Between my second and third year of seminary (in St. Louis, Missouri, US) I was given the opportunity to go to Japan for a foreign mission internship. I was seeking the Lord as to how I was to serve him after graduating. That was 44 years ago.
I grew up in Tokyo as a son of missionaries but had reservations about being a missionary to the Japanese myself. I was insecure as to my abilities and also had an indifference to the spiritual needs of the Japanese. The Lord had to take me to Japan so that he could open my eyes and heart. At the end of the year in Japan, I was convinced that I was to serve Christ amongst the Japanese.
My short-term experience
I was one of six English teachers with a group called LIFE Ministries and they began their first ESL “Scrum Dendo” that summer. A Japanese seminary student served as the chaplain, and as a team we ministered in a small church in Shizuoka. The idea of the rugby scrum was that it was to be a team effort—a good lesson to start out with.
During my internship I was invited to serve on the summer hi-b.a. camp staff in Chiba and participate in the lives of the campers. The opportunity for high school students to invite their non-Christian friends and be under the Word of God for a week was an effective way to introduce them to Jesus. Friendship, Bible study, and fun for teenagers that led to conversions were very encouraging.
The church in Nagoya that I attended wanted to reach out to the youth on Saturday afternoons. The pastor and I passed out invitations to attend English classes and watch Moody Institute of Science films. Many of those I met through this church on weekends encouraged me to come back as a career missionary. The same thing happened when I spent three months with another church and assisted the pastor there.
Matsubarako Camp in Nagano Prefecture offered an ice skating and English week with Bible instruction. I was invited to help out one week, and on that particular occasion Rev. Jim McAlpine was the guest speaker. He was a veteran missionary in Japan and used a Japanese interpreter for his teaching.
While in Tokyo, I was able to join Rev. David Martin in some of his classes as he was involved in church planting. As we rode the train together he would often recite chapters of the Japanese Bible.
Both of these men, though very different, were faithful to Jesus and expressed their love of Jesus well. The Lord used them wonderfully in Japan.
Reflecting on my experience
I am full of thanks to the Lord for the way he placed me in these different ministries. Most of the men I worked with have now graduated to glory. By writing this article, I pay tribute to their faithful witness for Jesus and their being a help to open my spiritual eyes.
I needed to learn from 2 Corinthians 12:9–10 that the Lord uses weak servants who will trust in Jesus, and it is only this reliance that makes them strong in Christ. I needed to learn from 1 Corinthians 3:7–8 that the Lord uses some to sow the truth of Christ’s words and others to water or add to that teaching, while only God can give the spiritual life and growth. I also had to be shown that Japan needed many more witnesses for Jesus because the numbers were few.
My calling to reach the Japanese for Christ remains strong all these years later. My wife and I have served in six Japanese churches—two in Japan, two in Australia, and two in the US. We are now in Nashville, Tennessee, serving Japanese through a multi-cultural church.
It’s been said that “The strongest power a person has is love.” The act of accepting others as they are and being kind to them is an entry way to a person’s heart. The Christian missionary can show the love of Christ in many different ways. The Spirit of God needs to work to open the heart, but in my experience it seems that those who had some earlier contact with Christianity tend to be more receptive. This truth remains: some sow and some water, but growth is through the work of the Spirit applying the power of the Word.
Many years have passed since I went to Japan on a short-term trip. I’m glad I listened to the suggestion of my brother Bruce to go. I am thankful to Rev. Phil Foxwell for setting up the ministry schedule and grateful to the Lord for that life-changing internship.
Stephen Young was born in Tokyo, a third-generation missionary kid. Since receiving his M.Div. in St. Louis, Missouri, he and his wife have been ministering to the Japanese for forty years with MTW.