Japan is well-recognized by the Adventist Church as one of the most difficult countries to evangelize. This is a conviction also widely shared by other Christian denominations. The Adventist Church in Japan has very few young people, the membership is decidedly older, the churches are generally small and many pastors do not prioritize evangelism. The strong Japanese work ethic makes it difficult for members to take time to reach out, and for secular Japanese to be interested in our message.
In addition, many share certain general beliefs regarding evangelism. One of them is that public evangelistic meetings do not work in Japan—that the only way to do outreach is on a personal basis. Another is that any series of meetings that are longer than one weekend are too long, that neither members nor guests would stand for it. A third is that distinctive Adventist doctrines, such as the Sabbath, last-day prophecies, the investigative judgment, the fall of Babylon, or the Spirit of Prophecy, are not subjects that should be included in public meetings. People are not ready for them. And a fourth myth is that the Japanese take a long time—many months or years—to process truth before they decide to join the church. In other words, evangelism, as practiced in other nations, does not work in Japan.
Recently, the Amanuma Church in Tokyo shattered each one of these myths. They chose to follow every aspect of a field school of evangelism plan that began in January and concluded in October 2017. They participated in evangelistic training, such as personal evangelism, praying for the lost, and giving Bible studies. They reached out to the community through several health seminars. They even engaged in door-to-door work—all staple features of methods used elsewhere. Learning from the school of evangelism, they were ready with scores of book and DVD resources to sell to those attending the Why God apologetics mini-series that preceded the main public meetings.
More than a dozen members became part of evangelistic visitation teams, something that called for a training commitment led by the evangelist twice each week. A registration and attendance team kept track of everyone’s attendance and decision made on a nightly basis, which allowed the visitation teams to know how to help non-believers move along in their quest for truth. A baptismal class was established on the 10th of the 24 nights of the series, and the visitation team members encouraged those making decisions to attend.
The Amanuma Church also took prayer seriously. Each of the 40 days leading up to the first day of the evangelistic meetings, 20 or 30 members gathered early in the morning to pray for the meetings. Prayer teams also became involved with prayer-walking sections of the city, asking for the Holy Spirit to be poured upon the people they saw in the streets, the stations, and the stores.
The Lord wonderfully blessed the public meetings, held from October 6 to 27. The evangelistic meetings lasted not one or two nights, but were three weeks and four weekends long! An average of 100 to 120 people came each night, and the attendance never dropped. So, myth number two was shattered. Four people came forward when the evangelist invited them to accept Christ for the first time, two of them with no Christian background whatsoever. Pastor Rha MyungHoon began brief baptismal classes after each meeting ended, and people kept coming. The evangelist preached distinctive Adventist messages—24 of them—from the Bible, without apology. Not only did guests respond to the moving of the Holy Spirit through the Word, many of the members expressed that they had never expected to be so richly blessed by such a thorough study of God’s Word. Myth number three was shattered.
The evangelistic meetings caused a revival in the church. The members most impacted were young adults and professionals who found new life in Christ! The pastor expressed his joy and wonder at how the Holy Spirit could move through a full-set of messages for more than three weeks! Even though meetings were held five nights a week, plus three sessions each Sabbath, people kept gathering around the refreshment tables talking and visiting long after the meetings were over. Myth number one was shattered.
And regarding decisions, another myth was shattered. Every night, the evangelist gave people the opportunity to respond to the message by filling out a response card. There, they could note their spiritual and ethical decisions as well as write questions on the topic. The evangelist answered those questions during several special sessions each week. After four came up to accept Christ, a dozen chose to keep the Sabbath holy, and others began making decisions for baptism and joining the remnant church. Out of an average of 16 non-Adventist guests that came each night, 13 made the decision to be baptized, and 10 of them were ready by the end of the meetings, a mere three weeks long!
One guest, Shoki Kohara, was recently unemployed. While waiting at a bus station one day, a mission-minded church member gave him a flyer, inviting him to The Story of Hope. Shoki had no Christian background whatsoever. To the member’s surprise, Shoki came to the meetings for the first time on the sixth night, when the speaker spoke about the origin of sin. Shoki came forward on the seventh night to receive Christ as his Lord and Savior, but it was clear he was struggling—good and evil were vying for victory. After a few nights, he decided to attend the baptismal class, but with no intention of being baptized. The nightly messages and classes had their intended effect: they transformed a man who had walked far from God, into a disciple of Jesus. Shoki decided to be baptized. On the day of his baptism, one could see in his face the radiant joy of being born again!
What we’re learning from this experience in Japan is that people are people everywhere. The Holy Spirit that works wonders in Kenya, Brazil, or the Philippines can also work wonders in Japan. At the core, all people from any culture have similar needs, fears, and hopes, and the answer is not found in philosophy, entertainment, or superficial religious themes, but the answer is found in the truth of the Bible. Several of those baptized had no Christian background, and yet they were ready to join the people of God right away because they saw that the God of the Bible is the true God of heaven and is the One who sacrificed Himself on their behalf.
There is one more myth likely to be shattered soon. Conventional wisdom indicates that many new converts who come through evangelistic meetings soon leave the church. Research actually shows that more people raised in the Adventist Church leave the church than those who join through evangelism. The last training in this field school was for spiritual mentors assigned to help assimilate new believers in the church. They made a commitment for one year, and they have received careful instruction on what to do the first eight weekly visits after their people were baptized, including resources for the new member each week to help them grow. Outside of Japan, this training guaranteed that at least 90% of the new believers remained actively involved in the church. With these Japanese new believers, having demonstrated a radical transformation in their lives, that rate of success may be even higher.