Church Planting in Rural Japan: The Story So Far

Below is a story from Hugh and Heather, two of our long-term missionaries serving in rural Japan. 

In 1994, we came to Japan – God sent us to “places and people not yet prayed for, churches not yet planted, and (cross-cultural) workers not yet sent…”

We went to language school for two years, then trained and got experience with an international church for four years. In 2001 God called us to a rural town to take on the remnant of a church which was just three people with no pastor and no place to meet. Hannah, another missionary, soon joined us as a long term co-worker and is now married with a family here.

Our first ten years in this village felt like challenge after challenge with very little visible fruit. God encouraged us from Galatians 6:9:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

We bought a house, became part of the community, made friends, our children went to local schools, we prayed, sowed seed and trusted God.

The church grew slowly as people came to faith and were baptised and two Christian families moved into Nirayama from other towns.

One thing God unexpectedly gave us was an open door to teach English to our children’s friends. Now 100 kids each week come through the church doors for ‘Happy Clubs’. Along with English they hear the Gospel in a 10 minute Japanese Bible time, and take home high quality Christian literature every month. God is at work in their lives.

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them” (Luke 18:16), but for years we struggled to find a venue where we could freely invite children to Happy Clubs and non- believers to church. After much prayer, four years ago God lead us to rented premises that are perfect for where we are now.

Through all this God challenged us as to pray and save money for a building that will be a permanent meeting place for future generations of believers in Nirayama. There is about £40,000 in the building fund so far.

We also realised that a church is not the same as a team!

“World evangelisation requires the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world”

-Lausanne Covenant 1974

In Matt 28:19,20 Jesus told the disciples to make disciples of all nations and to teach these disciples to do the same. So here we are a small church with a big God, ready to play our part in baptising and making disciples of all nations.

The church includes four generations, ages 4-98, so sometimes we move more slowly than we’d like. But we have seen time and time again how God delights to show his strength through human weakness (1 Cor 1:27), to work through the generations together (Joel 2:28,29) and to display his manifold wisdom through the church (Eph 3:10).

14 million Japanese people live in rural areas with a population of 3,000 to 50,000 and no church or outreach. Less than 10% of pastors and missionaries in Japan are working in these areas. God has given us a vision to see these areas reached. He told us to start with a fishing town with no church, about an hour’s drive from where we are now. In the past three years, God has sent believers from every continent to pray with us there, and God also put that fishing town on an intern’s heart when he visited on a placement. He and his wife are now preparing to come out and join us long-term in rural Japan.

God sent us to ‘places and people not prayed for, churches not yet planted, and (cross-cultural) workers not yet sent’:

Because we are here, this town, this region, and rural Japan are prayed for all over the world.

Because we are here, this town has a healthy church and new churches will be planted in neighboring towns and beyond.

Because we are here, God will use the local church and cross-cultural workers together to continue the process.

This is only the beginning, but God is faithful! Please join us in prayer for Japan.