FUKUOKA, Japan – When IMB worker Jack Wattanawongsawang and his wife, Prinna, moved to Fukuoka, Japan, at the end of 2016, one of the first things they began to do was prayerwalk.
They’d leave their apartment, pick a direction, and just start walking. Along the way, they’d pray for God to lead them to the people He had prepared for them to meet, and for God to direct them to the places He’d prepared for them to go.
And then, they’d pray one more thing. They’d pray specifically for God to open a door for them to share the Gospel with an entire family, and for that whole family to put their faith in Christ.
After years of ministry in Japan, a country where less than half a percent of the population are evangelical Christians, they’d learned that social persecution was a challenging barrier to the gospel.
“There’s a saying in Japan that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” said Jack. “Becoming a Christian is that. You become a nail that sticks out from your family and from society. So, you get hammered down. That makes it really hard to accept Christ alone.”
This past March, the couple celebrated God’s answer to four years of prayer as they watched Hatsuko* and her granddaughter Momoka* profess their faith in Christ publicly through baptism. The new believers were far from alone. They were following in the steps of the rest of their family who had all put their faith in Christ over the last several years.
“This is truly a God story that no one could have planned,” said Prinna. “Our whole church family was filled with joy.”
God first began working in the life of Momoka’s brother, who met a Christian when he was in college. That believer led him to faith in Christ and helped him understand the Bible, but after graduation they lost touch.
Prinna and Jack met the family because Momoka’s mother, Yuko*, began attending a cooking class they were teaching at a community center not far from their house. They’d found the community center during a prayerwalk when the mission pastor from their sending church, Silverdale Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, came to visit soon after they moved.
They began partnering with a local church plant to use the cooking class to build friendships and share the gospel. Jack invited the pastor from the church plant to attend the class, and he did.
When the pastor met Yuko, she told him her son was a Christian because of a friend he’d made in college, and she’d always wished she could meet that friend. It took just a few more minutes of conversation for them to both realize that the pastor was that friend—he’d introduced her son to Christ, and then years later planted a church in Fukuoka.
Prinna invited Yuko to the church, and Yuko and her husband both began attending with their son. As believers invested in them and encouraged them to study the Bible, the Holy Spirit began to work on their hearts. Four months after they first visited the church plant, Yuko and her husband both accepted Christ. The pastor baptized them in the ocean last August.
Momoka was skeptical of her parent’s new faith at first. But it was hard to ignore how much gentler and kinder her father had become. He even told her he loved her, something he had rarely done before.
The pastor began coming over to Yuko’s house to study the Bible with Yuko and Momoka. That’s whenHatsuko first began to understand the gospel. She would listen along to the Bible studies because she lived with her daughter’s family.
God used Scripture and the love of local believers to show Momoka and Hatsuko He cared for them, and He was worth surrendering to. Their baptisms this past March were celebrations of more than just their salvations alone. They were celebrations of God’s amazing grace to draw a whole family to Himself through the faithful witness of a local church.
“How much we believe God can do is the key. Do we really believe He can save people?” Jack said. “He said He will do it, and He will. Are we begging Him that He would lead us to see His plan and connect the dots and see all that He has prepared?”
When Jack and Prinna first began prayer walking four years ago, it was often just the two of them. They had no idea how God would answer their prayers.
Today, they still prayer walk through Fukuoka, but they’re not alone anymore. They walk alongside the church God led them to partner with, which now includes three generations of a family who are a constant reminder to them that He is always at work.
“Lead us to the people that you have prepared for us. Lead us to people who will be saved and become our family. Open the door for us to share the Gospel. Save whole families, save whole communities. That’s always our prayer,” said Jack.
*Names withheld for security reasons
Stella McMillian, who wrote this article, works among East Asian peoples and is a contributing writer for the IMB.