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Pastor Yasuki Aoki standing at the podium of Tokyo’s Setagaya Church, the only Adventist youth church in Japan. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)

Mistaken Enrollment at Adventist College Leads to Baptism in Japan

Yasuki Aoki, who had never met a Christian, was shocked when he was called to evening worship.

By Andrew McChesney, Adventist Mission

Yasuki Aoki had never met a Christian or opened the Bible when he enrolled in the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s sole college in Japan at the age of 18.

He didn’t even know that Saniku Gakuin College was a Christian institution when his parents paid the two-year tuition upfront.

Aoki just knew that he wanted to learn English, and the college just outside Tokyo had a good reputation for its English-language classes. He decided to go to the college after graduating from a public high school.

So, imagine Aoki’s surprise when he heard an announcement over the loudspeaker on his first night in the men’s dormitory. “It’s time for the evening worship,” the voice said. “Please gather in the meeting room.”

Aoki followed the other students, who were carrying Bibles and hymnals, to the meeting room. He had never seen a Bible or hymnal in his life and certainly didn’t own either. He sat awkwardly as the other students sang and then opened their Bibles to follow along with the speaker.

“I was shocked,” Aoki said. “Everyone except me knew the hymn. Everyone except me knew how to find the correct verses in the Bible. I did not understand anything.”

But the time worship ended, Aoki was ready to go home. But then he remembered that his parents had paid quite a lot of money for him to study at the college, and he resolved to be patient for two years.

“This was my very first contact with Christianity,” Aoki said.

Yasuki Aoki speaking with one of his sons outside the sanctuary of Setagaya Church in Tokyo, Japan. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)

1 Percent Christian

Many Japanese people, like Aoki, have never met a Christian. Just 1 percent of Japan’s population of 127 million are Christian, and of those only 15,270 are members of the Adventist Church. The country is largely Buddhist.

Aoki was not Buddhist when he entered the Adventist college. He — like many Japanese — just didn’t have any interest in spiritual things. Moreover, his initial impression of Christianity was not good. He thought to himself, “Why do these people sing songs and read from the Bible every day?”

“But my classmates and the teachers were very kind to me,” he said. “They explained Christianity and Adventism. And because they befriended me, Christianity became good for me, and my impression of Christians became good.”

But he had no desire to become a Christian. He enjoyed attending church and conversing with his new Christian friends. He began dating an Adventist woman. But he saw no reason to be baptized.

After two years at the college, he received an English-language teaching license and determined that he wanted to teach at the Adventist college. But he knew that he would have to become a Christian first — and that meant that he would need to study the Bible.

Aoki promptly signed up to become a theology major. He didn’t have any desire to become a pastor. He just wanted to study the Bible to he could land a teaching job at the college.

Path to Baptism

As soon as he filled out the paperwork to study theology, the college’s chaplain called him into his office.

“What are you thinking?” the chaplain asked. “What is your plan for the future? Do you want to become a Christian?”

“Maybe I will become a Christian someday,” Aoki replied. “But not now.”

The chaplain looked at Aoki intently. “If you are going to be baptized someday, you must be baptized now,” he said. “Why put it off? No one know what the future holds. You must be baptized now.”

He and Aoki discussed the issue for several hours. Aoki understood the chaplain’s point. He finally said, “Please give me more time. I need to think.”

The chaplain wasn’t going to let Aoki off easily.

“When you come back next week, you must decide the date of your baptism,” he said.

Aoki called his Adventist girlfriend, who was working as an elementary school teacher in another city, and explained to her the situation. He asked when she would be able to come to the college campus to watch his baptism. She had only one free day in her schedule for the next few months, so Aoki decided to make that his day to get baptized. After Bible studies, he committed his life to Jesus through baptism on that day, June 10, 1995.

Today, Aoki, 42, is director of the youth and literature ministries departments of the Adventist Church in Japan. He also is the pastor of Tokyo’s Setagaya Church, the only Adventist youth church in Japan. The church, a training center for Adventist young people across Japan, will receive part of the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering in third quarter 2018 to expand its work, including church leadership training for 300 young people by 2020.

Aoki said the secret to introducing Japanese young people to Christ is love — the same principle that attracted him to Christ as a college student.

“It wasn’t the Bible that first taught me that God is love,” he said. “My friends and teachers taught me that God is love through their loving words and actions.”

Yasuki Aoki remembers his first day at Saniku Gakuin College near Tokyo, Japan. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)