I grew up in a small town called Utsunomiya, three hours away from Tokyo. When I was a child, I was certain that there was a God and that He loved me. Then I grew up and began to wonder, “If there is a good God, why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do innocent children die? Why is the world we live in so unfair?” I couldn’t find any answers to my questions, so I came to doubt the existence of God.
Religion is frowned upon in Japan. I don’t know the exact reasons, but it’s probably because religious people caused some terrible incidents in the past and there is now a reluctance toward any kind of religion. Interestingly, however, even though the percentage of Christians is less than 1%, there are many Christian schools in Japan.
The first time I met Christians was when I went to college. These people piqued my curiosity, so I began to analyse them, wondering if they were crazy or just weak. Either way, I was mocking them in my heart. In my second year of college one of my best friends became a Christian, and this shocked me. I didn’t even know that you could become a Christian in any other way than being born into a Christian family.
My friend had grown up in a family similar to mine and they all went to the temple and prayed to the ancestors for protection. I couldn’t help but notice how striking her change was. She used to go clubbing, drink alcohol and have flings, but she gave up this lifestyle after becoming a Christian. Pride would not let me accept that God was behind this transformation or that I myself needed the same change in my life.
I thought that everything in my life was as it should be: I was not facing any particular problems, I was a good student and I always tried to do things the right way. I was kind to the people around me. Incidentally, kindness is a value rooted in Japanese culture.
In Iceland, where I studied for a while, I was invited to a Christian youth group. My Christian friend told me that there would be pizza at this gathering. Prices were high in Iceland, and I was a student with limited financial means, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get free food! Discussions revolved around the topic of sin, with those present at the meeting arguing that “we are all sinners.”
It was an unacceptable idea to me. I had never killed anyone, had never been imprisoned—why would anyone consider me a sinner? The whole discussion irritated me a little, and to make matters worse, at the end of it, my friend told me that if I accepted Jesus, my life would be changed. His words infuriated me. Was he looking down on me? Was he trying to tell me my life wasn’t good enough?
After completing the student exchange programme in Iceland, I returned to Japan and got involved in a volunteer project for children in Indonesia. I was the manager of this project, and I told my family and friends that the purpose of my work was to bring happiness to poor children and their families. I was really convinced that this was the real reason why I was doing it.
One day, a question was troubling me: “Why are you doing this?” I answered as I usually did, but the very gentle voice in my mind came back with the question. That inner voice unmasked my heart’s true motive. I realised that I wasn’t doing anything for others. Everything was for me. I wanted people to look up to me, to see me as a successful leader, and to think of me as a good person. My reasons were completely selfish.
I was shocked by this discovery. That day I realised that I am a sinner. Starting from this point, I began to understand more and more clearly why Jesus came to this world and why it was necessary for Him to die on the cross. It was for me.
A few months later, I graduated from college and had to decide what course my life would take. Most Japanese students get a job before graduation and most often keep that job until they retire. My colleagues started working, earning money, and following their dreams. I was the only one who didn’t know what to do. The idea of studying abroad appealed to me, but I had failed the English test too many times, so I gave up on that plan. Those around me advised me to “follow my heart.” So, I asked myself over and over again what I would really like to do, but I had no answer.
Up until that point I had followed my parents’ advice in choosing a school or other projects, but now I felt that I should plan my own life. However, I didn’t know who I was, what I was supposed to be doing, or what I was living for. I slipped into depression. I would wake up in the mornings and wonder why I even woke up if my life had no purpose anyway. I felt useless. At one point, I even wanted to disappear. I never understood why so many Japanese people commit suicide until I went through this agony of meaninglessness myself.
One night, I was really struggling and the only thing that I could do was to pray. I cried out: “God, if you really exist, help me!” The next morning, I had a strong feeling that I needed to go to church. It was a Wednesday, but I quickly googled and found that there was a church that had a prayer meeting on Wednesday mornings. When I got there, I told the people that I didn’t know what my purpose in life was but that if there was a mission for my life, I would like to follow it. They prayed for me.
In the afternoon I went to my part-time job and during my break, while I was browsing the internet, I discovered a course I wanted to take at the University of Sydney. My level of English met the requirements, and the even better news was that I could get a scholarship. It was an answer to my prayers!
When I returned home that evening, I opened the graduation gift I had received from my friend, and the Bible verse that accompanied it made me fall to my knees and burst into tears: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). I now know that God exists and that there is no need for me to plan my life because He already has plans for it, which I only need to discover. I decided to follow His plan.
With this decision a real adventure began. I came to Australia and studied for a Master’s in Education for a year. After graduation, God led me to study the Bible for three months in a Christian discipleship school. Then I became a Bible worker, teaching Bible classes in the community and especially to university students.
No one would ever have imagined that I would end up teaching the Bible in Australia—but any dream can take shape when God has a plan!