You have probably heard the statistics about Christianity in Japan—that less than 1% of the population are Christians, that churches are slow-growing and ageing, and that many places don’t even have a church. You may also have heard that Japan has been dubbed the ‘missionary graveyard’ for many reasons, including that missionaries, on average, take more than two years to learn Japanese, around eight years to adjust, and about seven years to get to a level of ministry competency. One of the things that people don’t often realise about Japan is that Protestant missionaries first came here over 150 years ago to share the gospel. And there is a faithful but small church that has been working hard ever since to spread this good news with their neighbours. They have often faced much prejudice and persecution throughout that time, but they continue to serve God and his people while seeking to reach out to the lost.
These statistics are true from my experience in terms of adjustment as a missionary. It was only as I headed towards the 10-year mark that I started to feel like I knew what I should be doing and how to do it, as well as having a good network of relationships. I am thankful to God for using me in my weakness both then and now. But for missionaries in Japan, it is not only language and culture learning, but the ‘strangeness’ of the gospel message to Japanese ears that is challenging. Concepts like grace, reconciliation, and there being only one God don’t fit with a Japanese worldview. These concepts are seen as foreign, and people often say, ‘but I’m Japanese; I can’t be a Christian’.
So this may all seem very bleak and dire but what you don’t see in these statistics and challenges are the stories of how God has been working, in seemingly small ways, to see his word continue to go out. As I draw close to my 15-year anniversary, I am excited about what God is doing and the wonderful ministry opportunities. Like any ministry, serving in Japan is about people—getting to know them, walking alongside them and helping them to know the one who made them—which is why language and culture learning is so important. One of the lessons I learned early on in Japan was that just turning up can be an encouragement. In those early days, I would visit small groups on campus or attend prayer meetings and have little to no idea what was happening. If the group had two members and I showed up, that was a 50% increase, and for many Christian students, just knowing that they are not alone was significant.
Over the years, I have also learnt a lot about the importance of belonging to a group and how that affects the spread of the gospel. It is often through relationships with friends or family that people first hear the good news. Many people who become Christians in Japan have been connected in some way or other to the church for 5 to 10 years. They often belong long before they believe. And so, it is important to be patient, trust in God’s timing, and keep talking about Jesus with anyone who will listen and rejoice when His word works in people’s lives.
A big part of KGK ministry is raising up leaders for our campus small groups. Because the student population turns over every four years, this seems like a never-ending process. And yet, these students will become leaders in their churches, and some will even go into full-time ministry. The opportunity of getting alongside students, pointing them to God’s word and entrusting them with it (2 Tim 2:2) is truly a privilege. It can feel like such a small thing, but after ten years as a staff worker, when I meet up with graduates, I am always encouraged by how God has been using them despite the challenges they have faced and how what they learnt during their student years has borne fruit for his kingdom.
At the beginning of 2023, I look forward to welcoming Elle Bryce (a recent Moore graduate) to Japan. I hope to help her navigate the challenges of moving to a new country and learning the language and culture. I would love for you to pray for both of us, in our different stages of serving in Japan, that God will work in and through us for his glory, that many Japanese people may come to know Jesus, and that his church will continue to serve Him faithfully. And if you think that you are up to the challenge of serving alongside God’s people here in Japan, I’d love to hear from you.
Kellie Nicholas came to Japan as a CMS missionary in 2008 and works with KGK (university ministry). She studied a BTh at Moore from 2004-6.
 Check out ‘Beneath the surface: 30 ways to pray for Japan’ by OMF to find out more specific needs.
 Janet Dallman, ‘Staying Well: Highlighting hazards, highlighting health for Missionaries in Japan’,2021.