As several college missions interns modeled how to lead into a Gospel presentation while offering free English lessons, a Japanese woman stopped and watched. One of the MKs began talking to her and, within 30 minutes, the woman gave her life to Christ.
"I started talking about Jesus, and she immediately said she had done too many bad things," said Barbara Coffman*, 15, who lives in the Philippines. "She said she had a problem with drugs. Then she pulled back her sleeves where her arms had all these marks where she'd cut herself. And she lowered her head and said she just wanted to die."
Coffman and the Japanese woman were both crying by this point.
"I just explained that everyone sins, and because of sin we have separation from God, and this causes hopelessness and depression," Coffman recounted. "But there is no sin too great that God can't forgive. She said she believed in Jesus, and then she asked forgiveness for her sins and read the prayer I had . And she told the interns that she prayed from the heart in Japanese."
And this was only the first day of Expedition 2009, a weeklong missions experience for 15- and 16-year-old MKs whose families serve in southern Asia through the International Mission Board. This was the fourth Expedition since the missions program began in the summer of 2003.
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR MKS
"This is an opportunity for high schoolers to be involved in the main thing outside of their comfort zone and separate from their parents," said Gillian Laswell*, a third-culture kid (TCK) consultant serving in Asia who helped organize the trip. "The unique factor unlike a church youth group trip is that eight countries are represented on the team."
Like an American youth group preparing for a mission trip, the 27 rising high school sophomores and juniors raised their own funds to go to Tokyo and underwent an application process. In addition, they had homework assignments to learn about Japan and its culture. Each family also had to arrange air transportation to Japan.
Tokyo, capital of one of the world's wealthiest countries, has a population of 33 million who are overwhelmingly Shinto and Buddhist; less than 1 percent of the population profess to be Christian. These statistics are similar to the countries where some of the MKs live -- with one difference: "Japan is not a closed country," said Bill Botswick*, who serves as projects coordinator and volunteer mobilizer for the IMB Tokyo organization. "You can feel free to share Jesus all you want."
Ben Glass*, an MK from Thailand, said a mission trip to a country like Japan "sounded kind of strange because there's this whole view of going to some place that is less well off."
"But I think that's probably the wrong mindset to have, because God can use me anywhere. All I have to do is just let Him take my every breath and every heartbeat and be prepared for whatever He throws my way," Glass said.
In five-minute English, the teenagers would offer a free English lesson sponsored by IMB Tokyo. Using written questions, the teenager and the Japanese person would discuss favorite films and music, and then favorite books, so that the student could begin talking about the Bible and sharing a testimony and Gospel presentation. Then the teen would offer a Gospel of John and an order form for a Japanese DVD that goes through the Bible in a series of stories.
Wanda Harris* said she used her knowledge of Buddhism from growing up as an MK in Thailand to talk to one Japanese man.
"I told one man the Buddhist parable that says sin is sin and good is good, and good cannot erase sin," Harris said. "So Buddhists make merit to the Buddha to erase sin, but even Buddha teaches that it won't help them. It was really hard for this man to respond to that."
PRESSURE TO CONFORM
Though missionaries have been in Japan for more than a century, Christians have found the Japanese resistant because of a cultural pressure toward conformity.
"At the same time, there is an absence of standards," said Gladys Warren*, an IMB missionary journeyman. "People here really don't have moral standards outside what the group says is OK."
Sandy Tockey*, whose family serves in Southeast Asia, said she met two girls, one of whom previously had attended a Bible study.
"She stopped going because she didn't think it was really important," Tockey said. "We started talking about heaven and hell, and she began to consider about Jesus being able to save her. But her friend said it wasn't important, so they decided to leave. I really felt sad because she was interested and her friend wasn't."
Many of the students said they sensed the Japanese deal with depression and purposelessness despite living in an affluent society. Theo Radford*, whose family serves in southern Asia, said he noticed this even in advertisements.
"I saw a commercial that said if you drink Coke, you will be happy," Radford said. "Coke is trying to reach them by making everybody look happy on their advertisements, and we're trying to reach them with the Gospel so we can give them the joy of Christ. Depression is a big thing in the lives of the Japanese."
Tim Sorenson*, an MK from Thailand, said one Japanese man confirmed this.
"The tract asks if you have ever felt saddened and depressed," Sorenson said. "And the guy I was talking to said, 'Yeah. Who doesn't?' It was kind of sad and eye-opening for me. For them, who hasn't?"
THE POWER OF PRAYER
Jerry Jones*, whose family serves in Southeast Asia, said he gained a deeper understanding of the power of prayer in Tokyo.
"Some of our team members would be doing five-minute English and not many people would be stopping for them," Jones said. "And then we'd go prayerwalking and by the time we got back to that area, everyone would have someone to talk to."
Along with offering free English lessons, the teenagers prayerwalked around the city and even prayed on the grounds of the Buddhist Asakasa Temple.
"We went into the temple, and it was so apparent that God was not in that place, and we both started feeling sick," said Janie Carlos*, whose family serves in Southeast Asia. "We felt a battle going on."
Carlos and some of the other students said they prayed and read Scripture while walking around the temple.
"We started reading Psalms," Barbara Coffman said. "It was really great to read it out loud in the temple. We were grinning afterward."
Bobbie Coffman*, Barbara's sister, said she noticed one Japanese woman there interacting with her granddaughter.
"This young girl was touching everything and grabbing things and picking up the candles," she said. "Her grandmother came and showed her where to put the candles and where to go to the statue, how to sit down and fold her hands, and how to pray. Her grandma was doing her best to teach her granddaughter to be a good person.... Through generations, the Japanese will continue in the same beliefs that they've always had and won't change unless someone comes and tells them."
A SKIT SPEAKS
Raleigh Kinder*, whose family serves in southern Asia, said a skit the MKs performed in a park -- addressing suicide, depression and addictions, along with the freedom of Christ -- powerfully communicated to onlookers.
"As I looked into the faces of the people watching the skit, especially at the suicide part, I saw a lot of recognition and a lot of emptiness and sadness," said Kinder, 16, who also was on the Expedition trip last year in Southeast Asia. "After the skit, I didn't get to speak to anyone who watched it, because I'm happy to say that they were already speaking with a lot of our students. I felt that it really made an opening into their hearts."
Zoe Kirker*, whose family serves in southern Asia, said the trip to Tokyo exceeded her expectations.
"I didn't think we would be able to do that much good," Kirker said. "It's not like we wouldn't have been trying at all, but where I live, we haven't seen a convert yet. I didn't think we would actually get to share with that many people."
One college intern serving in Japan said the MK team made the week unique.
"I pointed out a squatty potty to them, and many of them said they had one in their house," the intern recounted. "When we work with other teams, they say this is the first time they've done many things, but these guys have done ministry most of their lives. They weren't distracted, and that was the most encouraging thing I've seen."
Botswick, the IMB Tokyo as projects coordinator and volunteer mobilizer, said the MKs' unique experience helps them adjust to new situations.
"They have such a sensitivity to sharing the Gospel and knowing how to share it in many ways and when to share it and how to be sensitive and how to read body language and how to see people's eyes and actually know that this person wants to hear," Botswick said.
Even so, many of the MKs said they felt challenged to make more of an impact in their own areas after visiting Tokyo.
"God taught me to be bolder," Radford said. "Normally, I'm a person who would not go up to anybody or go out and talk. But with five-minute English and park evangelism and going up to people and talking to them, God has really taught me. I got to share my testimony many times, but I thought I wouldn't get to."
Nancy Thomason* said she hopes to share her faith more back in Thailand where her family serves.
"God is teaching me to be more bold and open and share my faith and come out of my comfort zone," Thomason said. "Even though I'm not in Tokyo sharing the Gospel, I can still be back in Bangkok doing the exact same thing. I don't have to be on a mission trip to share my faith in God."
Barnes, who travels to Japan for sports events with her school in the Philippines, said, "There are hundreds and hundreds of girls there. But I should go to these tournaments and focus on the Gospel. It'll be great if I could start sharing with these girls."
Sorenson said he would take some of the outreach ideas back to Thailand.
"When we turned in our five-minute English stuff, I thought it'd be really cool to try this out in Thailand sometime," he said. "I can speak Thai, and so it's even easier if I try this out there. I've just kind of been learning that it's not as hard as I think it is to be part of my parents' jobs, so I think it'd be really nice if I could get involved."
Tara Ellison*, lead TCK consultant serving in Asia, said Expedition fulfilled its vision. "We challenged and encouraged the kids to see themselves as leaders and to see that they can do missions where they are every day and to own what they believe," Ellison said. "There's one thing that Expedition continues to leave me thinking: What will God use these students to do in the future?"
*Names changed. Ethan Leyton is a career International Mission Board missionary serving as the music strategist for the Affinity of South Asian Peoples, on the Web at www.go2SouthAsia.org.
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