Growing up, Matt Higby had no room for God in his life.
Though he regularly attended church with his believing parents, Christianity was just an outdated list of do’s and don’ts in his mind. He had no interest in establishing a relationship with Jesus nor any ambition to share a gospel he didn’t really believe.
However, the more worldly delights he tasted, the more Matt felt an exhausting void inside. He began to wonder if Jesus might hold some answers after all. A friend suggested he read C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and as he did, one statement grabbed hold of Matt’s heart: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” As he read those words, for the first time in his life, Matt understood the heart of the gospel.
A few months later, he prayed for God to claim him.
As he grew in his affection for Christ, Matt studied the Bible as much as he could. He quickly became convicted by passages like Luke 9:62, which says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” It was clear to him that God was demanding everything, and Matt began to think strongly about what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
Matt’s idea of missionary life was skewed. In his understanding, missionaries were people who do humanitarian initiatives in jungles, get malaria, and have kids who are awkward when they come back to the States. He hoped God would never call him to that life. Then his church was visited by a missionary from Papua New Guinea whose excellent presentation changed Matt’s understanding of global missions and piqued his personal interest.
Looking for a place to begin, Matt researched mission organizations that offered short-term trips, and he found an internship with a team in Sweden. For three months, he interned with a church planting group in Stockholm that reached out to immigrants and refugees. The trip broadened his global perspective and cross-cultural understanding, which furthered his missional heart.
It also planted in his heart the desire to pursue unreached people groups.
Matt had an incredible time preaching the gospel in Stockholm, but for the first time, he wondered if he would be better utilized in a place where there was no church to proclaim the good news. Matt became certain that God was calling him to pursue unreached peoples, though the call would take some time to come to fruition.
Matt’s initial research into opportunities to become a full-time vocational missionary led him to a chance to go to India. At first, things looked great, but God unexpectedly closed that door. Matt was discouraged, and for a time, he put his future on hold while he waited for God to give him direction.
In the meantime, Matt moved to Los Angeles to help his friend with a church plant. He continued to research countries and people groups through the Joshua Project resource, and his days were marked with loads of prayer. It wasn’t until 2011 that God brought to light a country that never before caught Matt’s attention.
In 2011, an earthquake and tsunami decimated hundreds of Japanese cities.
As Matt witnessed the global news report on the crisis in Japan, he wondered about God’s eternal purpose for the tragic event. After that, God began dropping Japan in Matt’s lap everywhere he went. Matt got the hint. He started to research the need for the gospel in Japan, and as he read, he was shocked that he had never considered Japan before. It was a perfect fit for what he wanted to do in ministry.
Matt’s heart for Japan was providentially met with the friendship of Matt and Jen Daniels, who at the time were raising support to go to Japan as Encompass Church Planters. They introduced Matt to Encompass and invited him to join in their vision to see Japan become a sending nation. As Matt prepared to go with the Daniels, he served in the Encompass Japanese Returnee ministry for a few years, which aims to reach visiting Japanese students and professionals in Long Beach, California with the gospel. This ministry equipped Matt for his ministry in Japan in such a meaningful and significant way.
After getting the majority of his support, he bought a one-way ticket to Japan. As Matt looks back on his missional journey, he is amazed at how gracious God has been in his provision and direction. From being unsatisfied with the world’s source of happiness to being energized by a joyous gospel vision for Japan, Matt is a great example of how God fills the hearts of his people and sends them out overflowing with hope in Jesus.
Currently, Matt and his wife Mai are serving alongside the Daniels family in Osaka, Japan.