I’ve been reading the book, In Japan the Crickets Cry, about the life of Steve Metcalf who was a missionary to Japan. He was raised as a missionary kid in eastern China in the early 1900’s and endured the oppression of the Japanese occupation of China during his school years as the Japanese turned his school into a prison camp.
While imprisoned in the camp he met an Olympic athlete turned prisoner who encouraged him not to hate the Japanese but to rather see them as a people that needed the forgiveness of Jesus. He eventually promised to become a missionary to Japan once the war ended.
As he shared about the beginning years of his mission work in Japan I was struck by this story of an exchange he had with a young man during a survey of Northern Japan.
The town of Imabetsu on the north coast, now the entrance to the rail tunnel to Hokkaido Island, was one of the many that I visited. I booked into yet another inn and “tucked into” another dish of dried fish, seaweed with rice and raw eggs. A young man, about my age, approached me holding a Bible. I am the innkeeper’s son,” he said. “I work in the Post Office.” “Please.” I invited him to sit down. He was keen to tell me his story. My seaweed could wait. “When I was younger I had TB,” he said. “I went to a sanatorium. I learned about Jesus. From then on I always wanted to believe in him. There is so much I do not understand. But nobody can teach me. I have no one to pray with. I can never sing hymns. I am the only one interested here.”
“Why have you come to me?” I was puzzled. Did it seem so obvious I was a Christian? “Your name is Sutepano. I saw it in the guest book. I have read the story of Sutepano in my Bible. You are a missionary. You can teach me the truth.” He was right. I was named after Stephen, whose story he had found in Acts 6 and 7. My father had been translating that passage into Eastern Lisu when I was born. I was a missionary and I could teach him the truth.
It’s been over half a century since Mr. Metcalf had this encounter with that young man and still Japan remains less than 1% Christian. It is both humbling and daunting to know that there are still many in Japan to whom the gospel seed has been sown but for varying difficulties it either hasn’t taking root or is struggling to survive.
The truth is that I too am a missionary, and I too can teach them the truth. Since reading this story I’ve been wrestling with and repenting of the ways I’ve avoided difficult conversations and prime gospel sharing opportunities due a lack of boldness and confidence on my part. There is a urgency to the gospel that we must cling to if we are to see this nation changed. I’m asking the Spirit to help me walk daily with confidence and urgency as I strive to share the truth this year. Friends, Would you do the same?