Stories develop cultural understanding

When my family and I were working towards coming to Japan, I heard other soon-to-be missionaries talking about their prayer letters. They wanted to write about their country of service in a way that caused their supporters to have a burden for it. That struck me as a good way to ensure that our prayer letters aren’t just about us or even about our ministry. Instead, we can share about Japan in a way that our prayer supporters develop a burden for the country, and hopefully pray that Christ would be known throughout it.

How can we do that? Probably listing statistics isn’t the best strategy, though it can be part of our answer to the question, “Why are you in Japan?” Loads of prayer points or photos most likely won’t work either.

I believe that stories are a key. They slip in under people’s radars and can make Japan seem real. Stories can humanize a nation that seems to have a reputation for being replete with robots, anime, and inscrutable people.

The best journalists tell the story of an eyewitness in the midst of a current event. Superb photojournalists find one person to characterize what’s happened and tell a story with a photo/s of them. Outstanding photographers “can do much more than capture striking images, . . . [they] build stories.”1

Could you tell a story of an encounter you had with your neighbour about garbage or an interaction in your English class about families? Or could you relate a story about the local kindergarten your son goes to, or about how you got lost on the trains one day? Used in prayer letters, these stories will help your supporters understand Japan. They will help them grow to love the place and perhaps even persuade them to visit. But most of all, we hope that their prayers are enriched as they learn how to pray for us in our daily lives, learn how to pray for our friends and neighbours, and develop a burning desire to see more Japanese people love Jesus.


1. Alex King, “The world’s best photojournalists share their most compassionate images,” October 31, 2016, http://www.huckmagazine.com/art-and-culture/photography-2/worlds-best-photojournalists-share-compassionate-images/

Photo from Pixabay, no attribution required

Wendy Marshall is the managing editor of Japan Harvest. She’s learnt most of what she knows about writing from her international critique group, Truth Talk. She’s Australian and works with OMF International.

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