The short answer is that I became interested in Asia at high school, got thinking about world mission at uni, learnt about the need for churches in Japan, went for a year and fell in love in with the place. If you want the longer version then read on…
I believe God has guided me to long-term missionary work in Japan through 3 main ways: providence, passion and people (I know! But I grew up in Baptist churches so alliteration is in my blood).
My interest in Asia began when I was a teenager and I decided that one day I would grow up to be like my heroes: Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Obviously the first step was to master the oriental martial arts and so a friend of mine and I went to the local sports centre to sign up for whatever they had on offer (we were in a small town, we had to take what we could). That happened to be Ju-jitsu, a Japanese martial art (meaning ‘the gentle art’). Thus it was that I began to learn a little bit about Japanese history and culture, as well as some simple Japanese (although only the numbers turned out to be of any real use when I went to Japan!). About the same time a friend of mine introduced me to Japanese books and films. And the more I read the more interesting it was to me.
Then at university I ended up involved in outreach to international students, which meant that I got to make friends with lots of people from around the world-including Japan! And as I learnt about all these different countries I found that Japan was the one that struck me the most. The more I learnt the more I wanted to learn.
Then one day I learnt something that I think my Japanese friends didn’t know. Some people from the Overseas Missionary Fellowship came and did a day-conference on the church in Asia. That’s when I learnt that the number of Christians in Japan is about 1% (if you’re being generous) and that for students the number is more like 0.01%! I have never been able to get over that statistic.
At the same I was discovering people like Jim Elliott and Hudson Taylor: men who literally gave up their lives in order to take the good news of Jesus to nations where people had never heard of Him. Through reading biographies of these Christians and hearing talks about world-mission God began to stir in my heart a passion to do the same.
My interest in Japan started to become my life mission.
To test this sense of calling I went out to Japan for a year, specifically to Sendai, where I helped a OMF missionary to do student outreach, did bits and pieces with a local church, studies the Bible with some students (in English!), spent time with Japanese Christians, and generally got to experience life in Japan first-hand.
It took only a matter of months before I was convinced that Japan was the country I wanted to spend the rest of my life in: I fell in love with the people, the food, the natural beauty, and the canned coffee! At the same time I was seeing the truth of the stats that had hit me so hard, and realising the desperate need for people to come and share Jesus with the Japanese. I met students who had never heard of His name and knew of Christianity only as a ‘western religion.’ But I also saw the opportunities to share Jesus with the Japanese. I met students who were hungry to know about Jesus and keen to read the Bible together.
Wanting to be sure that this was a reasonable plan and not just a crazy idea of my own concocting I spoke to various people, and they were all positive about me being in Japan as a full-time missionary. So I began to plot my return to the land of the rising sun…