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One of the most difficult barriers to doing any kind of ministry in Japan isn’t even language. It’s actually meeting a person to begin a relationship in the first place. It’s the same reason why many churches stay (or die) small. Church outreach in the US is incredibly difficult, I can’t even count the number of “think-tank” idea meetings and initiatives I’ve heard or been a part of in various churches trying to reach out beyond their own walls to include those in the community. Some examples are business classes, tutoring, book clubs, music lessons, community festivals, various camps, etc… These events serve one purpose really well: It gets them to come, but that’s often as far as it gets and thus many of those ventures were either considered not effective enough and even if they did show some promise, they were eventually discontinued from lack of support or change in the church’s focus. If a seeking person comes of their own accord into the church i.e. already looking and open: Boy do we get em! But beyond that, it’s a massive uphill struggle with boulders coming down at us.
In Japan there exists the same problem and a very similar way of addressing it goes into play. English language classes is the first one that would come to mind if you were to ask any missionary or pastor here about how they try to find new people. They run all kinds of English camps, clubs, workshops, etc… because it brings people every time, so it does address that problem of getting people to come rather well. The issue is the connection between that and starting an actual relationship when these attendees are there for one thing and do not want to be necessarily “sold” on anything else.
If you were hoping to keep reading for some kind of brilliantly summed up answer to a herculean problem, sorry to disappoint! However, I do think there is some promise in trying to reach individual people where they are already instead of as a group getting them to come to us. This means working on just one person or family at a time. Finding out their needs, wants, hopes, life, and more. You learn about them and find ways you can minister to them directly, or in better terms, start building a relationship around this knowledge. This isn’t a really popular idea, probably because it does narrow down in scale how many are being reached out to at once and that only one person or family would be pursing these individuals and as a result will become invested in a way that would not allow for different person or family to step in easily should the first be unable to continue. It also means finding a “target” for this approach, which is probably the most difficult part, but we can’t forget Who actually decides that. This idea isn’t new of course, and when I recall which book or entity I’m probably pulling this concept from, I’ll let you know.
The section below comes right from the newsletter, so if you read it already, skip down just past the second line below
In the meantime, I’ll try to convey this in a real-world example of my own. I recently picked up an online game again to connect with some family back in the States. This game actually happens to be very popular in Japan. In fact, I’ve met with quite a bit Japanese through it and it has even provided a chance to practice some language. One of those Japanese I met, as we were fighting our way through a horde of small dragons, told me that this life (the one he lives inside this game) is the only one that matters, so we must succeed in this quest. When I asked what he meant by this he replied that his real-life is set-up in a way he can focus on this life that matters (again, this virtual game world). I teased a bit and asked what kind of set-up can one get that allows for maximum gaming potential? What he told me next made me realize what just happened, I had found a Japanese Hikikomori. Shut out from the real-world society but yet very active and happy here in this virtual world. If you don’t know or recall what the term Hikikomori means, is basically a term that has been coined for the 500,000+ of Japanese people that have shut themselves up in rooms and never come out, effectively committing social suicide. If you want to read more about that now, this Business Insider article does a good job at it. At some point, it would be incredible to gain this person’s trust enough to meet them in person, and you can bet I’ll be working towards that.
This is a very new thing that happened, so I don’t have much else to share just yet, but it did show me how important and powerful it is to get onto the same individual level for an individual person. No outreach was going to connect me to this person, or at least until someone convinces the gamers of the churches to unite in doing gaming sort of ministry. This only happened because I was in “his” world at his level and started to invest interest in him at an individual level. Obviously, I didn’t seek him out, how could I? God is the MVP here, I never would have run into this person in such a unique and crazy way by chance. I never would have thought this even being a means by which to connect with Hikikomori, but now I realize, the social potential of the internet is the only way to reach them.
This really just emphasized something I know (and often forget) that you never know when and where God is going to put someone in front of you to begin a relationship, be it at work, church outreach, missions, school, the mall, or apparently even in a video game. Maybe we miss these people all the time, and if we really watched out for those people and invested individually, we wouldn’t need outreach because suddenly that only 20 member strong church has those 20 people each investing in another 20 people from their own lives. Maybe God is doing the outreach by bringing the people right to us in our daily life and we miss it because we’re waiting to “reach out” when the next church outreach event takes place. That last thought is what humbled me: If I’m not already in the mindset of “looking” for that person God is calling me to, I would completely miss them, all because it wasn’t the time or circumstance I chose so I wasn’t watching. What would have happened if you or I was missed by those key people in our lives that led us to where we are in our faith? Let’s indeed be sure to see what will happen instead of what could and not miss anyone.