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.
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.
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:
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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