There is a saying by some in Japan that says, Not knowing id Buddha which means you have a choice in this life; you can know, or you can not know, and become Buddha. I agree that you have a choice in life. Perhaps that is the common ground between Christianity and Buddhism. No matter what anybody says and no matter how well anything can be explained; it is finally all up to you. You must find the truth for yourself. Everyone has that capacity. That's where Mustard Seed goes to work.
Today's guest is Jay Greer with Mustard Seed. Jay and his wife Caitlin both graduated from Ozark Christian College in 2007 and moved to Japan in 2008. They have lived and worked in Japan for 14 years doing church planting and evangelism in three different cities. Currently, Caitlin serves in music ministry and Jay is the pastor of their church in Tokyo and also serves in leadership with their organization, Mustard Seed Network. They have four kids, one of which is adopted, and they were all born in Japan. Their mission is to glorify God by making disciples through planting gospel-centered churches in urban Japan.
Their Vision is to see the cities of Japan saturated with and impacted by gospel-centered churches that further the global cause of Jesus Christ.
People Groups: Unreached
Christ’s Church of the Valley: https://ccv.church/
CCV Missions: www.ccv.church/missions
Pastor Larrie Fraley: linkedin.com/in/larrie-fraley-53445032
Larrie: [00:00:13] Welcome to the Let's Go 360 podcast, a podcast for listeners. We want to know more about what God is doing around the world here, near and far. This podcast is sponsored by Christ Church of the Valley, also known as VK One Church, with many locations across the Greater Phoenix area with plans to expand wherever God wants CCD to go. As always, each episode will have show notes, complete with links of helpful information discussed in each podcast episode, along with a complete transcript. My name is Larry Fraley, and I'm your host and lead pastor of the Local and Global Missions here at CCD. I have a very special guest with me today from a country that I have been to many times, and it's one of my favorite countries in all the world, Japan. Jay Greer joins us today from Tokyo, Japan, where Jay and his wife Kaitlin both graduated from Ozark Christian College in 2007 and then moved to Japan in 2008. They lived and worked in Japan for 14 years doing church planting and evangelism in three different cities. Currently, Caitlyn serves in the Music Ministry, and Jae is the pastor of their church in Tokyo. He also serves in leadership with their organization, Mustard Seed Network. They have four kids, one of which is adopted, and they were all born in Japan. Mustard Seeds mission is to glorify God by making disciples through planting gospel-centered churches in urban Japan. Their vision is to see cities in Japan saturated with and impacted by gospel-centered churches that further the global cause of Jesus Christ. Jay, welcome to the show today.
Jay: [00:02:03] Hey, thank you. It's good to be here.
Larrie: [00:02:05] E.j., before we dive in today, tell us a little bit about you and maybe your family.
Jay: [00:02:11] Sure. Well, as you mentioned, I talked about my wife, Caitlin. We've been married for 16 years now. She's an Arizona native. She's from Prescott, Arizona. And we get to visit Arizona often. And I grew up in Oklahoma, Colorado, Missouri. Usually, the quickest answer to where you are from is Missouri for me. I come from a big ministry family. We met at Bible College, and have we've enjoyed doing ministry together ever since. I did a little bit of youth ministry and preaching in the States before we moved to Japan; we first lived in Nagoya, Japan, so a city of 9 million people. We were part of a church planting team there. We spent the majority of our time in Osaka, the second-largest city in Japan, 19 million people in the metro area there in Osaka. We loved that city. And then it was just two and a half years ago that we moved to Tokyo and have been here ever since working with this church plant. And yeah, our four kids. Seven, eight, ten, 12. Boy, boy, girl, boy. They're a lot of fun.
Larrie: [00:03:25] Well, I bet. And being there in Japan, I bet there's just a lot of things for you guys to do and culture to see. You know, I have to ask, what drew you and Caitlyn to Japan?
Jay: [00:03:38] Yeah, we were recruited to join a team that had a vision for unreached urban church planning. Those were the three big, three big points of focus. We really wanted to get to a place where there were people packed together in an urban area and people who packed together who had not heard about Jesus. So an unreached place, less than 2% Christian. At that time, Japan was the largest unreached people group, that they're now the second largest unreached people group. Because Bangladesh has grown, Japan's population is shrinking. And also, it's a good place to do church planting. It's an open country. That's what we're trained in. There are so many needs for different kinds of missions all over the world. But we went to Bible College to figure out how to preach and lead churches, and that's something that we can do here. It's completely legal. There's no government oppression or anything like that. And so we were recruited to come and start churches, and it was really the need that drew us. You know, Japan is an interesting place, but I never saw myself living overseas, nor did I think about Japan as a potential place to be. And here we are 14 years later, and it's home.
Larrie: [00:04:56] Wow. So Japan is packed, right? I mean, what's there? One hundred forty-five million people in Japan, something like that. And yet this tiny little country that sits pretty close to Russia and this massive country called Russia, which only has 144 million. So in comparison, you've got 145 million, 145 million not very far apart. But yet Japan is so small in terms of comparison of its landmass. You know, give us an idea of some of the tactics that you're using. In other words, what strategy are you using in Japan to address this desperate problem of people that do not know Christ?
Jay: [00:05:43] Yeah, well, as you say, the people are packed together in these urban areas, and it's even more exaggerated because of how mountainous Japan is. People live in these low-lying straits and we are focusing on these huge cities. Tokyo 37 million people, the largest city in the world. And all of these cities like Japan are less than 1% Christian, 0.2% of the population's in church every Sunday. So you have to count 500 people walking down the street before you find one who's regularly attending church and actively on a mission. And so the felt needs that the 99% of Japan have this hour in house talk, as we often just say, the 99% referencing the lost in Japan. The felt needs would be things like English and relationships. I think the need for community and relationship has only been exaggerated throughout the pandemic, but English is a huge felt need. People know that it can probably unlock a door to travel, to literature, to entertainment, to maybe a job promotion and different opportunities. And so people want their kids to learn English. People want to know English. And we speak a little bit of English. And so we can help in that way. But all those things are just ways to earn a hearing for Jesus with people. We're trying to get people to sit down and just give Jesus a hearing. That's the biggest problem. The root problem that we address is people have not heard the gospel. They're not hearing it and rejecting it. They're not coming away from a bad church experience in their childhood and saying, Yeah, I was burned by the church and there's hypocrisy, and there's none of that. It is a pre-Christian country where people just really don't have a base. They don't have that foundation. And we want to be the people who are sharing the gospel. For the first time, it all comes down to how do we get the gospel to people who have never heard it right?
Larrie: [00:08:01] Are they open to it? Is it easy to talk to people about the gospel?
Jay: [00:08:09] I would say there are a lot of challenges to that. Obviously, you know, it's tough to paint in two broad strokes. There are some people who are very open. We did have a woman show up to church a couple of weeks ago saying, I want to believe in something. She's rare. That's not everybody. A lot of people will say they're allergic to religion, meaning they don't want to talk about it. They don't want to go there. There are some huge barriers. Culturally, people view themselves as. Buddhist because of their national identity. I can't because I'm a Christian, because I'm Japanese and therefore I'm Buddhist. Or my family has these expectations of how I will take care of their grave and pray to the ancestors and things like that. So it's just completely off the table for me to consider this. And so those are some of the huge barriers that we have to, to, to work through with people, the feeling like I'm going to stick out and not make sense of my family anymore or I'm not going to blend in with the culture anymore. Harmony is the number one value in Japan, and Jesus came to disrupt harmony. We have to at some point see this division between the world and ourselves when we choose to follow Jesus. And that's something that's pretty scary in Japan.
Larrie: [00:09:35] So I know the two biggest religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism.
Jay: [00:09:42] Yeah.
Larrie: [00:09:44] What's the difference between the two?
Jay: [00:09:47] Shintoism is it's the national religion of Japan. It's been around for a long time. It would be comparable to Hinduism, and Hinduism is the national religion of India. It has over 10,000 gods. Buddhism came in, obviously didn't start in Japan, and blended really well together. And so now what we see is really this new kind of hybrid mashup of Hinduism and Buddhism that's mixed together. And once again, harmony is the biggest value in Japan. Even though there are some contradictory things between Shintoism and Buddhism, they mix those two religions together, and nobody really seems to see any problem with it. So Buddhism can be somewhat atheistic in nature, and yet Shintoism believes in over 10,000 gods. And everyone says, Well, that seems to be okay. I think this can still work for our purposes. Shintoism helps us to be excited about our country, and in the past, excited about the Emperor, and Buddhism gives us this inner peace. Let's take them both. And so both are incorporated into kind of the Japanese. A belief system, but a lot of people might claim one of those things, and yet a good deal of the population is functionally atheist.
Larrie: [00:11:14] Well, obviously, America has changed a bit over the years. How do the Japanese view America these days?
Jay: [00:11:23] That's a good question. A lot has changed in the last few years for sure, and this could turn into a pretty interesting podcast if we talked about all the ways that we've seen that in the way that Japan is looking in on that as well. However, by and large, there is still just a great interest in the United States, in the media that comes from the United States. It's so it's interesting that we're not that separated from a massive world war where we were at odds. And now real people are so interested in the same actors and actresses and musicians that we would be interested in. And so there's a desire to work with America. There's a desire to travel to America. There's a little bit of admiration. Most of the time, once again, painting with broad strokes. Most of the time, the fact that I'm an American opens doors for me. It doesn't; it doesn't close them. I, I will have a bit of a leg up on people from some other countries or Japan has current animosity and once again, because English is so desirable. People can see us as an opportunity to practice English, especially once they find out that we're offering English programs through the church for learning English with native speakers. That's the big key is a native speaker is going to teach me. That's what I want to learn. Because when I get in these business situations, you know, they're using native English. How do I get good at that? So by and large, this is a good place for an American to work.
Larrie: [00:13:19] That's good to hear, but I won't ask you anymore on that. But I bet you have some very interesting discussions with your Japanese friends regarding what's going on in the world today.
Jay: [00:13:31] Oh, yeah, very.
Larrie: [00:13:34] So, you know, you've CTV has supported you now for a number of years. Can you describe a time when TV enabled you to accomplish something significant?
Jay: [00:13:49] Oh, yeah. I mean, two things jump to mind. One is we have this current goal of planting 12 churches in these 12 cities of a million or more. If we can get these 12 churches in these 12 cities, over 61% of the population of Japan will be within reach of one of our churches. So this is a massive goal and could be huge for the kingdom and our mission. And we are trying to raise $3 million for the last eight church plants. We've kicked off this campaign, this goal, when four churches were established, and we had eight more to go, six of those are now running and CSV came alongside of us to partner with that campaign financially in a huge way. And we are one of the biggest contributors to that campaign. We're incredibly thankful we couldn't move forward with that goal of planting more churches without CB's partnership. It's a huge blessing, but long before that goal was established, you guys came alongside of one of our our coworkers, a guy named Uma. Uma, 11 years ago, was still an atheist, a Japanese guy who's very bright, really talented, and showed up to church, wanting to talk deeply and play the guitar and just make friends and practice his English.
Jay: [00:15:21] Uma became a Christian ten years ago, steadily grew his wife. Well, she was just solid before she was his wife. She she came to church as well. A Japanese woman who was born and raised in Osaka, she became a Christian. They met at church. They were married, they have a baby. And Uma now works at the church doing music ministry in Osaka, writing songs in Japanese. Kv When he came on staff, VK came on to help support Uma's ministry and make it possible for the church there to hire him. And that is huge. The trickle down effect that we could never plan for is amazing where there are people in cities across Japan singing songs that were written by Uma, you know, you can't plan that. I know that when we are when we're first asking, hey, would you be interested in helping us with Uma? You know, that's not one of the things that we said because I'm pretty sure he's going to write a worship song in Japanese that then someone across Japan, we had no idea. God knew God had big plans and we were thankful for the way that you guys came on with that.
Larrie: [00:16:29] Well, I'm not sure whether or not our mission team, our short term team, who came over a few years ago, a guy named Josh Howerton, was there, was he able to meet Uma?
Jay: [00:16:45] I'm pretty sure they did. They definitely would have been in the same place, maybe even playing music together on the same stage together for a retreat. And that team was a huge encouragement. I knew too many of our teammates, both the Japanese and the American teammates. And yeah, they as you're saying, all this, it's rushing back. They work together to record some songs, actually. And I know that the worship team there at KB with Jordan, everybody has been a huge encouragement to him and an inspiration as he's heard some of the worship music that's been produced in KD. And it's been encouraging to us as well.
Larrie: [00:17:33] Well, I know the team got back. I remember the debriefing session, how moved that team was, who came back from Japan and how encouraged they were to see what you were doing there. And it was a great trip. And we look forward to getting back on track again once this COVID stuff gets, it's over with. So what advice would you give to our listeners regarding our relationship with Mustard Seed and what you're doing there in Japan?
Jay: [00:18:08] Yeah. I would say continue to pray for us. One of the. Now one of the supporters for William Carey, there's a story when William Kerry went to India. There's a famous quote, where he was saying, I will go down into the pit if you hold the rope going down into the place of spiritual darkness. He was leaving and saying, I'll go down to the pit if you hold the rope. There are various ways you can hold the rope. And one of those is prayer. You can continue to pray for us. Check out our website. Mustard Seed Network were Mustard Seed Network. Just add a dot in there. Mustard Seed Network. You can see the different teams we have. You can see the cities where we're in. You can also on social media with Instagram, Facebook, those things. You can track and see prayer requests, different ministries that are happening. And it's a good way to stay on top of different things that are happening culturally and prayer points that come up. So please, please continue to pray for us. And the other thing is, as we talk about trying to engage those who have never heard in Japan, you know, Romans 1520, where Paul says, my aim is to preach the gospel of Christ has not been named so that I will not build on someone else's foundation. You know, we talk about that as our huge goal in Japan. But I know that you can do that where you are as well. It could be tempting to think. You know, I don't maybe there are no maybe there's no one in the greater Phoenix area who hasn't heard about Jesus and people have heard of Jesus. But that could be different than actually hearing the gospel and knowing the beautiful, beautiful, good news that they might need to hear from you. So in a sense, we're really we're doing the same mission. You're doing it there. We're doing it here. The percentages are different, but we're both about making disciples and we're on the same team.
Larrie: [00:20:21] We sure are. Are there any opportunities or plans or goals that you have in the future?
Jay: [00:20:30] Yeah. The one I mentioned earlier about the 12 churches. That's a huge goal. Pray for that. Like I said, we are halfway through. It has slowed us a bit. It's it's been over two years since I've been to the States. So we are working forward. We just got some new teammates in that have been waiting to come into the country for a year. By the end of the year, we'll have ten new teammates who have been funded and waiting to go. And so that will really help us move forward with this goal. We need workers to be able to plant these churches. But one of our biggest goals is to get these 12 churches that are each a witness for the gospel in their cities, constantly proclaiming, constantly testifying to the good news. And that's something that we really we're really going to need. We're really going to need God to work in big ways to meet this goal. As initially, before we knew a pandemic was coming, we were praying and asking God to help us do this by the end of 2025. So for sure, pray for that goal.
Larrie: [00:21:50] Well, we'll do that. And we'll also be sure and include all of your information in our show notes with all your links and everything about what you're doing there that our listeners can go and check that out. Well, thank you for joining us, Jay. We look forward to doing this again in the near future. And maybe we get your wife on or a few of your staff members and kind of talk about some things. So but thank you. And we'll look forward to talking with you again.
Jay: [00:22:21] Thank you so much.
Larrie: [00:22:24] Well, as we conclude today's episode, thank you for listening. And if you like what you heard today and want to hear more, follow us. I'm sure you can give us a five-star review as it helps attract more listeners to hear about what God is doing around the world. You can also check us out on our website and let's go 360 dot org and check out our missions page at church. Thanks for joining us. And as we go about listening to the lives of those who are living out the great commission inspired by the Great Commandments, so that we might stand with the great multitude someday before the throne when the mission of God is complete. May God bless you as we go and send those here near and far.