Rev. Masao Yamashita of Back to God Ministries International in Japan recently shared some alarming statistics: 33,093 people in Japan committed suicide in 2007, according to the Japanese National Police Agency.
In fact, the number of suicides has exceeded 30,000 each year for more than a decade, and Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
“Please pray that faith, hope, and love may be spread throughout Japan through our ministry, so that Japanese people will have a sure foundation on which to live,” Yamashita asked.
A number of cultural factors aggravate the suicide problem: a lack of religious prohibition against suicide, a reluctance to discuss mental health and stress-related problems, and the breakdown of family and social networks, which leads to increasing isolation.
To meet some of these needs, the Japanese ministry team has developed a social networking service ministry—a “chat room” where people can come to share their burdens, encourage one another, and request prayer.
“An increase in the number of those who access our website shows that more and more people [use electronic media] for their spiritual nourishment,” notes Yamashita. Each month an average of 33,400 people visit the Japanese ministry website.
Working in partnership with Christian Reformed World Missions and the Reformed Church of Japan, the Japanese ministry tries to connect people with local churches. It also produces radio programs, a cell phone ministry, and Bible study correspondence materials.
Open houses at the ministry center in Tokyo and an annual retreat provide opportunities for Christians to interact with other listeners, pray for one another, and invite seekers who want to learn more about Christianity.
“I listened to ‘Morning Word’ as I prepared a lunch box this morning,” one listener wrote. “I stopped my hands and listened carefully to the pastor’s message about anxiety with tears in my eyes. The message touched my heart.”
Another listener wrote: “I happened to listen to your program, though I rarely tune in to Christian radio programs. I stayed tuned until the end of the program. I have never read the Bible before. I have never believed in God. Will the time come when I have the privilege to become a Christian?”