Christianity introduced to Japan

4 04 2010

As promised, I’ve been reading Moffett’s History of Christianity in Asia. In particular, I started with Japan. Looking into the history of a culture clarifies its present.

Francis Xavier (a fascinating figure I should like to write more about) was the first to enter Japan as a missionary in the 1500’s. Yeah, over 500 years ago. Before the founding of the Lost Colony of Roanoke in the New World, a Jesuit priest was contemplating missions strategies for Japan. After his experience in India, where focusing on lower classes resulted in only local effectiveness, Xavier decided to start at the other end. In Japan, he chose to approach the ruling class, the feudal lords, the daimyo.

Personally, I would say that given Japanese culture and its attitude to authority, he couldn’t have had a better approach. Japan is a very top-down, group-focused culture. If you convert the leaders, others will follow. (I’m not sure that would be as effective an approach in American culture, where we tend to be suspicious of leaders and pride ourselves on “independent” thinking.)

The mission had success. In fact, as Moffett points out, there were a higher percentage of Christians in Japan in 1600 than in 2000. But he also points out, rightly, “how little the Christian century [1500’s] affected the subsequent history of Japan.” (pg. 68)

It is indeed astonishing to know that a country which, for its own reasons, welcomed Christianity, was later able to stamp it out, and still remains a mysteriously closed door. I would suggest it has much to do with the nature of Japanese culture and missionaries’ inability to understand and speak into the Japanese context. On the other hand, I would also suggest that when Japan does finally hear the gospel, it will be a powerful and sudden conversion.

So, Xavier departed in 1552, after just 3 yrs in the field. Think about how short 3 yrs is to introduce Christianity to even a single person and give them the knowledge and faith to face a lifetime of following Christ without a mature Christian community! Now realize he did that for an entire people. Of course, Jesus did the same for all of humanity in the same 3 years… so I supposed standards are relative. Anyway, in just 30 years (to 1581), th numbers grew from 800 to 100,000. All of that, by the way, was long before the first successful colonies in America.

So, that’s where I’ll leave the history of Japanese Christianity for the moment. Introduced, spreading like wildfire, but… something went wrong.

To the person with whom I had lunch yesterday…

28 01 2010

You have incredible vision. I may not always say it, but I deeply respect that. You see the hand of God in everything. You overflow with joy at the work of the Spirit. You attribute to God all good things, praising him with your words. Your gratitude is a greater testimony than you know. Your enthusiasm inflames embers in my own heart.

I don’t know where God’s going to take you, or how, or to what extent. I don’t know if you’ll transform the shape of the church, serve long term missions abroad, or simply live the faithful life. I do know that you’ll walk paths unexpected and follow roads undesired. I know you’ll be disappointed, hurt, and gloriously surprise.

So here, then, is my prayer for you:

May you walk with the Lord all the days of your life. May your faith and understanding grow ever deeper, even as you experience the out-flung reaches of the Kingdom. May you impact lives, whether through the church or personal interaction. Encourage, sustain, but also be encouraged and sustained. Learn to sense both your limits and strengths, to embrace them, and know that God’s power and glory are revealed in them.

Finally, I pray that you can take all that God has shown and given you, take all your passions and desires, and synthesize one succinct calling for your life. I pray that you do this sooner, rather than later. That God reveal to you the one mission to which you can give your life, knowing that all these things play into that one principle. You’re looking for your calling; I pray you find it. Many people miss it completely or stumble into it. But for you, I pray that God reveals it in the next month. Seek it, pray for it, and I know you will walk away from this experience with firm certainty. You’re going to need that where you’re going.