TOKYO, Japan – The world will converge on Tokyo, Japan, twice in the span of a year for two international sporting events, the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics. Southern Baptists and their local church partners in Tokyo will be there to share the gospel with the players, coaches, and fans.
Between the Rugby World Cup matches this month, rugby fans supporting the twenty qualifying countries are joining the crowds in Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing. Southern Baptist volunteers from across the United States are partnering with IMB missionaries and Japanese Christians to share the gospel in the city that hosts the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world.
IMB missionaries Daniel and Tara Rice are leading the Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympic ministry efforts through Connect 2020, a program they and their teammates developed.
“Our goals are threefold: connecting Japanese people to God, connecting Japanese churches to each other, and connecting the Japanese church as a whole to the world,” the Rices said.
The Rices, their teammates, and their partners in Tokyo have invited volunteers to serve with them during the Rugby World Cup this October as a vision trip experience for their Olympic outreach strategies. The vision trip also acts as on-the-ground training for the volunteer teams who will be returning in the summer for Olympic outreaches. Those who serve during the Rugby World Cup will be able to train future teammates who will serve during the Olympics.
Volunteer teams from the International Sports Federation and the Baptist conventions of South Carolina, Hawaii, Virginia, and the Northwest, as well as volunteers from churches in Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee are traveling to Tokyo for vision trips during the Rugby World Cup. Along with these groups, the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and the Filipino Baptist Mission Board are other partners working with the Connect 2020 team. One of the Connect 2020 team’s key local partners is Tokyo Baptist Church.
Together, the volunteers from abroad and the local Japanese churches are taking part in the Connect 2020 team’s three-pronged outreach strategy.
The ECHO Project will be the team’s central outreach hub in a rented space outside of an Olympic venue. The ECHO area will have a pop-up coffeehouse, a stage, a play space, and an area to trade Olympic pins. Sports fans can drop in to escape the heat and the crowds and enjoy the free coffee and activities. The ECHO area will also feature a basketball court and a rock-climbing area because, as the host country, Japan chose rock climbing and three-on-three basketball as the sports they’ll feature during these Olympics. The goal for the space is to create opportunities for volunteers and Japanese Christians to share their faith.
The Connect 2020 team and their Japanese partner churches will host intentionally designed ‘open-festival’ style block parties that will each be connected to one of the churches. Local Japanese Baptist churches will offer free, family-friendly entertainment and activities that give church members an opportunity to interact with kids and their parents. The festivals will feature booths, games, and activities for children.
Daniel said their objective in the community festivals is to get church members outside the walls of the church.
“A lot of Japanese don’t really realize they have churches in their community because they never see them,” Daniel said. “It’s an opportunity for those churches to get outside of their walls, typically get off their property, engage their neighborhood, and show that they aren’t a cult.” In the past, cults have negatively influenced many Japanese people’s opinions of Christianity.
Daniel said the churches will have future events planned, so there will be an ongoing plan for follow-up with those who attend the festivals.
Japanese churches will also host viewing parties where the community can come and watch the events. The gospel will be presented at these viewing parties. During commercial breaks, the churches will show video testimonies from athletes, and local Christian athletes will share their testimonies on stage. For the Rugby World Cup, Christian rugby players are speaking.
Additional prayer walk
Those traveling to Japan for the vision trips during the Rugby World Cup have the opportunity to participate in these three strategies as well as prayer-walk around the perimeter of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
Become a Connect 2020 partner
Are you, your church, or your convention interested in partnering with the IMB’s Connect 2020 team during the summer Olympics? There are many ways to partner—remotely or on-site with a short-term team during the Olympics. Southern Baptists in the United States can partner in prayer as teams travel to Tokyo. Other opportunities include partnering through extended internships and financial giving.
For information on ways to be involved, please see the service opportunities on the Connect 2020 website.
You can also follow along as teams serve in the city by watching Connect 2020’s YouTube coverage.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is by Caroline Anderson, a writer with the IMB. She currently lives in Southeast Asia.