AA lthough the Seventh-day Adventist message first reached Japan in 1889, the church’s message—and Christianity as a whole—has come up against intense resistance in a nation that is nearly 70 percent Buddhist. This cultural challenge has made mission work frustrating at times, but recent outreaches, including evangelistic campaigns in 2017 and 2018 have borne much fruit, reports indicate.
Future missionary actions will be focused in at least two main area: strengthening of work with current members and greater access to native Japanese, as well as intense work with foreigners living in the country.
To better understand these plans, the Adventist South American News Agency (ASN) spoke with Pastor Guenji Imayuki, director of the Japanese Union’s (JUC) Foreign Evangelism Department. He is also a district pastor of three Latin churches (Tokai, Isesaki, Chiba Latino) and works in the planting of one church (Suwa).
Aged 53, Imayuki has four children: two at colleges in Tokyo, one at the Saniku Hiroshima Adventist boarding school, and the youngest at a Japanese public school. Imayuki has served in the territory since March 2015. He graduated in 2008 from the Centro Universitário Adventista (Engenheiro Coelho campus), earned a master’s degree from the same institution in 2009, and was ordained to the pastoral ministry in late 2012.
How has the evangelization work been in Japan today? And what has changed since you started working in the region?
The work in Japan has been facing structural challenges for just over 10 years, such as stagnation in the number of baptisms, an increase in the average age of its members, and, consequently, a very lean staff. Our Hope Channel Japan (equivalent to the Hope Channel Nuevo Tiempo and in South America), for example, is in the air on the web with just four employees and just one pastor serves in charge of the Youth, Pathfinder, Publishing, and Stewardship departments.
Since my arrival, the leadership has seen two crucial points administratively for the long-term survival of the church: investment in young people and foreigners. Many of the young people end up leaving the church during and after graduation, due to the demands of their professional careers. Since the implementation of the Youth Rush program, or Arrancada Jovem ( https://www.facebook.com/youthrushjapan/ or https://adventist.jp/evangelism/blog/youth-rush-japan/ ), a mix of student canvassing vacation with Mission Caleb, for five years, young people have been motivated to invest their vacation in mission. Certainly, some future leaders will emerge from this group.
As for foreigners, thanks to their presence, the average age of members is not even greater, and they already represent 16% of the 6,000 active members. In the registry of the secretariat, there are 15,000 members, but most are unable to attend regularly due to age. The challenge is to train the second generation of foreigners, who already understand the language and culture better, to commit themselves to reach the Japanese with the gospel of Christ.
We know that there is a strong work with Brazilian immigrants, right? How has it been?
The largest share of foreign Adventists, around a thousand, are Filipinos, with almost 40% of this total, and Brazilians come in second with 18%. Most of our countrymen are in Aichi and Shizuoka provinces, famous for their auto industries, although a minority are employed in this sector. In this region, we have the Christian Center Tokai, Toyota, Toyohashi, Kariya, Yaizu, and more recently Kagamigahara churches. The latter meets in an old house, acquired and renovated, even during the pandemic, by the members and friends themselves, around 10 properties, with a donation from Brazil. The Tokai Christian Center was the merger of two nearby Brazilian churches and received an offering from the 13th Sabbath collection in the third quarter of 2015. The money raised allowed the congregation to acquire its own headquarters.
In December 2017, the current building was dedicated not only to have services but also to develop various activities, such as a family garden, music, cooking courses, health lectures, the transmission of own programs. Everything to be configured as a center of influence. It has several rooms and showers to temporarily accommodate families in need and visiting mission teams. In a way, this has attracted the attention of the community, as we were the subject of a BBC article on evangelism among Brazilians in Japan (https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/internacional-54066196).
Tell some stories that show the results of this work.
Márcia Yuassa suffered from some health problems and feared for her life, leaving her husband and son worried when she met a health program developed in Brazil.
Enthusiastic about the visible improvement, she also accepted the Sabbath message and confided this to a childhood friend, who lives in Brazil and found her online after a long time. This friend had already joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church and said that she also kept the Sabbath, thus offering the possibility of online Bible studies.
As Márcia was unaware of the existence of an Adventist congregation here in Japan, her friend volunteered to help her locate one, and she found my cell phone number. Márcia’s problem was that she didn’t have a driver’s license, which was very complicated due to the strict conditions set by the traffic agency. She was overjoyed to learn a small group would start just over a kilometer away from her home. She happily came on foot on time to tell the group her story of how God led her.
My wife quickly recognized Márcia’s talent and involved her in planning and preparing vegetarian dishes. Márcia now prepares a new recipe, weekly, to be recorded and made available soon on the Tokai Church channel.
Her goal is to cook a healthy menu once or twice a month on Friday, to be served for Sabbath lunch, in order to show members tasty, healthier alternatives.
What are the biggest challenges today and how have you overcome them?
The Covid-19 wave caused most churches in Japan to temporarily close in March and April. The church at the Tokai Christian Center was one of the first to reopen, like most foreign churches, with due care. And as is the case in Brazil, the internet has been a great tool for connecting members and further expanding the reach of the church.
In fact, the pandemic has accelerated the content creation process, especially the GPS program, Healthy Perspective Group. It is a multidisciplinary team in the areas of psychology, pastoral care, and health, organized in the central-western region of Brazil, for a series of lectures with guidelines on intra and interpersonal relationships, to meet an escalation of family crises driven by the pandemic.
The program continued with paid courses aimed at the leaders of several churches and has produced a positive effect both cognitively-emotionally and spiritually, as some of them decided to open small groups in their homes, after the peak of the crisis has passed.
The mission always has many fronts. The local Union (Adventist administrative headquarters in the region) can only offer training in the local language.
For foreigners, it is necessary that we prepare the content ourselves or interconnect with resources from other countries. Daily, there is a demand to be a translator for hospital care or visits to police stations or prisons to help members. Living abroad means greater loneliness and the pastoral family must act as a counselor in the psychological, family, educational, and financial areas.
Another challenge is to raise funds and find a property that can be suitable for a future center of influence for Filipinos and Hispanics living in Japan. We also want to support missionaries among ethnic groups with little Adventist presence here, such as Vietnamese, Nepalese, in addition to the mainland Chinese, which is the largest contingent of foreigners in Japan.
What are your plans for the future of evangelism among foreigners in Japan?
A more intense program of discipleship, both old and new, creating ministries that take advantage of members’ spiritual gifts. Most work demanding routines in factories, when production is at its peak, or confront work insecurity, as in the current crisis. Many have talents that could be put to better use by creating missionary opportunities that were previously unexplored. I speak of areas such as media, content production, cooking, multidisciplinary education, and even makeup, to support the production of media content.
As for other foreigners, the plan is to make workers financially viable to develop a ministry for ethnic groups with little Adventist presence, at least for mainland Chinese and Vietnamese.
This article was originally published on the South American Division’s Portuguese news site