In early April, I visited the tsunami-stricken region of Japan, and I was overwhelmed at the extent of the destruction and devastation. Debris is everywhere, tens of thousands of people are still in temporary shelters, and the future for hundreds of thousands of survivors appears bleak.
Walking through the rubble, I was accompanied by a Japanese pastor whose small church is ministering to their neighbors and friends, sharing what little they have left. Most important, they are sharing the love of Jesus Christ in a culture where only 1 percent of the population is considered Christian.
I thought back to a time 65 years ago, when Japan was still reeling in the aftermath of World War II. The damage from air raids on Japanese cities and factories was massive, and General Douglas MacArthur assumed the role of Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in charge of rebuilding the nation.
MacArthur understood the hope and optimism that the Christian faith produced in cultures around the world, and was anxious to see believers come to Japan in their critical hour.
He told a gathering of evangelicals this: “Japan is a spiritual vacuum. If you do not fill it with Christianity, it will be filled with communism. Send me 1,000 missionaries.” He also asked for missionary societies to send “Bibles, Bibles and more Bibles.”
Some answered that call, but in place of communism, materialism along with all of its emptiness has spread across the Japanese culture. From the charred, cratered ruins of the Second World War, Japan has risen to become the third-largest economy in the world, nudged from second only recently by China. There is much to admire–the Japanese people are gracious, industrious, courteous and confident–but the vast majority are lost and alienated from God.
I believe somehow God will work through this most recent tragedy as an opportunity for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Already, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse are coming alongside Japanese pastors and churches to encourage and enable them in their evangelistic efforts. We have brought tons of practical aid and relief, and we are distributing it in the hard-hit area of Sendai, just a few miles from the inundated coastline.
It is my prayer that God will use our work there in the days and months ahead as a platform to demonstrate the wonder and power of the cross. When people ask us why we are there and why we are helping, we have opportunities to tell them about the Savior’s love and compassion. We can tell them how He died and rose again to save us from our sins and to give us eternal life through faith and repentance.
Disasters like this often leave people keenly aware of their mortality. Pride and self-sufficiency are suddenly deflated, and this can provide a season when the humbled hearts of men and women are receptive to the preaching of the Gospel.
Pray for our work in Japan in the coming months. Pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen the witness of the church, and for God to lay the groundwork for a renewed outreach for the sake of His Name. There is much to do and much to overcome, but nothing is impossible for God.