A variety of partnerships and strategies, united by a clear, gospel-focused call to plant biblical churches, can foster exciting growth all over the world. That’s the story behind the gospel momentum happening through one Acts 29 church in Okinawa, Japan.
Okinawa, located about halfway between mainland Japan and Taiwan, is made up of more than 160 islands. With its lush forests, pristine beaches, and the deep blue of the surrounding South China Sea, Okinawa actually surpassed Hawaii in tourism revenue just before Covid hit in 2020. But despite this idyllic natural beauty, Okinawa is the most economically deprived prefecture in Japan—with gospel need to match.
A Specific Focus
Jonathan and Linnea Ransom moved to Okinawa in 2016 to plant Pillar Church of Okinawa as part of the Praetorian Project, a family of multiplying churches in military communities worldwide. Like Acts 29, the Praetorian Project seeks to plant churches that are missionally compelled to plant more churches. But the Praetorian Project’s unique emphasis is on serving US military members stationed around the world. Though Pillar Church has a specific focus on American service members, it’s characterized by an outward-looking, missional drive. Click To Tweet
The Ransoms had previously co-planted Pillar Church of Jacksonville, North Carolina before moving to Oceanside, California to plant there. About a year later, five military families from different Pillar churches were given orders for Okinawa. The Pillar Church leaders took notice. “Essentially,” Jon said, “we had a core team in place, we just didn’t have a planter.” Jon and Linnea decided that if no other Pillar pastor volunteered, they would step up to lead the church plant in Okinawa.
It was while they lived in Oceanside that Jon connected with Acts 29. He began gathering monthly with local Acts 29 pastors and gained a mentor in Dave Fandey of The Fields Church, who became “an incredible source of encouragement and support as we transitioned to Japan,” Jon said. From the start, the Acts 29 community “has proven to be incredible friends and partners,” Jon said, “encouraging, supporting, and equipping us for gospel work in Okinawa and throughout Japan.” Pillar Church of Okinawa became an Acts 29 church in 2018.
Though Pillar Church has a specific focus on American service members, it’s characterized by an outward-looking, missional drive. “We wanted to turn our focus out and find every possible way to serve the existing Okinawan church—to come alongside her as a sister and do whatever we can to support and encourage,” Jon said.
This missional emphasis has strengthened the relationship between Pillar Church and Okinawan believers, and is igniting a church-planting movement in Okinawa for Okinawans. The Ransoms started Gospel to Okinawa (GTO), “a church-planting catalyst launched by Pillar Church of Okinawa in 2018,” said Jon Simburger. Simburger is the executive director of GTO, and plans to plant a church for Okinawans later this year.
Jon Simburger and his wife, Melissa, had been praying for Japan for years before God opened a door for them to move to Okinawa. In 2016, Jon accepted a position with an international Christian school there and they began attending Pillar Church. “The reason we took that unconventional pathway of joining a church that’s contextualized to the US military to reach Japanese people,” Jon said, “is that we found that Jon and Linnea were a very church planting-minded couple.” Jon and Melissa jumped into life in Okinawa and service in Pillar Church, and three years later, Jon was serving as Pillar’s executive elder and the executive director of Gospel to Okinawa. The multi-pronged impact of different organizations working together—unique in focus but united in gospel-centered mission—is beautifully effective. Click To Tweet
The Advancing Church
“Pillar has been the most nurturing family to us over the past five and a half years as we’ve landed in Japan and launched into ministry to Japanese people,” Jon said. Jon and Melissa are currently going through Acts 29 assessment and have also worked with Redeemer City to City for training and equipping in church planting. They’re aiming to plant a church primarily for Japanese and Okinawan people in the city of Ginowan.
Like the rest of Japan, less than two percent of Okinawans are Christians. Additionally, Okinawa has the highest rate of child poverty and faces the social problems that accompany economic hardship—sex trafficking, single parenting, and lack of educational success.
But the multi-pronged impact of different organizations working together—unique in focus but united in gospel-centered mission—is beautifully effective. As missionally-minded Acts 29 churches seize every opportunity to commend Jesus and love their neighbors, church planting advances in Japan.