From the Field: Business as Missions in Japan Blog

From the Field: Business as Missions in Japan

Former Mercy Hill members, Phil and Bethany, now live in a tiny ski village in Norikura, Japan as hotel staff and gospel missionaries. Here’s a look at how they are living cross-culturally to share the gospel without burdening the resources of the church.


Why Missions Often Fail

Japan isn’t the first country to come to mind when you think of missions, but maybe it should be. Only 1% of Japanese are Christians and, after all, robot makers in Tokyo need Jesus too. Japan is one of the hardest mission fields. Here are two big reasons why missionaries and mission projects often fail in Japan

  1. Japanese are already religious. A typical Japanese person will identify themselves as either Shinto or Buddhist while simultaneously, and sometimes unknowingly, practicing both. Buddhist tradition protects the ancestors and Shinto superstition provides protection and good luck in this lifetime. Neither religion speaks to a personal relationship with a creator-god and, from their prospective, what’s the need?
  2. Japanese are very private. Generally speaking, Japanese will avoid discussing any controversial topics. So while discussing which temple they will go to for the traditional New Year’s prayer is common, deep discussions about religion are saved for their closest friends. Breaching this topic too soon often leads Japanese to build walls around their hearts and avoid the offender from then on. How do you make disciples when the mere mention of religion runs the risk of losing a friendship?

A Different Field Requires Different Tactics

Our approach is to use business as missions (BAM). BAM is 100% business and 100% missions. BAMs have four bottom lines built into their structure; three they share with most modern corporations, and one that makes them different.

  1. Profitable – BAMs need to be self-sustaining and create additional profit that can be leveraged towards the other bottom lines.
  2. Socially Conscientious – BAMs need to be a benefit to their community and to the world.
  3. Environmentally Friendly – BAMs need to help the environment.
  4. Spiritually Effective – BAMs seek to create and raise up disciples who reproduce within their communities.

Relationships Are the Point

BAMs who are successful in the first three bottom lines earn the respect of the community and create long-standing relationships within their community. These relationships are the point. Relationships can turn into deep friendships and open the hearts of the Japanese to listen to and accept the gospel.

Northstar started as a hotel and adventure camp in 2001. Our staff is half Japanese and half foreigners. This might have been strange to the locals at first, but the core staff who have been there since the beginning are full-fledged members of the community. They’re members of the PTA, ladies groups, tourism boards, etc.

Our CEO’s wife, Yoriko, is a nurse at the local clinic. Everyone knows she’s Christian—and also that everyone at NORTHSTAR is—and they don’t mind. They know us as friendly and honest people. So, when the local doctor wanted to learn English, Yoriko recommended me since Japanese hierarchal culture prevents Yoriko from teaching her superior even if she is more qualified.

About two months into our lessons, the doctor pauses the lesson to confirm that I am Christian and then said she is thinking about becoming a Christian herself. Panic and joy both almost overtook me as I realized it was working. Our mission is working! It’s slow but it’s working. BAMs work.

Norikura is our mission field, NORTHSTAR is our means, and it’s working.

To learn about opportunities with Northstar, click here to visit their website.

-Phil Yarbrough