The big area of the world that is made up of beautiful areas, thriving economies, some very authoritarian governments and is home to a lot of ours favorite food; is Asia. This area consists of large portions of the world's populations and exports many resources. It has always been largely on the world scene. From their parts in World Wars, to current Nuclear threats, their many highly trained professionals immigrating abroad and also the competitive rates they sell goods, Asia has been a major player.
The main religions in this area are Buddhism, Shintuism, and ancestor worship. These are the root religions that have molded their society, but in many ways in everyday living they are very atheistic. Most all of these countries still have many temples, festivals and rituals that are performed, especially in Japan. But these are generally not followed with devotion.
These countries in Asia are very, very populated! Hong Kong is an island of 8 million people. The real estate is so over-crowded that the costs are astronomical and the space excessively small. Many children remain living with their parents a large portion of their life due to the inability to financially afford their own homes. It is very common for 6+ people to live in 500sq.ft. I have seen pictures of the poorest people living in bunks with cages around them that they rent as their home! Due to the heavy burden the financial economy has placed on them the drive for education, work, and money is their first priority! Children will go 12 hours a day to school, often as young as 4 years old. People generally don't want to take time for church or the Lord.
In Japan you will be surrounded by 126 million. China has its ginormous population of 3 billion and counting. The staggering population resulted in their famous 1 child law. Korea comes in with the smallest population with a mear 51 million!
Most of these countries report 1% of the population claiming Christianity, except South Korea, which has 25% that are professing Christians of some kind. It is rumored that Christianity is on the rise in China as the stress of the communist regime presses in. We have friends who serve in China that are doing a great job reaching their area but also are plagued with regular government interference. That has made their church have to meet at different locations constantly. To avoid the authorities, the missionary family also is also transient,living on the move in different church member's houses. Prayers are definitely needed for those serving in restricted countries!
The average time for someone to accept Christ, I'm hearing from all the ladies across Asia, is 1-3 years. All of which begin with relationships. Many times other ministries draw them in such, as English classes. In Japan, Becky Winters told me they have had a lady coming to church for two years now who still is not ready to accept Christ. It takes a lot of patience to serve in places like these. It is very unwise to push for professions or be impatient with these people. Doing so easily results in false professions, from people who don't mind giving you the answer you want, and "converts" who don't know they are "saved" and who won't be seen again. I think that most missionaries would attest that patience is one of the number one areas the Lord continues to build in us to be effective where we are called. Missionaries are led to fervent prayer for open doors in the hearts and minds of these people. Without God's intervention true conversions are impossible.
As always, I asked the ladies what is some of their greatest struggles where they serve and these were their replies. Hong Kong was language difficulties. The Abrams are serving in Hong Kong. They feel led to work with Cantonese living there, so they have been learning and studying Cantonese. Which by the way is rated one of the hardest languages in the world! And I've heard it! Whew, Lord help! Not only is it difficult to learn but all of the language schools are done through public universities. And being a modern country, that would be the equivalent of attending a college here in the States. That is a hefty cost for a missionary. So they have been faithfully working through study and private tutors but it is a long road to fluency. Praise the Lord, He has allowed them to make great strides thus far.
In China, the missionary wife spoke of her greatest struggle being far from home and loved ones. All missionaries love their families and is definitely an adjustment to be away from them and all the special events that make up their lives. Sometimes the Lord allows us to return and attend large events in our families lives but just as many people who live far from family that isn't always the case.
In Japan Mrs. Winters, talked about the struggle to get people to see themselves as sinners. Japanese people see sins as only those large things which get people sent to jail. And as of course most of them aren't in jail, that can cause a difficulty in their thinking. But praise the Lord their is faithful missionaries there consistently declaring truth to those confused hearts. In Korea amongst the higher percentage of professing Christians brings another set of issues. The prevailing form of Christianity is very water down, which makes true Christianity viewed as a cult. So sharing a clear plan of salvation and following up with discipleship is a big struggle for the Songs who are serving there. They often use dinner invites to make new acquaintances in order to share the gospel.
It is normal practice as we have discussed, for missionaries in these areas to find ways of outreach that allow them some social contact in order to reach their heart. This may be a helpful example to help you understand why that is needed. In the hustle and bustle of the busy culture of Japan, where people don't find themselves sinners or in need of God, the missionary can pass out a thousand tracts and not see one visitor. So they invite them to dinner, get involved in their communities, have church children's programs and teach English.
Every month we discuss some of the challenges that missionaries face but this month I also asked the ladies to share what is their favorite form of encouragement. I think you might be surprised to know that the prevailing answer was all forms of communication from friends, family and supporters in the states. They said that cards, emails, phone calls, IM and especially visits were a huge form of encouragement. You supporting friends make such a powerful impact on the hearts and spirits of your missionaries.
One of the other ladies also mentioned that listening to sermons online was a great lifter of spirits. Did you know that often times when missionaries go the field that it takes years to understand full sermons in the native language and begin to be fed by it. Can you imagine going to church but feeling like you hadn't been for that long? Yes you get some fellowship and you may hear the tunes you recognize but for a time you can't sing along and for years you aren't being fed at church by the preaching. I'll tell you friend, that is a long time and can weaken our spirits if we don't supplement it ourselves. For a few years when we were on the field we would regularly listen to podcasts sermons. It is such a blessing that in this modern age there are at least some churches that regularly put out podcast sermons or live stream. Thank you churches for taking the time to produce this resource! You are very influential in the spiritual uplifting of your missionaries.
Every ministry has little things about it that the Lord has orchestrated for them to serve Him in their own unique way. The Songs in South Korea have focused their ministry on reaching North Korean refugees fleeing to South Korea and internationals coming to a SouthKorea. What an opportunity to reach those living in probably the most restricted area in the world. Where very few missionaries have ever come and very few have heard about a Heavenly Father who would love to heal their hurting hearts and give them un-ending peace.
I was so blessed to speak with these ladies; Rose Songs, Beth Winters, Mandi Abrams & Amanda Heaberlin.
They are serving faithfully in Asia, doing a great work for Christ. I hope this has given you a glimpse of their lives and ministries there and helped you know how to better pray for them.