FUCHU, Japan (BP)–You can’t borrow city hall in Fuchu, just outside Tokyo, to hold a crusade, but ask for a soccer field and provide Christian players, and you’re on.
Evangelical missions organizations like the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, Campus Crusade for Christ, Overseas Missions Fellowship, SEND International worked for months to organize a free soccer clinic and tournament with Ambassadors in Sport, an evangelical soccer team with members from six countries.
On June 15, Ambassadors shared their testimonies, prayed together, presented a Christian witness — and played a good game of soccer.
Fuchu city officials were impressed — so impressed that they offered the large, newly built Asahicho soccer field for free and staffed the event with their own personnel.
“This is good for both of us,” said Bill Walker, executive director of World Cup ministries for the IMB. “We help the city, and the city opens up the people for Christ.”
About 300 young Japanese soccer fans turned up for the clinics, led by Ambassadors. They practiced running drills, kicking goals and playing as a team. Most of them stayed around to watch the tournament between Ambassadors and FC Tokyo, a professional team.
Charles Smoker, a fulltime church planter with SEND, has been waiting a long time for an opportunity like this.
“I’ve always wanted to be involved in sports ministry in Japan. When I heard about World Cup ministry, I thought, ‘Boy, I’d love to do that.’ Baseball’s supposed to be the big thing in Japan, but soccer’s already surpassed it.”
Smoker worked closely with other missionaries to bring teams like Ambassadors to Japan where athletes could share their testimonies in a natural setting.
Japanese may not flock to church services, but they will come to soccer games.
Yumi Kenmochi, a Japanese Christian who facilitates Christian soccer ministry teams in Japan, is proof.
“I became a Christian because of Christian soccer players,” she said. “Believing in Jesus was very hard for me. I had never heard the gospel before, and my friends and family didn’t believe.”
But when an American evangelistic soccer team called “Seahorses” came to her university in Japan, soccer-loving Kenmochi paid attention.
“The Seahorses came every year to my university, and the first year I really enjoyed being with them, although I wasn’t interested in Jesus,” Kenmochi said. “When they shared about Jesus the second year, I was really touched. I wondered why they looked so happy and joyful every day, and I thought it was because Jesus lived in them.”
Kenmochi continued to seek the Lord and became a Christian not long after. Now she wants to help other Japanese hear that same good news in a way they can understand: through soccer.
“I think there are many people who are like I was before — people who cannot be reached except through soccer, especially young men. Soccer players can share their heart and life,” she said. “There are many tools to reach the lost — art, music, English conversation — but some people’s hearts can only be opened through soccer. It makes them feel united.”
Christian soccer players also present a non-verbal witness, Kenmochi said.
“Non-Christians can tell the difference between a Christian and non-Christian team,” she said. “We can tell they are Christians by their smile. I heard one of the [opposing] players say, ‘Their smiles touch my heart.’ [Christian players] have more joy when they play. There’s a difference from the bottom of their hearts. They encourage each other and build each other up.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo tile: BREATHING A PRAYER.