ISM Testimony: From Seeking Fame to Making Jesus Famous in Japan
Back in 2012 when I was an international student, I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner event hosted by Truro International Programs and Services (TIPS) in Fairfax, VA. That night, we heard about the pilgrims and how they came to America, looking for something new and better than what they had in Europe. In many ways, those of us who come to America from another country are like the pilgrims, coming with hopes and dreams and expectations of a better life. I’d like to tell you a story of how my life was completely changed in coming to America, not just because of living in a different country, but because I came to know Jesus Christ and He completely changed the way I see life.
I was born and raised in Japan in a Buddhist family. Growing up, I remember having big questions about life – Why am I here? Where do I come from? Why do I exist and do what I do? What’s the meaning of life? What will happen when I die? Throughout my teenage years, the only way I could make sense out of life was to pursue fame, to do something great and significant in the world so that people would remember me when I’m long gone.
With that as my background, I came to the U.S. in 1996 after my high school graduation, with many hopes and dreams. I had two main goals – one was to learn the language and culture of the American people as best as I could, and the other was to study something that would help me become famous. I chose to study music at George Mason University, thinking that might help me achieve my goal of becoming famous.
The first few months of being here were both exciting and challenging. Exciting because everything was new and big and I was on my own for the first time. Challenging because I was very limited in my ability to communicate in English and I didn’t have a car, so I couldn’t get around to places I needed to go easily.
I was young and fit back then, so I got on my rollerblades to go everywhere, even to a mall miles away from campus. Sometimes I even skated on the side of a highway, which I didn’t know was not allowed. I’m sure people driving thought I was crazy. And because of the language barrier, I felt like some people looked down on me. Some people seemed cold or even rude at times. But, I was determined to overcome those challenges by seeking to immerse myself in the culture, and learning the language and culture of the Americans.
My biggest help came from some Christian people I met from a local church. I had never met any Christians in Japan and had never attended church, so I had no idea what to expect from them. But they were very kind and caring. They seemed to take a genuine interest in me and wanted to know my culture. They didn’t seem to mind the fact that I didn’t believe in what they believed in. They simply wanted to be my friends.
They not only helped me improve my English, but they also helped me in practical ways by giving me rides to places I needed to go. They also included me in the fun things they were doing together and welcomed me as a part of their community. Their friendship became precious to me.
In the course of developing our friendship, they shared their beliefs about Christianity, who Jesus was, and what he did. At first, I kept pushing these things away, but over time, I felt myself strangely drawn to this God they believed in, as I observed their lives closely.
I still had many questions about the teachings of Christianity and the implications of becoming a Christian. How do I know that the teachings of the Bible are true, over other religions? Dead people don’t come back to life; how can you say that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive still? How can three persons be one God? That doesn’t make sense! What about science? Isn’t Darwin’s theory of evolution much more likely than God creating the world we live in? How would my parents and grandparents feel if I became a Christian? Would they disown me? What would I do?
After many conversations with my Christian friends and reading the Bible to examine the claims of Jesus myself, I eventually came to believe that God does exist and to believe in the truth about Jesus when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to [God] except through me.” (John 14:6) Despite the fact that I didn’t know how my family and friends would react to me becoming a Christian, I felt that Jesus was drawing me to Himself, so I decided that I needed to follow Jesus, and I became a Christian.
Fast-forward to the story now: I am happily married to my wife Emma from South Africa and have four children under the age of 12. After serving as a pastor in America for several years, that church sent us to Japan to be involved in church planting in Japan, and I am now a pastor at a church in Tokyo. Now, my goal in life is no longer to make myself famous, but I want to tell people about Jesus and how he changed my life and gave me hope in life and death. It has been my privilege to literally spread His fame abroad! He gave me the answers to my big questions about life and gave me completely new eyes to see this world. I love telling my story, not because I’m special, but because I believe Jesus has done something special in our lives.
I became a Christian as an international college student through the genuine friendship and love shown to me by Christians at a local church near my campus. Through an invitation from David Case, who was leading TIPS (an international ministry at Truro Church in Fairfax, VA) at the time, I was invited to share my story at the New Wineskins for Global Mission conference in 2013. Now, we are part of the New Wineskins Prayer Calendar cycle and I want to thank you for praying for our church planting work here in Japan.
I encourage you to “make Jesus famous” among the international students near you. It could have life-changing impact. It certainly did for me!
After serving as a pastor at Redeeming Grace Church (Fairfax, VA) for several years, Seita Sakaguchi and his wife Emma with their four children were sent by the church to Tokyo in 2014 to be involved in church planting. They are planting a new church in Toyosu called Toyosu Community Church. You can contact Seita here.