At the time, Gina and I were still trying to come to grips with whether God was calling our family to Nagoya, and I made it my personal goal to speak with as many missionaries as possible. Mostly, I wanted to get a sense of what God was already doing in Japan and whether our family would be a good fit in that country.
Almost every conversation with every missionary began and ended in the same way. Most of the folks I spoke with had been in Japan a very long time - on the order of 15-30 years or longer, and almost everyone told stories about very slow progress with little fruit for years at a time.
But none of those conversations ended with hopelessness or discouragement. Almost every conversation had a real turning point where the missionary telling the story would brighten up and say..."but things have been different recently..." To summarize 25-30 conversations, missionaries from every tradition reported that there's been a brand new interest and openness to the Gospel over the past 3-5 years. Several different church planters said things like: "We're seeing people drop by the church to ask questions about Christianity, and that's new! It's never happened before!"
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that Japan is experiencing a move of the Holy Spirit similar to what the Church has seen in countries like China or South Korea in recent years...at least not yet. The ground is still hard, and progress is painstakingly slow. The waters flowing at a trickle, not a torrent. But when things have been dry for a long time and you begin to see a trickle, that's more than hopeful.
I wonder what God is doing behind the scenes that causes so many missionaries to tell the same stories right now? In retrospect, I wonder if the missionaries I spoke with have the opportunity to speak with one another often enough to realize they're telling such similar stories? So often, we get so wrapped up in our own particular plot-lines that we miss the novel God is writing.
My trip to Nagoya was a good case study after the interactions at the conference. The team leaders were honest about how slowly things have moved during almost two decades of work. And yet, there's a healthy church in the city that's "pregnant" and ready to give birth to triplets...or maybe even quadruplets! The team has also founded a seminary that's training future Japanese church leaders...and a Christian school that's having an impact on quite a large group of elementary and Jr. High School students. Any single item on that list would be a considerable accomplishment. Together, they represent a strong foothold for advancement.
In addition to all this, God is sending more help to the team in Nagoya. There are 3 families besides our own who are presently raising support and making preparations to join the Nagoya team for the next phase of church planting in the city.
All this leads Gina and I to believe that God is in the process of doing a great work in the yet unreached country of Japan. And they're details that God has used to confirm our own sense of calling to Nagoya. Be praying, friends! Ask God to pour out his Holy Spirit on the land of the rising sun and draw many people to himself. Pray that the trickle would become a river that gives life to the people of Japan. Pray especially for our new friends on the team in Nagoya. They're doing heroic work and making strong progress - even if they sometimes have trouble seeing that from their own vantage points - so close to the work!