With nothing much more than a passion to serve God and the people of Japan in whatever way the Lord would lead, a young man in his 20s from Northern Ireland and his Japanese wife packed up their belongings after graduating from Manchester University in the United Kingdom and moved to the city of Sakai—a bustling metropolis on Osaka Bay in Japan, nestled on the banks of the Yamato River.
In earlier centuries, Sakai served as a major port. Still an industrial center boasting a population of more than 800,000, the city is host to machine factories, textile mills, museums and the popular Daisen Park. But Chris McKee, now 28, and his wife, Maiko, 27, saw something more—people in need of the eternal answer to their internal longings; people in need of the hope only Jesus Christ can offer.
And so, in 2005, the couple and their now 2-1/2 year-old-son, Daniel, settled in Sakai. For Maiko, it was a homecoming. For Chris, it was a step into a whole new world. He dove headlong into studying the language, and together he and Maiko volunteered time in area churches. Soon they met Foursquare Pastor Yong-Chun Kim from Korea, who was planting Hope Chapel Naniwa. Before long, the McKees were assisting. After a time, they had an idea: Why not plant a church in Sakai?
Planting any church in Japan would seem a daunting task. Most researchers estimate its Christian adherents to be only 2 percent of the population—at best. But to Chris and Maiko, this only meant a larger field ripe for harvest. And so in April 2008, Hope Chapel Sakai was born. Chris received his Foursquare ministerial credentials the following year.
Hope Chapel Sakai
The fledgling congregation with a regular attendance of 10 adults meets in an 11th-floor apartment outside Nakamozu Station. The church’s ministry to children is a key spotlight—more than 25 kids attend functions routinely, and Pastor Chris estimates the church reaches at least 50, not all of whom are able to attend regularly due to distance.
But numbers aren’t what float Chris’ boat. Ask him what he’s most passionate about, and he has a ready answer.
“Seeing the joy of people really experiencing God personally in their lives, of witnessing real change … based on encountering Christ,” Chris says, is what matters most. That, and “experiencing that no matter what happens or what is lost, God is always there teaching us, leading us, picking us back up and giving us new strength to serve Him again.”
The road isn’t always easy. A relative of Chris and Maiko who was angry at a family member’s conversion from Buddhism to Christianity exerted whatever devices he had at his disposal to pressure the family member to convert back. This included attacks on other family members—namely Chris and Maiko—in an attempt to force the family member to recant. In the end, Chris and Maiko became collateral damage in this religious war. The angry relative was successful at driving them out of the family home in which they were living and holding their church services. Thus the new meeting place for the congregation in an 11th-floor apartment in Sakai.
Disappointing? Yes. Cause to quit? Not a chance. The ministry of Hope Chapel Sakai is as strong as ever. They host kids clubs where activities are held in a local hall. They are allowed by a local school to pass out flyers. Both serve as first points of contact for Hope Chapel Sakai’s children’s church program.
The church also has cell groups and a school for learning English. Teaching English, Chris notes, is perhaps the best tool for evangelism in Japan. Several adults in his church were first encountered in this classroom setting.
Missions is also an important value to the congregation. They occasionally host groups from other nations who want to conduct short-term missions outreaches in Japan. The church provides accommodations, food, transportation, ministry openings and translation.
What does the future hold?
“Spiritually, we desire to be a force for good in the community,” says Chris. “We have many ideas, such as starting a café, a children’s play center, a youth club, a prayer center and a bigger English school. But no matter what we do, we know we need to have the light for ourselves before it can shine through us.”
Foursquare Growth in Japan
Shigeki Sato, national leader of The Foursquare Church in Japan, is excited about how God’s light is shining, and spreading, throughout the country. Rev. Sato reports that Chris and Maiko’s church is the sixth Foursquare church plant in the Osaka-Kansai area of Japan, and that there are now 40 Foursquare churches in the nation. For him, it’s great cause for excitement.
“While we are ministering in an often-called homogeneous country, God is forming us as a special family consisting of various nationalities including Japanese, Americans, Filipinos, Brazilians, Koreans and British,” Rev. Sato told Foursquare.org. “When we gather together from every part of Japan for our national convention, it’s like having a glimpse of heaven where every nation comes to worship the Lord. I believe God is planning to use us in a special way that would demonstrate the unity in Him out of diversity.”
Chris McKee would agree. He is quick to point out the strength of the Japanese church.
“The Japanese church is much stronger and more vibrant than many foreigners think,” he asserts. “I have met some of the most inspiring and faithful people here in Japan. Their expression of faith often differs from that of Europeans or Americans but is no less real. [I encourage people to] consider short-term missions in Japan, as this is genuinely helpful to the churches here.”
But he quickly notes that the blessing will go both ways.
“Also expect,” he shares, “to receive something from God as you fellowship with Japanese churches and believers.”
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles.