Alex &Kathryn Huphreys
2 Peter 3:9 makes it clear that God loves all people and desires that they be saved. He will even use the most unlikely people to do His work. I am one of those people.
I grew up in a very typical, small town in the midwestern United States. It was a town of 20,000 people where it was rare to meet anyone who was not just like me. Eventually though, because of my father’s work, we moved to a large city called Cincinnati which is over 2,000,000 people. In my new school, I met many students from different countries and one was a young Japanese man…that meeting changed my life.
He had come with his family because his father’s company had sent them to the United States. As I got to know him, I helped him to learn English, and in the process we became friends. He introduced me to many wonderful things in Japanese culture like watching Dragon Ball Z, collecting Bikkuri-man stickers and eating UFO instant yakisoba (at least, that is Japanese culture for a young person☺️). But as I got to know him more, I found out something heartbreaking—he had never heard the name of Jesus, he had never read the Bible and he had never been to a church. I could not understand how someone from one of the most developed countries in the world had never heard the gospel. I had grown up in church all my life and so this stunned me.
Upon learning this, I began to pray for the people of Japan. God begin to open my heart to the possibility of going and reaching them myself. For someone from a small town in America this seemed very overwhelming. I was not the best student nor was I from a well-to-do family, but I felt God leading me towards being a missionary in Japan. This leading was not an audible voice, but could be described as a continual burden for the Japanese people. Additionally, there were repeated confirmations that pointed me towards the nation of Japan.
Some of those confirmations were miraculous encounters such as prophetic words that were spoken over my life. Other times God clearly pointed out Japan to me in a way that was supernatural. There were small confirmations too. For example, my high school offered Japanese as one of its foreign language options. That is very rare in the United States. And in the large city where I lived, I think it was the only high school that offered Japanese as a language. This meant I was able to get a good foundation of the language, so that I could be better prepared to share the gospel even before I arrived in Japan.
Throughout middle school and high school my love for Japan and the burden to share the gospel there grew. I went to an Assemblies of God Bible College and studied missions. During one summer, I took a short term missions trip to Japan, and that experience clinched my call. I came in the summer and worked for three months with a missionary family who were serving in Shibata city, Niigata. Just the location was a new experience for me. I had never seen mountains with snow on them before! Everyday I was meeting Japanese people who had never heard the name of Jesus. It was all astounding.
During that trip, I worked with the missionary to pass out tracks, to hold various English parties, as well as visiting a local university to interact with the students. There was even a Chinese man in the church who had given his life to Jesus Christ and I was able to watch his baptism. After experiencing these things on that trip I knew that if I did anything else with my life, I would not feel that I was fulfilling the will of God for my life. Thankfully, God did not send me alone, because while I was at Bible college I met Kathryn who eventually became my wife.
Kathryn grew up with a believing mother but her father was not a follower of Jesus. He was not happy about her wanting to go into the ministry so she knew that she would have to find a way to study but also support herself if necessary. She had felt God’s call to missions but was not sure what nation to go to. This led her to major in education so that she could make money and also enter any country, even ones that do not allow missionaries. She had never really considered Japan as an option but as we felt God leading us together to get married, she began to pray about a future missions work in Japan. Today, her call is just as sure and as vibrant as mine. In actuality, Kathryn has had more opportunities for one-on-one evangelism in every day life than I have.
While we have been missionaries, God has provided us with two wonderful children. And at the time of writing this, we have been in Japan for over 17 years. That means for us, Japan is more home than anywhere else in the world. As a couple, we have spent the majority of our married life here. As a family too, we have spent the majority of our time here. This is common for missionaries. You give up part of your home country and adopt the nation where God has sent you.
For both our girls and us there are many things we miss about America and enjoy when we get the chance to return. But on the same side when we are in America, there are many things we miss about Japan and can’t wait to get back to. For me, when I am in Japan I miss real southern barbecue and eat too much of it when I go back to the US. And when I am in America, I have a longing for natto-maki. Usually it is the first thing I buy at the airport convenient store after returning to Japan.
(Photo :First visit to Japan by the couple）
For missionaries, settling in your heart that you will spend a long time in Japan is important. Sharing the gospel with the Japanese is all about spending consistent time in relationship with people in order that they can have a chance to hear the gospel. One missionary here often says that “Japan is all about the long game”. Another way that I have heard it put is that it is ministry based on “patient relationships”. God can and does work in mighty and powerful ways but for the most part His work comes through allowing people to learn to trust you.
It is not just letting people learn to trust you, it is also allowing them to see your life as a follower of Jesus. Being a Christian in Japan, especially a missionary or a pastor, requires consistency and transparency in your walk of faith. As American missionaries we stand out. Everyone notices us. We cannot hide. So, we are always aware that people are watching how we treat each other as a couple, how we treat our children, the places we go and the things we do. So, our relationships and lifestyle are an important element of the way that we share the gospel of Jesus with other people. But none of that means anything if it’s not bathed in prayer. We realize that the Holy Spirit’s work in people’s life is the only thing that will change them. It is the Holy Spirit that creates opportunities for the word to be sewn in their spirits. It is the Holy Spirit that does miracles like the giving of signs, visions or dreams to declare the truth of God.
With that in mind, Kathryn has committed to be an advocate for Change the Map within the nation of Japan. Change the Map is a prayer movement with the focus of praying for Buddhist worldview countries. The goal is to change the map from being a country under the influence of Buddhism to being one influenced by the gospel. This prayer movement sees the destructive power of Satan working through Buddhism and its teachings. These teachings bind the hearts of people so that they cannot hear or understand the truth of the gospel.
Many people, both missionaries, and Japanese Christians themselves, downplay the influence of Buddhism on the spirits of the people in this country. We believe though, that it is a very specific tool that the enemy has used to stop the spread of the gospel. Both in our local church and within our missionary group we are always encouraging people to pray for the spiritual freedom from Buddhist thinking. Some people even think that Buddhism is similar to Christianity because they both promote peace but when you look at both of them closely, you see that they are complete opposition to one another.
The power of prayer and the sharing of the gospel is best done through the local church. This is something that we felt was important from the time that we first arrived in Japan. We knew that God wanted us to pour our energy into the local church. Before coming to this nation we were not exactly sure what that would look like, but after arriving, God, led us to work with Tokyo City Church. We have been serving at this church by helping with pastoring, discipling and evangelism.
As mentioned earlier, we have seen that successful ministry in Japan requires consistency and longevity. Because of this fact, we have given a lot of our focus to this one church. This has allowed us to create relationships of trust and at times to connect our friends to this local congregation.
But our ministry is not limited to this one church. We are honored to be a part of various different district committees: Kathryn, with the district women’s committee and me with the district youth committee. Being trusted to be a part of these teams is humbling. We often pray that we can meet the expectation for the ministry roles.
Additionally, we have both helped our district by helping with the annual worship event (kyōku seikai) in various ways. This is valuable as missionaries because it allows us to form close relationships with Japan Assemblies of God (JAG) pastors. For JAG pastors, some of them grew up in the same church, attended the same district events when they were young or were classmates in CBC and so they already have these connections. For us, joining in ministry and outreach with other pastors for district events gives us a chance to know the joys, sorrows and burdens of our fellow brothers and sisters in the JAG. We have definitely learned how to pray better for our pastor friends.
In September of 2021, we were asked to serve as the AGMF Japan Field Coordinators. While this is an activity that is directly connected to the US missionaries here in the country, it does have a large effect upon the JAG. This position serves as the official interface between the US missionaries and the JAG. As we lead the missionary field we are always considering in our hearts how the decisions and actions of the missionary body will effect the churches of Japan.
Still our main focus in this role is to be “door openers” (Someone that provides another person with opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to them) for the missionaries on the field. We hope to support other missionaries so that they can do what God has called them to do. While we can only do a small amount on our own, if we support others, our effort is multiplied exponentially. Opening the door to opportunities of ministry; opening the doors to relationships with JAG pastors; opening the doors to information that we have gained so that they can make better decisions. This is how we serve as “door openers”.
Whether we are serving as Field Coordinators, district ministry members or pastors at a local church we are thankful that God called us to Japan and has given us the wonderful opportunities that have.