Not only is it one of the most frequent inquiries we get from others when we discuss our ministry, but it is also something we constantly grapple with in our own minds. We have been contemplating and praying about becoming missionaries to Japan for quite some time, and we have been actively working towards that goal for several years. Despite all our efforts, however, our primary address is still in Johnson City, TN, and we still can’t provide a definite answer to the question.
To be quite honest, the last two years have, at times, felt humiliating and frustrating. Are you ever going to actually leave for Japan? Did God really call you to this ministry? Will you ever become missionaries? The questions and doubts are crouching at the door, as it were, and they cannot be ignored, nor should they be. So let’s address them.
The first question is unanswerable apart from a special revelation from God (see James 4:13-15). Some people have been quick to question me when I have said, “if we move to Japan.” I suppose they’d prefer that I say, “when we move to Japan.” I think they were trying to call attention to any lingering doubts or noncommittal attitudes I may have had, and if that’s true then I appreciate the question, but I believe that for me to say anything more certain than “if the Lord wills” would be arrogance, not faith, for I do not know what God has planned.
Though we cannot guess God’s designs for tomorrow, we can step forward in obedience to what he has called us to do today, and I have an unshakeable confidence that God desires that we make an effort to share the gospel with the people of Japan. My basis for that confidence comes, not from some miraculous personal experience or heavenly vision, but from Scripture:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Jesus Christ cares for the salvation of all people; He commanded His disciples to seek out every kind of people, all over the planet, and to teach them to follow Him. Yet we know that the vast majority of Japanese alive today have no concept of who the One true God is. Numbers can sometimes be hard to grasp, but we should try to feel the weight of the fact that there are nearly one hundred and twenty-five million Japanese people who are dying without the hope of the gospel. Jesus once faced a similar situation when he stepped off a boat and found thousands of desperate people sitting on a desolate shore waiting for him.
"When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things."
Should the church not also respond with compassionate action when they look upon a nation of lost people without Jesus as their Shepherd? I believe we should, and so I do not regret, not for a single moment, that my family has spent many years pursuing this ministry. The commands of Jesus, and his living example, are our call to ministry, and the Holy Spirit's work in us has led us to respond to the need for the gospel in Japan. Though the work has been hard and we have been tested, the cause is worthy, and God has used this time to produce fruit in our lives that would not have been borne had we taken another path. Therefore, I believe that, regardless of what the Lord has in store for us, this time of preparation has not been spent in vain, and it will lead to more fruit in the future.
When does a missionary become a missionary? Is it at the moment their heart begins to stir in response to the Holy Spirit’s call to share the gospel? Is it when they cross into the territorial borders of their target people group, or when they’ve led their first convert from that culture to Christ? I have attended seminary, planted a church, baptized new believers, committed to join a missionary team, received training from a missionary sending organization, quit my job, sold my house, and set my eyes to the mission field, and yet the question has continued to vex me: will I ever become a missionary? It is a difficult thing to leave behind the safety of what you know in order to pursue the unknown, but waiting for my feet to land has been more difficult than taking the initial leap. Now I’m left in this kind of limbo state, where everything is ministry and yet nothing feels like it is, and everyone I talk to is asking questions, not least of which is, “when are you leaving?” After multiple attempts, I’ve stopped trying to supply a definite answer to that question; "only God knows,” as I've said above. In the meantime, I’ve been left to ponder what my identity is. I’m no longer just a web designer, or an “IT guy,” or any of that. So what am I?
I was sitting in church recently when it hit me. One of the pastors invited the congregation to go on a disaster relief trip to Texas, which had been hit by Hurricane Harvey. I looked around the room, noticing that there were probably many people who would desire to go on such a trip, but that only a handful would likely be able to go because they were prohibited by other responsibilities and commitments. I, however, had no such restrictions. I had left my job several months prior in order to become a missionary. I had abandoned a career in order to pursue gospel ministry, and in this moment I was being offered a unique opportunity to do ministry. It wasn’t in Japan, but it was for a people in need who were in a different place and culture. I realized right then that I didn't have to wait to be a missionary. My whole life was now situated around living on mission. Both the church I grew up in and the one I helped start had affirmed my calling and were actively providing for the needs of my family. And here was, for me, an obvious invitation to take the gospel to another place. For the first time, I didn't feel like a person trying to become a missionary. Nothing really changed in that moment except my perception of my present circumstances, but it has affected the way I view life moving forward.
I don’t know when the Lord will lead us to Japan, but I know that I am a missionary now.