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Missionary to Tokyo’s homeless dies

SEOUL (BP) — Josh Park, an IMB missionary in Japan known for his zeal in sharing the Gospel with the homeless and anyone he came in contact with, died Friday (June 28) in Seoul after a lingering battle with cancer. He was 61.

Appointed as missionaries to Japan in 1993, Josh and his wife Grace shared their story and ministry with Southern Baptists as part of the 2011 Week of Prayer emphasis on Tokyo’s homeless.

Josh’s heart for the homeless started with a cup of coffee on a cold, wet morning and expanded to training men and women living on the streets to reach their own people for Christ. He partnered with a local Japanese pastor and they started Yoyogi Park sidewalk chapel.

The Korean-born missionary from California spent countless hours in the parks and train stations where most of Tokyo’s estimated 4,000 homeless sleep. He never left home without tracts, some snacks, a Bible and his backpack.

He’d stop to chat with anyone who wanted to interact. That’s when he’d pull out a thermos of hot coffee, some rice balls to eat and convert his backpack to a stool, sitting down to talk bluntly about there being only one God.

He stopped to talk with everyone, giving out his phone number and inviting them to sidewalk church in the different parks.

This simple gesture saved Kiyoshi Sugioka’s life. He met Josh in the park and didn’t really care about his “message” but was polite to the missionary by taking his phone number. Later, when Sugioka contemplated suicide, he reached into his wallet and found Josh’s number. He called it and asked if they could meet.

“He introduced me to God and Christ,” Sugioka recalled. “It was a world I didn’t know. I felt like I was born again.”

Mark and Wendy Hoshizaki, IMB missionaries in Japan, worked with the Parks in reaching the homeless. They said this type of evangelizing was typical of Josh. He wasn’t afraid to challenge traditional beliefs in Japan about multiple gods and he always did it with his trademark smile. He was at his best in one-on-one ministry.

“Josh and I spent a lot of time going around and witnessing to the homeless, and there’s no one quite like Josh. He truly had a gift,” Mark said. “He touched and influenced a lot of people here. He left a great legacy.”

When the Hoshizakis shared on Friday about Josh’s death with those he ministered to, there was shock and sorrow among the homeless community. One man Josh had been training to be an evangelist said he was sad, not just because the missionary had been a great man but because he had so much more to learn from him.

This spirit of evangelism is the image of Josh that will always remain in IMB missionary Carlton Walker’s memory. Even while in the hospital in Korea, Josh witnessed to the man in the bed next to him and prayed with him to receive Christ.

“Most of us best remember Josh as one who equipped Great Commission Christians to effectively reach the Japanese homeless,” Walker said. “Josh could have built a colossal ministry of caring for and feeding the homeless, but he chose instead to focus on the souls of those without earthly homes.”

Josh’s reasoning was that many of the homeless hear a Gospel message when they are fed, but very few hear God’s plan of salvation explained to them personally in a way that they can understand. That became his single focus.

“He was an inspiration to us all in keeping the ‘main’ thing, the main thing,” Walker said. “He will be deeply missed.”

Josh earned a doctor of ministry degree in 2012 from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California. He is survived by his wife and three adult children: Peter, Paul and Sarah, all of California. Funeral services will be 9 a.m. Monday at the Korea University Funeral Home in Seoul.
Susie Rain is a writer living in Southeast Asia. To read more about the ministry of Josh and Grace Parks, click here and here. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Susie Rain