World War II was a terrible tragedy, yet even the awful cloud of war had its silver lining. One of the greatest benefits, from the standpoint of Christian work, was the opening of Japan to the Christian evangelist. Before the war it was extremely difficult to evangelize in Japan. Not only were the thought-control police everywhere, but there was a general reticence on the part of the people to study Christianity, as it was considered merely a foreign religion.
Just before the war it became impossible for our missionaries even to visit the homes of our members. As soon as the visitors left, the thought-control police would descend on the household and interrogate the people unmercifully, until they felt sure they had been correctly informed of every word the foreigner had said. Thus it came to the place where our missionaries were doing more harm than good, and about one year before the outbreak of hostilities, the missionaries reluctantly decided, at a dramatic session, that it was time to leave Japan until such time as God would once again open the doors closed by prejudice.
This time came at the end of the war. General MacArthur was accorded an unforeseen place in the hearts of the Japanese people, and whatever he suggested was quickly effected. He called for thousands of missionaries and millions of Bibles to fill the tremendous spiritual vacuum caused by lack of confidence in the Shinto gods, who had not been able to save Japan from defeat.
When my family and I arrived here in 1951, there was still a very real interest in and a great curiosity concerning Christianity. What a tremendous opportunity this was for Christianity in Japan. But among our Adventist membership there was almost a complete lack of trained native evangelists. And the young evangelists sent from America were for the most part still endeavoring to come to an understanding of the Japanese language and the Japanese people and their customs. However, we occasionally had opportunity to take part in brief series of gospel meetings held in the Tokyo area.
I remember particularly one night I had the privilege of speaking at the opening night meeting of a one-week series being held in the nearby town of Oomiya. The only place available to hold the meetings was in the home of one of the priests of the Buddhist templet The priest was quite broad-minded and consented to the use of his facilities. Since there was only a scanty budget available, only a few handbills had been printed. However, the faithful church members stood outside, making a very picturesque scene as they held lighted lanterns in their hands, inviting passers-by to come in.
As we entered the little room we were surprised to see that it was full. About one hundred people were crowded together on the straw-mat-covered floor, and the sliding panel doors, so typical of Japanese houses, had been removed, allowing another one hundred or so to stand outside and yet see and hear what was going on. Nearly everyone there that night enrolled in the Voice of Prophecy Bible Course —and this was in a town where at that time we had no Seventh-day Adventist church. It was indicative of what could be done all over Japan in those years.
Now, five years later, the situation has changed again. We still have complete religious liberty and can still draw large crowds, but it takes a lot more effort and planning. An example of this was the series of meetings conducted in Tokyo in the fall of 1954. This campaign was the result of the cooperative efforts of the Tokyo central and Amanuma churches with a combined membership of more than five hundred. A field school of evangelism was conducted simultaneously, with the ministerial students from Japan Missionary College in attendance.
Workers from both the North and the South Japan Mission were assigned. Pastor Paul Eldridge, Voice of Prophecy speaker, who is proficient in the Japanese language, spoke at all the services held in the Central church, and Pastor T. H. Blincoe and I shared the pulpit at the concurrent Sunday night services at the Amanuma church.
The Central church was packed on opening night, with six hundred people in attendance. This was the result of much prayer and an intensive field preparation and advertising campaign. It was probably the largest campaign attempted up until that time in Japan. Our budget was pitiably small when you consider that Tokyo is the world's third largest city and the capital of a non-Christian nation. However, these meetings demonstrated that it is still possible to secure large audiences in Japan today, though it takes much more in the way of means and effort than it did a few years ago.
What has made the difference? There are two primary factors. One is the resurgence of nationalism and its attendant revival of interest in the national religions. The other is the fact that Japan, in just a few years' time, has made an amazing recovery from the poverty and destruction of the immediate postwar years. Thus the people are more satisfied with present conditions of life and not so eager to change to anything new. Yet the more I consider conditions here today, the more convinced I become that now, even more than at that time, we are presented with a real evangelistic opportunity. Much of the interest then was just passing curiosity. Those who attend nowadays are definitely interested in investigating the Christian message. It is true that today we sense the stirrings of a new nationalism, but the doors of opportunity are still wide open before us. There is still ample religious freedom and ample opportunity to draw large crowds to evangelistic meetings, and we surely trust this will be the case.
Though all phases of our work are necessary and important to the winning of souls, we must never overlook the fact that the main method of harvesting interest and securing baptisms is public evangelism. In Japan our results are not so readily apparent as in some fields, for it takes a longer period—sometimes even two or three years—to prepare a candidate for baptism. Yet I have kept careful records of those interested during our evangelistic campaigns, and these show large numbers of baptisms over a period of time when adequate follow-up work is done. These records also show surprisingly that the average cost to the mission ,of persons baptized through public evangelistic work is actually about $27.80 per person. Certainly this demonstrates the effectiveness of public evangelism.
I do not have figures available for other lands, so can comment only on the situation here in Japan. As we study the statistics of re-,cent years and note the diminishing number of baptisms as compared with larger budgets, more workers, and greater institutions, we must realize the importance of following the instruction given by the servant of God:
We should now feel the responsibility of laboring with intense earnestness to impart to others the truths that God has given for this time. We cannot be too much in earnest...
Now is the time for the last warning to be given. There is a special power in the presentation of the truth at the present time; but how long will it continue?—Only a little while. If there was ever a crisis, it is now.
All are now deciding their eternal destiny. Men need to be aroused to realize the solemnity of the time, the nearness of the day when human probation shall be ended. Decided efforts should be made to bring the message for this time prominently before the people. The third angel is to go forth with great power.
Evangelistic work, opening the Scriptures to others, warning men and women of what is coming upon the world, is to occupy more and still more of the time of God's servants.—Evangelism, pp. 16, 17.