Japan Has `Google Sensei` so Why do We Need to Send Missionaries?

This time next week I`ll be in Japan. Only for two  weeks, but still I`m very excited. Whilst I`m there I`ll meet with some folk to discuss what ministry stuff I`ll be doing when I go back to Japan properly in September for another four-year term as a full-time missionary.

Japan: the developed nation that keeps on developing.

Now I`m still working out what it means to be a `missionary` and the question of `full-time` vs `tent-maker` is always on my mind (but more on that another time). But before we get to those debates there is a much more fundamental question we, or at least I, need to consider: why go at all?

I mean if I were preparing to go to some remote jungle/mountain/generally-difficult-to-get-to tribal people without any concept of written language, then this wouldn`t be a blog post to write about. But I`m going to Japan. And whilst Japanese companies aren`t as internet savvy as you might assume (on-line banking isn`t really a thing, and a lot of places still rely exclusively on paper-based application forms, etc), smartphones are readily available, as is high-speed WiFi. And there are no governmental restrictions on what you can access.

Pretty much every one in Japan has completely unhindered access to the web (Do we still call it that? I`m an  eighties baby so I get confused about these things). So if people in Japan wanted to find out about Christianity, they could just ask Google Sensei.

You probably know that `sensei` is Japanese for `teacher.` If not, now you do. It`s used for most anyone in a teaching capacity. So you have high-school sensei, karate and judo sensei, tea ceremony sensei, your doctor and dentist are your sensei, and also pastors and missionaries get the title of sensei (that`s also a discussion for another time!).

So it didn`t feel odd the first time I heard someone refer to `Google Sensei.` He`s the online teacher who can get you the right answers on anything from terminology for martial arts, through the correct dates for historical events and the best way to fight a sore throat, to the ingredients for shogayaki and the teachings of different religions. Google sensei can tell you anything you want to know, anytime you want to know it.

And there are good Christian resources online that people could access, in Japanese, and many written by Japanese Christians. There is also a growing amount of social media that share Bible verses and information about churches and gospel events. It`s all easy to find and easy to understand. For the Japanese the good news is just a quick google-sensei search away.

VR Capsules. For when life gets a bit too real.

So again, that raises the question: why do we need people to go to Japan as missionaries? Or even, do we?

It`s not just an intellectual debate. I`m not trying to use up spare time thinking and writing about this. And the Lord knows we`re not suffering from a shortage of blog posts. This is a real question, because there are people – many peoples, in fact – without access to google sensei. Many people who won`t be able to hear about who Jesus Christ is and what he`s done, unless someone goes to them. So, for the last time, I ask myself: why should I go to Japan when they have easy online access to the gospel whilst so many people in the world don`t have any such access?

There`s a number of answers to that question, which I will share in the coming weeks, and I really hope that this will spark a bit of constructive discussion. There is the important distinction between evangelism and discipleship; the way the father models mission by pleading with his sons; and those fun topics of `incarnational ministry` and `holisitc mission`. But for now the main reason I would give is:

Because love.

We go to show that the reason why people are producing online content is love. And that as a church as a whole we love them. We send missionaries to Japan because we love Japanese and want to share our lives with them as we share the life Christ gives with them. We go because when we receive the love of Christ it compels us to share his love with others.

Google sensei might be able to give people answers to the questions they have about Jesus, but it can`t share life with people. Google sensei knows a lot – almost everything – but for love you need actual people.

So we need people to go. Because love.

`Because we loved you so much we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.`

(1 Thessalonians chp 2 vs 8)

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Love Waits . . . Till After the Tournament (for cake and beer)

Last night we had a dinner party at the house I`m staying in. I made some Japanese-style ginger pork (shogayaki: always a win!) for the main course. And for dessert we had blueberry cheesecake. Here`s a very bad photo of it.

blueberry cheesecake
I am sadly not available to hire for food photography.

I can`t even begin to describe how good it was. Because I didn’t have any.

You see in a couple of weeks I will be visiting Japan to do visa stuff and have some meetings about my future ministry, etc. And whilst I`m there I will also be joining my ultimate frisbee team, Wasabi, for the Asia Oceanic Beach Ultimate Championships.

I`m very excited about that. Because,

  1. I love playing frisbee, and I really love tournaments, and I especially really love beach tournaments.
  2. I love my Wasabi teammates, and I really love playing frisbee with them, and I haven`t seen most of them for almost a year.

But I`m very aware that I haven’t trained with Wasabi for almost a year. Ive followed along with the team chat online and am kinda up to date with what our strategy is and what plays we`ll be doing, but I am still going into this tournament with a lot of catching up to do.

So I figure the best way for me to love them is to not eat cake and beer until after the tournament.

I`ve been thinking a lot recently about how playing sports can be a way of loving people. You can love spectators by playing in a way that is enjoyable to watch; you can love the organisers by honouring the spirit of the sport they gave time and energy to promote; you can love your opponents through trust, respect, fair play, and good communication; and you can love your teammates by giving your absolute best.

I want to give my best for my team. I want to love them well. And I think a low-key detox in the build-up to the tournament is one way to do that. I know from experience that by cutting out cakes and beer for these few weeks I`ll be able to run a little bit faster and a little bit further, and who knows, maybe even stay airborne for a little bit longer.

I don’t think there`s anything wrong with enjoying sweet things in moderation, and the same goes for alcohol (I`m not intending to give a defence of that viewpoint here: there`s a bunch of stuff been written on it). But sometimes loving people means making small, unimpressive, not-technically-necessary sacrifices.

When I`m finished with my ultimate frisbee career I want to be able to say to those I played with what Paul said to the Thessalonians,

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our own lives.

1 Thessalonians chp 2 vs 8

I`m still thinking through all this, and learning and growing in what it looks like to bring together playing sports, doing mission, and loving people. I know there are many other ways for me to love my teammates (and opponents, organisers, etc) with the same love that Jesus has shown me. But you have to start somewhere, and I figure it may as well be with cake and beer.

(Oh, and no, this isn’t something I`d be doing anyway to get “beach body ready.” My skin cooks easier than salmon. It doesn’t get to see the sun.)

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