese try to buy the Hummer brand?).

Honorable Mention

At the beginning of this post, I said this would be an article about cars--but many Japanese in cities get around by bicycle.

There is a style of bicycle with is ubiquitous in Japan, and that is the humble Mamachari, or Mother's Chariot. Don't let the name fool you, these are unisex utility bicycles. You'll see everyone riding Mamacharis: college students, office workers, and even mothers. Newer models can even come with electric assist built in (these can cost as much as a moped/motorcycle).

I said that they were unisex, but some of them don't give that impression--especially if they are covered with child's seats. However, that only means one has to be that much more assured of their masculinity to ride one of these bad boys (girls?).

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Final Countdown! Some things you can pray about for me.

Tomorrow marks the final day of a two week long Second Language Acquisition course I have been taking in preparation for my future ministry in Japan! I am grateful for the way that God has challenged and encouraged me over the past few months that I have been zigzagging around the US for training. This chapter is coming to a close, and for the next few months I will be focused on wrapping up the last bit of support raising and working on saying quality goodbyes.

Once I get back to Olympia, I will be sending my initial application papers for my Certificate of Eligibility to my team leader in Japan--this is a significant step towards getting my long-term Visa to serve in Japan.  Please keep this process in your prayers--I am a little bit under the wire as it can take up to three months for the Japanese government to process the COE, and I am hoping to be heading to Japan in just about that amount of time! Please pray that the process goes smoothly and quickly.

Recently I found out that language school in Japan was going to be much more expensive than I had initially budgeted for--actually twice as expensive! I also learned that I would need to put aside some money for a field vehicle. Because of these two major oversights in my initial budget, I have a significant shortfall in my one-time start-up costs. God has been faithful to provide for more than 96% of my ongoing monthly support, and I am trusting Him in faith for the rest of what I need to begin my ministry in Japan.

After more than a year and a half of support raising I am only a few months out from my departure to Japan! There will be a commissioning service for me at Turning Point Church in Lacey WA on the evening of August 9th! Everyone is invited--there will be an opportunity to pray for me and fellowship with others who are partnering to reach the Japanese with the Gospel through me.

After the 9th I will spend the next two weeks preparing for my move to Japan--Converge's policy is that the two weeks before deployment are to be used as personal time, to wrap things up well and prepare spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically for the huge transition about to take place. As part of my two weeks, I am hoping to spend about a week in Hawaii visiting with friends and resting--I am hoping to fly to Hawaii on or around the 18th and then onto Japan on or around the 25th. This will be my first time going to Hawaii, and I am looking forward to seeing many of my friends from college while there.

Finally, please pray for a smooth transition to Japan--there are a lot of moving pieces, pray for the Converge Japan team as they prepare for my arrival, and for all those at the home offices in Arlington Heights IL and Orlando FL that have different roles to play!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Brainstorming: Slow Missions, American Christian Victim Complex, Proselytization and Rape, etc.

A couple weeks ago I wrote nine short kernels of potential articles—I found this exercise very rewarding and received generally positive feedback. However, I found that as soon as I had cleared those ideas out, there were others I realized would be ideal for this format as well. So without further adieu, here is the second installment of my micro-blogging experiment!

Slow Missions

In my previous post I wrote about how some of America’s strongest cultural values are efficiency, expediency and cost effectiveness. This is manifest in virtually every area of life in America—-however there has begun to be a backlash against our ‘fast food’ culture.  This movement is called the ‘Slow Movement,’ which advocates for among other things a return to more natural rhythms of life as a contrast to the obsession with getting the most, in the shortest amount of time with the lowest investment. I believe that there is a place for this in missions. We must explore the ways in which our own culture of efficiency, expediency and stinginess has impacted the way that we do missions! If we find that we have been syncretistic, are we willing to repent?

Investment in Missions and the Alabaster Jar of Ointment

One of the areas that I have found American Culture seeping into the way that we think about missions is manifest in the way that we speak about missions—-namely in economic terms! Instead of talking about sacrificing we talk about investment. You’re not ‘sending’ a missionary, you’re ‘partnering’ with them. Churches increasingly want a return on the ‘investment’ they are making in foreign missions—-they want to have some benefit to their congregation beyond the joy of giving to the Lord. There is a sinful selfishness behind much of this! Behind this investment language is the subtle sinful refrain, “What is in it for me?” When we encourage people to give towards world missions, we should point them to the woman with the alabaster jar of ointment! She gave it as a sacrifice and the story of her love gift is recorded for posterity. Recently a church made an incredibly large commitment to my future ministry—immediately I began to share with them all of the ways in which I could serve their church. The Pastor replied, “there are no strings attached to our support!” That only made me want to be a blessing to their church even more!

Jesus was Not a Victim

Something that has begun to concern me recently is what I can only, for a lack of a better term, call a victim complex among American Christians. Around the world Christians are being persecuted, some of them even facing death for their steadfast belief in the Gospel! In American, on the other hand, Christians by in large do not face significant persecution—however, you wouldn’t know that based on the rhetoric! I believe we have identified with the blasphemous criminal on the cross rather than with Jesus! Jesus was not a victim. He knowingly and willingly submitted himself to death on the cross. We could stand to learn from him and imitate him. Are we willing to be crucified by our media, by our culture, to go quietly as a sheep to the slaughter. Do we need to defend our rights? Jesus knew that in submitting to the cross he was actually the victor—-we need to die to our rights, to our comforts, to our desire to represent and defend ourselves.

Evangelism and Rape

I have actually started writing a blog post on how the way that we have learned to do evangelism in the west—direct, confrontational, without regard to relationship is tantamount to spiritual rape. I have begun writing it, but it is such a sensitive topic, I haven’t found the energy to engage it deeply. But think about it this way, if you were to meet someone of the opposite gender, and attempt to enter into marital bliss with them after just one conversation, it would either result in rejection, rape or a one-night-stand. Now, I want to be clear, Jesus is a gentleman, he is going to force himself on anyone—but in our own zeal for others to know Jesus, are we guilty of forcing love before it’s time? I would say that we have been, and there is no wonder that so many people respond to evangelism with such disdain and revulsion; both inside and outside of the church. We need to re-think evangelism in terms of the wooing of courtship rather than the pursuit of a one-night stand. This may also explain why we have so many ‘converts,’ but so few disciples! They had a tryst with Jesus, but didn't get the engagement ring.

Missionaries as an Extension of the Church

I believe that missions, rightly understood is the pursuit of making disciples and establishing churches across ethnic, linguistic and cultural divides. Therefore, a missionary is in his very nature a disciple maker and church planter. That means that many things in done in the name of missions are not in fact missions. With this in mind, I believe that to rightly understand the missionary, we must understand them as a ‘elder-at-large’ of the local church. Paul and Barnabas were sent out, authorized, by the local church in Antioch, of which they were local leaders. Their ministry was not significantly different than their local ministry of making disciples and planting churches—-but they were being released to do that ministry in a different geographic and cultural context! Do our missionaries however look like local-church elders-at-large? I believe that we need to return to this paradigm! We need to think of sending missionaries as sending an extension of our own local body. When missionaries return from the field for furlough or retirement, are they treated as church elders and leaders, what is the expectation, what is your experience? This paradigm shift I believe would help both the cause of missions and the health of the local church!

Too Big to Work Together

It has been my experience that churches of a certain size—-usually a thousand or more people tend to cease to work together with other churches in advancing the Gospel strategically either through cooperative missions sending or regional association. Rather than ‘too-big-to-fail,’ there are many churches that are ‘too-big-for-unity.’ I believe that this grieves the Lord! They do their own local ministry initiatives, and may invite others to contribute money or volunteer, but they don’t share leadership or invite others to leadership. They send their own missionaries (because they can) and have their own missions initiatives without the cooperation of input of other (usually smaller) churches or local associations. There is a tipping point where this begins to manifest, and I believe it is the subtle work of the enemy to divide the work of the Lord. Smaller churches tend to understand the necessity of working together, because of their limited resources and manpower; they need to develop strategic networks of cooperation. Whereas larger churches tend to be lulled into a sense of sufficiency—where they don’t need anyone else, in fact, they could probably do wonderful ministry apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Pursuit of unity in itself is a heart cry for the touch of the Holy Spirit.

American Individualism and the Non-Denominational Movement

The title kind of says it all—our culture values the individual! We tend to think that the normal unit is not the group, but the individual. Despite the idea of ‘unity in diversity,’ or ‘unity out of many,’ we have long forsaken the collective understanding of what it means to be an American. For this reason, it is no wonder that newer churches have largely abandoned formal cooperation through denominations, associations and networks. There is a lack of accountability, transparency—-but more disturbingly, it is actually a litmus test for the selfish independence of the average American Christian. It is a picture of our own isolated Christian lives. As American Christians with this pre-disposition, we must understand that the pursuit of unity, the pursuit of cooperation is actually counter-cultural. The enemy wants to divide and conquer. Cooperation and unity are hard, but worth pursuing!

Unity and Blessing

While at Wheaton College I read J Edwin Orr’s book, ‘Campus Aflame,’ namely because of the burning image of Blanchard Hall on the front cover. The basic thesis of the book is that in order for a Christian College to stay Christian, it needed to experience periodic revivals. One of the interesting side-effects of these revivals, other than keeping a campus faithful, was that they produced a zeal for missions. What I learned was that an interest in missions either preceded or proceeded from a spiritual awakening among students. Meaning, that one could potentially prime the pump for revival by renewing an emphasis on global missions. I believe this is true, in part. What I have only recently seen is that one of the reasons that God blesses an emphasis on missions, is because in order to accomplish the great commission, churches and individuals need to work together in unity; and God blesses unity. In fact, it was Jesus’ high priestly prayer that finally put me on to this! Jesus is praying that we act in unity to accomplish the mission for which we are here on earth, to make disciples! When we work together towards this goal, God opens the flood gates of blessing. I have even seen this in my own life!

The Double-Edged Ministry of Missionaries

With the preceding in mind, I believe that missionaries are in fact agents of renewal and revival in the local church! While developing my support to launch out to Japan, God has been using me to prophetically challenge the local church and believers to a deepened faith in the Lord Jesus, to live and give more sacrificially; to take the great commission seriously. So many pastors are protective of their pulpits, and missionaries are often the worst offenders —-they can be boring, they can be long winded, but they could also be a great source of spiritual renewal and revival for a congregation! Through developing relationships with churches and individuals, missionaries can actually do a great deal of good for the local church.

Making Evangelism Sexy

Last year I did a whole series of blog posts on fruitfulness. I have a lot more material I could write about on this topic, but one idea that has come up again and again is the idea that the true sign of Christian maturity is the ability to reproduce. I believe that there is a clear parallel in the scriptures between making disciples and making babies (fruitfulness in the original sense, aka sexual reproduction). If that is the case, then a natural outflow would be that there is some tie between evangelism and intercourse (I already made the missionary dating joke). I believe that we need to do a better job helping new believers understand how exciting it is to share one’s faith with another person. Of course you’re going to get cold feet, of course there is going to be rejection, of course you’ll say embarrassing things, of course you’ll get butterflies in your stomach. That didn’t stop you from asking your significant other out on a first date! For some reason we’re able to muster up the courage to break the ice when it comes to merely human interactions, but when we want someone to be born again from above we tend to clam up. Blending together two of the earlier mini-blog posts, maybe a new paradigm for evangelism would be courtship (slow missions + wooing); rather than getting a person to make an on the spot (one-night stand) commitment to Jesus, inviting them into a discipleship relationship with Jesus where they begin to get to know Him at their own pace with the ultimate end-goal of a wedding. Maybe that whole ‘Jesus is my boyfriend,’ thing isn’t too off base?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Brainstorming: 9 Micro Articles (Blogging Grab Bag!)

I haven't been writing for a while--it isn't because I don't have anything to write about; I just haven't had the time or energy to invest in developing ideas beyond a few sentences... here are some things I have been thinking about:

Recently Don Miller, Christian author, wrote about why he doesn't attend church anymore. In his defense of his original article, he wrote that he is not the only Christian leader that doesn't regularly attend church. I take issue with this--you are not a leader, or a Christian leader for that matter without followers. A 'Christian leader' outside of the church is no leader at all. This idea can be taken in a lot of different directions--what does it say about current Evangelical Christianity when the people we hold up as 'leaders,' are in fact not leaders at all, but professional thinkers--do we prize scholars, thinkers, preachers, theologians over ministry practitioners, or the lay people actually living out their faith? What does that say about us?

This leads into another thing I have been thinking a lot about lately--the Epistle of Mathetes! Of course not everyone sits around meditating upon an obscure second century text written by one of the early church fathers--but then again, I am not everyone. One of the most interesting things about Mathetes is that it is the earliest Christian apologetic outside of the bible--but it is unique, in that it does very little to appeal to reason, but instead points to Christians as the main apologetic for Christianity! Like, hey, dude, you should believe in Christianity--what evidence do I have for you? Look at the way that Christians live their lives! That has to be the work of God... This line of apologetics is so unfamiliar to me that it has been quite jarring as it has rattled around in my brain the past few weeks.

Anyone who has ready anything on my blog before knows that I have fruit on the brain... every other post is about fruitfulness. Trust me, I have plenty more I can write on the topic! Mathetes has a great section near the end about the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. He makes the case that the tree of life in itself was not bad, because it was created by God, so it must be good. So knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge is good--but Adam and Eve sinned because of their disobedience, not because there was anything intrinsically evil about the tree. Mathetes goes on to say that the pursuit of knowledge needs to be held in tension with the pursuit of life--or, we need to eat of the tree of life, have new life in Christ before we can eat of the tree of knowledge.

Earlier this week I was at a prayer meeting with some different pastors--during the prayer meeting one of the leaders said, "calling comes first, then competence, then character." I had to think that this was the wrong way around. The more and more I have been thinking, character has to come first! But none of our discipleship is built around developing character before knowledge or gifting. Character gets the short stick! The Christian life, the real meat of it, is the new life change brought about by the Holy Spirit. Yet we have substituted knowing the right things for living out of new life.

I was out at a church in a rural area recently--the area is known for its apple orchards. When talking about missions to the Japanese I explained that it takes years to see fruit in a person's life--one can't expect to plant a seed and come back the next day and find fruit. I said it could take seven years from the time one plants the Gospel seed in Japanese person's life until the point that they begin to follow Jesus as Lord--but that we are urgently trying to speed up the process. Several of the farmers perked up when I began speaking with this language. Afterwards, one of the church elders came up to me and said, "when I was a child, when we planted an apple tree we didn't expect fruit for seven years! Nowadays we have much better agricultural techniques, but it still takes at least four years for a seedling to grow into a fruit bearing tree!"

Exegeting another culture is difficult--I can talk about Japanese or Korean culture all day though, because I have a lot of experience with them. I still don't know nearly enough to be fruitful in those contexts, but I have been wrestling with them long enough to know that I do not know what I need to know. That being said, exegeting one's own culture is a much more awe inspiring and difficult process. Which is why I have been surprised to have noticed three things recently--among some of American's highest cultural values are efficiency, expediency and cost effectiveness. We value things that get the most results in the least amount of time at the lowest cost! It is not surprising at all then that so much money has been invested in Short Term Missions--or as I call them, 'Pop-Tart Mission,' because they tend to be short, sweet and usually unhealthy. We need to challenge Western Christians to develop a 'slow food' movement culture for missions.

Character takes time to develop. Our culture values knowledge over character. But is that exclusive to Western culture? As I think about the Sadhus and Gurus of India and Nepal--it is their ascetic lives that draws others to them. There is a dichotomy in Christianity between works and faith--but as one of the early church fathers, Clement of Rome so eloquently explained, we don't do works to be justified--we are justified by the finished work of Jesus--we do good works because God does good works, and we desire to imitate God! How much do Western Christians need to understand imitating God?

Last night I was listening to Pastor Paul Jones at Reality Church in Olympia WA preach about the 'everyone' of the Gospel. He shared three stories from the Gospels about the people that Jesus met with--sinners, tax collectors, demoniacs, religious leaders, unclean women, the sick and dying (and dead in the case of Jairus' daughter). As I listened to this sermon, I couldn't help but thinking about an article I read recently on honor-shame cultures. One of the interesting points it makes is that Jesus by virtue of his obedience and sinlessness was actually a channel of purity--and everything that he touched became pure (think of the woman who touched the edge of his robe). Therefore, as followers of Jesus, we are now salt and light--we literally have the ability to dispel uncleanness through our presence and our prayers! That is why Christians can eat 'unclean food,' because the defilement wasn't in the food itself, but in the defilement of the person eating it, and we have been cleaned by Jesus!

Last weekend I was up at the Crossing Church in Port Angeles. I had the opportunity to stay the weekend with Pastor Glen Douglas, and we talked quite a lot on Saturday night. One of the things he shared was that in the last year, more than 200 visitors came to the church, but virtually none of them stayed around. I wonder whether this would be true of most of the churches I visited? I usually function outside of the church walls--and so thinking about how to help churches be more effective at reaching out is where most of my thinking comes. I am climbing high up into the tree to get the fruit that is far away from the reach of most people, and calling others to climb up with me. However, there is this low hanging fruit, which often falls to the ground and rots. If a person comes into your church and goes right back out the door without being engaged with intentional relationship--then that is almost more tragic than the church not being engaged to reach out to those that are even more far away! Is the low hanging fruit rotting on the ground at your church?

All right, I have written enough for this morning, thankfully I cleared out my brain a little. If you would like to have me write further on any one of these topics, let me know!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Missions と Japanese; Why Not Focus on the Negative?

A few months ago now, a blog post by Dr. Joseph Kim entitled, 'Why Japan?' made the rounds among those interested in missions among the Japanese. In it, Kim argues that there are many negative issues in Japan that make it a prime mission field. As a response, another missionary to Japan Simon Cozens wrote a thoughtful critique in which he claimed that such emphasis pointed to a colonial 'white-man's-burden' view of missions and was unhelpful in thinking about missions generally, but specifically to the Japanese.

Sazae-san, Japanese and as wholesome as the Amish.
Of course, there is probably a place in the middle--in the past, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with Dr. Kim's blog-post, but after years of serving in missions among both affluent and those in abject poverty my views have changed quite a bit, and I find myself heartily agreeing with Simon's assessment--to a point. Frankly, I feel that Dr. Kim's list is inverted, he begins with the symptoms but not with the disease. However, late in the post he deals with the fact that many Japanese have never heard the Gospel. 

The primary reason that Japan is still a mission field is not because of rates of suicide, sex trafficking, declining birthrates or workaholism--the primary reason Japan is a mission field is because tens of millions of Japanese, in fact the vast majority of Japanese, do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This alone should break the heart of any sincere Christian, and any other social ills are simply a manifestation of this reality.

However, saying this is not enough. I have heard dozens of missionary appeals by men and women headed to Japan in which they emphasize Japan's social ills as a way in which to prompt other Christians to give and pray. I think this is wrong. In fact, in all of the time that I have been serving in missions, I have never met a Japanese young person who was suicidal, nor is it the case that all Japanese are involved in prostitution or are they all hikikomori. 

Doubtless, in a population of 128 million people, there are those that struggle with depression, or sell their bodies, or shun society; but the majority of people that a missionary to Japan will encounter on a daily basis are far less shocking--in fact, they might seem down-right mundane or boring. The fact is, that many Japanese are polite, well-rounded, hard-working, thoughtful and honest. By the world's standard, they are a model people; though still fallen and in need a savior.

The vast majority of Japanese young people are just like the vast majority of young people anywhere in the world--they have dreams, goals, they fall in love, they make mistakes, some of them are even seeking after truth. The Japanese people are a winsome people, with a culture capable of incredible creativity and beauty. Of course their history and culture are also pock-marked with incredible depravity; but so is ours--just ask any Native American or descendent of an African slave.

We should not define any people based on the aberrant actions of a minority of their members--this in some cases is ignorance, but can easily become racism. Especially now that we are living in a quickly globalizing world--where more and more people are able to communicate freely, we should be concerned about how we speak about those that we desire to minister to! I have non-believing Japanese friends that use Facebook and speak and read English at a high level. Have you considered how they would feel if they were to read something I have written to a Christian audience that focused unduly on the negative aspects of Japanese culture? I'll tell you how they would respond--we already have a precedent.

There is a great case study for those who want to see how Japanese young people respond to negative perceptions of Japanese on the internet. For nearly a decade the English Online Edition of the Mainichi Shinbun had a section entitled WaiWai--which translated scandalous articles from Japanese tabloids into English. Mainichi Shinbun is one of the oldest and most respected newspapers in Japan--yet despite this, little oversight was given to what was being posted under the Mainichi name on the English language website. The result was that many of these tabloid articles negatively influenced perceptions of Japanese by English speaking people around the world.

In the summer of 2008, bloggers on the largest Japanese language forum on the internet, 2chan, began translating these articles back into Japanese--to the outrage of those that did not understand English. There were articles about incest, rape, homosexuality, prostitution etc. These articles were written (or translated) for non-Japanese consumption, and in the views of those Japanese on 2chan, did immense damage to Japan's image abroad. I believe their reaction was understandable and justified--especially for those coming from an honor/shame culture who's highest value is harmony.

The outrage over WaiWai (see wikipedia) resulted in suspension and punitive actions against numerous staff members at Mainichi for failing to properly oversee the English language website. 

Recently, Peter B, a long-time friend posted an article on my Facebook newsfeed about the declining birthrates among Japanese, and asked for my thoughts. I took the opportunity to use personification to explain my why I believe focusing on the negative aspects of a culture can significantly damage our witness to people from that culture, as the following excerpt will show:

Peter: "Wanna add anything to this commentary on Japan's social bankruptcy?" 
Ian: "While I have been tempted several times to write on the social ills of the Japanese I have always been restrained. I love the Japanese; as does the Lord. It has never been my experience that fixating on someone's failures and weaknesses is helpful in introducing them to Jesus. I world rather motivate people to prayer for the Japanese by sharing how much God loves them and how beautiful their culture is than by putting they dirty laundry on display. When I meet a new person I would rather hear about the things they are proud of--looking at the family photo albums than going through their medicine cabinet. Plus, if we were to honestly compare our country with Japan, the social ills of the USA are much darker than in Japan--whether it is suicide, pornography, broken marriages and families, psychological problems etc. the USA makes Japan look like a Disney movie... namely with the complete absence of gun violence."
Peter: "So it sounds like there's a LOT you'd like to add to this commentary on Japan's social bankruptcy, all of it positive. What, for instance?"
Ian: "Well, America is far from a Christian nation, but lets use a bit of personification. Imagine that 'Christian' USA were to desire to lead 'heathen' Japan to faith in Jesus. If 'Christian USA' were to lead with judgementalism by pointing out all of the shortcomings in Japan's social fabric, it would be quite hypocritical, especially considering the many shortcomings of modern American life. Sure Japan has a huge pornography industry, but do you know who has the biggest? Sure Japan has problems with broken families and rising levels of divorce--but who is leading the charge in the field? Sure Japan has sexual deviancy; but so does the good old USA. How about declining population? If we didn't have porous borders and steady immigration, population would be stagnant in America as well. Here's the rub, we're measuring the problems in Japan against a perfection that even our own country falls short of. We believe that all Japanese women should enter the workplace, because we have an idol of materialism and constantly growing GDP, we believe that population growth is good because it feeds economic growth, we believe that blurring gender roles is good because it means equality. We think Japan is backwards because it has chosen not to embrace economic growth at any cost. What does that say about our values? Maybe Japan's immigration policies are archaic--or maybe they value their culture and don't feel the need to globalize for globalization's sake. Back to the 'Christian' USA thing--just as if this were a person evangelism encounter, it would be blatantly hypocritical to focus on the negative aspects of Japanese culture without first being humble and honest about the failures of the American Church and the decline of American culture--that is why I don't focus on the negative. The truth is, all of the problems in both America and Japan have the same source, and the same solution. They are all born out of the fallen nature of humanity and the only solution is the blood of Jesus Christ that washes over all sin."

A few closing thoughts. The first is, Japan needs missionaries because it needs Jesus, not because of its social ills. Secondly, assume that whatever you write or say about the Japanese in the context of Christians, especially on the internet, can be heard and misunderstood by those that we are trying to share our faith with. Thirdly, we should not measure Japan's society by measurements we would be uncomfortable admitting our own has significant shortcomings with. Finally, the Gospel is primarily a positive message rather than a negative one; by focusing on the negative, we can be trapped into seeing the Japanese people through uncharitable worldly lenses rather than Gospel lenses--these are people that are created in the image of God and beloved by the Father, let us show them the same level of grace, mercy and unearned generosity which the Lord has shown to us!

Let us take one step past just 'not being negative,' let us aspire for something greater. I hope that if a non-Christian Japanese person were to read my blog posts or hear me speaking about their nation and people, they would hear love, not judgement. I hope that if someone who doesn't know Jesus reads what I write or listens to what I say on the topic of missions, they will not be offended, but instead intrigued. I would hope that when they hear what I have been thinking and praying about, they would want to know the God who has inspired my heart.