Evangelism in Japan

In previous articles we have presented the opportunity that still exists in Japan for public evangelism. This article examines the unique challenges and the methods that exist to meet these problems.

L. R. VAN DOLSON, Evangelist, Osaka, Japan

The second article of this series presented the opportunity that still exists in Japan for public evangelism. Now I want to deal with some of the unique problems and the methods of meeting these problems in evangelism in this land of Buddhism and Shintoism. These thoughts are presented with the hope that they may be of interest and use to evangelists in other lands who may face somewhat similar problems. First the specific problem is pre­sented, and then the way of dealing with the situation.

In soul-winning work here it is necessary that one continually remind himself that the Japa­nese people have no Christian background whatsoever. In fact, although the Japanese pride themselves in being a very religious peo­ple, they have very little actual religious un­derstanding. Buddhism, to the average person, is useful for those ceremonies surrounding birth, marriage, and death. Shintoism is associated primarily with the colorful yearly festivals and reverence for their ancestors. Outside of these occasions, religion has relatively little meaning for a large share of the people of this island country. Certainly whenever there is a conflict between their religion and their livelihood, or if there should be a conflict between their re­ligion and the laws of the land, the average Japanese would not let his religious views in­terfere with the making of a living or his duty to his country. Thus it becomes an extremely difficult task to teach the Japanese people that true Christianity means a willingness to place family, home, livelihood, and even national loyalty secondary to one's obligation to God, and that Christian religious principle cannot be compromised.

Therefore, our evangelistic approach must be suited to this situation. We cannot expect those who have no understanding of the Bible to grasp its truths the first time they are presented. This means they must be presented over and over again in a varied and interesting manner. Also, it is necessary to begin where their in­terest is and build a good foundation of belief in God, His written Word, and Christ before even mentioning the distinctive and special truths for this time.

In a three- to four-month campaign I usually spend the first six weeks in building this founda­tion of faith, and then launch into the presenta­tion of our more specific doctrines.

Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations?

There are now about sixty different Chris­tian bodies teaching the Christian faith in Ja­pan. This in itself presents a somewhat con­fusing picture to those desiring to study the Christian religion. "All these teachings can­not be truth," they say. "How can we know which is really right?" This kind of question I have had to answer innumerable times. The Buddhist religion itself is also divided into a large number of sects with differing interpreta­tions, but merely to try to explain the divisions in Christianity by making such a comparison does not satisfy the one who has found no soul-satisfying solution to the problems of life in the various other religious teachings. He may be longing to find the way to Christ, but how can he do so in the midst of such varying Christian presentations?

In meeting this problem I found a very help­ful approach in THE MINISTRY magazine sev­eral years ago from the pen of J. L. Shuler (see THE MINISTRY, February, 1954, p. 11). After the preliminary, building of a foundation for Christian faith, I then present the entire present truth in the setting of Revelation 14. Use and study of this method has built a system through which our message can be presented logically and in perfect sequence by following the very order of the text. I have found that this approach appeals very much to the Japa­nese people, and there seems to be no question at all in the minds of those going through an entire series of this kind as to the unique place of Seventh-day Adventists and their message in the presentation of the gospel today. My heart has been thrilled to hear testimony after testi­mony from those who have found the saving grace of Christ after attending such a series as this as they express their faith and happiness in God's special message for this hour.

Just one example. After one young policeman had decided to be baptized I went with him to see his police chief to help explain his de­cision. It was a privilege for me to hear his straightforward testimony. First of all he ex­plained that from boyhood he had a desire to be of service to mankind and finally had chosen to be a policeman. "Then God's message for today began to be preached here in our town," he added. "I went every night to the meetings. God's Spirit greatly impressed my heart. I was inspired by love for Jesus. However, I faced the problem of obedience to my new-found Lord. And that involved my keeping the Sab­bath. I thought about it for some time and prayed about it. Finally I made my decision. I knew I would have to quit my job as police­man, but I want to do God's will. I want to be faithful in my obedience to Him. In my heart is great joy and love for Christ. Chief, this is my attitude on religion. I will willingly give up my job. I am not afraid for the future because I believe my God is guiding me and will provide for me."

The chief was greatly impressed to find a young Japanese man so interested in religion and so willing to make personal sacrifice for it. He said that this was the first time he had ever met such a young man and deeply re­gretted his loss to the police service. I was par­ticularly pleased to hear this young man testify often to his joy in the Lord and the privilege he feels is his for having heard God's special message for today. This approach had led him to see without question the distinctiveness of our witness for truth.

Test of Loyalty

In a land where most schools are operated on Saturday, where competition for employ­ment is keen, and where there is a lack of sympathy for Christian principles, the keeping of the Sabbath is a tremendous test of one's love for God. Because of almost impossible government restrictions it is difficult to estab­lish church schools, and at present we have only six or seven in all Japan. Thus the chil­dren, from their early years, are presented with a Sabbathkeeping problem, and too often in the past, children from Seventh-day Adventist homes have been allowed by their parents to attend school on Sabbath. The end result has been the loss of a majority of our children and the setting of a bad example for those led into the church through evangelism.

Upon graduation from school the Japanese young people must undergo stiff examinations and competition for whatever type of work they wish to enter. This makes it very difficult for them to willingly give up such hard-earned jobs in order to keep the Sabbath. Very seldom are employers willing to make any concession to allow their employees to observe God's rest day and continue in their employment.

In presenting the important aspects of our message it is necessary to emphasize and re­emphasize the joyful privilege we have of re­vealing our love for Christ our Saviour, i.e., by observing the Sabbath. Also, it impresses Jap­anese audiences greatly on the nights appeals for decisions are made on this point of obedi­ence to have two or three short testimonies from those who have faced similar decisions and have discovered that God has rewarded their faithfulness. And God certainly has blessed these faithful ones.

One example will suffice to demonstrate that there are many, even in this land where it is so difficult, who heed such appeals and follow God unhesitatingly despite personal inconven­ience and self-sacrifice.

Masayuki Kushida first came into contact with our work five years ago when he subscribed to the Signs of the Times. A local colporteur made the contact, and three years later that col­porteur called again and sold him a copy of the book Education. Last fall evangelistic meet­ings were begun in the Kobe church, and the faithful colporteur called on Kushida-san once again, inviting him to attend the meetings. The first night he attended the prophecy of Revelation 13 was set forth. The presentation of this subject in this land requires particular tact. The Holy Spirit touched his heart, and he made his decision to obey the Lord and keep the very next Sabbath. This presented a real difficulty, as he was a section chief in the finan­cial affairs division of the prefectural office. But he determined to follow God no matter what the cost. The next morning he wrote to the governor explaining his new-found faith and asking permission to have Saturdays off and to work on Sundays instead. The next Sabbath he came to church for the first time, bringing his wife and four children with him. The children had been taken out of school in order to attend the church. Two of his neighborhood friends were also with him. Since that day Kushida-san and his wife and children have attended church and Sabbath school, and he and his wife are now baptized members. A few weeks after sub­mitting his letter to the governor he was granted Sabbath privileges although that entailed de­motion and removal to another office. The faith­fulness of this family in the matter of obedi­ence has been a real inspiration to our Kobe church.

Christianity a Western Religion

Since its introduction here by the Portuguese and Francis Xavier about four hundred years ago, Christianity has been looked upon as a Western religion. This gave it temporary popu­larity during the occupation following World 'War II, but in times past it has been repressed by the government. There still exists much prejudice against Christianity in the minds of many Japanese, and this must be recognized in all our evangelistic approaches.

It is helpful to stress that Christianity and the Bible are actually Oriental in their incep­tion, but that the message of salvation is not limited to any particular culture or people. The Bible is the book of all nations, and Christ is the Saviour of the world. It is interesting to point out that the family system, which is still so important today, is very similar to the an­cient patriarchal system of the Bible. The Shinto shrine in many respects is very similar to the ancient Jewish temple. Christ's calling outside the door of the heart cannot be clearly under­stood by the Westerner until he has stood outside a Japanese house softly calling, "Gomen kudasai," and has patiently waited for some­one within to respond. The Bible, a truly Eastern book, can be so much better under­stood by the Westerner after he has been to the Orient.

The evangelist has many problems to meet in Japan today, but the thrilling versatility of the Word of God enables him to meet men everywhere. The unique situation of these dear. people today demands that larger plans be made for entering these great Japanese cities, where scores of millions await the saving gospel of Christ.

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L. R. VAN DOLSON, Evangelist, Osaka, Japan

April 1957

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