A local church in Japan uses technology to share Christ.
Published on: 03-01-2020
Every world region has its own challenges in spreading the gospel message. Japan is no exception.
Japan comprises 6,852 islands. Its four largest islands—Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku—account for 97 percent of its population of 126 million.¹ In comparison, Seventh-day Adventist members in Japan number slightly more than 15,000, a population-to-member ratio of 8,439 to 1.² In spite of the daunting challenges these statistics represent, many native Japanese pastors, missionary pastors from other countries serving in Japan, and laypersons are moving forward in faith to share the good news of Jesus with others. The task may seem unachievable, but with God all things are possible.
TOKYO INTERNATIONAL CHURCH
The Tokyo International church (TIC), situated in a shopping center in the heart of Japan’s largest city, has a membership drawn from 20 different nationalities. About 150 people attend regularly. Most of the nonnational attendees are either contract workers, tourists, or spouses of Japanese nationals.
Because TIC is one of only a few English-speaking Adventist churches in Japan, many non-Japanese-speaking people don’t attend Sabbath services. Thus, Lift Up Your Voice Media Ministry was born.
THE BEGINNING OF TIC MEDIA MINISTRY
TIC member Rolo Etcobanes recognized the need for English-based Sabbath programs. In November 2017, he began livestreaming services from his apartment, using only a secondhand camera and a studio made of cardboard. Many prayers ascended for the success of the initiative. In time, some young people and the head elder of the church joined to form the media ministry, with the initial goal of livestreaming Bible studies and Sabbath School lessons in Tagalog. Tagalog is the language spoken by some of the church’s regular attendees originally from the Philippines. Later, the group began broadcasting the weekly worship service in English.
Some people questioned the ability of the TIC Media Ministry team to accomplish their goal since they weren’t trained in the telecommunications field and lack the experience and skill usually necessary to operate the equipment. But the group isn’t discouraged. They jointly share the knowledge and abilities they do have, and are determined to acquire the additional necessary skills—and God is blessing their efforts.
“We started this as a self-supporting ministry, and we have faced many financial challenges,” Etcobanes says. “But we are depending on Him who ‘is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us’ [Eph. 3:20]. God is sustaining the needs of the ministry.”
Donations of funds and equipment soon began coming in, and TIC pastor, Mark Duarte, offered his small office, which he shares with Japan Union workers, as a temporary studio. Utilizing limited space with others can easily cause friction, but God, the coworkers say, is teaching them humility, patience, and love.
“Having a media ministry that shares the Adventist message and mission was a vision of TIC for many years,” Duarte says. “In God’s timing we were able to initiate a humble beginning for Lift Up Your Voice Media Ministries several years ago. Since then, we have received comments from people living in Japan and overseas regarding how they have been blessed by this ministry. We consider it God’s ministry, not ours. We’re simply serving Him as He continues to open doors.
“Our purpose is to also give our young people an opportunity to serve God by being on the staff of this ministry operating the necessary equipment,” Duarte adds. “As they participate, they are also hearing God’s Word proclaimed in various venues.”
The viewing audience is growing. Members who can’t attend church because of sickness or distance are tuning in. People as far away as Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and other countries have also been sending messages of appreciation for the programs. The team broadcasts presentations by Maranatha as well as evangelistic efforts organized jointly by the Japan Union Conference and the General Conference (GC) in 2018.
Looking back over the past two years, the team can see how greatly God has blessed their efforts with viewers who are now able to worship the Lord with them via livestreaming every Sabbath.
“As the youngest team member of TIC Media Ministry, I’m thankful to God for the privilege of helping to spread His message by assisting my teammates in preparing the equipment,” says 14-year-old Megumi Tuy Rodriguez. “I’m learning a lot about teamwork and I’m developing technical skills. The media ministry is continuing to train young people who are willing to be part of the ministry.”
According to a recent article in the Japan Times, Justice Ministry data indicate that “the number of foreign residents in Japan had risen 6.6 per- cent at the end of 2018 from a year earlier, to reach a record high of some 2.73 million.”³ A recent online survey also shows that approximately 22.6 million people in Japan are now using Facebook.⁴ That number is projected to reach about 26.9 million by 2023. These statistics reveal that the opportunity is great to reach out to all those living in Japan—both natives of the country and nonnationals—with God’s message of hope and salvation using media ministry.