Go to them! Take them to God!
God gave opportunities to reach men through onsen, exercise, and hobbies.
I am privileged to spend 15–20 hours per week with men in Japan (both Japanese and expatriate). For the most part, these relationships have been developed through simply placing myself where they are and asking God to work. The following stories illustrate how God led me to these particular men.
Ministry at the sento
We lived in the city of Tachikawa for seven years. During that time, I frequented the local sento (public bath). As I went pretty much the same time, I met the same guys and developed a connection with one in particular. As our friendship grew, we would sometimes go to a restaurant afterwards. He was curious to know why I came to Japan. That was an opportunity to share my story. I invited him to our church, and he came a couple of times.
I ran across another guy at the same sento, who turned out to be my neighbor. We both liked to run, and so we would go down to the Tama River, run, and then hit the sento. It was a lot of fun. Through that, I shared with him about our church, and he and his wife attended together one time. That same afternoon, he and I went to the sento (of course!). I asked him what he thought of the church worship service. He replied, “The music was good, but I didn’t understand the message.” That was a good chance for further conversation about the Bible story.
We moved to Watari, Miyagi, in 2014. Soon after we moved, the local onsen (hot springs) reopened. It’s near the ocean and was inundated by the tsunami of 2011. An additional challenge of spending time with men there was understanding the Tohoku dialect. So, when one man told me that he had lost his son in the tsunami, I really had to focus to understand the details. I was able to invite him to our church.
Building relationships through sports
I met another man at that onsen in Watari who introduced me to a tennis club. It was daunting at first to go to the tennis courts and make myself known to the guys there. But I began to play tennis with them and several others twice a week. I would often have contact with up to 15 guys throughout the week. Their hearts were hard to the gospel, but they were able to experience it through my life. A married couple who were a part of those groups came to a Christmas worship service at our church and heard the gospel.
I was introduced to the local dentist through a Christian couple who lived in the Watari area. He enjoyed running, and so we decided to run together twice a week. It was a great time. He taught me various routes, which inevitably took us to the ocean around the time of the sunrise. It was a beautiful way to worship God, although he wasn’t worshiping the creator God that I was. We had many good talks about the Bible, and he and his wife also attended our Christmas worship service.
Since moving back to Tokyo in 2019, I have become a part of two tennis circles. One came about as I was hitting the ball against a wall at the park and saw a man playing on a court by himself. I prayed and worked up the courage to ask him if I could join him. After we played for a while, he asked me to join his group the next week. I’ve been playing tennis with these four to seven guys every week since then. We usually go eat after we play. Some of them have watched our church worship online.
The other tennis circle I’m in is located closer to where I live in Higashi Kurume. Through playing in a tennis social network called “Tennis Off,” a man introduced me to the Higashi Kurume circle. Every weekend I get to play with 40–50 people from this area. I have had many conversations about the church and Christianity. There is even a Japanese man there who is a Christian. I have introduced them to our church worship online.
Also, since moving back to Higashi Kurume, I have found many public baths nearby. It has taken a while, but gradually I have been able to have conversations with some of the men. Recently I went with a couple of them to a restaurant afterwards. We were able to talk about our families.
Meeting men through gospel music
On a different “note” (pun intended), I have realized a dream to be part of a gospel choir. The first time I went, I met a young man there and we quickly developed a friendship. Through singing and sharing time together, we have been able to talk about the origins of gospel music and also my motivation for praising God. He joined my pastor, another staff member, and me for a gospel-song virtual recording. Afterwards, we got to know each other better at a local restaurant, and my pastor shared the gospel with him.
It is true that many churches have very few men in them. However, in the church that my wife and I are involved in now, there are more younger men than average. Being a church in downtown Tokyo contributes to this, plus the church is specifically targeting the 20–40 age group in their style of worship and in the types of ministries offered. In my small group, there have been up to six men, plus a few women.
In this society, it is natural for men to compete with each other and compare themselves with each other rather than to cooperate and collaborate. I am afraid that if we are not careful, we missionaries and Japanese men believers can become the same way. We must humble ourselves and repent of our competitive and comparative nature, and then help each other believe the gospel together. When men experience unity in the body of Christ, this becomes a key to reaching other men with the gospel. Psalm 133:1 says: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (ESV).
Every one of these opportunities was given to me by God. My love for these people is given to me by God. Any impact I have on them is from God. Oh, and you may have noticed that I’m having fun doing it. This is significant because, as many of you know, in Japan, it takes a long time to develop a friendship and to earn the right to share Jesus. Therefore, it helps to enjoy and have passion about the activity where you engage people. Actually, when other guys notice that I’m having fun together with them, they let their guard down. Any suspicion about why I’m there fades away. They begin to be attracted to Jesus in me.