Back in November 2017, I was given a very sudden and special opportunity to join a team from YWAM Sarasota on their very first scouting trip to Japan. This trip was an answer to sixteen years of prayer, and the fulfillment of a promise the Lord made to me when I was six-years-old; a promise that I would one day be living as a full-time missionary in the nation of Japan.
I spent sixteen days with my team connecting with the Japanese people, talking with pastors about the needs of the country, picking up on the spiritual atmosphere of the various cities within Tokyo, and doing ministry in the surrounding communities. I was given a clearer picture of the wounds and the strongholds this nation suffers from, and I discovered ways to combat them with the love of Christ.
One Sunday morning during my trip, my team and I had the opportunity to attend a house church and to speak with the pastor after the service. We asked him what he would say Japan needs most from the church worldwide, and his answer was both heartbreaking and convicting.
He told us that Japan’s greatest need is a lot of prayer, and a lot of workers: especially young people, and specifically young men.
Only 1% of the Japanese population is considered Christian, and of that 1%, most live in Tokyo. This means that the smaller cities and the countryside are largely unreached. The churches that do exist in these outlying areas are incredibly old fashioned, very religious, and so formal that it leaves little room for a real relationship with God. The average age of Japanese Christians is 65-years-old, as most Christians in the nation converted right after the war. It’s nearly unheard of to have children within a church, and it’s astonishing if there are even one or two people under the age of 30 in any given congregation. In addition, 2/3 of Japanese Christians are women. If a church has anywhere between 5 and 10 members, it’s considered to be a very good size. A church with 30 members is viewed as a mega church.
Because of the average age of church-going Christians in the nation, there has recently been an epidemic in which they’ve seen many pastors die of old-age. At the rate things are going, within the next couple of years most churches across Japan will not have pastors, which would be detrimental for a church of only 3 members. Our pastor friend said that each Christian they see die is one less Jesus-follower in Japan, which affects the 1%. Japan needs to see this current generation rise up and become one that is sold out for Jesus. They believe that Japan will come to Christ through one generation.
Japan’s suicide rates are the 6th highest in the world. Although these rates reached their lowest in 22 years back in 2016, suicide remains the number one cause of death for people from the ages of 15 to 39. The spirit of death and suicide that rests on every person within the country is overwhelming. The spiritual atmosphere of depression, loneliness, and shame that presides over this nation must be broken in order for hope to be restored to these people.
To see the Japanese people truly receive victory and freedom, we need to partner with the Lord to meet their two greatest needs. We need to rally together as their brothers and sisters in Christ and fight on their behalf through prayer. We need to see workers go to Japan to till the ground, plant the seeds, harvest the crops, and disciple new believers. We won’t see the rates of depression and suicide in this nation affected until the Japanese people begin to realize who their Father is and how much He loves them, and they will never know these truths unless someone is willing to go and proclaim them. We can’t buy into the lies that our prayers don’t make a difference, that the problem is too vast for us to even touch, or that the people aren’t open to hearing the message we carry.
If there’s one thing I know as fact, it’s that PRAYER WORKS. I have seen the results of answered prayers completely transform lives far to many times to not believe with my entire being that your prayers matter. Japan needs your prayers.
On my last Friday night in-country, we prayer walked and Christmas caroled our way through the red light district of the city of Ikebukuro, and we saw the Lord show up in a really incredible way.
A large group of us, with one person all dressed up as Santa leading the pack, made our way into the streets of the red light district with the goal of combatting the darkness that presides there with the light of Jesus that we carried. While Santa gave out free hugs and was a part of hundreds of selfies, the rest of us passed out little candy canes with verses in Japanese attached to them, sang Christmas carols, and prayed as we walked. We drew so much attention, and we carried a tangible joy with us into the area! You could physically feel the difference in the atmosphere from start to finish.
The Lord did something that night. A foundational stone was laid that can continue to be built upon for years to come. And do you know what did it? It was our prayers. The Lord heard our prayers, and because His heart is for Japan and longs to see His Japanese children come to know Him, He intervened and answered our cries on the spot. And He will do the same for you!
Still not convinced that your prayers will make a difference? Let me tell you another story.
A couple of weeks ago I had a friend come to me and say, “Rileigh, guess what! I’ve been going back through my journal entries from earlier this year, and one in particular caught my attention. I’d written, ‘What’s on Your heart today, God?‘ His response was, ‘I want you to pray for Japan.‘ So I asked Him, ‘You mean like where Rileigh wants to live?‘ And He said, ‘Yes! I want her to go.‘ I looked at the date of the entry, and it was from just a couple weeks before you got the opportunity to go!”
Little did my friend know, during the exact time that she’d had this exchange with the Lord, I’d been up against some serious spiritual warfare surrounding getting to Japan. For months I’d been considering different options for what it might look like to take my first scouting trip there, but every one of my efforts had been met with a lot of complications and opposition. Just a couple weeks after she prayed, I randomly met the team I ended up going to Japan with at a conference. Within three days of meeting them, I’d been approved to join their team, had purchased a ticket to Tokyo, and had seen more than what I needed for the entire cost of the trip be provided.
Our God is a proactive God, and He moves on behalf of His children. I know that my friend’s prayers played a crucial role in getting me to Japan.
Although prayer is one of our most strategic tools and one of Japan’s greatest needs, there are some of us who are called to actually go and be on the frontlines of the spiritual battle there. For those of us who feel that tugging on our hearts and know that we need to respond, one of the easiest lies for us to buy into is that the Japanese people aren’t open to what we have to say. They don’t have a desire for Jesus, and they definitely don’t want some stranger shoving Him in their faces.
This lie comes from the pit of hell, and you need to send it back from whence it came right now. The Japanese people are incredibly open!
One of my favorite ministries from our time in Japan was a program called M.E.T.S., which is an English club for university students that was started by missionaries in the area. We met with the students three days a week to spend time discussing a designated topic, share about our beliefs, and build friendships. Within the two weeks that I spent serving at M.E.T.S., I saw examples not only of how open the students were to what we had to say, but also of how the program had impacted their lives in a permanent way.
One day, the topic up for discussion was “Music“. We split off into groups and answered questions like, “How often do you listen to music?” and “What kind of music do you prefer?” When we were asked who our favorite musical artists were, my teammate brought up the band Bethel, and said that she listened to their worship music all the time. The university students had never heard of them, so we began playing clips of different Bethel songs and showing them some of Bethel’s videos on YouTube. They were so intrigued by what they heard that they asked us to send them links to more of Bethel’s music so they could listen to it at home.
On another occasion, we got the chance to throw the M.E.T.S. students a Thanksgiving party. We used it as an opportunity to share about the meaning and heart behind Thanksgiving, and tied it into the story of the Gospel. At one point during the evening, we split into groups for a game where we each answered silly questions. There was a student in my group who had been in the M.E.T.S. program for years, and even though he’d phased out and was no longer in the university, he still came to all of the M.E.T.S. events and parties. The last question we asked was, “If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?” Many of the students in my group jokingly chose their favorite actress, or a singer they wanted to meet. But when it came time for this particular student to answer, he said,
“I would bring the three founding members of M.E.T.S. together so that I could thank them for starting the program, and tell them how much it has changed my life. Because of M.E.T.S., I now have good friendships, and I know that I am valuable and loved.”
Japan’s reputation for being a “hard place” or a “tough nut to crack” is a facade the Enemy is doing his best to get us to believe. The idea that the Japanese people are closed off, they’re too far gone, or that there’s no hope for them are all schemes to keep workers from entering the land and reaping the harvest the Lord has prepared there. The issue of suicide in Japan is not too big for God. The needs of the church there are not too great for Him. But we serve a God who has chosen to partner with His children to see His lost reached. This means that if we want to see Japan won for Christ, we need to step up and be the change.
For those of us who have the word of the Lord to go, it’s time to put a stake in the ground and decide that from this day forward, we’re not longer going to allow fear keep us from responding in obedience.
For those who don’t have a definite call to go, you are still called to fulfill the Great Commission. It’s time to begin doing your part to see your brothers and sisters set free. It’s time to begin fighting in prayer for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Whether it’s Star Wars, classic rock, or coffee, Rileigh’s an unabashed nerd, so with her local roots she’s your gal for recommendations on the best cafés in Louisville. Rileigh traveled to England for DTS and to Kona, HI to hone her coffee skills (snobbery?), but she’s settled down to serve with YWAM right here in her hometown, and we’re so glad she did! She’s full of good stories and keen insight, and she’s deeply committed to those she loves, whether her friends and family, or the Nicaraguan kids who’ve made a home in her heart. Rileigh brings artistic skill, a passion for quality, and a willingness to work hard to our YWAM Louisville family – and if rumors are correct, she funnels that same drivenness into some pretty serious Guitar Hero sessions, too.