If asked to imagine where missionaries ought to serve, our imaginations typically conjure up pictures of the humid rainforests of the Amazon or the arid deserts of northern Africa. When we think of those who have not heard the gospel, we assume they must be living in remote areas or in squalor. The fact is that huge metropolises across the globe are teeming with lost souls roaming their streets in search of meaning and purpose.
Japan—Tokyo in particular—is in desperate need of the gospel. This country, which we associate with advancement, technology and luxury, is actually a spiritual wasteland where people are so without hope that an average of 70 commit suicide daily. It is the only first-world country that is considered an unreached people group.
Most estimates place the Christian population of Japan as less than one percent. In a population of over 126 million, that is a staggering number of people without hope or faith in Jesus Christ. Tokyo, specifically, is in desperate need of the Gospel as it is the most populated metropolis in the world with about 37.8 million people residing there.
A bird’s eye view
My husband, Brian, and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Japan. While there, we visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, a 48-story building that allows tourists to get a panoramic view of the city. In every direction for as far as the eye could see there were buildings, most of which were several stories high. Each of those stories contained families or businesses. Each building represented a handful of souls and we could see countless buildings in every direction. Looking out over the sea of gray buildings and realizing the excessive number of people who needed Christ there broke my heart and brought Romans 10:14 to mind: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
To get a feel for the enormity of the city of Tokyo, hop on to Google Maps and look up Tokyo with the satellite view. Zoom in until you can see individual streets clearly and then slowly zoom out. The size of the city is overwhelming. The population in just the city of Tokyo is greater than the population of all of Florida; it’s even greater than the population of the entire country of Canada.
In Japan, the officially reigning religion is Shintoism followed by Buddhism. Over 85 percent of the population is part of one or both of these belief systems. Many Japanese visit shrines daily on their way to or from work to ensure prosperity in their pursuits. However, their beliefs seem to be very shallow in nature from what we encountered. While in Japan, we met a few non-believers and quite a few converts and spoke with them about their current or past beliefs. It seemed like most did not know why they practiced their religion or why they did the things they did within the framework of their religion. They visited shrines and paid for talismans, but they claimed not to believe that these things would benefit them.
What happens is that many Japanese are Shinto in the same way that many Americans are Christian. They attend major religious services, seek spiritual guidance when life is difficult, and think favorably of the religion for the most part, but do not actually know very much about it and do not live it out daily. Their religion is just something they do because of their culture, not something they do out of conviction. Most are actually agnostic and do not hold to any beliefs stringently.
Despite their loosely held religious beliefs, the Japanese people have been difficult to evangelize. There are many reasons for this stemming from culture, history and even language. For example: in Japanese culture, there is no concept or word for what the Bible calls “sin.” As a result, talking to the Japanese about the forgiveness Christ extends to us for our sins has very little meaning for them.
A metropolitan hub
There is hope, however, for the Japanese people. The Holy Spirit is the one who works in the hearts of men to soften them and make them receptive to His Word, but the only way they will hear that Word is if Christians stand up and contribute to the spreading of the Gospel in Japan and Tokyo in particular. I stress the importance of Tokyo because it is a central hub of commerce in the world and has great influence over a wide range of topics globally. When Paul went on his missionary journeys, he did not go to remote areas but to metropolitan areas. He knew that by winning converts in the cities, the Gospel message could spread more widely and quickly.
Similarly, we ought to pursue the great cities of the world and win them for Christ. Many reading this may feel a tug on their hearts to maybe go and be a part of God’s work in this way. I would encourage you to pray earnestly asking for God’s guidance. Get your feet wet by going with your church on a short-term missions trip; if your church doesn’t have any coming up, you can search for organizations that you could joining for short term missions. I would suggest the International Mission Board. Lastly, I would encourage you to take the advice I have often heard given by others: when praying, do not ask, “Why should I go?” but ask, “Why should I stay?”
A native-born Miamian, Tami Gomez is a freelance writer for the Good News while she and her husband attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. They hope to become missionaries to the Far East. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.