Juji Nakada first preached about Israel’s restoration at a 1931 camp meeting held on Japan’s northern coast at Matsushima. For three days he preached on God’s promises to Israel and implored Japanese believers to pray for the restoration of Israel and the salvation of the Jewish people. In 1932 Juji Nakada published his book, “Japan and the Bible.” Here Nakada outlined from the scriptures that Japan had a biblical mandate to “pray for God’s chosen people with all our might.” He wrote, “We should not read books that defame the Jewish people (The Elders of the Protocols of Zion was a popular book in Nakada’s day) nor should we despise and ostracize them.” He explained that the then current stream of Jewish immigration back to Israel was “to keep God’s promise to Abraham and to prove the certainty of the prophesy.”
Nakada was deeply influenced by William E. Blackstone’s book entitled, “Jesus is Coming.” First published in 1878, “Jesus is Coming” was one of the first popular books to describe a literal, pre-millennial return of the Messiah. W. E. Blackstone wrote:
Israel Is to Be Restored. But, perhaps, you say: ‘I don’t believe the Israelites are to be restored to Canaan, and Jerusalem rebuilt.’ Dear reader! Have you read the declarations of God’s word about it … Divest yourself of prejudice and preconceived notions, and let the Holy Spirit show you, from His word, the glorious future of God’s chosen people, ‘who are beloved’ (Romans 11:28), and dear unto Him as ‘the apple of His eye’ (Zechariah 2:8).
Seventy years of prayer for Israel
Reverend Nakada’s preaching and writings had a lasting impression on many young Japanese believers and the future leaders he taught at the biblical seminary. Out of that initial camp meeting at Matsushima came a steady stream of prayer for Israel that has gone on uninterrupted for over 70 years. This is a remarkable testimony and a unique phenomenon within the Body of Messiah. Believers from a nation so far removed from Israel by culture and geography took hold of intercession for Israel even before the state was re-established. Groups from different denominations (often unbeknownst to each other) have been carrying on this seventy year old prayer vigil when most of them had no personal connections to Israel or the Jewish people.
One of Juji Nakada’s disciples, Tasaburo Muraoka had been faithfully carrying on the prayer for Israel as the founding pastor of Bible Study Fellowship. He in turn passed on his love for Israel to his son, Takeo who took on his father’s mantle as pastor of the fellowship. Just over twenty years ago Pastor Takeo Muraoka began reaching out to Messianic believers in Israel so as to deepen the prayer connection. In 2000, Pastor Muraoka was introduced to Eitan Shishkoff. Their initial meeting has developed into a bond of mutual respect and admiration between Bible Study Fellowship and Tents of Mercy.
A Bridge between Zion and Japan
Bible Study Fellowship’s initial connection with Messianic believers in Israel soon led to the establishment of a new ministry, “A Bridge between Zion and Japan” (BZJ). In the July of 2006, I had an opportunity to meet with Naoji and Shoji Ishiida of BZJ in Tel Aviv. These two brothers were travelling throughout Israel to strengthen ties with Messianic friends they had met over the years. Naoji recalled that their ministry started out as an e-mail bulletin sent out to Japanese believers informing them of Israeli current events. The e-mail bulletin evolved into a web bulletin and print magazine which also gave reports on Messianic ministries and specific prayer points for Israel.
Connecting with Israeli believers brought new focus to the Israel prayer movement in Japan. Naoji explained, “The early saints had no connection to Israeli believers. Their connection was a “spiritual” connection, solely based on the Scriptures. There was no understanding of what life in Israel was like or what God was doing among believers there. But now God is building a relationship! The most important thing is to have a real connection with people. This creates motivation and specific prayer and helps to keep us from error. I travel to different churches in Japan who have been praying for Israel. I tell them, ‘Thank you for your long years of prayer. I am here to tell you that your prayers are being answered. I am a witness to the fruit of your prayers.” Naoji commented that people are often surprised that their prayers have already had tangible results, but are also encouraged to pray all the more.
Shoji Ishiida added: “Believers in Japan have seen that they are not isolated but are part of a bigger picture. This reinforces that we are one Body. It is not that we are praying and working for Israel but that Messiah is working through His Body. He is the One who promised He would restore Israel to Himself.”
For Zion’s Sake
“A Bridge between Zion and Japan” has produced a DVD, For Zion’s Sake, chronicling the Japanese prayer for Israel movement. The DVD records interviews with precious saints now in their 80’s and 90’s giving testimony of how God burdened their hearts even before Israel’s rebirth to pray for her. After their decades long prayer vigil, the experience of meeting Jewish believers from Israel was an overwhelming comfort for these elderly Japanese intercessors. Only heaven knows the eternal fruit produced by their faithful sowing and watering in prayer.
Naoji told me that For Zion’s Sake has made a significant impact among Japanese believers. It has helped to unify believers from different churches who were not aware that others had also been persevering in prayer for Israel. Juji Nakada’s influence has spread out far and wide. The film has also demonstrated the necessity of persistence. Japanese believers have seen how their prayers from fifty and sixty years ago are now bearing fruit. However, Naoji reminded me that even 70 years pales in comparison to the 100’s of years Jewish people have been praying for their redemption.
“A Bridge between Zion and Japan” is moving forward to strengthen ties between believers in Israel and Japan. Japanese believers are coming to Israel to connect with local congregations in the land and Messianic leaders are traveling to Japan to encourage Japanese brothers and sisters with the testimony of Israel’s physical and spiritual resurrection.
Naoji left me with a powerful illustration of the importance of our unity and partnership as co-heirs in the Messiah. “When heirs do not agree they cannot receive the benefits of the inheritance. The will can be in order and the inheritance bountiful but if there is disagreement between the heirs the inheritance cannot be actualized. So too it is necessary that Jews and Gentiles embrace our unity in the Messiah to receive the full blessing of our inheritance.”
Worldwide Stirring toward Israel
All across the globe the Body of Messiah is being stirred to consider the centrality of Israel to God’s purposes for the whole world. Denominations and churches that only 10-20 years ago had little regard for Israel are now just starting to develop an interest and passion to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
God is using Japanese believers and their 70 year prayer vigil as an example to us all to embrace each other as co-heirs and partners in God’s kingdom. Yeshua told us that He had “other sheep that were not of this pen.” He promised they too would hear His voice and “there will be one flock and one shepherd.” Please join with us in prayer that God will continue to strengthen this bridge between Zion and Japan and all the nations He has formed for His glory.