Don’t judge a book by its cover. I was reminded of this saying recently as I was discussing new ministry opportunities with friends. Sometimes it’s easy to only see the façade a government or particular group wants known, that’s why it’s important to talk to people on-the-ground. That’s why I talk to people like Pam Wise who’s pioneered a wholistic ministry in Cambodia, or my friend Abdoulaye Sangho who launched Ebola awareness programming in West Africa. Today, I want to share with you what I learned from talking with my good friend Samuel Tan who coordinates the TWR ministry in NE Asia.
When you think of China, what comes to mind? One child policy. Poverty. High population. Cheap labour. A closed door to the gospel?
When you think of Japan, what comes to mind? Prosperity. Perhaps images from the Nagasaki or Hiroshima bombings or the latest tsunami and the damage it caused. But they have religious freedom – yes?
There’s always more to the story and appearances can be deceiving.
JAPAN – Appears Open But Is Closed
“Japan is a spiritually hard ground. It’s a missionary graveyard,” Samuel said.
Christianity represents less than 1% of the population in Japan. The average church’s attendance hovers around 15 to 20 people, and the age of pastors average in at over 60 years old. Church in Japan is a social club—if you preach boldly people are offended and will leave. Japan appears open to the gospel, but the hearts of the people have been hard and closed.
“In Japan, their culture is an idol,” Samuel says. “Culture is more important than God. They have very hard hearts. We hope media is one way to help pastors share the message of the gospel.”
There aren’t professional counsellors in Japan. If they can’t solve a problem themselves, suicide is the expected response. Some have no hope. They are just waiting to die.
“After the tsunami, people are softened and we are now able to preach the gospel and offer hope through the FM networks for the first time,” Samuel said.
He went on to tell me that when Japanese people hear the gospel message through the radio they don’t take offense against a particular person and are more open to seeking out answers on their own. TWR now airs 2.5hrs daily in certain parts of Japan, which has never been possible before.
CHINA – Appears Closed But Is Open
In areas of China, there are many underground churches. Samuel said, “We have no problem reaching women in China. It’s a very open society now. The majority of houses churches are run by women. Because of the one child policy, many women have had an abortion and this gives us an opportunity to offer hope and healing through the gospel.”
China is a rich nation with many financial resources and they have begun to engage in foreign missions.
(Here are some photos of underground churches in China I visited.)
There’s a growing trend of increased access to modern technology among even the poorest and most remote people groups. I read this article from China published by the BBC: Nomad Herders Rely on Social Media
Where herders in the remote mountainous areas of northern China (where the people speak a Mongolian dialect) would have to go through a middleman to sell their cattle, now they go directly to another herder to make that exchange via mobile phones. Where they would spend days searching for a lost cow, now they take a photo of a handwritten message and send it to the nearest herdsman and find their lost animal within an hour.
People groups who were once hard to reach, areas that were just too remote for missionaries to reach, are now embracing the technology that also allows us to share the Gospel with them in ways we’ve never been able to before.
“China has large unreached people groups – they’ve not heard about Jesus. There are 105 unreached people groups – that’s more than 1 million people speaking 15 different languages,” Samuel said. “On October 26 we launched a new ministry using mass media in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hakka to reach these people with the gospel. We’re giving away 30,000 radios.”
I was surprised to learn about these unreached people groups in China, because Christianity has been in China since the 8th century, with Protestant missionaries present for at least 200 years. It was hard to imagine there were groups that hadn’t yet been reached. Similarly, I was saddened to hear how difficult ministry is in Japan, but times are changing and media is – perhaps more than ever before – a powerful tool to reach these people for Christ.
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