History of Christianity in Japan
Today Japan stands out as one of the largest unchurched nations of the developed world. The Joshua Project, which keeps worldwide statistics on Christian churches and populations, lists Japanese as “The largest least-reached group with over 120,000,000 individuals.” Why is this? Early missionaries may have arrived in Japan as early as 200 AD, but the gospel never took hold in this land where both Shintoism and Buddhism have had strong roots for many centuries.
In modern history, missionaries were first legally allowed into Japan in 1859, though they found that there was still antagonism towards the gospel, which continued up to WWII. After the war, General MacArthur noted that spiritual leadership was needed as well as material administration, and called on 1,000 missionaries to come and to send “Bibles, Bibles, and more Bibles.” Laws were passed to give the Japanese people true religious freedom for the first time. In the following 15 years, around 5,000 missionaries responded to this call.
The period of some of the most rapid growth in the churches was during the 1950’s, growing at about 6% per year, and nearly doubling during that decade. Many Japanese were hungry for truth, and didn’t have much else to turn to. Almost wherever churches and Sunday schools were set up, people would come. But as the country was modernized, and many started to pursue wealth and entertainment, spiritual hunger was dampened.
In the last 50 years, church growth has tapered off to about 1% per year. As a result of the new generations growing up focusing on a good education, a good job, etc, very few have really been exposed to the true gospel, which is why the Japanese are now listed as one of the least-reached groups. Vast majorities have never set foot in a church, and only about 0.5% of the population is professing Christians.
The Apostolic Christian Church in Japan
With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, many young men in our church were drafted and sent to the Far East. Among them was Bro. Willis Ehnle, who spent his time working at a hospital in Japan, and passing out Bible literature in his free time. This led to contacts for further Christian work, regular meetings were set up, and eventually three churches were established with the kind and generous spiritual and financial assistance from the US: Shioda in 1956, Tokyo in 1959 (rebuilt in 2001), and Tamahata in 1962 (has since merged with Shioda church). Church membership grew rapidly during the 50’s and 60’s. Today, two churches, one in Tokyo and one in Shioda (Yamanashi province) serve as the nucleus for spiritual nurturing and outreach.
Outreach work through the years has included English teaching, various Bible study groups, Sunday school activities, and a church kindergarten. The kindergarten at Shioda church ran from 1967 through 1992, and was served by faithful single sisters and brothers from many of our US churches.
Today there are 27 members in the churches, about 20 Sunday school children, a couple converts, three brothers serving in the ministry, and many friends. For many of the members, they are the only Christian in their family, and making a commitment to follow Christ did not come easily, or without opposition from family and others. One characteristic of the Japanese churches is that there are a large percentage of friends who attend, some every week and some less often, who have not yet made a full commitment to be a Christian. Please pray for them that they could find the grace to repent and love and serve the Lord with all of their heart.
Traditional customs and family relationships are still strong, but there is a great need in this land for God’s grace, his gift of salvation, forgiveness, and peace. Please pray for the Christians here for the application of biblical truths in their daily lives, as believers continually feel pressure to conform to the rest of society, whether at home, at school, at work, or in the culture in general. Pray that they could become Rom. 12:2 Christians.
Ways to serve in Japan
In the past 15 years there have been several US brethren that have come to Japan for anywhere from a couple months to a few years, either serving with families here (short-term) to getting a job to live and work. Many Japanese are eager to speak and learn English, so contact with them can begin right away. But to reach the majority, it is necessary to learn both the Japanese language and the culture, which requires time and patience, as it is more dissimilar to English compared to European languages. Getting a job as an English teacher is relatively easy, and is the way that several Americans have worked in our church throughout the years for both outreach, and also to support themselves.
Even without a trip to Japan, you can serve the Japanese by taking part in a homestay program for Japanese students. Many Japanese have had their first exposure to God’s Word overseas, and bring back with them fond memories of the love of Christians in the US. Several visitors to our churches have been families that came to spend time with previous homestay students and their families.
We welcome anyone with a willing heart to come and serve in Japan, especially those with a long term goal of learning the language and culture, and with a desire to bring the gospel of peace to the many in need. May the Lord strengthen your heart and make you a blessing through your prayers for the people of Japan.