Peter O’Neill has served as an American missionary in Asia for more than three decades. In the early 1980s, Peter lived and taught at a university in Beijing and helped bring the Gospel to Communist China. For the past 23 years, he and his wife, Atsuko, have served in a Japanese community about two hours south of Tokyo in the foothills near Mount Fuji.
Peter and Atsuko are quite well known in the area. When their four children, who now range in age from 19 to 30, were younger, the family performed music as part of their ministry. They participated in many cultural events and were guests on literally hundreds of TV shows.
The O’Neill’s run a small Christian Hope Center for their local community of 160,000, and Peter serves as pastor of a public chapel in the town of Hiratsuka, which is about an hour drive from his home in the mountains. “We’ve done about 10,000 ceremonies there with over a million folks in attendance,” says Peter of this outreach ministry to non-Christian Japanese.
Peter says that “home” is wherever he can be of service. He was born in the Washington D.C. area, and when his father, an admiral in the U.S. Navy, retired, Peter’s family moved to San Antonio, Texas. “God called me to missionary work in 1975,” he says, “and I spent seven years in Mexico helping with different missions there.”
Peter says he discovered Outdoor Nativity Store after doing some online research. “Every year we have put up a manger scene wherever we’ve lived,” says Peter. “Often they were homemade and painted on plywood – heavy and hard to manage. As the years have rolled by, the process of building and caring for the manger scene has become more than I could easily handle.”
He says he was drawn to Outdoor Nativity Store founder Norb Huber’s desire to share his faith, and Peter bought his first outdoor nativity scene from the family-owned Christian company in 2014.
“That manger scene, unlike our many wooden productions in years gone by, is still in great shape,” says Peter. “I’m not sure when we will need to get a new one, as it looks as good as the day we got it.”
Peter says that his nativity scene, which he puts up in November and takes down after New Year’s, attracts much interest – both positive and negative – in his community. “It’s a huge chance to tell the true story of Jesus, why He came, how He lived and died to save us all,” he explains.
“We have had crowds come and see it and gather around the front of the house – just fascinated. Campers and climbers come by on their way up the mountain behind our house stop to take pictures. It is, for two months, the talk of our little town.”
“In a world that is increasingly materialistic – no place more so than Japan – the manger scene cuts through all the glitz and glitter to reality. It is the simplest but most effective tool possible to say, ‘Hey, this is the real meaning of Christmas.’”
However, not all reactions are positive to the O’Neill family’s outdoor nativity scene.
“On the negative side, evil folks do everything they can to fight against it,” he admits. “They forced the landlord to cut down the Christmas trees we planted that hedge the manger scene. They’ve broken the lights that illuminate it. Seems like they’ve just been scared to actually touch the scene itself fearing God would smote them down (no joke).”
However, the O’Neill family has not missed a year without displaying this tangible representation of God’s love. “We just keep putting it up and plug along doing what we can,” Peter says.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to share His love, light and hope to this dark and needy land. The outdoor nativity scene is one of our greatest joys.”