He had just held meetings in three Japanese cities–Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka.
When Billy Graham returned home after a rally in Hawaii on March 11, 1956, he said, “I knew without a doubt, the Far East would feature in our future plans somehow.”
Fifty-five years later, the words he penned in Just As I Am would ring true–while the date of the Hawaii stopover seems eerie in significance. On March 11, 2011, a devastating earthquake and massive tsunami wreaked havoc in northeastern Japan; tsunami warnings were issued for Hawaii and the west coasts of North and South America. And, the quick response from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to the disaster is one chapter in a long history of partnership in Japan.
“My conviction about the place of Asia in our ministry turned out to be true,” Graham himself wrote. “Since that tour, we have returned to Asia repeatedly. Many of those trips are still fresh in my memory, as if they happened only yesterday.” Crusades in Japan in 1980 (Fukuoka, Okinawa, Osaka and Tokyo) and 1994 (Tokyo) “stand out in my memory,” Graham said. He also held a Crusade in Tokyo in 1967.
Franklin Graham has carried on the tradition of ministry in Japan with Festivals in Okinawa (2006) and Osaka (2010).
During the Okinawa Festival, more than 30,000 people heard the message of Jesus Christ as Graham took the podium November 3-5.
The Festival sought to reach both of Okinawa’s main populations, the more than 1.3 million Japanese speakers and the approximately 150,000 English-speaking people (mostly current and former military personnel and their families). While an invisible wall separated these two populations–because of language, culture, and lifestyle–Festival Director Chad Hammond explained, “The Festival provided an umbrella of neutrality which has allowed many of the leaders from both communities to develop and nurture new relationships that previously did not exist.”
Hammond, who is now the BGEA Associate Director of Asian Affairs, traced the ease of the relationships to the ground breaking ministry done in Japan by Billy Graham in 1980. “There are many relationships and open doors we have enjoyed in Okinawa because of the efforts accomplished in Okinawa (years ago).”
Along with forging relationships, God has used BGEA to help strengthen the Japanese church over the decades, most recently through the October 2010 Osaka Festival.
“Although it is one of the world’s 10 largest nations by population, Japan has few churches, and average church attendance is under 100,” explained Franklin Graham. “Christians in Japan have remained a tiny minority for 450 years.”
With thousands of people having heard the saving message of Jesus Christ during Graham’s time in Osaka, the fires of revival from the Festival are now burning in other Japanese cities.
This ministry legacy of BGEA ministry in Japan is what allowed us to get on the ground and help the earthquake and tsunami victims so readily. This long-time presence in the “land of the rising sun” is also the bridge between BGEA and the Japanese church–for today and years to come.
As BGEA partners with Samaritan’s Purse to bring relief to the hurting in Japan, please pray that that the history we have with this nation and its church will be used to comfort the broken and advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.