From Buddhist Priest to Believer in Yeshua

translated by Daniel Eichhorst

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  John14:6 (NASB)

I grew up near Horyuji Temple in Nara Prefecture whose buildings have had a huge influence on religious architecture and whose pagoda is the oldest wooden building in the world. This historic environment influenced me. I would walk around the ancient tombs and remains from the Asuka era and visit old temples with my classmates.

After high school I entered a Buddhist university in Osaka. When the entrance ceremony began with Buddhist sutras I thought I was at a funeral service. What kind of university had I entered! However, as all of us incoming students recited sutras I began to think that Buddhism is good. And over the course of 4 years of study this feeling got stronger.

My university degree got me a job at a major travel agency. I liked my job and was praised for my good sales results. Unfortunately, my lifestyle was a mess. Almost every night I went out drinking with colleagues. Then, I made the tragic mistake of driving after a night of drinking and caused a major accident. I knew I needed to reform myself and decided to change my job and immerse myself in Buddhism. In 2000 I entered the Buddhist priesthood and received a Buddhist name. I thought I could achieve salvation through this.

01 In Kenya

I was taught that while the world has many religions and many gods all of them are incarnated in Buddha and while there is only one pinnacle that is the truth there are many ways to get to it. I thought that the exclusionism of monotheistic religions is wrong and that Japanese-style Buddhism should take the lead and promote religious reconciliation and world peace. This motivated me to participate in a Religions for Peace conference, take part in a medical team for AIDS treatment in Kenya and visit Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Ethiopia. Then, just when I thought all was going smoothly my company went under and I was out of a job. I was desperate and this led me to become what I am today, an independent business consultant.

My new career engaged me with various people and in February 2007 I found myself being pestered by a Christian business associate to attend a church service until I finally gave in and went with him. The pastor’s message was that the only way to salvation is by believing in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He explained that almost all Japanese think that there is only one truth but more than one way to achieve it. He declared that this is absolutely wrong.

For me this was unacceptable! I wanted to shout out, “No! What a terrible message! You can’t say that!” After the service several people asked me what I thought about the message. I couldn’t help but argue with them. This brought out an elder of the church and we engaged in a full-fledged verbal battle that ended in a stalemate with me insisting insisted that:

  • There is only one truth but there are many ways to get there.
  • A religion is like a dialect and the one and only god (Buddha) appears differently to correspond with different countries, different cultures, and different ethnicities.
  • Japan was established as a nation based on the laws and ordinance system during the 6th and 7th centuries when Prince Shotoku lived. Since then, Japanese people have been valuing Wa (harmony) and accordingly respect multiple religions, such as Shinto and Buddhist deities.

02 Bible Story Written for JapaneseI was frustrated that those Christians didn’t understand that we are seeking the same truth. But, to get them to understand I needed to know what is in their Bible. For this purpose, I read the 8 volume Nihonjin ni Okuru Seisho Monogatari (The Bible Story Written for Japanese) by Pastor Kenichi Nakagawa of Harvest Time Ministries. I had previously read a number of books related to Christianity by Shusaku Endo, Ayako Sono, and Ayako Miura. However, I needed more than piecemeal knowledge to argue successfully with those Christians. Pastor Nakagawa’s books presented the Bible story like a history textbook. After reading his books I concluded that 1) Jesus Christ had been an actual person, 2) Jesus’ crucifixion was historically true, and 3) I needed to meet Pastor Nakagawa.

03 Pastor Nakagawa and Futoru NagayamaIn April 2007 I met Pastor Nakagawa for the first time and from September I started going to Harvest Time Ministries’ weekly service in Tokyo in order to find the legitimacy of Buddhism in the Bible. At the same time, I decided to review what Buddha actually taught and what the original fundamental principle of Buddhism really was. It bothered me that Buddhism taught two opposite things: justification by faith and justification by one’s own effort.

The Buddha’s last words to his disciples were, “Everything is fleeting. Complete your training diligently.” The Buddha wanted his disciples to always pursue the truth, without falling into something like idol-worship. As my understanding grew, I began to think that Buddhism is not really a religion but a philosophy. However, his disciples did not follow their master’s faith but let his ashes be divided and shared with numerous followers. These ashes are said to now be in more than 80,000 temples around the world.

I assume that when Buddhism first came to Japan in AD 538 from China via the Korean Peninsula, it had already been influenced by Christianity, Hinduism and some other religions. However, no matter how much I tried to correlate the roots of Japanese Buddhism with the Christianity of ancient times, it didn’t lead me to have a personal relationship with God in terms of salvation. This was because I did not yet understand the true significance of the crucifixion.

There came a point where I stopped seeking for salvation in Buddhism. In contrast, I was continually studying the Bible from a logical and scientific point of view. Then, one experience was life-changing. In April 2008, I attended a Harvest Time Ministries seminar where Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum taught on “God’s Program for the Salvation of Mankind – Dispensationalism and the Eight Covenants of the Bible.” He introduced how to study the Bible from the Jewish perspective. This was a breakthrough that enabled me to comprehend the essence of the Bible. When I then read the entire Bible from this perspective I was completely convinced that it was God’s revelation and historical record in the salvation of mankind. I was like a dry sponge soaking up water as I felt myself changing and being changed from within. I was amazed at the feeling that God’s salvation program was for Futoru Nagayama, too.

The first time I visited a church I stubbornly rejected the message of John 14:6 where Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Today, when I hear that message I shout “Amen!”

It is impossible to see the true Father in a philosophical way. That approach results in people going the wrong direction and creating an idol. The Father of the Trinity, whom we believe in, was not made by us, but is the Father who made mankind and even Buddha. For much of my life I was going in the wrong direction. “Father, I have now come back to be with you. I am sorry for having gone astray.” I recall these words of my testimony on the day I was baptized as if it were yesterday. To God be the glory.

Harvest Time Ministries Holy Land Study Tour
Harvest Time Ministries Holy Land Study Tour

06 Doing a baptism

Translator: Daniel Eichhorst has lived in Japan for 35 years. He is currently teaching English at Tohoku University in Sendai. In 2015 he and his wife were baptized by Pastor Nakagawa and they are active in Harvest Time Ministries. They traveled to Israel with Pastor Nakagawa on the Harvest Time Ministries Holy Land Tour in 2016.

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Futoru Nagayama is a business consultant and chaplain in Harvest Time Ministries. His consulting focuses on communication training and management know-how and methods. As a chaplain he is active with the Bible forum movement in Harvest Time Ministries and has expertise in teaching about death and dying. With his passion for studying the Bible from the Jewish perspective he has participated in leading 16 groups of Japanese to tour Israel.