Japan. One of the most secular nations in the world. Isolated from all foreign influence until 1853.
A country closed off to the Gospel, or an opportunity to bring the Word of God to thousands of unreached people?
Paul Tan, director of CBI Singapore, definitely believes the latter. After jumpstarting the CBI program in Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia, Tan is making connections in Japan, hoping to find a local leader to bring CBI’s mentoring program to the country’s prisoners.
Yasumasa Aoki is just such a leader. From a young age, Aoki was heavily involved in the Yakuza, a powerful Japanese crime syndicate. Aoki spent much of his adult life in prison, including a stint for a crime so treacherous that it was considered taboo even by his Yakuza family.
Full-body tattoos and missing fingers (a traditional Yakuza ritual to punish insubordination) are lifelong witnesses to Aoki’s past allegiances. But today, Aoki claims another family—the family of God. His spiritual journey began after a rival gang member struck his skull with a hammer in the prison yard. When Aoki awoke in the hospital, he saw a Bible at his bedside.
“When I read Psalm 23:4—‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me’—I felt peace for the first time in my life,” Aoki said in a recorded testimony.
Aoki was baptized in prison and studied the Bible with other inmates. When he was released in 2011, he studied theology in Singapore and began considering how to help others like himself.
“I am now sixty-four years old, and I’ve spent half my life doing worthless things, but I have a dream to start a halfway house for former convicts to provide a safe environment for their rehabilitation and bridge them to the mainstream society for employment,” he said.
Tan and his team plan to visit Aoki this summer in hopes of establishing a connection that will pave the way for CBI’s entrance into Japan. With seventy-five thousand inmates, Japan’s prisons are ripe for the Gospel’s healing power.