On May 1 it is spring in Tokyo, even though a humid 81°F (27°C) may trick you into thinking summer is already here. Even though the world-famous cherry blossoms have been gone a full month, it is still possible to smell the scent of flowers along the city’s hundreds of manicured parks and gardens.
It doesn’t smell like flowers, however, at Narita International Airport an hour north of the city, as thousands of sweating and jet-lagged passengers walk out its gates and hurry to catch trains, buses, and cabs heading off in all directions.
Among the passengers setting foot in Tokyo on May 1 are Seventh-day Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson and his wife Nancy, who after a 14-hour flight from the Washington DC area, seem happy and relieved to meet familiar faces. Japan Union Mission president Masumi Shimada and other regional church leaders return the Wilsons’ broad grins as they officially welcome them to Japan.
Wilson is in Tokyo to get actively involved in the ‘All Japan Total Member Involvement 2018’ initiative, a comprehensive evangelistic plan that includes meetings in 161 venues across the East Asian nation in the next few weeks. He is expected to preach over three extended weekends at Tokyo’s Amanuma Seventh-day Adventist Church. Evangelistic meetings will also take place in dozens of venues across the capital and other Japanese cities such as Osaka, Hiroshima, and several in the island of Okinawa.
Great Expectations for Japan
Wilson is upbeat about the prospects for evangelism in the 127-million-strong nation.
“The expectations for Japan are high,” he told Adventist Review before leaving the airport. “By the power of the Holy Spirit, we expect big things.”
Wilson may be right to be hopeful, as Adventism in the mostly Shinto and Buddhist nation has been making important strides lately. The Adventist Church, though relatively small in numbers, is well organized and smoothly run. According to Shimada, there are 94 Adventist churches in Japan (180, if we include companies and groups), over a dozen schools, three hospitals, three nursing homes, and two colleges. The Adventist Church also manages one theological seminary, one food factory, and one publishing house.
“It’s a very active church,” said Shimada.
Great Challenges and Opportunities
And yet, it is not an easy place to share the Adventist message, as Ron Clouzet, Northern Asia-Pacific church region Ministerial Association director acknowledges.
“The Adventist Church in Japan has very few young people,” he recently wrote in a report for the January-February 2018 issue of the NSD News & Views magazine. “The membership is decidedly older, the churches are generally small, many pastors do not prioritize evangelism, and the work ethic of the Japanese makes it difficult for members to take time to reach out and for the secular Japanese to be interested in our message.”
As Clouzet explains, however, evangelistic meetings held at the Amanuma Church last year showed that following a carefully-laid plan, evangelism is a viable option and produces results in Japan. “There are certain beliefs shared by many regarding evangelism,” wrote Clouzet. But last year evangelistic meetings shattered each one of them.
The plan implemented in Japan included visitation teams, baptismal classes, prayer sessions, and a mentorship program for the newly converted. In the case of the Amanuma Church, dozens of volunteers were enlisted, shared Clouzet. “Translators, cooks, print and media resource people, children’s care… aside from ushers, greeters, and musicians,” he wrote.
Spring is Here
Now as spring is back in Japan with its flowers and its rain, church leaders and members hope the proven evangelistic success at the Amanuma Church may be replicated in other churches and companies across Japan.
“Along with this process, we learned what it means to believe in God and rely on Him,” confesses Amanuma Church associate pastor Myung Hoon Rha. “We would like to give ourselves to future outreach, believing that love for God and others will bring us the best way to do evangelism.”
Most evangelistic meetings across Japan begin this Friday, May 4.