A Korean “love sonata” for Japan, evangelical orientation

Korea and Japan are referred to as the “nearest but farthest nations”. Yonhap News reports that only 16.7% of Koreans have positive feelings toward Japan, while 20.2% of Japanese have positive feelings toward Korea.1

Japan’s ban on hate speech has not extinguished discriminatory actions against Koreans, and anti-Japanese campaigns in Korea appear to be a political strategy for more citizen support. A deep chasm still exists between the two nations.

During the 36 years of colonization by Japan, Christians in Korea have been persecuted by the Japanese military government. The military government imposed worship of the Emperor on all institutions in Korea.

After the resistance movement of March 1, 1919, more than 3,000 Christians were arrested and 50 of them were martyred in prison. Seminaries and Christian schools were forced to close and some churches were completely destroyed. 2

The Korean people have gone through other sufferings, including the deprivation of their property, identity, education and life. To make matters worse, the Japanese churches participated in the political invasion and colonization of Korea under the wrong theology.

Only half a century later, Japanese denominations have officially confessed wrongdoing.

In this context, the characteristics of Christianity in these two nations are totally different. The Christian population in Korea is 19% of the total population, while in Japan it is around 0.8%.

Korea often identifies itself as “Israel in East Asia”. Japan, on the contrary, is known as the “graveyard of missionaries”.

Some Korean Christians are trying to help struggling Japanese churches in different ways. For example, the Yoido Full Gospel Church, one of the largest churches in the world, launched a missionary campaign called “10 Million Salutes to Japan” in 1977.

The main method was to use the television program called “Invitation to Happiness”, in which Reverend Yonggi Cho preached in Japanese. However, the result was not very successful after 18 years of effort. Yoido Full Gospel Church discontinued television ministries in 1998.

Another example is the Sarang Church which invited Japanese pastors and church leaders to discipleship seminars for several years in the 1980s. The church sent a number of mission teams to assist Japanese churches during decades. However, there were no visible results.

In 1999, Reverend Yongjo Ha, the senior pastor of Onnuri Community Church in Seoul, approached this difficult nation by establishing a Christian publisher “Durranno Japan” to provide good Christian literature to Japanese believers.

He also planned to build Onnuri vision churches in Japan. In 2003, he started the first branch church in Osaka, which was followed by six other branch churches in different cities in Japan.

Rev. Ha explained that the purpose of establishing branch churches in Japan was not to expand Onnuri’s influence, but to encourage Japanese churches through their services.

Later, when he realized that television ministries were influential in the era of mass media, he established Japan CGNTV in Tokyo and Osaka. This radically transformed media ministries in Japan.

Before CGNTV launched, there were only a few 30-minute Christian shows in small towns. CGNTV provided 24-hour Christian programs featuring world famous preachers and programs from around the world with translations. The situation of the Japanese Church still did not improve.

Finally, Rev Ha discovered the potential of cultural events with Korean Christian celebrities. At that time, Korean streaming was very popular among Japanese women on a level unheard of in Japanese history.

Thus, a series of culture-based evangelistic campaigns named “Japan Love Sonata” began in 2007 as a new mission strategy by the Onnuri Church. 5

“Japan Love Sonata” is a multidimensional mission project including a revival seminar for Christian leaders, a praise night for young people and a forum for social leaders, with “Love Sonata” as the main evangelistic event.

Since 2007, “Love Sonata” programs have been held 33 times in major cities in Japan. All were successful in terms of attendance. They rented the largest halls in each city, and the seats were all filled in most cases despite the suspicions of hall managers.

The total number of participants was 77,254, of whom 3,394 made the decision to accept Christ.

The “Love Sonata” programs are culturally oriented. The stage programs are very seeker-centered with many high-quality cultural performances including classical music, Korean traditional music, gospel choir, ballet, and hip hop dance.

Rev Ha advocated cultural approaches to evangelism by describing the gospel as water and culture as the cup: “Without a cup, people cannot drink. The shape of the cups may differ, but the water is the same.

We must use the culture as the cup to contain the gospel so that people can drink the water (gospel).’ 6 He also explains the challenges of contextualization: “The Church is a ship and culture is the sea.

The ship sails the seas and is on the waters. However, if water enters the ship, it will sink. We must understand that the church is in the culture, but if the secular culture enters the church, the church will sink.’ 7

‘Love Sonata’ is aware of the danger, and the cultural performance was used only for better presentation of the gospel.

‘Love Sonata’, as its name suggests, is a project with demonstrations of warmth and love. For example, Korean ushers stand at the stations closest to the event hall in uniforms with welcome signs.

The ushers are well trained upstream and act with kindness and smiles. Performances and culturally sensitive celebrity testimonials often help attendees open their hearts and be ready to listen to the keynote speaker’s message.

At the end of the program, they offer a very dramatic finale using colorful paper airplanes, balloons, handkerchiefs, flower crowns and light pens. The Japanese are generally conservative in expressing their emotions, but by this time most participants feel loved and are ready to enjoy the dramatic finale.

After ‘Love Sonata’ programs, Onnuri Church continues its mission by sending various ministry supports, such as Fathers School, Mothers School, Blessed Family Ministries, Quiet Time Seminars and Discipleship individual.

Christian Global Network (CGN) TV supports all events with media technologies, through which more people can experience the blessing through media and online. Through these follow-up programs, local churches in Japan receive additional relevant support from Onnuri’s ministry teams.

The biggest impact of the “Love Sonata” program was the love Korean Christians showed towards the Japanese. So far, 18,310 Korean Christians have come to Japan from Korea just to serve in “Love Sonata” at the expense of their time, money, families and jobs.

Most Korean volunteers don’t even get a chance to see the programs on stage. They prepare the material, pray for the event and fulfill different roles behind the scenes simultaneously.

The highlight of the love expressed was the message from keynote speaker Rev Ha. He would begin his message with an apology to the Japanese: “I am sorry, Japanese friends, that I have not forgiven you for a long time.

It is a shocking word for Japanese people because they have the stereotypical idea that Koreans always demand an apology from Japanese people. Therefore, when a Korean pastor apologizes, it is a shocking and touching moment for Japanese people.

The message of the true love of Jesus Christ following an apology literally melts Japanese attendees.

Japanese Christians, ministers and believers, are often discouraged by the indifference and rejection of non-believers in Japan. By observing Korean Christians’ sacrificial service to Japan, they are encouraged and challenged in evangelism.

Especially when they learned that Reverend Ha had undergone six liver surgeries just before the events and was receiving weekly dialysis due to his illness, they were deeply moved by the commitment and dedication of Reverend Ha and members of his church.

Reverend Ha passed away in 2011, but his love for Japan was replaced by the next pastor, Reverend Lee Jae Hoon. He and Onnuri Church continue ‘Love Sonata’ in Japan twice a year.

The financial burden on a local church to carry out this series of events shows their sacrificial love for the Japanese people.

With this love and mission service by Onnuri Church, Japan is slowly changing with 2,234 churches participating in “Love Sonata” and fellowshipping across denominational boundaries.

The younger generation is getting together and planning their own events. One of the few devotional manuals in Japan is published by Durranno Japan, and CGNTV provides a devotional guide for it, inviting Japanese ministers as preachers every day.

Programs such as Father School and Mother School actively contribute to the restoration of families; Quiet Time Seminar and Individual Discipleship strengthen the faith of Japanese believers.

With true forgiveness 8 and lots of sacrificial love in Christ, Rev Ha and Onnuri Church helped bridge the deep chasm between Korea and Japan.

Today, in many parts of the world, people suffer because of racial discrimination, exploitation, abuse, invasion, even genocide, and the normal reaction of the victim is hatred, unforgiveness and revenge.

The cycle of resentment will never end unless reconciliation occurs. Only Christians who know the reality of sin in human beings and who experience the true forgiveness of Christ can be catalysts for such reconciliation.

It is possible as shown in this powerful testimony of Rev Ha and the Onnuri Church, and what they have done for Japan by the grace of God.

Dr Eiko Takamizawa is a Japanese missiologist, former professor at Torch Trinity Graduate University, Seoul, South Korea. She holds a Ph.D. from Trinity International University, Illinois, USA.

His other involvements include member of the SEANET Steering Committee, co-leader of the Lausanne Global Listening Team and the Lausanne Theology Task Force.

This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication of the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at www.lausanne.org/analysis.

1. Yonhap News.

2. Kyongbae Min, ‘Kankoku no Kirisutokyo [Christianity in Korea],’ in Aziakirisutokyoshi [Asia Christian History], ed. GoRimei et al. (Tokyo: Kyobunkan, 1995), 123-48.

3. ‘Love Sonata,’. More photos available here.

4. A similar analysis on Love Sonata was written in ‘Missiological Analysis of Love Sonata in Japan’ by Eiko Takamizawa, Trinity Log Torch, (2008, 11:1), 147-58.

5. Japanese service Onnuri, 30 nen no Shukaku ga Futatabi Tane to mat: Nihon eno Kawaranai Kamisama no Ai [ 30 years Harvest are Now Seed Again: Unchanging Love of God toward Japan]

6. Yong-Jo Ha on ‘Church and Culture’ in a lecture given at the Revival Seminar at Love Sonata Sapporo, October 31, 2007.

7. Ha, ‘Church and Culture’.

8. Editor’s note: See Wafik Wahba’s article, ‘Witnessing to the Gospel through Forgiveness’, January 2018.

Barry F. Howard