Training in Australia to reach the unreached in Japan

Kohei and his wife currently work at St Mark’s UNEChurch in Armidale and are passionate about international ministry with a particular focus on Japan as Kohei was born and raised there. 

Japan currently has a population of around 125 million people, and only 1.9 million of them identify as Christians. For Kohei Yamada who was born in Japan, his knowledge of Christianity was minimal, having never read the Bible or met a Christian. 

In 2017, Kohei travelled to Australia for a one-year university exchange program at the University of New England Armidale, and his life was radically changed through this experience.

“I made a friend and she invited me to church and she said, free English and free food – the two things international students need the most. I went along and it was great, I met a lot of very kind and nice people,” Kohei shared. 

At the church supper, Kohei met another student named Nelson who had studied Japanese as a language and was able to speak it fluently. He invited Kohei to read the Bible with him and offered to cook before Bible Study. Once again the offer of English conversation and free food was enough to pique Kohei’s interest.  

“He explained the Bible very well. We read Luke and Genesis, and I believed it. His explanation was clear and he presented Jesus and God very well. At that time, I was very hungry for meaning and purpose in my life,” he said. 

“I just thought it was wrong that you just work for money and you just live for your happiness and then die. I thought something was wrong with that idea, and the Bible gives me purpose and meaning. God created me and God sent Jesus for me, He loves me.” 

Kohei says that as his understanding of the Bible deepened, so did his understanding of the consequences of sin. He said the reality of hell really struck him as he thought about his friends and family in Japan who hadn’t heard the Gospel. He became upset at this realisation but wasn’t sure what he could do.

“At that time, I was a very young and immature Christian, I knew nothing about how and what I could do,” he said.

Starting with MTS

He was introduced to the concept of MTS, by his girlfriend Grace (now wife), who was undertaking an MTS apprenticeship in Armidale. 

She strongly encouraged me towards MTS to be equipped and to grow more,” he shared.

Kohei went back to Japan after roughly nine months in Australia and worked for three years. At the end of 2020, he travelled back to Australia to do MTS.

“The church I’m working for is St. Mark’s UneChurch. It’s on the campus of the University of New England and we have three congregations and about 300 people. My ministry is a bit of everything, I’m involved in many things, but mainly I have three main jobs,” he shared.

“I oversee the international student ministry, focusing on evangelising to international students through weekly Bible study and other events. And the other is in campus ministry, doing one-to-one Bible reading and pastoral care as well as organising camps and other events along with some youth ministry.”

Training and encouragement

Kohei’s trainer is a man called Matthew Sheridan who, according to Kohei, is a “great trainer, and a passionate people person”.

Together they meet up twice a week and have been reading through 2 Corinthians, thinking through ministry and learning from Paul. Kohei also has a chance to ask questions and get advice from Matthew.

Kohei says he’s encouraged by the people he’s met in ministry so far, their maturity and how well-equipped they are. 

“I feel like Australians are really equipped compared to my Japanese Christian friends. Their love for Jesus and ability to teach and their knowledge of the Bible is amazing,” he said.

Kohei says his biggest challenge with his faith and ministry is with his own excuses. He still considers himself to be a new Christian, a shy introvert and still learning English. 

“I focus on myself when I struggle and not on God’s strength, I try to rely on my own strength and wisdom which is bad,” he said. 

Future plans

Kohei shared that he and his wife have the same vision for their future ministry.

“So my wife and I have the same vision to go to Japan for mission in the future. We are convinced that that’s God’s plan for us. So we are planning to go to Bible college next year if God’s willing and study there and go to Japan for mission after that,” he shared.

God willing, Kohei and Grace will have a great impact on unreached people of Japan, and point them to Christ.