Before coming to Japan as a tentmaker, I prayed and asked for advice from several pastors and missionaries. All of them advised me to get a job in Japan, so I could earn my own salary and avoid the missionary visa procedures. They told me I’d be able to get deeper into the Japanese society reaching places where other missionaries usually can’t reach with the gospel.
I knew how Japanese people value work and how their life is so work-centered, and I felt that God was leading me in that direction, so I moved to Japan in 2013. I was sent as a missionary only by my local church in Argentina (I send reports regularly and I get spiritual support from them).
Working side-by-side with Japanese
In my experience, working in a Japanese company is a huge opportunity to show Japanese people (not only with words) that Christians live in a different way and have a different mindset, especially with regards to working too much, and about life priorities.
However, it is very important as an independent missionary to stay in touch with people who understand your faith, your point of view, your worries, and your feelings as a foreigner. There is a constant tendency to become busy with work and the daily worries, and therefore become more disconnected from the original purpose of being a missionary. When you’re disconnected it’s also easy to worry about whether you are really doing what you should be doing here.
Networking and staying in touch with other missionaries is crucial for independent missionaries. Sadly, most gatherings for missionaries are organized for full-time missionaries from the same agency. Most of them also take place on weekdays and it is difficult for those who are working in Japanese companies to attend.
Benefit in working together
I think there is huge mutual benefit in working together—independent missionaries and committed Christians living here can get the spiritual and emotional support they need. Missionary agencies can also get the experience/expertise from the independent missionaries to help their own missionaries become more effective in reaching local people.
Independent missionaries, tentmakers, and committed Japanese Christians can also become a bridge between non-Christian Japanese people and full-time missionaries. For example, inviting some work colleagues to have dinner with a “foreigner friend” who is a full-time missionary can become a chance for the missionary to reach new people in a relaxed and trust-based context. The dinner also becomes a chance for the work colleagues to hear the gospel in a more direct way that is not possible during work time.
Working together also represents a set of new opportunities—full-time missionaries can learn more about other aspects of the Japanese society, especially about the workplace. They may even become tentmakers too (networking with independent missionaries and other tentmakers could open doors for job opportunities). On the other side, it can be a chance for independent missionaries, tentmakers, and committed Christians, who feel God is calling them to a full-time ministry to eventually join one of these missionary agencies.
How mission agencies can help independent missionaries
Here are some concrete ways that missionary agencies can help independent missionaries:
- Organize conferences/events during weekends or on national holidays (or at least one day of the program).
- Encourage their missionaries to network with tentmakers and independent missionaries. (Regular networking meetings or prayer meetings to share experiences and spend time together could be an option.)
- Use social media interest groups and forums to gather together missionaries (independent or not) from across the country so they can have a space for discussion and sharing information.
- Include the independent missionaries and tentmakers in your prayers, asking God to strengthen them, give them the wisdom they need, and lead them to be effective where they are despite all the difficulties of being on their own.
Missionary agencies are becoming more open to working together with independent missionaries and committed Christians living in Japan. This mutual understanding can become an enriching experience for both sides (an example of this is the OMF Friends program they started recently). I believe this will undoubtedly contribute to a stronger and wider union of the body of Christ in Japan.