Janet and I are taking off this week for a trip to Asia, and would greatly appreciate your prayers. I speak eleven times, and we visit three countries, so it will be grueling. Here’s the plan.
We fly to Seoul, Korea, where we spend the night, then take a plane the next morning to Manila, Philippines. I’ll be speaking at a gathering of developing world journalists. This gathering takes place every few years, and friends of mine who have met with them come away very impressed with the quality of participants. We’ve been to the Philippines twice before, and it’s always a shot in the arm to sense the enthusiasm of the church there. After the revolution deposing Marcos, evangelicals grew in leaps and bounds, and I’ve never met people so eager to follow Jesus’ commands in the simplest, most literal way possible.
From there we fly to Taiwan, where we’ll spend ten days. My publisher there has arranged a day for pastors and church leaders, and then a three-day ticketed event for about 1000 people. I’ll speak six times, which will pretty well deplete my knowledge base.
Taiwan is a small island that lives in constant fear because of threats from China to the west. Very few nations have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, so they also feel like an international pariah. Christians have had a major influence on the culture, but the church still represents a small minority. Yet Taiwan is very strategic. Much Christian literature in China is published in Taiwan and smuggled over to the mainland.
On the way back we’ll spend just over 24 hours in Japan. First we’ll meet with a fascinating group of people. About 25 years ago, North Korea started kidnapping young Japanese; they brought them over to Korea and used them to teach Japanese and Japanese culture to Korean spies. (I know this seems bizarre, but it’s all well documented, and big news in Japan.) One young captive, only 13 years old, was named “Megumi,” the Japanese word for Grace. She was tall for her age, and probably taken by mistake. Walking home from school along a beach, she saw two frogmen climb out of the surf. They grabbed her, tied her up, and hustled her onto a boat. For 20 years North Korea denied everything. Then a few years ago, they admitted to all the people they’d kidnapped. They claimed Megumi had married and had two children, but then had died. They also let some of the kidnap victims return to Japan to visit their families; all but two defected, abruptly ending that program.
All this time, Megumi’s parents, (her mother is a devout Christian), have been holding vigils. Once when I spoke at the International Justice Mission, the parents flew from Japan to Washington to plead their case; later they met with President George Bush in the White House. They are often in the news in Japan, and even had a half-hour segment on the news show “Frontline” here in the U.S. They still believe, against all odds, that their daughter lives. A supportive prayer group has grown into 150-200 people, many of whom have become Christians through the experience.
I’ll speak to the prayer group, attend another book launch, and speak at a Japanese church on Sunday morning before we return home.
We have a lot of variety on this trip, and crossing cultures is always tricky. In countries like Taiwan and Japan, Christians are such a small minority (around 2 percent) that the church has a strong inferiority complex. I pray that we’ll be able to lift their spirits. As I’ve been writing a book on prayer, I am very impressed with its mysterious power. One of the few direct commands on prayer Jesus gave was to pray that the Father would send more workers into the fields. Well, for the next couple of weeks we’ll be some of those workers. It means a lot to us to know that we’re buoyed up by your prayers.
Let me give you an update on our trip so far. It started out with one of those problems in international travel. We arrived in Seoul, Korea after spending 20 straight hours traveling from Denver, only to find that the hotel I booked on the internet was at the old airport and Seoul now has a new, international airport! So we scrambled to find another hotel nearby, at twice the price, and hope the previous hotel has some mercy on us.
The Philippines went very well. The conference had journalists from Albania, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), Bangladesh, Chad, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other such exotic places. I always find it almost unbearably humbling to hear from people in war-torn places like Myanmar and Ivory Coast that my writings have helped them. I write about showing grace to neighbors whose dogs mess up your back yard—and they make the application to Muslims who burn down your church and kill your pastor. Oh my, how God uses clay vessels.
One publisher present was Savy Dith from Cambodia. When she was 17 the Khmer Rouge killed her eight brothers and sisters, as well as her mother and grandmother. She had been forced, days before, to wed a Christian man in an arranged marriage. She did so, but determined to remain Buddhist. Instead, influenced by her loving husband, she became a Christian three months later. Few of Cambodia’s 12,000 Christians survived the Killing Fields, but the church has flourished since: 130,000 Cambodian Christians in 2000 small churches. Savy’s husband Costal pastors one of these churches, and Savy oversees women’s ministries and leads outreach to AIDS patients at local hospitals. She has no formal education beyond high school, but for 10 years has been creating Bible lessons for women and children. In 2003 she became the editor of the nation’s first and only Christian publishing house, Fount of Wisdom. The publishing house recently launched a writers’ club, the Alliance of Khmer Writers—a small group since most writers were killed with their books destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.
From there we went to Taiwan, where we really got the royal treatment. They’ve never hosted an American author before, and took quite a risk with the events. First they held an all-day seminar for pastors and church leaders in a seminary and about 400 people showed up. Then they rented a large hall right by the university campus for a four-session series on Thursday and Friday nights, and two on Saturday. Almost 1000 people bought tickets. The good news was that I had a GREAT translator named Daniel. He lives six months of each year in Wisconsin and six months in Taiwan, and he was with me every step of the way. Also, he was very expressive and used his hands a lot, and caught all the subtleties of humor. It couldn’t have gone better. Of course, working through a translator takes twice as long, so my 45-minute talks meant standing on my feet for 1 1/2 hours, then another 20 minutes or so fielding questions. Then, of course, the lines of people to get books signed and have the inevitable photos taken with cell phones, digital cameras, and who knows what else these high-tech Asians point at us.
As I mentioned, Taiwan has a real inferiority complex. Only 2 to 3 percent of them are Christians, and only 27 countries in the world have diplomatic relations with them. They seem so grateful that someone from the U.S. would pay them any attention, and you would not believe the eager expressions on people who sit patiently as a foreigner yaks at them for more than an hour. They put us entertainment-oriented Americans to shame.
From here we go to Japan. I mentioned the situation with the North Korean abductees. They have been big in the news here this week as Japanese and North Korean negotiators met to discuss the case. North Korea insists that there were 13 abductees, and eight died (five defected to Japan on a visit). But they lie through their teeth, and all their evidence is phony. For example, they claim all eight died in room 695 of this one hospital, and there is no such room. Anyway, this time they gave more “evidence” and gave to the Japanese negotiators an urn that supposedly contains the ashes of Megumi, the 13-year-old girl kidnapped in 1977. Japan will run DNA tests on the remains, but this introduces a far more somber tone to our meeting this weekend. Megumi’s parents are no doubt coming to terms with the reality that they’ll likely never see their daughter again. She taught Japanese to North Korea’s leader Kim Il Jung, so she probably knows way too much ever to be released, even if she’s still alive. Megumi’s mother is a strong Christian, and leads the crusade to make North Korea tell the truth; she gets a huge press in Japan.
We’re on the way back from Japan now. The meeting with the group concerned about those abducted by North Korea was extraordinary. Because the two governments held meetings the week before, and North Korea returned an urn that allegedly contained ashes of Megumi, the issue was page one news. About 1000 people turned out for the meeting instead of the expected 150, and all three Japanese TV networks were there filming. One will do a half-hour documentary this week. The Japanese negotiators suspect everything North Korea tells them, so little is resolved. Mrs. Yokota, Megumi’s mother, became a Christian through the kindness of a neighbor, the mother of a girl who was with Megumi at the time of the abduction. Her husband is embittered, and has no interest in God. Unwittingly she has become the highest profile Christian in the country (where only 1 percent are Christians), and her testimony to the press is very strong. I was honored to be with the group.Copyright © 2005 by Philip Yancey