Japan Trip Report

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I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
— Romans 1 v 16

At the beginning of the year, we felt God calling us to go to Japan, connect with missionaries, share the gospel and see what God was doing over there.

The first thing we did was contact our friend Galactus Jack (UK DJ/Evangelist) who goes out to Japan every year to preach the gospel and perform EDM music. Ben invited us to join him on his next Japan trip as a supporting artist – which gave us an opportunity to meet various ministries out there.

For us the aim of the trip was to get to know ministries out there, encourage young people, preach the gospel where we could and see how Rivers & Robots could potentially go over as a band in the coming years. Throughout our time there we met some of the most incredible musicians, artists, film makers, dancers, missionaries and pastors, all passionate to see a generation come to know Jesus. It was a truly amazing place with beautiful people.

We played at several events with Ben in the 8 days, and then stayed in Tokyo for another 5 days to connect with more missionaries and worship leaders, meanwhile Ben visited Okinawa to perform at a few more outreach events. Over the course of the trip, 85 young people responded to the gospel, some for the first time and some making re-commitments. We also got to pray with several young people and missionaries serving in Japan.

The Need Is Great In Japan

Everywhere we travelled we met people who knew nothing about Jesus, the cross and salvation. For some, their only knowledge of christianity was hearing about Christmas, but many still didn't know the reason for celebrating it! It was fascinating to speak to christians in Japan about their journey of faith, and to hear some of the things that were difficult to grasp at first.

Japan has one of the smallest Christian populations in the world with less than 1% of the population believing in Jesus, and many of the remaining 99% (125 million people!) will have heard nothing about Jesus and the gospel at all. That makes Japan the 2nd most unreached nation (by population).

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“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
— Romans 10 v 14

You can see the effects of this playing out in so many ways. Japan is ranked one of the top 30 richest countries in the world, and has one of the lowest crime rates; but, at the same time, Japan has one of the highest rates of depression and suicide with over 25,000 people choosing to take their own lives every year.

There is also a very visible culture of isolation and loneliness with many young people lacking hope and purpose in life. For many, escapism seems to be the best way out – instead of seeking out meaningful relationships, many instead turn to alcohol, gambling, pornography and video games as a way of escape.

In 1670 Blaise Pascal the French philosopher wrote about a God-shaped vacuum in every heart when he said:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”
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The fact is, we have such an amazing hope in Jesus. The message of the gospel is one of forgiveness from the shame of sin and a new life in Him – one full of freedom, peace, fulfilment and lasting joy in relationship with our Creator God!

“And He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ's ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!'” - 2 Corinthians 5 v 19-20

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We believe that God has placed His spotlight on this nation and we sense He is about to move in powerful way. Japan is ripe for a mighty outpouring of God's Spirit and we sense God is about to do something incredible with the young people over there! Could it be that as we pray and seek the face of God, we will see a whole nation turn to Jesus? There is power in the gospel to take the most desperate of people, rescue, restore and redeem them and when Jesus is exalted and lifted high over a nation everything changes!

Arriving back home it definitely feels like this is only the beginning of our journey with the nation of Japan and we look forward to all that God is going to do as we continue to follow where He is leading us. We would encourage you to watch the VLOG series we made about the trip below, and pray for this amazing nation. Who knows maybe God will lay this place on your heart too!

What Are You Looking At?

I've been thinking a lot about what we give our time and attention to recently. There have been many discussions around the topic of social media, and the issue of smartphone addiction. It's something I'm really interested in, as you might have noticed with some of the Set Sail videos about why it's a good idea to buy an alarm clock, why I decided to quit social media for a month, or why it's important to make time for meditating on scriptures.

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Most recently, I watched a fascinating talk by Tristan Harris, who was a design ethicist at Google. He spoke about the ways tech companies research the human brain to figure out ways to keep you on their app or website for as long as possible. Because they know the most profitable thing is to keep people using their service. Our time is probably our most valuable resource. In a world where everything is fighting for our attention, it's important to be aware of what we're giving our time to.

It was this idea that inspired these collages. I wanted to create some surreal landscapes that ask the question, what are you looking at? Whether it's a bunch of people looking out of frame to something we can't see, and missing what's behind them, or people looking at something curious and abstract. The point is to make us think about what we're giving our attention to. Are we so lost in our phones that we don't see the beauty around us? Let's learn to be present. Let's take control of our time and choose how we want to use it, and what we want to look at, rather than having that choice made for us.

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
— Psalm 119:37

Shepherd Of My Soul hits 1 million views!

Today, the Rivers & Robots song Shepherd Of My Soul hit 1 million views on YouTube! Of course, this is just a number, but it's also really exciting to us because it shows what an amazing platform the internet is to be able to share this kind of thing.

It's what we're all about at Set Sail - making art about God, and sharing it with the world. Throughout history, missionaries have travelled the world, making God known to people around the globe. Today, we live in a world that's more globally connected than ever, and in a generation where the language of art is one of the most powerful and influential. Culture is shaped, on a worldwide scale, through our songs, our films, and our artistic expressions that carry a message.

At Set Sail, we see ourselves as missionaries on that platform. We want to speak the language of art well, aiming to create great art that's all about God, whether it's music, video, design or another artistic expression. And Shepherd Of My Soul is a perfect example of that. It's a musical representation of Psalm 23, with a lyric video we edited out of clips of beautiful scenery from around the Earth. And we love that the message of Psalm 23 has been heard through YouTube, in 184 nations! But more than numbers, it's the individual stories we hear from people's comments which really blow us away, and encourage us to keep going.

"I'm going through a tough season... I believe God is molding me for a great plan he wants to accomplish. I have been listening this song almost daily. Twice, if not three times over sometimes with strength and courage and sometimes in absolute tears... He will and will always be the Shepherd of my soul."

"I tried to sing this, and couldn't because I had to cry. I'm learning about Christ more and more, day after day, prayerfully. And these lyrics are so perfect for a prayer."

Watch the video below.

Introducing: The Seasons Project

I love writing songs. Taking words, melodies, rhythms and bringing them all together is one of my favourite things. When writing songs for a specific project, I often take a scattered approach to writing and end up writing more songs than needed. This happened during the writing of our Rivers & Robots album, The Eternal Son, I was left with many songs that didn't fit on that project, either musically or lyrically. I ended up recording some of those very simply and putting them out as an EP called By The Streams.

Back when I first started Rivers & Robots, I really enjoyed the simplicity of coming up with an idea, recording it on my laptop and then releasing it straight away. I didn't know any other way of doing songs really, and as the band has grown I've learnt the lengthier, but often more rewarding process of going through the stages of demos, rehearsing with a band, recording each part in a studio, mixing and mastering. Since becoming a band in 2012, our subsequent albums such as All Things New and The Eternal Son have been a lengthier process, and songs go through a lot of behind the scenes work before making it onto an album. It's this process that often refines the song and makes it better than it was previously. And I think our later albums have been a real step up in quality for that reason.

But there's still a part of me that misses the spontaneity of capturing that first idea and spark, the first demo, and sharing that. This year, as we're between albums with Rivers & Robots, and still in the transition period of trying out drummers and touring, I wanted to have a creative outlet for the songs I was writing this year. And a return to the simplicity of just sitting at home, writing a song and then releasing it. I've been trying to stretch myself to think outside the usual boundaries of the genres I feel comfortable writing in, and I've been trying out various styles. Presenting all of these songs at once would feel so varied it would probably be confusing, so I came up with the idea of the seasons project.

I'm aiming to write and release four EPs this year, based on the four seasons. Each one done in a different style. The first of those EPs, Winter, was released just a couple of weeks ago. The theme of that one was to record something 'stripped back', with very few layers and effects. The majority of the EP is acoustic, with some electronic touches here and there.

 
 

I've started work on the Spring EP now. Spring is a time when things come into bloom, things brighten up. It's a beautiful season. And I want to reflect the beauty of the season with rich, lush arrangements. I'm excited to start recording these tracks.

Have a listen to Winter on the links below!

- Jonathan

Gather relaunch in a new venue

We've been running our Gather worship nights for a couple of years now. The aim was to do 'creative worship in creative places'. We started in living rooms with small, cosy nights of worship and then last year we moved into club venues around the city. We used different venues every month, including Manchester Academy, Gullivers, Dulcimer, Creation Cafe, The Anchor, Luther King House and more.

This year, we wanted to make the evenings a little more consistent. Having a different venue and artist every month meant that every event looked different, which was part of the plan, but it also felt difficult to build a regular rhythm and community around it.

This year, we're excited to be partnering with Nexus Art Cafe, who have provided their venue as our regular event space on the last Thursday of every month. We'll still be getting different artists in throughout the year, but we hope to create a place where people can come every month, hang out, meet new friends, and worship together. We had our first event in January which was great. And we'll be hosting the second one on February 23rd. These monthly events are free, so you're more than welcome to join us if you're in Manchester!

All the details can be found on our website: herewegather.com

Still Volume 1 Released

The instrumental album we've been working for the last few months has now been released! We've really enjoyed the process of arranging some of our favourite worship songs as instrumentals in our own Rivers & Robots style.

On Tuesday we did a launch event here in Manchester, at the Anchor Coffee House, where we showed a 15 minute version of the album and did a livestream Q&A, taking questions from YouTube about the process of making the album. You can watch that whole event here.

 
 

We also filmed some behind the scenes of that launch event for episode 21 of the Set Sail vlog, which you can watch below too.

 
 

After a successful launch night, the album then came out on Friday, and has received great feedback from fans and critics.