Hana Nakagawa grew up in Japan with very little knowledge of God or Christianity. As far as she was concerned, He didn’t exist.
“As a child, I felt God’s presence and I had heard that there was a God who was good and loving,” she said. “But as I grew older, I started thinking about the horrible events occurring in our world. I believed a loving God wouldn’t allow such things to happen, therefore God couldn’t be real.”
Once Hana had convinced herself that God didn’t exist, she began thinking poorly of those who did. “I thought that Christians were crazy and weak,” she confessed.
That changed in 2013 when one of Hana’s best friends converted to Christianity. Hana was shocked—she had thought Christians were only ever born into Christian families. But she could see the positive effects this conversion had upon her friend.
“My friend loved clubbing, drinking and sleeping around,” said Hana. “But after she became Christian, she suddenly stopped doing these things. I wondered how she could change so much but I didn’t want to accept that God could have changed her.”
The next year, Hana went to Iceland as an exchange student and God sent her another Christian friend.
“He invited me to go to his youth group and said they had pizza,” Hana laughs. “So I agreed to go—for the pizza.”
During the meeting, the group began talking about the definition of sin and what it meant to be a sinner.
“But I’m not a sinner,” thought Hana. “I’ve never killed anyone or stolen anything.”
“If you truly accept Jesus, He will change your life,” her friend promised.
Hana was angry with her friend. Who was he to tell her that her life needed changing?
Hana continued to visit churches occasionally when she returned to Japan. But she still struggled to see herself as a sinner and this prevented her from making a decision to follow Jesus.
She next decided to volunteer in a developing country and help teach children in a local school. One day, she heard a little voice speaking to her. “Why are you doing this?”
“So that I can make others happy,” Hana thought. After all, that was what she had been telling her family and friends.
But the voice continued to push. “Why are you really doing this?”
“When I heard this voice, I realised I was doing this all for myself,” said Hana. “I wanted to be a leader so that other people would admire me and tell me that I was a good person. I was embarrassed at how selfish and prideful I really was—this was the day that I realised I was a sinner.”
Even though she now believed she needed a Saviour, Hana didn’t know how to believe in God. In June 2016, she graduated from university and wondered what she should do with her life.
“Every time I went home, my mum asked me what I was planning to do,” said Hana. “But I never had any answers and I became very depressed. I didn’t know what my purpose was or why I was alive. Even though I tried to act happy, I cried every night.”
One night, in desperation, Hana reached out for answers.
“I prayed from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “I asked God, if He really existed, to help me.”
The next morning, Hana had a strong impression that she should attend church. It was a Wednesday but it so happened that the church had a prayer meeting that morning. She asked the members to pray for her.
That afternoon, Hana began looking at university options online and found a course at the University of Sydney that she had been wanting to study. Soon after, she learned she could get a scholarship if she wanted to live in and study in Australia.
“I couldn’t believe how quickly everything was happening,” said Hana. “I went home and found a gift which my Christian friend had given me. It said “‘For I know the plans that I have for you’, says the Lord, ‘they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’ (Jeremiah 29:11)”.
But Hana’s journey wasn’t over. She was living with a non-Christian boyfriend and didn’t want to break up with him. Life was busy and although she occasionally attended a Baptist church, she struggled to go regularly. But with the church’s encouragement, she was baptised just three days before her move to Australia.
She wondered how she would continue her spiritual journey in Australia. Her host family in Australia turned out to be Seventh-day Adventists.
“I knew that Adventists were different. The Baptist church in Japan kept telling me they were a cult,” said Hana. “I started learning more about what Adventists believe. Sabbath was difficult to accept because I didn’t think it mattered what day we worshipped God on.”
Hana began to respect the Adventists she met and began attending an Adventist church. She believed they were genuine and “on fire” for Jesus. Sabbath even became her favorite day of the week. But she wasn’t sure what her future would hold. Once her 10 months of study was complete, she planned to return to Japan and find a job. And she was still hoping to marry her boyfriend.
In November 2017, shortly before Hana planned to leave, she attended the Acts Again summit, an Adventist conference in Wahroonga (NSW). On the last day, the pastor preached about Jesus’ disciples making excuses to not follow Him. By the end of the session, Hana was crying.
“I felt the Holy Spirit was prompting me,” she said. “I had been making excuses not to follow Jesus. Now I wanted to fully surrender.”
As part of this decision, Hana stayed in Australia instead of returning to Japan. She also decided to become an Adventist and undergo Bible worker training. Her choice led to some difficult consequences.
She broke up with her boyfriend in Japan and her Japanese church family were upset to learn of her intentions to become an Adventist.
“If you become an Adventist, you won’t be welcomed back in our church,” her pastor in Japan said. “Not unless you recognise your mistakes.”
“I had lost my church family in Japan, my real family didn’t understand what I was going through and I had lost my boyfriend too,” said Hana. “It felt like I was losing everything I loved. But I was still happy. I had finally committed my heart to Jesus.”
Since then she has attended ARISE Bible School and is now working as a Bible worker in Newcastle. Hana studies the Bible with university students, leads a small group on Friday nights and runs Japanese classes as a means of outreach. She willingly shares her testimony with people she comes across and as she looks back, can see how God led her step by step into a deeper understanding of Him.
“God is good,” Hana says. “Even when I didn’t believe He existed, He already had a plan for my life.”