Joe Handley




Stories from Joe Handley, president of Asian Access


Pastor Akira Sato You may remember Pastor Akira Sato, the pastor from Fukushima First Baptist Church. He was the focal point for many of the stories coming out of Japan following the triple disaster on 3.11. His now famous story of the Exodus Church can be found nearly anywhere online. And, it’s a story full of life and leadership lessons.

Yesterday I heard him preach as a guest speaker at Kurume Christ Church in Higashikurume, Tokyo. Pastor Sato asked this question:

“Are your problems bigger than your God?”

For a man who lived with virtually one set of clothes and from shelter to shelter for over a year because his area had to be evacuated due to the nuclear fallout, this is quite a question! 

He shared his own sense of call back to what he called the ‘wasteland’ of Fukushima. If I heard him correctly more than 70,000 homes had to be evacuated, most of whom could never return. I’ve been to Fukushima, and he’s right; it’s a ghost town! All the real estate agents told him, "You don’t want to go back there!"

And yet, God had called Pastor Sato to return and reach out to those who remained and who had been displaced. He often asked himself “Why?” but deep down he knew that God had called him there. He and all his church members lost everything. In essence, they could never return to their church or to their homes.

He realized that in order to follow God’s call, he would have to forget the past and focus on the future. Isaiah 43:18-21 is something he has meditated on again and again. And, here you and I have important life lessons to learn. We all go through difficult seasons but God calls us to move forward. We learn from the past but we move on through renewing ourselves in Christ.

The irony of this passage is this: Out of the wasteland comes the promised land.


Pastor Sato lost many things, one of which were the people in his church. A large percentage never returned. Yet, when I was there a few years ago, the church was already full. They recovered the numbers through new people coming to Christ and being baptized. The church has brought hope to this devastated community.

Pastor Sato reflected:

"I doubt the original founding pastor, a missionary, would have ever dreamed of seeing so much fruit."

In the midst of the wasteland of Fukushima, God is bringing a season of hope! And, Pastor Sato is now experiencing what he calls the Promised Land. If he had never ventured into the wasteland, he wouldn’t be seeing the fruit that God had prepared in advance for him.

He concluded by saying “An unimaginable future awaits those who walk through the wasteland!”


Reflect and pray through Isaiah 43:18-21 today. How is God encouraging you? Are your problems bigger than your God?

I’d love to hear from you. Do share!

Joe Handley

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