According to Operation Japan, in 2005 there were approximately 2,000 Protestant missionaries serving in Japan. I do not know how many there are now (probably many more because of the 3/11 disaster). My husband was commenting recently that some of the most qualified people for Japan are often the kind of people mission agencies are usually not successful at recruiting. He was referring to two groups: first, young people who love all things Japanese, particularly those thousands of students who go to Japan as exchange students and second, MKs.
According to the International Institute of Education, Japan was #11 in a list of popular overseas destinations with over 6,100 American students studying abroad in Japan in 2009-2010. These students might have become fairly fluent in Japanese by the time they graduated from college and have dozens of friends and contacts. If only a fraction of those students would come back to Japan to build the Kingdom of God what a blessing it could be!
A second group that can be overlooked are MKs. Missionary kids (also known as “Third Culture Kids”) are sometimes bilingual and understand Japanese culture even better than their own parents. An article appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Japan Harvest titled, “Should the MKs return?” “We sent out a questionnaire to 50 leading mission board chairman in Japan (60% replied) to see what is happening to most fitting suitable missionary recruits – those precious treasures – missionary children born and reared here in Japan since World War II. Our MK survey pointed out that 4% of adult missionary kids come back.” Why are they not returning to Japan? “86% felt God wanted him/her in some other work and 85% married and settled down in their homeland. 14% are bogged down with college debts. 9% lost their faith and/or vision for missions at a school in Japan or abroad.”
From what we have seen, there are many young people who feel that they have no need for a missions agency in order to serve God in Japan. For those who are fluent in Japanese, they can find good jobs in Japanese companies and have access to social circles that many missionaries cannot enter. Perhaps this is the new face of missions: many from the younger generation, when faced with the choice of a secular job in Japan versus the traditional missionary path, are choosing to work in Japanese companies or even start their own companies. To give some examples, we know of a young man, an MK who is fluent in Japanese, who has a wonderful job working at NHK. Another friend of ours, a young woman also fluent in Japanese, is working as an English teacher through the JET program and serving at a Japanese church.
These two groups of young people are needed in Japan. Imagine if a large number of Christian young people fluent in Japanese and familiar with the culture came to Japan – they could reach the younger Japanese quite effectively. Are these kinds of people being recruited by mission agencies? If more and more young people reject the traditional missionary path, perhaps the face of missionaries in Japan will change dramatically in the coming years.