Today, I began my day early to travel to the OMF Japan Headquarters in Ichikawa, about an hour away from where I stay.
I joined the really inspirational field team for their monthly morning of praise and prayer, and got to spend some good quality time with people who really have left it all behind for the sake of the people of Japan. It was so encouraging to me to see a group made up of so many ages, nationalities and giftings, and also hear about the length and breadth of work and outreaches into local communities. Church plants, house churches, work with mums, work with young professionals, outreach to the homeless, young people’s groups, the list goes on… It was also great to pray, and pray, and pray some more. Because for all our strategy, Japan needs a breakthrough that only God can give and we are in desperate need of Holy Spirit’s anointing.
I always find hanging out with missionaries humbling, and today was no exception. I have a lot to learn.
I also got to share something of my heart with them, and they covered me in prayer for every aspect of my time here this summer, and also regarding hearing God for the future.
One of the team used the teaching time today to feed back from a recent conference for Asian church leaders. The detail can’t and doesn’t really need to be commented on, but it does seem that God is moving the heart of His East Asian church in repentance and reconciliation. Again, I am humbled to hear this and it makes me reflect on what we can learn in the West from our brothers and sisters in Christ here.
We also began to pray for some specifics for Japan. For revival. For miracles. For a harvest. For a single-heartedness for God in the lives of ourselves and of Japanese Christians. And I was again struck with how this has to be first manifested in our own lives. We can’t pray for revival with any faith if its not coming from the overflow of our own hearts being revived and in a place of desperation for Jesus. It makes me pray, ‘Oh God, keep me burning, keep me aflame, just keep me…’
Anyway, feeling very encouraged, at lunchtime I hot footed (literally) it back across Tokyo to make my afternoon meetings with Bridge for Smile, a project that works with care leavers in the Kanto region.
This was easier said than done. My directions said that it was just up the road from Tokyo station. But Tokyo station is big and has about 5 exits. And when you come out, it looks like this:
And the next street?
So, you can see that in a country that doesn’t ‘do’ street names, having only a building name in this particular district is of little value.
I walked around the block once before I realised that this was probably not going to happen without assistance, and thought it was probably time I practiced my asking-for-directions-in-Japanese skills. Which are limited. But worth working on. Definitely.
So I approach a lady who looks friendly and ask ‘Excuse me, do you know where the Pasoa building is?’ in Japanese. I am praying that I can actually understand her reply, and trying to remember how to say, ‘Can you please repeat more slowly.’ in my brain at this point.
Turns out she doesn’t know, but she does have Japanese google maps fired up on her iPhone, and very kindly does a search for me in the middle of the street. Google maps is also a non language dependant tool, so therefore very helpful! It was a 5 minute walk up the road above in the direction I was heading so not too far off at all!
When I arrive at the Pasoa building, it looked like this:
Which did leave me wondering: why didn’t someone include the fact that it was the only building in the district covered in plants in my directions?!? THAT would have helped.
I enter the building and introduce myself and am shown to the cafeteria whilst I wait for my afternoon meetings to begin. I have to share this photo because I was honestly so impressed… I wish my office had a space like this to eat your lunch:
Yep. That’s a little river. And a baby grand piano. Only in Tokyo.
So, for all the fun and games, this afternoon was where some real hard work started. I was meeting with Bridge for Smile to learn about their organisation, share about the work I do in the UK, and also try and get my head around the Japanese policy context for vulnerable children and young people. After a full afternoon of talking, questioning and writing, my head is buzzing.
Let me first say that Bridge for Smile do absolutely phenomenal work supporting children and young people in care and leaving care in this region. They run life skills courses, workshops and provide counselling. They provide scholarship grants. They mobilise volunteers. They are the only organisation in the region to do this work, and funding is difficult to come by (the Japanese have a culture which doesn’t really see personal donations as a valid use of money apparently!) They also only have a paid team of 15 and the rest of the work is done by volunteers.
However, what I learnt about the Japanese care system today broke my heart. I won’t attempt to summarise everything or bore you with my university inspired questions, but in brief:
– Foster care doesn’t really work as a system in Japan because of the cultural importance placed on being a blood relation. Only 10% of children in care can be found foster placements.
– Children’s homes, which home 80% of children and young people in care, normally house between 50 and 100 children at a time. 60% of these children and young people have been abused, and child abuse is rising.
– The staff ratio in a children’s home is officially 1: 5.5, but staff handovers realistically make it 1: 10. Staff burnout rate is high and typically workers do not stay in the profession for more than 3 years.
– Young people have to leave care at 18, but they are not legally seen as an adult in Japan until they are 20. This makes it virtually impossible for them to rent a house or get a mobile phone contract without a guarantor… Which they don’t have unless a member of staff from the care home is willing to be one.
– Young people can only stay in a care home until they are 18 if they remain in full time education. You are legally allowed to leave education at 15, and young people who do so have to live independently from this point. With little to no support. Care homes only legally had to start providing any kind of aftercare 2 years ago and with numbers this high it is almost impossible.
– There is no social housing, welfare benefit or affordable student loan system in Japan. This means that young people have to gain and sustain paid employment immediately when they leave care in order to live. If they fail to do this, they end up homeless, and there is no compulsion on government services to house them.
– Some care leavers succeed in this system by doing well in school, a number are turbulent but manage to get some kind of unskilled job, but there is a seriously substantial group who fall through the gaps. Currently no one works with them in this region. These are the young people who leave care before the age of 18 or who find themselves workless. These are the young people who we suspect end up in prostitution or on the streets because there is no other route for them.
Some of this I knew. Some of this I had read. But hearing it first hand from an organisation that is desperate to offer a solution but is already maxed out on it’s limited resources is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s horrifying when you put the dots together and realise that the side street girls advertised in Ikebukuro, are probably the victims of abuse that we should be providing substantive care for in a way that helps break a cycle and brings restoration.
That’s a horrifying thought to me. In a country of such wealth, there is such brokenness.
I could keep writing, but I think that’s enough of a picture. Please pray again, that God would raise up workers for Japan. Because He can provide resources if we are willing. And pray for the Japanese church. That she would be bold and equipped to take a stand on issues of justice and the oppressed. I am so glad I went into this afternoon with the prayers of this morning. Because hopeless situations don’t remain hopeless when you have Hope.
And we do.