Missionary kids take gospel to Tokyo
Ethan Leyton,* Baptist Press
January 06, 2010

Missionary kids take gospel to Tokyo

Missionary kids take gospel to Tokyo
Ethan Leyton,* Baptist Press
January 06, 2010

TOKYO — “Five-minute English! Five-minute English! Do you

want to practice your English?” a college intern asked outside a busy Tokyo

subway station as 27 teenage MKs — sons and daughters of Southern Baptist

missionaries — looked on.

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 (about

salvation). And she told the interns that she prayed from the heart in


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 (IMB). 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.”

BP photo

Tanya Brewster*, a Southern Baptist MK from Thailand, talks with young Japanese students outside a Tokyo subway station, offering them a free English lesson. Brewster was one of 27 Expedition 2009 participants.

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 prayer walking

and by the time we got back to that area, everyone would have someone to talk


Along with offering free English lessons, the teenagers prayer walked 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


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


Experience helps

One college intern serving in Japan said the MK team made the week unique.

BP photo

Andi Cantwell*, whose parents serve among south Asian peoples, gives a young Japanese woman a five-minute English lesson that includes an introduction to the gospel. Cantwell was among 27 MKs venturing to Tokyo for Expedition 2009.

“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.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — 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.)