Japan visit highlights country's history, charts course for church there

News November 10, 2011

Seventh-day Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson offered church members and leaders in Japan a message of encouragement and comfort during an official visit to the country last week.

The visit was Wilson’s first in the country since a massive earthquake struck northeastern Japan in March, spawning a tsunami and widespread devastation.

Echoing an earlier statement, Wilson said he represented the Adventist world church in extending condolences and sympathy for those affected by the disaster and still recovering. Wilson told an audience in Fukushima to claim the promises of the Bible during times of adversity. “My help comes from the Lord,” he said, quoting Psalm 121.

Later, at Hiroshima Adventist Academy, Wilson offered students a similar message of reliance on God. “Don’t trust in yourself. Trust in the Lord,” he said.

While visiting the nearby Peace Memorial Park, Wilson met Sumiko Ueki, an Adventist survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. During World War II, Ueki worked at a munitions factory less than two miles from the bombing site. After escaping death, she sent her daughter to an Adventist school and later joined the church herself.

Hiroshima has become a “symbolic city of peace” thanks to the “will power and courage” of the Japanese people, Wilson said.

“When we stand firm upon God’s word, depend on the Lord and do our best in preaching the gospel of ultimate peace, the Adventist Church in Japan will be revived,” Wilson added.

The world church leader met with another World War II survivor the next day. Saburo Arakaki was among the last group of Japanese soldiers to surrender on the island of Saipan. While Arakaki was initially sentenced to death for war crimes, Arakaki’s sentence was later reduced to life in prison in Hawaii. There, he was baptized as a Christian. After almost a decade in prison, Arakaki was pardoned. He returned to Japan to study theology and dedicated his life to ministry.

Wilson thanked the now 85-year-old Arakaki for his efforts in developing Adventist mission and education work in Japan.

Later, during a visit to church headquarters in Japan, Wilson met with Adventist officials to discuss strategic planning for the church. The Adventist Church was established in Japan more than 100 years ago and now counts a membership of about 15,000. In recent years, church growth has stagnated. Japan’s population is aging, and the church faces deeply rooted secularism and a growing indifference toward Christianity.

Wilson acknowledged that the church in Japan faces numerous “difficulties and challenges,” but challenged leaders to embrace a new enthusiasm for the world church’s Revival and Reformation initiative.

“What we need to accomplish the mission is spiritual revival and reformation. This work must be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit,” Wilson said, adding that humble hearts, Bible study and alignment with God’s will are necessary for the outpouring of his spirit.

Wilson commended the work of the region’s HisHands Mission Movement, a lay initiative that shares the Adventist message of hope, particularly in locations with little or no Adventist presence. Some 3,000 HisHands missionaries work in Japan and other countries in the church’s Northern Asia-Pacific Division.

Wilson also invited the region to participate in the world church’s Great Controversy Project and join in its emphasis on evangelism to urban centers. Tokyo could be an ideal city for the initiative, he said.