Making Disciples in Japan

Gil Cauthorn

Urban areas fertile ground for the spread of the gospel

I grew up at Northland, and it was through Northland’s youth ministries that I got my first opportunity to serve on a global mission trip. At the age of 16, I went to Jamaica on my first mission trip. Four years later, I got involved with Warren Griffith’s Japan-focused ministry, Mission to Japan/Homestay International.

This resulted in my serving on 15 homestay international programs and 5 short-term mission trips to Japan, and my eventual move to Japan in 2011. I now reside in the city of Osaka with my wife, Michika, and two daughters, Olivia and Elena.

But why Japan? Why Osaka?

Through serving with Mission to Japan/Homestay International, I met hundreds of young Japanese students, learned about Japan, and visited on multiple occasions. Osaka is an incredible place, and Japan is an incredible country. There are countless beautiful and intriguing elements that compose this enchanting place.

Japan lives in constant dualism of incredible modernity and development alongside the remnants of ancient traditions and practices. To the Westerner, Japan is a place of kimonos and sushi, of bullet trains and ancient temples, of Nintendo and busy city crosswalks – and Japan certainly has all those things. And they are all awesome. Yet none of them was what struck me.

If you stand at any given corner in Osaka central station, you would need to count 500 people before meeting one person who believes in the gospel of Christ. To meet one person connected in an active church community, you would need to count 1,000 people.

The Japanese are the second-largest unreached people group in the world. The statistics are staggering:

  • Japan is less than 1 percent Christian.
  • Less than 0.5 percent of the population of Japan is evangelical.
  • 0.2 percent of the people attend a Protestant church.

Most people in Japan have never been to church, have never read the Bible, and have no Christian friends. It is estimated that 95 percent of Japanese people have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In addition, Japan has one of the world’s highest suicide rates. This is especially true among young adults, who have been my target audience since I was a leader at LUG, the junior high school ministry at Northland, way back. These figures floored me. Japan, with all of its amazing elements, is almost completely unreached. Not only is it unreached, but it is in many ways not even on the radar for a lot of missionary organizations.

There are over 126 million people in Japan, the majority of whom live in three major metropolitan areas: Tokyo, 37 million, including Yokohama, Kawasaki and Saitama; Osaka, 19 million, including Kobe and Kyoto; and Nagoya, 9 million, including the greater metropolitan area.

Japan has another five metropolitan areas with more than 2 million people each: Fukuoka, Shizuoka, Sapporo, Sendai and Hiroshima. High population density and efficient public transportation make Japan’s urban areas fertile ground for the spread of the gospel.

I fell in love with the students I met through Homestay International, fell in love with the incredible beauty of Japan, and wanted to see those same people fall in love with Jesus.
So I decided to move to Japan to contribute in the following ways:

  • By continuing to disciple and minister to the hundreds of students coming back from homestay programs who had no church to go to.
  • By coming alongside and contributing to the growth and health of a gospel-centered ministry to train and send disciples to reach all of Japan.

Shortly after getting married – my wife is a former Homestay student who became a Christian through the program, and eight years later we were married – my wife and I joined a young church plant in central Osaka called Mustard Seed Christian Church Osaka. This was the second Mustard Seed Church; the first was in Nagoya. Our Osaka church eventually grew to be able to send out two teams to plant churches in Kobe and Kyoto. These four churches have grown into the Mustard Seed Network.

The purpose of this network of churches is to glorify God by making disciples through planting gospel-centered churches in urban Japan.

Why church planting?

  • The most vital and pressing need in Japan is the planting of new churches. The statistics prove this:
  • There is only one church for every 16,700 people. (That compares with one church for every 800 people in the United States.)
  • 60 percent of churches are fewer than 15 people.
  • 70 percent of pastors are over 50 years old.
  • Missionaries are down by 34 percent over the past 20 years.

When a church is planted in a city, it becomes a witness for the gospel in that city. Disciples will be made. God will call some of those disciples to become leaders. Some of those leaders will start new churches – beginning the cycle of multiplication again.

Our friend Sari is an awesome testament to this! She came on the homestay program I was part of a few times, then went back to living her life in Japan. She had no interest in becoming a Christian. Through a language exchange program offered at Mustard Seed Christian Church Osaka, she eventually got connected to us again as well as our church community.

After years of prayer and evangelism by our church community and her host family back in Florida, Sari became a Christian. She eventually led her sister and multiple friends to Christ. Today she is on staff at Mustard Seed Christian Church Osaka as the children’s ministry director.

I am the director of youth ministry and outreach at our church. I produce media and help develop teaching tools as well as weekly language exchange programs through our church. I am also a high school biology teacher and lead science curriculum developer for an international school in central Osaka.

Our family’s goal is to develop a network of churches in Japan to take in students who are coming back from abroad. My wife and Michika are examples of lives changed by the love of God. They heard the gospel first through their homestay experience and were fortunate enough to have consistent follow-up for years as well as a healthy church community to develop them. We want to help provide a similar opportunity to as many returning students as possible in order to see more come to Christ and, in turn, make more disciples.

Please pray for our family, church leadership and community. Pray that more leaders would be raised here in Japan. Pray that we would be able to make healthy and effective connections with returning students as well as for the ability to further develop programs to connect these students to church communities.

Learn more about our church in Osaka at mustardseedosaka.com/en. Visit the Mustard Seed Network website at mustardseed.network/. If you would like to know more about our ministry here, you can contact me at gilcauthorn@gmail.com.