The greater area of Tokyo is about 36 million people and less than 1% are Christian. There are only 1,000 Christian churches in Tokyo to serve those 36 million people. Yoshito explains that most people he meets have never heard the gospel or held a bible in their hands. Most people in Tokyo are Buddhist or Shinto. They may not consider themselves religious or actually believe what these religions teach, but they still practice the Buddhist or Shinto traditions because it’s part of their culture. As a result Yoshi focuses on building relationships to open the door to sharing the gospel.
Today Yoshi is here to share with us his dream for seeing the gospel spread through missional communities throughout Tokyo.
- Go where God calls. // Yoshi started working in youth ministry, but then felt a calling to move to Tokyo and plant a church. Five years ago, he and his wife moved and started from scratch in the city. Yoshi worked outside of the church with the elderly and at the same time was very intentional about getting to know people in his community. Not unlike the west, people in Japan are very busy and Yoshi says it can be a challenge to meet with people. Whether it’s going door to door and speaking with neighbors, interacting in the workplace or building relationships at his children’s school, Yoshi and his wife take every opportunity to build friendships where they can, ultimately wanting to share the gospel message. It’s a slow process, but as Yoshi has planted seeds and built relationships, individuals have started showing an interest in learning more about Jesus.
- Start small and build. // When Yoshi first began this mission in Tokyo, he and the others who wanted to learn more about Christ met in his home. Then they began meeting in public places once a month. As interest has slowly grown, people are craving more community and now they meet weekly to learn more about the bible and Jesus. Yoshi and his church don’t have a building, but they are still a missional community impacting their neighborhood.
- Love defines us. // As Yoshi reaches out to people in his community, his heart is to serve them. “In Japan they never heard the gospel before and one of the powerful ways to proclaim Jesus is they have to see the gospel,” Yoshi explains. “How much we love and how much we bless people and how much we care about people.” Yoshi took the initiative to clean up a park that his community uses and he says that people noticed. In fact, actions like these, motivated by love, have directly led to new friendships and the salvation of neighbors.
- Be patient and plant seeds. // The biggest lesson Yoshi has learned from his mission is to be patient. A church isn’t built overnight and making disciples is an ongoing process. We love instant gratification, but we must persevere and be faithful when we don’t see results right away. As Yoshi wisely notes: “We sometimes look for quick results and making disciples takes all of our life. Is it ok to not see fruit for the first 2 years, first 10 years, first 20 years, even 50 years? We still must be faithful to cultivate and plant seeds.”
You can connect with Yoshito and learn more about his church planting at somajapan.com.
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Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the show, my name’s Rich, the host around these parts. So glad that you’ve decided to tune in. Today it’s our honor, our privilege to have Yoshi Noguchi with us, all the way from Tokyo, Japan. Yoshi, welcome to the show.
Yoshi – Hi.
Rich – I’m so glad to have you today, thanks so much for joining us.
Yoshi – Thank you.
Rich – Why don’t you tell us a bit about Japan, let’s start with Japan. Give us a sense of kind of the spiritual climate. Most of the people that listen in to the podcast are from The States, but I’d love to hear more about Japan.
Yoshi – Okay, I live in Tokyo and the greater area of Tokyo about 36 million people live and less than 1% are Christians.
Rich – Wow.
Yoshi – There are only one thousand churches in Tokyo.
Rich – Wow.
Yoshi – And most of the people I meet, they’ve never heard of the gospel and they’ve never had the bible in their hand and those are the people I’m serving and trying to love people and trying to share Christ.
Rich – That’s amazing. Now give me a sense, so 1%, that’s seem incredibly small, that’s amazing. What are the kind of predominant faith systems, what are people’s, what their kind of religious background then?
Yoshi – Okay, most people believe in Buddhist and the Shinto and most of them practice, in our culture it’s very much based on their traditions. So some people, even though they don’t believe but they practice and once a year they go to a shrine and worship and stuff like that.
Rich – Right, is it primarily kind of a cultural Buddhism, kind of like you were saying, it’s kind of just infused in the society, whether there’s kind of a deep belief or not?
Yoshi – Yeah, most people, they don’t… it’s more like, it’s becoming our culture. Some people don’t really believe but they just follow the customs.
Rich – Wow, amazing. So now you’re planting a church in Tokyo.
Yoshi – Yes.
Rich – Tell us about that.
Yoshi – I used to do youth ministry for about eight years and I got called, my wife and I, to move to Tokyo and to plant church and five years ago we moved and we started basically from scratch.
Rich – Wow.
Yoshi – We’re planting a church and planting a community of believers and for the first three years I had a job and I was taking care of elderly people and visiting house to house and slowly, some people, our friends started coming over into our living rooms and I started sharing my life and I started sharing the gospel.
So yeah, five years ago we started living in Tokyo with gospel intentions.
Rich – Sometimes that’s referred to as kind of bi-vocational. You were doing this work, was paying your bills with caring for elderly folks and then you were just kind of relationally building up your connections in the community. What did that look like, how were you kind of starting to build those relationships?
Yoshi – It takes a lot sometimes because most of Japan is very busy and they only have time, maybe a weekend and a few times a month and also my wife is always out with my kids, you know? We have a kid and they’re parents, you know? So my wife and their mother are getting good friends. So it takes time for us to start living life here. We meet people at the park and we meet people at school and yeah, through there we try to get deeper relationships.
Rich – Yeah, can you tell us a story of maybe one person that you’ve met, maybe it’s at the park or through a relationship? Give us a sense of how that progressed.
Yoshi – Yes, I started to get involved with our neighborhood. We have some government that runs our neighborhood and I just joined their group and sometimes we clean up the parking park and they ask me to be on their team. So just serving our neighbors and through that I met a guy’s son, he goes to college and I invited him to come to our home for dinners and then we started hanging out in our living room and going to movies and all that. He sounds like he is very interested to learn more about the story of God.
So that’s where we started. After that, a one-year relationship, we start doing the story of God.
Rich – Now tell me about that, what did that look like, when you started talking about the story of God?
Yoshi – He really loves the story, he’d never heard the gospel before and he really likes it and he had many questions and after the story of God, he really accepts Christ.
Rich – Wow, that’s amazing.
Yoshi – Yeah and then he decided to get baptized.
Rich – Wow.
Yoshi – Yeah.
Rich – That’s amazing, that’s very cool.
Yoshi – After two years of relationship.
Rich – That’s amazing. Now in your context have you moved from… you know, to public meetings, is that a part of your strategy? The thing I appreciate is your patience in this process, but have you moved towards doing kind of public meetings?
Yoshi – Yes, like the first three years we just met in our house and once a month we started meeting at a bar in our neighborhood.
Rich – Okay, cool.
Yoshi – So once a month we started doing the gatherings.
Rich – Wow, very cool and what do those gatherings look like?
Yoshi – Just more like, you know, equipping saints, equipping Christians. Since we have a missional community, we started meeting once a month, all of us Christians come together and this year we’ve started doing it every week, we just meet and do gatherings every week.
Rich – That’s amazing. Yoshi that’s incredible. I love hearing that story. What do you think the future looks like? Where does your ministry go next? What are you looking forward to in the future?
Yoshi – We love to make disciples and to regularly plant missional communities who live their everyday life with the intension of the gospel. So we want to see more communities, missional communities everywhere in Tokyo, so that people can see and the people can hear the gospel.
Rich – Very cool. When you say people can see the gospel, what does that mean to you?
Yoshi – I mean like, you know, Jesus say if you love one another they’ll know you as a disciple of Jesus and because in Japan they’ve never heard the gospel before and a powerful way to proclaim Jesus is firstly they have to see the gospel, how much we love and how much we bless the people and how much we care about people.
Rich – Very cool. How important is that, do you think, for people to understand or see how much you love folks, when such a small percentage of your community even knows what the bible is or knows the story of God? Would you say that’s critical?
Yoshi – Oh yeah very much so, because in Japan, especially in Tokyo, there are many other religions, many Mormons and…
Rich – Really?
Yoshi – Yeah everywhere. So we wanted to be more wise to how to…
Rich – Very cool. Well a lot of the people that listen in, in fact the majority of people that listen to the show are from the US and I wonder if you have any kind of advice or a word of wisdom to church leaders in our country about leading from what you’re learning in Tokyo?
Yoshi – Yeah I’ve been learning, God’s been teaching me to be patient, and we sometimes look for a quick result.
Rich – So true.
Yoshi – But making disciples takes the whole of our life, you know? Is it okay not to see any fruit for the first two years, or the first ten years or twenty years, even fifty years? Are we still faithful to cultivate and plant seeds?
Rich – Oh that’s a good word brother, I appreciate that. I think we can often, we try and microwave discipleship, which I think, what’s the fastest way between today and fully devoted followers, but it just takes time.
Yoshi I really appreciate you being on the show today, thank you so much. If people want to get in touch with you or learn more about your church, how can they do that?
Yoshi – Please look for somajapan.com.
Rich – Okay, cool.
Yoshi – And you can hear more of our story.
Rich – Very cool.
Yoshi – Yes.
Rich – Yoshi thanks so much for being on the show today.
Yoshi – Thank you very much.