While waiting in the Narita airport in Tokyo, I realized something pretty phenomenal. I was preparing to meet with the Japanese translation team, and I realized Japan was the first country outside of the United States that Bible League International provided Bibles and training to, just after the Second World War. Believe it or not, it was General Doug MacArthur, the Big Chief himself, who made the request for Bible League to send Bibles to Japan. Now here we are again, at the beginning of a very important project. This is something we have desired to start for years: translating the Old Testament into an Easy-to-Read Japanese version of the Bible as a companion to the already completed New Testament.
Since the late 1940s and 50s, there’s been a solid ministry effort in Japan. It has resulted in some church growth. In the decades since then, the church in Japan has not been able to continue this growth—and the Christian church here remains at the edge of concern. Recent statistics show that there are 7,000 churches in Japan. In Tokyo, less than 1% of the people are Christian. The average age of church members in Japan is 63 years old, and 40% are over 70. This is also true for church leadership; the average age of church leaders is 68 years old with 48% of clergy over the age of 70. Add to this the fact that a good number of the churches here are small, with an average of about 25 members. At this current rate, over the next 5 to 20 years, the number of churches may decrease to 5,000, with some estimating the decline to 2,000. A lot of churches are traditional and are focused on maintaining the current structure and ways. Sadly, the next generation of church leaders seem quite uninterested in picking this up: youth attendance and involvement is staggeringly low. The church in Japan is in danger of dying out if we cannot find a way to engage young people in God’s Word.
One Japanese term that I learned over my short visit is onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is a word that is formed out of the sound it makes, like ‘sizzle’ or ‘hiss’ in the English language. In the Japanese language, onomatopoeia is used a lot to enrich their languages (there are more than a dozen different languages spoken in Japan) with emotion and bring their texts to life. It is our fervent hope by adding a companion Old Testament in Japanese, the sound of the sizzle will encourage more youth to discover for themselves the hope that is in the Word of God.
So please pray for this translation project. Please pray that the decline of the church in Japan will come to a full stop, and the next generation of church leaders will be empowered and equipped to share the Gospel in exciting, fresh new ways. May our Lord prepare hearts to receive this translation and bless the ministry to depend on God’s leaning for preparing bold and fresh new ways to excite youth in Japan with the power of the Good News.