Guest Writer: Daniel Rice
What if you knew you would likely be returning home permanently in about a year, but you just got to visit for a week? Well that is how my wife Tara and I felt about the SEBTS mission trip to Japan.
Over spring break, we joined a diverse team of twenty SEBTS students on a mission trip to Tokyo and Takasaki, Japan. In Tokyo we worked with my old team, the Urban Youth and Young Adults team (UYAYA). We engaged many college and young professionals through activities like asking Japanese students, “What is your dream?” through white boards and broken English, sharing meals, singing karaoke, and going on picture scavenger hunt adventures! In Takasaki, we worked with another IMB team called Impact Japan. There, we focused more on engaging families, children, and the elderly.
Japan, like many places in East Asia, is a land with massive cities. Tokyo is the largest city in the world, pushing 38 million! Takasaki is considered more of a suburb, but it still has 1 million. That is Asia in a nutshell – lots of people crammed into city spaces. Less than 0.5% of Japanese people have legitimate saving faith in Christ, making the Japanese the world’s largest unreached people group. Be it 1 million or 38 million, sharing the Gospel in Japan is an overwhelming task to which God has asked Tara and me to dedicate our lives. Most Christians here in America do not consider Japan a place that would need missionaries due to their westernized and modern situation, but did you know that Japan falls in the 10/40 window?
Tara and I feel the spiritual pull to Japan to share the Gospel with the Japanese for the remainder of our lives. I was a journeyman in Tokyo for two years (2011-2013), and my wife and I met when she came on a mission team with California Baptist University. A year after that trip, she went back to Japan for a few months to serve with another missionary organization. For us, Japan has special meaning for many reasons, and it feels like home. It is home because that is where God has placed the call for our lives. Obedience to this is where our hearts long to be, and seminary is where God has us now in preparation for returning to Japan. That, accompanied by the sweet relationships with Japanese Christians, non-Christians, and fellow missionaries and Great Commission partners waiting for our return, make the wait all the more palpable.
This trip was not only another opportunity for us to fulfill the Great Commission in another assorted place and context somewhere around the globe; it was a vision trip for our future. On the trip, we got to meet with team leaders and IMB leadership on the field with whom we had some exciting discussion about our family’s potential employment with the organization.
The most encouraging (and simultaneously heart wrenching) part of returning was reconnecting with Japanese friends. For a collectivistic society like Japan, relationships are few but deep. Japanese have very low expectations for relationships with foreigners like me to have long-lasting sticking power. So, when we came back for our first visit since moving back to America, it was tremendously special for both us and the Japanese. I told all my friends that I was coming back within a few years and, by God’s provision, I was able to follow through. Tara also got to have a similar experience with her friends.
Many of my friends there who are not believers heard the Gospel countless times from me and other Christians I have brought along their path. Having stepped away from regular life with them, then jumping right back into it for a short time, I was actually able to detect some forward movement in their acceptance of the Truth. For the Japanese, acceptance of a life-changing choice like this does not come easy. There is also a stigma about required proficiency in a topic or identity that must be met before they feel qualified to accept that responsibility. On one hand, that has fantastic Gospel applications, but on the other hand it can be extremely worrisome when the urgency for one’s life is in the back of your mind. It is like a person drowning choosing to wait until they feel ready to climb into God’s boat when all they have to do is say the word, and He does the rescuing.
This trip was a good reminder to Tara and me that our time here at seminary is a season of preparation for our long-term calling to Japan. Though the papers may be grueling, reading may be mountainous, and the wait may be tiresome, the training gained during our time here is well worth it. I experienced its benefit on the trip, and I know it will help in the future. The education we are getting through SEBTS, our home church here, and our jobs is equipping us for a lifetime of ministry. A return home (to Japan) for us is hopefully about a year away, but until then, we wait in willing anticipation of what God will unfold our lives, and we will continue to be an advocate for the souls of the Japanese. God is good in all his plans! Sometimes taking part in a short term trip is good preparation for returning home and the SEBTS Japan trip was certainly that for me and Tara.