Suffolk couple's missionary move to Japan
In March, shortly before the coronavirus lockdown hit the UK, Suffolk couple David and Manuela Pawson were heading for Japan as missionaries with OMF International.
Timing, they say, is everything. So, moving half-way around the world just as a pandemic sweeps over the globe might not seem like the best idea. However, this is where David, Manuela and daughter Esther now find themselves, having moved from Woodbridge to Japan's north island of Hokkaido, in the city of Sapporo which, with 2 million people, is the largest city on the island.
Despite having freedom of religion guaranteed by its constitution and Protestant missionaries working in Japan for over a century, only about 1% of Japan's population is Christian.
David explained: “It's not unusual for entire towns or cities to have no churches or Christian presence. As a result most Japanese first meet Christians when they travel overseas, either for work or study, and often find it a struggle to continue in their faith when they return to Japan. As a result of this church planting and evangelism are a priority for missionaries working in Japan. At the moment our main focus is on learning Japanese, which we will be doing full-time for two years.
“Covid-19 has had a big impact on this as all our classes have to be done via Skype. Whilst the lockdown in Japan is not as strict as in the UK, we still haven’t been able to meet up with Japanese friends or get to know anyone in the local community,” said David.
“In one sense, we are in Japan, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve properly arrived yet. Just like elsewhere, Japanese churches have had to adapt their services and ministry due to Covid-19 and so this feels like a huge step into the unknown, yet done in God’s timing.”
David was born in Ipswich and grew up in Woodbridge, attending St Andrew’s Church in Melton and then later St John’s in Woodbridge.
“Just like a lot of people I stopped going to church when I was a teenager,” said David. “I became a Christian after university and began attending St John’s Church again. Mission was, and still is, an important part of St John’s and so after lots of encouragement from them I decided to attend Redcliffe bible college, in Gloucester, with a view to overseas mission. In 2013 I went on a short-term mission trip to Japan.
“Although I couldn’t do a lot, due to the language barrier, it opened my eyes to the spiritual situation in that country and I began seriously considering what long-term opportunities might be possible there. It was a few months after this trip that I met my wife, Manuela.
“My life was very different to David’s,” said Manuela. “I am German but was born in Japan as my parents were missionaries there. I lived in Japan until I was six and then moved to a boarding school in Singapore. When I was 15, I moved back to Germany and trained as a nurse. I always wanted to be involved in mission work but thought it would be in Africa and, after seeing how difficult the work can be in Japan, I definitely didn’t want to go back to work there.
“That all changed after the 2011 tsunami and I felt God calling me to work in Japan. I needed to have some mission training and I also wanted to improve my English, so I went to bible college in the UK where I met David and we got married in 2015.”
Among other supporters of the Pawson family are High Street Chapel in Hopton near Diss.
You can find out more about OMF International’s work in Japan by visiting https://omf.org/asia/japan
Pictured above are David and Manuela Pawson with daughter Esther.