Feature StoriesJourneyman to Japan has no regrets
April 18th, 2011
Amanda Smith (right), Journeyman to Japan, studies the Christmas story with a Japanese college student at a Tokyo coffee shop in December 2010.
by Emily Stockton
Before she arrived in Japan, Amanda Smith, of Culpeper, Virginia, thought learning a language without a Roman alphabet was her greatest fear. But the 27-year-old discovered there were bigger giants to confront. During her Journeyman term the past two years, she has toiled in one of the least evangelized countries in the world, a place where barriers to the Gospel are deep-rooted. And, just weeks before the end of her term of service, she lived through Japan’s triple crisis of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster.
Yet Smith has no regrets about her decision to live and serve in Japan. “The Father has never put me in a situation where He has not provided as much strength as I needed to make it through,“ she says.
When the quake jolted Japan, Smith, who lives in Tokyo, kept her balance by holding on to the wall. Soon thereafter, the broad scope of the devastation became evident.
“Grief and sadness came upon my heart as I heard about the tsunami destroying towns and villages. I am continually saddened as I read about the growing number of Japanese missing and perishing,” she says.
Smith evacuated Tokyo in mid-March due to the uncertainties surrounding the nuclear crisis. She, along with a group of other missionaries, temporarily relocated to Fukuoka in southern Japan. After eight days away, though, she is back in Tokyo. She plans to see her friends and share the Gospel with them one last time before the end of her Journeyman service.
Smith first heard of the Journeyman program in high school, learned more about it in college, but really got hooked when she met several former Journeymen during her years at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. (Seminary is not a requirement for the Journeyman program, though a four-year college degree is.)
When she began her application process, she had never been to Japan before – or anywhere overseas for that matter – though IMB recommends previous overseas travel when practical.
Her research opened her eyes to Japan’s high suicide rate, a statistic that broke her heart. “People are choosing to end their lives every day without even having a chance to know the saving power of Jesus. If they need to hear, I need to go,” Smith said of her decision to go to Japan.
Smith focuses on reaching young Tokyo professionals with the Gospel. And she finds building relationships with them easy because Japanese people are cordial and open to making new acquaintances. “If I am on a train or subway, in a coffee shop, shopping, or even out at a park, I can step out of my comfort zone and begin a conversation with a stranger,” she says.
A local businessman opens his coffee shop for weekly parties hosted by Smith and other missionaries. They serve snacks, play games, and give Japanese people a chance to practice their English. Smith finds this a good way to interact with locals.
“From my experience,” Smith says, “the Japanese are willing to listen and learn about the Bible but are very hesitant to make a decision for Christ. It may take years before a person accepts the Lord.”
Many of her young professional friends fear their decision to follow Jesus will set them apart from their co-workers. They fear that non-conformity to the group will result in rejection. They are apprehensive about what family members’ reactions will be.
“There is a saying in Japan, ‘The nail that sticks up will be hammered down,’” Smith says.
One Japanese friend said, “Amanda, I want to believe in Jesus. I know that He has been calling out for me for a long time. But I am scared of my mother’s reaction if I tell her I have become a Christian.”
“Evangelism in Japan is easy,” Smith says. “Having contentment when not seeing the harvest is the challenge.”
Last September, Smith and a fellow Journeyman, Sonya Kim, age 24, of Irvine, Ca., were privileged to be a part of God’s harvest. After sharing a lunch at a restaurant with their Japanese friend, the young woman prayed to receive Christ.
Missionaries in Japan often labor for years before seeing their first convert, so Smith cherished this chance to see God’s hand at work during her two-year term. “I know our powerful God will not stop with one,” Smith says.
Smith’s term of service ends in April. Several new Journeymen appointed to Tokyo will arrive early next year.
“The Journeyman program was fantastic!” Smith says. My relationship with Christ grew closer than it ever had been before.”
“I’m sure I speak for all Journeyman when I say that we all went overseas expecting to change the world,” she says. “But in the end, the Father changed us.”
The Journeyman program is a two-year missionary program for Southern Baptist university graduates age 21-26. Journeymen serve alongside long-term IMB field personnel. To learn more about the Journeyman program, qualifications and how to apply, please click here.
Japanese women drink tea as they visit in the home of Amanda Smith, Journeyman to Tokyo. The young women viewed an evangelistic film during their visit to Smith’s home. One of them said it was the first time she had ever heard the full Gospel story.