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Japanese Baptists, IMB workers reach out to Japanese at Olympics

WINDSOR, Australia (BP)–Kickboxing champ “Bazooka” Kishi Nami, tennis great Michael Chang, Micki McKenzie, Arthur Hollands — they’re all athletes Japanese revere.

And they’re all aiming for a higher prize than gold medals: their Savior, Jesus Christ.

So are 11 members of Tokyo Baptist Church, who have spent the past week in Sydney, Australia, sharing the gospel with visitors to the Olympics — primarily hard-to-reach Japanese.

The volunteers, at the Olympics with the outreach ministry “Quest Australia,” handed out tracts and special Japanese-English New Testaments called “Towards the Goal.” The New Testaments, formatted especially for the Olympics, include the Christian testimonies of the four world-class athletes Japanese recognize. With Japan’s evangelical population at less than 1 percent, there is much work to be done. Overwhelmingly Buddhist and Shinto, the Japanese boast a higher standard (and cost) of living than most countries — and one of the highest suicide rates as well.

Why? Because they need Jesus, say the volunteers from Tokyo Baptist Church. And at the Olympics, with people from all over the world gathered to meet, celebrate and talk, these Japanese Baptists are ready to share the Savior.

The volunteers are staying, along with more than 500 other internationals, at Windsor District Baptist Church’s “Tent City” — a housing facility designed and built by Australian Baptists for Olympic volunteers. The Tent City is located about an hour’s drive from downtown Sydney.

“This is a great way to evangelize with the different nationalities here [for the Olympics] and living in Australia,” said volunteer Ferdinand Catibay, a Filipino member at the Tokyo church.

But it hasn’t been easy:

“When we first came, we were disillusioned because of the many restrictions on what you can do. But then we remembered [the apostle] Paul at Philippi and how they tried to keep him from preaching — but so many came to Christ. Likewise, if the Lord called us to be here, we have to do it. He will lead us and tell us where to go and how to approach people.”

Catibay has seen many people, Japanese and others, come to Christ in Sydney — children, Hindus, entire families.

Kenji Miwa, a member of Gideons International in Tokyo, came to Sydney because of his burden for the lost after finding freedom in Christ years ago. During World War II, an American soldier gave Miwa a Japanese Bible, and he invited Jesus into his heart.

“God gives us good things,” he said. “Even in the middle of something as terrible as war, he still finds a way.”

The volunteers sang and preached at a Japanese-English church sponsored by Northside Baptist Church in North Sydney. The church is led by Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary Tony Woods. He and his wife, Marsha, served in Japan 20 years before transferring to Australia.

“We loved Japan,” Woods said. “But we also found that Japanese are seven times more likely to accept Christ outside of Japan than those inside, mainly because of factors like culture and spiritism.”

When they saw the potential and growth in Australian Japanese churches, the Woodses were intrigued. “We had to decide: Are we called to the Japanese, or to Japan?” he said. Their decision: the Japanese.

Two years later, the Woodses are witnessing growth among the normally resistant Japanese in north Sydney and elsewhere in Australia. “Our idea is to reach Japanese communities all over Australia and eventually around the world,” he said.

Like “Bazooka” Kishi Nami, the Japanese Baptists long to see their people know the truth he proclaimed as All-Japan welterweight champion in 1972: “God is the only champion, and his Son, Jesus Christ, can save you from sin.”

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  • Jenny Rogers