In October 2018, the Reaching Japanese for Christ (RJC) Network (www.rjcnetwork.org) held its first multi-site conference, with sites across the US and in Tokyo and Osaka. This was the first time that RJC had sponsored events in Japan. The conference theme was Working Together to Reach Japanese. Despite technical difficulties, it was a resounding success.
Two returnee ministries
For nearly two decades, the RJC Network has been encouraging and equipping Christians and churches across the US to reach out to Japanese who are temporarily living in North America. Over that time, RJC has grown into a multifaceted ministry. It offers free online courses (academy.rjcnetwork.org) and webinars. It also runs international and regional conferences, and it has developed connections with similar ministries in other English-speaking countries.
Since RJC’s founding, the number of Japanese living overseas has doubled, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan reporting that, as of October 2017, 1.35 million Japanese citizens were living overseas, with 37% residing in North America.1 Clearly, the opportunities and challenges for RJC are increasing.
RJC is not the only ministry responding to these challenges. The Japanese Christian Fellowship Network (JCFN; http://jcfn.org) has been working to reach Japanese in North America and minister to Japanese returning to Japan for even longer than RJC. These two organizations overlap, but there are significant differences. JCFN was born out of the Urbana Missions Conference in 1990 and is a Japanese-led ministry focused on returnees and Japanese churches that minister to returnees. In contrast, RJC was established by Americans with a heart for Japanese and focuses on equipping and encouraging American Christians to reach out to Japanese in their communities. The ministries of RJC and JCFN are thus complementary, having similar goals but employing different approaches.
The largest RJC event each year is the RJC International Conference, but there are also regional conferences throughout the year. I have participated in several in the US and have seen firsthand the enthusiasm for reaching Japanese that RJC has inspired. I give thanks that the efforts of such ministries have spurred many to reach out to Japanese students, business people, and families more effectively, resulting in more overseas Japanese believing in Jesus or becoming interested in the Christian faith. Unfortunately, when these Japanese return to Japan, most become discouraged and give up church life. JCFN estimates that of the approximately 1,600 Japanese that return home each year as new believers or seekers, about 80% stop attending church within a few years.2
A new venture
For 2018, RJC leadership decided to try something new. To make the RJC International Conference accessible to more people in more places, a multi-site conference was proposed that would take place online on the same day.
Churches interested in the RJC Network across the US were encouraged to host conference sites and build a program around the main session, which would be live-streamed from Seattle. This proposal was well received, and regional sites were planned for ten different places in the US. The multi-site concept made it possible to include sites outside the US, so conference sites in Tokyo and Osaka were added to equip churches and missionaries to minister more effectively to Japanese, especially returnees and their families and friends.
Because of the different time zones, the plenary speaker, Pastor Hiroaki Yonai, kindly agreed to live-stream his talk twice, once for the Japan sites and again for the US sites. In addition to pastoring Kokubunji Baptist Church, Pastor Yonai serves as vice-chairman of the Japan Evangelical Association and as chairman of JCFN—a combination of roles that made him an ideal speaker for the multi-site conference. Pastor Yonai gave his message in Japanese, and it was interpreted into English. Unfortunately, his excellent presentation was marred by slow and unstable WiFi at the Seattle site, making it very difficult to understand his words at the two Japanese sites.
In Tokyo, Musashino Chapel Center in Kichijōji hosted the conference. Sixty people gathered for a six-hour meeting that included Pastor Yonai’s presentation and on-site activities. These included two panel discussions—one with three returnees and one with three pastors—as well as English-language worship, and prayer. The Tokyo committee reported that the panel discussions were great and the overall event was a blessing.
In Osaka, we met at the VIP Kansai Center with 50 people in attendance. The eight-hour bilingual program included worship, Pastor Yonai’s presentation, a panel discussion, a mini-prayer concert, and two time periods for seminars by local speakers.
For each seminar period at the Osaka conference, participants could choose between Japanese-language and English-language seminars. The Japanese seminars were “The Challenge of Making Disciples in Japan” by missionary/pastor Kuni Ōnishi, who leads All Nations Returnees Kansai; and “How to be Made Alive by Christ in this Country” by Pastor Daiki Kishimoto, the president of Osaka Bible Seminary. The English-language seminars were “Three Bowls of Japanese Culture” by me (representing the International Ministerial Fellowship) and “The Andrew Project” by Charlie Seelen and Jason Queen of the Japan Baptist Mission. All seminars were well attended and received very positive comments. (Videos of the seminars and information about RJC Osaka are available at www.rjc-osaka.org.)
In the post-conference surveys, many attendees from Tokyo and Osaka commented that they greatly appreciated the opportunity to network and fellowship with like-minded Japanese and missionaries. Except for technical problems with the live stream, the event went very well and was a blessing. Fifteen people volunteered to help with future conferences, indicating support for making this a recurring event. Of all the participants at the Tokyo and Osaka sites, 63% were non-Japanese.
Our experience with the 2018 RJC Multi-site Conference indicates that there is a role for RJC in Japan through sponsoring conferences and possibly other avenues. While no firm plans have been made for additional RJC events in Japan, we are praying about the best way forward. It seems likely that there will be a 2020 RJC Conference in Japan. Details will be announced when they become available.
1. “Record Number of Japanese Living Overseas,” July 10, 2018, www.nippon.com/en/features/h00232/, (accessed January 11, 2019).
2. “Ministry,” jcfn.org/jcfnhome/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=746&Itemid=770&lang=en, (accessed January 10, 2019).
Photos by Jessica Welchel (Osaka) and Maki Goto (Tokyo)
Dan Ellrick and his wife Karen came to Japan as missionaries in 1996. Their current focus is resource development. Dan is also the Japan representative of International Ministerial Fellowship.