“Our prayer team is here and Christians in U.K. are praying because Japan is on God’s heart.” With these words, team leader Angelo Lebrato encouraged the members of the 2015 UK Prayer Team, which came out through OMF International’s Serve Asia program. His words continue to inspire me as I look forward to welcoming new prayer teams each year.
Coordinating and welcoming prayer teams was not my idea. My thoughts were initially quite negative: “Why can’t they just pray in their own country for Japan?” and “Is coming on a prayer trip a mere guise for enjoying a guided tour of Japan with an interpreter?” Thankfully, the Lord has changed my mind and heart. He is using prayer teams to reveal his heart.
Hokkaido is on God’s heart
My personal experience with prayer teams began in 2013, when the Lord brought a group of three people from the UK. Each person had a passion for a specific area in Japan, one of which was Hokkaido. The group contacted me, asking for help in discerning where and for whom the Lord would have them pray. Then, in 2014, the Lord sent a married couple from the Netherlands, who were given a prayer burden for Japan and have been praying faithfully for revival here since 2006. Two different groups, and yet I heard one common prayer request: “Lord, reopen the wells that have been dug here.”
Yes, God’s heart for Hokkaido is not a new phenomenon. Spiritual “wells” were dug here over a century ago. During subsequent prayer trips, Pastor Kitō of Kitami Grace Church always mentioned four key Christians who had significant influence in Hokkaido (all worth a Google search): William S. Clark, who spent just eight months in Sapporo from 1876 to 1877; George and Ida Pierson, who spent “forty happy years in Japan” between 1888 and 1928; and John Batchelor, who was a missionary to the Ainu people from 1877 to 1941.
And yet we are sensing that God wants to do a new thing in Hokkaido. The spiritual wells that have been filled in and stopped up will be reopened. The Lord is preparing for a great revival here, and I believe he is using prayer teams to help bring it about.
God’s heart for his people
How the Lord lavishes his love on his people! One of the great blessings we have experienced through prayer teams is their ministry of encouragement to their Japanese brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
Outside of Sapporo, most churches in Hokkaido are small, but they are not forgotten. 2014 UK Prayer Team member Maddy Griffiths commented: “A visit from a prayer team encourages local Christians that they are being prayed for and cared for—that they are not standing alone or forgotten, but are a vital and cherished part of God’s family.”
The OMF-sponsored UK Prayer Teams to Hokkaido were established to direct those who had a prayer burden for Japan to pray for the new JECA–OMF joint church plant in Nayoro, which started in 2014. Teams have been visiting and praying for Nayoro Grace Church for the past four years. Angelo said: “It was very rewarding to see that people remembered us from the previous year and appreciated our commitment to keep sending prayer teams who share the burden of praying for Japan.”
Through the connection with Nayoro Grace Church, the teams were also linked up with Kitami Grace Church and Grace Chapel in Abashiri. Many stories could be told of how God has used prayer team members to encourage Japanese believers.
One of the key couples God led us to was Mr. & Mrs. Kataoka. In 2014, while a second-year student at Hokkaido Bible Institute, Mr. Kataoka came to my church to speak about the ministry of the college. When I learned that he would become the pastor of Grace Chapel in Abashiri after graduating, I asked if he would be willing to meet the members of the prayer team which was going to visit that church in a few weeks’ time, so that we could pray for him and the church. He was a bit nervous but agreed. During that meeting, we learned that his wife was “the caretaker” of the church in his absence. Thus began a journey with this couple in which we sought to encourage them with the Lord’s grace. They had been separated for three years during his study but were reunited when he finished, and he was installed as the church’s pastor in 2016.
The encouragement, however, is not one-sided. There is mutual encouragement as Japanese brothers and sisters in Christ share their lives of faith with prayer team members. Again, an insight from Angelo: “Short-term prayer trips are a great blessing and encouragement for the Christians and missionaries in Japan who are faithfully serving the Lord, but probably even more for everyone on the prayer team as our faith is strengthened and our eyes opened to the spiritual needs of a country.”
God’s heart for the lost
How the Lord longs to lavish his love on the people of Japan! He has been giving people around the world a burden to pray for this land—even to come and pray “on-site.”
Last year, the Lord brought us two women from South Africa, Rita Blackwood and Lillimore Wagener. These women, who were both in their seventies, came to Sapporo for just three days to share with us a prayer vision Rita had received from the Lord:
The Japanese flag appeared before my eyes. I saw the land of Japan—beautiful and green. The Lord said these words: “I am about to open wide the gospel in the Land of the Rising Sun. The awakening of this great nation will begin in Sapporo.” I then saw the ocean. As the waves were breaking on the shore, it turned red. I asked the Lord what that meant, and he said: “The nation of Japan will come to know the full redemption of the blood of Jesus. A new move of the Spirit is going to take place. Be expectant that something is about to happen. A coming period of revival, repentance, and an exceedingly great harvest. Japan will be saved. You shall see a new flag raised over this nation, as the Sun of Righteousness shall arise in his glory over Japan.”
Looking back, I am in awe of the range of people God uses in this ministry of prayer—newbies in prayer to prayer warriors; aged between 20 and 70; groups of two to six from Europe, Africa, and the US. Looking forward, I am expectant that God will move in answer to the prayers of these prayer team members, along with all of his people who pray for Japan.
“For the earth [and Japan!] will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14 ESV).
Karen Viljoen (nee Harless) served as a single missionary with TEAM from 1992 to 2008. She married Dale Viljoen in 2008 and joined him in OMF International. Karen now serves as the short-term coordinator for Hokkaido.