Time for an Upgrade?

I’m not usually an early adopter. But when the original iPad was released, I was so excited that I rushed out to buy one right away. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the latest tech. But like most digital tech, that iPad was not cutting edge for very long. The operating system needed to be updated several times, but eventually, in order to use the latest apps, I had to buy a new device.

If Jesus were physically on earth today, maybe that’s the kind of image He would have used instead of wine and wineskins…

In Mark 2:22, Jesus said that “no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” In this passage, Jesus was answering questions about why His disciples weren’t taking part in some of the religious customs of the day. Through Jesus’ ministry, God was doing a new thing. And that new thing was not compatible with the religious rituals and systems of the time.

Today, too, God wants to do new things in Christians, ministries and churches. But if we’re too hung up on our old ways of thinking, there’s a danger we could miss out.

Right now, Yoko and I have just returned to Japan for a new missionary term. For us, Drawbridge Creations, our new online manga outreach, is one these new wineskins. Married life on the mission field is, too.

But I’m feeling challenged to be open to even newer things. We may have our own plans, but God may have some surprises for us, too. Am I open to what He wants to teach me? To Him using me in some way I don’t have planned? To new opportunities that don’t fit within my vision? 

What about you? 2020 has been a wake-up call for many Believers and churches. Our comfortable routines have been taken away, at least temporarily. We’ve been forced to re-think what faith, church and ministry look like. But perhaps God is using the these challenges to help us recognize what we’ve needed all along — new wine skins. Perhaps God is ready and waiting to bless us, revive us and use us in powerful new ways.  

But when the COVID crisis is behind us, will we just go back to the way things were? Or will we be ready, new wine skins in hand, for the gift He’s been preparing to pour out for us?

It might be time for an upgrade. Are we ready for it?

The Father of Mountaineering in Japan (photo of the week and thoughts)

Rev. Walter Weston memorial plaque at Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps, June 2017

It’s interesting what some missionaries are remembered for.

Walter Weston was an Anglican missionary from England who helped popularize mountain climbing in Japan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His legacy is so strong in Kamikochi that there are memorials to him, like the one pictured here, and there is even a festival in his name as well. You can read up on him HERE and HERE, or even read/download his book (Mountaineering and the Japanese Alps) for free HERE.

I find it interesting and inspiring to see missionaries throughout history not only sharing the Gospel but also having a positive influence in other areas of society as a whole. I wonder if some in Weston’s time might have seen his mountaineering and “secular” writing as a distraction from his mission. But I think it’s good for missionaries to engage with the culture of the places they are called to, and that it ultimately opens up more doors to share Jesus with people.

I don’t know what my legacy will be, or if I’ll be remembered in Japan at all. But I pray I’ll be faithful in all areas of life and ministry, and that what I leave behind be positive and lasting.

Spring Has Come!

Recently I was asked to write an article for Kyoho, the monthly newsletter of Immanuel General Mission, the church denomination we work with here in Japan. They requested I bring greetings regarding my then-upcoming marriage as well as a short Easter message. Both Easter and our wedding have passed, but I thought I’d share the English version of the article here on my blog for those who might be interested.

First of all, thank you. I appreciate the fellowship, support and ministry partnership of IGM in my life and ministry in Japan. Most of you probably already know this by now, but in December I got engaged Yoko Katsuyama, a young lady from my church in Nagoya.
Yoko and I are planning to get married on April 30, return temporarily to Canada in the summer, and return to Japan to continue our ministry together next year. We look forward to continuing to partner with IGM churches in reaching Japan for Jesus, and would appreciate your prayers during this season of transition.
When I first told a certain Japanese friend about my relationship with Yoko, his response was, “Oh! Spring has come for Robin!” (Robin ni haru ga kita!) This was the first time I’d ever heard that expression. But it does make sense, especially for someone who has been single for as long me. I guess that makes it really appropriate that we are having our wedding in spring time as well.
When you think about Spring, you think about change, new life, new beginnings. And so it’s appropriate that we celebrate Easter in the Spring as well.

Into the long, dark “winter” of our world of sin, shame and pain, Jesus Christ came to be the light of the world: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
He showed us God’s heart of love for us, and pointed us toward a better way of living: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
More than this, He died for our sins, the ultimate expression of His love for us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
But death was not the end. Jesus rose to new life. And because of His life, we too can have new life. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
So remember, “Spring has come” is not just an expression of the season of year or a new relationship, but a reality we live in as followers of Christ. Though this world still seems dark and cold sometimes, for the Christian, Spring has come!

– Robin White (April 2019)

Why Digital?

In a previous blog post, I talked about what manga is and why I think it’s a great tool for 21st century missions in Japan. Today I want to talk about the another side of this ministry vision: digital.

It should come as no surprise that Japan is one of the most “wired” nations in the world. Almost every is online, and much of that is mobile, especially among the young. It’s more and more common to see people reading manga on their smartphones, too.

Here are some statistics I dug up recently:

Devices — University Students:
99.3% have a smartphone (100% use 6-7 days/week).
90% have a computer (31% use 6-7 days/week).
87.5% say their smartphone is their main internet access device.
Overall Internet Usage:
115,111,595 Internet Users in Japan (2016*)
Share of Japan Population: 91.1 % (penetration)
Total Population : 126,323,715
Share of World Internet Users: 3.4 %
Internet Users in the World: 3,424,971,237
Social Network Usage:
Social network usage by % of population (2017):
Twitter 35.55% (45 million active users)
Facebook 22.12% (28 million active users)
Instagram: 15.8% (20 million active users)
— Twitter still top in Japan, one of its strongest markets.
— Twitter most diverse user base.
— Instagram growing rapidly; could overtake FB.
— Females in 20-30s biggest Instagram users.
— 75% over 30 on Facebook.
(Source: Source)
– #1 messaging app in Japan
– 75 million monthly active users (2018) in Japan
– Found on over 90% of all smartphones in Japan
(Sources: statista / humblebunny)
So, why digital?
In the 21st century, if you want to get the good news of Jesus out to as many people as possible, it seems obvious to me that digital is the way to go. Yes, we need more churches actively reaching out to their communities. Yes, we need more Christians to share their faith with friends. But an online outreach, effectively done, can (in a non-confrontational way) get the Gospel out to people who might might not have any Christian friends or a church in their neighbourhood. In the developed world, it should be at least a part of our missions strategy. That’s why I want to make it part of mine.

Why (and What’s) Manga?

If you’ve been keeping up with my newsletters and prayer updates, you know that I’m in the middle of transitioning from church-based English ministries to a more creative outreach focus. Specifically, I’m working towards creating a digital ministry platform centred around manga. Some of you may be wondering what that’s all about, so in this and some follow-up posts, I want to share some of the thinking behind this vision.
Manga is the Japanese word for comics. Comic magazines, comic strips, graphic novels, they’re all called manga in Japan. In English, the word is used to refer specifically to Japanese comics; and the fact that we need a separate word for them in English shows you that they must be pretty distinct from the typical style of comics we see published in the US or the rest of the west.
In reality, manga doesn’t refer to any one art style or genre. In fact, there’s something for everyone: From kids comics to very adult; from fantasy to slice-of-life; from action-adventure to romance. And really, that’s a big part of what sets manga apart from western comics. Though it’s changing, comics in the west have for a long time had a limited audience. In Japan, really, manga is for everyone. (This article gives a pretty good overview of the various popular styles)

And the continuing popularity of manga in Japan shows this. US comic sales pale in comparison to Japan. The most popular manga series in Japan, One Piece, sold about 12,314,326 copies between Nov 2015 and Nov. 2016. For comparison, the total number of sales for all graphic novels in the US in 2016 were 11,938,000. (Sources: Anime News Network // ComicsBeat.com)
According to Shinichiro Ishikawa, president of GDH, a Japanese animation studio: “There are still at least ten weekly manga magazines that sell thirty million units per week. On top of that, there are monthly magazines and comic books. In the U.S., the total annual comic market is fifty million units. In the span of one week, Japan does a full year’s worth of U.S. comic sales.” (Source: Japanamerica p.196)
Manga is a huge part of the publishing industry as a whole. As one article says, “The Japanese publishing market is one of the most vigorous in the world. How much market share does manga have? The gross sales from publishing in 2002 was 2.3 trillion yen. The total number of published materials including magazines was over 750 million. 22.6% of total sales, or 38.1% of published material sold in 2002 are of manga.” (Source)
All that to say, manga are a huge part of modern Japanese culture. Not only do the magazines and books sell like crazy, but many popular movies and TV shows, both animated and live-action, are adapted from manga. Many characters and their creators are household names. And like I said, there’s something for every taste.
So why use manga as a tool for sharing Jesus in Japan? Why not?